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Christians

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The Unacknowledged Teachers: an argument for women pastors.

An argument for the position of egalitarianism (the position that women are not to be restricted from certain offices in the church):

1) Women say things in Scripture which are not condemned (cf. Deborah’s song, Mary’s Magnificat which is used in liturgical worship, Ruth’s words which are used in wedding ceremonies, Esther’s story and her actions, etc., etc.). [Edit: this premise must be made more clear. The things women say in Scripture are not simply not condemned, but are often explicitly centralized. The Song of Deborah; Ruth’s words to Naomi; the magnificat; etc. These words are made into liturgies and used for teaching. Yet they are the words of women. Thanks to Adam at Unworthy Yet Redeemed for pointing out this flaw in the argument. Consider P1 to be modified to “Women say things in Scripture which are centralized and utilized for church liturgies and teaching.”]

2) All Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (1 Timothy 3:14-17).

3) Those things which women say in Scripture teach us truths useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (1, 2).

4) If we use truths women teach us in Scripture to teach doctrine/righteousness/etc., we should not exclude women from the ministry. (Premise)

5) We use truths women teach us in Scripture to teach doctrine/righteousness/etc. (1-3)

6) Therefore, we should not exclude women from the ministry (4, 5, modus ponens).

Defense of premise 1: I cited examples in the argument itself. See Judges 4-5; Luke 1:46-56; Ruth 1:16-17 (and the rest of the book); the book of Esther; these are just a few examples.

Defense of premise 2: Again, directly from Scripture: 1 Timothy 3:14-17.

3 follows from 1 and 2.

Premise 4 is likely to be the most controversial of these premises. The position of those who hold that women should not be ordained into the office of the ministry (complementarianism) is generally based upon the suggestion that women should not teach doctrine in a public setting (see more on this below). Therefore, I think that premise 4 must be accepted by complementarians because a denial of this premise would undermine their position. In other words, if one wants to hold that premise 4 is false, they would have to provide a different reason to exclude women from the ministry. Premise 4 simply states that which the sides agree upon. Ultimately, the strength of premise 4 will depend upon one’s definition of “the office of the ministry.” However, if one’s definition of “office of the ministry” includes “teaching”; “teaching doctrine”; “rebuking” [those who need correction]; etc., then premise 4 is correct.

Further, premise 4 could be weakened so that its conclusion would be not quite as strong. Instead, one could reword it as:

4′) If we use truths women teach us in Scripture to teach doctrine/righteousness/etc., we should not exclude women from teaching doctrine/righteousness/etc. to others.

This modified premise will not yield the conclusion that women should not be excluded from the “office of the ministry” but it would yield the conclusion that women should be allowed to teach doctrine, righteousness, and other things no matter who the audience happens to be.

Premise 5 follows from 1-3. 6 follows via modus ponens from 4 and 5. The same could be said for 4′ and the perceived 5′ and 6′.

The language used by those who are against women preaching must be very carefully selected because they do not wish to say women cannot be teachers at the university, or that they cannot teach elsewhere–rather, it is restricted to the church. Yet the argument above would be specifically useful for permitting women to teach in the church. After all, their words are used to teach continually. Whenever the Magnificat is sung or spoken, we use the words of Mary to teach us truths about Jesus. Whenever we read the story of Ruth or use her words in our wedding vows, we use them authoritatively.

Another way we could put this argument would be “If it is okay for women to compose sections of the Bible, perhaps we should let them teach it?” (quoted from Lamb, 64, citation below). I think the answer to the question is eminently obvious: yes

Therefore, women are already acting as a kind of “unacknowledged teacher” in the church: their very words are being used to tell us about God. I conclude that women should not be excluded from the ministry.

Note on terminology: by “teach” I am explicating the role of “teacher” in the church–the pastor.

Part of this argument was developed from a reading of God Behaving Badly by David Lamb (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 64-65, wherein he states “If it is okay for women to compose sections of the Bible, perhaps we should let them teach it?” (64). 

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Immortal, Invisible: Do Christians believe something crazy?

I was singing a hymn in church today, one of my favorites: “Immortal, Invisible”; also known as “Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise”

Looking through the lyrics I could see objections to Christianity arise:

“Immortal, invisible, God only wise… Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light… ‘Tis only the splendour of light that hides thee.”

I could see the objection that would be raised almost instantly: Why do Christians believe in something they cannot see? Are Christians crazy?

Simple answer: No, we all believe in invisible things, whether we know it or not.

Long answer: Think of all the things we cannot see that we believe in, and judge for yourself.

1) We believe in the reality of others’ thoughts. This cannot be observed. Although we can observe, in some sense, the brain functioning, we cannot literally see others’ thoughts.

2) Other minds. This one is very similar to the previous one; we believe other people have minds (not to beg the question against materialist–this could be reworded to say we believe other people have brains which trigger phenomena).

3) The ‘real world.’ It is impossible to prove that we are not brains-in-vats. We cannot prove that everything we know is not being projected into our minds by some outside source. Yet we are justified in believing in a world outside of ourselves.

4) Causation. We cannot “see” causation; we can only see its effects. While some philosophers (Hume, for example) deny causation;  we are justified in believing that events can cause each other.

5) Gravity. I can’t “see” gravity, I can only infer that it’s there based upon its effects and/or measurements from instruments which don’t show me pictures of gravity.

6) Dinosaurs lived. We have not observed living, breathing dinosaurs. Yet we feel are within our epistemic rights believing that, at one time, dinosaurs walked on the earth. But think about it: we’ve never seen a dinosaur–we’ve only seen its bones. What allows us to think that those bones were once covered with flesh and walking around?

To deny the above examples (which could be multiplied continually) rightly seem ludicrous, yet they are based on similar reasoning as those who object to God’s existence simply because we cannot see God. Think about it: the inference is “I cannot see God, therefore, God does not exist.” Yet the same types of argument would dispute belief for any of the above examples.

These things are known only by their effects. But the Christian believes God is known by His effects as well. God responds to prayer; He keeps the universe in existence; He causes miracles; He caused the universe. Not only that, but we have philosophical arguments which justify belief in God. The case for the existence of God does not rest on whether we can “see” Him or not.

Those who ridicule Christians for their belief in a God who cannot be seen but by His effects may want to reevaluate their arguments; as with most fallacious arguments, they either prove too much (all things we can’t see don’t exist) or nothing at all (the argument is false).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: Natural Law: A Lutheran Reappraisal

Natural Law: A Lutheran Reappraisal(hereafter NLL) presents a collection of essays from Lutherans of different backgrounds on the topic of natural law. Together, these essays are extremely strong, covering a broad array of topics and successfully bringing to light many of the issues one must deal with when approaching natural law theory.

The individual essays presented in NLL are almost all extremely strong. The topics covered include the views of early Lutherans on natural law (including Luther and the authors of the Confessions) , the view of several later Lutheran individuals (like Barth and Forde), and a kind of “applied ethics” section which uses natural law in individual instances.

The strength of many of these essays is a credit to the Lutheran scholarship which went into the work. The insight into Lutheran thinkers’ views on natural law helps to refute some notions that Lutherans do not “believe in” natural law. In fact, it seems the opposite is the case. “Luther,” argues Thomas Pearson, “understands natural law not as a Christian teaching, but as an observation of human nature in general” (63). Later, Carl Rockrohr expands on this idea to view natural law as a place of common ground for evangelism (196-197).

NLL really shines when it demonstrates that even topics which may at first seem unimportant (like an essay on Friedrich Stahl’s rejection of natural law) can serve to develop a modern view of natural law (Jacob Corzine argues in the aforementioned essay that Stahl’s critique helps ground a Christian natural law theory not in reason but in God [115]).

The applied ethics section of NLL has its ups and downs. “Natural Science, Natural Rights, and Natural Law: Abortion in Historical Perspective” by Korey D. Maas is a simply amazing critique of abortion which presents the case for pro-life not as a religious issue, but as one which can be established on common grounds of natural law (228ff). On the other hand, Albert Collver III’s argument against the ordination of women struggles because it only presents one Lutheran view on the issue (more on that below). The section (and book) concludes with Matthew Cochran’s great summing up and case for the use of natural law as a “Way Forward” for discussions of epistemology and natural law (see esp. 274ff).

The strength of NLL is therefore found in the fact that the essays manage to cohere to the point of building off one another. Whether this was intentional or not, it strengthens the whole work. The early essays provide the framework for the later developments into applied ethics.

This is not to say the book is without faults. One such fault is the woefully inadequate glossary. While the terms included are defined in detail, some terms are inexplicably left out. For example, while the glossary takes lengths to define idealism, it makes no mention of “epistemology,” a concept which was referenced several times. This makes the book seem at times unsure of its purpose. Is it written for the layperson or the professional, the philosopher or the theologian? It includes study questions and a glossary, which suggests use as a textbook in undergraduate (or high school) theology classes, but the very nature of the essays included and the inadequacy of the glossary suggests that only those already familiar with some of the issues will get the most bang for their buck. A final criticism I would level against the book is that while it does present essays from various Lutheran traditions, it is clearly founded specifically upon LCMS teaching. This is unsurprising, given that it is published by Concordia Publishing House (the official publishing arm of the LCMS), but this could cause some confusion when the book devotes an entire chapter to a critique of a different Lutheran tradition (the ELCA). This small shortcoming can also be seen when the book only presents a complementarian view of natural law (that is, a view that natural law excludes women from the ministry) despite the fact that other Lutheran traditions (for example, the NALC or ELCA) are egalitarian (ordain women).

NLL is a simply fantastic work. Lutherans looking to learn about the concept of natural law would be well served to pick the book up and read it cover-to-cover. Those outside of the Lutheran tradition would surely find NLL useful as well, as the essays on applications of natural law can serve as foils for the development of one’s own position. For those wishing to explore the important issue of natural law, I recommend the book highly.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Do I reject secular government?

Recently, Austine Cline, of the about.com breed of atheists, has offered this critique of my position on Christian voting/acts in government. My own post on the topic can be found here. I would like to clear up a few things about the position I hold. These clarifications will be found in numbered italics throughout the post below.

1) I accept the authority and respect the secular government.

Cline started his caricature of my position immediately with his title. The title of his entry is “J.W. Wartick: Christians Should Reject Secular Government.”

Let me make this clear. That is a position I deny, and in fact oppose. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 13:5-7 that “it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” Being a Christian who views the Bible as a source of authority, I agree wholeheartedly.

2) My previous post on the government was intended as a wake-up call to Christians who are lax when voting on moral issues.

One who reads my previous post on this topic should be able to discern that I was not advocating a theocracy, but rather a theo-centric approach to voting. I was arguing that Christians should vote their beliefs, not what they think is most “neutral.” Cline took that and ran with it, and, whether intentionally or not, used his post to try to portray me as some kind of fanatic advocating the overthrow of government in favor of a theocracy. Again, such a position may exist somewhere, but it is not the position I hold.

3) The authority of government comes from God.

Again, Paul makes this clear in Romans 13:1 “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

Obviously, this won’t be convincing to the atheist. But this is intended to rebut a critique from Cline, who wrote, “[Wartick’s argument] presumes that the government has any authority to prevent ‘unrepentant sin’ and ‘unbelief’ in the first place.”

Clearly, if the government gets its authority from God, then it would have the authority to do this. Cline is an atheist, so he rejects such a structure of authority. However, being a Christian, I don’t see any reason to reject it. Yet the focus of Cline’s critique was based upon this premise (in fact, he restates it later “On what basis does Wartick think he has the right to enlist the government to help him prevent other Christians from doing things which he thinks is sinful but they don’t?” and then again in regards to other religions).

My answer to these questions is simple: the government gets its authority from God, so it does have the authority to do these things. Cline presented no argument to the contrary, nor did he offer a positive argument for secular government, other than a brief note that Christians established it to begin with so they would stop killing each other (according to Cline). So Cline’s counter-argument merely begs the question by assuming a secular authority structure. If there were no God or if the authority of the government were not from God, then he would have a valid critique. But criticizing my argument in this manner does not serve to do anything but beg the question against the Christian theist, particularly because my original post was written to fellow Christians (hence the closing line, “Christians, why are you politically atheists?”).

4) Cline misrepresented my argument.

As I’ve already hinted at, Cline cherry-picked portions of my post, and then made a title which seems to aim more towards sensationalism than any kind of respectful debate. I never argued Christians should reject secular government; I did argue that Christians should not be atheists themselves when it comes to politics. This kind of fear-mongering about Christians in politics doesn’t serve anyone but those who are already fanatics themselves–to the other extreme.

SDG.

Why are Christians politically atheistic?

Of note: Atheist Austin Cline has recently linked to my post with his own. He caricatures my argument as saying “Christians should reject secular government.” In fact, I explicitly deny this in my post, as anyone who reads it could see.

I take issue with 3 parts of Cline’s critique. First, he attacks my view that the government can have authority to restrict unrepentant sin. Yet the authority for that restriction is based upon  my assumption granted for the sake of this post; that the government gets its authority from God (Romans 13:1). Cline, being an atheist, obviously will reject that basis for authority. He did not outline his own position on the authority of government, so I cannot comment upon it, but it begs the question to assume that government should be secular, and then use that to critique a theo-centric government I explicate below. Second, he caricatures my argument as being a theocracy, which I deny explicitly, see below. Finally, he frames his post in a way that is clearly meant to induce panic, by calling it “J.W. Wartick: Christians should reject secular government.” There is nowhere that I have advocated that extreme position. In fact, that is also something I deny explicitly, agreeing with the apostle Paul in Romans, who said “Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:5-7).

Recently, I was discussing the death of Osama bin Laden and the topic came up about whether he deserved to die, what role it played, and the like. Interestingly, the conversation opened up a discussion I’ve been contemplating. Namely, Why are so many Christians politically atheists?

Consider the death penalty. It was agreed upon that people can deserve the death penalty. Bin Laden, for example, was said to deserve such a penalty, along with serial killers and many murderers. But then the discussion turned to whether the government should deal out such punishment.

The friend offered following principle as normative for Christians:

1) If (some position such as the death penalty) cannot be justified by purely secular means, then it should not be forced onto others.

My immediate and somewhat snarky rejoinder to this argument was/is “Why?”

Why should I be a Christian in every aspect of my life, but when it comes to politics, be secular? Several answers are possible. For example, it could be asserted that “We (Christians) should not force our views onto others.” I think this is a fairly good response. But whence the principle?  Perhaps it comes from the idea of living a Christlike life. But I don’t see anything in the example of Christ which said we had to conform to secularism or take religion out of politics. It would take an interesting argument to say that Christ advocated secularism in the realm of politics.

Or take Paul, for example, who states clearly that the government is God’s servant and doesn’t carry the sword “for nothing” (Romans 13:4). Not only that, but the reason the government carries the sword is in case “you do wrong.”

And what, exactly, is wrong? I think it would have to be obvious that, for a Christian, that which is wrong is defined by that which goes against God’s nature and/or commands. But then it seems as though Paul is charging the government to follow that same standard, not some supposedly neutral standard. I’ve argued elsewhere against the plausibility of atheism as a neutral ground. I think it should be clear that atheism is not neutral in regards to religion; rather, it is against religion.

Therefore, it seems strange to me that secularism is chosen as the grounds for determining politics. Why should I, a theist, choose to be atheistic in my politics? I suppose the accusation could then fly that I advocate a theocracy. But what exactly is a theocracy? It’s a political system in which God rules and the laws are divine commands. I never argued that’s what I would like the United States to turn into. My view is simply that Christians should cast their votes for those positions which are favored by Biblical teaching and against those which are condemned. I don’t see any reason to divorce that which I hold most dear (Christian theism) as something from which I must be divorced when it comes to the ballot box.

Consider the following argument, which is admittedly somewhat consequentialist:

A) A life of unrepentant sin often leads to unbelief. (w=>y)

B) Unbelief is the only sin which condemns people to hell. (If y, then z)

C) Advocating some policy, x, permits or encourages lives of unrepentant sin. (x=>w)

D) Therefore, advocating x by extension opens the way for more unbelief and condemnation to hell. (1-3)

E) Therefore, Christians should not advocate x.

So I’m advocating a theo-centric view of politics, not a theocracy. On this view, one’s theism takes center stage. Sincere belief in everlasting life and death leads Christians to take steps within the law to prohibit behaviors which would lead to lives of unrepentant sin.

How would this cash out? Would we have to be prohibitionists or go around making lying illegal? I think that the answer to this second question is pretty clear. Within Scripture there is no prohibition of drinking alcohol (quite the opposite, in some cases). Rather, drunkenness is prohibited and/or discouraged. With the damage alcoholism has done to our society, I doubt that laws which took measures to prevent drunkenness would be a bad thing. I think the laws which would go into effect based upon the argument above would look mostly like what we have now. Now take the case of lying. While lying is clearly discouraged in the Bible, I don’t see any precedent therein for making it illegal in a broad sense. To be perfectly clear, lying already is illegal in some senses: take perjury, for example, or slander. I think these are derivative of a Christian worldview anyway, and laws against libel, slander, and perjury seem to fulfill the requirements of the above argument.

Reflecting on the ideas about bin Laden, above, it would appear there is another principle as well: that of honoring the image of God in man. Osama bin Laden did not honor that image, and for the blood he spilled, his blood was forfeit. Therefore, in addition to E), I would suggest:

2) The intrinsic value of humans (which only makes sense on theism anyway) is such that we should vote for issues which place honor of this value first.

To nuance it for Christians,

2′) The image of God in humans should be respected, and Christians should vote for issues which respect this image.

Finally, a note on Biblical ethics. It is extremely important for Christians to realize the distinctions between Law and Gospel and practice correct exegesis when it comes to these issues. I favor a Lutheran view with some theonomic tilt, but it is important to note that almost no Biblical scholars believe the Levitical and most of the other laws within the Old Testament are applicable today in any literal sense. But the question for this post is not which laws apply and which do not; rather it is a challenge to my fellow Christians.

So my question remains: Christians, why are you politically atheists?

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

New Page: Christian Diversity

I have started another blog, which will not interfere with this one (though there may be some overlap). It is called Christian Diversity. Here’s the mission statement:

Christianity has been separated into divisions over denominational, cultural, and theological lines, yet the message of Christianity remains the same for all generations: Christ crucified for our sins. We at ‘Christian Diversity’ seek to demonstrate that while Christianity may be divided institutionally, we are of one mind spiritually. We affirm ‘Mere Christianity’, which is the belief that Christianity is ultimately this faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We affirm the Three Ecumenical Creeds (The Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds).

The goal of ‘Christian Diversity’ is to discuss doctrinal differences on matters not essential to the faith. We understand that the goal of total ecumenism–that is, the unity of all churches–may be out of reach, but we strive to come to the understanding that all Christians are saved, and there are no divisions among us when it comes to Christ. Thus, while we may disagree on many of the issues we discuss, we continue to strive towards a better understanding of our fellow Christians and increase unity with them. This will serve to strengthen us as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Our motto comes from St. Paul, who writes in 1 Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.

Check it out! Let me know your thoughts!

Rising Above the Dogma: A Call to Christian Fellowship

Dogmatics. Too often this word is seen as a “dirty” word. We don’t want to deal with stuffy theology books or learning about doctrine. It is my sincere belief that Christianity has unfortunately traveled two paths when dealing with Christian doctrines:

1) Christians simply don’t care about doctrine. They abandon systematic theology, and in turn abandon the soul of Christianity.

2) Christians emphasize soundness of doctrine with such zeal that they alienate and make enemies of fellow Christians. In doing so, they abandon Christ’s teaching.

I just finished reading the book Christ Among the Dragons by James Emery White, and I must say it should be required reading of all Christians. Among the wonderful points made by White throughout this work, I found the most important to be his discussion of our interactions with fellow Christians. Too often, I found myself literally in tears, either because I stood convicted by the words he wrote or because fellow Christians had wronged me in the ways he outlined. He writes concerning debates over doctrinal issues:

“Truth be told, we should have enough theological humility to admit that we may all be wrong. The greater issue is refusing to make our theological viewpoint the test of orthodoxy, the agenda for which we exist and the basis of our community… And our rhetoric isn’t helping. ” (126).

White later quotes two other theologians, John Stott and the Lutheran theologian Peter Meiderlin. Stott wrote:

“Perhaps our criterion for deciding which is which [that is, which doctrines are essential and which are matters of liberty]… should be as follows. Whenever equally biblical Christians, who are equally anxious to understand the teaching of Scripture and to submit to its authority, reach different conclusions, we should deduce that evidently Scripture is not crystal clear in this matter, and therefore we can afford to give one another liberty” (127-128).

Meiderlin said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

These powerful calls to Christian unity too often fall on deaf ears from those who adhere to either of the views I described above. Those who believe doctrines are unimportant criticize those who attempt to stress the essentials. Those who emphasize doctrinal purity too often attack fellow Christians for matters which should be of liberty.

I hope and pray for a day in which we can move past such disturbances in the body of Christ. No longer will Christians feel “second class” because they are of a different denomination. No longer will Christians abandon the Creeds of the Catholic Church (meaning the whole Church at large, not just the Roman Catholics). No longer will Christians accuse their fellows of rejecting Scripture for having different views on matters of “liberty.” No longer will Christians abandon the message of Christ in favor of ethical teaching.

We Christians are a Body. We must stick together. Divided we fall, united we stand.

I’d like to add that when we deal with our fellow man, and particularly our fellow Christian, the most important thing we should remember is that our message is Christ, and our witness is our deed. I close with another quote from White in Christ Among the Dragons:

“When we condescendingly say that our position is simply the ‘gospel,’ as if it’s not really a debate worth having, then we are being arrogant. When we make our view the litmus test of orthodoxy, or even community, we are being neither gracious nor loving. When we say that our view alone upholds God’s sovereignty or that our perspective is the only one that cares about lost people, we are not being truthful. When we exhibit a haughty smirkiness, or we so state our position that we divide churches, student ministry groups or denominations, then we are sinning.” (126-127)

Source:

White, James Emery. Christ Among the Dragons. InterVarsity Press. 2010.

The Historicity of Jesus: The Tools for the Task

This is part of a series I’ve entitled “Jesus: the Living God,” which explores Jesus from Biblical, theological, and apologetic levels. View other posts in the series here.

For now, let us focus on the “tools for the task” (Wright, 29 and following). What kind of historical, textual means are used to talk about Jesus? I’ll be outlining views made by N.T. Wright in his The New Testament and the People of God, (hereafter NTPG) and Blomberg in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. First, I should outline my presuppositions. I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, whose salvation is freely available to all who believe by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). There is no other name by which we are saved (Acts 4:12). I believe that the Bible is the Holy, Inerrant Word of God. It is infallible in its teachings.

Wright argues for a “critical realist” view of history. This view describes a “process of ‘knowing’ that acknowledges the reality of the thing known, as something other than the knower… while also fully acknowledging that the only access we have to this reality lies along the spiralling path of appropriate dialogue or conversation between the knower and the thing known” (Wright, 35 emphasis his). This acknowledges that observers have their own point of views, that they have their own interpretations, and that metaphysical beliefs will influence interpretation of data (36). This is vitally important throughout not just Wright’s body of works, but any historical (or other field) study–one’s presuppositions will influence how one interprets the same data.

Wright argues that one primary function of worldviews is to tell “stories” (38). This doesn’t mean these stories are fiction, rather, Wright is arguing that these stories form the basis of a worldview as well as the ways the worldview will interact with other views (38-40). In the context of the New Testament, “They [first-century Jews] never expressed a worldview in which the god in question was uninterested in, or uninvolved with, the created world in general, or the historical fortunes of his people in particular” (41). It is this worldview that, upon reading more of Wright, I think Wright not only acknowledges but agrees with. God is not uninterested or uninvolved, rather, the opposite is true–God is intimately involved and interested in His creation and creatures.

Wright emphasizes the “impossibility of ‘Mere History'” that is wholly divorced from any worldview (82). This doesn’t mean there are no facts… rather, it means there is no such thing as an uninterpreted fact (88). These interpretations are generally used in conjunction with historical hypotheses. Thus, it is important to note what composes a good historical hypothesis:

1) The historical hypothesis must include the data. One cannot, for example, simply drop the eschatology which was clearly part of Jesus’ teachings as well as the rest of the New Testament, in order to make one’s hypothesis easier to produce. The data must all be included (99).

2) “It must construct a basically simple and coherent overall picture” (100).

3) The hypothesis must show that it is useful in related areas, it must explain other problems (100).

It is important to realize that a simply enormous amount of material has been produced on Jesus and the Gospels, not to mention the rest of the New Testament. Thus, I will turn to Craig Blomberg’s work, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (hereafter HRG) to analyze some of the ways this study has been done. The tools for our task (to borrow Wright’s terminology) should utilize the best available evidence from New Testament scholarship, while discerning everything in light of the truth of Scripture.

Craig Blomberg wonderfully summarizes the various methods of historical criticism and analyzes them for usefulness  in HRG. Note that I’m not endorsing historical criticism, rather, I’m endorsing taking what is useful from historical criticism and use it as part of the toolbox. In my summing up, I’m leaving out much of Blomberg’s task of pointing out flaws in these criticisms (which is not only in-depth, but also illuminating), but rather emphasizing his ways to use them in the presuppositions that I’ve outlined above.

1) Form Criticism- Form criticism emphasizes the genre of the work being viewed (Blomberg, 50). It also discusses how a text was transmitted or brought into being. Christians can find this useful as it can be readily implemented in the “historical grammatical” type of reading of Scriptures. The background of the text is indeed important, as well as realizing the genre involved (i.e. the historical telling of what Jesus did, as opposed to His parables, which are not literal history).

2) Redaction Criticism- Redaction criticism views the writers of the Gospels as “editors” of the New Testament, “selecting, arranging, and rewording their sources to highlight particular theological and stylistic emphases” (Blomberg, 67). Christians can utilize this not to break down the reality of the Gospels, but rather they can use it as they realize there are indeed differences in the portrayal of Jesus in the Gospels (i.e. Mark’s suffering servant and Matthew’s son of David), not as contradictions, but as parts to a whole picture of Christ as suffering servant, son of David, compassionate teacher, and Word Incarnate (74).

3) Midrash- Midrash criticism of the Gospels focus on the “relationship of the Gospels to various [Hebrew Scripture] passages to which they may refer” (75). Clearly, this has uses for the Christian. How did the writers of the Gospels utilize Hebrew Scriptures to make their arguments or draw their conclusions about who Jesus was and what He did? This is vitally important to Christological study–who did Jesus say He was, based on the passages He cites, and who did others say He was?

4) Literary Criticism- this discipline is broken down into three types, though the most useful type for the Christian is the “narrative criticism” which analyzes characters, symbolism, figures of speech, etc. within the Gospels (87).

I’ve left out much of Blomberg’s analysis in order to simply sift off what we can use from these various methods, in light of the presuppositions I’ve outlined above. There is much more that could be said about either of these fantastic works (NTPG or HRG), and there is much more that could be said about the “tools for the task”, but for now, these are our tools, and I shall soon move into some of the historicity of Jesus.

Sources:

Blomberg, Craig L. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. InterVarsity Press. 2007.

Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God. Fortress. 1992.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

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