Our Annual Conference, the Western Fellowship of Professors and Scholars

is coming up next weekend, October 10-11.  Here are the presenters and topics:

Russ Dudrey,  “How Bookish is Our Faith?  The Problems of Preaching a Book-Centered Faith to a Non-Literate Generation.”

Loren Decker, “The Bible in an Illiterate Culture-A Historical Perspective”

Alisha Paddock, “Family Metaphors in 1 Thess 2.”

Mark Alterman, “What Kind of Authority is the Bible?”

Les Hardin, “Searching for a Transformative Hermeneutic”

Bill Jenkins, “Deflation of Truth in an Age of Distraction.”

Virgil Warren, “Friends” or “Sons”:  Comments on the Apostasy Question.

Here is the LINK for more information about the conference.

A Pedantic Rant on the Translation of a Greek Word

In 1 Corinthians 1:20 Paul asks ποῦ συζητητὴς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου;

The NIV translates “Where is the philosopher of this age?”  A more accurate translation is “debater.”  Bruce Winter, in his book After Paul Left Corinth describes how the movement known as the “Second Sophistic” affected the Roman city of Corinth.

Earlier, in the time of Socrates the first Sophistic movement entered Athens.  The Sophists taught eager young men–for a good fee–the arts of being successful.  Success for these ambitious students who hoped to move quickly up the ladder in politics meant learning the art of persuasion, how to sway a crowd with moving words and convincing arguments.  It didn’t matter if the arguments were true, what does that have to do with winning?

It was on that point that Socrates disagreed with the Sophists.  How do you know what success is, if you don’t care about truth?  How can a life be called successful if it is based on sleazy manipulation?

Four hundred and fifty years later the Sophistic movement gained a new life and the Sophists came to Corinth.  A teacher would advertise a sample oration or debate (in which vicious insults was often the key to defeating his opponents) and then would enroll tuition paying students in the full course.

Once more the philosophers and the Sophists became bitter enemies.  That’s why the NIV translation in this verse is historically inaccurate.  It is also misleading.  It gives the impression that St. Paul is anti-intellectual.

Paul is attacking pride in human accomplishments and the idea that life is a struggle of all against all, a contest to be won at any cost and by any means.  That is what the “debater” represents.  It is also what the system he calls “the world” represents.  It’s what we used to call the establishment, the machine, or the Man.

But Paul is not attacking clear thinking or clear and effective communication.

Another Bonhoeffer Biography

I don’t know if we need another one, but here is a review of a new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Evidently Charles Marsh indulges in a little speculative psychoanalysis about Bonhoeffer’s relationship with Eberhard Bethge, suggesting a latent homosexual attraction.  This speculation, based on no evidence other than reading between the lines in the letters, of course could be neither proven nor refuted.

I think it does show a pretty serious failure to understand Bonhoeffer.  First of all, he had no use for psychoanalysis; he described it as a secular version of religious fanaticism.  Revivalist preachers tried to convince decent, honest people that they were miserable sinners, and psychoanalysts tried to convince happy, well-adjusted folk that they are inwardly miserable.  Bonhoeffer believed private matters should be kept private and one should not speak in public about sexuelle Dinge.  Aha, proof of repression?  I think rather it reflects his aristocratic upbringing and some honest convictions about propriety and ethics.

In his Ethics Bonhoeffer followed traditional categories of duty, vocation, family, work, government.  But He also said there is another realm where ethical behavior is realized, and that is the area of freedom.  To this area he assigned friendship.  He recognized a failure in previous attempts to define and describe ethical behavior without recognizing the importance of deep and abiding friendships not confined by categories of duty but developed in the realm of freedom.

One of the failures of a lot of our thinking today is a lack of imagination and vocabulary to appreciate the value of friendship.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Eberhard Bethge certainly did love one another.  It was a deep human and Christian friendship.

The World Needs More Madrasas

Shari'ah Law: An Introduction

I’ve been reading about Shariah law because I don’t want to be ignorant, and the book is very enlightening.  I have learned that there is a long history of Islamic scholarship, and that there are four or five major schools of interpretation.  Some of these schools emphasize the letter of the law, while others emphasize the intention and purpose.  All recognize the historical context in which the laws arose, and all recognize to some degree the place of reason in understanding the laws.

Professor Kamali points out some plain statements in the Qur’an that are often ignored by advocates of harsh punishments.  For example, passages prescribing amputation of a hand for thieves or flogging for adultery, are followed by the words “unless they repent.”  Who wouldn’t repent for stealing when their hand was on the chopping block?

Kamali also frequently quotes the verse “there shall be no compulsion in religion.”  He also frequently discusses issues related to gender equality, supported by laws in the Qur’an and examples from the prophet’s life.

One of the most remarkable sections of the book, to me at least, was on the “Decline of the Madrasahs.”  The last two chapters of the book discuss the need for reform and challenging issues.  The decline of Islamic schools means that a generation of young Muslims is growing up ignorant of the Qur’an and the other sources of Shariah, as well as the history of Islamic scholarship. Consequently their ignorance makes them vulnerable to ignorant fanatics who recruit them for suicide missions.

In the discussion of that issue, Kamali makes it clear that Islamic law universally condemns both suicide and the intentionally targeting of civilians.

In reading this book I was reminded of a statement of Rabbi Gamaliel,

An ignorant person cannot be pious.  [http://www.torah.org/learning/pirkei-avos/chapter2-6.html  -- the whole article is worth reading!]

I used to think this was snobbish, and I thought of Jesus appealing to fishermen, farmers, and day laborers.  But now I realize, Jesus called people from all walks of life to follow him and learn from him.  He called them to become disciples.  Jesus taught the people of the land.  In this sense, I think it is true that a Christian who willfully remains ignorant cannot be devout.

I also think of the difficulty conservative Christian centers of learning, such as Bible colleges, have in remaining conservative.  We knew a sociologist years ago who wrote his dissertation on “goal displacement” in Bible colleges.  He study the inevitable drift away from an original commitment to specific doctrinal commitments and from a narrow curriculum.  Most leaders of such institutions see this as a problem.  But maybe it’s not.  Maybe being narrow and dogmatic is not a virtue.  Maybe an educated person cannot remain dogmatic.  Maybe it is impossible to study the Bible (or the Talmud or the Qur’an) without raising serious questions about traditional understandings.

My colleague Wes and I went to hear a distinguished professor of genetics who has devoted his waning years to destroying something he doesn’t understand.  I asked him what background he had in the study of theology or philosophy.  He replied, “I don’t believe in fairies, so I don’t study fairiology.”

If I believed fairiology was the greatest threat to our civilization, I would study it.

Ignorance is a threat not only to civil society and peace, it is a threat to faith.  I think Hillel was right after all.

What’s Wrong with a Well-Regulated Militia?

The courts have ruled that the second-amendment upholds the right of individuals to “keep and bear arms.” Originally all adult, white male “responsible and law-abiding” citizens were members of the militia; therefore they had a right to keep and carry weapons, and use them when necessary. Individuals have a right to defend their own homes and families, the right to join together as part of the common defense, and the right to resist tyranny.

The framers of the constitution understood that all individual citizens (as defined above) were part of a well-regulated, trained, and disciplined militia.

The original drafts of the second amendment included a provision exempting persons with religious scruples from being required to own and maintain weapons. Any adult white male citizen not so exempted was expected to maintain his own supply of weapons should he be called up by his state militia.

Switzerland has a national militia. Anyone deemed “fit for service” between the age of 18 and 34 is required to purchase and keep at his home military weapons. They first go through a period of training.

A system like that would be better than what we have.

What would be wrong with a mandatory course of training, following high school graduation, say a six-week course? It could include firearms use and safety, first aid training, emergency and disaster relief training, legal matters, non-lethal self-defense strategies, anger management, and other issues. There would also be psychological testing and background checking (including juvenile offenses).

Conscientious objectors could be exempted or allowed to skip the weapons-part of the training.

This would not be a military draft; no further service would be required, but successful graduates would be allowed to own weapons and participate in the well-regulated militia as they chose.

Gun owners would be required to keep their weapons secure from use by unauthorized persons.

In effect, this would mean giving a license to possess firearms. Unlicensed possession could be prosecuted, in the same way that unauthorized possession of drugs is prosecuted.

The pro-gun lobby has been so powerful that politicians have been afraid to do anything to try to control gun violence. There are reasonable steps that can be taken to outlaw gun possession by irresponsible persons while protecting the rights of responsible citizens.

More thoughts on teaching ancient languages

Here’s another post on Pedagogy of teaching biblical Hebrew.  One thought the author has is that we should have a full three-year course.  The other is that language learning and exegesis (the study of texts) are two different and unrelated activities.  In my experience, most people who study ancient Hebrew or Greek are interested in studying texts.  I’m not sure where this leaves us.

More to Come on Ephesians

Well, my class got ahead of me in keeping their journal on Paul’s Letters from Prison.  I will get back to Philippians, but right now we are studying Ephesians, so I will post a few briefer notes on that Epistle before returning to Philippians.

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