Reads, 2009

Theses On Worship, James Jordan

The Best of the Public Square, Book Two, Richard John Neuhaus

The Cult of the Saints, Peter Brown

The Country Parson, George Herbert

The Koran

The Reformed Pastor, Richard Baxter

On Christian Teaching, Saint Augustine

Terrorist, John Updike

Fifth Head of Cerberus, Wolfe

The Urth of the New Sun, Wolfe

A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter Miller

The Best of Jack Vance, Jack Vance

Christianity and Classical Culture, Charles Norris Cochrane

Fundamentalism and American Culture, George Marsden

American Apocrypha, Vogel and Metcalfe

The Theology of Illness, Jean-Claude Larchet

Sailhamer’s Biblical Theology, I

In his book Introduction to Old Testament Theology, A Canonical Approach, John Sailhamer outlines four contrasting approaches to doing Scriptural theology (in this case OT theology). These four contrasts are:

1. Text or event;
2. Criticism or canon;
3. Descriptive or confessional;
4. Diachronic or synchronic.

I. Text vs. Event

What does Sailhamer mean by these terms? First, let’s look at text vs. event. Sailhamer writes:

Does an OT theology focus its attention on the scriptural text of the OT itself, or is the text primarily a witness to the act of God’s self-revelation in the events recorded by Scripture? […] We will maintain in the following discussion that while professing to be text-centered in their approach, evangelical biblical theologians sometimes treat the text of Scripture as a means of getting at what they perceive to be the real locus of God’s revelation-the events in the history of Israel or the religious ideals that lie behind the text.

While we may think that we have a clear picture of events, what we have in fact is the events selected for presentation by the author according to a narrative strategy. Sailhamer says:

The recounting of events in the narrative is not intended to direct the reader’s attention outside the text but rather within the text and to the narrative world depicted there. The reader, as audience, is to understand the meaning of the events through the author’s development of the plot structure and characterization of the narrative. Thus divine revelation may be thought of as lying within the narrative text of Scripture as a function of the meaning of the events in their depiction.

I would note that you hear this in sermons all the time. The preacher is often not seeking to explain what the author intended, the narrative strategy, and so on, but rather wants to talk about what the character was up to in his estimation, what else was going on back then, things like that. It is a subtle difference but one with large ramifications. I think it springs mainly from ignorance about what a book is, what an author does, etc. In other words, the Biblical authors have already interpreted the events for us in their writings, they do not present us with the events in order for us to interpret what the event meant. We are rather to focus on what the text says the event meant. Sailhamer explains that we often lack a text theory and describes what a text is:

By its very nature a narrative text is something that does not project itself on us as such. When reading a text we are not constantly reminded of the fact that we are looking at words on a page, just as in watching a movie we are rarely conscious of looking at light on a screen. The function of a narrative text is to be a vehicle for telling a historical story.

He provides an example:

A photograph of a tree is a good example of the distinction between a text and the event depicted in it. A photograph is a representation of a tree. It represents the tree accurately and realistically, yet it does not have bark and leaves, nor is the sky behind the tree in the photograph a real sky. Nevertheless the actual bark and leaves of the real tree are represented in the photograph and so is the real sky…To say that a photograph only represents the tree but is not actually the tree, does not mean that the tree never existed or that the photograph is inaccurate because it only shows one side of the tree.

Sailhamer has many other helpful things to say on this subject, but let me skip ahead. He says:

The effect of overlooking the text of Scripture is favor of a focus on the events of Israel’s history can often be a “biblical” theology that is little more than a philosophy of history, an exegetical method that is set on expounding the meaning of the events lying behind Scripture rather than those depicted in Scripture itself.

Needless to say, Sailhamer chooses a text based approach rather than an events based one.

Don’t go in the water!

Doctrine and Covenants Section 61 contains some bizarre stuff. Apparently Joseph Smith and his traveling companions had a rough trip on the Missouri River, so one of them saw a vision of “the destroyer riding in power upon the face of the waters.” This caused Smith to issue another revelation which includes this:

Behold, I, the Lord, in the beginning blessed the waters; but in the last days, by the mouth of my servant John, I cursed the waters. Wherefore, the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters.

This is apparently why Mormon missionaries are not allowed to swim on their missions (no joke). Some interpreters of this passage say that the revelation only refers to the specific waters of the Missouri River, and some of the language does tend toward that view, but the verses quoted above seem to refer to all waters on the earth. The reference to John seems to refer to Revelation, perhaps something like:

and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.

Either way, this promise of “no flesh” being safe upon the waters seems like a false prophecy. Next comes a threat to Cincinnati:

And again, verily I say unto you, my servants, Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, shall not open their mouths in the congregations of the wicked until they arrive at Cincinnati; And in that place they shall lift up their voices unto God against that people, yea, unto him whose anger is kindled against their wickedness, a people who are well-nigh ripened for destruction.

One would think that if Cincinnati was ripened for destruction in 1831 the time would be up by now, but apparently not.

The Congregations of the Wicked

As previously noted, the attitude of modern Latter Day Saints towards the world is one of near universalism. It is hard to square these beliefs with many statements in LDS Scripture. Today I was reading Doctrine and Covenants, Section 60. In it, God (via Joseph Smith) three times refers to churches that LDS missionaries were to evangelize as “congregations of the wicked.”

This kind of black and white, Abominable Church vs. Pure Church rhetoric is common in the founding documents of Mormonism, but you don’t hear it much from the General Authorities these days. They merely refer to ‘the Apostasy’ which is a catch-all phrase. They generally want to portray modern Protestants and Catholics as well-meaning but mislead. Their attitude is, “we don’t want to take anything you have away, just to come alongside and show you what you are missing in the Fullness of the Gospel.” How this works with our churches being congregations of the wicked is beyond me.

The LDS Church in the Book of Mormon

One of my Christmas presents was the book American Apocrypha, Essays on the Book of Mormon edited by Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe. Much of the book is fascinating reading and I am thoroughly enjoying it. In the essay, Historical Criticism and the Book of Mormon: A Personal Encounter by Edwin Firmage, Jr. there is an assertion that I had not heard before. Firmage writes:

The key to this case is the fact that nowhere in the Book of Mormon’s many detailed prophecies of the last days is anything ever said about the establishment of a new church. The nature of God’s work subsequent to the appearance of the Book of Mormon is very vague, particularly so after the detailed prophecies pertaining to Smith’s involvement in the translation.

It appears that the detailed instructions towards the end of the BoM regarding eucharist and baptism may have been intended as a manual to reform ALL churches, not to establish a brand new church! Firmage discusses infant baptism and says in part:

The matter of infant baptism…is broached for the first and only time in Moroni 8:4ff…This is puzzling since the Nephites have been practicing baptism at least since Alma the Elder’s time (Mos. 18:10ff). How is it that only at the end of the history does the question arise?…Moroni 8 implies that the issue is new: Mormon and Moroni are initially at a loss for a response. Even with his thorough knowledge of Nephite history, Mormon has to go to God himself for an answer (v.7). Mormon’s justification (v.8) is a pastiche of New Testament sentiments taken out of context in a manner not uncharacteristic of the rest of the Book of Mormon.

Both the absence of these issues – the absence of the LDS church from the BoM and infant baptism not becoming an issue until hundreds of years after Nephites had been baptizing – are startling and obvious problems when one performs a close reading of the text. They knock even more holes into the edifice of those who want to maintain that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text.

Constantine’s Prayer Tent

In my reading I came across a reference to a prayer Tabernacle or tent set up by the Emperor Constantine on his campaigns. I wondered if it was based on the Tabernacle of Moses and what it looked like? A couple citations about the Tabernacle are:

So great indeed was the emperor’s devotion to Christianity, that when he was about to enter on a war with Persia, he prepared a tabernacle formed of embroidered linen on the model of a church, just as Moses had done in the wilderness; and this so constructed as to be adapted to conveyance from place to place, in order that he might have a house of prayer even in the most desert regions.

Socrates, Ecclesiastical History, Book I, Chapter XVIII.

When he engaged in war, he caused a tent to be borne before him, constructed in the shape of a church, so that in case he or his army might be led into the desert, they might have a sacred edifice in which to praise and worship God, and participate in the mysteries. Priests and deacons followed the tent, who fulfilled the orders about these matters, according to the law of the church. From that period the Roman legions, which now were called by their number, provided each its own tent, with attendant priests and deacons.

Sozomenus, Ecclesiastical History, Book I, Chapter VIII

It seems that the model was indeed the Mosaic Tabernacle as far as materials go, however, in the shape of the cross and containing the Christian liturgy. I’d love to learn more about this tent, but I don’t know if there is more source material.

Doomed

When I think about peak oil, the bankruptcy of Medicare and Social Security and the trend of this country I think that I will be like a pensioner in Russia following the Soviet collapse. All trends point towards implosion right around the time I want to retire: the 2040’s. So my future may involve collecting a meager check from the collapsed state in a future post-collapse America.

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