Saturday, November 19, 2016

Christo-Telic and Christo-Centric Hermeneutics

If you've every seen the movie Ever After, there is a dialogue that ensues as follows:

Henry[as Danielle hurries away] Have we met before?
Danielle: I-I do not believe so, Your Highness.
Henry: I could have sworn I knew every courtier in the province.
Danielle: Well... I am visiting a cousin.
Henry: Who?
Danielle: My cousin.
Henry: Yes, you said that. Which one?
Danielle: Th-the only one I have, sire.
Henry: Are you coy on purpose or do you honestly refuse to tell me your name?
Danielle[stops quickly] No. [quickly heads towards the gate] And yes.

All of this is meant to speak about a person without revealing who the person is. Many words are used, and some information is given, but the dialogue ignores details. 

Such are common uses of the Christocentric and Christotelic interpretations. Details tend to be left out by some in both camps.

Now, these terms are thrown around quite a bit, and frankly, there are probably as many definitions as there are biblical interpreters; but I will attempt to define them in a way that I think best describes what I commonly see out there.

First, let me say that there is a type of Christo-telic interpretation that seeks to end all things in Christ. What I mean by that is that it views the Bible as largely either produced from the socio-religious concerns of the people groups that wrote the Bible or as a divine accommodation to those groups. Either way, as I'll soon note, I reject these ideas, and think, in the end, they are actually conveying the telos of modern/postmodern theological and moral sensibilities, as even Christ is pulled through that grid by most of these people.

Second, let me say that, although I see the Christo-centric hermeneutic as an admirable attempt to honor Christ and see Him as the center of the whole Bible, I think that there is a tendency in this hermeneutic to ignore the literary contexts in which these individual passages exist in favor of a simplistic reading of the text. I would agree with the Christo-centric hermeneutic in many places, as long as typological application was being made to an already thoroughly exegeted text that noted all of its original contextual referents, but to go to the typology without doing the hard exegetical work first, ironically, in my mind, ends up missing Christ in the text.

And it's this last comment that I wish to use to say why I would push for a Christo-telic hermeneutic that sees all things as speaking about Christ, revealing who He is, what He has done with His people in the past, what He desires of His people, etc.

In other words, instead of the Christo-telic idea that all things stated in Scripture are theological or moral accommodations to culturally bound people groups, or that they are merely the theological and ethical musings of these people, that must be vetted through Jesus, a Jesus Himself vetted through modern and postmodern/ultramodern inclinations, I would say that these passages are all a part of Jesus. They make up who He is because they tell us who God is, what His people in the past looked like, what God would do because we see what God did do. They tell us about His character and work in a way that merely going straight to typology or allegory do not do.

It is easy to disregard the Canaanite conquest as something that displays Joshua/Jesus as the destroyer of chaos and sin in the world through the cross, something true enough, but it also tells us that Jesus is the judge who really will destroy people in judgment because, in fact, He's done it before. It's a part of His character to do so.

Christ is truly God's Son He called out of Egypt, but to understand the contextual argument that Matthew is making with that typological allusion involves understanding the original exodus of God's people out of Egypt and His work to save them. Christ, then, becomes the Son who fulfills the role of Israel where it failed. He goes into the wilderness to be tempted as Israel, but, again, where Israel failed, He is victorious. Understanding the original tragedy of the story in its own literary context illuminates the typology used.

This is not only true of historical ideas, but of theological and ethical arguments made through contextually responsible literary readings of the books. If we understand Genesis in its context, we understand that the world is in the midst of creation, and that through that which is chaotic and evil, God will bring about what is ordered and good. The cross becomes central in the fulfillment of this theology, as the filling up of the earth with God's covenant images, what was originally purposed for creation, would have come to nothing had Christ not provided the means to complete this purpose, thus validating the theology of the book.

Understanding the literary argument of Exodus and Deuteronomy helps us understand what considers as worship and gives us the means of worship, i.e., through what is commanded. We then understand what John is saying more when He calls Jesus the Word, the truth, the bread of life, who alone has words of eternal life, that God must be worshiped through spirit and truth, and that if one claims to love Christ he must keep His commandments. Christ affirms that He is the fulfillment of not just the prophecies and historic redemptive themes of the OT, but of the theology and ethics of the OT.

This hermeneutic allows both for a contextual interpretation of the OT and a contextual interpretation of the NT. It allows for each book to make its own unique contribution to the Christian worldview and our view of Christ without having to ignore what the books were saying in their original contexts. It is also what I think the NT authors are doing with the OT. We see typology and development, but also the development of theological and ethical teachings of the OT books as having their fulfillment in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

One can see, therefore, that both a Christocentric view that ignores the original context and the Christotelic view that allows for the occasional rejection of the teaching of those contexts are equally distorted views of Christ and His work because they either ignore or reject those elements of His character and work that those contextual readings supply.

In this regard, it is very possible that both of these hermeneutics will end in a somewhat to very distorted view of who Jesus is, what He did, what He will do, and what He wishes of His people because it, in one way or another, dissects Him from the larger texts that are actually meant to teach us about Him.

This is what happens when we leave the details out. We can often get a different Christ; and I have to wonder if these hermeneutics subconsciously exist so that we can fill in the details with a Christ we find more in line with our desired versions of Him. When we allow all of the passages to speak in their respective contexts, we allow all of them to tell us about Christ, His work, His people, His will, etc., and they fill in the details for us, details that may push our own details out of the picture, and indeed, change the picture for us.

At best, our pictures are simply missing some minor elements. At worst, those missing elements distort the picture so that it becomes something else entirely.

Indeed, it may be that a confusion in hermeneutics has led to a confusion as to who God, Christ, His work, and His people are, leading to a diversity of religions under the name "Christianity," claiming to follow the Jesus of the Bible. But if we allow the texts to speak for themselves, we allow them to teach us the real Jesus of the Bible and provide for us a critical guide that runs against the tendency of our own, mental idol factories to produce false "Jesuses."

Monday, November 14, 2016

Against the Looting and Violent Rioters

Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants
Martin Luther, May 1525

In the former book I did not venture to judge the peasants, since they had offered to be set right and to be instructed, and Christ's command, in Matthew VII, says that we are not to judge. But before I look around they go on, and, forgetting their offer, they betake themselves to violence, and rob and rage and act like mad dogs. By this it is easy to see what they had in their false minds, and that the pretences which they made in their twelve articles, under the name of the Gospel, were nothing but lies. It is the devil's work that they are at, and in particular it is the work of the archdevil who rules at Mühlhausen, and does nothing else than stir up robbery, murder and bloodshed; as Christ says of him in John VIII, ‘He was a murderer from the beginning.’ Since, then, these peasants and wretched folk have let themselves be led astray, and do otherwise than they have promised, I too must write of them otherwise than I have written, and begin by setting their sin before them, as God commands Isaiah and Ezekiel, on the chance that some of them may learn to know themselves. Then I must instruct the rulers how they are to conduct themselves in these circumstances.

The peasants have taken on themselves the burden of three terrible sins against God and man, by which they have abundantly merited death in body and soul. In the first place they have sworn to be true and faithful, submissive and obedient, to their rulers, as Christ commands, when he says, ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's,’ and in Romans XIII, ‘Let everyone be subject unto the higher powers.’ Because they are breaking this obedience, and are setting themselves against the higher powers, willfully and with violence, they have forfeited body and soul, as faithless, perjured, lying, disobedient knaves and scoundrels are wont to do. St. Paul passed this judgement on them in Romans XIII when he said, that they who resist the power will bring a judgement upon themselves. This saying will smite the peasants sooner or later, for it is God's will that faith be kept and duty done.

In the second place, they are starting a rebellion, and violently robbing and plundering monasteries and castles which are not theirs, by which they have a second time deserved death in body and soul, if only as highwaymen and murderers. Besides, any man against whom it can be proved that he is a maker of sedition is outside the law of God and Empire, so that the first who can slay him is doing right and well. For if a man is an open rebel every man is his judge and executioner, just as when a fire starts, the first to put it out is the best man. For rebellion is not simple murder, but is like a great fire, which attacks and lays waste a whole land. Thus rebellion brings with it a land full of murder and bloodshed, makes widows and orphans, and turns everything upside down, like the greatest disaster. Therefore let everyone who can, smite, slay and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful or devilish than a rebel. It is just as when one must kill a mad dog; if you do not strike him, he will strike you, and a whole land with you.

In the third place, they cloak this terrible and horrible sin with the Gospel, call themselves ‘Christian brethren’, receive oaths and homage, and compel people to hold with them to these abominations. Thus they become the greatest of all blasphemers of God and slanderers of his holy Name, serving the devil, under the outward appearance of the Gospel, thus earning death in body and soul ten times over. I have never heard of a more hideous sin. I suspect that the devil feels the Last Day coming and therefore undertakes' such an unheard-of-act, as though saying to himself, ‘This is the last, therefore it shall be the worst; I will stir up the dregs and knock out the bottom.’ God will guard us against him! See what a mighty prince the devil is, how he has the world in his hands and can throw everything into confusion, when he can so quickly catch so many thousands of peasants, deceive them, blind them, harden them and throw them into revolt, and do with them whatever his raging fury undertakes.

It does not help the peasants, when they pretend that, according to Genesis i and ii, all things were created free and common, and that all of us alike have been baptized. For under the New Testament Moses does not count; for there stands our Master, Christ, and subjects us, with our bodies and our property, to the emperor and the law of this world, when he says, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's.’ Paul, too, says, in Romans XII, to all baptized Christians, ‘Let every man be subject to the power’, and Peter says, ‘Be subject to every ordinance of man.’ By this doctrine of Christ we are bound to live, as the Father commands from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son; hear him.’ For baptism does not make men free in body and property, but in soul; and the Gospel does not make goods common, except in the case of those who do of their own free will what the apostles and disciples did in Acts IV. They did not demand, as do our insane peasants in their raging, that the goods of others - of a Pilate and a Herod - should be common, but only their own goods. Our peasants, however, would have other men's goods common, and keep their own goods for themselves. Fine Christians these! I think there is not a devil left in hell; they have all gone into the peasants. Their raving has gone beyond all measure.

Since the peasants, then, have brought both God and man down upon them and are already so many times guilty of death in body and soul, since they submit to no court and wait for no verdict, but only rage on, I must instruct the worldly governors how they are to act in the matter with a clear conscience.

First. I will not oppose a ruler who, even though be does not tolerate the Gospel, will smite and punish these peasants without offering to submit the case to judgement. For he is within his rights, since the peasants are not contending any longer for the Gospel, but have become faithless, perjured, disobedient, rebellious murderers, robbers and blasphemers, whom even heathen rulers have the right and power to punish; nay, it is their duty to punish them, for it is just for this purpose that they bear the sword, and are ‘the ministers of God upon him that doeth evil’.

But if the ruler is a Christian and tolerates the Gospel, so that the peasants have no appearance of a case against him, he should proceed with fear. First he must take the matter to God, confessing that we have deserved these things, and remembering that God may, perhaps, have thus aroused the devil as a punishment upon all Germany. Then he should humbly pray for help against the devil, for ‘we are battling not only against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness in the air’, and this must be attacked with prayer. Then, when our hearts are so turned to God that we are ready to let his divine will be done, whether he will or will not have us to be princes and lords, we must go beyond our duty, and offer the mad peasants an opportunity to come to terms, even though they are not worthy of it. Finally, if that does not help, then swiftly grasp the sword.

For a prince and lord must remember in this case that he is God's minister and the servant of his wrath (Romans XIII), to whom the sword is committed for use upon such fellows, and that he sins as greatly against God, if he does not punish and protect and does not fulfil the duties of his office, as does one to whom the sword has not been committed when he commits a murder. If he can punish and does not - even though the punishment consist in the taking of life and the shedding of blood - then he is guilty of all the murder and all the evil which these fellows commit, because, by willful neglect of the divine command, he permits them to practice their wickedness, though he can prevent it, and is in duty bound to do so. Here, then, there is no time for sleeping; no place for patience or mercy. It is the time of the sword, not the day of grace.

The rulers, then, should go on unconcerned, and with a good conscience lay about them as long as their hearts still beat. It is to their advantage that the peasants have a bad conscience and an unjust cause, and that any peasant who is killed is lost in body and soul and is eternally the devil's. But the rulers have a good conscience and a just cause; and can, therefore, say to God with all assurance of heart, ‘Behold, my God, thou hast appointed me prince or lord, of this I can have no doubt; and though hast committed to me the sword over the evildoers (Romans XIII). It is thy Word, and cannot lie. I must fulfill my office, or forfeit thy grace. It is also plain that these peasants have deserved death many times over, in thine eyes and the eyes of the world, and have been committed to me for punishment. If it be thy will that I be slain by them, and that my rulership be taken from me and destroyed, so be it: thy will be done. So shall I die and be destroyed fulfilling thy commandment and thy Word, and shall be found obedient to thy commandment and my office. Therefore will I punish and smite as long as my heart bears. Thou wilt judge and make things right.’

Thus it may be that one who is killed fighting on the ruler's side may be a true martyr in the eyes of God, if he fights with such a conscience as I have just described, for he is in God's Word and is obedient to him. On the other hand, one who perishes on the peasants' side is an eternal brand of hell, for he bears the sword against God's Word and is disobedient to him, and is a member of the devil. And even though it happens that the peasants gain the upper hand (which God forbid!) for to God all things are possible, and we do not know whether it may be his will, through the devil, to destroy all order and rule and cast the world upon a desolate heap, as a prelude to the Last Day, which cannot be far off - nevertheless, they may die without worry and go to the scaffold with a good conscience, who are found exercising their office of the sword. They may leave to the devil the kingdom of the world, and take in exchange the everlasting kingdom. Strange times, these, when a prince can win heaven with bloodshed, better than other men with prayer!

Finally, there is another thing that ought to move the rulers. The peasants are not content to be themselves the devil's own, but they force and compel many good people against their wills to join their devilish league, and so make them partakers of all of their own wickedness and damnation. For anyone who consents to what they do, goes to the devil with them, and is guilty of all the evil deeds that they commit; though he has to do this because he is so weak in faith that he does not resist them. A pious Christian ought to suffer a hundred deaths, rather than give a hair's breadth of consent to the peasants' cause. O how many martyrs could now be made by the bloodthirsty peasants and the murdering prophets! Now the rulers ought to have mercy on these prisoners of the peasants, and if they had no other reason to use the sword, with a good conscience, against the peasants, and to risk their own lives and property in fighting them, there would be reason enough, and more than enough, in this - that thus they would be rescuing and helping these souls, whom the peasants have forced into their devilish league and mho, without willing it, are sinning so horribly, and who must be damned. For truly these souls are in purgatory; nay, in the bonds of hell and the devil.

Therefore, dear lords, here is a place where you can release, rescue, help. Have mercy on these poor people [whom the peasants have compelled to join them]. Stab, smite, slay, whoever can. If you die in doing it, well for you! A more blessed death can never be yours, for you die obeying the divine Word and commandment in Romans XIII, and in loving service of your neighbor, whom you are rescuing from the bonds of hell and of the devil. And so I beg everyone who can to flee from the peasants as from the devil himself; those who do not flee, I pray that God will enlighten and convert. As for those who are not to be converted, God grant that they may have neither fortune nor success. To this let every pious Christian say Amen! For this prayer is right and good, and pleases God; this I know. If anyone think this too hard, let him remember that rebellion is intolerable and that the destruction of the world is to be expected every hour.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Little Political Analysis

The map is very red today, more so than it has been in many years. However, I don't think it's because America suddenly went back to conservatism. Instead, I think that the democrat/liberal strategy of instilling distrust toward authorities in the West, in order to argue that the democratic party is the party of change and people should, therefore, vote for them, is a monster that has grown out of their control.

Think about this for a moment. A lot of people didn't vote at all because they distrust the whole system now. These are the same people who tend to buy into every conspiracy theory that comes down the road. They just don't trust any authority anymore. They trust themselves. They trust their little groups. But they do not trust actual authorities. They tend to believe everyone is lying to them. It's a paranoid disposition toward authority in general that rules their thought processes.

Hence, many did not vote. So what we could be seeing with that map is that the country is far more liberal than it used to be. Conservatives are where liberals were in the seventies on a few issues. Liberals have grown radically liberal. Think of millennials. The little seed of distrust instilled in their parents has become a radical, almost certifiable, distrust in authority and the government. The media and university that sought to gain control of them by injecting them with such radical distrust has now lost control of them because they no longer trust them either.

This is displayed as well in our culture with people's distrust of the church and its authority. Self reigns supreme, as though it were a reliable authority at all, and those who have a little trust left in authority rule the world.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Cringe-worthy Reviews of My Book

It is rather disappointing to read reviews of one's own work when the reviewers don't seem to agree. It is, however, absolutely frustrating when it seems they don't agree because they haven't seemed to have read the book carefully.

Such is the case with a couple of reviews I've recently read of it, one of which in RBL by Jeffery Leonard. Leonard's review is one big strawman of my book. His review was then quoted by Peter Leithart, who also seems to have not read the book, in a blogpost with a further strawman objection. Here is what Leonard concludes:

“While the author does a workmanlike job of demonstrating how various numbers in Gen 1–11 could be interpreted symbolically, it is not at all clear to me that the biblical authors necessarily intended that these numbers should be interpreted in this fashion. It seems just as likely to me, for example, that the ancient Yahwist believed there was a flood and that the rains of that flood lasted for forty days as it does that he intended only to symbolize the trials Noah faced in the ark by supplying the number forty for the days of diluvian rain. Hodge attempts to sidestep this issue in part by arguing that we cannot divine from these texts the biblical authors’ beliefs about history and cosmology because the authors did not intend to teach these subjects; their purposes were theological. Simply asserting this to be the case, though, is not the same as demonstrating that the biblical authors did not place historiographic concerns alongside their theological concerns. A symbolic reading of the text may ease the interpretive task by marginalizing questions of what the biblical authors believed about the actual past. Were it the case, though, that the biblical authors intended their numbers to be understood literally, the comfort of a symbolic reading would be a false comfort that only obscures the real issues involved in understanding the thought world of the biblical authors.”

Leonard does this throughout his review. He continually makes this strawman that I am arguing that because the author could be using numbers symbolically, he, therefore, is using them symbolically. 

This, of course, is complete rubbish. I argue no such thing. The entire book is meant to show that the language of the Primeval History is symbolic, and therefore, the numbers should be taken as symbolic as well. To do the opposite of this, and take them as literal, not only creates unnecessary contradictions in the text, but it contradicts the symbolic nature of this genre of literature. 

Leonard gets past the contradictions by critiquing that I don't take the lazy route of most of scholarship and blame contradictions on the sources used. I say up front that I have no problem with conflicting sources, but argue that this is not what is happening with Genesis. It is simply a superficial view of the text that retreats back into this idea. The author has crafted a text out of sources that coheres to the message he wishes to convey. To argue otherwise is to stubbornly remain a fossil in the outdated relic that is nineteenth and twentieth century scholarship. 

Leonard has also completely misunderstood my argument. At no time did I pit the symbolic description of history as either historical or symbolic. In fact, I spend a lot of time in the opening chapters explaining that the author believes all of this to be history but still describes it symbolically. Leonard wants to create some false distinction between the two that I explain at lengths are not opposed to one another.

Indeed, Leithart's objection in his blogpost is that the ideas of "literal" and "symbolic" are not opposed, as though he is arguing against something I said in my book. In fact, he is arguing against Leonard, not me. My point is that there is a dichotomy between literal and symbolic description. I am not arguing that if the language is symbolic, the event is as well. This is nonsense.

But what of Leonard's argument? Instead of actually refuting anything I argue, what Leonard has done is show the weakness of his position. I have argued that since the language used is symbolic and filled with ancient Near Eastern symbolism evidenced in other texts that also vary in their descriptions (as texts that are not attempting to describe something literal would) that the numbers, which are often used symbolically both in the Bible and the ancient Near East, should be understood in context as symbolic as well. 

However, it is at this point that Leonard's argument turns on him. Leonard is arguing that since one can take these numbers as literal, one should take them as literal. Leonard would have to show that there is not ancient Near Eastern symbolism in these chapters, that the numbers are not used symbolically in the Bible and ancient Near East, and that the author's mindset is one of plain historical facts laid out in literal speech. Since he has not produced a work that has done this, nor could he, and has not refuted my book's real argument, his review just muddies the waters with logical fallacies.

The reviews done by fundamentalists like Andrew Kulikovsky are equally bad. In fact, they share some of the same objections but for different reasons. Kulikovsky's review is so riddled with logical and exegetical fallacies I cannot address them all here, but he, as well as his liberal counterparts, are committed to reading Genesis within their own modern context and concepts of historiography rather than attempt to understand how the text would have been read in an ancient Near Eastern context. The book attempts to show this, but alas, if one is dead set against the idea to begin with, there is really no evidence that would prove otherwise.

I'm still waiting for someone to address my actual argument, but it seems the desire to maintain one's quota for writing or to just be published outweighs the desire to understand an argument. The problem is that scholars tend to read reviews more than books, so their view of my work will be based on these strawmen; but this also causes me to wonder how much literature is misunderstood because of poorly thought out reviews.