I am a moderate in hermeneutics

I was not surprised to find that in The Hermeneutics Quiz, which I found from a tip by Dave Warnock and (for those of you put off by long words like “hermeneutics”) is in fact a set of questions on how I interpret the Bible, I came out as a “moderate”, with a score of 55. This rather simplistic score conceals the fact that the majority of my points came from the last few questions which were mostly about the applicability today of Old Testament law. I took a more conservative position on the earlier questions about the Bible. I was also somewhat surprised that my more individualistic answers about how I interpret the Bible and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit made my score a more conservative one. It seems to me that this quiz needs at least two or three dimensions, perhaps more, rather than trying to place people along a single conservative-liberal axis.

Calvin: "God shall cease to be the Head of Christ"

This is a follow-up to my recent post on the doctrine of eternal subordination within the Trinity and the related discussion at the Complegalitarian blog. This doctrine has recently become popular among complementarians, many of whom also call themselves Calvinists and so presumably value the teaching of John Calvin. Recently at the CBMW Gender “Blog” (in fact not a real blog because there is no opportunity for discussion) Calvin was listed among ten theologians who, it was claimed, held to this doctrine. Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology (as quoted by Molly), takes this further, claiming that

the idea of eternal equality in being but subordination in role has been essential to the church’s doctrine of the Trinity since it was first affirmed in the Nicene Creed, … it has clearly been part of the church’s doctrine of the Trinity (in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox expressions), at least since Nicea (A.D. 325).

But can this claim be substantiated? I will not attempt to discuss all the ten theologians’ views. But in a comment on Complegalitarian Suzanne (apparently not Suzanne McCarthy) found a quote from Calvin which clearly shows that he did NOT believe in the eternal subordination of the Son. I have verified the quote from my own copy of Calvin’s Institutes, 2.14.3 (vol. 1 p. 486 in my copy, in the translation by Battles), and here I quote part of what Suzanne quoted with some additional text to introduce it, with my own emphasis:

That is, to [Christ] was lordship committed by the Father, until such time as we should see his divine majesty face to face. Then he returns the lordship to his Father so that – far from diminishing his own majesty – it may shine all the more brightly. Then, also, God shall cease to be the Head of Christ, for Christ’s own deity will shine of itself, although as yet it is covered in a veil.

In other words (and this is confirmed by reading the context), it is clear that to Calvin the distinction in honour between Christ and God the Father is only a temporary one which will cease when Christ has “discharged the office of Mediator”, that is, completed his saving work by bring his people to glory. Thus Calvin clearly shows that he believes in the temporary rather than eternal subordination of the Son.

If, as Calvin teaches, God shall cease to be the Head of Christ, that means that 1 Corinthians 11:3 is only a temporary teaching. So, if this verse is given the weight that many complementarians put on it, the “headship” of a husband over his wife (whatever that might mean) is also only temporary and will no longer be applicable in the eternal kingdom of God.

Packer threatened with suspension from ministry

As reported on Michael Daley’s unofficial Lambeth Conference blog, the renowned Bible scholar and teacher Dr JI Packer, aged 81, yesterday

received a letter threatening suspension from ministry by the controversial Bishop of New Westminster, Michael Ingham.

Two weeks ago, as I reported here, the Anglican church of which Packer is a member, St John’s Shaughnessy, decided to leave Bishop Ingham’s diocese and affiliate to the Province of the Southern Cone. Several other congregations have also voted to leave this and other dioceses of the “official” Anglican Church of Canada.

It is not clear what the bishop’s charge is against Packer. It has not been reported that he took any active part in the decision at St John’s, even that he was among the overwhelming 475 to 11 majority (9 abstentions) who voted to join the Southern Cone. In Packer’s only public comment on the issue that I know about, he did not, despite his strong criticisms, announce any intention to leave the Anglican Church of Canada.

It is also not clear what Ingham’s threats can actually mean in practice. Ingham cannot strip Packer of his priesthood. He can formally prohibit Packer from ministering in those churches remaining loyal to him – but then such a prohibition could hardly be enforced in the current climate, and most of these churches would not have invited Packer anyway.

So Ingham’s threat is in fact not much more than a gesture. But what kind of gesture is it? Not a polite one, I think. It seems that Bishop Ingham, in his zeal to purge his diocese of those who disagree with his theologically liberal agenda, which includes promotion of same-sex marriage, is not prepared even to show common courtesy to an Anglican elder statesman.

Meanwhile there have been so many developments in Anglican churches in Canada, congregations leaving their dioceses and diocesan authorities attempting to stop them, that Michael Daley has set up a special blog to keep track of them. The latest news just in is excellent for at least two of the parishes that have voted to join the Southern Cone: an Ontario judge has ruled that “the parishioners … shall have exclusive use of the buildings” at least until the next hearing on 20th March.

The Bible overthrows the hierarchical worldview

Molly Aley at the Complegalitarian blog offers a robust (and award-winning) criticism of CBMW’s claims about the doctrine of eternal subordinationism in the Trinity. In her own comment there she describes how at Bible college she was taught a strongly hierarchical worldview, which she has now rejected, which linked subordinationism within the Trinity with a strong concept of non-mutual authority in church and home.

Nick Norelli may reject this kind of link, but it was clearly made at Molly’s patriarchal Bible college, as well as by the moderate complementarians of CBMW and the egalitarian Kevin Giles. Molly shows that the link goes beyond 1 Corinthians 11:3 on which I disagreed with Nick, to encompass fundamental issues of one’s worldview, in which there is a clear division between hierarchical and egalitarian presuppositions.

My contention is that the Bible deliberately rejects the dominant hierarchical worldview of the ancient world and teaches a fundamentally egalitarian viewpoint. This criticism of hierarchy undermines the basis of both patriarchy and complementarianism in gender relations as well as of the eternal subordinationism in the Trinity.

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Subordinationism, the Trinity, and gender relations

Nick Norelli offers a thoughtful review of Kevin Giles’ book The Trinity & Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God & the Contemporary Gender Debate. I have not read the book, but this makes me want to.

But I cannot accept the way that Nick seeks to dissociate the two issues which Giles links in this book, subordinationism within the Trinity and complementarianism in gender relations. I cannot comment directly on the arguments Giles uses to link these matters. But the counter-arguments which Nick comes up with are to me very unconvincing.

Nick claimed that my first comment on his blog pointing out the weaknesses of his argument “completely lacked merit”. To be fair, I had accused him of “expound[ing] bad theology”, so I can’t complain at receiving a robust response. But here I bring my comments to a wider audience for it to judge between us.

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A Room with a View

Lingamish tagged me with this meme, and then in a comment dared to suggest that there are not many sunny days in England. In fact this month has been unusually sunny, and as I write the sun is shining through the window and in fact on to my computer screen. So I can offer this picture dsc00338_00.JPGof my desk with the view outside. I took this at about the same time yesterday, when my computer was not on (as I had just come in) but the sun was again shining on its screen. I had also temporarily taken down the net curtains so that the houses across the walkway are visible.

Given the trouble I got into from the one person (so far) who didn’t actually ignore the last set of tags I posted, this time I will refrain from tagging anyone.

Bible meme

Nick Norelli and Kevin Sam have both tagged me with a Bible meme. I wasn’t sure what to do about, and that is why I have delayed my response. But I will try to answer it in part, as I celebrate my 400th blog post (well, not quite, because WordPress counts some drafts which were never completed).

1. What translation of the Bible do you like best?

TNIV. It’s not ideal, but for my purposes it is the best single general purpose Bible. For 25 years before TNIV came out I used and liked NIV, but TNIV is a real improvement on NIV in the areas where it was weak: misleading gender language and reading the New Testament into the Old.

2. Old or New Testament?

What a choice? I am a New Testament believer, but in some ways I prefer the Old Testament.

3. Favorite Book of the Bible?

Difficult to say. If I have just one choice I will go for Isaiah.

4. Favorite Chapter?

Even more difficult, and especially because chapter divisions so often don’t match the boundaries of passages. In the Psalms they do, so I can safely go for Psalm 23.

5. Favorite Verse? (feel free to explain yourself if you have to)

John 3:16. This may sound hackneyed, but my reasons are implicit in my recent post on this verse.

6. Bible character you think you’re most like?

Again, I don’t really know. I would like to be most like Jesus. But sometimes I feel more like one of his very fallible disciples; perhaps someone else would like to suggest which of them.

7. One thing from the Bible that confuses you?

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matt. 11:12) I’ve heard this verse preached on and exegeted countless times and it has never made sense.

This was Nick’s answer to this question, and I can’t improve on it, except to put the quote in a modern version which is just as unclear.

8. Moses or Paul?

Definitely Paul.

9. A teaching from the Bible that you struggle with or don’t get?

Despite my attempt at confident answers to the comments on my previous post, the status and fate of Christians who continue in sin.

10. Coolest name in the Bible?


Now tag five people.

Well, I can’t resist winding up John Hobbins again by tagging him. I don’t think Lingamish has done this one either, so I will pay him back for tagging me with The Room With A View, a meme which he seems to have invented as a way to show off how nice a life he is living in Africa. I would love to see Wayne Leman‘s answers if he can be tempted to join in here. Paul Trathen was so excited to be tagged the last time (when he tagged me, but for a meme I had already done) that I will tag him again. Finally, I will encourage Alastair Roberts to keep up the blogging he has recently returned to by tagging him as well.

PS For some reason this came up as post 402. The only reason I can think of for WordPress skipping 400 and 401 is that last night I upgraded to the latest version.

Apostasy, backsliding, and perseverance of the saints

Since I use the word “apostasy” here, I want to acknowledge Ruth Gledhill’s very worrying post Sharia in Iran: ‘Death to converts’. It seems that the government of Iran wants to impose the death penalty for “apostasy” from Islam, which will apply to those of other religions who have even one Muslim parent. But this is not my real theme in this post.

I have been having an ongoing conversation with John Hobbins about the conditions for Christian salvation. As I reported here, it started in the comment thread of this post on John’s blog, and it continued in the comments on this post. I think the discussion is more or less finished. Now I want to present here some of my conclusions, although I don’t think John will agree with them.

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Churches must either change or decay

Part of a slide from the presentation by Bob Jackson which I linked to a few days ago. I looked for this in response to a post by John Meunier which makes a similar point.

Usually, churches only grow when they change
• Surveys show that churches that don’t change are shrinking, churches that do change are not shrinking … usually the choice is change or decay

From his survey results, in the Church of England across theological boundaries, 17 churches which had made no changes shrank by an average 22% over 6 years, whereas 32 churches which had made at least one change, of any kind, on average grew by 4%.

Relevance Theory and the Translation of Scripture

I must say I am somewhat confused about what Karen Jobes has been writing and saying.

A few days ago I reported on a paper “Bible Translation as Bilingual Quotation” which, according to the Zondervan blog, she presented “at the Fall 2007 Evangelical Theological Society Annual Meeting”. I wrote about this paper that I expected it to interact with Relevance Theory as presented by Ernst-August Gutt, but it did not.

Just now I have received a link to a blog post by “Chaka”, a 26-year-old man who is apparently linked with one of Zondervan’s rivals as a Bible publisher, Tyndale. In this post “Chaka” writes a review of an article by the same Karen Jobes, published in the same quarter of the same year in the journal of the same Evangelical Theological Society (in fact Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50.4 (December 2007) 773-797). But it turns out that this is a different article with a different title, “Relevance Theory and the Translation of Scripture”. And, although there is some overlap in the subject matter in that both papers address the issue of verbosity in Bible translations, the paper “Chaka” refers to does in fact interact with Relevance Theory as presented by Ernst-August Gutt. (In fact “Chaka” also links to the Zondervan blog post referring to the first paper.)

But there is a further puzzle in that the verbosity statistics in the two papers, or two versions of the same paper, are inconsistent. For example, according to the paper linked to by Zondervan, NIV is 18.56% more verbose than the original Hebrew and Greek, NRSV is 21.72% more verbose, and ESV is 23.67% more verbose. But according to the figures Chaka quotes from the other paper, NIV is 33.18% more verbose than the original, ESV is 38.93% more verbose, and NRSV is an astonishing 64.43% more verbose.

So what is happening here? What is the relationship between these two papers? It is hard for me to tell without seeing the latter. But perhaps there is a need here to exercise the scholarly disciplines of source and redaction criticism.