Thursday, December 08, 2005

scrap of notes from April 2005

For the sake of memory and chronology, here's what I'm working on right now. First, I'm very slowly beginning to read the early twentieth century French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941). I'm digitizing an introductory monograph of his for inclusion in Project Gutenberg. Bergson's works were published in French just before the turn of the century and, up until WWI, he was a world-star of academia. A 1913 announcement that Bergson would be lecturing caused the New York's Times Square's first traffic jam. Indeed, Bergson is experiencing a renaissance in phenomenology circles, and especially among film theorists such as Gilles Deleuze. French thinkers as Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, and Lévinas acknowledge his influence on their thought. There is something in him about the image and its permanence through change. I don't know enough to even know why I want to know. I'm just following the tip of my nose and seeing where it all goes.

Martin Heidegger, on the other hand, is beautiful! He is to the twentieth century what Kant and Hegel are to the nineteenth. I'm teasing apart the eleventh edition of his 1929 address "Was ist Metaphysik?" In eight or nine pages, he overthrows the Enlightenment projects "certainty" and announces the hermeneutical nature of theology up to the present day. Marvelous! In that one essay--as fundamental as Renee Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy--Heidegger cracks the solid wall of modernism and opens a space for the suspicion-of-supicion called postmodernism. It is really exciting, but slow going. I only have a few minutes a day to devote to the few pages a day I can cover. And it is not uncommon to review.

Additionally I'm discovering what I believe could be the beginning of my first pursued publication/article. The theme is the nakedness of Christ. I believe that research will show that Christ was crucified naked, yet the Gospels do not directly mention this, nor does any treatment in art or film of which I am aware. Being the second Adam, there is something here, a parallel to the innocent nudity of our first parents. And, note that he appears clothed after the resurrection. Paul, too, talks about our present nakedness and a longing to be clothed. Nakedness in the OT is always bad, connected to adultery (idolatry), but it seems that there is a change in that--a restoration of it. And this theme can easily branch out into discussions of the human gaze, our own embodiedness (and shame), even philosophically there is a motive of conceal/reveal; known/unknown; there is something about the difference between voyeurism and the gaze of love. I mentioned to L/ the other day, thinking about this, that Jesus's nakedness (for I am assuming at this point, albeit prematurely, that he was naked on the cross) was the nakedness of a groom who presents his body lovingly to his bride, whereas the world sees through the eyes of humiliation and rejection. It quakes with fear at the exposure of its own nakedness.

I'm also playing with ideas about a unique method for writing theology modeled on the improvisational community-making methods of jazz. As in music composition, I would like to propose a fundamental motive and build my paper out of its development just as if it were a musical composition. I want to think of theology from the perspective of the liberal arts, rather than syllogistically like a math problem or taking a cue from Quintillian's rhetoric. I want it to welcome, receive, and serve as a vehicle for the opening up and uncovering of human being-ness (there's the Heidegger.) We should read a theological text as much like a work of art or a musical score as a "logical argument." People are not argued into the Kingdom as much as they are drawn as the Spirit opens their eyes to the beauty of the gospel. In that case, the choice is obvious. It is the choice for oneself as one was created to be, and the giving up of fantasies about personal divinity.

Anyway, as soon as I'm done with this review, I'm going to get back into Greek during the day and devote next Tuesday to beginning the Biblical/exegetical historical-critical research on the nakedness of Christ. Since the gospels do not say (they turn away, really, viewing the crucifixion with their eyes shut to a large extent), I have to be able to build a pretty solid case if I'm going to rest an entire argument on the nakedness of Jesus. As to why this theme comes to me--this theme of the nakedness of Christ--I have no idea. It just bubbled up two or three weeks ago.

See, my heart says that I'm tired of reading secondary sources. I need to stop "throat clearing" as Dr. Lim calls it, and pick up my own pen, whether I'm totally ready or not. I will even go so far as to say I'm "called" to this, like a missionary is called overseas. It burns away in my mind and my heart night and day, and even obstructs my reading: "Why are you reading this? This is not your work. Why are you following this argument? It is not your argument. It is time, time to find out who you are. What do you have to say for yourself? It is time: do it now, before you become forever lost to yourself and become a parrot and a servant of the ideas that others are having. You will be forever reading, forever questioning, but arriving nowhere. You will be growing, but to where? From where? What is your offering? What do you bring? Do you even have your own questions any longer? Do it now."

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My notes from Anthony Lane on Baptism

Dr Anthony Lane
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
April 6, 2005


Should we Baptize Babies? A Study of Early Church Practices

I. How did you become a Christian in the New Testament

What must I do to be saved? What is Christian initiation? In Acts 14 and other relevant passages we can collect four elements to salvation: (a) repentance; (b) faith; (c) baptism; (d) receiving the Spirit. The point I want to make here is that the early church considered faith and baptism as 2 sides of the same coin. Baptism is part of the gospel message. One (re: “faith”) always implies the other; there is a unity in practice. Gal 3.25-26; Col. 2.11-12; the structure of Romans where chaps. 1-5 are about justification and chapter 6 unselfconsciously talks about baptism without changing the subject. There is, then, a single reality, from 2 different angles.

The early church linked conversion and baptism with the same connectivity as, say, revivalists view conversion & public confession (responding to an altar call. Really, altar calls function as a kind of surrogate baptism.) Christian homes cannot help but practically gravitate toward paedobaptism.

What about an understanding of believer’s baptism vs. the NT attestation to people baptized at the point of conversion, such a the Philippian Jailor who was baptized that very night? Indeed, there wasn’t any waiting on genuineness or evidence. If apostolic baptism is a baptism of converts, what about the baptism of infants? What do we do about the children of the earliest converts? The NT does not provide a clear answer. We are sure they were not required to wait a la converts baptism - a difference was made between those who came to faith as adults and those who were brought up in Christian homes. Some writing on this issue say it wasn’t even an issue until the 2nd Century, but that is silly. Early believers were people with families! There is no doubt that the question of whether or not to baptize children was a pressing issue from the beginning.

II. Did the Apostolic Church Baptize Babies?

All the evidence is ambiguous, thus, I take what I call a seismological approach. A Boston seismologist can observe an earthquake in Los Angeles without leaving their laboratory. How? Because they have instruments which extrapolate and deduce. Similarly, we can deduce 1st Century practice by examination of the earliest church fathers. A verdict must be approached backwards, working from the clear to the not-so-clear. We begin at the 3rd and 4th Centuries and move back.

In the 3rd Century we have 3 sources of information: Tertullian, Cyprian and Origen as well as tomb inscriptions. We also have, writing from Rome, Hippolytus’ Apostolic Witness, which has been shown to be a generated document with roots that could go as far back as the 1st Century. In the Apostolic Witness, the baptism of adults is the norm, but within that you do find the baptism of small children. Tertullian, writing from Carthage, suggests that baptism be delayed as much as possible, yet he never charges infant baptism with innovation. In the ancient world, innovation is bad; it usually springs from heresy. Tertullian would not have hesitated to bring such a charge against the practice of infant baptism if it was an innovation, but he never does. Tertullian actually only wants to baptize the “ready.” Thus, he urges a delay until the greatest redemptive effect may be obtained – largely a result of his understanding of the relationship between baptism & original sin. Cyprian mentions those who baptized their children 8 days after their birth (following the Jewish custom), but also mentions those who immediately baptized their infants. Origen (writing from Alexandria) claims that infant baptism goes all the way back to the apostles. We must remember, too, that Origen was born cir. 185 CE into a Christian family. There is a significance to tradition that we cannot discount. I myself was told by an elderly woman that she remembers her grandmother telling her about witnessing Napoleon going into exile as a little girl; I was getting this 160-year-old event secondhand! Baptism, too, is not a subtle event that can get mixed up in the memory, you either baptize babies or you don’t, yes/no. Certainly, then, informed Christians of the 2nd Century had a good idea about apostolic opinion.

By the last quarter of the 2nd Century at least some Christians were having their babies baptized. Some argue that the first indisputable reference is Tertullian in the 3rd Century. Yes, but when is the first indisputable reference to the baptism of someone raised in a Christian home? Aha! Same reference! Certainly, Tertullian objected to infant baptism and many leading Christians of the 4th Century weren’t baptized until they were adults (and thought nothing wrong of this). So, given this smorgasbord, I can discern no one pattern but only variety.

Gregory of Nazianzus tells his hearers to baptize whenever they want. He and others understood variety in the time/age of baptism. Tombstones agree with this. Thus, if we know there is accepted variety in the 3rd and 4th Centuries, why not infer it back into time? No one took a hard line either way on the grounds of apolosticity. What starts figuring into waiting until people are older is the fear of post-baptismal sin, with which the early church didn’t really know what to do; they came to understand baptism as a kind of trump card. Sin was Tertullian’s concern, but none called him an innovator for suggesting the delay of baptism. In practice, there was variety: from birth to death. The 1st principled objection to infant baptism doesn’t come about until the Anabaptists. The 2nd Century church: Irenaeus in the early 180’s mentions a variety of ages for baptism. Are we reduced to hints for the 1st Century? Household Baptism of Acts 16 and 1 Cor 1, “whole families” could refer to infant baptism.

In summary: there is no clear evidence until the 2nd Century, though using this seismological method we can infer it backward. In the end, there are 3 possible scenarios. (1) They did Baptize Babies. This is plausible per the epistolary mention of children & whole houses believing. Those who favored infant baptism didn’t charge Tertullian with innovation or not being true to the apostolic witness. (2) Didn’t. How is the variety that we see later to be explained, then? No one was saying that the apostolic church didn’t do it, including Tertullian, who wished people would wait. There is certainly inconclusive evidence for infant Baptism, but there is a total lack of evidence for an assertion as to only doing believer’s baptism. (3) Variety. This is, IMHO, the best option.

What caused this variety? A few off the cuff suggestions. Children born before & after their parent’s baptism. Jews or gentiles. Geographical differences attest for different baptismal practices.

III. Silence of the Bible.

There is a famous tract entitled, What the Bible Teaches about Infant Baptism. Apparently, you open it and it is blank. That is analogous to what we know about the initiation of children brought up in Christian homes. Acts 16.33 Luke wasn’t overly specific about what they did with the children, and we certainly wish he had been. On the other hand, if we are committed to living under the authority of the Bible, then shouldn’t we live under the authority of its silence as well as its assertion? Doesn’t it, then, give liberty to churches by allowing variety in its practice according to need and circumstance. The NT, then, warrants the variety of practice that we do see in the 3rd Century.

Practically speaking, when you examine the way that churches bring up their young, both paedobaptist and believer’s baptism, the similarities far outweigh the differences. Where one has baptism, another has dedication. Where one has public confession, the other has baptism. The pattern is pretty much the same. And, frankly, the two groups honestly don’t care enough about it to alter their curricula when it comes to children; both groups will minister to children in the same way without even asking whether a child has been baptized or not. Indeed, Christian parents in both treat their children as simil justis et peccator. Now, certainly, evangelicals today has far too low a view of baptism, but the early church had a high, high view and they still got along with all sorts of ages being baptized. Consider, for example, the Didache. There are all kinds of different ways of baptizing someone – only water is required in each. In other words, it could care less about the mode.

Other issues I didn’t get to for the sake of time: significant of the Old Testament; Diversity being the filling out of the whole witness. What I mean here is that some are called to be married, some not. Some are pacifists, some aren’t. In the variation of so many things, the variety fills out the whole, “thick” theology of the church.

Question & Answer

Q: Couldn’t you use your seismological method to support things such as the use of relics in the 1st Century?
A: But, see, in the case of relics, there is no evidence in the 1st Century. Clearly you have the immediate need of baptism in the 1st Century, where, with relics, there is no such need.

Q: What about the long separation which catechumens eventually had to go through before baptism?
A: This was either a response to paganism or the church got grace and works screwed up. Lent leads to Easter, but with Jesus it was the other way round. Augustine’s view of baptism addresses original sin.

Q: Any insights into baptism for the dead.
A: An off-the-cuff one. Think about the temporal difference between someone who has finished the work for their PhD and is waiting for commencement. Conversion is, then, more the finishing of all papers, and commencement is the public nature of baptism. I once saw a couple whose daughter had died in between these two moments and they had come to receive her diploma. She had done all the work – by right the diploma was hers. Perhaps we could think of baptism for the dead in the same way.

(The above are my notes/impressions and should not be quoted as direct statements by Dr. Lang)

2005, my perspective

Greetings to all this Advent season, 2005. Where did the year begin? Where did it end? It began with L. in the second-trimester of pregnancy, with Kara entering the second semester of pre-school, and with me … er … commenting on the whole thing on the blog. There was Sunday worship and meetings at our church, NSBC. Monday through Friday was spent at EP or doing Pampered Cheffing or managing house. You, Marc, were the Guard in Antigone. You and I, John, were pulling up chairs to Saturday morning Greek. You, our parents, were running a tour agency, digitizing a hospital and juggling an entire department of techies (as well as fretting over us!) Joanna, you were keeping us company with an extended sleepover, all of us holed up in our little place in Manchester-by-the-Sea. All was life as usual, winter white and cold in breezy New England. We were bundled up and unaware of how it would all end.

Rivers go where water cooperates. The Mississippi is just hydrogen and oxygen going in the same direction. Winter 2005 found me anxious and depressed. I constantly worried at the go-nowhere of my goals, trying to figure out a way forward. On the one hand, there was work, and on the other, theology. In between was life itself, constantly squeezed and under pressure. In desperation one day, I decided to climb the hill in Ipswich and visit Ascension Memorial Episcopal church. On 9/11, Ascension had opened its doors to the entire town, and most came. EP emptied and made its way into a wooden pew under Ascension’s nineteenth century stained-glass. Impressed by that service, I went there alone that day to pray, and obtained permission to continue to do so during lunchtime. I even began attending a service every Tuesday noon. My soul couldn’t stand up any longer, it needed liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer to carry it. Now a few months before, in the Fall of 2004, I had the opportunity to go to Yale for a conference on trust. Jürgen Moltmann delivered an address entitled “Control is Good, but Trust is Better.” I felt like I was going through the motions. And then, during anxious prayer on the way home, I thought, “You know, religious publishing puts everything together.” I interviewed with Hendrickson on a frigid February 24. On March 1, they thanked me for my time. No matter, by then I’d begun reading Heidegger, and writing about Karl Barth for Reviews in Religion & Theology.

L.'s time was spent managing the rest of us. She must have done something terrible in a previous life because, with my revels and Kara’s rainbow land, she spends a good deal of her time simply keeping us on planet earth. Caleb was still an unknown personality, and so the pragmatic thing to do is prepare. And that is what she did. She measured our apartment to figure out how to make our 3 into 4 in a 2. (She’s mathematical like that.) She picked out crib sets and re-sorted baby clothes. She grew out of her own clothes. Kara helped her prepare by making L. take her to school in S. during the week. Kara (with me) also contributed to her well being by making her exercise in the form of cleaning up toys. Pampered Chef helped by making L. responsible for her team, and by keeping a party here and there on the calendar. Our beloved midwives at LT Midwives helped her prepare by scheduling appointments and doing ultrasounds.

One time, the midwives asked us to go into Boston for an ultrasound, and we came back with a 3-D picture of Caleb! It wasn’t long before we saw lots of Caleb. Caleb pushing with his feet. Caleb chillin’. Caleb waving his arm. Caleb waving, um, other things.

And then, in May, our church nearly died at the hands of its pastor. I and my family, with the family of our fellow deacon, were often slandered in the name of ministry. People we had known for nearly a decade were deceived, entertained lies, and denied what was right in front of them. Thoughts of growth were changed for desperate sorties under heavy fire to rescue the dying and wounded. Sermons fell like wormwood from the pulpit where should have gone the life-giving manna from God. When it was over, most had been saved, though through fire. But one family did not make it. I had the painful “priviledge” of moderating their application, and then they were gone. It broke our hearts.

Love, however, picked up the pieces. Love always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. We were like beaten tin, smashed and discarded, but love found us in innumerable ways. In June, I backed the truck over my Fender acoustic. Members of the church replaced it with a Martin. My Dad and Karen gave us their Nissan Pathfinder. L’s parents (and soon her Brother and Sister-in-Law) moved to Nashville. Friends kept in touch by email, by snail mail and by phone. Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth hugged us, ate meals with us, remained our friends in the sight of our church, and played with Kara. And then, on July 23, Caleb was born.

Kara and Caleb. Kara is moving, talking, singing, climbing, building, drawing, cutting, taping, gluing, little-girl-go for the whole of her waking day! In the winter, she and I went to see a production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. The Queen of the Night, played by various Little People, has since been the royal nemesis of many make-believe dramas. When Gramma & Papa came up for Caleb’s birth, Papa became a giant, a mountain and the man of a thousand voices. She loves school, loves her friends -- K, J, A and M -- and loves tape. Caleb, on the other hand, is meditative and content, an infant epicurean. He loves to chirp and smile, to attempt to roll over, to watch Baby Einstein, and, above all, to be dry.

At the end of the year, we are preparing to move to Nashville. As of December 19, I am an editor for Thomas Nelson Publishing. SWR & QE are expecting a baby of their own. Joanna again endures our tired couch to help us pack. The slow work of ministry continues at North Shore, despite its hurts. And, by God’s grace, we are putting down a new foundation with the friends who left our church and, we thought, left us as well.

Adventus. Theologians use that term to say something about the future. It means the past doesn’t say everything. The past does not dictate what comes after. God’s goodness has intervened. The future is made free in the hands of a God who is altogether trustworthy. And with it, we are made free. Free to hope. Free for faith and work. Free to love and be loved. Thanks be to God.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Problems with "40 Days of Purpose"

I have 2 issues of doctrine with Rick Warren and his "40 Days of Purpose" curricula.

My core problem with 40 Days of Purpose centers upon the nature of gospel that it advocates. I believe its gospel is semipelagian, meaning that it adds human works to the work of Christ rather than encouraging believers to trust wholly in Christ for complete justification, sanctification, and reconciliation. The former misrepresents the predicament of human beings and therefore incorrectly administers the remedy. Further, it misrepresents the work of Christ, and therefore misapprehends the object of faith, namely Jesus himself. This is a dangerous error, and one not to be handled lightly or simply dismissed because "it works."[1]

My secondary problem with 40 Days of Purpose is that its author, Rick Warren, incorrectly handles the Scriptures. Many object offhand to his use of various translations, I am not concerned about this. There is nothing wrong with using different translations as long as the aim is right. Is the aim to support your point or to correctly teach the point of the biblical author? Anyone who wishes to submit himself to God as a faithful teacher of the Word knows that attention to the point of the author is paramount for proper understanding. Deviation from that point, even for the most benign reason, results in an instructive word coming not from the mouth of God, but from the heart of man. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." (Jer. 17:9)[2] The Scriptures are very plain, God does not brook false teachers. Every teacher and pastor should daily tremble at the warnings plainly given for anyone who knowingly distorts the Scriptures. And, indeed, with the number of translation helps, electronic and in print, and commentary sets, as well as New Testament or Old Testament scholars only too happy to answer any questions a pastor may have, there is no excuse for not trying with all of one's energies to preach God's word in the churches.

Therefore, I find Rick Warren without excuse. Seminary trained, and wealthy enough to hire what he does not personally possess due to constraints in time or temperament, I believe he is responsible to both of these charges. And how is this not all the more so with the explosive success of his programs throughout the world? If there is any question or doubt, even the smallest point of inaccuracy, shouldn't each instance have been exhaustively dealt with at this point simply because of the world-wide reach of this preached word?

One might as that errors are understandable, saying that Rick Warren is just a human being. I understand this, as far as it goes, but argue that the errors of which I speak are not few in number, nor do they spring from "hard texts," passages which may cause disagreement among the most faithful and careful exegetes. Rather, they are at best hermeneutically sloppy and at worst evidence of an eisegetical approach to Scripture which bends the authority of God to the desires of men.

I believe that both of these charges which I have made may be discerned through a careful investigation into the use made of Hebrews 11:6 by the Purpose Driven curricula.
________
[1] There is no doubt that there is a good bit of practical wisdom in the structural advice provided by Rick Warren, and especially in his book The Purpose-Driven Church. I have no issue with this, nor am I responsible for discernment in this area. My burden is the gospel: that in all things I would love, protect, promote and pursue the gospel to the best of my abilities both for myself and for the good and salvation of my fellow human beings.

[2] http://www.the-highway.com/deceitfulness_Black.html

Friday, December 02, 2005

So what did Luther say?

J I. Packer, in a sermon on the Puritans' understanding of Scripture, remarked on Martin Luther's formula for making a theologian. A theologian, said Packer (quoting Luther), is made under the simultaneous pressure of three forces:

  • oratio - prayer for the illumination of Scripture by the Holy Spirit

  • meditatio - practice of careful meditation on Scripture

  • temptatio - denoting every force of distraction from the above


Packer's is a different reading from the one to which I had grown accustomed. My version had been as follows:

  • oratio - preaching/teaching

  • meditatio - careful meditation on Scripture, primarily, & philosophy & culture secondarily

  • temptatio - temptations. sin


Mine had not been so scripturally attuned. So who has misquoted Luther? Is it Packer, with his scripture-centric reading, or Luther scholars & the theological community with their more existential whole-life approach?

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