Saturday, September 01, 2012

Tim Bulkeley on authority and submission in the Bible and regarding marriage and parenting

Christian Brady on rabbinical commentaries about the problem of marrying Moabites in the book of Ruth

Alert readers may recall I linked to a post by Christian Brady, who was the first scholar/blogger to establish that Mark Driscoll's comments about the Targum Neofiti, a Jewish commentary on Genesis 1, was full of flat out misrepresentation. That sermon on the Trinity in the Doctrine series would eventually net observations from other scholars about the lack of integrity and scholarly competence on Driscoll's part.

Well, Brady has recently written an interesting little entry on Mahlon and Chilion in the book of Ruth with the question of why they died.

Well, first some background

Deuteronomy 23:3–6

“No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever,  because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they mhired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of nMesopotamia, to curse you.  But the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the Lord your God turned othe curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you.  You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever. 

Nehemiah 13:1-3

On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of God,  because they had not met the Israelites with food and water but had hired Balaam to call a curse down on them. (Our God, however, turned the curse into a blessing.)  When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent.

Brady presented a paper on the Targum Ruth (I.e. a commentary on Ruth).  This commentary, Brady noted briefly, said that the reason Mahlon and Chilion died was because they married Moabite women.  

Brady mentions that one rabbinical commentary implies the men died for taking Moabite wives and another commentary is explicit.  However, this creates a new problem in light of what we've seen above in Deuteronomy and in Nehemiah:

Now of course this creates a separate problem for the Targumist which may explain why the other rabbinic commentaries side-step this explanation of Ruth 1:4. Once it is declared that M & C have been killed because they took Moabite wives, how can Boaz take Ruth to be his wife? Surely he would suffer the same fate! The Midrash alludes to the answer in reference to the “new law” and the Targum makes it explicit in Targum Ruth 2:11.
11 Boaz replied and said to her, “It has surely been told to me concerning the word of the sages that when the Lord decreed concerning them he did not decree against any but the men.
So the Targumist explains why M & C died, but Boaz did not. [emphasis mine] Why is this discussion important? Because, as I have discussed before, dating rabbinic texts is difficult and dating Targumic texts even more so. One method is to try and determine which exegetical tradition is older and who is borrowing from whom. If the Targumic reading of 1:4 is new or unique or even in conflict with other rabbinic traditions, that might be helpful in determining its date. Or not.

Of some note is a comment from Brady here:

  • August 22, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Thanks Bryant! I am glad you found this interesting.

    I think there are still reasonable questions as to whether we ought to see Ruth as “converting” (making a clear commitment to accept YHWH over and against other gods) or simply the more common ancient practice of simply accepting that now that she would be in Israel she would worship the Israelite god. [emphasis added] Later traditions, both Jewish and Christian, of course make this into a full conversion. In fact, that is my most recent article that I am just shipping off this week.

    As for Boaz “not letting the grass grow” he certainly did not once Ruth acted! But as I point out in another article and some posts here (as have many others), Boaz takes very little initiative with regards to Ruth, or Naomi for that matter. He knows that she is present and in need (chapter 2) but the only action he takes is to allow Ruth to safely glean. It requires the cunning of Naomi and the action of Ruth to goad him into taking the next steps.
    Finally, TgRuth also adds information to the genealogy at the end of Ruth:
    18 These are the descendants of Perez. Perez fathered Hezron.
    19 Hezron fathered Ram, and Ram fathered Aminadab.
    20 Aminadab fathered Nahshon, and Nahshon was the head of a family of the house of Judah. Nahshon fathered Salma the Righteous, that is Salma from Bethlehem and Netophah, [whose sons] did away with the guardposts which Jeroboam the Wicked placed on the roads, and the deeds of the father and sons were beautiful as balm.
    21 Salmon fathered Boaz, Ibzan the judge, that is Boaz the Righteous, through whose merit the people, the house of Israel, were freed from the hand of their enemies, and because of his prayers the famine passed from the land of Israel. Boaz fathered Obed, who served the Lord of the World with a perfect heart.
    22 Obed fathered Jesse, who was called Nahash because no sin or fault was found in him that he should be delivered into the hand of the Angel of Death to take his life from him. He lived many days until there was remembered before the Lord the counsel which the serpent gave to Eve, the wife of Adam, to eat of the fruit of the tree, those who eat of its fruit are made wise to know good and evil. Because of that counsel all who dwell on earth were condemned to death, and for that sin the righteous Jesse died, that is Jesse who fathered David, the king of Israel.

So if Boaz were a full-blooded Israelite it was against the law to marry Ruth.  Now here would be a suitable spot for liberal scholars and advocates of JEDP to note that if by the time the story of Ruth and Boaz developed the Deuteronomistic account had not been developed then this could explain why Boaz could have married Ruth despite the prohibition because it simply hadn't been written yet.  Either that or Yahweh didn't care in the case of Boaz and was permitting Ruth to become the wife of Boaz for some reason not spelled out in the book.  Christians, of course, can interpret Ruth being in the lineage of Christ as a foreshadowing of how in Christ the distinctions between Jew and Gentile would no longer be the barrier it previously was ... though as that goes it could be proposed that there was already no barrier if Boaz was permitted to marry Ruth and not die while Mahlon and Chilion married Moabite women and died.

On this topic Bruce Killian suggests that Boaz' judgment was different because he was descended from Salmon and Rahab.
Bruce Killian

August 27, 2012 at 12:06 am
I Mahlon and Chilion died because they married Moabitesses, Boaz was not under the same restriction because his mother Rahab was an Ammorite and so he was separated from the congregation of the Lord by 9 rather than 10 generations. Long ago I wrote an article showing the geneologies between Ruth and David were abbreviated because of this requirement.
Brace and peace,

This was a curious point that becomes starker if you were at Mars Hill in 2007 when Mark Driscoll preached through Ruth and then Nehemiah all in one go.  There wasn't a clear explanation in Ruth why Mahlon and Chilion died but if Deuteronomy preceded Ruth the explanation was not long to find, they transgressed the Law and married Moabite women.  Dying at the hand of the Lord would not have been a difficult outcome to anticipate!  Conversely, whether or not that was the reason Mahlon and Chilion died the question of how and why Boaz was permitted to marry Ruth despite her being a Moabite was a big deal.  This is even more acute a problem given Nehemiah 13 is explicit that Israel disobeyed by marrying who?  Moabite women!  Had Driscoll not preached through Ruth earlier that year where the whole narrative explained how Boaz married a Moabite? Driscoll mentions that Tobiah was a Moabite.  Driscoll built a good chunk of a sermon on how the Israelites sinned by marrying Moabites and even threw in a bit about going Old Testament on some people, even in the leadership of Mars Hill.   Should you be curious as to which leaders Driscoll had in mind ... . 

It's unfortunate that for a Bible-teacher, which is what Driscoll says he is, he managed to preach through Ruth and then Nehemiah all in one year and didn't put together a rudimentary point of textual and thematic reconciliation.  If Moabites are never permitted into the assembly of the Lord even to a tenth generation then did Ruth get a pass because she was a woman, which is how one rabbinical commentary resolves the problem?  Or was it because Boaz, being descended from Rahab, was not fully-blooded as an Israelite and could therefore marry the Moabite Ruth?  The essentialy point, highlighted starkly by none other than the entirety of Nehemiah 13 is that Nehemiah looks like he would have cast Ruth out of the assembly and have gone ultimate fighting on Boaz for marrying Ruth.  Did Ruth say that Naomi's god would be her god?  Sure ... but Deuteronomy 23 gives reasons to not admit Moabites into the assembly.  The Moabites refused to offer hospitality to Israel in a time of need and even hired Balaam to curse them.

Did Yahweh permit Deuteronomy 23 to be broken so as to produce the line of David?  Depending on who you consult one answer is "no, on the technicality that Moabite women don't count".  What that says about the status of women may be troubling, however obvious that point may be.  In the world of that time that could be an explanation for why Boaz didn't die for breaching Deuteronomy 23, though.

It's also unfortunate, obviously, that when presented with some interesting challenges about how to preach through Nehemiah 13 in a city that is largely secular and has plenty of people eager and willing to highlight ways in which the Bible is considered to contradict itself that Driscoll didn't go there and consider Deuteronomy 23 holistically with both Nehemiah 13 and the book of Ruth in 2007.  He did manage to turn Nehemiah into an allegory about himself, though, and he rounded up a pathetic series that rarely got into the exegetical issues of the text with a sermon that culminated in, from the evidence we have at hand, firing two elders who disagreed with the by-laws Jamie Munson had been working on at the time.  It may be said at Mars Hill that it's all about Jesus but if it's all about Jesus and the lineage of Jesus included a Moabite mother whom Deuteronomy 23 on the simplest and plainest reading would say shouldn't have been permitted into the assembly then it would have been nice if THAT had been a focal point in a sermon on Nehemiah 13.  Driscoll apparently had more earthly legacies he was concerned about that explaining the coherence and continuity of divine commands and providence.  

D. G. Hart on David Barton's history vs Howard Zinn's history

Carl Trueman is rightly confused about the allies of the gospel making such a big deal of complimentarianism. I’ll see him a confusion and raise him a bewilderment — why are professional historians so worked up about David Barton?

...   Olasky goes on to observe that historians have not been so obsessed with another popular and flawed account of U.S. history, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Olasky has a point but it is not entirely accurate. This summer the History News Network ran a poll among its readers on the “Least Credible History Book in Print.”For most of the time that people responded, Zinn led the pack. But when editors made the final tally, Barton surpassed Zinn by nine votes (650 to 641). In which case, if this poll is representative, academics can spot a bad book on the left and on the Christian fringe (to call Barton the right is an injustice to conservatism). Do Christians have as good a track record of acknowledging bias among their favorite writers on politics, history, and economics?
And yet, the question remains whether professional historians have sought to have Zinn’s book recalled? I am actually not sure whether historians wanted to see Barton’s book removed from the marketplace. 

I could comment but I choose simply to excerpt in this case.

Another link this week to Practical Theology for Women

This is a reflection on a sermon on Psalm 22.

That David wrote about feeling forsaken by God in Psalm 22 has often been discussed as a psalm that prophetically points to Christ.  It does, of course, yet Christ prays that prayer in a way that shows us we can pray it as well.  After all, when David wrote the psalm Jesus was obviously not yet born and the prophets wrote not simply for their own benefit but for us, as the scriptures elsewhere attest.  The Christological fulfillment Jesus brings does not negate what may by comparison always be the more prosaic, mundane level at which a prayer can be prayed by us.

All that to say, you will at some point feel forsaken by God.  There will be a time when you feel that God has not simply patiently delayed to deliver you but hands you over to those things and people that would destroy you.

I noticed all skill and labor springs from envy, another thing that is stupid (Ecclesiastes 4:4)

Ecclesiastes 4:4-6 (ESV)

Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man's envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind
The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.

Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.

As I've been blogging on Ecclesiastes and about things discussed by Martin Shields' The End of Wisdom I've been discussing how things in Ecclesiastes, the more you dig into them, can't be squared with orthodox Jewish or Christian thinking as it is normally understood. When Qoholeth questions rhetorically whether it's even possible to know if the breath of a dying man ascends or the breath of a dying animal descends he's saying that death eliminates the distinction between man and beast. and that this is why God, Israel's God, has permitted death to demonstrate that humans are mere animals, this is hard to defend as a statement that is orthodox.

The "pious bias" in biblical interpretation may kick in to save the day but Shields lays out a persuasive book-length case that the whole point of Ecclesiastes is to share offensive statements. When we read that famous "not one woman among them all" it may need to be kept in mind that for people who would have known the stories of Ruth, Deborah, Huldah and others that this observation was supposed to be offensive because people who knew even of other writings in the wisdom literature (like Proverbs) could point out that there were supposed to be righteous men and women.

That gets us to a clue, perhaps, that when Qoholeth says there's nobody righteous that even that "one man among a thousand" may be rhetorical flourish.  Shields makes a case that in light of the universal condemnation of human stupidity and corruption that even "one man among a thousand" is better read and understood as "not one man among a thousand, not one woman in them all" and then "this only is what I found, God made people upright but they are prone to scheming."  In the end Qoholeth is only certain, maybe, that God made us good but we have opted for scheming.

But Qoholeth's minimalist and pessimistic observations can seem to go too far, can't it?  In Ecclesiastes 4 he tells us that all skill in labor and achievement is motivated by envy.  Now a friend of mine has blogged about feeling insecure about her children not reaching certain milestones.  Qoholeth's declaration would have it that this is an anxiety that springs from envy.

But would that be true? If it were true then a Christian has to find a way to establish that there is a godly envy, but envy is attested as sinful in so many places that either we have to accept that everyone, even those who believe, are motivated to skill entirely by envy, or we have to consider that this observation from Qoholeth could be worth second-guessing.  It may be true in a fallen world, as some would say, but then it becomes the kind of proverb that the pious will never quote.  You're not going to hear a megachurch pastor who says all scripture is inspired quote this proverb about how all toil and skill comes from envy of his neighbor.  We know that skill and labor often comes from genuinely loving to do something.

But that's the thing about Qoholeth's observations, they seem especially grim and yet as the epilogue puts it, Qoholeth sought to find pleasing words but wrote down what is true.  Even if we dismiss "envy" as too strong a word there's another sense in which anxiety about status does seem to drive what we do and who we aspire to be.  Depending on where you are and what is held up as the measure of truly fulfilled humanity you can feel anxious that you're single, whether that you haven't married or haven't gotten a date in years or maybe haven't gotten a date at all.  As my friend Wendy has blogged the thing about anxiety is it can stick with you.  A woman can be anxious that she isn't married while she is single and then she can be anxious that she's not a mother when she's married and then she can be anxious about the development and health of her children once she has them.

Qoholeth's observation would be that we constantly seek and toil for things that can't satisfy us.  We continually pursue a wisdom that inevitably fails us as it failed him, both in the sense that he saw that it did not make him different from fool or beast and in the sense that even having obtained it (such as it was) he found himself more miserable and unhappy than before he'd gained it.  Why, then, had he become so very wise?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Linkathon returns to Phoenix Preacher, I return to a rant about "engaging culture"

Carl Trueman's piece on complementarianism shows up.  Doug Wilson's reportedly snarky reply to Trueman does not (which does not leave me particularly heartbroken).

Thabiti Anyabwile's expression of frustration at "gospel" this and that is also featured.  One of the reasons that the explicit gospel may seem wearisome for some of us who are not really tired of the good news of Jesus (so much as we are weary of gospel-pancakes-cooked-on-a-gospel-griddle-covered-with-gospel-butter-and-gospel-syrup) is that "gospel" has often become a code-word that is really a shibboleth for a bunch of things that simply don't have anything to do with that theological topic usually known as "soteriology".

This is why I will likely roll my eyes and groan at things on various Christian websites that talk about the tortured beauty of the cross because this is really a pretext for rambling on about your art or music or literature or, more often, the stuff you think is super cool or kinda weak.  Now if you read this blog at all you know I love me some chamber music, Batman cartoons, Miyazaki films (and a bit of anime), Pixar movies. I obviously make a concerted effort to illustrated how I, as a Christian, can appreciate those things.  But one thing I won't do is explain the theological richness of Miiyazaki films because he's a pantheist who contests the most basic confessions of the Christian faith.  I'm not going to propose that Batman "is" gospel anything.

While Paul quoted pagan poetry in his address to the Athenians and described them as "one of your prophets" to the Athenians Paul did not conflate their statements, symbols, and art with the narrative of the good news of Christ Himself.  He used what they  got right as a transition into the still better Way.  Since Paul used a comparable methodology and line of argument on those Christians in Corinth we can see that Paul had a method to what he did.  Contemporary Christians who try to contextualize their tastes in pop culture so as to keep liking what they like tend to have a method that seems more like madness.

A lot of what I've seen passed off as "engaging culture" in neo-Reformed or pseudo-Reformed circles is bending over backwards to explain how much you can, as a Christian, admire stuff that you could admire for personal and aesthetic reasons that can't be backed up by chapter and verse.  John Piper had his attempts to explain how a Christian can appreciate Ayn Rand.  Mark Driscoll has his bit where he explained how Jack Bauer is a type of Christ. Now if a person wanted to say that simple cosmetic narrative and thematic resemblance means a Christian can and should appreciate something I have got just the South Park episode you are, by that rhetoric, now morally obliged to watch.  Whether it's Piper on Rand or Driscoll on 24 in both cases these are guys who could have (and should have) explained what they like about Ayn Rand and the TV show 24 without having to even bring Jesus into the discussion, even though both these guys are pastors.  I'm not a pastor so I don't get to throw that weight behind my endorsement of anything, thank God. In fact I'm going to suggest that a pastor endorsing a pop culture artifact needs to be even more careful about endorsements.  Why?  Simple  ... because whether it's endorsing a political candidate or a pop cultural artifact the pastor is even more apt than the lay-person to potentially make an endorsement that actually takes the Lord's name in vain.

Say what?  Do I mean it's taking the Lord's name in vain to say a TV character is a Christ type?  Do I mean to say that plugging for this or that author takes the Lord's name in vain? Well, it depends on why you brought Jesus' name up.  If you are looking at a work of art as a Christian and considering how you, as a believer, can endorse or disagree with something based on your understanding of Christ's teaching then, no, that's not taking the Lord's name in vain.  If you can use a work of art to illustrate or refer to theories of being and ethics that's its own thing. If I were to, say, use a couple of Batman stories to highlight narratives in which synergistic and monergistic redemption from evil occur that's dealing with two admittedly abstract concepts.  I can use fictional narratives to show how certain concepts work as narratives.

An atheist friend of mine was told me that it drove him crazy when he'd hear youth pastors in the last ten years say "Aragorn is a type of Christ" and hwo this shows we need a good king.  This atheist immersed himself in Tolkien and C. S. Lewis enough in his old days as a believer enough to know Tolkien wouldn't have been happy with that allegory/typology stuff.  Not only was there no "type" at work but even invoking Aragorn as a "type" went against Tolkein's approach.  Mileage and interpretation may vary but where I'm going with this observation is to say that when we make a comparative observation about something and Christ or Christian teaching we should be clear what the comparison actually is, where it starts, and be aware of where it ends.

But if you bring up the name of Jesus so that you can explain why you like something then everything is backwards.  You're not using what is available and true in a given setting as a way to move toward Jesus, the Truth.  You're using Jesus as a way to endorse something you like that you happen to like for reasons you may not have really thought through and that you could describe liking on other grounds.

It's okay to admit to liking something, even as a Christian, for reasons that don't always have to come down to a "gospel" reason. For instance, I could say I like Dostoevsky because his writing points to Christ and our desperately lost condition as humans.  That's even a sustainable case with Dostoevsky..  On the other hand, I could also admit that I love Dostoevsky stories because they include crazy criminals doing outrageous things amid debates among aristocrats and soldiers about what the nature of a just society is.  It comes as no surprise, dear reader, if it happens that I also love Batman, does it?

But I'm never going to defend My Neighbor Totoro as something Christians should appreciate because it shows the beauty of the natural world and how creation reflects the grandeur of God with some quote from Psalm 19.  I know Miyazaki's a pantheist. I also know that the story in the film imagines a Japan that didn't get into World War II, which is kind of the ultimate 20th century Elseworlds continuity for Japan, isn't it?  It's tantamount to what a Christian might describe as a story of an essentially prelapsarian cosmos that, as such, has no connection to the world we live in.  But the real reason I'll say you should watch the movie is that it's simply beautiful and very cute. For Christians who care about family values you're not going to find a film that more beautifully and sweetly depicts family values ... which also happens to have been made by a pantheist who sincerely believes Christianity has done a lot of harm in the world.

But here's the thing you anime fans already know, My Neighbor Totoro was also featured in a double-bill with Grave of the Fireflies, the harrowing animated story of a brother and sister who become orphans, outcasts, and then die of starvation in the wake of the firebombing of Tokyo. Most American Christian art in American evangelicalism has aspired to Totoro and failed in the last few decades.  The hipster Christians who are shooting for something more like Grave of the Fireflies are just as doomed to fail.  Even in Totoro the specter of disease and death looms in the background and in Fireflies there is behind the death and misery a recognition that people could choose to value children as children and not just on their contribution to a war effort. But I have clearly deviated far from the initial observation that "gospel" this and that gets annoying, haven't I?

Monday, August 27, 2012

The epilogue of Ecclesiastes, the end as a beginning

Wisdom literature in the Bible is a curious thing and it can be easy to misunderstand or misrepresent its nature.  It's not that difficult to transform Proverbs into a book that simplistically advocates what many would identify as a prosperity gospel.  The proverbs in Proverbs, properly understood, are not promises from God but axioms and riddles which provide an opportunity to consider the human condition.  

For instance, an atomized handling of "He who finds a wife finds what is good and has favor from the Lord" is not really a blanket endorsement of all marriages.  This proverb would not be possible to construe as a blessing on an Israelite to marry a foreigner in all cases (or else a whole raft of issues emerge in Ezra/Nehemiah.  Obviously since Solomon's numerous wives enticed him to worship other gods no one would infer that because he who finds a wife finds what is good that he who finds many wives finds what is even better.  But by another measure proverbs warning about the nagging wife and the wife who is like rot in the bones of her husband are not exactly ringing endorsements that it is always better to be married than not.

Proverbs may be seen not as law but as a kind of axiomatic set of case studies, the voices of experience distilled into non-statistical observations of trends.  It will tend to go better for you if you do X rather than Y in circumstances A and B but if you are in circumstances C or D then you should rely on the instructions of proverbs M and Q, not proverbs W and L.  

Something that has been proposed in a traditional interpretation of Ecclesiastes, the idea that Solomon was writing his way through repentance, misses out on something.  Qoholeth tells us he sought to understand both wisdom and folly and to observe what advantages there were to be found.  We discover that the advantages are few, fleeting, and conditional, often conditional in terrible, mercurial ways.  

Now it's very widely accepted that the epilogue of Ecclesiastes was written by someone else who is not the author of the bulk of the work.  There may be some teachers and preachers who say otherwise but this attribution has to be more than just one citing a tradition or an interpretive approach informed by what some have called a "pious bias".  In fact the more pious Ecclesiastes is presented as being the less apt it is to accurately account for the bulk of the book.  Martin Shields' commentary The End of Wisdom goes quite some way to spelling this out.

There are some things that leap off the page if you set aside the popular but ultimately unlikely idea that Solomon wrote this book in a process of repentance.  Let's just take a few strategic statements.  For instance in Ecclesiastes 4 the author observes that all hard work springs from envy and that is senseless.  Hard work is extolled throughout Proverbs.  If the author of Ecclesiastes were Solomon, and Solomon were writing his way through repentance, then he seems to have a major bummer on the value of working hard.  It's not the work in itself, which Ecclesiastes suggests we enjoy "if" we can, it's that the whole motive for our work is envy, which is lame.  

Then we get two proverbs. 

The fool folds his hands and eats his flesh.
Better one handful of gratification than two fists full of labor which is pursuit of the wind.

Here we see that there are two paths that are stupid.  The lazybones is an idiot for not working but the man who must always ever work and do more and is never satisfied is just as much an idiot as the lazybones.  

We've seen two proverbs that warn against extremes but that Golden Mean, that perfect balance in the middle is an ideal for lots of reasons.  As Qoholeth observes that which is bent and crooked cannot be straightened.  What we have seen in Ecclesiastes 4 is a small sample of Qoholeth pitting proverb against proverb to show the limits of both.  Both proverbs are true as far as they go but Qoholeth goes on to observe that in the real world neither proverb goes all that far.  There are those who work hard yet have no one to share with and no heirs to leave their fortune to.  

In Ecclesiastes 3 we see the observation that men and beasts both die.  Who, we are asked, knows whether the breath of one goes up to heaven and the breath of the other returns to the earth?  

It is in this passage where it is virtually impossible to sustain an interpretation of Ecclesiastes as Solomon writing his way through repentance.  Qoholeth says that God has elected to show men that they are but animals and that men will die just as beasts die.  Death, as Martin Shields points out in his overview of Ecclesiastes 3: 18-21, not only obliterates the distinctions between the wise and the foolish but even between beasts and men.  It's hard to overstate how unorthodox this sentiment is within any canonical book.  The question about whether the breath of man rises upward and that of animals descends comes after Qoholeth says he told himself that God will appoint justice.  Qoholeth's conclusion is that what God's "justice" seems to be is to show that humans and animals die and are thereby put on the same level.  

One of the most damaging weaknesses of Solomon-as-repentant-author-of-Ecclesiastes is that "if" this were Solomon and "if" he were repenting why is there not a single reference to the Scriptures or the Torah in the book?  Even though in Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 there "could" be an allusion to the breath of God animating humanity Martin Shields points out that this makes the passage even more remarkably unorthodox than it would have been if Qoholeth were not referring to Scripture.  This would entail, after all, that Qoholeth himself is openly questioning the truth of Scripture on the question of whether humanity bears the image of God.  How can you be so sure you were made in the image of God if you die just like dogs in the street do? For Qoholeth the question of where the breath of the dying goes can't be answered but the question itself is framed in a way which, given Genesis 2-3, casts doubt on one of the most basic claims about humans having been brought to life by the breath of God.  Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 is too agnostic on the subject of humans bearing the divine image to come across as a convincing case of Solomon repentantly working his way back to an orthodox life and thought.  

So if Qoholeth expresses ideas that openly question things that are presented as true elsewhere in Scripture, and if Qoholeth tends to pit proverbs against each other and finds them all wanting what do we make of the book?  It is here, Shields proposes, that the epilogue serves as a guide.  We must read through the words of Qoholeth, though, before we get to it.  

I'll paraphrase Shields' rendering as follows:

Because Qoholeth was a sage he constantly taught knowledge to the people. He heard, studied, and corrected many proverbs. Qoholeth sought to find pleasing words but very honest words were written.  The words of the wise are goads, like cattle-prods are masters of collections, which are used by a lone shepherd. In addition to these, my son, beware of excessive book-making, this never ends, and of endless study--it exhausts the body. 

Shields makes what I consider to be a good case that if Qoholeth is simply said to be "wise" then to say he was wise in the epilogue is redundant.  If, however, Qoholeth were described as a sage then this means that he is presented to us as the wisest sage of them all.  That becomes important in how we interpret what we have read through Ecclesiastes up to this point in the epilogue.  Qoholeth is presented as an exceptional, fantastic sage.  Shields discusses how we are told specifically that Qoholeth constantly taught the people.  This is something that would not need to be mentioned UNLESS sages were not known, at that time, for teaching ordinary people.  

Shields does a nice overview of the scribes and sages in the OT and comments about scribes and sages by prophets but that warrants a separate post.  His case about the epilogue, one I find persuasive (or at least highly interesting) is that the sages as a class are presented in a negative light.  Qoholeth is presented as a sage, as the sage of sages, yet Qoholeth spends almost the entire book of Ecclesiastes observing that everything is broken, nothing works as it should, the world does not seem to provide any evidence of divine blessing.  In fact the world seems to suggest that God, though real, has consigned us to lives that are hardly different from those of animals.  Those who enjoy God's favor, somehow, get to be happy in life but we are not really told there is any way to gain God's favor.  The wicked prosper despite their cruelty while the righteous die early.  Qoholeth casts doubt on the justice in God's creation and the dignity of human life itself.  Though God makes all things beautiful in their times these are not times that can be adequately found out by mortals.  Wisdom is of some value, to be sure, but only a little and all of the advantages of wisdom can be undone by even a tiny amount of folly.  Why then, have I become so very wise?

Qoholeth, in other words, comes to question the most basic assumptions about wisdom being able to answer the questions about life for which it was offered as an answer.  Yet Qoholeth was presented as a sage of sages.  How can this be?  The epilogue tips us off but subtly.  We are told the man was a great sage and that he sought pleasing words ("useful sayings" is how the JPS puts it).  The NIV has it that Qoholeth sought just the right words and wrote what is upright and true.  Yes, well, we can wonder about that.  The ESV tells us he "sought to find words of delight and uprightly he wrote words of truth."   So that would include casting doubt on whether or not humans gained life through the breath of God?  Shields' proposal here is that Qoholeth is praised as the best of the sages but we should not presume from this that the author of the epilogue is Qoholeth or that the sages as a class were considered commendable. 

To get specific, when we are warned of the endless production of books who but sages would keep writing books in which they purport to tell us they have unlocked the mysteries of living well?  In an ancient Near Eastern society this becomes more rather than less obvious.  Qoholeth, dare I suggest a strained analogy, found himself objecting to insipid self-help books produced by self-proclaimed experts on the challenges of socially and financially ambitious young men with big-time aspirations, too.  
The author of the epilogue, Shields proposes, presents Qoholeth as the ultimate sage to reveal that the best sage is not someone who shares pretty and pleasant observations about how with the right wisdom you can prosper.  No, Qoholeth reveals that wisdom fails to attain any certainty about the things it is sold for.  Sages may gladly take your money to tell you things they claim to know and claim to have learned but they're no more able to answer the vexatious questions of life or get you closer to inscrutable divine favor than anyone else.  

Shields pointed out something in his commentary on Ecclesiastes I had not stopped to consider before, there's absolutely nothing in the text of Ecclesiastes that tells you HOW to please God or gain the Lord's favor.  There are also no references to any scripture at all.  In how many other books of the Bible are references to the Exodus made, for instance?  In how many other books of the Bible are there references to significant moments and figures in Israelite history?   There are scholars and teachers who have inferred from this that Ecclesiastes is a book in which we see what can be known of the human condition if there is no God who reveals anything about the divine to us.  This is, I think we'll see, more accurate than attempting to present Ecclesiastes as some path of repenting of anything.  Ecclesiastes shows us a man repenting more for having gained wisdom at all then of any of the sins attributed to Solomon.  As we've noted in earlier blogging on this book of the Bible there's no indication that Solomon abdicated as is indicated in Ecclesiastes.  

To simplify the case Shields makes about Ecclesiastes as a whole and the author of the epilogue, the compiler of Ecclesiastes has given us the book and its epilogue as a kind of Pentagon papers or Wikileaks of the wisdom movement of that time.  This is not just a case sustained by reference to the text of Ecclesiastes itself but also by cross-referencing discussions of sages and scribes elsewhere in the canon.  I hope to get to that topic later in the week but here seems like a decent stopping point.  If you have read Ecclesiastes and gotten the impression that what it says doesn't fit anything in orthodox Jewish or Christian thought then, Shields argues, you're getting the point that the author of the epilogue has been making.  The bigger point of the book is that the wisdom movement that held itself out as being able to find the laws of order and prosperity is completely unable to do so.  The more certainly self-described gurus and sages tell you they've got the answers to living well the more you should be inclined to doubt them because Qoholeth, the greatest of the sages, realized that all that was stupid and meaningless.  He was the one sage he was honest enough to admit he didn't have any pretty axioms to share that would help your life be less miserable. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Carl Trueman: Confused by Complementarianism

HT to Dana mentioning this in a comment at The Wartburg Watch:

One answer is that egalitarianism as a position is usually accompanied by lower views of scripture and the presence of other, more serious errors and heterodoxies.   That might well be true in some, perhaps even many, cases but it is not necessarily so, any more than it is true that all complementarians are thoroughly orthodox on all other issues or hold the position for biblical reasons.  I have known quite a few complementarians who seem to be such less because of the Bible and more because they apparently watched Conan the Barbarian a few too many times in their early teenage years.   

I respectfully suggest to Rev. Trueman that the movie in question is Braveheart. Trueman's point, however, is amusing regardless which movie some complementarian absorbed in his impressionable teens.

Then we get to:
Indeed, I see no reason why one could not be an egalitarian and an inerrantist.  And if it is a hermeneutical difference, how does one decide that this particular difference among inerrantists is more egregious than, say, those between Baptists and Paedobaptists or Dispensationalists and Amillennialists?   
Let that one simmer in your head for a while.  Trueman ends with a fantastic point, a point that I doubt anybody at The Complementarian Calvinist Coalition can responsibly answer at this point, let alone certain former constituents who this year extricated themselves from formal participation.

If you want simply to unite around the gospel, then why not simply unite around the gospel? [emphasis mine]  Because as soon as you decide that issues such as baptism are not part of your centre-bounded set but complementarianism is, you will find yourself vulnerable to criticism -- from both right and left -- that you are allowing a little bit of the culture war or your own pet concerns and tastes to intrude into what you deem to be the most basic biblical priorities. 

Scott Thomas in executive leadership at The Journey, membership at Mars Hill, where Mars Hill ends and Acts 29 begins

Here's a few quotes from a sermon from July 22, 2012 that Thomas preached.

Well, good morning.  It's great to see you and be with you. My name is Scott Thomas, I'm the newest pastor at The Journey.  I oversee pastoral development, and so I oversee all of the different sites, the campus pastors, and such. And I also reach out to the church-planting, the missions, serve on the executive leadership team. And so I have quite a bit that we're doing and I'm glad to be here with you.

I most recently came from Seattle. We just moved here. In fact we just moved into our house on Monday this week. ... We came from Seattle where I served as President of the Acts 29 Network for the last six years. ... Also served as executive elder of Mars Hill Church. ... 

But what took place was Acts 29 was relocating down to Dallas. ... I sensed this was going to take place for about a year. 

Thomas explained that more and more of his time was spent in an executive, corporate-level set of decisions as opposed to being involved with local churches. "My heart is local churches" Thomas explained, and so when the Acts 29 move came up Scott Thomas took the opportunity to take a job at The Journey.

The problem with Scott Thomas taking a job at The Journey and preaching is that last we heard he's still a member of Mars Hill Church at the U-District, at least as of last week. Now if it happens you log on to The City and Scott Thomas isn't listed as member of Mars Hill that's fantastic.  That is as it should be because this is what the membership covenant states.

  • I will not function in leadership or as a member in another church family [emphasis added](Heb. 13:17).
  • I covenant to submit to discipline by God through his Holy Spirit, to follow biblical procedures for church discipline in my relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ, to submit to righteous discipline when approached biblically by brothers and sisters in Christ, and to submit to discipline by church leadership if the need should ever arise (Ps. 141:5; Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:1-5; 2 Cor. 2:5-8; Gal. 6:1-5 8; 1 Tim. 5:20; 2 Tim. 2:25; Titus 1:9; 3:10-11; Heb. 12:5-11; Rev. 2:5-7, 14-25).

If Scott Thomas is still listed as a member of Mars Hill having preached a sermon at The Journey and announced that he's part of the executive leadership team at that Acts 29 member church then, well, Scott Thomas' membership needs to be rescinded.

If Chandler wants to differentiate and distant Acts 29 Network from Mars Hill that's a laudable goal.

If we take a gander at the names in leadership there's President Matt Chandler, Vice-President Darrin Patrick, Mark Driscoll as founder and board member, and then there's Bruce Wesley and John Bryson. Now there's just one Martian on the board.  That's a positive turn in the direction of differentiating Acts 29 from Mars Hill.

BUT if the former president of Acts 29 can go take a job in executive leadership at Darrin Patrick's church months after stepping down from leading Acts 29 while still having not resigned his membership at Mars Hill this means it doesn't much matter how many non-Martian leaders are on the board if a former MH elder can be dropped unceremoniously into executive leadership at an Acts 29 member church while still having not resigned his membership at Mars Hill.

Let's give Acts 29 at least some benefit of a doubt here and propose that the problem is that Scott Thomas appears to have violated his member covenant at Mars Hill.  He should have resigned his membership already. It's obvious you can't be a member at Mars Hill AND simultaneously be a Pastor of Pastoral Development at The Journey.  If you can, then, well, that's a problem too obvious to bother discussing.  As to why proposing that Scott Thomas violated his member covenant as the most plausible explanation to provide a benefit of a doubt to Acts 29 leaders, well, we'll get to that in a bit.

In April 2012 Matt Chandler told the Christian Post that Acts 29 has been so entwined with Mars Hill it was difficult to know where one stopped and the other began.  Scott Thomas becoming Pastor of Pastoral Development at The Journey, an Acts 29 member, presents the reality that if Scott Thomas is a pastor there having just stepped down from being a pastor at Mars Hill then there may not be any practical, significant distinction between Mars Hill, Acts 29, and associated members.

Again, if Scott Thomas as of right now is not listed as a member then the membership covenant means something in enforcement on the uppermost leadership class within MH.  Otherwise it doesn't mean much.  It may be a big deal when disciplining some guy like Andrew but if it isn't as serious for a Scott Thomas then there's a set of enforcement for the peons that is not the same as for the executive class.

Earlier this year Scott Thomas took the opportunity to write a piece on what church leaders can learn as pastors from the Penn State scandal:

Although pastors may have publicly or privately condemned Joe Paterno and the Penn State athletic department for its failure to report an alleged sexual crime (still under investigation), I am sad to say that some pastors should be fired for disqualifying patterns of life. Pastors must lean into the gospel and not hide behind their position. All pastors are guilty of sin. Only Jesus is free of sin. But Paul sets a standard, for those who hold a role as an elder — a list of qualifying patterns of life in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Pastors are held to a qualifying standard for their entire lives. The goal is to start well, fight well and end well. Unfortunately, many pastors only fulfill one of those goals. A lot start well. Many continue well. The statistics indicate that most pastors do not finish well. Paul said that he fought and he finished.

It takes a lifetime to build a legacy and it only takes one indiscretion to discredit 46 years of service. This forces us to lean constantly into the gospel of grace. If we lean into anything else, we will certainly fall.

It is true that it takes a lifetime to build up a legacy that can be damaged by a single indiscretion that discredits years of service.  This does necessitate leaning on the gospel of grace ... but admitting to even the possibility of having done something wrong or hiding behind a position can help, too.  Confession is not simply good for the soul, it can salvage the health of an institution whose reputation has been marred by corruption and a defense of image and brand over against a defense of truth and justice.

Take a review, if you would, of the correspondence that will be presented below.  Did Scott Thomas hide behind his position in this case?  Did Scott Thomas tell the truth about how the firings were conducted in 2007? Did he tell the truth about the nature of the process? A not-so-minor detail documented earlier in this blog is that when Scott Thomas responded to a church member he did so using his Acts 29 Network email.  Scott Thomas was an executive elder at Mars Hill and in leadership at Acts 29.  Consider how Scott Thomas conducted himself in the firing process, what he said to whom, and if these actions and words can be considered above reproach.

As supplemental background keep in mind that during October 2007 Tim Beltz was installed as an executive elder without having been able to qualify for the position under the by-laws that were supposed to still be in force at the time.  Consider, too, that it was during September-October 2007 the bid on Tabella was made and if JOnna Petry's testimony is reliable (and it seems to be to me) there were two executive elders in much of 2007.  If by October there were four executive elders in place during the firing this does not establish how many executive elders were in place when the bid on Tabella was made and there is not, as yet, evidence produced that the full council of elders was given 30 days notice of the purchase decision as would be required by the by-laws in force at the time.  So with those questions also in mind, consider Scott Thomas' conduct.  Consider for that matter Driscoll's words on October 1, 2007 and all subsequent correspondence between Driscoll and Munson with Petry regarding the interest in reconciliation.

Here's the audio clip of Driscoll from October 1, 2007 at both Joyful Exiles and Fighting For the Fath.

Here's the correspondence that is most pertinent to the question of whether Thomas was being truthful when he discussed the process of the 2007 firings.  At the end, of course, is a statement from Thomas about his departure from Acts 29. 

If Scott Thomas is now Pastor of Pastoral Development at The Journey and has been a member of Mars Hill at the U-District in the last few months then the boundary between Mars Hill and Acts 29 is permeable, but apparently permeable in one direction, the direction from which former MH executive elders can end up executive leaders in A29 churches but not necessarily the other way around.  It doesn't much matter that only one Mars Hill leader is on the Acts 29 board if this sort of thing can happen.  Apparently a guy like Scott Thomas, who isn't even a pastor at MH in any capacity now, can just step in a few months after resigning from Acts 29 leadership (and apparently from Mars Hill leadership, too) and then can just show up in executive leadership at The Journey.  Theoretically this was not possible at Mars Hill but that wouldn't account for the reality that Tim Beltz became an instant executive elder in October 2007.

While Andrew got to see what happens when the covenant is breached from the trenches, and while now former-pastor James Noriega got to find out what happens when a pastor stops being employed and was just on the Board of Directors,  Scott Thomas seems to have gotten what amounts to an executive privilege treatment and this after his conduct in the 2007 firings can be consulted by way of his correspondence, which anyone can go read at Joyful Exiles.  This should be troublesome to anyone who is aware of it.  If Chandler aims to figure out where Mars Hill ends and Acts 29 really begins Thomas' installation as a pastor at The Journey is one of the worst things that could have been allowed to happen to clarify the process of differentiating between Mars Hill and Acts 29.  Thomas' membership needs to be rescinded as of at least a month ago.