Month: July 2014

The Golden Rule for Eggheads?

I should start this post with the caveat that I am not anti-intellectual, and don’t think I ever could be.  I’m an academic, after all; I live by thinking about things (okay, and to teach things).  On the other hand, I reject the intellectual idolatry of much of academia.  So don’t read this post, or the previous post about how God chooses the foolish things to put the wise to shame, as taking a stand against intellectual pursuits.  They are merely reminders that thinking about things, while important, is not most important.

My wife, after reading that earlier post, reminded me of an amusing and oddly appropriate memory lapse I made as a brand new convert to Christianity: (more…)

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A Tale of Two Priesthoods

It is often claimed that one insuperable difference between Protestants and Catholics is that Protestants, since Luther, believe in the priesthood of all believers, while Catholics believe Christians need a priest to bring them to God.  Today this is usually a Protestant accusation against Catholics, although in the sixteenth century Luther’s notion of the priesthood of all believers, including illiterate and semi-literate peasants, did come in for a certain amount of ridicule from some of the more educated members of the clergy.  Some of the wilder branches of Protestantism have gone further than Luther, even rejecting, on the claimed basis of the “priesthood of all believers,” any ordained clergy whatsoever (this includes the Plymouth Brethren and the Quakers), while many “Bible-believing” Protestants draw a sharp distinction between Roman Catholic priests and their own pastors or elders.  As with so many things, however, the disagreement between the denominations over the scope of the priesthood is based more on an argument over words than over the substance of what the Bible says.  There are substantive disagreements in Roman Catholic and various Protestant understandings of priesthood(s), but the “argument” over the priesthood or not of all believers can safely be put down to a deficiency of northern European languages like English, which have one word where Greek has two, and a desire on both sides of the argument to affirm the superiority of their group over those who disagree with them.

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“The God of All Comfort”

This post is not actually about 2 Corinthians 1, from which the title phrase is taken, but rather about 1 Peter, which I was reading recently.

Peter is writing to Christians scattered throughout what is today Turkey to encourage them because “is necessary for a little while now that you be grieved by various afflictions” (1:6), whose faith was being tested (1:7).  He praises their faith and counsels reverence for God and holiness in life.  He describes their relationship to God with some amazing language which bears repeating: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, so that you may declare the excellent qualities of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light, you who once were ‘not a people’ but now are God’s people, who had ‘not received mercy’ but now have received mercy” (2:9-10).

And he simply assumes that Christians will be hated and will suffer because they are Christian: (more…)

Dumb Enough for Jesus

I became a Christian over a decade ago.  It was a surprise to me and to all who knew me.  After all, I am a nerd, of an intellectual bent, and the prevailing wisdom of my friends and acquaintances was that only stupid people were Christian.  The notion, despite abundant counter-examples both historically and locally, was that any sufficiently intelligent or sufficiently educated person would leave behind such medieval superstitions as Christianity.  When I became a Christian, I learned to praise God that I was dumb enough for Jesus, and I found biblical support for that view. (more…)

“You’re Doing Nothing, God”

Sometimes, you’re reading the Bible and skimming along in a familiar story, and then STOP.  SOMETHING has caught your attention, which you’ve never noticed before.  This was one of those moments.

The story of the exodus is familiar enough to me and to most: Moses is sent by God (after some initial reluctance) to Egypt to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to Canaan.  The elders really like the idea – being slaves of the Egyptians kinda sucks, even after they repealed the infanticide law – but the Pharaoh takes a dim view of the enterprise.  In response, the Pharaoh makes it so that being slaves of the Egyptians really sucks, and the Israelites take a short-sighted view of the case and complain about Moses stirring up trouble.  But God stirs up a whole lot more trouble for the Pharaoh, a lot of people die, and eventually the Israelites leave Egypt not only with the Pharaoh’s permission but with his, uh, you might say, encouragement.  But then he changes his mind and drowns in the Red Sea chasing after the Israelites to re-enslave them.  Moses, throughout, was the unflappable spokesman for God.  Or was he? (more…)

Repaying Evil with Good

The news coming out of Mosul regarding the expulsion of religious minorities is pretty awful, and we should pray for the Iraqis, but I also wanted to share a link to a Lebanese Christian’s response to the situation, which, if it is not simply posturing, is a clear example of blessing those who curse you.  It is an open letter from Levant Party President Rodrigue Khoury to the self-appointed “Caliph Ibrahim Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi” of ISIS, and it begins: (more…)

Pray for the Iraqis

This last week the Christian population was driven out of Mosul, or rather, was given the options to convert to Islam (and not just any variety of Islam, but the extremist Sunni variety practiced by Mosul’s new ISIS masters), or to pay an exorbitant extra tax, or to leave with only the clothes on their backs, or to die.  All or almost all have chosen to leave.  As Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako put it, “For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians.” (more…)

Basic Ecclesiology: Unity and Plurality

As I have argued that ecclesiology matters, we might then ask what we ought to believe about the Church.  So I thought I might lay out a few basic ecclesiological ideas in a series of short(er) posts.  Of course, our ideas about the Church tend first to be informed by our experience of actual churches, and what we like or dislike about them, and only secondarily (or tertiarily) consult the Bible or any reputable theological source.  But God’s revelation is always there to challenge us, just as Apollos was challenged by Priscilla and Aquila in Acts 18:26, to think better about the subject.

The first point is that there are multiple churches, and yet there is one Church.  The Church is simultaneously singular and plural. (more…)

A Philosopher’s Appeal to Read Scripture

A fascinating new website has been started over at danherrickphilosophy.com, all of whose arguments merit careful reading.  This is not to say I agree with all of his arguments – I do not, which ought to surprise no one – but his essays often provide an interesting sidelight on the issue and frequently an unusual insight.  In particular, he just finished a series of four posts on how to read Scripture: (more…)

Who Were the “Hebrews”?

Biblical scholars like something to argue about, because they are academics, and academics make their living by making arguments.  (I know; I am one.)  And since what is at stake in biblical scholars’ arguments is almost always the question whether the Bible can be trusted, for skeptics who wish not to believe as much as for believers who wish to do so, biblical scholars’ arguments often degenerate into battle lines.  Often, I feel, a little more careful attention to the text may shed some useful light on the subject.

One debate which has intrigued me in the past is the question of the (non-)relation between the Hebrew word “Hebrew” (ʿibri) and the word “Habiru” and its variants in Akkadian and Egyptian.  It seems that some conservatives have argued that Habiru = Hebrews = Israelites, and thus the Ancient Near Eastern texts which mention the Habiru corroborate the biblical accounts of the Israelites.  Against this, some skeptics have argued that the term Habiru is used in contexts where the biblical Hebrews cannot possibly be intended, and sometimes carry non-Semitic names, which these scholars take to indicate that the Habiru were a mixture of Semitic and non-Semitic.

Now, I am not an expert in the Ancient Near East, nor do I read Sumerian, Akkadian, Egyptian hieroglyphics, or any of the other languages, so I can only approach this question from the Hebrew side.  But it seems to me that what the Bible says about Hebrews is not what most people have presumed, and may open the door to a different solution to the relationship between the Hebrews and the Habiru. (more…)