Posted on: January 31st, 2008 Hans Kung on (the complexity of) Truth (claims)

From George Hunsinger, “What Can Evangelicals and Postliberals learn from each other?” in Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm, The Nature of Confession: Evangelicals and Postliberals in Conversation, 134:

‘All human truth,’ writes Hans Kung, ‘stands in the shadow of error. All error contains at least a grain of truth. What a true statement says is true; what it fails to say may also be true. What a false statement says is false; what it means but does not say may be true.'”

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Posted on: January 30th, 2008 Hays on Homosexuality (II): Synthesis (Homosexuality in Canonical Context)

“How is human sexuality portrayed in the canon as a whole, and how are the few explicit texts treating homosexuality to be read in relation to this larger canonical framework?”

Hays notes that unlike the the matter of “the subordination of women, concerning which the Bible contains internal tensions and counterposed witnesses, [t]he biblical witness against homosexual practices is univocal.” (389)

Hays then lists three major, overarching canonical considerations to keep in mind as “we place the prohibition of homosexuality in a canonical context:”

  • “God’s [Creational] Intention for Human Sexuality.” “From Genesis 1 onward, Scripture affirms repeatedly that God has made man and woman for one another and that our sexual desires rightly find fulfillment within heterosexual marriage.” (390)
  • The Fallen Human Condition. “The Bible’s sober anthropology rejects the apparently commonplace assumption [on the part of us who are “great-grandchildren of the Enlightenment”] that only freely chosen acts are morally culpable.” Hays sketches how, as a result of Adam’s / humanity’s fall, human beings are in a state of self-deception (he quotes Jer 17:9) and bondage (“We are ‘slaves of sin'” Hays writes, referencing Rom 6:17) . “Redemption (a word that means ‘being emancipated from slavery’) is God’s act of liberation, setting us free from the power of sin and placing us within the sphere of God’s transforming power for righteousness (Rom 6:20-22; 8:1-11; cf 12:1-2).”
  • The Demythologizing of Sex. Contrary to the assumptions of today’s (western) culture, the Bible undermines our obsession with sexual fulfillment. It bears witness, in fact, that we can be totally fulfilled and joyful without sexual relations. “Sex,” unlike food or drink, one would suppose, “is a matter of secondary importance…. Never within the canonical perspective does sexuality become the basis for defining a person’s identity or for finding meaning and fulfillment in life.” (At this point I must admit that it seems to me that Hays overlooks the Song of Solomon as well as the old covenant’s emphasis on childbirth, which is surely fulfilled in Christ but still somehow relevant for life in the new covenant and is probably somehow related to 1 Tim 2:15: “[a woman] will be saved through childbearing.” Given these, it does seem to me that “sexual fulfilment” might be more important than Hays allows, albeit in a way radically different from the assumptions of our culture.)
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Posted on: January 30th, 2008 Hays on Homosexuality (I): Reading the Texts (Rom 1), cont’d

In his exposition of Rom 1:18-32, Hays notes that this is the only place in the NT (I would add “and in the whole Bible”) where homosexuality is not just mentioned or prohibited, but explicitly theologized about. (383) There is, in a sense, a “theology of homosexuality” here in Paul’s thought, and this is especially true in light of the fact that, as Hays points, out, “this is the only passage in the whole Bible that refers to lesbian sexual relations.” (384)

Situating Paul’s teaching on this particular issue within the larger context of the letter, Hays rightly stresses that Paul’s initial main point in chapter one is that “the Gospel” is God’s demonstration of righteousness, that is, his demonstration of eschatological power (it is “the instrument through which God is working out his purpose in the world … reaching out graciously to deliver humanity from bondage to sin and death”), and thus it serves in Paul’s argument as the vindication of God.

“Having sounded this keynote,” Paul not only adopts a contrasting key by contrasting God’s righteousness to humanity’s unrighteousness, but he also actually grounds God’s righteousness in his response to humanity’s unrighteousness. When it comes to man’s sin (which, note carefully, is not here any individual or specific sin including anything having to do with homosexuality, but rather the more primal sin of replacing God and the worship due him with creation and idolatry), God does something about it.

And what does he do? He “gives humanity over” to themselves and their own devices. He gives them over to the dark futility of ignorance (1:21; cf 2 Thes 2:10b – 12). He gives them over to a debased mind. And, more to the point for our purposes, he gives them over “in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (v24), to the “dishonorable passions” which result in erotic homosexual behavior. (vv26-27)

Hays thinks that Paul’s rhetoric about homosexuality serves to make two points (I list these in reverse order): evidence and consequence. First, given the centrality (at least in Pual’s and his hearers’ minds) of the sexual difference of the creation narratives of Adam and Eve, homosexual activity in particular would have been regarded as a “particularly vivid” illustration of how God has poured out his wrath against primal human idolatry. Second, this particular sin, along with the others mentioned in the next paragraph of chapter one (slander, haughtiness, disobedience, etc.) are not the cause of God’s wrath, but, rather (much like the plagues upon Egypt) the result of it.

(Note: Hays’ point, for which he enlists John Calvin, that Paul’s audience would have unequivocally shared in his assumption that homosexual acts are “obviously” depraved raises a question in my mind. It is, perhaps, a question about Paul’s intended audience. I can totally see how a Jewish audience would share in this assumption, of course, but would a Greek / Roman audience? It don’t think so. This is particularly interesting / troubling in light of the fact that many commentators, including NT Wright, think that Romans was intended for a primarily Gentile audience.)

Hays shows how the connection between homosexuality in particular on the one hand and (the) creation (narratives) on the other runs especially deep. He points out that when Paul writes that people “exchanged natural relations for those contrary to nature” (v26) this is in fact Paul’s third use of “exchange” (and its cognates) in this context. First Paul states that rebellious humans have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” of created things (v23), then that “they exchanged the truth of God for a lie (v25).” Writes Hays: “The deliberate repetition of [this verb] forges a powerful rhetorical link between the rebellion against God and the ‘shameless deeds’ (v27) that are themselves both evidence and consequence of that rebellion.

Hays summarizes Paul’s teaching in this chapter by stressing that “the aim of Romans 1 is not to teach a code of sexual ethics, nor is it a warning of God’s judgment against those who are guilty of particular sins. Rather, Paul is offering a diagnosis of the disordered human condition. He adduces the fact of widespread homosexual behavior as evidence that humans are indeed in rebellion against their creator…. Homosexual activity provokes the wrath of God…. The unrighteous behavior cataloged in Romans 1:26-31 is a list of symptoms: the underlying sickness of humanity as a whole, Jews and Gentiles alike, is that they have turned away from God and fallen under the pattern of sin (cf Rom 3:9)…. Homosexual activity will not incur God’s punishment; it is its own punishment, an “antireward.” (387 – 88)

Finally, Hays points out that, since this particular sin (here as everywhere else it is mentioned in the NT) is cataloged alongside other sins, it is not an “especially reprehensible” sin. It is in principle “no worse than covetousness or gossip or disrespect for parents (338). “Consequently, for Paul, self-righteous judgment of homosexuality is just as sinful as the homosexual behavior itself” (389).

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Posted on: January 30th, 2008 Toon on the Relation of the Historic Episcopate to the Whole Church

Peter Toon, in Who Runs the Church? 4 Views on Church Government, goes on to outline and describe the three views held within the Anglican family on the relationship of the historic episcopate to the whole church: the esse, the bene esse, and the plena esse.

First, the view that the historic episcopate of the of very esse (or essence) of the church. On this view “the episcopate guarantees the church. Thus the church derives all her authority from the Lord Jesus Christ through the divinely ordained means of the historic episcopate. Only bishops, who are in the apostolic succession of persons and doctrine, and the priests whom they ordain, have authority and grace to celebrate the Eucharist as an effectual sacrament of grace.” (37)

Second, the view, held mainly by “evangelical churchmen and liberal churchmen,” that the historic episcopate is of the bene esse (“well-being”) of the church. This view sees the episcopate as utilitarian: it is “the best as well as the most natural method of church government, for it brings the greatest good to the church of God in terms of value and usefulness.” (37)

Third, and this is the view Toon himself takes, there is the idea that the historic episcopate is of the plene esse (“fullness of being”) of the church. The historic episcopate embodies the gospel in church order (question: do Presbyterians think in this way? Would we say that our form of church government “embodies the gospel in church order?” Some would, no doubt – especially three office Presbyterians, but some, like Thomas Witherow, simply claim that it is the most biblical form of church polity), according to Toon, and this in two ways.

First, “it provides the effectual sign” of the church’s catholicity / unity, which I suppose stems from the historical fact that the universal church – for many centuries, as least – practiced this form of government. (Keep in mind that catholicity refers to unity not just in space – geographically – but also in time.)

Second, “it includes the principle of apostolicity. The episcopally ordained ministry is sent to represent Christ to his church and is representative of his church. It provides the guardianship of the Word and sacraments, of faith, and of the flock of Christ. The historic episcopate is thus the effectual sign of the relation of Christ to his church, for it shows forth his authority within his church.” (37-38)

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Posted on: January 29th, 2008 Peter Toon on Anglican Bishops

For many years now I have struggled to understand how Anglicans perceive their form of the episcopacy. In Who Runs the Church? 4 Views on Church Government evangelical Anglican Peter Toon makes several helpful points which I had not seen quite so clearly before:

1. The ancient church of the first few centuries which universally developed the historic, diocesan episcopacy is the same church which decided the content of the NT canon; which established the first day of the week as the festival of the resurrection on the Lord’s Day; which created major feasts / festivals such as Easter and Pentecost; which set forth the dogmas of the “blessed, holy, and undivided trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost and of the one person of Jesus Christ, made known in two natures, divine and human. (This is in contrast, BTW, to the later doctrinal developments specific to the Roman and Eastern traditions, which took much more time to develop.) (24) Do we really want to accept its verdict on these things, but reject the way it developed the historic episcopate?

2. The development of the diocese and its sole bishop came about as follows: “as city churches (with their one bishop and several presbyters) established missions in nearby towns, presbyters went to the smaller churches to serve as pastors, and so it was that bishops came to have multiple churches in their care and presbyters came to be pastors of individual churches.” (25)

3. Comparing and contrasting what Ignatius and Irenaeus say about bishops is instructive for seeing how the office developed early on. Ignatius of Antioch (circa 105) establishes the monepiscopacy, consistent with three office Presbyterianism. But for “Irenaeus of Lyons (died c. 200), some six or seven decades later, the primary emphasis was upon the bishop as holder of an apostolic see and thus the sign of continuity in apostolic faith and teaching.” 25

Question: how was the purity of this apostolic teaching established or demonstrated? It could not have been merely from (what we mean by) Scripture, since the canon had not yet been finalized! Rather, it was from lists of Episcopal successions, the earliest of which we have is late 2nd century. (29) So this is not simply an argument from tradition as opposed to scripture. There was no “scripture,” just as there was no “scripture” in Paul’s time. → This is where those suggestions that the apostles taught things that are not explicitly recorded in our Bibles (Thes; I Cor 11:23ff) comes in. The situation in the first 3 centuries is analogous to that. In the absence of the Bible, what is authoritative? Apostolicity / apostolic teaching.

4. The monoepiscopacy, it must be admitted, was at least allowed by the HS. 26

5. When we look to the NT we see that “the visiting apostle or evangelist or representative of the apostle had an authority in certain matters “above” that of the local presbyters / bishops and the local congregation of Christ’s flock. So we see here a kind of two-teared authority which is consistent with the two-teared authority between bishops and presbyters. (27-28)

6. It is possible that James was “a monarchical bishop in Jerusalem.” (Acts 21:18) (27)

7. The Anglican church maintained its Episcopal orders unimpaired: “We do not arrogate to ourselves either a new church, or a new religion or new Holy Orders…. Our religion is the same as it was, our church is the same as it was, our Holy Orders are the same as they were, in substance; differing only from what they were formerly, as a garden weeded from a garden unweeded.” – Archbishop John Bramhall in 1654. (32)

After making these and many other points, Toon has a good discussion of three views on how essential bishops are to the church: the esse view, the bene esse view, and the plene esse view, which I will blog on in an upcoming post.

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Posted on: January 29th, 2008 Hays on Homosexuality (I): Reading the Texts (1 Cor 6; 1 Tim 1; Acts 15), cont’d

The most fully developed thought on homosexuality the entire Christian Bible is is Romans 1:18-32. Before dealing with that passage, however, Hays first looks at two other NT texts which definitely comment on homosexuality (I Cor 6:9-11; I Tim 1:10 ), and one which possibly comments on it (Acts 15:28-29).

In two NT passages, I Cor 6:9-11 and I Tim 1:10, Paul (note however that Hays and many other NT scholars see the pastoral epistles of I Tim, II Tim, and Titus as pseudonymous) uses a word which is not extant in any source prior to I Cor: the word arsenokoitai. Hays demonstrates how this term, almost certainly coined by the apostle Paul, “is a translation of the Hebrew mishkav zakur (‘lying with a male’), derived directly from Lev 18:22 and 20:13.” (See above for discussion of these OT texts.) In both texts this term appears in a list of “unrighteous deeds.”

Hays continues, speaking of the I Corinthian passage: “Thus, Paul’s use of the term presupposes and reaffirms the holiness code’s [in Leviticus] condemnation of homosexual acts. This is not a controversial point in Paul’s argument; the letter gives no evidence that anyone at Corinth was arguing for the acceptance of same-sex erotic activity.” Paul simply assumes that his readers will agree that arsenokoitai are “workers of unrighteousness” just like the other offenders named in the list (idolaters, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, robbers, etc.).

Here as elsewhere, Paul’s goes on to argue that in the lives of the Corinthians a new reality has come about, and that they no longer belong to themselves, but to God. This is the basis upon which Paul argues that they ought to “glorify God in their bodies.” (I Cor 6:20)

The first Timothy passage is quite similar to this one in that it, too, presupposes that the audience will agree that homosexual activity is rightly categorized as one sin among others including “murderers, slave traders, liars.”

The only other passage in the NT – besides Rom 1 – is Acts 15:28-29, which uses the word pornea (“sexual immorality”). Hays thinks it likely that “these stipulations” are based largely on the purity regulations of Lev 17:1 – 18:30, and therefore “probably include … homosexual intercourse.”

Next up: Hays on what Paul teaches about homosexuality in Rom 1:18-32.

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Posted on: January 24th, 2008 Religare: to bind together again

The word “religion” has fallen on hard times. It seems that everywhere you look, people are denigrating religion. Ironically in some ways, this is truer nowhere than in evangelical circles.

Secular people have phobias about “institutional religion.” Jesus Movement types (and Depeche Mode) emphasize “relationship, not religion.” And in my current denomination, the PCA, in many quarters at least, we are at pains to distinguish “the Gospel” from “religion.”

For many of us in the PCA, “religion” connotes rule-keeping, earning “brownie points” with God. We are convinced that when secular, post-whatever people hear this word, they, too, have a rules-based system in mind. “There’s no way I can keep all the rules in the Bible,” we suspect they are saying, deep down in their hearts.

Believe me, I resonate with much of this, and have preached and spoken this way over the years. I am willing to admit that there is a time and a place for this approach. It is a real shame that many Christians have made it seem like Christianity is all about keeping a list of “do’s and dont’s.” (In my opinion, perhaps the most compelling “anti-religious” voice in Christian history is that of Soren Kierkegaard, who considered man’s deeply engrained self-righteous religiosity to be “the sickness unto death.”)

However, in the spirit of wanting to provoke the minds and hearts and imaginations not just of conservative evangelicals but also of our post Christian culture, there is another take on “religion” which is at least as valuable.

When it comes to discussing religion with people, just define it. Go back to the Latin, which means literally “to bind together again.” This is how Thomas Aquinas and the unbroken pre-modern Christian tradition (up until the 15th century Italian Renaissance figure Marsilio Ficino) thought of “religion.”

Why don’t we? Perhaps it is because we have let secular modernity define the terms for our spirituality, instead of allowing our souls to be formed (Thomas would say “habituated”) by Scripture, tradition, and the embodied community of Jesus.

What is it that religio binds back together? Everything that fallen man has separated: body and soul, person and community, scripture and liturgy, word and sacrament, sex and love, heaven and earth, male and female, earth and technology, head and heart, (poor) people and economic health, faith and obedience.

That (among other things) is what secular people, including evangelicals, need to hear.

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Posted on: January 24th, 2008 Hays on Homosexuality (I): Reading the Texts (OT)

See here for the introduction to this series.

Hays’ ethical project in his The Moral Vision of the NT contains four steps: Reading the Texts, Synthesis (in canonical context), Hermeneutics, and Living the Text.

1. Hays points out the paucity of texts which in any way address this matter. While I do think that there is a sense in which every page of the Bible teaches us about sexuality (for example, every time it teaches us about worship, or about the divine community which we now call “the Trinity,” etc.), nevertheless this is an important point. Hays rightly stresses that the Bible (including the NT) has much, much more to say about economic justice and possessions than it does about (homo)sexuality.

In fact, however, as Hays hints at in this section and elsewhere, for Paul sexuality and possession(s) are theologically weaved together. Twice in I Corinthians (I Cor 6:12-20 in the context of sexual immorality, and in I Cor 7:3-4, in the context of gender in the church), Paul argues from what one might call “Gospel dispossession” to a revised understanding of sexual morality. In other words, Christians (now realize that we) no longer “own” our bodies as a possession, but rather (that) God owns them (I Cor 6:19-20) and thus, for married people, our spouses have the right to control them (I Cor 7:4). So it’s not simply that the Bible talks about money and possessions more than it does about (homo)sexuality, but rather that the Bible discusses (homo)sexuality in the context of its theology of possession(s). In a sense Paul’s theology of sex is rooted in this theology of ownership.

2. Hays rightly points out, as have countless other biblical interpreters, that the story of Sodom & Gomorrah in Gen 19 has little or nothing to do with this issue. The sins of Sodom & Gomorrah are of a completely different kind. Related to the above point about money and possessions, the sins in question here are injustice and greedy selfishness (Ezek 16:49). It seems clear to me therefore, that we should either abolish the word “sodomy” from our vocabulary, or begin to define it as oppression against the poor. (I suppose that the latter scenario would make many conservative evangelicals “sodomites.”)

3. Hays rightly points out that in Lev 18:22 and 20:13 homosexual intercourse between two men is flatly and simply prohibited and condemned (though the text is silent on woman / woman relations). Thus, if we were members of the covenant community to which this law was originally addressed, there would be no need for sophisticated hermeneutics here. Directly, plainly, and simply, this activity was forbidden for these people.

As Hays points out, however, things are not so simple for Christians living in the first century and beyond, given the eschatological character of biblical theology and ethics over the span of redemptive history and indeed up to the eschaton.

Thus Christians like Hays who see the Bible as authoritatively normative for the covenant community have more work to do. The starting point for that work is to attend to how the NT applies these “old covenant” laws. This is precisely what Hays proceeds to do.

here, and here for the rest of Part I.

here and here for Part II.

here and here for Part III.

here for Part IV.

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Posted on: January 24th, 2008 Hays on Homosexuality (prolegemena): Gary

The quality Richard Hays’ treatment of this issue in his The Moral Vision of the New Testament (pp 379-406) is both rare and encouraging (though I will have some questions / criticisms later on).

First, though, I want to extol the way he opens up the discussion by talking about his relationship with his friend Gary. Gary, by Hays’ description a homosexual, was Hays’ best friend in undergrad who had over the years developed some serious, deeply held convictions about what the Bible actually teaches about being gay.

I am grateful that Hays situates his discussion of this issue in the context of his relationship with Gary. As we will see, both sides of this debate (both the conservatives who see no “grey” in the sub-issues surrounding homosexuality, and the self-styled progressives in the church who amount to little more than political activists with an ideological agenda) fall short of faithful theological reflection, and so I am not simply wanting to “slam” the conservatives here, but I must ask: among all of my friends in the PCA who have firm, settled opinions about homosexuality and the sub-issues surrounding it (some of these sub-issues will be discussed later on), how many are in actual relationships with a gay or lesbian person? Some, perhaps, but precious few. Here as elsewhere (issues such as “liberalism” or Roman Catholicism) most of us in the PCA are quite content to offer abstract critiques from a great distance.

I am grateful, then, to a couple of friends who are Christians (and in the PCA) who actually do have real relationships with gay or lesbian people, especially my friend Tessa. I am also grateful for my experience with so many Starbucks partners over the years who are in some sense homosexual, many of whom are open to exploring life as a Christian.

Unlike many would-be progressives, almost none of my G/L Starbucks friends “draw their entire identity from their sexuality,” a tendency which Gary lamented according to Hays.

A conviction of Gary’s which seems right to me: Hays writes that “he was angry at self-affirming gay Christian groups, because he regarded his own condition as more complex and tragic [emphasis mine] than their stance could acknowledge.” As I hope to discuss, this criticism cuts in both directions: the stance of many conservatives is just as simplistic, it seems to me.

After 20 years of struggling to make sense of his homosexual orientation and the Bible, Gary was planning to co-author an article with Hays about all this, but he died before that could happen.

This article is part of a larger series. For other installments, see

here, here, and here for Part I.

here and here for Part II.

here and here for Part III.

here for Part IV.

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Posted on: January 23rd, 2008 Best Running Trails in Austin

If I weren’t such a crappy blogger I would have photos of these trails. (Don’t hold your breath.) Also I should add that trails 1-3 are in close proximity to excellent pubs.

5. Bull Creek Greenbelt. After the six continuous months of rain last year, some of the trails have been a bit washed a way; still worth it though, in part b/c of the nice, flat limestone formation along the creek which stretches for several hundred yards.

4. Walnut Creek Park. Pretty easy to get lost running in these trails. Most are “single file” width (very bike-friendly), and often quite curvy. Nice variety of trails however. Lots of shade.

3. Shoal Creek Greenbelt. Renovations over the last few years have turned this into a pleasant, interesting urban trail which brings you through some of the coolest parts of downtown, including under two of the most recent high-rises. One can start at 35th St. and run all the way to 360 and Scottish Woods Drive, a trek of perhaps 15 miles, using this trail. My favorite spot is the St. Francis mini-grotto embedded into the water fall / rock wall just south of 35th St.

2. Town Lake. What can I say? A runner’s paradise for the views, the shade, the people. Easy access to Barton Springs pool for an after run dip.

1. Barton Creek Greenbelt. I love the variety of terrain in these trails. Hills, rocks, well-trodden flatness. The greenbelt has it all. Lots of shade, usually flowing rapids along the creek, not too crowded. Feels off the beaten track, but it’s really not.

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Posted on: January 22nd, 2008 Best Pubs in Austin

5. Dog & Duck. Second best fish & chips in town (the best are at BD Riley’s). Good optional choice of sitting outside or inside. Roughly 15 beers on tap.

4. Flying Saucer. Very cool bartenders. Knowledgeable about beer (and they enjoy talking about it!), but not arrogant. Excellent food as well. Roughly 70 beers on tap.

3. Draughthouse. The most hobbit-like place in town, in my opinion. Folks sitting out on lawnchairs, or in the beds of their pick up trucks, etc. Some of the bartenders can be a bit acerbic, but once you get on their good side (this can take years: you must be perceived as a good-tipping regular), the benefits of membership are bountiful. Maybe 75 beers on tap.

2. Gingerman. Only place I have ever seen Live Oak Pale Ale 0n tap (nor have I ever seen it in a bottle, mind you). Indeed, I have never desired a beer on tap that they don’t have (including two or three barley wines, to boot!). About 80 beers on tap.

1. Opal Divine’s (6th St.). I confess: I love Opal’s partly because of nostalgia, due to years and years of great conversation and good memories. But their food is great, and their bartenders & waitstaff are interesting and fun. Wednesdays are two-dollar Texas pint nights! Yeah! About 25 beers on tap.

Coming soon: top five best running trails in Austin.

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Posted on: January 22nd, 2008 New Biblical Horizons Blog is up!

Great news. The rich, though-provoking biblical theology of Jim Jordan, Peter Leithart, Jeff Meyers, and others is up for the world to read at

In my view the theology of these men is strongest in the following areas:

– Reading the Bible in a redemptive-historical way.

– Affirming “old catholicism” without embracing Roman Catholicism specifically. In other words, there is an affirmation of “reformed catholicity.” This includes, most importantly, the centrality of liturgy (the church’s worship is based on a pattern of covenant renewal) and the sacraments.

– Articulating a vision for the Christian social order of the future, which sees the creation mandate as being progressively (albeit in a sometimes obscure way) implemented by the Church.

As an example of the kind of thinking I am talking about, see this post on the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism.

(Here, by the way is the Biblical Horizons’ “mission statement.)

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Posted on: January 22nd, 2008 Hays on Paul on Gender in the Church

In seminary (Westminster) I had the extremely helpful opportunity to do an independent study with Larry Sibley, researching the issue of “gender in the church.” The aim of the study in particular was to clarify what Scripture teaches about the role of women in the church and also the issue of homosexuality. And even though I did finally confirm my basic stance that women ought not to be ordained to the office of presbyter within the Presbyterian form of church government, nevertheless,

– I did discover that the NT, and Paul in particular, endorses all kinds of serious ministry opportunities for women to engage in (including the office of deacon);
– I saw a difference between the way this issue should be played out between Presbyterianism on the one hand and Episcopal forms of government on the other;
– I have continued, over the last seven years, to struggle with this issue, sensing it to be so difficult and such a source of consternation that firm settledness is simply not possible. (This, not least, because of countless conversations with people outside the church who have differing perspectives on this issue.)

In the spirit of the third point above, I have continued to study the issue over the last seven or so years in pastoral ministry. In particular I have found the works of Richard Hays quite helpful. (His Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul is one of the most paradigm-shifting books I have ever read.) Hays, like NT Wright, is in favor of the ordination of women to the presbyterate, but (again like NT Wright, and, as we will see in a later post) opposes the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals and sees chastity within marriage as the biblical norm for human sexuality. (More on Hays’ thinking on homosexuality forthcoming in an upcoming post.)

I want, here on my blog, to summarize Hays on gender in the church according to St. Paul. The relevant material can be found in his The Moral Vision of the New Testament, pages 46 – 56.

1. Hays argues that Paul, especially in I Corinthians, is at pains to oppose the false and pagan form of asceticism that was rapant in his culture as well as in the Corinthian church. Hays takes I Cor 7:1a (“It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”) as a quotation lifted from the Corinthian community / correspondence which he then seeks to counter or qualify. Paul doggedly affirms that husbands and wives are obligated to gratify one another sexually in the marriage bed, with rate and specific exceptions that he spells out later in the chapter.

Hays’ point here is that Paul here as elsewhere (Gal 3:28) shows himself to be a radically “egalitarian” thinker with respect to gender, given the patriarchal assumptions which were dominant in his day. For, as St. Paul says in the same paragraph (7:4) “the husband does not have authority over his body, but the wife does.”

2. In I Cor 11: 3-16 Paul demonstrates that “he expects women to pray and prophesy in the community’s worship.” (52) And even though in this passage Paul is making some pretty “conservative” assumptions about women covering their heads and thus visibly displaying their submission to men, he nevertheless once again breaks radically with the dominant assumptions of his day with respect to women’s roles not just in the wider culture, but also within the Jewish synagogue.

3. When we come to I Cor 14:34-35 (“Let the women keep silent in the churches….”), we are thus confronted with a problem, something that is hard to see as anything other than a contradiction. Hays ultimately opts for seeing this latter passage as a post-Pauline interpolation (an option which, I agree, does seem quite plausible), but he also notes that another possible way of reconciling the two emphases, which, at the very least, are in tension with each other, is to hold that in I Cor 11 Paul is referring to unmarried women (including widows), whereas in I Cor 14 he specifically has married women in view. (Remember that in Greek the word for “woman” and the word for “wife” are one and the same: gune.)

4. Still, a tension exists within Paul’s thought, and we need to try to reconcile it. But we also need, to test or confirm the working hypothesis of Paul’s “pro-egalitarian” posture which follows from (or perhaps presupposes) Hays’ assertion of post-Pauline interpolation. How best to do this? Hays rightly says that we should look at the actual way in which women were viewed and treated in the actual Pauline Christian communities. Four examples are prominent:

a. Phoebe (Rom 16:1) who is called a deacon, and whom Paul expects to be honored with great authority, since he commands the Roman Christians to do “whatever she requires of you.” Significantly, Paul also refers to Phoebe as a prostasis, a word which probably describes one who “leads or presides over a group.”
b. Prisca and Aquila, a wife and husband team. Paul writes that “all the Gentile churches give thanks for their ministry” and he never elevates the husband over the wife; she is a full participant in ministry. (Rom 16:3-4; cf Acts 18:18-28)
c. Junia, describes as “prominent among the apostles” (16:7) along with several other women in Acts 16 who are described as “workers in the Lord.”
d. Eudia and Synteche whom Paul says “stuggled beside me in the work of the Gospel.” (Phil 4:2-3).

Hays concludes by suggesting that Paul is pretty clearly in favor of women having no restrictions in the life of the covenant community. Other canonical voices, however (including the post-Pauline voices of Ephesians and the pastoral epistles, especially I Timothy), must be taken into account before a final view can be settled upon.

Next up: Richard Hays on what the Bible teaches about homosexuality.

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Posted on: January 18th, 2008 “One baptism for the remission of sins”

David Cassidy has a wonderful post on how this phrase of the Nicene Creed would have been heard in its original context. He quotes this amazing poetic text, a fifth-century inscription on the baptistry in the Lateran Basilica:

Here a people of godly race are born of heaven;
the Spirit gives them life in the fertile waters.
The Church-Mother in these waves bears her children
the virginal fruit she conceived by the Holy Spirit

Hope for the kingdom of heaven, you who are reborn in this spring,
for those who are born but once have no share in the life of blessedness.
Here is to be found the source of life, which washes the whole universe,
which gushed from the wound of Christ.

Sinner, plunge into the fountain to wash away your sin.
The water receives the old man, and in his place makes the new man rise.
You wish to become innocent, cleanse yourself in this bath,
whatever your burden may be, Adam’s sin or your own.

Thanks, Pastor Cassidy!

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