Friday, May 30, 2008
The book didn't live up to the advertisement. It didn't give evidence for the resurrection.
It was, however, an entertaining and lively read. Thiede's thesis is that the gospel accounts are indeed reliable historical sources (contra the idea that they are mostly fabrications), and thus historians and archaeologists can use them for clues. He writes: “Hardly anyone will turn Christian because of an ancient inscription discovered among the ruins of a first-century village, and likewise no one will lose their faith if stories told in the Bible cannot be proven archaologically. ‘Proving’ faith is a futile endeavour. Appreciating the intelligence and learning of the witnesses and writers of the first centuries, on the other hand, takes us closer to the roots of our civilization.” (22) Thiede seeks to prove this assertion by using the account in Luke to help him find the "lost" village of Emmaus.
Thiede explains the various theories of where Emmaus was actually located....and takes us on a tour of history from Roman times up through the Crusades and beyond. However, be forewarned, he does like to ramble. This text reads a bit like an after supper conversation ... ranging back and forth and down little side alleys, but slowly pushing forward toward an end goal.
That end goal is the recounting of the archaeological digs that Thiede directed near Moza starting in 2002. For those not familiar with archaeological procedure, this might provide an interesting snapshot to the frustrations and the unexpected discoveries that await the researcher.
Some of the interesting points and quotes he makes:
on the antiquity of the gospels (Theide argues for an early dating of the gospels...say in the 30s - 40s): “No one, so far, has produced a single convincing reason why the Christians should have waited for ten years or more before they set pen to paper, given the fact that their neighbours, the rival messianic eschatological movement of the Essenes, produced, copied, and distributed scroll after scroll to proclaim their own messianic vision. It should be obvious enough that a new movement which proclaimed the fulfillment of these Jewish hopes and expectations had to write down what they knew and believed. An oral tradition was valuable, but on its own it was inadequate. The incident at Beroea proves the point: those pious Jews listened to Paul and Silas ….but afterwards they studied the Scriptures to find out if it were true.” (85)
on the nature of mystery cults they understood that myth “…simply was the oral and literary form of any given mystery cult. And mysteries were anything but secret affairs: contrary to what most of us assume, none of the ancient mystery cults was restricted to a small circle of select followers. We know from ancient sources that over the centuries literally millions of people were initiated into …the Eleusinian Mysteries, celebrated in the Greek city of Eleusis in honour of the female godhead Demeter and her daughter Persepone.” (82)
All told an interesting read....though not entirely satisfying for those who are looking for hard scholarly evidence on the textual issues.
Soli Deo Gloria
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Note that this is in the midst of a country roughly equally divided between Islam and Ethiopian Coptic Christianity. And yet, evangelical protestants continue a vibrant witness ... offering compassion and outreach to AIDS victims, offering medical care to traumatized women, offering educational and agricultural aid.
However, it's not a matter of giving handouts. One of the stories is that of Marta Gabre-Tsadick, a 75 year old former member of the Ethiopian senate, and an unabashedly evangelical Christian. She started Project Mercy back in the 1990s....simply by asking local villagers what they needed and then when she figured out it was a school, she started one.
Only the local muslim population didn't like her talking about Jesus. "...when the children of the school started accepting Christ, they no longer wanted us....They threw stones at us. For a year and a half we could not go outside the compound at night."
But the school survived. Now here's the kicker for me. Check out this quotes from the article:
She applies here experience to the training of her students, telling those who only want to evangelize that they should develop a skill that will make people come to them: 'Go to nursing school and become a public health person. Learn medicine, engineering, business management, law.'
So she's actively encouraging her students to get involved in the watching world in a profession that actually meets needs...and then use that profession to tell people about Jesus. This is right in line with Paul's admonition in I Thessalonians 4:11-12: "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders, and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."
Meet needs, but also be distinctively Christian about it. In her clinic, Gabre-Tsadick offers to pray for each patient...now over 11,000 ..."because Jesus is the great physician."
The second quote from the article expresses the impact:
The clinic and school still upset some Muslim leaders, one of whom complained about 'brainwashing students with the Bible" -- but Gabre-Tsadick recounts that he also admitted 'There's no use getting rid of you. You have sunk your roots so deep.'
And there is the great lesson for American Christianity. We need to re-learn the old discipline of sinking roots deep in the soil in which God has planted us. We need to re-learn how to be blessings to our community, but unabashedly Christian blessings. It is not sufficient to airdrop some sandwiches to homeless people in the park twice a year and consider our duty done. We need to be about the business of meeting needs, building culture, helping society be better. And in the process, we can also be crazy honest that we're doing it because we love Jesus...that Jesus died for our redemtion...that He rose to conquer evil, darkness and death (especially the evil darkness and death within our own hearts)...and that he rules pouring out the Holy Spirit to work in and through His people. That's really good news.
So let the African Christians challenge us to be salt and light in our own mission field as well...
Read more inspiring stories about Marta Gabre-Tsadick:
from the Deseret Morning News
from the Macneil/Lehrer news hour
from Jazz Musician Karen Cameron
Soli Deo Gloria
Thursday, May 15, 2008
This week's passage was Isaiah 14:24-19:25....I'll post the link when the sermon audio is available. We only read selections from it and touched on a couple of the major themes:
First we look at the theme of God's sovereignty over the nations. Particularly, we tie the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost back to the oracles God gives here. (see Acts 2:1-41). We focused particularly on that astounding passage in 19:23-25:
In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and the Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying 'Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheiritance.'
And so the tie back to Pentecost...that all nations are gathered to worship...see Galatians 3:26ff "You are all sons of God thorugh faith in Christ Jesus for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
Monday, May 12, 2008
The early chapters contrast the ways of life and death, and then the book moves into a description of early worship...and that's my interest for this post. The early christian audience of the Didache was encouraged to fast two days out of the week (Wednesday and Friday) and to pray the Lord's prayer three times a day. Here it is in a full quotation of Chapter 8 (from the Roberts-Donaldson translation):
But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and fifth day of the week. Rather, fast on the fourth day and the Preparation (Friday). Do not pray like the hypocrites, but rather as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, like this:
"Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily (needful) bread, and forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (or, evil); for Thine is the power and the glory for ever."
Pray this three times each day.
Now the fasting part is pretty tough though certainly doable. Wesley used to fast from the evening meal of Thursday to mid-afternoon Friday. According to the Coptic church website, Egyptian Coptic Christians fast for 210 days a year.
Even so, I'd like us to look at that second piece...praying the Lord's Prayer three times a day. That's it. A simple little prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray. Three times a day. Is it possible that Christians could do even that? Many American Christians hardly ever lend prayer a thought save at mealtimes and when led to pray in church. What would it do to our spiritual lives if we made it a baseline committment between ourselves and God to pray the Lord's prayer three times a day .... not mechanistically as though it were some incantation to attain spiritual power. But praying it thoughtfully, slowly, applying the general statements of the prayer to the particular situations of our lives.
Perhaps some of us will give it a try ....
Soli Deo Gloria
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Bradley's original post
Russell's follow- up
John's follow- up
So Bradley has some very deep initial thoughts, I add my usual silliness, and then John adds some real value by givings us the distinction between obligitory giving and passionatie giving. Obligitory giving results in a scarcity of resources ... while passionate giving results in a multiplication of resources. There's any number of obligitory givers out there we can touch, but the real bang comes when we touch the people who are passionate about the ministry.
And this takes me to the recent work by Clay Shirky Here Comes Everybody (see my review here). Now people with passion are able to remotely connect quickly, easily and all around the world. The use of social media on the web will dramatically increase the pie for everyone because passionate people can more easily bond. In addition, the tools allow them to collaborate much easier, as well as making it easier for obligitory givers/volunteers to provide simple/low cost contributions on their own terms (see Kiva.org as a fine example -- or my posts on how it works). Another fine example of this trend is in the Modest Needs foundation (which I heard about on NPR) .... you make your donation, and then you can choose which particular needy people you can donate to ... online ... at midnight while you're in your jammies and sipping a glass of Grape Nehi.
Social media does this by lowering the connection cost .... you can connect many to many very easily. The churches/nonprofits that learn how to use social media will reap great benefits in terms of breadth of connection, depth of committment, etc. There are challenges on how to navigate the social media realm .... it's new .... all the old rules don't apply ... there will be brand new norms of behavior and expectations (do i, as a pastor, by default "friend" people on Facebook, or do I wait for them to come to me? What are the bounds of information I can share about myself? What kind of messages will people treat as spam? etc).
Soli Deo Gloria
Monday, May 05, 2008
Richard put up a blog post last week about the comparison of Buddhism and Christianity (in response to a question he'd been asked in one of the classes he teaches), and he asked me for feedback. I'm afraid that my understanding of Buddhism is but rudimentary, though I do know a thing or two about Christianity. So I offer these points just as a matter of clarification about the Christian faith. Richard...I'm looking forward to ongoing discussion on the deep things of faith and life.
Richard summarizes his opening thus: "There are three things, I think, that most clearly distinguish the Buddha’s teachings from the Christian scriptures: the authenticity and coherence of the scriptural documents, the differing natures of Jesus and the Buddha, and the vast differences in the core doctrines. I’ll take these one at a time."
Authenticity and coherence of scriptural documents:
"Almost from the beginning of Christianity, there has been significant dispute about the authenticity of the Gospels; they do, after all, differ considerably in the stories they tell of some of the more significant events in the story of Jesus the Christ; they frequently seem to be promoting a particular doctrinal agenda; and the emphasis each one lays on the events in the life of Jesus and the importance of those events and of his various teachings differs considerably from one Gospel to the next. There is also the nagging question of alternative Gospels, with an equal or greater claim to authenticity than the canonical four, that would have changed the message of the canon considerably had they been included with the others. "
I suppose the matter of believability depends upon the place from which one stands. Needless to say, I find the Gospels to be quite believable. The issue of "alternative gospels" is an interesting one. The debates in the first three centuries of the church seem to demonstrate a strong unity of belief among the majority of Christians ... though there were splinter groups that sought to carve their own way. The most significant debates in the early church were not whether to include "alternative gospels", but rather which of the canonical books of the new testament to include.
I prefer to look at the great unity across the canon of the New Testament. Yes, there are passages that exist in tension with one another (which is why some sects wanted to leave out certain books), but this is not necessarily contradiction. I must guard against my own chronological snobbery in which I assume that I as a rational enlightened 21st century figure can see contradictions that the first and second and third century Christians were blind to. The tensions were quite obvious to them...and they lived with them. This seems to accurately reflect life ... differing perceptions and yet behind them is truth.
So, I'm afraid I just have to disagree on the issue of reliability of the scriptures of Christianity. I, and many others, find them reliable and trustworthy and real. The scriptures of Christianity were recorded within the lifetime of Jesus' disciples and had the opportunity to be corroborated and challenged and cross checked, whereas the Pali Canon was written down 500 years after the Buddha's teaching. I can grant the reliability of the Pali Canon based upon the capacity of oral-based cultures to remember and transmit vast amounts of knowledge....however I must also grant that same reliabilty to the Jewish culture of antiquity which shared a similar reverence for oral tradition.
The differing natures of the teachers.
"While it’s possible to take from the Gospels a picture of Jesus that is distinctly human—a smart and charismatic person, standing in radical opposition to the orthodoxy of his day, leader of a small group of revolutionaries focussed on the overthrow of the priestly establishment and of the occupying Romans who supported it—that is not the Jesus on which the religion of Christianity or the Christian Church is based. The Christian Jesus is, above and beyond any other characteristics, a divine Being, Son of God Himself, Who took birth as a man to fulfill His Father’s heavenly purpose, and Who, after His crucifixion, was bodily taken back up to Heaven to sit at His Father’s right hand."
This is very close but not quite on. The Jesus of Christianity is both fully human and fully divine. Indeed, many of the early debates within Christianity were all about working out how does Jesus' human nature relate to Jesus' divine nature. The church very wisely followed the indications in scripture....Jesus is fully human, he suffers, he bleeds, he stands against the powers and principalities, he weeps, he laughs. But scripture also clearly indicates that Jesus is divine. This divinity however doesn't make Jesus some distant iceburg...rather it pushes us into the mystery of God with us. It pushes us to confront the idea that God chooses not to lord power over all of us, but rather becomes one of us to show His identificiation with us. Thus Christianity doesn't just embrace Jesus full humanity, it requires that it always be held side by side with Jesus' full divinity.
Contrasting Doctrines: The Meaning of Life
And that brings us to the most significant difference between Christianity and Buddhism: the vastly different doctrines at their cores. In what follows, I’m going to focus on two aspects of doctrine: what each religion teaches about the purpose of life and what each presents as the rules for living a good life—essentially, ontology and ethics. And I want to protest in advance that I am not and have never been a Christian; in all of what follows, I am on shaky ground.
The primary ontological focus of Christianity, as I understand it, is soteriological: Christianity is all about sin and salvation. Orthodox Christianity views the original condition of humankind as a state of sin; the role of Jesus as Messiah, Savior, was to redeem that sin and save mankind from the fate that sinners are doomed to suffer. To carry out His mission of redemption, Jesus had to die on the cross and rise from the tomb. To benefit from Jesus’s sacrifice, to participate in Salvation, it is only necessary to believe in Him.
Sadly, this is the impression that we as Christians give, isn't it. That Christianity is nothing more than a "get out of hell free card". That's never been the historic understanding of the Christian purpose of life, but somewhere we've allowed ourselves to get sucked into slick marketing of Jesus as though he were a "7 habits of highly effective gurus" programme.
In my tradition, we have a teaching tool called the Westminster Shorter Catechism...it was authored in the 1600's as a method of transmitting the essentials of faith from one generation to the next. It begins with the basic question "What is the chief end of man?" .... ie, what is our ontology? The answer: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever."
Nothing in that about salvation. The end goal of all of creation is ultimately about reflecting back the innate glory of the Creator. The vastness of space, the intricacy of subatomic structures, the mysterious workings of the forces of physics, the greatest supernova and the smallest protozoa....all of it bears something of the thumbprint of the Creator. In so far as those things draw our breath in awe and wonder, they accomplish something of the purpose of bringing glory to the Creator. And this takes us to the second half "enjoy him forever" -- the Creator created us as personal relational beings that we might eternally be in relationship with him.
It is only upon that understanding that the whole story of sin and redemption operates. Salvation is not the purpose of life...it is the rescue operation from a tragic abberation from our purpose in life.
So here I might nuance your understanding of the difference between Buddhism and Christianity. For as I understand Christianity, our personhood ... our individuality is a key component. We are each as individuals in relationship with the living God. Relationship of course entails the mystery of combining individuality with self-loss for the other in a mutual relationship of love.
Buddhism, as I understand it, teaches that personality itself is illusion...that part of dukkha is the craving to be individuals. My understanding is that Buddhism teaches that personhood is illussion from which we must be freed. To my mind that personhood/non-personhood distinction is the more precise definition of the difference in ontology.
Contrasting Doctrines: Ethics
"Nor do I mean to imply that there is no place for faith in Buddhism. In fact, faith is a core virtue in Buddhism, but it seems to me that it means something different there than it does in Christianity. In Christianity, faith is where it ends; if you have faith, you’re in, you’re saved. In Buddhism, faith is where it begins; we have to have faith that the Buddha was, in fact, awakened, liberated from attachment to transient things and the dukkha that attends such attachment; and we have to have faith that he was being honest about the Path that led to his awakening. Without that measure of faith, we’d have no incentive to undertake the practice of the Path ourselves. But we also need to have faith that the Buddha did all that as a human being and that his accomplishment, awesome as it is, is within our reach as human beings. We must have faith in our own ability to reduce dukkha and, eventually, to bring it to an end."
Again, sadly this reflects how poorly the church communicates who we are called to be. The scriptures do speak of Christianity being rooted in grace, but that the grace is unto something: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) is a classic statement about grace and salvation, but the statement doesn't end there...the next verse is key "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." They key point here being that it is not sufficient to say "if you have faith, that's it you're saved" b/c that kind of thinking misses the whole point. Being saved isn't just a rescue from perdition, it is also a rescue to living a life of service and love. It means being transformed into a servant who loves his neighbor as himself.
Again, I believe the main difference on this issue of ethics is not so much the content of the ethical precepts...it's in the power and capacity. Who is empowering the good acts. You make the point that the Buddha was fully human and therefore he shows us that we humans can follow the path too. The idea in Buddhism seems to be that each of us must find that Path for ourselves and we must take responsibility for following that path.
By contrast Christianity emphasizes our inability to follow the path on our own. Our radical dependence upon Christ is what is in mind. Not only are we unable to reconcile ourselves to God, but we are also unable to walk the Path that Christ teaches...thus Christ offers help: "....work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12-13). This truth is tied into the relational nature of Christianity.... we can neither accomplish what we need nor live the way we ought. However we place our faith in Christ's working to accomplish the reconciliation with God that we need....and we trust in the inward guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead us to live the way we ought.
Hope these thoughts help....thanks for providing some stimulating food for thought. I'm looking forward to future conversation (online or off).
Soli Deo Gloria
Thursday, May 01, 2008
The local organizing committee has comprised of a group of volunteers, including Rocky Pegg, Phil Bishop, and Dr. Ted Kalsbeek. This year's programme featured Major Randy Fannon of the US Army Reserve praying for those who protect and serve. Major Fannon serves as a hospital chaplain at Bethesda North Hospital, and he rememberd not just our military, but also our local service personnel, such as fire, police, and other emergency responders.
Prayers for those who govern were offered by Judge Patrick Dinkelacker. Following his prayer, the assembled crowed enjoyed music from the orchestra and choir of God's Bible School and College. Most Cincinnatians are not aware of God's Bible School...it's a historic Wesleyan Holiness institution nestled right on the heights overlooking downtown. They operate dozens of ministries throughout the city, giving their ministerial students opportunities to work with prisoners, the elderly, children, and inner city folk. And yet very few people outside of Wesleyan Holiness circles are aware of them. Their choir and orchestra are pretty wonderful (in fact, they'll be performing at our church next week), and the open air concert was a real complement to the day's events.
Soli Deo Gloria