Saturday, February 28, 2009
One would think that the arch-nemesis of a techno-hero like Iron Man would be a techno-villian (I mean they did choose Ironmonger in the movie). But no, in the "real" world of super-heroes, the comic books, Tony Stark's most powerful and consistent foe is none other than The Mandarin.
Like most really good repetitive characters, he has had more incarnations than a comic book convention has people in costumes. Heck, the Mandarin's power comes from the rings he wears on each finger and the back story on those puppies has changed too. From alien tech to mystical talismen - I can't keep track of it anymore.
What is fascinating to this casual observer is how the story has morphed over the years to match culture concerns. The Mandarin's original beef with Stark was all about technology. The guy was typically chinese xenophobic. If you know your history of that region, you know they went from the most advanced civilization in history to a backwater because of their belief that their kingdom was perfect and needed no outside influence. Stark brought technology to China.
Of course, now that China is building itself into a super-power by becoming the world's leading provided of labor for hi-tech manufacturing, well, that story does not hold up too well. But consider the historical value of maintaining the idea. Then you pit The Mandarian not only against Stark, but against his own nation - the nation he is trying to "save."
Now that would be a cool story line! Iron Man fighting side by side with the Yellow Army.
Friday, February 27, 2009
Culture and Faith
Trueman is right to see the (re)new(ed) emphasis on culture as an expansion of pietism (though I might instead characterize it as a reintroduction of the idea of ‘Christendom’). Ironically, it is the lack of a robust natural theology and doctrine of creation that inhibits evangelicals from simply enjoying artworks or movies or culture without any other agenda or end. If we grant the point that evangelicals have been held captive by their political idols, it would be because their doctrine of creation is amiss, which prompts them to put too much emphasis–or not enough–on anything touching the created realm. That new evangelicals now do so with culture instead of politics does not mean they have solved the problem–they’ve simply transferred their allegiances to a different idol.OK, guys like me need to break that really smart comment down into words of one syllable or less, so I am going to take a stab. What Matt is saying is that Evangelicalism is about a mile wide and an inch deep ("lack of a robust natural theology and doctrine of creation") and that such has caused us to hang spiritual significance in places it does not belong (politics or culture). In other words, the "dumbing down" of Christianity is giving us problems.
I think the dynamic is a bit more complex. Some of this has to do with the simple democratization of society. I mean look at it this way, throughout history the vast majority of Christians did not have a clue about a "robust natural theology or doctrine of creation." The sad fact of the matter is, whether through inattentiveness or intellectual inability, most people never will.
But society and the church used to be a lot more hierarchical and authoritarian than it is today. In the glorious days of old, most people did not need to understand those things - someone else did it for them, they just did what they were told.
The biggest issue here is that the very nature of leadership has changed - and we have not, particularly those inside Evangelicalism, figured out the new paradigm yet. We keep trying to graft the old leadership models onto the new democratic reality.
Which leads me to the Matt's phrase, "captive to political idols." Much of the Evangelical political experiment has been an attempt to seize some sort of leadership, but again they have done so in old school ways. The fact of the matter is that America has been democratic from the beginning, while the church is inherently monarchical (God is King after all) so, out of habit, the church just keeps reaching for something that will legitimize its authority. A truly wrong motivation for political participation.
Which brings me to the bottom line of this post. The answer to Evangelicalism's problems do not lie in abandoning the political field of play. There is too much important at stake for that. Rather, it lies in figuring out how to do it properly - which means a careful examination of motives, and some serious lesson is internal leadership.
Here's a hint. God is king because of His inherent goodness. True Godly authority stems not from political or ecclesiastical power position, but from reflecting that glorious goodness.
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File this one in "truth is funnier than fiction."
Thursday, February 26, 2009
How We Think
MSNBC reports on a "study" that finds:
Preston says her research shows that a dual belief system, for instance the idea that evolution explains biology but God set the process in motion, does not exist in our brains.The claim they make is that the "dichotomy" is hardwired. Only after the bump do we read:
The experiment's results actually may reveal cultural forces — a specific way of thinking about science and religion — dating back to the 19th century, Hameed said, and these have shaped people's thinking about science and religion.No fooling!
I've made this point before on this blog and I need, I guess, to make it again since there are "scientists" out there doing stuff like this and calling it "science."
Science comes in degrees, whether everyone wants to admit it or not. There are "hard" sciences. Physics is the only truly hard science for only in physics can a system be fully modeled mathematically and its behavior precisely predicted based on that model. Chemistry comes close behind and is still considered "hard" but it is a bit softer than physics.
There are descriptive, or taxonomic, sciences. These are sciences that in some cases may be infant hard sciences or not. Biology would be an example here. We observe all living things, categorize it, organize it, and in the effort gain understanding about it. But we cannot model it with mathematical precision, nor is such foreseeable. Some aspects of medicine; however, may be on the road to hard science. While still primarily descriptive and empirical, it is becoming increasingly predictive. Time was we would invent a compound, expose some poor animal to it and see if it had medicinal effects - pure empiricism. Nowadays we can predict not precisely, but approximately, the medicinal effects of a new compound.
Then there are phenomena that are inherently non-mathematical, but to which we apply the scientific method anyway. These are largely behavioral - psychology being a prime example. Just because you do "experiments" and try to predict human behavior, it does not make that anything like hard science.
So why do people do it?
It is a form of subjugation - simple as that. Think about it. If a value such as "science v religion" (I hate the phrase, the conflict is entirely political, but that is a post for another time) is "hardwired" then it is purely natural and subject to control - which means someone will control it.
Science is a good thing - I implore my non-scientific readers out there to learn enough science to tell the trash (like this story) from the good stuff. What's at stake is too important - it's our freedom.
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Wednesday, February 25, 2009
That's What Happens
a large number of Christians are no more loyal to their own denomination than they are to their favorite brand of toothpaste.As her counter argument she offers a quote from a guy that keep going on about "doctrinal distinctives." Folks, the problem here is not doctrine. If you think about it, there is only one true doctrine - all of them are wrong somewhere. Real ecumenism should eventually result in that one true doctrine.
The bottom line here is far more simple than that. When you "market your brand" you are going to get branded results. We have over the last couple of decades "marketed" church. Mega-churches stand as markers to the success of that approach. Or do they?
The tools we have for marketing products in our world fall into two broad categories, ones that create a market - particularly for a product no one really needs and ones that grab a larger portion of market share when demand is flat and the product commodified.
The first type of marketing is the kind of marketing that sells the latest electronic widget. Take for example the newly updated Kindle 2. More than just a fancy way to read a book, this is a newer, fancier way to read a book when our household does not use all the fanciness on the Kindle it currently owns. What reason is there to buy this thing, particularly when I just bought my last one 4 months ago? Marketing is that which makes me want to buy the improved, but more-or-less useless. In this case, marketing creates demand where need does not exist.
Well, need for church is very real, and this type of marketing of the church makes it appear less than such.
The second kind of marketing applies to something like milk. Absent population growth, demand for milk is pretty static. Not to mention the fact that given the high levels of government regulation over how and the quality of milk that gets to market, it is all pretty much the same stuff, regardless of what dairy it comes from. But if I own dairy X and what to sell more than dairy Y - how do I get that job done. Well, if I can make and thus sell my milk cheaper than dairy Y I can probably capture more market, but in a business like milk, the production technology is almost as mature as the product - such innovations are extremely hard to come by.
But I can turn to marketing. Such a marketing campaign will create the impression that my milk is somehow distinct and better that dairy Y's milk. My cows will appear in commercials telling you what a wonderful cow-keeper I am and how happy they are making milk for me, implying that the guy that owns dairy Y is a schlub that treats his cows poorly. You'll buy my milk because my cows are happy.
This is largely the kind of marketing the church has turned to. Thus mega-churches are taking away membership from smaller local congregations. The resemblance to Wal-Mart moving in and pushing out all the local retailers is uncanny.
But the real problem with this is that it presumes church is a commodity in a demand flat market. Folks, unless the whole world is Christian, demand is anything but flat. Not to mention the fact that churches are distinctive one from the other. The distinctives are not necessarily doctrinal. We do faith a disservice when we reduce it to doctrine. Differences in churches lie are also liturgical, in polity, in architecture, in atmosphere.... And these things are all important.
When we reduce Christian distinctiveness to doctrine only we reduce Christianity to doctrine only. Hardly a faith that transforms lives.
But the bottom line is this - when we treat something like a commodity, it will becomes a commodity. We have treated faith labels like brands - why are we surprised the public treats them that way too?
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Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Great Food For Thought on Blogging
Neither of these are true but I know I would get a gazillion comments on that post. What really sucks is this:I confess to sharing some of Andrew's concern here. It raises an interesting question about blogging - Does media begat media?
My previous post is about one million people deciding to follow Jesus with the assistance of some new web tools and only two people thought it interesting enough to comment on. Sometimes the blogosphere seems very shallow to me. I wonder what tasty pieces of trivial gossip will be served up today?
The theory about blogging was a straightforward one - as the printing press was to the democratization of information, so too would blogging be. The invention of the printing press made information more widely available than it ever had been before. We moved from an age with essentially one, maybe two gatekeepers of information (the secular authorities and the church - sometimes the same, sometimes different) to an age of many gatekeepers of information (publishers). Blogging was supposed to do away with informational gatekeepers altogether.
Well, it has done that, but it is still two things 1) media and 2) a meritocracy. The problem has become that in a media-saturated age such as our own - media exceeds content. There is a greater demand for media than there is actual content.
What's your "thing?" In my "thing" - comic books - there is now a gross oversaturation of "coverage." I can know what my favorite artist had for breakfast, what his next six projects are, their deadlines, I can see preview samples, read plot synopsis, find out if his favorite pencil (if he even uses one in this day and age) is yellow or blue, what his girlfriend's name is, and which colorist he will never work with again because he is a "jerk." How much of that is actual content and how much of it is just media horse manure designed to generate buzz designed to increase sales - that is to say trivia, the accumulation of which makes me feel like I am somehow "on the inside?" See, there really is more media than content here.
Subsequently, the "merits" of new media are measured not by the quality of the content, but by the presentation, regardless of content. Not surprising then that as Godblogging has matured it has shallowed. When you combine that with the fact that the community building aspects of blogging have moved to social networking and micro-blogging, something that would drive at least a modicum of traffic to perhaps content rich, even if media poor blogs, the shallowness that Andrew decries becomes almost unremarkable.
Yet, blogging remains the only place where information can be presented without gatekeepers in deeper form. Which reminds me - good information may not find a lot of readers, but if it finds the right readers, who cares. Secondly, once the "gee-whiz" of social networking and micro-blogging wears off I expect them to begin to drive that modicum of traffic back to blogs that are doing good content.
Frankly, there ought to be "linkers" out there in Facebook and Twitter. Remember when blogging was divided into original content providers and those that wrote post after post that said, simply, "Read this stuff," ala Instapundit. Well, someone inside the various virtual networks out there is going to start filling that role, because the demand for deep genuine information, while small, is necessary.
Remember, in the end, Jesus' audience was down to 12 - but that is all it took to change the world.
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Monday, February 23, 2009
What To do With Tears?
"But God, who has no reason to be threatened by us, invites a steady and honest flow of communication.Honesty with God matters deeply, but when I read things like this, I fear. I fear prayer becoming psychotherapy and I fear we as Christians wallowing in confessional prayer, as so many seem to do in an endless stream of counseling session - never getting better.
I sometimes wonder why God places such a high value on honesty in our prayers, even to the extent of enduring unjust outbursts. I am startled to see how many biblical prayers seem ill-tempered. Jeremiah griped about unfairness (20:7-10); Habakkuk accused God of deafness (1:2); Job conceded, “What profit do we have if we pray to Him?” (21:15). The Bible teaches us to pray with blistering honesty.
God wants us to come to Him with our complaints. If we march through life pretending to smile while inside we bleed, we dishonor the relationship. — Philip Yancey
The Christian life starts with confession - deep real, honest, heartfelt confession - acknowledgment of our pain and our inadequacies. But if it stops there we fail as miserably as if we never confessed at all.
We seem to want to make Christianity a one or the other thing? Either we are all "do" and no confession or we are all confession and we just sit there and wallow. The genuine Christian life synthesizes those experiences into a total remake of who we are.
God does not just heal us - He wishes to regenerate us. We do not confess to God so that He can make everything just like it used to be - safe, warm, happy and snug. NO, we confess to God so that He can make us into something unimaginably good. Hence the "unjust outbursts" of biblical prayers. God is dragging His prophets places they cannot see and are afraid to go - and He values their expression of those fears. But that said, we cannot let those fears prevent us from taking the trip. Yell at God, "I don't want to" all you want - BUT GO!
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Sermons and Lessons
Milton Spenser Terry, professor of Christian doctrine, Garrett Biblical Institute, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, 1885-1914; born near Albany, N. Y., February 22, 1840; studied at Charlottesville Seminary, Troy University, Yale Divinity School, and the University of Berlin, Germany; pastor of Methodist Episcopal churches in New York, from 1863-84; author of popular commentaries on several books of the Old Testament, “Moses and the Prophets,” “The New Apologetic,” “Biblical Her¬meneutics,” “Biblical Apocalyptics,” “Biblical Dogmatics,” translation of the Greek “Sibylline Oracles” into English blank verse, etc.
“I am the light of the world.” - John 9:5.
“Ye are the light of the world.” - Matt. 5:14.
“Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fully established among us, even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in orderly sequence, most excellent Theophilus; that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed.” - Luke 1:1-4.
“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation? which having at the first been spoken through the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard; God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by distributions of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will.” - Hebrews 2:3,4. [Private translation.]
These various scriptures of the New Testament have obvious bearing on the question which I propose to discuss, namely: How far the apostolic interpretation of Christ is trustworthy and authoritative? It is conceded at the start that whatever Christ Himself clearly taught is authoritative. He is the light of the world. He is the great divine Teacher; the supreme Personality among the many master minds that have spoken with authority. But He lived and taught well nigh two thousand years ago. What do we certainly know now of the words, the exact teachings of Jesus Christ? It is reported that he once wrote with His finger on the ground, but what He wrote is unknown, and even the passage which records the story is set aside by the majority of recent critics as no part of the Fourth Gospel. Aside from the statements of that disputed and rejected text, there is no evidence that Jesus ever wrote a word.
But it is commonly supposed that the four gospels, aside from all disputed texts, contain to a great extent the very words of Jesus. There are the Sermon on the Mount, the parables, the long discourses recorded in Mat¬thew and John, and numerous other teachings which are reported as having been spoken by the Lord. But these reported words of Jesus are so conspicuously at variance in the different gospels that the most devout reader may often search in vain to find the exact language of the great Teacher. Even the title put upon the cross, and the words of Jesus at the last supper, are reported differently by each of the evangelists. The whole cast of thought, tone and style of the Fourth Gospel are so notably different from the Synoptic gospels that numerous writers of the present time do not hesitate to say that it is a product of Alexandrian thought rather than a trustworthy record of the sayings of Jesus.
Paul’s writings, moreover, possess a marked originality in their presentation of the doctrines of grace, human depravity, justification by faith, atonement in Christ, and the eternal purposes of God, so that some modern teachers do not hesitate to say that the bulk of systematic theology, as enunciated in the later creeds of Christendom, is Paulinism rather than the doctrine of Christ. It is maintained that the Epistle of James teaches a doctrine of justification by works, directly opposite to Paul’s doctrine of faith, and that the Epistle to the Hebrews defines faith as the substance of things hoped for, in a manner differing from both James and Paul. To all this add the statement of the ancient church-historian Eusebius that some in his day doubted the apostolic origin and authority of the epistles of James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and the book of Revelation.
I think this is a fair, and for our present purpose a sufficient, statement of the difficulties which are supposed to detract from the value and authority of the apostolic writings. Unquestionably these statements, maintained as positive propositions by not a few influential writers of the present time, have disturbed the faith of many. The devout Christian, upon hearing such apparent disparagement of books which he has ever regarded as sacred, and has been accustomed to call the word of God, is apt to feel that the foundations of his faith have been assailed, and that if such statements can be shown to be true, we can no longer appeal to evangelists and apostles as final authority.
How, now, shall we meet the difficulties of this problem, and what measure of authority are we to recognize in the apostolic interpretation of Christ? There are several methods of dealing with a question of this kind. One is to make uncompromising war upon the methods and results of scientific criticism. Another is to ignore the points at issue, and as far as possible withhold from the common people all knowledge of critical controversy. There are a few who appear to view the battle afar off, and if they find occasion to say anything, act the part of artful fencers by a dodging of real issues, avoiding the thrusts of the adversary, and “playing fast and loose.” The only true method is that which proceeds on the principle of “proving all things, and holding fast that which is good.” We must first of all insist upon a clear statement of the points at issue, and a clear definition of the terms we employ in argument. Half of our difficulties may arise from a misunderstanding of the real nature of the question before us, and a failure to define the terms we use.
Our first care in the discussion of the subject before us is to repudiate certain extravagant and untenable claims touching the nature of the writings of the apostles. What do we mean by authoritative apostolic interpretation of Jesus Christ? We certainly ought not to claim for the New Testament writers an authority or an infallibility which they do not claim for themselves. Are there not many pious people who treat the entire Bible as if it were God Himself? They have somehow acquired the notion that every line and word of it is the direct gift of the almighty Father. Nor is this notion confined to the ignorant and credulous alone. It has grown out of a sort of a priori reasoning about the Scriptures:
These holy oracles are a gift of God; therefore they must needs be perfect.” In the seventeenth century the absolute perfection of the Bible in all its parts was insisted on as an article of the true faith, and it is affirmed in one of the Swiss confessions that the inspiration of the Hebrew Scriptures extends to “the consonants, the vowels and the vowel points.” The purists of that period and as late as the eighteenth century insisted that the Greek of the New Testament was deficient in no element of perfection as compared with the classical Greek. All these extravagant claims for the literal perfection and infallibility of the Bible sprang from a priori assumptions of what those theologians imagined the written word of God ought to be.
Those controversies are obsolete and half forgotten now. But other issues of a similar character are kept alive by reason of similar assumptions as to the infallibility and inerrancy of the Scriptures. Other current ideas of a traditional character have so far possessed men ‘s minds that when one affirms that the Psalms are not all from David, nor the book of Proverbs by Solomon; that Ecelesiastes is a pseudograph written in the name of Solomon long after the Babylonian exile, and the Pentateuch is not the composition of Moses - many hold up their hands in holy horror, and seem to think that such opinions are essentially at war with the teachings and the religion of Jesus Christ.
Would it not be better to inquire, What are the facts upon which these assertions are based? Some of them are so positive and simple that one marvels how sundry current notions about the authorship of the Psalms and Proverbs ever became so general. The Psalter contains psalms ascribed to Asaph, and He-man, and Solomon, and Moses; and the book of Proverbs contains at least seven different collections, one of which consists of “the words of Agur,” and another of “the words of Lemuel, which his mother taught him.” As for the authorship of the Pentateuch, one may naturally hesitate to affirm that Moses wrote the account of his own death and burial, or to believe that a meek and modest man would write what we read in Numbers 12:3: “Now the man Moses was very meek above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.” So extravagant are the notions of some people about the perfection of the Biblical writers that it is affirmed that Solomon knew all about the modern telephone, Daniel was acquainted with the rise and power of the American republic, and Paul was fully aware, when he wrote his epistles, that they were destined to become a part of the Bible, and a divine authority for the world. An earnest Christian and well-educated man assured me that his faith in God and the Bible was disturbed by the statement of a Biblical scholar in whom he had had much confidence that the Epistle to the Hebrews was not the work of Paul the apostle. Others are perplexed and confounded on being told that the doxology of the Lord’s prayer, and the story of the angel that troubled the waters of Bethesda are rejected by the latest criticism, and are even omitted from the Revised Version of our English Bible. “I do not see,” said a venerable man to me some time ago,“ but that this modern criticism is going on to wipe out the old Bible altogether.”
Is it not evident, in view of these things, that our first duty in attempting to show the nature of apostolic authority is to disabuse the popular mind of sundry current vague and erroneous notions of what the Bible is? How can we faithfully and securely build the people up in the true knowledge of the Scriptures without laying again the foundation of elementary facts and principles?
We inquire in the second place what the New Testament writers claim for themselves as interpreters of Christ. What have the written gospels and the apostolic epistles to say or imply as to their nature and authority? Are the letters of James and John and Peter and Paul natural or supernatural, human or superhuman? If they embody a divine or supernatural element, wherein is that element to be discerned?
Let us begin with a brief study of the pref¬ace to the Gospel of Luke. “It seemed good to me,” he writes Theophilus, “ having traced the course of all things from the first, to write unto thee in orderly sequence.” Here we find no claim of supernatural assistance. Like any other historian who aims to put on record a trustworthy narrative of facts, he also made diligent search to obtain the best accredited testimony of eyewitnesses. Why should we or any one make a claim of infallibility or of supernatural help for a writer who seems not only to make no pretension to such assistance, but rather implies that he has prepared his narrative in an ordinary human way?
If now we turn to Matthew and Mark, we find much of the same matter as that recorded by Luke, but no assertion whatever of careful inquiry after the certainty of the matters recorded, or of divine assistance in the work. John ‘s Gospel, however, differs notably from the other three, and has produced the conviction that its language and style are those of its author rather than of Jesus, so that when it makes record of the sayings of our Lord, those sayings are not the very words of Christ, but His teachings as apprehended and translated by the evangelist. He claims to have written these things “that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name.” In another place he says, “He that hath seen hath borne witness, and his witness is true: “and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye also may believe“ (19:35). At the close of the gospel we find a postscript which seems to have been appended by the first readers of the gospel rather than the author himself: ”This is the disciple who bears witness of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his witness is true.” But whether these words were written by the apostle John him¬self or some other hand, their utmost claim is that the record is altogether true and trustworthy.
The First Epistle of John begins with a statement so important and impressive that I quote it in full: “ That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the word of life (and the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare unto you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us) that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us: yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ: and these things we write, that our joy may be fulfilled.” This passage is the most positive kind of testimony of personal contact with Jesus Christ. The writer testifies that he has seen and heard and touched and carefully examined the one adorable Personage in whom the word of life was incarnate. The entire epistle is in keeping with this lofty claim, but at the same time the author admonishes his readers” not to believe every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” We must accordingly in every case, reserve the right of conscientious judgment, and determine on rational grounds what is true and what is false.
The epistles of James and Peter make no claim of other ‘or greater authority than that of “servants and apostles of Jesus Christ.” They are of the nature of pastoral letters addressed to communities of Christians, and filled with godly counsel and instruction.
Turning now to the epistles of Paul, we find him everywhere confessing himself an apostle and bond-servant of Jesus Christ. He has no message but that which he claims to have received by divine revelation, and he speaks and writes as one who is gifted with a notable measure of divine authority. Hear him as he writes to the Galatians: “Though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema. For I make known to you, brethren, as touching the gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but through revelation of Jesus Christ. For I persecuted the church of God, and made havoc of it. But when it was the good pleasure of God to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood; neither went I up to Jerusalem to them who were apostles before me; but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to become personally acquainted with Cephas, and tarried with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. Now touching the things I write you, behold, before God, I do not lie.” Here is a profession of divine illumination and authority which is too explicit to be misunderstood. His fifteen days of personal interview with Peter afforded a great opportunity to verify and supplement the current tradition of Jesus Christ, but he insists that his divine call and apostleship were not dependent upon any mortal man. And this fact is not to be set aside or weakened by his saying elsewhere that he was least of all the apostles, and unfit to be called an apostle, because of his persecuting the Church of God (1 Cor. 15:9), and that Christ appeared unto him last of all as to the child untimely born. In the matter of illumination and teaching, his claim was to be “not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles.” This positive claim of revelation and authority directly from God is, therefore, a conspicuous feature in the writings of Paul.
It has been repeatedly asserted in modern times that the theology of Paul has been a controlling element in Christian thought, and so far dominated the life and teaching of the churches that the real doctrines of Jesus have been overshadowed. The saying of the famous Frenchman has been repeated many times, and with apparent approval, that when Phebe the deaconess carried Paul’s Epistle to the Romans from Cenchrea to Rome, she held, wrapped in the folds of her mantle, the theology of nineteen centuries. Well, it need not be disputed that the apostle of the Gentiles, as he himself affirms in that great epistle (11:13), “magnified his office.” He glorified his ministry by an unquenchable zeal to preach the gospel of which he was not ashamed. But so far from misrepresenting or changing the gospel of the Lord, be determined to know nothing among the people he instructed save Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2 : 2). He is no independent and superior dogmatist, but the bond-slave of Jesus, and he utters his anathema against any and all who preach another gospel.
But while we thus make due note of the apostle’s claims of divine authority, we ought also to observe that the larger portions of Paul’s epistles are not of a doctrinal character. In fact he always writes more as a pastor than a theologian. His letters abound in personal greetings, in statements of personal experience, in words of rebuke and admonition. He speaks of baptizing several persons in. Corinth, but he is uncertain whether he baptized any others than those named. He requests Timothy to bring him the cloak which he left at Troas, and also the books and parchments. He writes to Philemon in most affecting tenderness about his son Onesimus, whom he had begotten in his bonds. He tells the saints at Rome how often be had purposed coming unto them, and how much he longed to see them. On certain questions of Christian expediency he frankly said that he had no commandment of the Lord to offer, but he gave his judgment as one who had obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. In short, he is a man among men. The human element in his writings, as in his person and nature, is as conspicuous as we have seen it in the other apostles. He is a man compassed with infirmities, asking the churches to pray for him. He subjects his body to painful discipline, lest by any means, after having been a herald to others, he himself should be rejected.
Paul the apostle, therefore, like all the other apostles, was a man called and anointed of God for a most important ministry. He did not contravene, nor misinterpret and pervert the doctrines of his Lord. He accepted as certain all the great facts and truths which came as a blessed inheritance to the churches from those “who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word.” He had received his own special revelations from Jesus Christ, but in common with all the apostles he declared, “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. Seeing it is God who said, Light shall shine out of darkness, who shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:5, 6).
We are now prepared to deal directly with our main question: How far the apostolic interpretation of Christ is authoritative? And our answer is, in a word, just so far as it goes. That is, just so far as apostolic tradition and teaching, fairly interpreted, assume to be a faithful setting forth of the person, character, sayings and revelations of Jesus, they are to be accepted as altogether true and trustworthy. None of the apostles give us reason to believe that they followed cunningly devised fables, or had the slightest desire to misrepresent that which they declare to be the doctrine of their Lord. There is now no higher external authority to which we can appeal. If any one say, “Away from the apostles and back to Jesus,” he has still to face the fact that we are dependent on the apostolic tradition for all we know of Jesus’ words and works. The four gospels and the apostolic writings are so many reports, traditions and interpretations of Jesus Christ, and they are authoritative so far as they convey convictions of truth to our conscience and our heart.
The authority and value of the apostolic testimony may be seen in the light of the three following propositions: (1) The apostles of Jesus were evidently captivated and carried along in their work by the supreme conviction that their Lord was the true Messiah, the very Christ of God and the Savior of the world. (2) The Christ they preached is a character so perfect that it is impossible for us to believe that their interpretation of Him is a product of their own imagination or invention. (3) The variety in types of doctrine among the New Testament writers, so far from presenting incongruities and contradictions, discloses rather the manifold fullness and riches of the gospel of Jesus.
One of the most impressive facts in the apostolic writings is the supreme devotion to Christ which His first heralds everywhere evince. The love of Christ has over them an all-constraining power. They are ready to go to prison or to death for the sake of His name. He is the source of their authority; He is their wisdom, their strength, their hope, their joy. James calls himself” a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” and counts it all joy to fall into divers tests and proofs of faith that lead to the divine approval and the crown of life. Peter declares it blessed to be reproached for the name of Christ, and so to be partakers of Christ’s sufferings. John glories in the loving witness that” God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath the life; and he that bath not the Son of God hath not the life.” Paul cries in an exultant tone, “ I have been crucified with Christ: yet I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me.” The Acts of the Apostles records that “with great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” One obvious purpose of the Gospel of Matthew is to show that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messianic king, the son of David and son of Abraham, the hope of Israel and of the world. And apostolic heralds of this Son of God and Son of man went everywhere preaching the word. and turning the world upside down. Stephen was stoned to death; James the brother of John was killed with the sword; others were imprisoned and threatened. But they counted not their lives dear unto themselves, but took joyfully the .spoiling of their goods, and were ready to undergo any sacrifice and peril for the name of Christ. Now I deem it important, first of all to emphasize these facts. For while it is very possible for religious enthusiasts to become fanatical, and even to go bravely to a martyr’s death for a delusion which they believe to be the truth of God, the testimony and doctrine and work of the apostles are without a real parallel in history. The fall of Judaism and the beginning of the going forth of the gospel of Christ form a most conspicuous turning-point in the ages. That was the opening of a new era in the history and civilization of mankind. We insist that the first apostles, even if they were enthusiasts, were the most sane of men, the most removed from anything like fanatical delusion, and the most deliberate, rational and intelligent interpreters of God in history, that can be found in the religious annals of the world.
In the next place we aver that the Christ of the apostles is a character so perfect that it is impossible to believe their interpretation of Him is a product of their own imagination. The various theories which have been devised in modern times to explain away the miraculous element in the gospel narratives have not succeeded in satisfying the common sense of Christendom. I venture to say that the ingenious naturalistic explanations of Jesus’ miracles by Paulus, the mythical hypothesis of Strauss, and the several modifications of these theories by other writers have never really satisfied the honest critical judgment of any large number of thoughtful minds. Whatever theory of the miracles one may adopt, there stands the peerless Christ of the apostles forever greater than His miracles. His commanding personality, as mirrored in the gospels, is inexplicable on any naturalistic principles. Let us look a moment at a few of the most striking facts which the apostles affirm of Jesus Christ:
(1) The authority of His teaching. He boldly assumed to supplement and even to set aside that which was said by them of old time. He made himself greater than Abraham, Moses, Solomon and the prophets. The officers of the chief priests and Pharisees testified that man never spoke like this man. He scandalized the Jewish teachers of His time by His authoritative attitude towards the national institutions and customs. He spoke in parables which remain to this day jewels in the literature of the world. Surely no rabbi, sage, lawgiver or philosopher ever taught with such commanding authority as Jesus.
(2) His marvelous self-assumption and self-expression. He assumed power on earth to forgive sins, and declared that the Father had’ committed all judgment into His hands. What other teacher or prophet ever presumed to say, “I am the light of the world.” “I am the bread of life.” “If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me.”
I am the resurrection and the life, and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest “I Such assumptions as these sayings involve would be treated as the extravagance of insanity in any other person, but they seem perfectly natural in Jesus.
(3) His sinlessness. One of His most memorable sayings is: “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” The uniform apostolic testimony is that He was holy, harmless, undefiled, tempted in all points as we are, and yet without sin. He is called the righteous and holy one, a lamb without blemish and without spot. The entire portraiture of His spotless character as presented in the four gospels accords with these ideals. Although He assumed the power to forgive the sins of others, He nowhere acknowledges any need of repentance on His own part. He is the one unchallengeable sinless man of history.
(4) These facts become the more impressive and wonderful in view of the conditions of His obscure birth, His short period of pub-lie life, and His shameful crucifixion. A great genius may, indeed, rise to notoriety and honor in spite of poverty and reproach. He may triumph over strong and malicious opposition. But we have looked in vain for the record of another man, who, with all these conditions against him, in a career of three years, cut off by ignominious crucifixion, has commanded the thousandth part of the power which the name of Jesus holds in the world today. The late Philip Schaff is credited with the following words: “ Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar, Mohammed and Napoleon; without science and learning, He shed more light on things human and divine than all the philosophers and scholars combined; without the eloquence of schools, he spoke words of life such as were never spoken before or since, and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet; without writing a single line, he has set more pens in motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, learned volumes, works of art and sweet songs of praise than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times. Born in a manger, and crucified as a malefactor, He now controls the destinies of the civilized world, and rules a spiritual empire which em¬braces one third of the inhabitants of the globe.”
Our third proposition is that the apostolic interpretation of Christ, so far from being disparaged or weakened in authority by reason of variety of types of doctrine found in the New Testament, is rather by that very fact exhibited in greater fullness and beauty than if it had come down to us in a stereotyped uniformity of statement.
I think our older theologians too generally failed to make the important distinction between unity of doctrine and uniformity of doctrine. They of course observed the varieties of thought and expression among the different Biblical writers, but their ideas of inspiration were generally so mechanical and unbending that any real progress of doctrine in the New Testament was rarely supposed to be possible. The human element in Scripture, with its conflicting tendencies, its various points of view and methods of statement, was often quite ignored. Luther’s hasty rejection of the Epistle of James is a striking illustration of the assumption that uniformity of doc¬trine must needs be found in all authoritative Scripture. Many of the attempts to har¬monize all the statements of the four gospels have proceeded on the supposition that real discrepancies in matters of detail would seriously weaken the authority and credibility of the evangelists. But the fact is that there is a remarkable lack of uniformity in the four gospels in their representation of the Christ. Take for example their several reports of our Lord‘s temptation. John makes no mention of it. Mark says that after the baptism “straightway the Spirit driveth him forth into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days tempted of Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.” Matthew adds to this simple record a kind of dramatic picture of three distinct temptations, and writes down particular conversations between Jesus and the devil. Luke repeats the story of the three temptations, but records them in a different order, and with noticeable verbal variations. For another example, take Matthew’s report of the parable of the talents and Luke’s report of the parable of the ten pounds. These parables obviously inculcate the same great lesson, but differ in the occasion of their utterance, and in their language and imagery. They may be regarded as varying reports of one and the same parable of Jesus, or as two independent parables uttered on different occasions. Add to these examples all we have previously referred to, as the remarkable di¬versities of statement and teaching among the evangelists and apostles, and we are compelled to acknowledge that there is a striking lack of uniformity in the apostolic interpretation of Christ.
But while we are careful to note the variety of types of teaching in the New Testament, we maintain that they nowhere involve essen¬tial contradictions, or misinterpret the real teaching of Christ. A fundamental unity of doctrine is apparent back of all this variety of types. We have not only gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but a Gospel according to Peter, and a Gospel according to James, and another according to the unknown author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. These are not opposing and irreconcilable gospels. Their differences are but the natural and normal idiosyncrasies of so many individuals, each captivated and controlled by the spirit of their one common Lord. Paul and Barnabas differed in judgment and separated from each other in their missionary work; Paul also resisted Peter to his face at Antioch, charged him with dissimulation and inconsistency so that he stood condemned. The Second Epistle of Peter declares that Paul’s epistles contain some things hard to be understood. All the apostles were men of like passions with us, and incidental confusion of thought and errors may be found in their writings. But on all the great matters of fact and doctrine they are at one. There is substantial unity in their concept of Christ, but notable variety in the manner in which they preach the one living gospel of the common salvation. We should expect the same differences in result if Shakespeare, Milton, Tennyson and Browning had written on one great theme.
We shall obtain the true idea of this variety of interpretation when we come to look upon it as God’s own method of revealing His eternal truth. Not rigid uniformity, but conspicuous variety of method is a leading feature of the entire Biblical revelation. God spoke in old time to the fathers in the prophets “by diverse portions and in diverse manners.” And when in the fullness of time He spoke in His Son, He caused that the new word of life should go forth into all the world in just such variety of thought and form as appear in the word of the ancient prophets. The gospel of Peter is not the gospel of John, nor that of Paul. But these apostles all present the gospel of Christ as truly as Amos, and Isaiah, and Jeremiah spoke the word of God. Their differences of conception and expression show that the human is to be recognized in their writings as well as the divine. We possess the heavenly treasure in earthen vessels, and the treasure is none the less heavenly because it is thus enshrined. It is, I think, a mischievous error, and can only lead to trouble and confusion in the Church of Christ, for over-zealous defenders of the faith to go about declaring that the vessel is not earthen. It will not add one whit to the honor and value of the vessel to insist on its being something which it is not. We possess the heavenly illumination, so to speak, in a great variety of human forms. Peter had his natural limitations, and his more exclusive ministry to the circumcision imposed a corresponding limitation upon his interpretation of the gospel of Jesus. Paul’s wider mission to the Gentiles enlarged his range of vision. John ‘s esoteric mode of thought, intensified by long contact with Alexandrian theosophy, produced the most profound and spiritual version of the teaching of Jesus. But old-fashioned James, “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” keeps well within his Jewish environment, and insists that” the twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion “ exhibit the practical godliness of visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and fulfilling the royal law of love to one ‘s neighbor. We gain nothing for the gospel of Christ by ignoring the human limitations of all these blessed apostles. Even Paul, generally supposed to be the most catholic of them all, betrays in his epistles at times a measure of unconscious bondage to his Pharisaic training and to rabbinical habits of thought. Our contention is that the gospel of Jesus is none the less authoritative, but vastly the fuller and richer by reason of its transmission through many apostles and ministers of God.
We shall perhaps obtain our best ideal of apostolic authority from the words which Jesus Himself addrest to Simon Peter: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock (petra) I will build my church; and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” I understand that what is here directly addressed to Peter because of his representative leadership among the twelve and the significance of his name (which is by interpretation a stone), is also by implication true of the other apostles. The same thing iii substance was said to them on other occasions (see Matt. 18 : 18; 19 : 28; John 20 : 23). They were the anointed leaders, chosen by the Lord to lay the foundations of Christianity. Whatsoever they did in fulfillment of this holy office and ministry was ratified in heaven. And Peter, afterward writing to the Christians scattered abroad in Asia Minor, tells them that, coming unto Christ as to a living stone, they also as living stones are built up a spiritual house. Paul also teaches that the Christian Church is the “household of God, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief corner¬stone.” In beautiful harmony with this imagery we have the vision of the city of God, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven and made ready as a bride adorned for her husband, “and the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” The visional symbolism is enhanced by the further statement that these foundations were adorned with all manner of precious stones, like the jasper, the sapphire and the amethyst. For the apostles of our Lord were privileged above all other men to look with unveiled face upon the Christ Himself. It was their unspeakable glory to have seen and heard and handled the very word of life as manifested in the personality of Jesus. They became transfigured by His adorable presence, and exalted by the power of His Spirit. Their personal contact with the Son of God, and their special commission from Him place them apart from and above all other men as interpreters of the Christ. And we thank God today that there were twelve apostles of Christ rather than one or two. They are like a crown of twelve stars upon the head of the Church during all her period of travail and persecution. They are the light of the world, for though their luster is but a reflection of that greater light which lighteth every man coming into the world, it is a true and reliable reflection.
Years ago I made a journey to the capital of Denmark mainly for the purpose of looking on Thorwaldsen‘s great masterpiece of sculpture - the Christ and His apostles. There they stand, in “the Church of our Lady,” wonderful in their impressive silence. The figure of Christ is placed under a massive canopy back of the high altar, and the apostles, in two rows, stand facing each other down the long nave of the church. Each apostle bears some distinctive symbol. There is Peter with the keys, and John with book and pen in hand and an eagle at his feet. James holds a staff, and Andrew a cross and a roll. Judas Iscariot is not represented, but Paul is substituted for him, and stands at the right hand of Jesus, pointing upward with his right finger and resting his left hand on a sword. But even more impressive than the attitudes and symbols are the distinct expressions wrought upon those marble faces. In their presence I learned some new and deeper lessons of the Savior. To me those twelve apostles symbolized twelve gospels of the Son of God, each one a separate ideal of His heavenly kingdom in the human soul. And since that day, time and again, I have found myself saying, If those mute forms of marble can speak so much to a passing traveler, how much more shall the living thoughts of apostolic teaching interpret Christ to men? Nay, how much more shall the eternal Spirit of the Christ Himself speak through His own apostles to the Church, and guide her into all the truth?
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