My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. – Hosea 4:6
Something that has become more and more apparent in reading the scholars of our day in a wide range of fields is that they have only a tenuous grasp of the Bible. And I am referring to fields that ostensibly are tied to theology. Scholar and gentleman, Alastair Roberts puts it well in this post:
A faithful interpretation arising from profound Spiritual attentiveness and attunement to the text can be hard to arrive at for various causes, many of which are powerfully operative in the Church today. Among these reasons one could list a limited knowledge of or exposure to the whole body of the biblical text, the absence of exposure to the broader hermeneutical ministries of the body of Christ (including such things as the life of the liturgy), sinful resistance or a slothful inattentiveness to the text.
The fact that those who hardly know the Scriptures at all, handle it very selectively, avoid the contexts in which its meaning is revealed, fail to make diligent use of the means of interpretation provided to them, come to the text unwilling or unprepared to be attentive on account of a prior agenda, or do not consistently expose themselves to the ministries of faithful interpretative communities arrive at radically different understandings of the text tells us nothing whatsoever about the perspicuity of the text itself. Given the levels of biblical literacy in the Church today, should interpretative pluralism really surprise us at all? I would suggest that, before questioning the perspicuity of the text, we should be far more suspicious of ourselves.
I’ve seen seminary-educated folks with a seeming blank spot when it comes to reasoning in anything other than an immature way when it comes to our ultimate norm – the Scripture. There are lots of appeals to history, standards, Aristotle and Kant, but precious little to the Bible aside from a verse here or there. John Milbank comes to mind here.
This is why James Jordan has called for us to “return to the Bible and become fanatically and ferociously and radically and fully saturated with it.” If our knowledge of the Bible is surface deep and we aren’t meditating on the Torah day and night, our theology will show it. We really face a generations long struggle to turn the tide in this area, but it can start at any time.
Over at First Things there is a nice column that consists of the forward to the new book in honor of James Jordan. It is written by Rusty Reno, who says in part:
James B. Jordan is remarkable. There are plenty of Bible preachers in America who know the Scriptures well. Lots of professors read books in philosophy, history, and literature and have all sorts of interesting things to say about culture. Pundits cultivate a sharp, pungent, and readable style. But Jim is perhaps unique. Who else writes detailed interpretations of the Book of Daniel and quotes Allen Tate’s poetry? Who else can give a lecture on echoes of Leviticus in the apocalyptic vision of Zechariah and then chat over cigars about Friedrich von Hayek and Richard Weaver? Moreover, who can cover such a range with vivid images, punchy tag lines, and memorable turns of phrase? Not many, which is why I’ve come to think of Jim Jordan as one of the most important Christian intellectuals of our day.
Jim knows a great deal, but I have no doubt that the electricity in his writing and conversation come from his biblical vision. He does something remarkable. He takes the cultic core of the Old Testament—Temple and Priesthood, altar and sacrifice—and reads it into the full sweep of the biblical witness. The result is not the usual sort of “theological” interpretation we’re all familiar with: Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament explained by way of warmed-over theologies of substitutionary atonement or observations that really amount to little more than restating New Testament passages. Instead, Jim takes texts such as Leviticus seriously on their own terms. He brings to life the intense concreteness of tabernacle and sanctuary, and he allows the prophets a retrospective restoration as well as a prospective anticipation. As Jim has helped me see, the Scriptures are forever reaching back and renewing even as they reach forward to fulfillment in Christ.
I think it is worthwhile to examine George Harrison’s thoughts about God, ethics and the afterlife. This might seem like a trivial investigation into pop culture, but I think it illustrates much of what passes for religious thought in the populace of our day. Whether or not the Beatles and Harrison are responsible for the ‘theology’ of our day, or whether they were just riding the wave (as John Lennon said) I will leave for others to decide. I do think that Harrison’s theologizing stands in sharp contrast to what God has revealed to us in Scripture and also that Harrison’s version of Hare Krishna is much more amenable to our way of life.
Harrison as a Born-Again Krishna Devotee
Harrison was born into a Roman Catholic household. His portrayal of Christianity seems to be stiff and stereotypical, not corresponding to what he might have discovered if he had studied the riches of the faith. Harrison’s advocacy for chanting in a Hare Krishna temple contrasted the experience with his Christian background in the Catholic Church. He said:
But part of Krishna consciousness is trying to tune in all the senses of all the people: to experience God through all the senses, not just by experiencing Him on Sunday, through your knees by kneeling on some hard wooden kneeler in the church. But if you visit a temple, you can see pictures of God, you can see the Deity form of the Lord, and you can just hear Him by listening to yourself and others say the mantra. It’s just a way of realizing that all the senses can be applied toward perceiving God, and it makes it that much more appealing, seeing the pictures, hearing the mantra,smelling the incense, flowers, and so on. That’s the nice thing about your movement. It incorporates everything–chanting, dancing, philosophy, and prasadam.
Let’s consider Harrison’s thoughts: first, he contrasts experiencing God through all the senses vs. just experiencing him on Sunday on your knees on a kneeler. Coming from a former Catholic, this strikes me as particularly puzzling. Catholic churches use incense, statues, pictures, rosaries and the ritual action of the liturgy as means to experience God. Harrison goes on to mention pictures, incense and movement as part of the appeal of Hare Krishna! You would think he was coming from some sort of harsh background that forbid pictures in worship, but he wasn’t. The only conclusion I draw is that he was very poorly catechized in the faith of his birth.
The only practice he mentions that I can see being absent from Catholicism is dancing (in worship). And I’m sure that there was a sense in the 60’s that Christianity was dead and formal whereas the new religions were full of life and light. That is the sense I get from reading anyway. 1950’s Protestantism and Catholicism don’t strike me as particularly exciting. They seem to have lost the excitement of the Christian story in the fervor of the modern Atomic Age. This is a generalization of course. Currently, on the other side of the massive revolution that occurred in church music and experience it is hard to imagine the contrast in formality and dress that the Krishna movement (or the Jesus People for that matter) presented to someone in 1968. So maybe the more uninhibited nature of Krishna worship impressed people like Harrison, but his characterizations of the Church are not accurate.
[To be continued]
It was pointed out elsewhere that Theodore (not Cornelius as I mistakenly said earlier) Plantinga is now an Anglican. Witness:
The Canterbury Trail
Some of the reformationals, reacting against these developments began to cast a longing eye at the Canterbury Trail, as Robert Webber has called it. But when they departed for Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic or Anglican churches (called Episcopalian in the USA), they were not taking a step that can be hailed as reformational in the classic sense. Of course there are also reformationals who simply started out as Anglicans and were never enticed into joining a Reformed church, such as Craig Bartholomew.
Reformationals eyeing the Canterbury Trail could appeal to Abraham Kuyper for a degree of understanding, for in his book on worship Kuyper had written that the “English church” was much more developed in liturgical respects (liturgisch veel fijner ontwikkeld). And there was nothing particularly original about the decision of some of the reformationals to choose the Canterbury Trail; they could hardly congratulate themselves for being on the cutting edge. Rather, what they were doing was going back; in other words, they were embracing worship practices and sacramental emphases and forms of church governance which had been rejected by their ecclesiastical forefathers in centuries past.
It was as though the middle had fallen away. Many people had grown to love the “low-church” tendency that was more and more taking over the Reformed and Presbyterian churches. Gordon Spykman (1926-93) observed that while Lutherans were toning down their sacramental emphasis by thinking more like Calvinists, the Calvinists were moving away from their traditional position and beginning to sound more and more like the Zwinglians, who had advanced the “memorial feast” view of the eucharist during the early days of the Reformation. But a minority abhorred these developments and began to yearn for sacrament and liturgy and tradition. Some discovered the celebrated Anglican Book of Common Prayer and were drawn into the Anglican communion, while others remained closet Anglicans.
I was among those who were drawn to the Book of Common Prayer: early in the new millennium I turned Anglican. The aftermath of the worship wars within the Christian Reformed denomination were a major factor in my decision, as was the coldness toward the 1944 problem and toward the many Canadian Reformed people living among us that I had experienced especially during my days of ecumenical endeavor in the early 1990s (see my remarks above). There was, in addition, a third, very personal factor in my decision, which I will not discuss here.
Severian of Gabala says:
look, not whether the thoughts are new, but whether they are solid; for what is old is not always true for all that, and what is new is not thereby always false: in all circumstances it is necessary to search whether what is advanced is true or an error.
Severian of Gabala, Sermons on Genesis – Sermon 1
Rick had a post on baptism and Anglicans that caused me to look at Richard Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity on the same subject. Hooker says of baptism:
…we make not Baptism a cause of grace; yet the grace which is given them with their Baptism, doth so far forth depend on the very outward Sacrament, that God will have it embraced, not only as a Sign or token [of] what we receive, but also as an Instrument or mean whereby we receive grace, because Baptism is a Sacrament which God hath instituted in his Church, to the end that they which receive the same might thereby be incorporated into Christ; and so through his most precious merit obtain, as well that saving grace of imputation which taketh away all former guiltiness, as also that infused divine virtue of the Holy Ghost which giveth to the powers of the soul their first disposition towards future newness of life.
Predestination bringeth not to life without the grace of external vocation, wherein our Baptism is implied. For as we are not naturally men without birth, so neither are we Christian men in the eye of the Church of God but by new birth; nor according to the manifest ordinary course of divine dispensation new-born, but by that Baptism which both declareth and maketh us Christians. In which respect, we justly hold it to be the door of our actual entrance into God’s House, the first apparent beginning of life, a seal perhaps to the grace of election before received; but to our sanctification here, a step that hath not any before it. [V.60]
To try and bullet point his thinking:
- Baptism is not a cause of grace
- The grace given in baptism depends on the outward sacrament
- It is not simply a sign of something, but is an instrument where we receive grace
- Those who receive baptism are incorporated into Christ
- Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer in baptism
- The Holy Spirit begins our sanctification in baptism (our disposition is changed)
- Baptism declares and makes us Christians
This should be a key part of any Anglican theology of baptism.
Events like last week’s tsunami often spur on premillenial believers who think that things have never been this bad before and that the end is in sight. This is not new. James Moorhead mentions an encounter that Robert Willett had back in World War I:
…he encountered an energetic man who explained that Kaiser Wilhelm was the beast described in the thirteenth chapter of Revelation and that Jesus would appear within months to “rapture” the saints.
As George Marsden points out in Fundamentalism and American Culture, World War I touched off a frenzy of speculation about Germany and “the Huns” being a possible candidate for the Antichrist and his Empire. One can imagine how a world war would lead people to speculate on such matters. And I am sure that this speculation reached another level when Hitler was around. And yet, the end did not come.
This did not stop speculation. The emphasis shifted from shattered Germany to the Red Menace and the Soviet Union which would surely invade Israel and fulfill Ezekiel 38. The bad interpretation of premillenialism said that “this generation” applied to 1948 and Israel (we are now 63 years later, when does a generation end?). Chuck Smith said the end was probably going to be in 1981…or maybe 1986.
After the Cold War ended with no Russian invasion in sight, there was a bit of a lull as some looked to China as the new possible beast from the East. Then we had 9/11 and the premillenial world went crazy over Islam. Surely Islam would usher in the end by invading Israel.
In some ways, premillenialism cannot ever be proven wrong. You can show people all of these past wrong predictions and they will blow it off as men’s opinions. Dates change, the Antichrist changes, new events are constantly discovered within the same old passages, and the end still does not come. But people love to think that our generation is the most important one, and that things like this have never occurred before. Well, they have. Many of the Biblical texts point to AD 70 and the destruction of the old world. No more Temple, no more Law, no more Jews (their religion was ended at the Cross and there is no more Temple worship that wouldn’t be an insult to God). Read this book and learn a thing or two. God’s kingdom will continue to spread from the River to the ends of the earth, like a mustard seed that grows into a great tree.
The controversy of the week in the Christian blogosphere regards Rob Bell and his apparent leap into universalism – (not surprising to me given the Wheaton and Fuller pedigree). I had never heard of Bell until last week, maybe because I don’t much care about celebrity preachers in general. What has been interesting to me is watching the reaction of people that I follow to Bell’s position, from the “left” and “right” theologically. But this post isn’t really about Bell or the reaction to him as much as it is about my own experience with the doctrine (and reality) of hell.
I had a period of apostasy that lasted for about eight years. During the last year of that time I was consistently worried about the possibility of death and an endless eternity in hell. This fear was part of what God used to bring me back to Him. For some folks, the gracious message of love and forgiveness, new life and cleansing, is what draws them back to the faith or to Christ for the first time. For me, the fear of hell was very real and very terrifying. It spurred me on more than the idea that I could be forgiven, which I always took as a given.
Removing the concept of hell from our lexicon is removing an effective means of spurring people to salvation. It is also a gigantic and terrifying lie. If hell is a reality – and if we take the Scripture seriously it most certainly is – then we may be condemning people to that very place if we backhandedly assure them that they need not worry overmuch about the possibility of spending eternity there, because in the end everyone is saved and “love wins.” That is something I would not want to stand before God and explain on the Last Day.
Writing on the Wrightsaid email list some time ago, James Jordan said:
And it is spiritually dangerous to speak in such a way as to encourage people to inspect their own hearts. “Know thyself” is Socratic and demonic. We CANNOT know ourselves, and must trust in God to know us. We must accept what He says about us. We can judge ourselves in particular matters, but the heart is hidden from us. Our “heart experiences” are untrustworthy. We must trust God and His Word.
How contrary is this to most of what passes for even “Christian” thinking today? We have accepted the “know thyself” formula as if it is the key to enlightenment, when in fact the Bible tells us:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?