Benedict XVI on Guilt

Benedict XVI says that the loss of the sense of sin in modern society has been followed by an increase in guilt complexes.
The Pope explained that this link shows the human being’s need for God’s forgiveness, which takes place through the sacrament of confession.
The Holy Father said this today when in an audience with recently ordained priests who are taking a course on the internal forum offered by the Apostolic Penitentiary. The internal forum deals with cases involving conscience.
The Pontiff said that in the modern world, one perceives “a humanity that would like to be self-sufficient, since many think they can live well without God.”
And yet, he observed, “how many seem to be sadly condemned to address tragic situations of existential emptiness, how much violence there is still on earth, how much loneliness weighs on the spirit of man of the age of communication!

The One Another’s

Be at peace with each other – Mark 9.50
Love one another – John 13.34
Be joined to one another – Romans 12.5
Be devoted to one another – Romans 12.10
Honor one another – Romans 12.15
Rejoice with one another – Romans 12.15
Weep with one another – Romans 12.15
Live in harmony with one another – Romans 12.16
Accept one another – Romans 15.17
Counsel one another – Romans 15.17
Greet one another – Romans 15.14
Agree with each other – I Cor. 1.10
Wait for one another – I Cor. 11.33
Care for one another – I Cor. 12.25
Serve one another – Gal. 5.13
Carry one another’s burdens – Gal 6.2
Be kind to one another – Ephesians 4.32
Forgive one another – Ephesians 4.32
Submit to one another – Ephesians 5.21
Bear with one another – Col. 3.13
Teach, admonish each other – Col. 3.16
Encourage one another – I Thess. 5.11
Build up one another – I Thess. 5.11
Spur one another on – Heb 10.24
Offer hospitality to one another – I Peter 4.9
Minister gifts to one another – I Peter 4.10
Be humble toward one another – I Peter 5.5
Confess your sins to one another – James 5.16
Pray for one another – James 5.16
Fellowship with one another – I John 1.7

Epistemology and Scott Hahn

Scott Hahn is a Roman Catholic who converted from Presbyterianism. To Reformed folks, he is an infamous defector. He was a devout and zealous Calvinist, who gradually lost his faith in the system. One of the final blows to his tottering Protestantism came in the form of a question that one of his students asked him. In his own words:

“Can I first ask you a question, Professor Hahn? You know how Luther really had two slogans, not just sola fide, but the second slogan he used to revolt against Rome was sola Scriptura, the Bible alone. My question is, ‘Where does the Bible teach that?’”

I looked at him with a blank stare. I could feel sweat coming to my forehead. I used to take pride in asking my professors the most stumping questions, but I never heard this one before. And so I heard myself say words that I had sworn I’d never speak; I said, “John, what a dumb question.” He was not intimidated. He look at me and said, “Give me a dumb answer.” I said, “All right, I’ll try.” I just began to wing it.I said, “Well, Timothy 3:16 is the key: ‘All Scripture is inspired of God and profitable for correction, for training and righteousness, for reproof that the man of God may be completely equipped for every good work….’” He said, “Wait a second, that only says that Scripture is inspired and profitable; it doesn’t say ONLY Scripture is inspired or
even better, only Scripture’s profitable for those things. We need other things like prayer,” and then he said, “What about 2 Thessalonians 2:15?” I said, “What’s that again?” He said, “Well, there Paul tells the Thessalonians that they have to hold fast, they have to cling to the traditions that Paul has taught them either in writing or by word of mouth.” Whoa! I wasn’t ready. I said, “Well, let’s move on with the questions and answers; I’ll deal with this next week. Let’s go on.”

I don’t think they realized the panic I was in. When I drove home that night, I was just staring up to the heavens asking God, why have I never heard that question? Why have I never found an answer?

My pastor told me that the problem with Hahn was that he was operating under a linear epistemology. What does that mean?

Linear philosophy – the idea that everything that exists is connected through cause and effect to everything else that exists – came into its own with Descartes in the seventeenth century. But it is an assumption. Non-linear philosophy simply sets that assumption aside and examines the universe as connected through complex organisation.

So under Hahn’s linear view, when one linchpin was pulled out of his system, the entire thing collapsed. Sola Scriptura was not taught in the Bible, therefore his Protestant apologetic was made of straw.

Opposed to this viewpoint is a web based, nonlinear, postmodern epistemology. This type of thinking has been described as “all of the beliefs in the system standing in relations of mutual support, but none being epistemically prior to the others.” (Greco and Sosa) My pastor said that Hahn could have started from the fact that angels exist, and built upon that, for example, rather than Sola Scriptura.

The Message of the Qu’ran

I believe that the message of the Qu’ran to the believer is at its core one of the fear of hell. The Qu’ran is full of exhortations warning of hell fire for a range of sins. The Muslim can have no confidence that when he comes before the throne of God and has his deeds weighed on the scales of justice they will be found in the right. The believer may just as likely be plunged into hell for the weight of his evil deeds as no one can atone for them. These existential uncertainties combined with repeated warnings against those who go astray are at the heart of the fear-based motivation taught in the Qu’ran.

There is a sharp and constant duality in the Qu’ran between heaven and hell, bliss and torment. Virtually every Sura contains praise for the Qu’ran, a recounting of a past people who disbelieved a past apostle, directions to see God’s hand in nature, and stern warnings to all unbelievers of the painful doom that awaits them. It is true that Scriptures like the Bible have equally compelling descriptions of hell and eternal punishment, but one can sit and read the Bible for vast stretches without encountering hell or what will happen to those who will end up there. But in the Qu’ran hell is almost omnipresent, the flames licking out from page after page, the warnings drummed into the brain again and again. Paradise is mentioned almost as an afterthought to the torture which will befall those not rightly guided in eternity. Even those who have put their trust in Allah and his apostle Muhammad will have to undergo a weighing of their every deed on a scale which will determine their eternal fate. “Those whose good deeds weigh heavy in the scales shall triumph, but those whose deeds are light shall forfeit their souls and abide in Hell forever. The fire will scorch their faces and they will writhe in agony” (Qu’ran 23.102-104).

The punishment awaiting the unbeliever is not left to the imagination. For example the reader is told of unbelievers, “On that day you shall see the guilty bound with chains, their garments pitch, and their faces covered with flames” (Qu’ran 14.49-50). Of those who oppose God’s message it is said, “Hell will stretch behind them, and putrid water shall he drink: he will sip, but scarcely swallow. Death will assail him from every side, yet he shall not die. Harrowing torment awaits him” (Qu’ran 14.16-17). The details go on: “Garments of fire have been prepared for the unbelievers. Scalding water shall be poured upon their heads, melting their skins and that which is in their bellies. They shall be lashed with rods of iron” (Qu’ran 22.19-20).

In the face of a “revelation” that was completely new to pagans, Jews, and Christians alike the Qu’ran reserves many threats for those who fail to accept it. I believe these threats are the means by which Muhammad preserved the community of those who made the leap and embraced his new message. Perhaps their hearts would waver, perhaps they would doubt if what the prophet was saying was really from God, perhaps the pressure from their relatives to return to the old ways would weigh on them. But to counter all these countervailing currents, God himself speaking through Muhammad warns the new community not to spurn his words. Indeed, the greatest punishments await those who deny the veracity of the Qu’ran. “On that day those who disbelieved and disobeyed the Apostle will wish that they were leveled with the dust; they shall hide nothing from God” (Qu’ran 4.40). I believe this same pressure weighs on the modern Muslim who might be tempted to forsake her faith for any other path. The modern apostate who denies the Qu’ran is in the same position as were the pagan Arabs or the Jews of Medina who scoffed at it over a thousand years ago: they will burn in hell. There is no middle way, one must either commit to believing the message wholeheartedly or perish.

It can be fairly stated that many of the passages of hell are contrasted with the vision of paradise as flowing streams in gardens, an eternal bliss for the believer. Indeed this vision of paradise is often cited in our time as a motivation for jihadi martyrs. Perhaps the Qu’ranic vision could be compared to the carrot and stick approach, offering blessings for the obedient and eternal torture for the unbelievers. And the Sufis of course have reacted to the fearful view of God by positing a relationship of ecstatic love as an alternative. But it should be noted that the Sufi movement is a reaction, and what it is reacting against is the notion of a malevolent God who casts the majority into hell based on arbitrary predestination. Despite the promises of grace and the reward for good deeds how can one be certain of obtaining paradise? No one can begin to remember all their deeds, so what if the bad outweigh the good? And indeed some teach that neglecting prayer or other sins may doom the Muslim. The militant Sheikh Abu Hamza Al-Masri speaking in London said:

Why are there so many martyrs among us? Because we are a nation graced with Allah’s mercy. Because with every Shahid Allah saves seventy of his family members who were destined to go to the fires of hell. This is a nation graced with Allah’s mercy. Many are the members of our families who are destined to go to hell for neglecting their prayers, for abandoning religion or for committing forbidden acts and they need the intercession of those Shahids and the intercession of those who know the Koran by heart. (

The Qu’ran is a spoken warning, with the threat of punishment either implied or stated. “This is a warning to mankind. Let them take heed and know that He is but one God. Let the wise bear this in mind” (Qu’ran 14.52). An ominous date with destiny will come to all who deny God and his apostle. Anyone who takes the message of the book seriously must live in anxiety over whether or not God will accept their life and their works or will find them lacking. This sense of dread based on the warnings of the book is what guards the faithful from straying too far from the path.

Kabbalah and Calvinism

Many Biblical interpreters in the Calvinist tradition were influenced by Jewish Kabbalistic methods of interpretation. Among these was Petrus Cunaeus of Leiden whose De Republica Hebraeorum was first published in 1617 defined as “true Cabala” the “mystical sense of those things that are concealed in the sacred books.”

John Sailhamer has an extended treatment of their work in his Introduction to Old Testament Theology, he says:

The names of such Hebraists as Johannes Reuchlin, Johannes Brenz, Johannes Oecolampadius, Paul Fagius, and Sebastian Munster may not be as familiar as those of Luther, Calvin, and Melancthon, but it was these early Hebraists that formed the exegetical and, in many points of detail, biblical theological basis for the work of the Reformers.

Protestant biblical scholarship largely repudiated the central core of Jewish kabbalah which had so fascinated earlier Christians. They had not rejected, however, the basic concept that a divinely intended “mystery” had accompanied the OT text as a form of tradition (kabbalah) which gave its spiritual sense alongside that of the literal meaning. It was in this spiritual meaning that theologians were often able to find references to Christ and the Gospel. Protestant biblical scholars viewed this Christological, spiritual meaning as a form of “true kabbalah (Cabala vera) that had been preserved by Jesus and the NT writers. The Jewish kabbalah, which had been studied and applied to Christian theology by earlier biblical scholars like Reuchlin, they viewed as a “false kabbalah” (Cabala falsa). True kabbalah, however, was understood to be an essential part of the meaning of the OT, and its interpretation played a key role in the development of Protestant biblical theology. To a great extent, this has been an untold story,

Pompey enters the Temple

I have been reading Plutarch’s *Lives* this week. A few observations:

Plutarch interprets Pompey’s actions with regard to Metellus (then praetor of Crete) in terms of Achilles. Plutarch also remarks of the pirates whom Pompey cleaned out of the Mediterranean that they “.knew neither god nor law.” Plutarch is interpreting events in Rome in light of a text (The Iliad) and a tradition (Roman paganism) much like later Western culture would use the Bible and Christianity to view current events. The points of reference were very different but the concern to maintain the old order is the same.

Pompey entered the Temple in Jerusalem after conquering the city while in Judea. Josephus writes of this event:

“Of the Jews there fell twelve thousand; but of the Romans very few. Absalom, who was at once both uncle and father-in-law to Aristobulus, was taken captive; and no small enormities were committed about the temple itself, which, in former ages, had been inaccessible, and seen by none; for Pompey went into it, and not a few of those that were with him also, and saw all that which was unlawful for any other men to see, but only for the high priests. There were in that temple the golden table, the holy candlestick, and the pouring vessels, and a great quantity of spices; and besides these there were among the treasures two thousand talents of sacred money; yet did Pompey touch nothing of all this, on account of his regard to religion; and in this point also he acted in a manner that was worthy of his virtue. The next day he gave order to those that had the charge of the temple to cleanse it, and to bring what offerings the law required to God; and restored the high priesthood to Hyrcanus.” (Ant. XIV.IV.4)

Many years later in A.D. 70 Titus entered the Temple as flames were beginning to consume it and again entered the Holy of Holies. Josephus says of Titus:

“.he went into the holy place of the temple, with his commanders, and saw it, with what was in it, which he found to be far superior to what the relations of foreigners contained, and not inferior to what we ourselves boasted of and believed about it;” (Wars VI.V.7)

An interesting aside: Plutarch says of Caesar and his army: “He himself, with his army close about him, as if it had been his own body.” That jumped out at me. We all know the metaphor of the Church being the Body of Christ. In this case the legions of Caesar are compared to his own body.

Wright, Rome, etc.

If Tom Wright is right about justification (I think he is) than that doctrine no longer stands in the way of Catholic/Protestant relations. But to me, that seems to be one of the least important issues. What still divides us, as I see it are issues like:

  1. The notion of a priesthood apart from the laity.
  2. Idolatry–of statues and saints.
  3. The notion of repeated sacrifices of the Lord–which implies His once for all act was not enough.
  4. A universal head of the church on the earth.
  5. The infallibility of the Pope.

There are just so many problems that to me, the justification debate is minor. But still, if Wright is correct, it means that both Protestants and Catholics are in the wrong about this in some sense. So they would have to move just like we would.

The Prophets

The Prophets (Hebrew, nebi’ im) are the second section or “book” in the three sections of the Old Testament canon. Though we may be unfamiliar with the shape of the OT canon, a quick look at the NT will show us that this division was well known to the later authors of the NT. The three-fold division of the OT can be clearly seen in Luke 24:44:

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.

The Law of Moses or Book of Moses is the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, the Prophets were the middle section of the canon, and the Psalms, or writings were the third division of the canon.
The books in the Hebrew canon are in a different order than what we currently have in our Old Testaments. This may not seem important, but actually I would argue that the intentional placing of the books in the order they were in taught a theological message, one that is harder to see in the now disjointed form of our current OT canonical order. The Prophets were reckoned as eight books in the following order:

1. Joshua
2. Judges
3. I & II Samuel
4. I & II Kings
5. Isaiah
6. Jeremiah
7. Ezekiel
8. The Twelve (the minor prophets taken as one book)

The hand of a later editor or editors at work in the shaping of the Prophets and the canon as a whole is wonderful to behold. Stephen Dempster has admirably demonstrated the thematic unity is this section of the canon , he writes:

Joshua 1:1-9 functions as an introduction to the book of Joshua but also to this section of the canon. The two-fold reference to the death of Moses (1:1, 2) not only continues Deuteronomy but also signifies the end of an era. The expression ‘Moses, my servant’ occurs twice in this text (1:2, 7). The only other time this expression is used in the entire TaNaK is at the end of this section of the canon (Mal. 4:4).

In other words, at the very beginning of this “book” of the Prophets in Joshua and at the very end in Malachi are references to “Moses, my servant” included with a call to observe the Torah he had given. The success or failure of Israel would be only judged by its following the Torah of Moses. And just as the land of Canaan was put under “the ban” in Joshua’s day (Joshua 6:18) so the Lord threatens to come to Israel and smite the land with a “ban of destruction” (Malachi 4:6).
Malachi in ending the Prophets and transitioning to the Writings (which begin with the book of Psalms) asks about distinguishing between “the righteous and the wicked” (Heb. rashaim and zedekim) in Malachi 3:18. This question is immediately picked up in the next section of the canon, Psalm 1, which distinguishes the righteous from the wicked once more in terms of meditation on the Torah. Thematic unity overarches the entire canon, what a glorious book we have in our possession!