Another Kirk blogging, with mixed results

UPDATE: I apologise to Daniel Kirk for writing as if the assertion David Ker attributed to him was what he had actually written. I have edited the post and marked the changes.

I have only just discovered Storied Theology, the fairly new blog of my American namesake Daniel Kirk, not related to me, who is a New Testament professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in California. I first came across it when Doug linked to what Daniel wrote about Lent and the resurrection, which I commented on here.

Now I wasn’t at first very impressed by what Daniel wrote about theologically manipulated translations, also discussed especially as this was presented at Better Bibles Blog. Daniel doesn’t seem to In the BBB post David Ker makes it look as if Daniel doesn’t know his translation theory,  that there are many good reasons other than theological manipulation for a translation not being painfully literal. In fact from Daniel’s own post it is clear that he does know this. However Also, as I commented on BBB, Daniel doesn’t seem to have done his exegetical homework properly on the particular verse under discussion, and so hasn’t realised that a passive verb has a different meaning from an active one. So if renderings of this verse are not the same as KJV, that may just be because they are correcting an error in KJV.

But I like some of the other things Daniel writes. Just from the last day or so I can recommend Why Not Rather Be Wronged? and You Are What You Worship–Choose Your God Wisely. In the latter he outlines the results of secular research, which shows that

Contemplating a loving God strengthens portions of our brain … where empathy and reason reside. Contemplating a wrathful God empowers the limbic system, which is “filled with aggression and fear.”

So that is why religious fundamentalists, including Christian ones, so often come across as aggressive – and why that aggression is so often based on fear especially of less fundamentalist co-religionists. It is very sad when I see some of this same reaction from good conservative evangelical Christians, in their reactions to those who question their favourite doctrines or church practices.

More on Reform: will they consecrate their own bishops?

Rachel has some interesting things to say about the Reform position on women bishops, including the text of a letter in the Church of England Newspaper (available online only to subscribers). See also John Richardson’s comment and Rachel’s reply.

Rachel also links to a post on the same subject by Peter Carrell, who offers a New Zealand perspective on the discussions.

And then Peter Carrell links back to England, and Cranmer’s Curate who has a post revealing that

Plans involving ‘senior figures’ are now underway to consecrate a group of Conservative Evangelical bishops for the UK.

The Curate (who is actually not a curate but an incumbent, a vicar) implies that this is something to do with the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, and Reform is not mentioned. But then if these new bishops are indeed to be “Conservative Evangelical” I can hardly believe that this is not something to do with Reform. Cranmer’s Curate is a member of this conservative evangelical group, and a signatory of their letter to the General Synod. I suppose he has been consulted in advance about their plans – and has broken ranks by revealing them. John Richardson the Ugley Vicar (who is not a vicar but a non-stipendiary curate), another member, has made proposals to Reform along these lines. So maybe the balance of views in Reform is shifting away from the strategy outlined in their letter to the General Synod and towards John’s proposals.

A question for Reform: what is "teaching"?

My post Reform are hypocrites over women teaching has attracted quite a lot of readers (145 directly so far, plus those reading from the main page and from RSS etc feeds) but surprisingly little response. Indeed the only actual comments on the post, apart from my own, are three thoughtful comments from TC Keene, who defends Reform on the charge of hypocrisy without actually agreeing with their position.

Perhaps TC has hit the nail on the head in his latest comment, in which he (in another comment he states that he is male) writes (in part):

Reform supporters will be bemused but possibly contemptuous of the remarks concerning Carrie’s leaflet … For some reason that is opaque to me and is clearly equally opaque to others but seems completely natural to Reform supporters that they never question it, written teaching does not fall under the ban on women teaching men. It has never done and it probably has never occurred to most of them that it should.

I replied (again in part):

if Reform really does teach that “written teaching does not fall under the ban on women teaching men”, then why haven’t they included this point in any of their written teaching? Or perhaps they have – in that case, where is that written teaching? Even if this “seems completely natural to Reform supporters”, they know by now that it doesn’t to others. So where are the Reform people coming out and saying this?

So if it is Reform’s position that only oral teaching is true teaching, where does this idea come from? TC suggests that it has roots in pagan Greek philosophy. Maybe. But I was surprised to find that in the New Testament the words didasko “teach”, didaskalos “teacher”, didache and didaskalia “teaching” etc are almost entirely restricted in their application to spoken teaching. I could find only one place in which any of these words are used of the written teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures, in Romans 15:4, and none where they referred to any other written material. Thus for example in 2 Peter 3 the author avoids these words when talking about both his own previous letter (v.1) and the letters of Paul (vv.15-16).

So perhaps Carrie Sandom could have made an exegetical case that the prohibition on a woman teaching (didasko) in 1 Timothy 2:12 applies only to oral teaching and not to distributing written teaching material. However, in her leaflet The role of women in the local church she makes absolutely no attempt to do so. As a result she leaves herself open to the interpretation I have made of her words, according to the regular English meaning of “teach” which includes written as well as oral teaching. If this is not what she meant, she should have said so. And if she, or someone else from Reform, would now like to clarify to me that this was indeed her meaning, I will withdraw my charge of hypocrisy.

However, if the Reform position is that women are forbidden only to teach orally, then that leads to some interesting issues about where the line should be drawn across which women are not allowed to step. Carrie Sandom teaches that there is no “blanket prohibition on women speaking” in a church context. So they can speak, but not to teach, and they can teach, if they don’t speak what they teach. Does sign language for the deaf count as speaking? Is a woman allowed to be an interpreter for a male teacher? Is she allowed to read out written teaching material? What if she reads out what she has written herself? But that’s what most male preachers do!

The whole thing can easily get ridiculous. I am reminded of how in 1988 Margaret Thatcher tried to deny publicity to Irish republicans by banning broadcast of the voice of their leaders like Gerry Adams. The broadcasters promptly got round it by dubbing the voices of actors over pictures of Adams and others speaking – and the republicans ended up with more publicity rather than less.

I am also reminded of how Jesus mocked the distinctions the Pharisees made between different kinds of oaths (Matthew 5:33-37) and condemned them for straining out gnats while swallowing camels (23:23-24). I’m sure Jesus’ message to Reform would have been similar: he would condemn them for focusing on small matters like exactly what women can do while

you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.

Matthew 23:23 (TNIV)

Row over drinking and smoking Jesus picture

The BBC reports an interesting row in India, in fact in the 70% Christian state of Meghalaya, about school textbooks

showing pictures of Jesus Christ holding a cigarette and a can of beer.

The state government has seized the textbooks, which were found being used in a private school, and

legal action against the publishers was being contemplated.

The row is likely to spread beyond this one remote state, as the book was published in Delhi, and

The Catholic Church in India has banned all textbooks by [publishers of the book] Skyline Publications from all its schools.

One wonders what motivated the publishers to include in the book such a silly and gratuitously offensive picture (you can see it on the BBC site). It would hardly be the act of any genuinely religious Hindus or Muslims. It sounds more like the kind of stunt that would be pulled by militant secularist atheists.

But to me the most objectionable part of the picture is not the beer can or the cigarette but the way that an image of Jesus as a blond European (which of course he was not) is being used even in India.

Benny Hinn is being divorced

People are searching my blog for news about televangelist Benny Hinn’s divorce. I wrote about Benny before, here, but with no mention of divorce. But if people are looking here for news, I will give them some, second hand …

The BBC and the British newspapers have not yet found this worthy of reporting, so I am reliant on the US newspapers, via Google News and also through a link I found from a tweet by Rich Tatum (seen through Facebook) to the story as reported by the LA Times blog.

The Washington Post has more details than the LA Times and some response from Benny’s camp, so I will quote part of its report:

The wife of televangelist Benny Hinn has filed for divorce from the high-profile pastor, whose reputation as an advocate of prosperity gospel has attracted millions of followers and criticism from lawmakers and watchdog groups over his lavish lifestyle.

Suzanne Hinn filed the papers in Orange County Superior Court on Feb. 1, citing irreconcilable differences, after more than 30 years of marriage. The papers note the two separated on Jan. 26 and that Hinn has been living in Dana Point, a wealthy coastal community in southern Orange County.

“Pastor Benny Hinn and his immediate family were shocked and saddened to learn of this news without any previous notice,” Benny Hinn Ministries said Thursday in a statement. “Although Pastor Hinn has faithfully endeavored to bring healing to their relationship, those efforts failed and were met with the petition for divorce that was filed without notice.”

This is of course very sad, and reminiscent of the high profile divorce of Todd Bentley a couple of years ago. In this case there is no suggestion that any other woman, or man, was involved. Very likely the main underlying issue is that the high pressure work of a modern American evangelist is incompatible with a normal family life.

Raised with Christ: Review part 5

Daniel Kirk (no relation, thanks to Doug for the link), writing about Lent which started yesterday (for those of us in the western tradition, so not Esteban for whom it started on Monday), notes:

Even worse than pretending that [Jesus] hasn’t come yet, however, is pretending that he isn’t raised yet, that he isn’t Lord of all, that we are living in a time of cross without resurrection. …

And so for Lent this year, I am giving up stopping talking about the resurrection. Though I can’t promise I’ll blog on the resurrection every day for forty days, I will blog about it at least a couple times a week, reflecting on the reality that we truly live under right now.

Well, I’m not going to try to match Daniel. But I will continue my own series on the resurrection in the form of my ongoing review, or précis, of Adrian Warnock’s book Raised with Christ, a book whose aim is to stop Christians “pretending that [Jesus] isn’t raised yet, that he isn’t Lord of all, that we are living in a time of cross without resurrection”.  This is part 5 of the review I started herepart 2, part 3, part 4.

In chapter 10, which is just about the mid-point of the book, Adrian comes to what looks like the heart of his argument, with a chapter “Resurrected with Jesus”. His main point here is to identify being raised with Christ with being born again. He appeals to John Piper to support what he says about

the frightening prospect … that many churches are full of people who have not actually been born again. (p.135)

Yes, there seem to be so many Christians who always, not just during Lent, seem to be “living in a time of cross without resurrection”, not pretending but really living like that. They may listen attentively to all kinds of sound Reformed teaching about the cross. But if they have never been taught and accepted for themselves that Jesus is alive and can give them new life, then have they really been born again to that new life?

Adrian continues with an interesting point about us, those of us who are truly born again, being seated in heavenly places:

It may seem a bit fanciful, but I sometimes like to think of our current life as being a bit like a form of virtual reality. The true reality is, we are already seated in heaven, no matter what is happening to us in this world. (p.139)

As I was preparing this post I came across the article on which I based my previous post, Our world may be a giant hologram. Perhaps Adrian’s fancy ties up with what scientists are discovering, that reality is not so much what we see in the world as what happens in another realm. If God is in that other realm, and is the one in real control of what happens in our world, then we too as Christians are seated in that realm with him – and what we see in this world is only a “hologram” of our real selves. Of course this is speculation – and mostly mine, not Adrian’s.

The last part of Adrian’s chapter, “United with Christ”, is perhaps more difficult at least for me, as it discusses the concept of our federal identity with Christ. This idea is not popular in this individualistic modern world, yet it explains not only how we can be forgiven through Jesus’ death but also how because he is alive we also have new life.

We are united to both his death and resurrection. … All that he is, all his credit, all his life, are imputed to us, and … a change does happen within us. We begin a whole new type of life and become an entirely new kind of being. (p.142)

Indeed, Adrian, but surely that should be “imparted”, not “imputed”, as you are talking about a real change in us. I know you don’t want to put yourself on the “wrong” side of certain Reformation controversies by talking of “imparted righteousness”. I know you want to be consistent with what you wrote on your blog about imputed righteousness in support of Piper, and against N.T. Wright, for example here. But what you are talking about here is imparted righteousness, not as the basis of salvation of course, but as the starting point for the new life in Christ. We are not just counted righteous and left to continue in our old life, like people “living in a time of cross without resurrection”. We are actually made righteous, given a new life of righteousness, in which we are expected to live. Indeed

We form a community of the newly created, and the family of God’s people is incomprehensible to those who are not yet spiritually alive. (pp.142-143)

Sorry, not much of Adrian and quite a lot of me in this post, but this review series is continued in part 6.

Our world may be a giant hologram

I thank a Facebook friend for a link to a fascinating article. According to the New Scientist (and it’s not the 1st April issue), Our world may be a giant hologram. No, this is not some new science fiction idea, the next step on from The Matrix perhaps. Apparently some real scientists have detected tiny oscillations in space-time which are best explained by this theory: everything we see in three dimensions is in fact some kind of holographic projection of events on a two-dimensional boundary of the universe.

I must say I am not entirely surprised. What does surprise me is that the scientists, or at least the writer of the popular New Scientist article, put this in terms of space only and not also of time. If in fact we are talking about the four-dimensional space-time we observe being a hologram projected from its three-dimensional boundary, then that is getting very close to the kind of concept I was struggling towards, but never fully articulated, more than three years ago, in my unfinished series Kingdom Thermodynamics (part 2, part 3, part 4 which is as far as I got with this).

In that series I was thinking mostly in terms of the universe as we now observe it being determined by its boundaries in the past and in the future, in the same kind of way that a hologram is determined by the details on its boundaries. This is distinct from the generally understood picture of the universe, as constrained by what happened on a past boundary but open in the future. In fact this latter is the picture presupposed by discussions of causality and of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, as I discussed previously.

Of course this has theological implications. The universe open to the future presupposed by scientists is the basis of Open Theism, the controversial teaching that even God doesn’t have definite knowledge of the future. By contrast, more traditional evangelical thinking, Arminian as well as Calvinist, is or at least would most logically be based on the idea of a closed and predetermined future, an ultimate boundary to space-time.

I can’t help wondering if scientists are now inching towards this latter position, rather than the open future which they have presupposed for so long. I should clarify that this does not imply determinism. Indeed the evidence they have found for the hologram idea is precisely that what happens on the boundary is random, on a tiny scale, and so not predetermined. Instead we have a picture of a universe which is not fully deterministic, but nevertheless whose future is in general terms already fixed – very much like the biblical picture.

Primate genetics

Once before I commented on a BBC report about primates as if it was about archbishops rather than monkeys. But this time a new report on the BBC science website about primate genetics really is about an archbishop, Desmond Tutu – in fact retired and so a former primate. After tests of his genetic health, and comparison with results from other southern Africans, he discovered:

I am related to the San people, the first people to inhabit Southern Africa.

I am sure that doesn’t make him more closely related than anyone else to those other, non-human, primates. But I can’t help wondering which of the genetic traits of the San people would be of use for their work of leading Anglican churches.

Update on Bishop Michael Reid

Most of my posts from 2008 have been forgotten. Perhaps that’s a good thing. But among the few which continue to attract attention, an average of four hits a day right through 2009 and 54 hits already this month, is my post on The fall of Bishop Michael Reid. Although this post and the events reported in it date from nearly two years ago, there is clearly continued interest in the story of Michael Reid and of Peniel Church in Brentwood. Indeed I have had e-mails specifically asking me to report further developments here.

This was in fact only the first of four previous posts here about Michael Reid. The most recent before this one reported, in September 2009, Bishop Michael Reid arrested on suspicion of rape. In other developments which I did not report here (see this site, not friendly to Reid, for further details), Michael Reid has opened a new ministry with a new website (not an endorsement), on which I found this wonderful piece of tautological prose:

The Ministries of Bishop Michael Reid includes all form of ministries streams that flow from the life of our ministry, What God Can Do Ministries.

Also, according to this local newspaper article from 2008, Michael Reid was offered £500,000 by Peniel Church in settlement of his claims against them, including wrongful dismissal, but rejected this offer and took the church to an employment tribunal. The tribunal hearing took place in December 2009, during which, according to the local newspaper, it was revealed that a second woman

claimed to have had a relationship of “many years” with Reid, which involved a “possible abuse of his position”.

Or was this actually a third woman? That is suggested by these summaries of court reports. It is not clear whether the rape allegations concern this same second or third woman. Reid had been expected in court to “answer bail” on these allegations on 6th February, but according to this site the hearing has been postponed for at least the third time, until 12th May.

I drafted this post last week intending to wait for publication of the report of the employment tribunal, according to that same site expected “early February” and (last week) “in the very near future”. But it is no longer “early February”, and so I shall give my readers now the benefit of what I have written so far, and follow this up with another post when the tribunal results are known.

One thing which is known already is that Reid’s wife Ruth’s “claim for unfair dismissal, sexual discrimination and breach of contract” has already been rejected, for procedural reasons, see also this summary. It seems unlikely that Reid’s own claim will do much better. I would think that the most he could expect to be awarded would be much less than the £500,000 he has been offered out of court. But we are still waiting for the result.

Raised with Christ: Review part 4

This is part 4 of the review I started herepart 2, part 3.

In chapter 6 of his book Raised with Christ Adrian Warnock starts a survey of what the Bible teaches about the resurrection. He begins in the Old Testament, looking at passages in every part of it which describe or at least hint at this concept. He acknowledges that

I am deliberately writing from the perspective of a New Testament Christian, looking back at these accounts with the benefit of hindsight. It is not clear how many Old Testament believers truly had a full-orbed view of the resurrection. In many of the verses we will examine, a different interpretation is possible. (p.81)

Well, this is something of an understatement! It is clear to me how many Old Testament believers had this view: none at all. The only passages Adrian looks at which clearly refer to resurrection proper, as opposed to long life, survival as a disembodied spirit, or resuscitation of a corpse, are the ones from Isaiah, Daniel and Ezekiel. And since these authors knew nothing of the resurrection of Jesus Christ they clearly did not have “a full-orbed view of the resurrection”. Also Adrian ignores many critical issues about text and translation in the passages he quotes.

But at least Adrian realises that he is not doing proper exegesis but instead reading the New Testament back into the Old. And he has some basis for doing this in that the New Testament itself uses some of these passages to support its teaching on the resurrection. Nevertheless Adrian has by no means made his case, in general terms rather than about a few writers, that “in the Old Testament people did believe in God raising the dead” (p.94).

In chapter 7 Adrian continues his run through the Bible, looking briefly at the Deuterocanonical books with one citation of 2 Maccabees, and then going on to the gospels and references to “Resurrection before the Cross”. He shows how Jesus predicted his own resurrection and also confirmed what was at that time the hope of many Jews, of a general resurrection at the end of time. Again Adrian ignores critical questions and assumes that all words attributed to Jesus were actually uttered by him “before the Cross”. This is of course what his popular evangelical audience would expect, but is likely to leave his book less than fully acceptable to more sceptical or scholarly readers.

Then in chapter 8 Adrian looks at the Acts of the Apostles. He starts this with a quote:

What have the Romans ever done for us? (p.103)

which would once have been highly controversial in a Christian book, as these words are from the 1979 film Monty Python’s Life of Brian, which was widely condemned as blasphemous at the time. Standards of acceptability change from generation to generation – but Adrian, or his publishers, chose not to give a precise source for these words.

The point of the quotation is to lead into the question which is the title of chapter 8, “What Did the Resurrection Ever Do for Us?” Adrian discovers by looking through Acts that, according to the early apostolic preaching, what the resurrection did for us includes our salvation, forgiveness and assurance, the sending of the Holy Spirit, physical healing, our own resurrection, and final judgment. It is almost shocking to find Adrian agreeing with G.E. Ladd’s words

The whole gospel is encapsulated in the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus. (p.115)

Indeed Adrian adds that the cross must not be neglected. But he accepts that at least in Acts it is the resurrection which has the greater prominence.

In chapter 9 it looks as if Adrian is going to continue his look through the Bible with the letters of Paul, starting with Romans. But in fact this chapter, “Raised for Our Justification”, consists almost entirely of the exegesis of these words taken from Romans 4:25. Perhaps he is deliberately transitioning here into the more theme-based second half of the book. Although he starts by quoting N.T. Wright, he entirely fails to engage with the insights on justification offered by the “New Perspective on Paul”. Instead he cites Puritan and Reformed comment on this verse to make his case that the resurrection prompts faith in us, vindicates Jesus, and makes it possible for him to actively bring us salvation. Thus Adrian can conclude:

If we too quickly say it is the combined work of Jesus that saves us, there is a real danger we will make the resurrection a mere auxiliary to the cross. It is helpful to consider the work of the cross and resurrection and what they contribute to our salvation. However, the message we should take away is that it is union with Jesus himself, the one who died and was raised, that saves us. (p.131)

Continued in part 5.