Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Best of the Blogroll 2019

As is the New Year's custom for this blog, I'd like to ring out the old year by celebrating the bloggers on the blogroll by highlighting a worthy post that may deserve a second read:
Thank you to all of you for blogging!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Interacting with other bloggers: Mythology and Genesis

In keeping with my current intentions to interact with other bloggers more often, I'd like to continue a conversation started by Joe "Metacrock" over at his personal blog on the topic of mythology in the Bible.

We live in a world in which many people who are new to the Bible simply cannot get past the first page. Someone who picks up their first Bible and reads about a seven-day creation is likely to put down the book and not look back. Against this background, Joe aka Metacrock writes about the mythological view of the earlier parts of the Bible. I believe he does a good job of introducing the view and showing how the problem is generally understood by people who share his view. However, it would not successfully persuade people who did not already share the view. (This is not a criticism; I don't believe his linked post is meant to persuade that audience.)

I'm writing this post to see if it's possible to move the conversation forward. With that in mind, I've pulled a few quotes from Meta's post and organized them under different headings according to the way they're likely to be heard by people who do not share his view. The table below shows contrasting quotes from Meta's piece, emphasis added (and column headers added).

Why "myth" doesn't mean what you thinkWhy "myth" means exactly what you think
This is a difficult concept for most Christians to grasp, because most of us are taught that "myth" means a lie, that it's a dirty word, an insult, and that it is really debunking the Bible or rejecting it as God's word.The point of the myth is the point the story is making--not the literal historical events of the story. So the point of mythologizing creation is not to transmit historical events but to make a point.
"Myth" does not mean lie; it does not mean something that is necessarily untrue. It is a literary genrea way of telling a story. The mythological elements are more common in the early books of the Bible. The material becomes more historical as we go along.

In the left column, there are some quotes in which Meta explains the problem as he sees it: to sum up, why "myth" doesn't mean what most people might think. In my experience, Meta's identification of the problem is mainstream for those who share his view: when it comes to Genesis' "page one" problem, any issue with the "myth" resolution is charged to faulty education about what "myth" means, which in turn causes many misinformed people to have difficulty in grasping the concept. We'll come back to that after a moment; we need a few more pieces on the table before that will be productive.

In the right column, there are some quotes in which Meta rolls out the solution from his point-of-view: as he explains why "myth" doesn't mean untrue, he consistently contrasts myth with "historical" as its rhetorical opposite. So the left column develops the theme "myth doesn't mean untrue", while the right column develops the theme "myth means non-historical". The word "myth" is not used simply to designate a literary genre or a way of telling a story, but to reclassify it as something that is designed "not to transmit historical events".

The most significant problem is unacknowledged: the other side of the discussion (argument, flame-war, call it what you will) sees "historical truth" as the category of truth that is in question. In that context, "non-historical" and "false" are functionally equivalent. So long as that point is left unaddressed, the discussion can go nowhere. As long as we stay there we're at an impasse, and what brought us to that point is likely to be seen as double-talk. Those in the historical-Genesis camp see whole "myth" line of argument as something of a bait-and-switch, where "truth" means something different at the end than it did at the start. In that context, calling it a difference in genre can come across as obfuscating the key point, and claiming that anyone who disagrees must not understand literary genres generally comes across as insulting and changing the subject, as well as a power play. At which point the flame war generally spirals, and the impasse remains. In the meantime, those underlying issues go unaddressed.

There is another unacknowledged problem that I mentioned before, and will return to now: in the "myth" resolution, the "myth" camp generally insists that the uneducated masses don't understand their point. The problem seems to me much the opposite: the other side of the debate understands exactly what the "myth" camp is saying, has said so repeatedly, and is tired of being insulted for it. The "myth" camp seems to think that the "historical" camp is holding out because they don't understand what's being said about "myth". In my experience they're holding out because they do understand. The "myth" resolution means ceding the historical reality of the parts in question. This is only half the perceived problem; the "myth" resolution also means the "myth" camp openly welcomes elements or narratives that they do not believe to be anchored in objective reality; it comes across as willingly adopting an element of make-believe into the faith of those who embrace "myth".

I typically see a certain red herring about this point in the conversation, so I'd like to mention it now. It's mistaken to assume that the "historical" camp consists entirely of the fundamentalist-literalist, ever-popular straw-man and scape-goat. The "historical" camp, like the "myth" camp, has people at different points along a spectrum, and includes people who believe some accounts may be historical in general outline, even with reservations about the accuracy on specific points. (For a case-in-point, see my previous post on the historicity of Abraham, re-posted here in 2006 and originally posted at Cadre Comments back in 2005.) Some people seem puzzled why there are those who follow Biblical archeology as if it's relevant; yet to many people it is relevant. I expect that most peoples' beliefs about history are informed by historical findings. So there are those who are interested in the question of whether Abraham's tomb actually contains the remains of a historical Abraham, or how goes the line of inquiry into whether the exodus was historical. The "myth" argument by definition has no loose ends and can never be proved or disproved, but that comes at a high price tag for whether there are human connections in the real world. I find myself wondering (speaking to Joe in particular here) whether Koester or others would make an argument that Abraham or the exodus were history-making, and what is the state of thinking on whether something non-historical can be history-making.

So within that spectrum of people who are interested in the history of it all, the "historical" camp sees a vast difference between believing a historical account in its general outline (allowing reservations on various details), and another thing to openly promote believing in a myth. The "historical" camp may see it more like this: to embrace believing in mythological material puts the whole premise of Christianity on questionable ground. It also risks Christianity's applicability to the non-mythical world. It's generally not the case that the "historical" camp doesn't understand what "myth" means or is somehow unaware of Genesis' "page one" problem; it's more of an awareness that the "myth" resolution is in some ways unsatisfying and problematic in its own right.

I believe it's important for Christians to keep moving the conversation forward rather than being stuck at an impasse. While for my own part I don't generally spend much time worrying about Genesis' "page one" problem, there are those who are deeply bothered by it. For my own part, I'm generally more bothered by the way we attack each other over it. But I'm hopeful for a quality conversation with Metacrock, and also would invite responses and thoughts from anyone who is mindful of the body of Christ.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Spiritual Friendship

I've been making an effort lately to participate more in the on-line Christian blogger community as community. So The Pocket Scroll's current piece on Spiritual Friendship drew my attention. (That's part 3 in a series; see also part 1 here and part 2 here.)

Friendship is closely related to fellowship, and a topic that is deserving of our attention.

Friendship is from the beginning a cease-fire zone for life's battles, a peaceful place where a meaningful connection can grow. In some ways, friendship is a mutual non-judgment pact: a friend does not seek to find fault in their friends, and is slow to believe the worst of them. A friend does not expect to control the other (e.g. how the other one eats or dresses or talks), and does not seek to change the other person into their own image. There is generally a spark of warmth as each person recognizes the value of the other.

Friends generally share an interest of some kind which can provide the content of their shared talk and actions. For a spiritual friendship, I would not see that as limited to the narrow sense of spirituality such as sharing an interest in theology or Biblical studies. I see spiritual friendships as covering any human ground in a spiritual way; it could revolve around gardening or woodworking, art or music which touch on beauty, which in turn communicate holiness.

As a case in point consider the Inklings, an author's club that included both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, which was a treasured spiritual friendship. The profoundness of that spiritual friendship -- two men, cultivating a deep and meaningful spiritual bond -- sent a wave of beauty and friendship throughout the world through the writings that they each produced. It is not clear to me whether either of those men could have become what they were alone, without their shared friendship. Together, they strengthened each other, deepened each others' thoughts, warmed each others' souls.

In many fields, the world's greats do not emerge alone. In chess, what would Bobby Fischer have been without his arch-rival Boris Spassky, spurring him on to greater heights? In tennis, is it likely that the Williams sisters would emerge without each other, or was their bond a genuine contributing cause of their excellence? No matter what our gift in life, we will not reach our own heights or fulfill our own purpose alone.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

"Unless the Father Draws Them" --

I've recently begun reading Theology Pathfinder, and what I've seen so far indicates an insightful and edifying writer. I wanted to add a comment on the recent(ish) post on election, "No One Can Come to Jesus Unless the Father Draws Them: Two Views on election in John 6". While I'd recommend reading the original post, I'll sum up for those who don't have the time right now: the two views presented are Calvinism's irresistible grace, or limiting the scope to Jesus' immediate contemporaries: drawing then-faithful Jews to the Messiah. As with any summary, that has of necessity lost all the supporting detail so again I'd recommend at least browsing the original.

I wanted to follow up by describing another view, beginning with a quote that Mr DeMars mentions in support of the second view:
It is written in the Prophets: "And they will all be taught by God." Everyone who has listened to and learned from the Father comes to me. (John 6:45)
As he notes, this is Jesus' own continuation of the comment that no one can come to him unless the Father draws them, explaining what he means by that. Jesus informs us about the scope of who is drawn: all are taught by God. This is promise is not limited to Jews who were contemporaries of Jesus in the first century. It is a promise for all in the Messianic age. It is one of the crowning blessings of the Messianic age, and (original setting, Isaiah 54) is about a restored relationship with God that is cause for rejoicing, and will bring people together in peace.

Jesus also explains to us how God chooses to draw us: God draws us by teaching us. It is unfortunate that the modern experience of school -- of being taught -- is so often boring and (too often) irrelevant. But still some of us may relate to the experience of a teacher who understood us, recognized us, valued us, made sure we didn't fall behind. We may remember a teacher who valued the lessons, loved knowledge and wisdom, and whose enthusiasm passed along the value of what was loved. It is a joyful thing to be taught by God, something that adds depth to our days, wisdom to our lives. There are passages of Scripture where we can see delight in God's wisdom, or in our daily lives we can see how sticking tight to God's teachings is a shield against so many harms. God's wisdom crowns people with integrity and righteousness. In that vein, I read that everyone who has listened to and learned from the Father comes to him.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

The November 2019 Biblical Studies Carnival is up at Theology Pathfinder. I'd like to highlight the entries that I found the most helpful for my own purposes.

Most edifying: 

November 2019 saw the release of the new book God's Relational Presence: The Cohesive Center of Biblical Theology (Duvall and Hays). I haven't read it yet; however if the title of the work is also its central thesis, then this work has the potential to direct our attention back to the one thing needful.

Last month also saw the release of Theology as a Way of Life (Neder), which puts theology back in touch with its roots: "Know the Lord", as knowledge becomes love.

Other matters of interest: 

Roger Olson posts a thought-piece, "Can God Change the Past?" It seems to me that, if He wanted to, He'd have done it already. Roger Olson's thoughts run more toward the implications of his premise for the question of open theism.

Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition reviews the new book from InterVarsity Press, Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism.

Enjoy the Carnival!

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Advent: Season of Hope

Few things in life are as dark as losing hope. Without hope, our actions seem pointless and our motivation fades. Trying harder can cover for awhile, but it's not the same as hope. Trying to be optimistic can help for a time, but trying to look on the bright side is not the same as hope. Hope is the anticipation of something that will bring relief or meaning or light, will bring some kind of blessing or benefit.

We try to keep hope in front of our eyes. Many people keep photos of loved ones as placeholders until they see them again. Some people keep countdown clocks showing the number of days til a big event. Here in advent, we look forward to Christmas. We each have our own ways. We may keep an eye on the calendar, or select a thoughtful gift for a loved one, or decorate a tree, or plan a celebration, or hang Christmas lighting. The beauty and anticipation of Christmas are just as legitimate as keeping a photo of a loved one. When we are motivated by hope, the actions make hope an active part of our lives.

Christmas reminds us of life, new birth, new beginnings. When Christ was born, we could see the beginning of the new creation before our eyes. God who makes all things new has included us in his plans for blessing. When he creates a new heaven and a new earth, he will not neglect to renew our hearts as well. When light comes to the world, it comes for us into our own minds as well. Peace and joy may seem like isolated points of brightness struggling against the dark for now, but it will not be that way forever. Christ is born as the king, and the songs that the angels sang are just the beginning. Those angels are waiting to sing those songs again, not only to a handful of shepherds but to all of us at the fulfillment of days. Joy will become the norm. Peace will become the standard.

It is the renewal of all things when his kingdom comes. In Christ, we have reason to hope.