Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Things Pertaining to the Beginning and Things Pertaining to the End

"Jesus freaks out in the street
Handing tickets out for God
Turning back she just laughs
The boulevard is not that bad..."

-"Tiny Dancer" by Elton John, lyrics by Bernie Taupin

As I seek what being a Christian on this earth means to me, outside of mere "soulwinning", I am drawn to study creation and eschatology. To know where you came from and where you are going is to have a sense of mission and purpose. Everything in between is just an interpretation of that path.
I am currently reading "Critique of Intelligent Design" written by John Bellamy Foster, Brent Clark, and Richard York. Rather than engage in point/counterpoint with specific intelligent design scientific arguments, this book intends to look at the philosophy behind the materialist worldview, as evolved from Epicurus through the Enlightenment and finally through men such as Darwin, Freud, and Marx. I have held before that evolution is not a new thing, and that early Christianity's battles with Epicureanism might provide some insight into how a Christian might address the more refined modern theory of evolution through natural selection.
The letdown is that the early church addressed the Epicurean idea of biological evolution purely by appeal to the argument from design. The church's response to Epicureanism at this point was simplistic and lacking in any serious complexity. Of course, the early church did not need to defend against Darwin's arguments, only against the general idea as expressed through Epicurus. Modern evolutionary theory makes quick work of the argument from design to the point where it is near useless. Whole passages of Scripture such as Romans 1:18-32 and Psalm 19 lose their vital force if the argument from design cannot be trusted.
Paul's argument to the Epicureans and Stoics in Acts 17:22-31 is almost purely a counter-assertion rather than a refutation.

Now having said all of this (and not having yet finished the book), you have to understand the backdrop upon which I am encountering this book. I had just finished reading "Surprised by Hope" by N.T. Wright, wherein he argues that God's redemptive work is ultimately incarnational, and so we as Christians ought to be improving the world around us with a focus of mercy on the here and now, as it points to the final peace under the coming rule of Jesus Christ Himself. While Wright doesn't address specifics in detail, he seems to endorse a secular progressive agenda including combating hunger, environmental issues, injustice, and poverty.
My response to this was to point out that unbelievers already do these things. However, I felt Wright answered that issue by pointing out how that secular evolutionary optimism has no answer for evil, and that it has no lasting hope, in that it places its trust in humanity's continual improvement.

Alas, the "answer" I thought I had found was not to hold for long. I began to reflect on what I had read so far of Bellamy's book, and realized that the types of secular progressive movements being upheld as examples of incarnational ministry by the likes of Wright and McLaren find their historical genesis and impetus in the materialist philosophy of the Enlightenment. Yes, Christ was a model of helping the poor and hungry, but never with an eye towards any semi-permanent temporal resolution. In fact, Christ responded to Judas the traitor that we would always have the poor with us. It could be argued though, that this wasn't Christ's most important ministry priority.
With these thoughts on my mind my wife began to ask for an epidural. Apparently, different anesthesiologists use different drugs for the epidural, and my wife joked about using laughing gas. The anesthesiologist referred to a double-blind study that showed that laughing gas doesn't do anything for pain except possibly as a distraction. He administered the epidural and afterwards, my wife said she was thankful for modern medicine.
We have materialist science to thank for modern medicine. Materialist science discovered the drugs and procedures that work and those that don't via the empirical scientific method.
But most strikingly, a science based in Christian theology would never have come up with the epidural. Alleviating the pain of labor goes against the creation order: after the fall, God determined that the woman should deliver painfully. Paul also appeals to the creation order in 1 Tim 2:11-15 when he tells us that women will be saved through childbearing. Absent the advances of materialist modern science in medicine, Christianity itself would have never allowed itself to develop a way to get around the pain of labor--it would go against what God has ordained. It for similar reasons that many Christians refuse to accept birth control.
The same can be said for global warming. The science behind global warming is sound, all scandal aside. However, action on global warming go completely against the eschatalogical priorities of American pre-millennialist Christianity. The world is getting worse and God is going to come soon and judge it. The case is also made that earth was created for man, and again, it is a violation of creation order to talk about the rights of animals or speak of limits to man's use of earth's resources.
I think there are other cases to be made, however, that will have to be saved for another time. Suffice it to say that the impetus to improve this present world and man's present condition is not, historically, an instinct of the church. The "affinity" for earthly improvement has lain with secular materialists. Traditionally, Christians have been content to chalk up earthly distress to God's judgment or testing, earthly bounty to God's blessing, and everything else to God's providence. Why engage in science or activism to improve your condition when it is a result of God's intentional action?
In conclusion, I find that NT Wright makes his point as to incarnational ministry, but it lacks any historical grounding in what the church has actually been doing throughout history.

Welcome Silas James Thatcher

Born October 26th, 2010 at 1:40PM. 6lb 7oz and 18in long!

Monday, October 25, 2010

How I Feel

I saw this comment from "Dave" over at Stuff Fundies Like:

"What amazes me is that, in all my years in Evangelicalism, I never learned anything about the mind blowing ramifications of the Incarnation. It was all Penal Substitution, Penal Substitution, Penal Substitution. None of this second Adam, new creation, God condescending to unite himself with his creation, Christ retaining a glorified body in Heaven stuff."

That is exactly how I feel! Only I am just starting to grasp it. I don't feel like I really get it yet. A Penal Substitutionary Christ only gets you so far. It gets you through the door of salvation and leaves you in the foyer. No wonder I sometimes feel like leaving. And most of the people around me are content to cram that foyer full of people.


Our church uses the KJV as the standard translation for all public preaching and teaching. However, they are not KJVO, and other translations are brought into the mix from time to time. This takes the form of a member of the congregation being asked to read a verse, and reading it from another translation, or the pastor or teacher making reference to another translation to bring out a point.
Last night (Sunday night) the teacher read a passage from the NASB. Others in the congregation read from the NASB and ESV. It was a lot more than normal, which I don't have a problem with personally.
The problem is, my mother-in-law was with us, and she is very strongly KJVO. She, of course, was not happy with any of it. That's fine with me too. She has her convictions.
I bring all this up because she made a statement on the way home that seemed odd. She said something to the effect that it was possible to "intellectualize" yourself out of the truth. Which was all the more odd since she wondered if our church had ever looked at the evidence against modern Bible versions. But if they did, wouldn't that count as "intellectualizing" yourself INTO the truth?
"Rightly dividing the word of truth" is an intellectual exercise that begins with God's revelation and neither adds to nor takes away from it. It determines what is correct or not by identifying and analyzing Scripture. It engages in proper exegesis continually. What better use for the Christian mind than applying it to the Scripture?
Of course the Holy Spirit informs the mind and conscience of the Christian. But He will never tell you that 2+2=5, or that a square is round.
What ends up happening amongst anti-intellectual Christians is that peripheral issues such as versions, dress standards, etc. get held with the same a priori status as Scripture itself. When the rest of us use evidence and even Scripture to argue against these things, we are accused of sophistry and "intellectualizing." The a priori status of these external shibboleths by definition requires human authority to teach and enforce. It is why in these groups you find extreme emphasis on pastoral authority and position, as well as a smattering of pseudo-popes in their circles (big name preachers such as the late Jack Hyles). It is why everything is "preaching" and not "teaching." It is why "exposition" of the Bible is out and "topical" sermons are in.

Show Yourself Friendly

"A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother." -Proverbs 18:24 KJV

Here is yet another verse out of the book of Proverbs that, because of KJV rendering, is used improperly in multiple ways.
The first improper use of this verse is simply this: If you want to have friends, you must be friendly.
Various versions appear at first glance to not agree here but the notes for the NET bible tell us clearly what is happening:

"The text simply has לְהִתְרֹעֵעַ (lÿhitro’ea’), which means 'for being crushed' or 'to be shattered' (but not 'to show oneself friendly' as in the KJV). What can be made of the sentence is that 'a man who has [many] friends [may have them] for being crushed' – the infinitive giving the result (i.e., 'with the result that he may be crushed by them')."

What the verse is trying to say is that those with too many friends will find that many of those friends are either fair-weather, or out to use them. Not that if you want friends, to be friendly. The second half of the verse tells us what we all know to be true, namely, that true friends are rare. There is "a friend" that "sticks closer than a brother." If you have many friends, most of them are likely not true friends, but everyone typically has one person who is a true friend. There is one true friend in the bunch.

The second improper use of the verse comes in this last half. When Scripture says "there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother," this is sometimes made out to be a messianic prophecy to the effect that Christ is the Friend who sticks closer than a brother. The words "a friend" are taken to refer to some specific personage not mentioned in the text. However, there is no warrant for this. The use of "a friend" is specific for sure. But it is specific in the sense of one out of many, not a specific person. Of your many friends, one is true and will stick close to you--thus, "a friend."

There is one way in which the KJV rendering of the first half of this verse might be vindicated. When it says "He that hath friends must show himself friendly," it could be taken sarcastically. This would have the effect of saying that having many friends is exhausting work. The problem is that sarcasm is an implied tool. Our guess that this is sarcasm is just that, a guess. Secondly, this understanding of the first part of the verse makes its contrast with the last half incomplete--there is no negative counterpart to the idea of a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Lastly, the KJV rendering is not true to the text, but highly dynamic at best.

I don't think any version really does well here, but the NASB and NIV do the best with this verse:

"A man of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (NASB)

"A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (NIV)

Friday, October 22, 2010


Yay! My wife got approved for Medi-Cal (CA Medicaid) for pregnancy related medical. All that red tape paid off. That saves me $1,800 that I didn't have in the first place!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Love and Postmodernism

"The biblical metanarrative offers itself as the one story which resists deconstruction, to which the criticisms of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud are not relevant. It speaks from first to last of a God who did not need to create, but who did so out of overflowing and generous love. It speaks of a God who did not need to redeem and recreate, but did so as the greatest possible act of self-giving love. The problem is, of course, that the way we have reshaped this story has turned it into a power-play of our own. But the biblical metanarrative itself is not a controlling narrative: it is a self-giving narrative. It is not a power-play; it is a love-ploy. The fact that postmodernity cannot recognize love, but insists on deconstructing it, is its Achilles heel.
"The point about love is, of course, that when I love I affirm the differentness of the one I love. Not to do so is of course not love at all, but lust. But, at the same time, when I love I am not a detached observer. I am passionately and compassionately involved with the life and being of that (whether a thing, a person, or God) which I am loving. I am fully involved in the process of knowing, but this doesn't mean it's all 'subjective', that there's nothing 'out there'. Or, to put it the other way, though I am really talking about a reality outside my own mental state, this doesn't mean I am a detached, 'neutral' observer."

-N.T. Wright, The Millennium Myth, pp.86, 88-89

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tech Support Gripe

Please, please, please,

if you call Tech Support and they ask you to type something into your computer, don't write it down and then type it in. Position yourself so you can type it in as I give it to you.

The trip from my mouth to your ear to the keyboard is long enough without it turning into a trip from my mouth to your ear to a piece of paper to your eyes to the keyboard. Web addresses and commands are specific and have little room for error.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Christian Hope

I am currently reading through N.T. Wright's "Surprised by Hope." For many American evangelicals, things won't get better until Christ comes back, and things will get worse until He comes back, and Christians will be snatched away before things get really bad. Wright takes issue with this position. Of course, my challenge in deciphering Wright is that he is writing as an Anglican and assuming fairly liberal tendencies on the part of his audience. For a born and bred "literal fundamentalist" as myself, much of his argumentation defends what I am willing to take for granted, and much of what he takes for granted I wish he had more completely defended.
Let me put forth the question to you, dear reader. What is the purpose of being a Christian on this earth?

1. Maybe to not go to hell when you die? Insufficient--perfect love casts out fear. A Christian who is so because he fears hell isn't experiencing the perfect love of Christ.
2. Maybe to win other converts? Insufficient--this begs the question. That this is an extraordinarily circular way to live as a Christian seems to escape many evangelicals who confuse the issue with the intent to save people from hell, which gets us back to the previous point.
3. Maybe to be holy? Insufficient--this doesn't address what we ought to do, only what we ought to be.
4. Maybe to commune with God? Insufficient--that is better done in His presence.
5. Maybe to help make this world a better place? Insufficient--unbelievers do that already.

Now this is a large problem as it leaves me with no reason to be a Christian. I am reading Wright's book and he seems to be advocating number 5, and number 2 on the basis of number 5. In other words, by making the world a better place, we give the Christian a work to do, and provide a reason for evangelism outside of itself.
This stuck in my craw for quite awhile as I pondered that what Wright is suggesting for Christians is already being done well by many unbelievers. If anything, this is an indication of the pointlessness of Christianity.
Then I realized the answer. The problem of evil has become our answer. Wright actually talks about that in his book, how that secular evolutionary optimism might claim "progress" but no real permanent achievement, especially against the evil heart of man. He brings to bear all the atrocities of the 20th century to illustrate this point.
In a nutshell, secular evolutionary optimism, since it has no answer for man's wickedness other than to deny it, can never hope to transform man or this earth. It's successes are short lived. Its confidence in human goodness is its downfall.
This is precisely where the Wright's prescription differs from the old "social gospel." Christian activity in this world, while it ought to improve conditions in this world outside of the church and the gospel, also recognizes the need for personal transformation through Jesus Christ. While recognizing the need to do good and improve conditions on earth, the failure of man is a failure of the heart, and is no surprise to the Christian. Outside of individual conversion, we recognize no permanent improvement, no permanent victory, until the return of Christ. The church can't conquer the earth, that's Christ's job--but it can be salt and light.
Salt and light--I am amazed that Wright did not cover that passage, because it fits perfectly with the topic at hand. The passage is Mat 5:13-16 (NLT):

"You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it useful again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world-like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don't hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father."

We are salt--we make this world better; we are light--we shine forth the glorious truth of the gospel of Christ. Think about salt for a minute. Does salt stand on its own? Is the purpose of salt to contrast with the flavor of the food it is used with, or to enhance it? Well obviously, the answer is that salt is intended to enhance the flavor, not contradict it. If I wanted to contradict the flavor of a steak I would sprinkle sugar on it! No, I use salt, because of what it does FOR that steak.
Going further, salt is not intended to change the nature of the food it is used on. It is intended to make that nature better. Salt is, simply speaking, an improvement scheme.
Today's hunker-down-and-wait-for-the-rapture Christians are not salt. They have no problem shining the spotlight of the gospel and Scripture on a wayward world. But when it comes to being SALT they make the Scripture of none effect by turning the command to be salt into a call to contrast with the world, a call to conspicuous holiness. Such an interpretation would make sense if Christ had used, say, ashes, or ground-up beetles--but not a seasoning such as salt.

While the good works we are to do for this world might be replicated by non-believers, we as Christians understand why our work as salt never ends. The unbeliever's work is tied to no coming reign of Christ. It will perish without ever having offered the true answer to the evil that caused the problem that non-Christian workers are trying to fix. The Christian's work will not last either; however, the true gospel light spread abroad through active, concerned believers will give that work a chance of lasting longer, it will save many who recognize its transforming power, and when all else fails it will reassure that Christ is returning to permanently end all suffering and pain.

The final lesson we learn from the passage in Mat 5 is that sharing the gospel light is to happen in the context of being salt. How different is that from the door-knocking I was instructed to do growing up! Actually, to these door knockers, they consider saltiness to be conspicuous holiness, so their evangelism is, to them, in the context of being salt, especially when they are dressed up in business casual attire or better, and toting their Bibles. But as we have seen, this is a perversion of what Jesus taught.

The challenge for us today is to stop letting the flawed "social gospel" keep us from understanding that our Christian service is to primarily include improving the world around us. With a firm grasp on the necessity of Christ's personal return for a permanent solution, we know our work is not in vain as we shine the light to those we serve in this capacity. Christ raised the dead, healed the sick, fed the hungry, castigated the Pharisees--and took the opportunity afforded by this social activity to share the gospel.

The following verses take on much greater meaning:
"He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Then the King will say to those on the right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.'"
-Mat 25:33-36

These things were the basis for judgement!:
"Then they will reply, `Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?' And he will answer, `I assure you, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.' And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life."
-Mat 25:44-46

Now I want to say a little bit about Baptist Rescue Missions. I have only been to one, in downtown LA, but I have reports that others are like what I am about to describe. I bring this up because such ministries are prime examples of how not to be salt. Homeless men are promised food and perhaps a shower and a room. But first--they are forced to sit through a toe-stomping, fiery evangelistic chapel service. If they do not stay for the whole thing they are not given any assistance. And the preaching I witnessed, primarily blamed and put down the homeless for their condition. Folks, this type of ministry is not what I am talking about when I say we need to be salt. Such a ministry is no more than a manipulative evangelistic tool. So many of the hard-right, ultra-literal fundamentalist churches I was brought up in refuse to do social work unless they can cram the gospel down the throats of the unfortunate. If you are going to be salt, be salt. Don't hide the light of the gospel, but for goodness sake this doesn't mean pinning them down and shining it directly in their eyes. People must come to Jesus of their own accord. If you mean to help, then help without strings attached.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010

My Trip to the Welfare Office (+rant)

I sat/paced around in the San Diego County Health & Human Services office (aka welfare office) for about 2 hours today. Other than the wait, everything went pretty well; I was just there to turn in some documentation that I was unwilling to mail (such as original IDs, original birth certificate, original social security cards, etc). However, I pity the person who walks in there without being prepared both organizationally (paperwork/forms) and time-wise.
I make $14.40/hr. I get health insurance through work. What am I doing at the welfare office, you ask? Think pregnant woman plus insurance copay. My wife is pregnant with our second, and if she stays three days in the hospital like last time, that's an $1,800 copay. Seeing as how I can barely afford to pay bills and buy gas and food and diapers at the same time, $1,800 is a crushing amount.
California offers a program for seemingly middle-income families like ours called AIM (Access for Infants and Mothers). We qualified handily to have our firstborn covered; mail in the app and fee, then get your insurance card and pay the contribution amount ($400-500) over 12 months.
So I go through the AIM application process with number two. Lo and behold, since my family has grown by one and my income has decreased by 10%, I don't make ENOUGH to qualify for AIM. Our application was referred to Medi-Cal.
Medi-Cal. I knew immediately this would mean dealing with the welfare office and lots of paperwork. Worse, the AIM rejection letter said I would hear from them in 45 days. And Medi-Cal took the full 45 days. Medi-Cal finally responded with a half-page list of documentation they needed. Thus my trip to the welfare office today.
As I sat waiting for my number to be called, I began to wish I had some money on me. I honestly believe the best way to bust through the wait at the welfare office is to offer to buy someone's number for, say, $20. I mean come on, you aren't there unless you are poor. $20 would be a real score for many of these people.
Alas, I don't have $20. It hits me that although I am only here to get Medi-Cal for my wife, I am just as poor as they are in many respects. Just not enough to ask for food stamps and cash assistance. I catch myself looking at the application for these wishing my family actually qualified. Just this past weekend I returned a technical book to the bookstore so we could by diapers and gas. Groceries this week are courtesy of a friend who paid me to look at what was going wrong with his wireless router.
Although I thought I could wait it out in the air-conditioned lobby the wait proved too long. I spent some time outside and chatted on the cell with my wife. (In an attempt to cut expenses I am ditching my cell in November when my contract is up.) I walked back inside and stood in front of the windows watching people come and go as the workers handled their business--at least until the security guard told me I couldn't stand there anymore.
One thing that surprised me was the number of people waiting with friends and family who were their on business of their own. The Tea Partier among us might concede that this proves some sort of defect in those segments of society; I rather think that poor people feel the human side of life a little more acutely than those who are more comfortable. They--ironically--have a stronger sense of community.
Another surprising observation was the number of very young women there--and not all had children. Indeed, while women and minorities comprised the bulk of those waiting for assistance, it would be impossible to pigeonhole the demographics of those present. There was a middle-aged white man who hadn't had work in forever, and had been through some sort of family separation that caused his benefits to get held up for several months. I again wished I had that $20--but this time for a different reason.
Then there was the barely twenty-something girl who was 7 months pregnant. I am ashamed to say that my fundamentalist upbringing put me in judgment of her when I saw no ring on her finger and heard her speak of her boyfriend. Then I realized, how could I judge? Perhaps the pregnancy was an accident of passion. More than likely, though, she and her boyfriend see marriage as another construct of a society that has failed them.
My view expanded to the many children present with their parents. Why have children when you must live like this? You do it because it is the human thing to do. The entirety of human experience can be seen to trend towards families and tribes even when the official civil and religious constructs are thrown out. People form clans. For these people, welfare is just another resource in a world where what matters most is the people you identify with, because that's all you've got.
When I finally reached the window I was greeted by a nice older lady whom I hadn't seen before. She processed my paperwork and I was out in no time.
When all was said and done my thoughts turned to the owners of my company. I wondered if the state of California alerts employers when you apply for welfare benefits. I can't say I really mind either way. But what would they think? I have no evidence of what political persuasion they are; but they probably fit the stereotype of most small business owners--Republican, economically libertarian, anti-government intervention, low tax types. I can hear the argument now. "If government would tax us less and leave industry alone we could pay you more." To which I say, well then get the ball rolling, start paying more. So you see that it is a chicken-and-egg situation. In the final analysis I have to say, when business types stop complaining about taxes, regulations, and social programs, I'll stop complaining about them. If it is true that you can pay me more or hire more workers if the government would get out of the way, then you are admitting to having passed the burden to your employees. If the burden is mine, then why are YOU complaining?
Business complains despite having implicitly passed on the financial burden of government to its employees because they don't really care about taking care of employees. The reality of the attitude of American business is more Scrooge than Mr. Magoo. Sorry, but I have a bad habit of calling things as I see them. Business is interested in pumping profit no matter what the source. What's so bad about that you say? Business is not a charity you say? Fine, then why do you have a problem with government social programs that will take the burden off of you to ensure the total welfare of your employees?? Taxes would be too high and choke off business you say? OK then let's end social programs and give business back that money so they can ensure the welfare of their employees. Oh but that won't work, because business will turn around and say "we are a business, not a charity"!!!!!!!
So you see, business wants to have its cake and eat it too. It is the reason Reaganomics and tax cuts and trickle-down economics does not work. Give business some $$$ and they'll stick it in their back pocket.
What is needed is a full-throated return to the New Deal combined with restrictions on companies trying to save money through worker visa abuse and mindless offshoring. Of course none of this will work without a comprehensive and ambitious energy policy that seeks to get us off of oil. The recession of the late 70s-early 80s was not so much a failure of the New Deal as a consequence of the energy crises of the 1970s. What Reagan SHOULD have done is fix our energy policy, not play around with taxes.
Any meaningful advance in this direction runs up against the mighty "petrodollar." Increasingly, our currency is not so much backed by the full faith of the US government as it is backed by the full might of the US military in securing economic rights and resources around the world to American corporations, primarily Big Oil. That's right America, the power of your dollar is squarely rooted in the misery we inflict across the third-world in the name of democracy but really in the service of fascism.
...and these chickens are coming home to roost. What you have sown, America, is what you will reap. The current economic hell (and yes, it is hell) is dragging at least 25% of America into third world poverty. We've been played, and the American elites are now out for YOUR blood, your livelihood, your little bit of something that you called a decent life. And through their sycophants in the GOP and through Fox News they would have you believe that the reason is because Reagan and the Bushes didn't go FAR ENOUGH in cutting them loose from any meaningful government regulation or taxation.
America is set to blindly put the Tea Party into power in 2012 at which time they will inject one last shot of de-regulatory, low-tax heroin into the greedmasters on Wall St and in business. It'll work! And then, like a drug, we will have the letdown, and an unfathomable economic catastrophe that will make 2008 look like nothing in comparison. Then this nation will finally become embroiled in war, within and without.

Friday, October 08, 2010

1 Tim 2 and Women in the Church

I recently read an article by John Jefferson Davis on 1 Tim 2:12, arguing that it is in fact appropriate for women to teach and hold leadership positions in the church. The first part of his argument basically stated that the exhortation was local and intended to correct abuses at Ephesus. The second part of his argument states that we can’t use Paul’s appeal to the creation story to establish a transcultural principle since, as he argues, Paul did not apply the story of Adam and Eve consistently throughout his epistles. So I wrote a response. Unfortunately, his contact information is not in the article, and CBE International keeps most of their content behind a pay-wall anyway, making public interaction difficult. And I really don’t think anybody cares what I have to say. But here it is.
I must also comment that I used the NRSV to defend my position. When my pastor spoke on 1 Tim 2 this year, he mentioned the NRSV as a gender-neutral translation in the service of evangelical feminism. However, this version gave me no problems defending the traditional understanding of this passage.

One reservation not addressed is Paul’s restriction on woman teachers: “I permit no woman to teach…”(v.12 NRSV). This is especially serious since the qualifications for an elder/overseer/bishop include being “an apt teacher” (1 Tim 3:2). Indeed in 2 Tim 2:24 Paul reminds Timothy that as “the Lord’s servant,” in reference to his position and duties in the church, he ought to be “an apt teacher.” The Greek word used for “teach” in 1 Tim 2:12 is never used positively in connection with women, only negatively (here, Tit 1:11, Rev 2:20).
In the context of 1 Tim 2 it seems difficult to restrict the command to the Ephesian church situation. The chapter begins with Paul urging prayers “everyone” and for civil authorities in vs.1-2. Verses 3-4 are global, telling us that God desires “everyone” to be saved. Verses 5-6 are also global, telling us that Jesus is the one mediator between God and man and gave himself for “all.” Verses 7-8 are global as well, in that we learn Paul is an apostle and teacher to the Gentiles and the exhortation is given that “in every place the men should pray.” Verses 9 and 10 continue these general global exhortations in telling the women to dress modestly and do good works. Coming to verse 11 we don’t yet see any shift in context from global to local.
In fact, several textual clues point to the Paul’s intent that these teachings be applied globally. “Let a woman learn” likely is intended to contrast against the Jewish prohibition against women learning the Scripture. According to the NET Bible, “this was a radical and liberating departure from the Jewish view that women were not to learn the law.” If we restrict the application of this passage to Ephesus, then we would have to say that only women in Ephesus were allowed to learn.
In verse 12 Paul says “I permit no woman to…” indicating that the restriction against teaching and usurping authority is, at the very least, a personal scruple of Paul’s. Other major English versions are grammatically consistent in their English rendering: “I do not (allow/permit/let) (women/a woman)…” If we localize this passage and allow for women elders and teachers in other churches, we have to ask how Paul would handle such situations. The plain answer is that he would not let it happen, not at Ephesus, and not anywhere else. He would insist that “she is to keep silent.”
Your preferred translation of this verse essentially makes “usurping authority” an adverb of “teaching.” I don’t see how this rises above the level of conjectural emendation, as pertains to the Greek text.
Lastly, you indicate that since Paul uses the creation narrative in different ways with different churches, we cannot draw the conclusion that Paul is attempting to establish a transcultural norm in 1 Tim 2:13-14. I feel that Paul is remarkably consistent in his application of the creation narrative. In 1 Cor 11:3b we read “A man is responsible to Christ, a woman is responsible to her husband, and Christ is responsible to God” (NLT). The interdependence of all is granted in vs.11-12, but this does not take away from the differing levels of responsibility assigned to men and women, husbands and wives, Christ and the church, each of which is properly fitted as analogous to Adam and Eve (1 Tim 2, Eph 5). Paul’s use of the Adam and Eve story indicates an identical stamp in each instance. The responsibility lies with the Adam, while the Eve is subordinate, in each case.
In reference to the prayer and prophesying done by women in 1 Cor 11:5, this does not necessarily fall under the restriction of 1 Tim 2. Even in conservative churches women are allowed to sing, give prayer requests, make announcements, etc. The command to keep silent seems restricted in its context, in specifically forbidding women from teaching in church gatherings, and by extension, the office of elder/bishop/overseer. This understanding goes toward explaining the teaching of Priscilla, which was done in private, the prophesying of Philip’s sisters, which does not necessarily denote teaching, and the service of Phoebe.
You point to several female OT leaders; however, this argument is comparing apples to oranges. Deborah, Hulda, and Miriam, as well as other Jewish women before the coming of Christ such as Anna, were never allowed to teach the law. As mentioned above, they were not really allowed to even learn the law. Paul’s prohibition against women teachers and expositors reaches back across the OT through Jewish practice.
1 Cor 14 ties all of this together very well. Not only were the churches at Ephesus and Corinth to not allow women teachers, but no church was to allow this (“As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches…” vs.33b-34 NRSV). Not only that, Paul appeals to Jewish law.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Frugal Fatigue

In 2009 my company implemented a 10% pay cut for all employees. That's when it started. Immediately, I looked at my expenses and realized I wouldn't be able to make my car payment anymore. No way, no how. Fortunately, I was up against tax refund time. Unfortunately, I had to plunge my entire tax refund into my car so my family could continue to have transportation.
I hacked services off of the cell bill, cancelled netflix, downgraded my internet connection, etc., etc. When we needed a 2 bedroom apartment I found one for the same price as our 1 bedroom. It was full of roaches and managed by a woman who fixed nothing and stole our deposit and first month's rent.
We had to move, and our current apartment is wonderful--but $75/mo more expensive. We squeak by. I have instituted new money-saving strategies such as not buying any item at the grocery store more than $2.50 unless it is an ingredient in a meal to be cooked at home. I have invested in fluorescent lights and taken the further step of reducing 4-bulb fixtures to 2 bulbs. I go over the details in my bills like a hawk. My cell phone contract is up in November, and I will be cancelling my service, leaving my wife's cell phone as our only phone--we don't have a landline.
And yes, we are signed up for the low-income discount with the electric company, and I receive advance EIC credit in my paycheck.
Even with these, we barely get by. I would cancel my health insurance from my employer and just leave my wife on there if I thought she would let me get away with it. I don't know what else to cut. I am tired of racking my brain month after month for another way to free up more money. I am tired of having to keep hawk eyes on my bank account so we don't overdraw because we live paycheck to paycheck.
I don't even have any debt to pay on, I am completely debt free! All of this money is going for month-to-month bills.
I have "frugal fatigue."

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The New Face of Evangelicalism

Or, how the death of Christian America is a good thing.