Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Two Links

Today has been hard; the last couple days have had me breaking through emotionally, some tough feelings. Not uber tough, but tough enough.

Why? I don't know man. I started feeling poopy just a few hours after my last post when I was feeling so good! I'm okay. I did some breathing today. I left a couple messages with my weekly talk-buddy. I see my therapist tomorrow. But for whatever reason, I'm just down, pissed, a bit anxious. The worst seems to have passed. Perhaps tomorrow will be a brighter day. It often is!

But while I've got the floor: two links worth reading.

The first one is an excerpt from E.P. Sanders, well worth the time it takes to read it for those curious about Hellenistic influences in Jesus' Galilee. I admit I haven't read Sanders' books on Jesus and Paul, but want to. I don't know what his beliefs are, if any, but Wright sees him as a pivotal historian of first century Christianity. Sanders is the pioneer of what is now called the New Perspective on Paul. I don't which way I go with the thing, though again, Wright is persuasive; I don't feel pressure to come to a conclusion either. But this article seems a realistic discussion of Greek influences on the NT; an idea taken for granted so often it's making me ill.

Mental throw up, there, feel better.

The second link
addresses something which I believe absolutely must, and will over much time and pain, change in Christianity: the fundamentalist' reading of scripture, innerrancy, that. I don't actually know if it really was the creation of Midwest theologians in the late 19th/early 20th century. Well, I know American fundamentalistm originated then, but I don't know what prior attitudes towards scripture or error in scripture were held over the centuries. This is an enormous jar of nightcrawlers (as the use of alpha symbols in this article shows!) and I don't want to open the jar here. But truly, if the Church is to treat its members humanely and attract new members who think, a much more sophisticated approach to reading the Bible is required in my opinion.

That's one thing I feel for sure. That and I'm straight. Not much else right now. I need to so something constructive, I think.

Peace to all

Saturday, February 25, 2006

On Earl Doherty., Homer, and Reason

I told Eddie F. (from edgeoffaith) I'd read Earl Doherty's dismissal of Jesus as historical figure and respond; I read the first third of D.'s essay just now. I found it so non-compelling I can't even begin. I can't begin. That's why I'm posting here instead of on Eddie's blog. When I feel the umph to do so I may, but the fact is even the internet offers at least one scathing criticsm of D.'s book and website.

While looking online for Earl's essay I found a strong response to him, especially his treatment of Hebrews HERE. Whoever Bede is, he drags in Christians and skeptics in his dismissal of Doherty's claims; mostly, he deals convincingly with the evidence we do have. For myself, I've found enough references in Paul's undisputed letters to both gospel material and Jesus as a historical Jew (and lists of these versese are easily found) that to believe otherwise requires more faith than I have. Finally, Doherty's understanding of both Judaism and Hellenism, even for an amateur like me, is painful to read. It's like the writer who argues Mark's gospel is creative fiction derived from the OT and Homer. Homer! How do you figure?

Homer's I and the O are two very different books. In fact, it's hard for me to believe one person wrote/redacted them both from available myth sources. The hero of the I is war; it's slaughter. Whether it's Achilles or Hector, the mood of the text runs highest when some good killing is going on, regardless of cause. The closest thing to ethics I can recall there is when Zeus makes love to Hera (as apart from his other escapades) and sexual married love is (temporarily) elevated; of course, Helen is not presented all that poorly in the I, though Paris, the poor chap who caused it all (under direction from the gods according to other sources) does look pretty wienie compared to his brother who kills for the good of his city (no matter that they were in the wrong supporting the violation of sacred hospitality and should have shoved Paris and Helen over the wall and been done with it).

That's a lame and quick exposition, I know, but I'm looking for the religous mythos behind the I and the O. The gods, nearly without exception, act like capricious self-absorbed nobility in I; Aphrodite is a cowardly whiner on the battlefield; human lives are tossed away because of the Olympian in-fighting soap opera. That's throughout.

In the O the mood is very different. When we see Helen she's nearly a sorceress, almost creepy, though clearly reunited with her hubby, cured, I guess; certainly her other choice was death. But Penelope's fidelity (O himself has several liasions on his way home; some last longer than he wishes, may in part be against his will; it does seem true he really misses P while having other lovers) and more significantly, the all important Greek value of hospitality (which Paris' theft of Helen violated in the first place) are both upheld. That's what makes the suitors in O's house so bad; they're violating hospitality. That's why when O comes and home and butchers them to the man we cheer.

Athena's role as Mentor/Guide really is impressive. She, of course, helps O in his slaughter of the suitors, but she also helps reunite a family, a father and son, a husband and wife, separated by war. Her character in the O, to my recall, is like nothing in the I.

Why am I regugitating all this?

Tell me what the hell it has to do with Mark's gospel? Oh, yeah, a guy falls off a roof in Mark and in the Odyssey. But where are the exorcisms in Homer or in the OT for that matter? Where are the divine healings in Homer (and while I know many, Christians included, point out similarities to Jesus' miracles in the OT he is, to my reading at least, a uniquely miraculous figure in ALL OF the ancient world, in part because he is presented as living, historical fulfillment). Also, nothing in Homer elevates an individual the way Mark elevates Jesus. The religious mythos, the ethical system, behind Mark and Homer are radically different. That to me is key. Mark is not about the family or about hospitality; it's not about kicking out the Romans or rigorous obedience to the Torah; it's not even essentially about Israel's failure to keep the covenant and their subsequent punishment via occupation. It's about a person who does and says things no one else ever did or said.

Reading the Jesus-mythicists is in some ways like reading Joseph Campbell. Both take huge and unforgiveable leaps (unless one is a collective-unconcious Jungian, perhaps; and belief in that takes more faith than belief in Zeus). Fertility gods die and resurrect with the seasons, okay. But there is no historical record of one doing this in a certain time and place, under a certain magistrate, certainly not according to multiple attestations. Of one doing so, not for crops, but to inaguarate the new age of Israel, to make YHWH's salvation open to the entire earth (and N.T. Wright is tough to argue with here).

Overall, the problems in the NT record, like Paul's failure to mention the women witnesses of the resurrection in the gospels in his list of resurrection appearances in I Cor., for me, enhances the historicity of the gospel narratives. Why have women there first? Why portray the male disciples as hiding in fear when Jesus appears to them? If anything, the individuals named in Paul's list feel overly 'official.' The case could also be made that he names individual witnesses that he actually met.

Yes, I still have lots of questions, some of them tough ones. And I look back on some of my responses as quite inadequate compared to what I'm finding in scholars. But the truth is the closer I look at scholarship on the NT and the more I read it, the more I am filled with a vague sense of fear. Of Jesus. Of God.

I'm not done looking. I have many skeptical concerns; perhaps one day I will be able to interact with the skeptical community, though not yet. I was brought into the kingdom in spite of overt anger shoved in the face of a very patient man and I have not forgotten it.

Yet I wonder. I can't forget what Paul says here, and I'm putting in his passage from I Cor. 1 in its entirely. I know most of my friends who read here don't doubt the way I do, don't struggle with their faith almost constantly. But please read this passage with me anyway.

Me, I'm going to go take a hot bath.

Without anxiety.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’

Peace to all who read

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

You Can't Judge a Book (including the NT)

by its first fifty (or in Harry's case, 300) pages (nor by its surface). Harry 5 is getting better with the D.A. and the Room of Requirement. That really is Rowling's strength: invention. From Nocture Alley to the Knight Bus to the floating memoes at the Ministry to the Room of Requirements...her ability to imagine is very great. That kind of imagination is what drew me into the Narnia books and Tolkien as a kid. We were lucky, then, to have Christian mythicists under our child noses. Not that I'm against Rowling's very moral fiction (so far, nothing but snogging) but the Christian allegory of Narnia probably affected me ways I still don't know.

And on Lewis, Markos' book is getting better also. I do recommend it as an introduction to Lewis' 'top down' apologetics. Is the Lewis/Markos approach unassailable? No, but it's thought provoking once again. The apologetics are dated in places because of Lewis' own point in history: surely psychological criticism of Christianity has moved beyond Freud, for example! And Markos makes sweeping, though intriguing, assertions about anthropology (and other things) without providing a single example. This I don't like. It's the kind of thing Chesterton could get away with, Lewis tried not to get away with, and Markos shouldn't get away with. Still, it's a thought-provoking book. Especially, and this will seem odd, as I reflect on it in light of Emerson's subjective soul-world metaphysics. When Markos says the medieval Christians saw angelic presences moving the planets in their spheres and we see only scientific forces, the comparison seems obviously favored toward the scientific description. But not necessarily. If God is, the laws of nature are his laws, Nature can be imbued with mystery and divinity (in a relegated way) in much the same way Emerson saw it...anyway, it's an easy book to read and fun. It's far from the final word, but it continues Lewis' dialogues.

I haven't been back to the edgeoffaithblog for a while. I just don't have the time. And I said I'd read Doherty (who, I think, denies Jesus as historical person at all, an exceptionally weak position in my view) but I've just been keeping up with my school work and family life. The point in Doherty which intrigues me is the lack of gospel stories/sayings in Paul. He even begins his essay saying that 'none' of the early Christian epistles, not James or Peter or Paul, show reflections of the gospel material. I didn't get much past that. The fact is, unless Paul is using idiom common to the culture which sunk in to M/MK/LK/JN (a better designation for the four Jesus books, after reading Wright, than the 'gospels') there are echoes in Paul. As an amatuer just reading a little and listening to the readings in church I've heard some. In I Cor., when Paul says 'if I have all faith and can move all mountains, but lack love...'; that is found in Mark when Jesus says something like 'if you have faith enough you can say to this mountain be cast into the sea...' He's talking about the destruction of the Temple, predicting it even. The disciples can't believe such a huge building could ever cease to exist and he tells them with enough faith they'll have whatever they ask for, including the mountain (the temple mount?) being tossed into the sea.

This is one of the most difficult of all Jesus' sayings for two reasons: it's tough for those who deny he made this prophetic claim because the apocalyptic passages in Mark are much less concrete than those in Matt ane Lk and so most critics assign Mark a date based on the apolcaypse content before 70 a.d. when the Romans levelled the temple. Many scholars, perhaps because of this passage, are pigeonholing Mark into 68-70, during the Roman war but before Jerusalem fell and the Temple was razed. Since Mark is supposed to be written in Greek outside Jerusalem, I really don't know how they figure Mark's author had such precise information. The common sense answer seems to be that yes, Jesus predicted the Temple's destruction and it happened. Or that Mark was written well after 70. There are problems with such a late date for his book, though. Anyway, unless that passage in Mark is a later redaction (and if so, would the redactor have updated the apocalyptic content to be more specific as in Mt and Lk?) Jesus seems to have foreseen the fall of the Temple and recounted it in one of his most horrific and radical sayings.

A saying which is clearly echoed in Paul's undisputed letter to the Corinthians nearly two decades before the Roman war. The statement about having faith to move all mountains is phrased differently in Paul, is almost an aside as he discusses love and its relation to spiritual gifts. Any responsible historian, and I speak now as a critic 'outside' of our own faith, would have trouble saying the reference in I Cor. is not derived from the Markan material. If it can be done, show me.

Without trying, I ran across a few other references like that, echoes of the gospel content in the epistles (the indisputed early ones, not 2 Peter; heck even throw out 1 Peter if you want; James rings so much of the early Jewish Christianity it probably is at least a collection of sayings/sermons from James and I see no reason to toss it). But I drift. The point is, I will not deny that it's interesting to me that Paul doesn't just use material from the gospels to respond to concerns (often very idiosyncratic concerns) from the churches he writes (though most, save two, he had already evangelized). That is a fair question. But the fact that Paul doesn't isn't proof the Mt/Mk/Lk/Jn content didn't exist in oral or written form at the time. Paul, an enemy of the faith and so itinerant later, and not part of the original inner circle, may not have been exposed to much of it, frankly, and certainly would not have been hauling around written copies nor necessarily assigning himself to record large chunks of the oral record as it existed during his life.

And here's where the heavy weights come in. I don't feel as much pressure to respond at edgeoffaith because what I'm finding is that there are genuine scholars who've already addressed these questions in books, or some of them at least; namely Wright and David Wenham whom Wright recommends on this very question (Wenham's next on my list). Look and I (just might) find. Wright's position, or the pieces I know of it, would take another entry at least this long. In brief, the 'gospel' for Paul (and here Wright openly acknowledges Sanders, another scholar I want to read) was not what we mean by the gospel in our post-Reformation culture. The original meaning may have been rather quickly as Gentiles converted and the religion spread. For Wright, the term gospel means something like Royal proclamation, an announcement of kingly victory by the Jewish Messiah flying in the face of the Emperor cult (which he argues grew in the eastern provinces before it was strong in Rome itself). Essentially, Wright analyzes Paul as the first century Pharisee he was.

This is all very interesting, and controversial, especially in light of things he says later in the book (and which I'm still reading/digesting). What I'm saying is that while Wright barely covers the absence of gospel content in the epistles thing briefly, he does make a point that Paul was, in a sense, concerned with one piece of the message. Sure the description of the Supper in Cor. almost certainly came from the earthly disciples; the 'gospel' that Paul says he received directly from God wasn't the same thing as the gospel of Mk, say; those books weren't designed 'gospels' until the second century. Paul is talking about his own vision/belief in the divine victory of Jesus over sin and death, the ushering in of the hopes of the great OT prophets. Mark (who does self-designate, if its original to the book, as 'the beginning of the gospel about Jesus the Messiah/King') is clearly about the same thing in a different way. Jesus is portrayed as victorious over Satan (in some passages I admit I find troubling, a word on that in a second), natural forces, sin, sickness, and death. Mk is a royal proclamation, perhaps, too (and I don't remember Wright addressing this in his book so I may be on shaky ground).

Hence the gospel material for Paul may not have been what some consider it to be now: the divine, perfect, new 'law' to be applied to every issue in his churches. Paul had an overarching vision, one he says was given to him by God directly (Jesus as victor and agent of the eschaton part one) but which he also says was approved by James, Jesus' own brother, Peter, and others Paul met personally (and argued with). Did Paul invent these people when he says he opposed Cephas to his face? Simon/Cephas has to be a historical person. Did Peter invent Jesus? These are complex, and new questions. But one thing seems sure for me at this point: Jesus was a real Jewish person crucified by the Romans (and why lamely dismiss the reference in Josephus to Jesus and James his brother?) He had a real followers and some of those from the inner circle met Paul, agreeing on the larger picture, arguing over the way to include Gentiles (and all Paul had to do was point to the OT prophecies about Israel being the source of salvation for the world; the idea goes back as far as the Psalms at least; it's explicit in Is. 49,6; did he, don't know).

Okay, enough for now. An hour gone when I should be grading. I meant to write about my very humbling snowboard day three which beat me up so bad I can hardly move, but another time. And oh, the exorcisms in Mark are freaking me out! Not because I don't believe Jesus could do such a thing, but because I've never seen a demon-possessed person.

Is the OT full of bizarre tribal silliness and violence? Clearly. Are Paul's letters direct edicts from God? I don't think so, I don't know that he thought so. Are Christians a bunch of great people? No. But a cup of water offered in his name...my own life has changec completely in the last five years and it keeps changing, my inner life I mean, my family life also. Roll that empirical joint and smoke it. Analyzing possilbe psychological explanations for that change would take several books; as the first-person subject let me say I believe God and Jesus are making a slow difference in a stubborn and pissed off person. There are millions of people choosing individual loving actions because of faith in Jesus. Do other religions have the same impact? Great question. One for another time. But to write off all Christians as freakshows actually harmed, further demented, by their faith is simply not doing justice to the phenonemon of faith. If it's a delusion, it's the one delusion I know that improves mental health for millions.

Okay, truly gotta go now. Hope this wasn't too much in one place. Apologize for typos; no time to edit, lame excuse as that sounds to be.

Love and grace to all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Web Log

As time goes on my blog truly has become weblog; it feels more centered on my own thoughts and feelings and less on an audience. Though I love when people read! I'm just not writing polished articles, or sometimes even including background information that would make my posts more meaningful. Web log. This has mostly been a factor of time. I do know I still have a few friends who read here from time to time; it's deeply appreciated.

On that note: right now I'm reading four books. S and I are reading the fifth Harry Potter in pieces before we go to bed (we finished the sixth out of order). The novel is starting to pick up...on page 300. Sorry, gang, I'm just not a huge fan. In four, five, and six the novel took forever to get moving. It does seem like a great book for younger readers, but while some kids' books (The Wind in the Willows) continue to entrance me, HP needs an editor and just doesn't do it. We are struggling on, though, knowing the story will pick up, is beginning to pick up. At the very least, Professor Umbridge is sadistic and I'm hoping Dumbledore or Hagrid kicks her butt (the scenes of Harry's enforced self-torture during detention are very disturbing).

Also I'm in the middle of Herbert's Dune for my sci. fi. class. I read this novel in high school and maybe once a few years later, but it's been many years since I had the joy. It is sci. fi. which bumps against the mainstream canon. Imagination moving on multiple levels. An all-bad villain, true, but at least the relationships are fleshed out at times. The sub-creation, as Tolkien would say, is very engrossing; I feel like I'm on Arrakis breathing in the spice.

Then there's N.T. Wright's What St. Paul Really Said. Yes, for it's less than 200 pages, I'm still reading it. His ideas are so revolutionary I have to step back and gestate. The term'gospel' in Paul is equivalent to imperial proclamation of victory or new kingship; okay, but what Protestants usually mean by 'gospel,' you know, we're sinners and Jesus died for our sins if we place faith in him...that's not what Wright thinks Paul means by the word at all. Wright is clearly a Christian, and the strength of his first-century reading of Paul is breathtaking at times. But Wright is essentially reinstructing us how to read Paul, utterly. It's a strange feeling and it's taking me time to absorb, evaluate, adjust. The book is simply one of the most original Christian things I can remember reading (not that I've read a ton).

Finally, a book I got based on Amazon reviews though I cringed at the title, Lewis Agonistes. I just started it tonight and my opinion may change, but so far I'm only cautiously impressed. I think a reader is better off to cover the dozen or so books at the center of Lewis' theological canon; what Markos is doing (generally, and so far) is distilling information already found in Lewis. Only fifty or so pages into it, I find some things I like or have forgotten; I also find oversimplifications which drive me insane. Yes, the Genesis account and Darwin's evolution are both myths and they are both unrepeatable; however, there is very powerful circumstantial evidence for evolution of life forms (with or without divine intervention, no one can say; science has not answered all the questions or replicated the process from inanimate matter). Markos blows right over that (and Lewis, I thought, cautiously accepted evolution as likely). Also, Markos' whole 'top down' vs. 'bottom down' theory of philosophy...things just aren't that simple!

I know he's intentionally modeling Lewis and writing for a lay audience. Awesome. This I applaud. But he's still an academic and I expect more.

S is almost home from school; time to cut it short.

The coolest thing I did today was make her a cd of love songs, about twenty. Louis Armstrong, Perry Como, Johnny Mathis, Harrick Connick, Frank Sinatra, Karen Carpenter, Peter, Paul, and Mary...I haven't done anything like this for her in a long time, and I love the fact that I am feeling love right now, without criticism or fear or tension or distance. Healing is happening. I cherish it. Yes I'm in therapy, but I give God credit as well. As in any relationship, there are good days and bad days. I'm getting to where I can feel the good ones. My gratitude is enormous.

Oh, and Curious George opened! I am such a fan of the books (since I was three or four). Any input on the movie is appreciated. I'd like to go if it keeps the george-faith.

Be well all.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Ramble On

Looking at my recent posts...man, so much heavy theo-stuff! I guess that's what's on my mind.

I think of how Abraham would have a message from God then go years without anything concrete. Life seems like that. I was on retreat for our vestry this last weekend; it was one long business meeting even though our location was beautiful, and I knew I had made real strides in my relationship with S, in management of my obsessions and anxiety, in my faith, from the year before (just by remembering what I was praying for). And still...life is less than what it should be so often. I know it comes down to expectations (ask Buddhists) but it feels like one hour I'm feeling pretty good and then the next I'm feeling overwhelmed with something: work-pressure, church-stuff (well, I'll say politics and be truthful), family strains, etc. Surely a wife and son give me a center I never had. A family I never had! Yet I move through life, living yet aging, knowing how imperfect the three of us are and how much effort it takes to feel close to either of them. For me, it does take work.

Even when my faith is 'better,' I find I don't live in religious ecstasy. The woods around my home are beautiful, but they don't fill me with the wonder they did when I didn't live in them (though this may be my own fault; for some, the mountains/nature can provide almost constant magic). I envy monks (except for the no sex part) with their singular focus and spiritual disciplines, yet I imagine they live with much of the same poop we do.

Of course, I could still be healing from my depression; that's a real possibility. Maybe monk-life isn't so poopy. I can't say.

I really don't know if I'll ever be anything but a layperson in the church. As intriguing as seminary sounds (and I could take a leave of absence from my teaching job, get my M.Div., and come back at a higher salary!) there are so many barriers and so many questions. And I have to wonder...would I feel any differently? Would I like church-work better? Do I have the clarity of faith to teach in the church? Probably not yet. I may get it, though.

Well, if God is in his heaven he'll help me with my questions; I have asked for help. At least I can bask in the fact that I have tenure, a middle-class income, lots of freedom at work, a nice family, my health...these are incredible things.

Well, back to work. Just a short, more personal note. I read my last 'three things' post and laughed out loud. From recommending punk rock (with some raw lyrics) to Bruggemann to the miracle content of Mark. If I didn't know myself I'd think I was a fake.

Be well all.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Blog Cloud

I found this at Amanda's Site and think it rocks. What a treasure this little jpg is to me.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Three Things Thursday

1) I love Napster. I have rediscovered this album from the New Bomb Turks. This is simply the best punk band I've ever seen live; I saw them, three, maybe four times in tiny clubs in the mid 90's, and every time they howled. For several years working out at the gym almost very day (mostly the inglorious stairmaster back then) was what kept the daggers of my violent depression and obsessions out of my skin. During those glory days this album was one half of my well-used work out tape; the other side had Bikini Kill's first two albums. BK was like a support meeting set to punk. I saw then only once with Mike D. but what a show. I know at least twice I gave the BK album to a girl I was dating to see what she thought; insane, maybe immature, I know, but one girl loved it, her name was Steph, and we got married. I still think for raw work out music these albums are tough to beat (though I've had Vegas on my discman for a while now).

2) Once again, Bruggemann's reading of Joshua as a nationalistic war-text redacted and embellished during the Exile to highlight purity and separation concerns make sense to me. The alternative is YWHW as jihad slaughter-god. Not to say that the ancient Israelites, as most ancient people, may not have done their share of invasive killing. I simply find it hard to believe God judges nations by butchering all the individuals in them (as opposed to the perennial: "our god(s) told us to come here and kill you all and take your stuff;" an idea which crosses cultures and millenia). Could I be wrong? Am I reading as a modern post-Christian reader? Yes, but the revisionist perspective is compelling for the moment.

3) While I want to believe the significant supernatural element in the gospel accounts is plausibly historical, is not intentional midrash or creative fiction, this is not the same as faith in Jesus. Many intelligent people have been led away from anything resembling orthodoxy, from faith in Christ as resurrected son-of-God-savior, by revisionists from Feuerbach and Strauss to Crossan and Mack, as well as the scores of current authors, professionial and amatuer, who honestly assure us of their belief in the gospels' largely fictitious nature. I need to know as much as I can about the historical origins of my faith, yes. But there is no doubt that, even empirically, existentially, my faith is not just about the book.

It is so very hard to find any objective writing about the gospels because one has to either reject or accept the miraculous and most authors, because of their preconceptions of Jesus, seem to choose a path before they begin regardless of what they say to the contrary. If one accepts any of the miraculous at all, the Message, the Personality, the Voice so vibrantly and clearly presented in all four gospels has to be reckoned with on a new level. And that is a bitch. Yet some of us have found bowing before that Voice to be Life itself. Others have found it necessary to reconstruct Jesus in personal ways to fit their world view. Still others, like Ehrman, seem to have simply fallen away as they look closer and closer at the texts (expecting perfection perhaps, and apart from getting to know the living Christ, it would seem). I honestly want to approach the text objectively even at the risk of my own fragile faith; I have an intensely critical personality and a head full of good straw. But I admit at the outset I can't be purely objective. I'm convinced even my doubt is driven, in part, by emotional issues unrelated to reason.

Finally, after reading most of Mark again last night, I find the message is so plainly supernatural it will take some work to show otherwise. Sure I can buy supernatural insertions into the OT material (and I could be wrong), but that was after centuries and centuries of growing tradition and reflection; most of those miraculous events (all of Genesis, the Exodus and Joshua) took place in a culture without a written language. In Mark's final redaction, at most forty or fifty years after the events, Jesus rips out miracle after miracle; while many try to find OT parallels to the things Jesus does, like feeding the multitude or walking on water or healing (and hence show these events are Mark's creation to support his theological agenda) none of it seems a direct fit with OT precedents. The individual events even seem to derive from more than one source. Again, we'll see. I'm approaching the text in faith but also with an open mind. As I said, my faith isn't all about the book, though it's true the gospels played a large part getting me there.

Love and peace to all. My time is so taken these days I hardly have a blog anymore, but when I get to share up here I do love it. Thanks to friends who read.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Gettin Edumacated

Thanks, funkiller, for praying for me and my doubt; currently I'm back in a good place and every time I get there instead of just sitting still I feel something or one pushing me forward...my own personality, God, both...how should my faith translate to action...life is so short, what would be the best way for me to find and use my gifts in the church?

It feels to me like so many years have already been wasted. That's not a fair assessment; in fact, when I consider my depression and the setbacks and challenges in my life I've overcome it's really not fair, but still, I pray that God lets me find and use my gifts, whatever those may be.

One thing I do know is that I want a thorough knowledge of the NT. The primary texts, yes, but the criticism and issues which surround and pervade those texts also. And where do I start? Not online. Not that there aren't good ideas online and smart people writing from all sides of the debate. But as I tell my students, the best sources are still the scholarly ones, books by experts who hae the training and time to delve deep into the topic. And while I'm waiting for my bro's NT-prof buddy to respond, I've taken it on myself to find places to start.

The one thing I already have, and which I'm now trying to read all of (I read a few chapters, was blown away and then went on to other books--I do this often) is N.T. Wright's What St. Paul Really Said. The best literary scholarship, and biblical criticsm is literary scholarship, is that which both reads the text very closely and takes into full account the creation-world of the text. Wright uses extensive knowledge of first century Palestine, of second Temple Judaism, of Paul's own letters, to lay out a beautifully crafted set of essays. I did not realize until I was poking around on Amazon yesterday that this book is controversial, that it is discounted by some because it reinterprets Paul; in fact, Wright's reading of Paul is now called The New Perspective. Nothing worse than cofifying a literary interpretation, but there it is.

I have yet to read all of Wright's little (but packed) book, yet even I've noticed before that Paul's 'faith alone' sermons in the letters were reactions to Judaizers; and, in Paul's idiosyncratic way, radical and not the only thing he said. The fact that the gospels are full of Jesus statements which value and even equate salvation (at least in the parables) with charitable, loving action (call this good works if you want); and that James' letter, whose tradition may lie closer to Jesus' own preaching (though James, according to the NT, was not a believer until after the resurrection) seems to be reacting to how Paul was understood by some...I guess what I'm saying is that none of this bothers me. Those who have written off Wright because he supposedly denies sola fide, salvation by faith alone, have to read the NT docs in their complementary complexity.

Anyway, whatever his pros and cons, Wright is an impressive, thorough, reasonable scholar. And he provides a biography at the end of his little book, with books starred for beginners. It's my goal to begin working through those once I finish his book on Paul, starting with one by David Wenham on Paul and Jesus.

Why do I need to know things? Shouldn't I be out assisting the poor? Yes, I should. I also want to increase charity work in my life; else, what kind of dorkhead faith do I have? Ascetic 'purity,' as in don't cuss or have beer with your cheeseburger or think about sex, and doctrinal 'certainty' as in, yes, I have my terms all memorized...these were my religion as a young person and they fed me about as well as a baby would be fed trying to nurse off my hairy man-chest. Knowledge alone is not reliance on Christ, and it's surely not love. Luckily my little parish in the hills provides me plenty of chances to grow in charity: To serve is to know. But I think, of course, I can be true to who I am and cultivate both components of my Christianity (not that there aren't others in dire need of cultivation, like prayer and meditation in Christ). And the great thing about all this is that it feels natural; I actually feel like I'm finding myself. Thanks be to God. I faked religion for years while trying to be a good boy; how I got to anything genuine really is a miracle. Thanks again, to those who pray for me; I notice changes in my self when I ask for help, often when I forget I've asked for it!

Speaking of good reasons to get on a plane, I am making THIS future goal. How cool is that (you need Adobe reader to view the brochure)? Playing Oxford student for a week and listening to some of the best minds in Christianity? They even take you to the C.S. Lewis house, which is a little creepy, but it would be great to see; hope they don't forget a pub or two he frequented; heck any pub or two would do. England, period, is a place I've wanted to go for twenty five years. Since I began reading Keats in high school. Fear of flying is the main reason I've never been. In the next three or four years, five tops, I plan to stand on the grass next to Wycliffe Hall. How cool is that?


I don't have much else going on. Going over to a friend's to watch a little super bowl, and since I'm not that into the game, I'm going mostly to eat his home cooked pork ribs which I am into yum yum. Driving tonight to get Mikey from the airport. Was planning on working out, trying to get regular after last fall when I 'fell' away from exercise, but I'm kinda beat and will probably just go tomorrow morning before work. Teaching Clockwork Orange tomorrow night in sci. fi. What an amazing narrative voice. That novel is underrated in this country.

I have asked God to show me how best to use my gifts for the kingdom: as a layperson, a deacon, a scholar, or, even maybe, as a priest (and whenever I say that one I cringe). I said I wanted direction by listening to my own heart, the input of others, and circumstances. A pretty fair request, think. I am far from impulsive i this life. A quick prayer is also appreciated. I have time and feel short on time all at the same time!

Sincere love and thanks to all who read

Friday, February 03, 2006

Have to Put Something Up

Hey gang,

I love being able to share here, but with school rolling I haven't put much up lately. I did write a long comment, long enough to be a blog post, at edgeoffaith, and I thought, hey, I might as well stick it here. It's not great, but it's something. Still waiting to hear back from my brother's professor friend on NT scholarship issues.



I haven't been back in the blog since my last post until last night. I write a response to EddieF then realized I hadn't read the Doherty links, went to those, read for a while, ended up in I Thess., then began reading Christian responses to Doherty, then began reading about gospel dates…anyway, the fact is Doherty's revisionist thesis is quite radical, that the gospel pericopae were fictional, snippets written after Paul's life and that they bear no connection at all to the historical person of Christ or any of his remembered sayings or acts. My initial reaction is that there are many problems with this thesis, but since D's ideas, which I hadn't seen before, require reflection and not offhand reaction, I'll let him sit for now. Of course, for this to work, Acts would have to be a complete fake (which is odd alongside Luke which incorporates sources others found viable, Mark and Q); then we have Paul's own statement that he was an enemy of the Way before his own conversion experience. That places Christianity (in some form heretical to Judaism) in or around Jerusalem only a few years after the crucifixion. Also, I thought Doherty's assertion that the passage in I Thess is forced very stretched. Even as an open-minded (I hope) person, his ideas are wild, but I haven't read far enough to say any more than I have!

On the list of pagan mythological precedents here: I have to say that such a comparison is truly not fair. Sure some of the roman Caesars were deified after their death and joined the roman pantheon in a local, state-supported way; since many of the Caesars behaved in life about the same way the Roman/Greek deities did I suppose there was no ethical issue! But when Octavian, Augustus, calls himself filius dei, the son of the God, he is referring of course to Julius Caesar. Julius was his uncle, I believe, and left Octavian his heir in his will; Octavian was only 18 at the time of Ceasar's (untimely) death. Octavian spent years jockeying for the top spot in Rome. When Caesar was deified (and I forget what role, if any, Octavian played) Octavian, in his bid to seize political power declared himself the son of the god, depicted Julius as a martyr for the glory of Rome, and used this title along with lots of other things to castrate the Roman senate and set himself up as dictator of the empire, essentially.

Now, does Octavian's use of the title 'son of the god,' in a polytheistic society which revered/deified its dead emperors, often as part of political power struggle (it is a fair question if the average Roman truly revered the dead emperors or expressed any piety towards them), is Octavian's adoption of this epithet the same as John's use of the term in his gospel? (And I don't know who wrote John, though I genuinely feel at this time that there are many clues for a very early, even eyewitness tradition; the gospel, while anonymous, declares it has this eyewitness foundation). Honestly, I don't think the two have anything in common. The Jews were monotheists with a transcendent creator/lawgiver/judge; claiming this God produced a son is not the same thing as what the Romans and Octavian were doing. Octavian's self-proclaimed filius dei has, in my view, nothing to do with John's claim.
On the rest of the list: these are examples taken from history, psuedo-history, and mythological pre-history. Read the myths of Dionysus, entire narratives about him and not just snippets (and I'm not saying you didn't read entire narratives, I'm speaking to the whole blog). He did lots of things related to grapes/vines/wine; it was his thing. And to me those stories are as clearly mythological as Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe. I'm not being silly; I am speaking as a reader of literature. The gospels present themselves as records of actual historical events which occurred during a specific time in history and in specific Palestinian locations. Does that mean one has to believe them? No. But to say that the myth parallels between Dionysus, or Osiris, or Horus (a god with more than one name, more than one myth cycle, and as a sun god a natural for 'death' and 'resurrection' as he rose and set)…the pieces of literature we have which give us these stories are not the same as the gospels. I am convinced of their difference apart from my religious beliefs.

This list is long and I can't address any other particulars now, but I will say a couple other things: one, the roots of the gospels are clearly Jewish; the internal evidence for this is overwhelming. If one wants to argue that the miracles of Jesus are echoes of OT events (even, say, OT mythological events!) that's another debate. But to say that the gospel authors were intentionally incorporating pagan elements, or that the gospels are the same literary genre as the pagan myths, or for that matter, the Genesis patriarchal stories, is not supported in my view. And two, it is possible, and here I get on odd ground, that, like the Bene Gesserit in Dune, God planted what C.S. Lewis (who had read more myth and material from the ancient world than I ever will) called 'good dreams.'

This is Lewis' own idiosyncratic vision, admittedly, but the fact that we have pre-historical mythological precedents for what the gospels present as history is, for Lewis, a case in Christianity's favor. Many societies had religious sacrifice. I actually don't know, and want to know, how many of them used this sacrifice for atonement of sin as opposed to trying to sway the god into granting crops or favorable winds or providing some other service. The Jews did use it for atonement. I think Lewis should have separated the two kinds of sacrifice more, meaning that a vegetable deity who dies and is reborn like the crops, like the seasonal cycle, like the sun's rising and setting, is not the same as a god who dies and is reborn for sin, for reconciliation, for justification, but still…Lewis called the pagan stories which echo (in my view, in a very different way) the Jesus story 'good dreams.' He actually wrote about this at length in Surprised by Joy, in Pilgrim's Regress, other places. I'm not saying all Christians have to view the pagan stories as Lewis did, but his idea is intriguing. If you can, read the final chapter or two of SBJ; in the meantime, Here is one quote I managed to find online: I'll close with it. But before I do:

I appreciate the humane way I'm treated here, and it's why I come back when I can. I do sense anger on this blog at times, though not directed at me, but then as I'm a pretty angry guy too (ask anyone who knows me well), I understand the feeling of having real questions and being given no answers. I also know something about religious hurt.

in Christ who lives,


"What had been holding me back [from a conversion to
Christianity] has not been so much a difficulty in believing as a
difficulty in knowing what the doctrine meant: you can't believe a
thing while you are ignorant what the thing is. My puzzle was the
whole doctrine of Redemption: in what sense has the life and death of
Christ 'saved' or 'opened salvation to' the world...
"Now what Dyson and Tolkien showed me ... was this: that if I
met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn't mind it at all:
again, that if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself to himself I
liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it: again, that the
idea of the dying and reviving god (Balder, Adonis, Bacchus) similarly
moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels. The reason
was that in the Pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as
profound and suggestive of meanings beyond my grasp even though I could
not say in cold prose "what it meant". Now the story of Christ is simply
a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but
with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must
be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God's
myth where the other are men's myths: i.e., the Pagan stories are God
expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He
found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what
we call "real things". Therefore, it is true, not in the sense of
being a description of God (that no finite mind would take in) but in
the sense of being the way in which God chooses to appear to our
faculties. The "doctrines" we get out of the true myth are of course
less true: they are translations into our concepts and ideas of that
which God has already expressed in a language more adequate, namely the
actual incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection."