Saturday, April 30, 2005

Pure Love Club Extremist

I've just accidentally stumbled across a site dedicated to pure sexual living. It's a Catholic site I think (from the way it says certain things, like praying in front of "the Blessed Sacrament").

You know, the sexual mores of our society really get under my skin. Even the best of us seem to have some baggage no matter how hard we try. Unfortunately, as much as we preach chastity outside of marriage we don't really believe it with our whole hearts.

"But but but but...."

No I'm serious. You can see it in our priorities. Are we really willing to promote and facilitate clean living? Is it really a priority that we conciously keep in mind when setting our priorities? Does our counciling advice take chastity and sexual needs of young people into account? I would say absolutely not. Let me give some examples of why I have come to my conclusion:

1. We don't take firm stances on dating. "Dating" as currently practiced is simply not compatible with chastity. Can you really tell me that 15 year olds are in this business to find "the one"? Can young people full of raging hormones really control themselves if they're left alone for hours and hours? Please... There isn't a single norm in our current practice that is conducive to avoiding sex. Is this extremist?

Well actually, for hundreds and thousands of years in societies all over the globe most people basically agreed with me. Unfortunately there are so many factors that now mitigate against this path. Families are no longer involved much in match-making or even match-approving. When they are we tend to look at them more as an interference. Yet some of this is justified - most of our elders were themselves not chaste, so it does young folks little good to look to them for an example. Perhaps our grandparents would be a better litmus test, but they're usually passed off as old prudes rather than wise serpents (think of the divorce rates of the 70-something vis-a-vis the 40-somethings and 30-something and tell me who a sane person would take advice from).

2. It says volumes that the majority of our chastity speakers in youth groups and retreats etc are recovering penitants and not life-long successes. Nothing against penitants mind you, but it seems that we're trying to reach young people more with the message of "you can be fixed" rather than "you don't have to break".

3. Think of the priority message implicite in statements given, often by well-intentioned parents, to their collegiate and post-graduate kids: "You're young. Get your professional life stable and your education finished and then you can start looking into marriage." Hmmm. In fact HMMM. Yeah, although you've been in heat for half your life, just ignore that for a while so that you can get Mo' Money. This is a simple denial of the way things work. Incidentally, married students at all levels of education do better statistically, both short and long term, than do single students. It's certainly true here at the seminary. Why is this? I would posit that they're mentally healthier, which in turn makes them spiritually healthier. Their priorities are eucharistic in nature rather than individualistic in nature. That makes a world of difference. In fact, having to work through some tough times can be good for a young couple if their hearts are in the right place. It bonds them together in struggle.

4. This point is an extention of #4, it's considered normative to get married around 30. Does anyone really think that more than 5% of the population can wait that long without exploring their sexuality with another person? Forget about it.

5. When we do speak of virginity etc, we tend to speak only in terms of crossing the magical boundary of intercourse. There's no thought given at all to the potential for completely abstinent living until wedlock. Let's face it, who likes baggage?

6. As a corollary of #5, we're very jealous creatures. Sure, we don't like to admit this as a factor in the breakdown of relationships, but certainly it is. Think about it, why does a new car cost more than a barely-used, even test-driven car? It's because there's a mystical bond between uniqueness and value. If your spouse can legitimately tell you that not only are they a virgin, but their lips haven't even been touched by another, it would take an extremely cold person not to be moved beyond belief. I certainly would be.

As for me there can be no compromise. It would be functionally impossible for me to marry anyone who'd had sex before we met. Now this isn't a judgement on anyone else or a plea for others to adopt my relatively puritannical attitude on this point, but while I do think while there's a lot to be said for not judging, there's also a lot to be said for being equally yoked. A system for recognizing the benefits of virtue if you will.

Perhaps such a system isn't terribly Christian of me, but I would contest the point. Simply put, we must reward virtue when we can. Virtue is a gift from the Lord and reflects how healthy our relationship is with Him, which in turn can be an excellent barometer for how well we could relate with another person.

It could be that my attitude on this puts me outside of the Christian pale, but I don't think so. We're so quick to accuse people of being "judgemental" that we forget how seriously our Church Fathers took virtue as part of the Christian vocation and expectation. If anything we are startled when we hear that in parts of the early church there was a group of voluntary virgins that were lauded by the community. Sex was virtually always linked to procreation and the cementing of marital bonds. Divorce was strongly and roundly condemned for the tragedy it is. Part of being Christian is behaving Christian, it's as simple as that. Without a transformation of our life, our witness is in vain.

Also, as a side-note, I've always found it riotously funny when people who take serious religious offense at my positions on virginity find physical attractiveness to be a fine and proper thing to demand in a spouse. No judgement or unfair yoking involved there!

Now I'm not speaking here of monastic vocations. In fact, in some ways the monastic vocation can become a bit of a cop out for those outside of it. Its existence leads people to think that if you're really serious about all this virtue crap you can always go to a monastary to abstain and pray, leaving we regular folk here to break our fasts, fornicate, one-up each other, and back-bite.

I guess that I am an extremist on this kind of thing, but luckily I have been blessed with equally extremist friends. I only hope that a similarly extremist person can one day be the husbands of my sisters and cousins. You see I wouldn't be so militant if I didn't think sex was a Ba'al of our society. I've never met anyone who's sexually active who would give it up for a better prayer life or a better relationship with God. If anything, the juxtiposing of identities in this regard only leads people to try and justify themselves and their actions. That sort of thing tells me alot about which spirits are controlling our actions.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Religion is weird and religious people are weird

No, you didn't misread the title.

Reading over David Bercot's Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs it struck me how absolutely strange we religious people really are.

Here we are in the age of reason and verifiable fact and yet we speak in the language of myth and legend. Think for a second how disconnected it all is? Sure, you're born because your parents made whoopy, you die because your body grows old, nations rise and fall because of economics and military prowess, and outcomes reflect the concious interaction of intention, resources, and effort. Winners are those who have more and weild more power, losers are those who weild less power and have less. This is not difficult.

But for us? No. Instead we say that people can be born through the Holy Spirit, we say you die because of sin, nations rise and fall by the intangible will of God, and outcomes reflect all of the above mentioned.... and a completely unquantifiable dimension of providence from the almighty. Winners are those who did the Divine Will, whether or not it rendered unto them anything tangible - indeed they may be considered losers.

Think some more on it - we believe that we meet God by eating a little insignificant bread crumb and drinking a spoonful of watered down wine. We think that when we touch our shoulders, head, and stomach in a certain order that it guards us from evil. We sincerely believe that there are invisible spirits all around us, some benevolent and some malevolent, which are always seeking to influence us, guard us, harm us, or what have you. Oh yeah... and we think that by mumbling words into the air that we're affecting some part of this densely populated unseen spiritual cosmos - that's sane.

Our entire life is guided by ritual actions and symbolic understandings which underly completely unconnected things. Remember that what goes on for instance at wedding services or at funerals isn't just pomp, but rather we believe that it has an effect - it does something. We hold onto hope for a place we've never been, that noone has ever seen, and that if you do see it you can't come back to tell anyone anyway (and if you did no stable person would believe you). "He isn't really dead, he's just alive somewhere else that I've never seen and cannot empiracally verify." Try to get me to buy that one sometime.

So what's it all about? Well for one thing we're weird. Let nobody convince you otherwise. Religious people are strange. Normal people would not spend a day worrying too much about all of this hocus pocus. No well-balanced human is going to seriously consider giving up tangible facts for intangible hopes. It's simply irrational - be honest, it is. We voluntarily curtail our sex lives, eating lives, monetary motivations, and educational beliefs all for the sake of this "thing" out there, which we can't really define.

The only way I can synthesize all of this (read: explain myself) is by a mirror of experienced reality. When I have lived my faith, life has been more cogent... it has held together. Part of this is the morality of it all. When I live those morals blindly and faithfully, life just turns out a little different - a little more fulfilling. I read the actions and sayings of Jesus and I think "you know... he's right... this is what we're supposed to be like. This is how it really works."

Part of what is so convicting about the gospels that I find nowhere else is the dead on read of what we all know we should be and where we all know that we are. When we see the concerns and reactions of the Jews and other peoples in both testaments it's so full of flesh and blood. While this divine history plays out we can still recognize in its midst people we know, often ourselves. We know why they worship Ba'al. Ba'al's a nice guy. You give him $2 and he gives you a lollypop. He's the kind of God the rich and powerful want to serve. A God that wants to help you out to up your experience and to make you life "happy".

Scripture tells us exactly what people are like. None of this flowery yip-yap "you're really a good person deep down" that we hear from self-help gurus. Nono, we all know we're messed up. If you could read my mind I guarantee that you would never listen to another thing I said - ever. I'm sick and I know it, I'm broken and I know it, and I also know that I can hide it from people the vast majority of the time.... and I know that I'm not the only one.

We also know truth in God's anger and our fall. Look at the world - destruction, hatred, divisiveness, and the daily indulgence of inhumanity in so many sectors. No nirvana reaching here baby, we're off track.

So I guess that I only really subscribe to all of this Christianity business because I see it. History is the product of the winners and science always leaves out that one variable. We always think we know the answers and yet things never turn out like we planned. We try not to give our heart and committments to lost causes, but they pull us back time and again. We know that our way just isn't good enough.

When Jesus says to Peter, who is counciling him against voluntary death "get thee behind me Satan" it all becomes clear. What Peter is saying makes perfect sense! Right before this passage Peter had been proclaiming Christ as the messiah, and he knew what Christ was capable of. Slay the dragons! Throw off the yoke! Free the people from tyranny and give them their Universal Human Rights!

I can see a mild smile on Jesus' face rebuking Peter... men still don't get it. His ways are not our ways, God doesn't do things like we do, and oftentimes his answers look stupid to us... until they work. His ways are not our ways... and we know the fruits of our ways. His ways are not our ways... and they don't quite square with how we would have written the novel. His ways are not our ways... and that's the only kind of God worth bowing down to worship.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

nominlist meddling

It's better to be an atheist than a nominalist Christian. There's absolutely no room for it. They get in and aromatize the entire body with their stench. I consider myself something of a removed disciple of Pope Benedict XVI. Every time I talk to others about skirting around the basics and compromises that the Church makes for nominalists I feel the urge to vomit. If the Old Testament teaches us one thing it's that we're better off being gentiles than being a bad Israel. God will remember his covenants with Israel and be faithful, but there are a lot of painful prophets in between here and there for the covenant harlot.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Success in falling short

Well Lent is functionally complete now. After confession I recall plainly how much I've fallen short on this season. Excellent. Helps me know myself as a sinner.

Without Confession it's hard to really come to grips with yourself. At least for me the problem isn't seeing myself as a sinner, but rather the problem is caring about what I've just seen. As is normal with my personality I tend to simply blow off my failings of "well yeah". If I miss a service, then sure it's lazy, but big deal - I'm a lazy person!

I've decided that I have to do something physically hard in order to purify my spiritual life. For the longest time now the only physical thing I've done is play some basketball and soccer. While hardly a total coach potatoe, my metabolism and general fitness is down, and I've gotten substantially fatter. It's affecting my other disciplines as well. I tend to react to productive and non-productive frames of mind holistically. Studying helps me exercise, vice versa, praying helps all, and all things can become part of my prayers.

Lenten season sets the bar high enough that you can definately come to see your own failings. When the tally is counted and you realize all the milk you snuk into the coffee, how many times you played by the letter of the law, how often you procrastinated helping others in order to fulfill your lenten discipline, and how many ill thoughts you've had in the mean time, and of course, how many services you've missed - if only just little Compline's... then you know what you're really like.

Lord have mercy.

Friday, April 22, 2005

This is one bad_ _ _ Episcopalina priest blog

This guy rocks. He's an Episcopal priest who talks about the relative superiority of Orthodoxy and CAtholicism. Very intelligent. Check out more of his writings here

Preach Scripture!April 17th, 2005

Last week I received a very thoughtful email from one of our readers. He entitled it “A Protestant’s Questions” and he posed the following to me:

I think that the principle of “sola sriptura” should be assessed as a mere corollary of “solus Christus, sola gratia, sola fide”. That is, it should be assessed, not as a formal principle, a part of the prolegomena to theology, but as a matter of theology proper, and indeed of Christology and soteriology, not of hermeneutics. You said in one recent posting that protestants don’t understand the veneration of BMV because they view it within their own theological framework, in which it doesn’t make sense: I would like to suggest that, similarly, you see “sola scriptura” within a catholic theological framework, in which it doesn’t, and can’t, make sense. What the 39 articles of your church say - that scripture contains everything necessary for salvation - is, I think, the decisive argument for protestants: Scripture (and scripture only!) gives clear witness to salvation through Christ alone, by faith alone, by grace alone. If that witness of scripture is true, if it is to be trusted, than nothing that goes beyond God’s grace through faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. And if that is so, then nothing that goes beyond what scripture teaches is necessary for salvation. And if that is so, then nothing that goes beyond what scripture teaches necessarily forms a part of the proclamation of the church. And if that is so, then nothing beyond scripture could be binding for the doctrine of the church. And, contrariwise, if anything that is not contained in scripture is deemed binding for the teaching of the church, how can anyone avoid the conclusion that that something is also necessary for the proclamation of the church and, hence, necessary for salvation; and if that were so, how could anyone avoid the conclusion (since, going beyond the witness of scripture, that “something” must be something other than grace through faith in Christ), how could anyone avoid the conclusion that salvation is not by grace through faith in Christ, but by something else (or by grace through faith in Christ plus something else, which is much the same as salvation by something else)? And if so, how could the church avoid abandoning the teaching of the apostles?

I suggest that this is the reasoning, or the theo-logic, behind “sola scriptura”, and I confess that, personally, I still find it compelling. I further suggest that this theological understanding is the only possible defense of sola scriptura. All those formal questions concerning the history of the canon and the decisions of councils and the authority of the church etc. simply miss the point. You asked readers to identify points of interest for your future writing: This is the one point that I think every critique of “sola scriptura” must address, and as far as I see you haven’t done so yet. Hence my obstinate refusal to be convinced.

I know that fifteen years ago, when I was deeply immersed in Lutheran theology, I would have had a better grasp on the above than I do now. When the four solas have captured one’s heart, it all hangs together and makes compelling sense. But the questions arise when one starts to analyze matters more closely. Let us begin, therefore, with the gospel. We have heard the gospel, we have been baptized into the gospel, we speak the gospel, we eat the gospel. Because we know the gospel we know that we are saved by Christ alone, by grace alone. Solus Christus! Sola Gratia! This is the gospel declared to us by the Apostles and traditioned in the Church for the past two thousand years. This is the gospel upon which magisterial Protestantism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy agree.

But then we come to the sola fide, and the spirits divide. Are we saved by faith alone? It all depends on how one defines one’s terms. “Faith alone” means one thing in the monergistic framework of Luther and Calvin; it means something very different in the synergistic framework of the Greek and Latin Fathers (or John Wesley). For the purpose of this article, it is unnecessary to discuss the sola fide in depth (see my articles on Justification). All that is necessary is to point out that the Reformation construal of justification by faith alone was a dramatic innovation in the history of theology. Or in Alistair McGrath’s oft-quoted phrase, it was a “genuine theological novum.” This fact alone should lead Protestants to question what they have been taught by their evangelical pastors and to question continued separation from the Church of Rome.

So immediately we are confronted with the question of authority. Who is rightly interpreting the Scriptures? Luther was convinced that he had discovered the true meaning of St Paul’s Epistles, and no Father of the Church could dissuade him, not even the Doctor of Grace: ‘Augustine has sometimes erred and is not to be trusted. Although good and holy, he was yet lacking in the true faith, as well as other fathers … But when the door was opened for me in Paul, so that I understood what justification by faith is, it was all over with Augustine’ (LW 54, 49). Elsewhere Luther writes: ‘It was Augustine’s view that the law … if the Holy Spirit assists, the works of the law do justify … I reply by saying “No”‘ (LW 54, 10). Most of the other Fathers fare even worse: ‘I know no doctor whom I hate so much, although I once loved him ardently and read him voraciously. Surely there’s more learning in Aesop than in all of Jerome’ (LW 54, 72). Of some other early Fathers of the Church, he writes: ‘I have no use for Chrysostom either, for he is only a gossip. Basil doesn’t amount to anything; he was a monk, after all, and I wouldn’t give a penny for him. Philip’s (Melanchthon’s) Apology is superior to all the doctors of the church, even to Augustine himself. Hilary and Theophylact are good, and so is Ambrose’ (LW 54, 33). (Biretta tip to Bill Tighe for these citations.) Thus Martin Luther pitted himself against the Holy Tradition of the Church and set himself up as a prophet of the Almighty. Luther’s consciousness of his special authority became even more pronounced in his conflicts with his fellow Protestants (see Mark U. Edwards Jr, Luther and the False Brethren [1975]).

One can well understand why traditional Catholic churchmen of the 16th century heard the teachings of Luther with as much horror as many traditional Episcopalians of the 21st century hear the teachings of Frank Griswold. Just as Luther believed that he was inspired by the Holy Spirit in his reading of Scripture, so Frank Griswold believes; just as Luther was unwilling to submit his personal theology to the judgment of the Church, so Frank Griswold refuses. Martin Luther was a theological revolutionary; so is Frank Griswold.

Now it just so happens that I am far more sympathetic to the views of Luther than I am to those of Bishop Griswold. Luther’s positive themes are deeply rooted in the catholic faith (see Why Only Catholicism Can Make Protestantism Work). And at least Luther acknowledges an authority external to himself, namely, Holy Scripture, even if he asserts himself as its privileged interpreter. But though Griswold speaks Christianese, he speaks it with a neo-gnostic lisp. His is a theology of the inner experience of the divine, and how does one argue against someone’s inner experience? Give me Luther as a theological opponent any day! But ultimately my preference of Luther over Griswold is simply an expression of my private judgment. And that is the problem. In the absence of magisterial authority, all we are left with is private judgment and our conflicting interpretations of the Bible. Who interprets Scripture to the Church? Who is divinely authorized to defend the true meaning of Scripture from the enemies of the gospel?

Which brings us back to the Reformation declaration of sola Scriptura. Because Scripture clearly witnesses to Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, my correspondent writes, then “nothing that goes beyond God’s grace through faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. And if that is so, then nothing that goes beyond what scripture teaches necessarily forms a part of the proclamation of the church. And if that is so, then nothing beyond scripture could be binding for the doctrine of the church.”

There is one sense, I think, in which a catholic Christian might properly affirm sola Scriptura—as instruction to the Church to speak Scripture and to preach on the basis of Scripture. Here we distinguish between Scripture as living Word in the Church and Scripture as norm for theology. It is the first use, I suggest, to which the sola Scriptura slogan properly applies: Speak Scripture! Use Scripture! Exposit and apply Scripture! The Bible is given by God to nourish, vivify, and sanctify his Church in the truth and life of the gospel. Because Holy Scripture is the faithful record of God’s history with his people, culminating in the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ and the Pentecostal creation of the Church, the Scripture is the foundational text for the Church’s ministry of preaching. The gospel is a story, and the Bible is the primary and normative written expression of this story. Preachers preach from the Bible. Robert W. Jenson writes:

The first and foremost doctrine de scriptura is therefore not a proposition about Scripture at all. It is rather the liturgical and devotional instruction: Let the Scripture be read, at every opportunity and with care for its actual address to hearers, even if these are only the reader. The churches most faithful to Scripture are not those that legislate the most honorific propositions about Scripture but those that most often and thoughtfully read and hear it…. Scripture’s fundamental authority is simply the fact that its viva vox is present in the church, and so present as to shape her life. Insofar as theology is called to measure the church’s faithfulness in this matter also, the decisive questions are therefore questions about elementary churchly practice. What stories, lines of argument, and turns of phrase actually come to furnish the minds of those supposedly instructed in the faith? When prayers and hymns are chosen or written, what vocabulary and what narratives of invocation and blessing come first to hand? Do we witness the preacher struggle to be faithful to the readings, whether successfully or not?

The primary doctrine of Scripture may be stated: privilege this book within the church’s living discourse. And that of course does pose a theoretical question: Why should Scripture be thus privileged? The answer is almost tautologous. The gospel is a narrative, and this book is that telling of the narrative from which all others draw, quite apart from any need for their correction by it. Systematic Theology [1999], II:273-274)

But the sola Scriptura does not stand on its own. The Bible is preached properly only when it is a preaching of Christ Jesus who saves us by grace and mercy. Solus Christus, sola gratia. The Bible is preached properly only when it is a preaching of the good news of the crucified and risen Lord. But how do we negotiate conflicting interpretations of this good news?

My sola scriptura correspondent continues:

You said several times (as did so many others) that scripture is not clear, that authority is necessary in order to determine the meaning of scripture (or so I think I understand from several of your postings). You even seem to suggest (and I seem to remember that you do actually say so somewhere) that scripture, in and of itself, doesn’t have any meaning at all, that meaning must be given to it in interpretation. Now, quite frankly, that seems to me an extremely dangerous argument for any christian theologian to use, whether catholic or protestant. Is it really wise to use deconstructivist hermeneutics in order to get rid of the authority of scripture? Catholics and postmodernists make strange bedfellows indeed, or so it would appear to this protestant.

But here, again, my main point is a theological one. If it were true that meaning is only given to scripture in interpretation, then I fail to see how it could be claimed in any meaningful sense that any one interpretation of scripture is true. If meaning is given to scripture in interpretation, because it hasn’t got any meaning in and of itself, then the corollary of that is that each and every interpretation of scripture is arbitrary. In other words, the interpretation of scripture would be, not a matter of truth, but one of power: a strangely nietzschean notion, to my mind. A church that wishes to determine the “true” meaning of scripture by its own authority, in so doing necessarily destroys the very concept of a true interpretation, even where its own interpretation happens to be in agreement with scripture (”if they can give scripture any meaning they like, why can’t we?” - there’s revisionism for you!).
Contrariwise, if the teaching of the church does not give meaning to scripture, but safeguards the meaning that scripture has in and of itself, then the corollary of that is that it is possible, and indeed necessary, to distinguish between the teaching of scripture and its interpretation by the church, and that scripture must be the criterion by which the teaching of the church has to be measured.

Let me first correct one point: I have never stated—at least I hope I have never stated—that Scripture does not have any meaning except that which is given to it by the reader. Stanley Hauerwas, whom I have cited a couple of times on this matter, does seem to come close to saying this; but I’m not sure if he really does.

What I have argued, following Orthodox philosopher, Richard Swinburne, is that the historical-grammatical meaning of the biblical text, i.e., that which the original author actually intended to say is not necessarily identical to the canonical or divine meaning of the text.
Swinburne’s argument is simple—context is everything. If we wish to determine the meaning of a text, we need to know all sorts of things. We need to know who wrote it and why. We need to know its intended audience. We need to know the literary genre to which it belongs. We need to know its social context, etc. Now let’s consider what happens if a piece of writing is incorporated into larger context. An obvious example is when an author publishes a collection of previously published essays, but with a prefrace stipulating how particular arguments are to be understood or perhaps even stating his disagreement with his previously published arguments. Newman did this when, as a Catholic, he republished his Anglican sermons and writings. “In such a context,” Swinburne explains, “the author is not stating the views contained in the papers but rather quoting them; and the meaning of the whole is what the author says it is in the preface, with the qualifications which he makes there—even if that was not the meaning of the papers as originally published” (Revelation [1992], p. 63).
Now consider the vast array of writings that are contained in Holy Scripture. We all know, for example, that the Book of Genesis has been pulled together from various sources—the infamous JEDP sources. In the first two chapters we find two different accounts of God’s creation of the world. Presumably each one originally stood alone; the meaning of each was contained within itself, as it were. But now they stand together within the book of Genesis and mutually interpret each other within the context of the book as a whole. Similarly, Genesis itself belongs to Torah, which belongs to the wider collection of writings that we Christians call the Old Testament, which is coordinated with the New Testament within the one book of Holy Scripture, whose author, the Church confesses, is God Almighty.

So when we ask, “What does this text mean?”, we have to clarify the literary context. If we are asking for the historical-grammatical meaning, then this is presumably the meaning intended by the original author. This is no doubt an important meaning to ascertain, if possible. It would be nice to know, for example, what St. Paul really meant when he talked about justification in his Letter to the Romans. But the Church cannot stay at this historical-grammatical level. The fact is, the Letter to the Romans now exists—and was intended by God to exist—within a wider collection of writings. It must be interpreted, not only in coordination with Galatians and Ephesians, but also with James and Hebrews and Matthew and Deuteronomy. Hence Hauerwas’s provocative statement:

Once Paul’s letters become so constructed canonically, Paul becomes one interpreter among others of his letters. If Paul could appear among us today to tell us what he “really meant” when he wrote, for example 1 Corinthians 13, his view would not necessarily count more than Gregory’s or Luther’s account of Corinthians. There simply is no “real meaning” of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians once we understand that they are no longer Paul’s letters but rather the Church’s Scripture.

Now I do not know if Hauerwas would agree that this means that Scripture only has the meaning that we bring to it; Swinburne would not agree:

What the Church proclaimed as Holy Scripture were not individual books, let alone the units out of which they were made, but the whole collection. Putting the books together into a whole Bible involved giving them a change of context and, in consequence, by processes similar to those involved in the formation of an individual book, a change of meaning.
The process produced a change of literary context: what were before books on their own became parts of a big book. And it also produced a change of social and cultural context, but just what the change was depends on who we suppose to be the author of the whole Bible and who was its intended audience. For, we we have seen, it is the social context and the cultural predispositions of the author and his audience which dictate how the book is to be interpreted. The Church put the Bible together, but it did so by selecting books deriving from prophets or apostles in which were recorded what in its view was God’s revelation through them to man. God, in the Church’s view, was the ultimate author of the Bible—working, no doubt, through human writers with their own idiosyncracies of style, but all the same inspiring the individual books. What the Church proclaimed with respect to the Bible was not just “here is a book which we have found and recognized as true,” but “here is a book which we have found and recognized as inspired by God and so as true.” (pp. 174-175)

Hence to restrict ourselves to historical-grammatical exegesis is to fail to recognize the change of literary context, and thus change of meaning, that has been effected by the ecclesial act of including a specific writing within the canon. It is to fail to read the Bible as Scripture. Commenting on the Apostle Paul’s exclusion of women from the ministry of teaching, Swinburne suggests that the passages be read historically, i.e., as local instruction not necessarily universally applicable. He then states:

And I re-emphasize that reading the passages in such a way is not saying that that is what St Paul meant by what he wrote. People sometimes write what they do not mean; what they mean is determined by the context, and if the context is the whole Bible as a Christian document inspired by God, the meaning of these passages may be quite other than St Paul meant them to have. (p. 200)

This then raises an important question: What is the literal meaning of a scriptural text? Is it the historical-grammatical meaning or is it the canonical meaning? However we define literal in this situation, Swinburne is convinced that the inspired meaning of the text cannot be identified willy nilly with its “original meaning.” Speaking of the rise of the historical-critical method, he writes:

But in the nineteenth century the Bible came to be interpreted by many Anglo-Saxon Protestants in perhaps the most literal and insensitive way in which it has ever been interpreted in Christian history. This literalism was encouraged by the basic philosophical mistake of equating the “original meaning” of the text, gradually being probed by historical enquiry, with the meaning of the text in the context of a Christian document. We may hanker after the “original meaning” in the sense of the meaning of the separate units before they were used to form a Bible, but that sense is not relevant to assessing its truth; for the Bible is a patchwork and context changes meaning…. The genetic fallacy that origins determine present operation leads us to suppose that we understand the meaning of a text when we understand its literary history. But we do not; what we need to know is its literary context, not its literary history.

Of course, if we are misguided enough to interpret the Bible in terms of the “original meaning” of the text, that original meaning is often false: there is scientific, historical, moral, and theological falsity in the Bible, if it is so interpreted. This evident fact led many liberal-minded theologians of the twentieth century to cease to talk of the Bible being “true,” but to speak rather of it being “useful” or “insightful” if read in accord with some rule or other of interpretation; and there have evolved as many ways of interpreting as there have been theologians doing the interpreting. And saying this sort of thing about the Bible hardly gives it a special status—the same could be said of any great work of literature. A general fog settled over “hermeneutics.” And yet the rules are there, sanctified by centures of use by those who claimed in accord with Christian tradition that the Bible was “true.” (pp. 207-208)

The Song of Songs is Swinburne’s favorite example. It was originally composed as an erotic poem of young love; but it was received into the canon as a poem about the love between God and Israel. What is its literal meaning? Perhaps the answer depends on whether we are looking from the perspective of the original poet or the divine and ultimate poet.
Swinburne can go so far as to say that the Bible must be read just like “any other book”; but of course there is no other book that has God as its author, which is what makes the interpretation of Scripture so very interesting.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Irrational psychopath monks

Today I read a pamphlet that has come out of one of the monastaries at Athos about the "non-Chalcedonian heretics".

Having gone to school with many such menaces to the Church, I was interested to read this scholarly document. All I found was a bunch of conspiracy theories, historical obsession, and xenophobia completely removed from any kind of human experience.

Now unlike many I'm not a big fan of Athos. It has its cool parts, but it's also a center for insane conservatism and is not particularly accountable to anyone outside of itself. That scares me a bit. I just assume our monks use their time for evangelism or social projects.

What was most insane about this particular document wasn't just the anti non-Chalcedonian position it took, but the fact that it BEGAN with ecclesiology. Gag me with a fork. Essentially the argument worked like this: Oriental Orthodox are heretics because they're not in the Church (since the Church contains all truth), and they're not in the Church because they're heretics. Now I know amongst the PhD's and MTh's in that paper at least one of them had to have taken sophomore-year Logic class in university. Am I the only one who sees an obvious circularity in that argument?

It's simply not faithful to the biblical message to look at ecclesiology as the starting point for authentic faith in Christ. Indeed, what about the man who was casting out demons in Jesus' name? Jesus didn't condescend to him and say "well, he obviously lacks the 'fullness of faith' found only in the Eastern Orthodox Church, namely in the monastic vocation." No, he said that he who is not against me is on my side... definately words to ponder.

It reminds me of a guy on some online forum who told my neighbor that laughter was problematic because laughter wasn't holy. His conclusion: "Orthodox laugh too much." These people really need to get out more, seriously. Get some Indian friends, overdose on some laughing gas, and eat some curry. geez.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Ratzinger begins

Benedict said his first job was to unify all Christians, but also said he was committed to "open and sincere dialogue" with followers of other religions.

That really brings joy to my heart. Unite us!

And what of his background?

Pope Benedict XVI, who is the oldest man to become pope for more than a century,
was born in 1927 into a traditional farming family in Bavaria, Germany, although
his father was a policeman.
The future pope's studies at seminary were
interrupted by World War II and his supporters say that his experiences under
the Nazi regime convinced him that the Church had to stand up for truth and


The BBC's William Horsley in Rome says his papacy is sure to continue John Paul
II's strongly traditional interpretation of the Catholic faith, including
opposition to abortion, homosexuality, priestly marriage and women priests.

That's what I like to see.

Pope Benedict XVI

Cardinal Josef Ratzinger is now Pope Benedict XVI. My heart was in a knot hoping it was him when I saw the light grey cloud issuing forth from the Vatican on TV. When the announcement came, I knew the Holy Spirit had worked.

The man came out and gave his very brief acceptance speech. He just looks like the Pope doesn't he?

I admit it, I'm a sucker for men who don't compromise. I like his compassionate but stern character. I remember reading his stuff in undergrad when I was in my Catholic investigation phase. It's about time Rome had a top notch theologian in the office who could rule with an iron fist. I think he'll preside over a growth in overall Church size and a slight shrinking in nominal membership in inductrialized nations ("big loss").

Josef, my Bavarian brother, this one goes out to you. Hit it boyz...

God grant you many years, God grant you many years, Gooo-oood graa-aant yoo-uuu many many, many years!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

nice one

"All that is good is not embodied in the law; and all that is evil is not proscribed by the law. A well-disciplined society needs few laws; but it needs strong mores."

-William F. Buckley

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Chimp Bums

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A South African zoo is trying to persuade its star chimpanzee to kick a bad smoking habit.

Charlie, a grown male chimp and the Bloemfontein Zoo, has been picking up cigarettes thrown to him by visitors and smoking them -- a habit he probably picked up by observing humans, zoo officials told the SAPA news agency on Thursday.

"Baby chimps pick up habits by mimicking adults and we think he started mimicking smokers at his enclosure which probably led to smokers throwing him cigarettes," spokesman Daryl Barnes told SAPA.

Barnes said Charlie was already showing the signs of a true nicotine addict.

"He even acts like a naughty schoolboy by hiding the cigarette when staff approach the area," Barnes said, adding that the zoo was determined to help him quit.

Barnes said the most important thing was that people stop providing Charlie with cigarettes or any other treats, noting the chimp already had three bad teeth because of all the cans of sweet soft drinks that people throw at him.

Charlie is not the only smoking chimpanzee. A zoo in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou reported last year that one of its chimps had taken up smoking and was desperately bumming cigarette butts off visitors.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Ending the historical method

I'm continually enjoying our ongoing learning in New Testament. Perhaps the biggest cause for reflection has been how we explain the hope that is within us in spite of recognizing that the gospels are not exactly corresponding historical accounts.

First the temptation is to combine them into one big synthesis. However, this means prioritizing and ignoring, and we can't have that. in fact, the Church even condemned that approach which was tried by Tatian with his Diatesseron.

But why condemn this approach? Simple - it forces us to believe some of the gospels and/or their pieces and not believe others.

No, clearly the gospels are all interpreted histories, and are all trying to get something across. But what's the something? Well, that would indeed be too deep to cover on the blog.

I really like Dr. Andrew Louth's suggestion that we take the stories themselves as authoratative. Hey, it's not like we have a way to check and see what's historical and what's not. Besides that, if our faith is nothing but a list of historical events, then they lose the power to form us. Inasmuch as that's the case, they also lose the ability of God to speak to us and form us through their interpreted message.

So, we're actually blessed with an anti-history. Most of the prophets would have been laughed right out of a serious history class. Think about it... no it wasn't really the Babylonians who destroyed your city, it was God! It just looked, felt, appeared to be, and later turned out to be the Babylonians, but in fact it was the unseen hand of God rising up against you. haha, yeah Jeremiah, nobody sane really thinks that?

Precisely, and since all great things depend at some level on irrational men Jeremiah would indeed have the last laugh. Such a great way to speak about God (through story). Time will pass away and time will guard her secrets, but God's word will always be there to bring the Holy Spirit and allow the listener to enter the story. You are invited to be the seed of Abraham, if only you will accept the offer and let go.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

More capricious God needed for supplication?

Often I wonder when we/I offer prayers of supplication, what's the point? Sure, it seems reasonable at first glance to ask the most powerful entity in the universe to grant me/us special favors, but I also have a hard time thinking that prayer alters God's desire in any way. Now of course I believe in free willed synergy, which means that prayers such as the Lord's Prayer come relatively naturally. Also, I very much enjoy singing Psalms about what a hoss God is. So, I'm not talking about praising God or asking like Jesus in the garden or Mary when pregnate, for the strength to do his will. Those are great prayers. For some reason asking God for STUFF or outcomes seems a little silly.

Today chanting the 24 stichera (painful for my ever-sore sick throat) I remembered yet again that in the Old Testament God is rarely presented as a monolithic and steady guy. Rather, we see that God frequently changes his mind, acting on behalf of those who do his will, using them as vessels, and turning a vengeful countenance towards those who harm them.

I guess that I fall into the typical theologian's trap of thinking that I know God and that really... well really he's a sweatheart. In fact, attributing the lovey dovey words to God that we often do is a bit of a trap. It forces God into our boxes of goodness and steadiness. Perhaps a more capricious God is necessary for our supplications to make sense. Indeed, our services use plenty of non-cuddly and plenty of changeable images of God. One hymn today was something like "God of vengence show yourself" (though I don't remember the precise wording). I get the feeling that generally speaking our ancestors didn't have quite the unearthly view of divinity that we tend to fall into. They could ask God for things and results, sometimes God answered and sometimes not, and they were content that God's ways were not our ways.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Andrey Rublev

I would highly recommend watching a Russian movie called Andre Rublev. It's done in Russian Montage style (pioneered by Sergie Eisenstein) and is artistically stunning, although it was done in the 70's with Russian equipment (think 40's in American technology).

The story essentially revolves around an extraordinary iconographer named Andrey Rublev who is brought to the depths of dispair because of the Tartar's sacking his monastary and also because he had to kill a man in order to save another.

While the story is very complex, I don't have time to describe all of it, and it's intricate enough to warrant at least one more viewing before I can claim any solid narrative authority.

Bp. Kallistos was down there with the three of us (students) in the pit TV room of the dorm watching the movie. What a man, well known and great scholar though he is and what does he do when he visits? He chills with some students watching an old Russian Montage. God grant him many years.

Throwing down the gauntlet on the "Personal Relationship"

Ephesians 4
1 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,

2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,

3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,

5one Lord, one faith, one baptism,

6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

7But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

8Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.’

9(When it says, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth?

10He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)

11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,

12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.

15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
(emphases mine)

Now take a good hard look at how Paul envisions the Church. When God gives a gift, he does so desiring that the gift will build up the whole body, not for the revelry of the gifted one. We are, as Abraham was, blessed in order to be a blessing to all people.

The Body of Christ, of which there is only one, is the body where the faith is held and is the whole body as it stands. The person is a ligament; you are a part of that body and you serve a function. However, this "I am" frame of mind has got to GO. You are NOT, except in relation to others (thanks Thomas Aquinas). "I am" is a Platonic frame of mine, one that Christ came to lay to rest.

Now of course each individual has an important part. After all, the body will hardly work well with a sick leg - that's a crippled body. But, do we try and cure the leg, or do we simply lop it off because it slows us down? As someone who has broken bones in the past I'm well aware where I stand on this.

In Orthodoxy we say that we have the "fullness of the faith". This is juxtiposed, unfortunately, against other Christian (or non-Christian) groups who may very well have a part of the faith. It's important to demarcate this line since our command in verses 13 and 14 is to come in full maturity to Chrit - to the fullness of life in Christ, and not to be tossed about by every wind of doctrine. In others words, don't give into those itching ears who want to "redo" the faith when it become annoying for them. In the end it's the tool of Satan. "Come on... divide the body.... you're a good leg, she's a bad arm, you don't need her.... come on, I've got a better body for you, just sever yourself and you'll see...."

There's nothing here to suggest that what Paul REALLY meant was for the leg or the arm to spend all of its time excercising charismatic gifts or getting a Medal of Honor for remaining holy in the face of an extremely uncooperative body. You cannot reject the Church without rejecting Christ. Now there are, of course, levels of that, but when Christ tells Peter that he is the rock upon which he will build his Church, and hell shall not prevail against it, he's not saying "you're the rock upon which I'll build my churches and hell won't prevail against any of the various denominations." The rock stands, albeit in 2 parts at present, but it stands nonetheless. The forces of hell have not prevailed against God's gate and the faith remains as it was and will always be.

As we can see above, it's precisely when the going gets touch that we're to persevere in love. You aren't supposed to go severing the body when parts are sick. The sick leg will need the healthy arm to mend it, the healthy foot is still desired though the leg may be preventing its proper use. We're not supposed to be like the pagans the gospel was preached to, with every little philosophy having its own school. No, we're all to live as one, to show the rest of the world the unity for which God intended man to live in. Otherwise we're a corpse exposed in the morgue - millions of perfect cells, none cooperating with another and each serving not to form a cohesive whole, but rather to steal energy from the others.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

your Personal Relationship with Jesus Christ

Tonight I assited with an Indian Orthodox Bible study for youths (age 12-27). It went relatively well, except for these 2 girls who were being drawn into the Pentecostal movement within the Indian community.

Sigh, they kept feeling that Orthodox couldn't claim to be more right than other Christians. How can we say such things when others are "following the Bible exactly"? Isn't it all about the personal relationship with Christ? Cant you reject the Church and not reject Christ?

First of all, I want to point out that "feeling" isn't a great way to judge faith. I can't argue with feelings, nor was the girl interested in hearing about it. Instead, she simply said that she agreed with all the facts, but that due to the fruit she saw, she couldn't believe Orthodoxy is better because it lacks the imparting of that "personal experience". Am I the only one who thinks that only a Church which lacks sincerity would say anything other than "we are the True faith"? Is it even worth being part of a body who won't at least make that claim?

Secondly, "following the Bible exactly". What "exactly" does that mean? OK folks listen and listen closely - The Bible is Not Self Interpreting. K? We all have prejudices and points of view. The Church exists to critique them so that the body itself doesn't suffer from the misuse by one part of the body.

Lastly, why must so many Protestants make God sounds like you chum? It's like Jesus is just the guy who hits the RBI and knocks you in from second for the winning run. Then you get to be in the same dog pile beside home plate. You have a relationship with God alright - God is the master and you are the servant (steward, to be more precise). You get to invest the master's fortune to turn a profit, but you will answer for it when the master returns.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Bp. Kallistos and symposium

Yesterday I heard Bp. Kallistos open a symposium by giving a speech on 4 models of the crucifixion. He had 3 main criteria for evaluating each model:

1. Does it represent a change in God or in us? (It can't represent a change in God)
2. Is it objective or subjective? (It must in some way actually alter our reality)
3. Is it biblically and patristically consistent?

Well I agree with all of his premises. However, throughout he kept mentioning that "we can't imagine God as vindictive" or "we can't imagine God as a warlord" or "we can't imagine that God demanded sacrifice to satisfy his own ego". Hmm.

The problem here is that it seems to assume that scripturally and patristically God is consistently viewed as a non-vindictive, non-wrathful, non-egotistical, non-warlord. While I would venture to say that Patristics might back him up on this one, scriptures are not nearly as consistent.

Indeed, I can find almost exact descriptions of all of the "we can imagine" personifications in Old Testament scriptures. Of course, we have to use words carefully. For instance, the OT wouldnt straight up say "God is an egomaniac", but it certainly does give all of those traits we would typically attribute to such a person: I'm a jealous God, I will visit you with my wrath, I will judge you by my commandments, I am giving you the land of Canaan as a judgement on the inhabitants who live there, etc etc.

Now this isn't to say God the Father isn't fair about things, but we shouldnt be so quick to declare that he, like God the Son, is well.... deep down really a sweetheart. Jesus does intercede with us, and through him we come to know the will of the Father, but we must take the anthropromorphized descriptions seriously if we are to avoid being crypto-Marcionites.