They Come in Pairs (No, this is not about Noah’s Ark)

I’ve been inspired recently by posts from Dr. Creig Marlowe on the site www.hearthevoice.com and some comments I heard recently by N. T. Wright.  There is some new thinking here for me, but as Ecclesiastes reminds us: “there is nothing new under the sun.”

It has to do with a series of binaries in Genesis 1.   Here is a list:

1.1       heavens and earth

1.4       light and darkness

1.5       evening and morning

1.9-10  seas and dry land

1.14     sun and moon

1.27     male and female

Now there may be other binaries here in Genesis 1, but these are the ones I want to focus on.  “Formless and void” (tohu wavohu) comes to mind as a distinct possibility.

creation Adam and Eve

These binaries form complementary pairs which are not only created by God but participate with God in the next steps of creation.  In a way they become co-creators with God because they provide the raw materials for the coming days of creation.  There is a logic to the days of creation which you have probably already noticed.  Days 1-3 provide the raw materials and realms into which the creatures of days 4-6 live (I use the term “creature” here not so much as a living thing but a thing which is created):

Realm                                      Inhabitants

Day 1   light                                  Day 4   sun, moon, and stars

Day 2   sky and waters             Day 5   birds and fish

Day 3   dry land Day                Day 6   land creatures and humanity

This structure is intentional at several levels but it does show order coming from chaos, countering the formless and void state described in Genesis 1.2.

Dr. Marlowe is correct that some of these binaries form a hendiadys (literally, one through two). A hendiadys is an expression of a single idea by the use of two words often connected with “and” or some other conjunction.  “His legal case is not black and white” uses a hendiadys.  “Black and white” is not describing the color of the case but essentially that the facts of the case are not clear.  In Genesis 1.1 “heavens and earth” describe not so much two things but one for which there is no Hebrew word “the universe.”  “Heaven” means everything above your head and “earth” means everything below your feet, in a sense then everything.  That is why we translated Gen 1.1 in The Voice: In the beginning God created everthing, the heavens above, the earth below . . . “

Here again is our list of binaries with a suggestion of how to see the hendiadys.

1.1       heavens and earth = the universe

1.4       light and darkness = the progression of time

1.5       evening and morning = a day

1.9-10  seas and dry land = the earth

1.14     sun and moon = signs and seasons (again, the progression of time)

1.27     male and female = humanity

In each case God, as it were, turns to the created thing to invite it to work with him in the ongoing task of creation.  So, for example, God says to the earth to bring forth vegetation, plants and seeds (1:11-12). He says to the waters/seas and the skies: bring forth fish and birds (1.20-23). Then God says to the land: bring forth land creatures of every kind (1.24-25).  When God says, “let us make humanity . . . ” people have wondered about the “us.”  Is God speaking to and for the Trinity?  Not necessarily.  That certainly is one way Christians have read the text.  Given everything that has gone on so far in Genesis 1, however, I think God is speaking to the created order itself.  The “us” would include God, the sun, moon, stars, waters, seas, dry land, and other land creatures.  Human beings are made up of the same elements as the stars, the earth, and all the critters.  Now, I’m not arguing that we should have a scientific reading of Genesis; what I am suggesting is that there is an internal logic to the creation story of Genesis 1: God creates something and then uses that creation to create the next thing. In this way all things are dependent and related. Genesis 2 reinforces this when it says that God sculpted Adam/humanity from the earth/dust and breathed in him the breath of life (2.7-9).  So Adam is made up of previously created elements along with the divine breath.

The final binary “male and female” deserves special attention.  Male and female make up one thing, humanity, and this humanity reflects the image of God.  But it is in their differences, their complementarities that male and female reflect the imago dei.  Male has no greater claim than female on imaging God.  It is in their union together and distinctions from one another that God’s likeness is on full display. We live at a time when people want to deny or erase the male-female distinction: to do so is to  assault humanity itself and diminish God in the process.  Here is the commentary embedded at Genesis 1:27 in The Voice:

The crown of God’s creation is a new creature, a creature that can sound the heartbeat of its Creator. That creature, made male and female, reflects God’s own relational richness. The human family is to join God in the ongoing work of creation. The earth below and the sky above with all their inhabitants are too beautiful and too good to be left alone. They need the tender care and close attention that only God’s favored creature can give.

In Genesis 1:28ff. God blesses the humans and gives them the prime directive: be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth.  In other words, humans are now directed to participate with God in the ongoing work of creation.  God no longer creates ex nihilo.  He uses preexisting elements and persons in order to fashion the next generation. Through the sexual union male and female become one flesh and life as we know it goes on.

Want to read more from this author?  Want to know whether Jesus had a violent streak or whether he sacrificed in the temple?  Want to know more about the Jesus’s wife fragment? Go to his website: www.davidbcapes.com

 

Independence Day Gen 3 and Matt 11

Last Friday was, of course, Independence Day. I live on the edge of a small city in Texas, so eidola (images) were as much in evidence as Herms on the streets of ancient Corinth. Every railing and awning in the city park was festooned with red, white, and blue, the hillocks were painted with patriotic slogans and pictures, and along the streets many homes put out their own eidolon while the city supplied them for the streets along which the solemn procession would take. July 4But what type of worship is taking place? What is there to celebrate anyway? That is indeed the question.

On HHS vs Hobby Lobby

WEB-HHSAfter reading through the opinions from this recent (and controversial) Supreme Court decision, I want to write down some of my thoughts about the reasoning used to ultimately find for Hobby Lobby. From what I can tell, the decision hinges on just two crucial steps. First – are corporations persons such that they can have their free exercise of religion protected, and second – did the contraception mandate violate the corporation’s right to free exercise.

Read on for my analysis…

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What should be the Christian response to suffering?

Suffering is never a pleasant thing. Yet, all of us will experience personal suffering to different degrees, in different manners, and some of us will experience it more often than others. What should be the response of the Christian when s/he experiences suffering? Michael Licona provides some suggestions in this 3-minute video: 

Wonder and Awe from London

My husband and I recently returned from a trip to London. We really loved the city and its atmosphere, even though it rained for a little less than half our time there. As I’m sure many Houstonians can relate, we were a bit saddened when upon return to our city the heat and humidity were already raging!

Westminster Abbey and me!

Westminster Abbey and me!

While in London, we saw a lot of the places that our friends told us were “must-see” places: Windsor Castle, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the British Museum, the British Library, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, to name a few. We had a tour guide, Robert, who was a local Londoner. I could tell that our guide loved the city; especially its architecture and history. He didn’t just tell us facts and scoot us along to the next big thing on the list. Instead, he gave us pointers for how to engage in experiencing each site in a meaningful way. I remember him saying, “As you walk along, have a look at the ceiling, a marvel of architecture and stonework. Pause for a moment and think about what it must have taken to create this great structure.”

A few times, we got to talk with Robert when we were en route to a location. I asked him a question about the people and the culture in the city. I was astounded by the vast history of London and I wondered about the people who currently lived there. Did they appreciate and wonder about all that had happened in their past? Were they fascinated by these same places that tourists visited from all over the world? Continue reading

We Are On The Winning Team

Normandy1Over the weekend, we commemorated the World War II D-Day invasion of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, exactly seventy years ago. On that fateful day, the Allied Forces went against a formidable foe in Nazi Germany. More than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded in that epic battle. It must have appeared as though Nazi Germany was gaining the upper hand in the battle, but that wasn’t the case. Adolf Hitler’s troops were defeated. France, and then all of continental Europe, would be freed from the clutches of Nazi Germany.

We live in a day when evil dominates the news. If you did not know any better, you would think that the forces of evil were gaining the upper hand, but they are doomed to fail. How can we be so sure? We can because the Bible has given us a sneak preview of the final scene, and we know that victory is ours.
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Jesus and Mighty Works

Jesus and Mighty Works

Last week I traveled to Arlington TX to B. H. Carroll Theological Institute (bhcarroll.edu).  Founded in the 1990s, the institution exists to provide graduate-level theological education for men and women who are called to serve Christ in the diverse and global ministries of His church.  My professor, Dr. Bruce Corley, was founding president and continues in retirement to help direct the effort. I can’t begin to describe how influential he has been on a generation of scholars and church leaders. B. H. Carroll is the second largest seminary in Texas with students around the world in Russia, Cuba, Vietnam and China.  They have a great model for how to do education in this technological world.  They keep overhead low and are making a difference in the lives of many people.

Every spring BHCTI holds a colloquy for its PhD students.  There have been many times I have wanted to attend but final exams and grading have typically interfered.  But this time I got a special dispensation to turn my grades in just a wee bit late.  Thanks to my dean.

In addition to sharing with these pastors and church leaders about The Voice Bible project, I had the privilege of listening and responding to Dr. Craig Keener, professor at Asbury Seminary in Kentucky. 

The topic for the colloquy was “Jesus and Mighty Works.”  Much of the discussion has centered around Dr. Keener’s two volume work Miracles: The Credibility of New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011).  It is the best book available on miracles as a modern phenomenon.  Dr. Keener brought together a staggering number of accounts from the modern world about miracles that are taking place now in order to help us understand the miracles in the Bible.  Keener said that these two volumes (1100 pages) began as a footnote in his Acts commentary regarding eyewitness accounts of miracles. Some people (known as cessationists) have claimed that miracles stopped centuries ago when the Bible was complete. Dr. Keener offers ample evidence to the contrary.  Others are skeptical about miracles because they have never seen one, but Keener finds easily over 200,000,000 people who claim to have had direct experience with ‘extranormal’ events. He interviewed scientists, doctors, and eyewitnesses from several continents.

 In the 18th century David Hume, the Scottish philosopher, argued that miracles are impossible because they violate natural law and are only testified among uncivilized and uneducated folks.  Keener does a masterful job at deconstructing Hume’s argument and showing that his perspective is based on an ethnocentric bias against non-whites.  Essentially, Hume rejected the testimony of the majority of people in the world because they were not educated in western culture.  He then declared that “uniform human experience” tells us that miracles do not occur.  Apparently, the “us” Hume was referring to were Scottish professors living in the 18th century. “Uniform human experience” only applied to Hume and his friends.  

If you are curious whether miracles are still happening today, you will be amazed at the evidence Keener produces.  Not only are miracles still happening but they are more common than you think.

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You Never Graduate – Reflections on Graduation

I missed HBU graduation yesterday, for before I had realized the implications of the new calendar (perhaps before it was published) I had agreed to teach in an intensive bi-vocational clergy training program, the Iona School for Ministry. So I spent the day talking about the Gospel of John while students I loved were graduating. In our Department of Theology we saw students I know graduate from each of our programs, both MATS and BA, and even from the MABL program that used to be ours, but now is part of the new Department of Classics and Biblical Languages (it has moved up higher!). Each is a unique individual with differing gifts. most have bi-vocational experience (working and being involved in ministry while studying). This may be the shape of much of the church to come in that most churches are small and the bi-vocational minister or, even better, team of ministers, may be their best mode of existence. This is particularly true of churches that are pastorally strong and that because of that tend to stay small. (In my experience large church pastors tend to be leaders, communicators, and vision casters more than pastors, although there is usually someone pastoral on the staff.) And this is the way that churches start, so maybe some of this crew of graduates may end up as church planters. And, of course, some may go on to the new scholars who replace their professors who are growing older. Happy is the retiree who sees a former student doing a good job in the position he or she has vacated. Finally, some may lean harder on their “secular” vocational side and become “marketplace ministers” – serving God by thinking and living Christianly within a working situation that is not explicitly Christian. As I reflected on each of the graduates, I was thankful for the astounding range of possibilities the had to do good for Jesus the Anointed One and his Church.

But there is another reflection that was stimulated in me this weekend, and that was that graduation is not the ending, but the beginning of learning. If we faculty have done our jobs, we have sent people out on a life-trajectory of learning so that in 10 or 20 years most of what they know they will have learned after graduation day. This came home to me in a practical way when I went to church. The usual minister who led the service I go to (in my church most of the time different ministers lead each service) did not preach on Sunday, for the Ordinary (in essence, the usual minister’s boss) was present. The Ordinary started to preach on a wonderful passage from 1 Peter, then stopped and said that he was intimidated to do so with a 1 Peter scholar in the congregation and, after saying some very nice things about me and my commentary on the letter, actually had me stand. Then he went on and did indeed preach well. That was all very flattering and I am glad that he liked my commentary, but I am more glad that the ideas he liked from it I still agree with. I published that commentary in 1990. And I have gone on learning about 1 Peter (and other parts of the New Testament) since then. I would write it a bit differently today because I have learned more about 1 Peter since I wrote that work. But Eerdmans Publishers has (so far) left it frozen in time while I am not frozen in time. Nor will our students be frozen in time. If they have learned from us well, they will continually learning, continually growing, and continually thinking. In ten or twenty years I do indeed hope that they return and say, not “Thank you for my knowledge,” but “Thank you for giving me a start and pointing out a trajectory of growth for me.” HBU has some new graduates and with good reason the various offices of the university have to consider their education complete. But both my experience and my hope is that in their heart of hearts they never “graduate” but simply transition to another form of life-long learning.

C. S. LEWIS OR JOHN PIPER?

CS Lewis-1john-piperAs anyone knows who has even remotely been paying attention, Calvinism is alive and well in the contemporary church.  Indeed, the Reformed movement has been aggressively on the march in recent years, led by a number of young, theologically articulate pastors.  However, the godfather of the movement is undoubtedly John Piper, a senior scholar-pastor who has written numerous books and is a passionate preacher and oral communicator.  No contemporary leader has shaped the movement nearly as much as Piper.

 

While there is certainly much to admire about Piper, I think some of his central theological emphases pose severe difficulties when carefully examined.  Indeed, there are some deep problems and confusions in his theology.   Unfortunately, most of his young followers are not equipped to detect or critique these confusions, partly because they involve distinctions with which they are not familiar, and partly because these confusions are obscured by his powerful rhetorical skills.

 

I recently explored some of these problems in a lecture I gave at a conference at Azusa Pacific University.  I did so with the help of a number of passages from the writings of C. S. Lewis, who offers a profoundly different account of divine sovereignty and human freedom than Piper espouses.  But the deepest issue at stake in this debate is not human freedom, but the very character of God.  How do we understand God’s love and perfect goodness, and what truly brings him glory?

 

Here is the link for my lecture.

 

STERLING, SILVER AND NIETZSCHE: A GLIMPSE INTO THE AMERICAN SOUL

NietzscheAny time a fifteen minute conversation between the owner of a sports team and his mistress is a national news story for several days running, you can be pretty sure the story gives you a telling glimpse into the American soul.  A week ago, it is safe to guess, hardly anyone outside serious basketball fans (and even relatively few of them) could tell you who owned the Los Angeles Clippers.  But no longer.

As everyone knows by now, Clippers owner Donald Sterling was fined 2.5 million dollars by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and banned for life from the league for racist comments he made to his mistress in a phone conversation she recorded.  His derogatory comments about blacks, in addition to being deeply offensive, were also highly ironic since his coach, along with most of his players, are black, not to mention that his mistress is half black!  Indeed, the overwhelming majority of NBA players in general are black.

Now what is striking about this story, but altogether predictable, is the unanimous, passionate condemnation of Sterling’s comments.  Everyone from Charles Barkley to Bill O’Reilly and virtually everyone else in America is in agreement that Sterling’s comments were outrageous and indefensible.   Americans, like most westerners, can be counted on to roundly reject and condemn racism any time it rears its ugly head.

But what is really interesting is the depth and zeal of the moral condemnation that is elicited by the attitude Sterling conveyed.  Indeed, the reaction seems to flow out of the deeply grounded moral conviction that such attitudes are egregious and profound violations of standards that must be upheld.  It is not just that Sterling’s comments are distasteful or personally offensive.  The severity of condemnation and the punishment exacted suggests that Sterling did something that is deeply WRONG, in the strongest sense of that word.

In other words, it suggests that Americans believe there are real moral truths, truths about things that are objectively right or wrong, and not just matters of personal opinion or perspective.  And if you asked WHY racism is wrong, you would likely be told that everyone is equal, that differences like skin color have no bearing on a person’s value or dignity.   It is deeply inscribed in our national DNA that that “all men are created equal,” and that racism is a glaring violation of this self-evident moral truth.

Here is where Nietzsche joins the conversation.  He viewed the modern idea of equality with disdain, and as anything but a self-evident moral truth.  Indeed, he saw the idea of equality as a dishonest and sentimental product of Christian morality that began in a “slave revolt” led by the Jews.  This “slave morality” was fundamentally opposed to the aristocratic morality that valued strength, power, domination, and beauty, and looked down on those who lacked these things as inferior beings.

Nietzsche put the matter like this: “The doctrine of equality!…But there exists no more poisonous poison: for it seems to be preached by justice itself, while it is the termination of justice….’Equality for equals, inequality for unequals’—that would be the true voice of justice: and, what follows from it, ‘Never make equal what is unequal’” (Ellipses in original).

As he saw it then, the notion of equality is a fiction invented by the weak to protect themselves from the strong,   It has no basis in reality.  And certainly, if you try to make the case for equality on empirical or scientific grounds, it is a hard case to advance.  All people are most certainly NOT equal in strength, ability, talent, intelligence, health, beauty, and so on.  That is the reality that was recognized and exploited with no sense of shame by the aristocratic morality that Nietzsche celebrated.

Of course, many Americans might appeal to the larger context of those words I cited above from The Declaration of Independence, namely, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We are all created equal by God, it might be urged, and He has endowed us with certain rights, and THIS is why equality is not merely a sentimental or patriotic slogan.  We are equal in dignity and value before the Creator of the universe and that is far more profound reality than any differences that can be measured in terms of strength, intelligence, beauty, and so on, not to mention even more superficial differences like skin color.

Certainly the idea that we are CREATED, that we were deliberately designed to exist by an intelligent Being who is perfectly good, provides a powerful resource to ground human dignity and equality.  Such a God is better equipped to endow us with rights and dignity than any merely naturalistic process of evolution guided by nothing more than impersonal forces of natural law.

However, a serious appeal to a Creator comes at a price.  For any Creator worthy of serious belief must be acknowledged as far more than a guarantor of human equality.  More specifically, any God worthy of belief will ground other moral obligations as well as the obligation to oppose racism.

And here is where our divided soul is painfully obvious.  Our culture is deeply relativistic on many, perhaps most moral issues, ranging from abortion to marijuana use to extramarital sex.  Indeed, part of the irony in the Sterling story is that the person who made public the tape of the phone conversation is Sterling’s mistress!  Now the fact that this woman is allegedly having an extramarital affair with Sterling, who is still married, is not even an issue.  That does not even register a blip on our moral radar.

Indeed, the mistress culture is part of the norm in the NBA, where many players are notorious for having multiple children with multiple mistresses. Moreover, the mistress culture is arguably itself a version of domination and exploitation by the powerful.  Every now and again, there is a story about this, but it hardly raises an eyebrow. Worse, we are a nation that tolerates late term abortions, including partial birth abortions.   But let some public figure utter racist sentiments in a personal conversation, and it will create a national furor, and the condemnation and punishment will be swift and severe.

Again, what makes this so ironic is that Nietzsche is one of, if not THE, main fountainhead of the moral relativism that is so prevalent in western culture.  His radical rejection of Christian morality, and his claim that morality is very much a historically conditioned phenomenon with a thoroughly human “genealogy” is a widely entrenched belief in contemporary secular culture.   Nietzsche urged “free spirits” to throw off the yoke of traditional morality, and heartily indulge their natural instincts, whether the instinct to fornicate or to dominate the weak.

Here in a nutshell is the divided soul of western morality. It wants no moral restraint on the first, but absolute moral restraints on the latter.  The question is how long we can sustain our moral outrage for selected issues, while lacking a principled reason for doing so.

Nietzsche would chide contemporary culture for affirming the instinct to fornicate, but lacking the courage to affirm the instinct to dominate.  He poured his scorn on his fellow modern Europeans for rejecting belief in Christianity, while holding to all or parts of Christian morality.  He was convinced that the two stand or fall together, and it was only a matter of time until the moral principles which seemed so self-evident to them would lose their luster.  He wrote: “When one gives up Christian belief one thereby deprives oneself of the right to Christian morality….If one breaks out of it a fundamental idea, the belief in God, one thereby breaks the whole thing  to pieces: one has nothing of any consequence left in one’s hands.”

America is still a nation of selective moral passion.  We can still get worked up about certain issues.  But it’s much less clear how much moral substance we have left in our hands.

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