2. My Asynchronous Striptease (Part 2) – No Sacred Cows

from my buddy Steve Davis

2. My Asynchronous Striptease (Part 2) – No Sacred Cows.

My Tail Light Experience

Here is my experience of being profiled: We lived in Memphis, TN. My dad had found a car for our daughter–bright red with dark windows. It looked like something someone in their teens or early twenties would drive. Some people said it looked like something a gangster would drive.

Our daughter’s friends thought it was cool, but she was a little embarrassed and prefered to drive something a little more demur.

I ended up driving her flashy red car. I got pulled over a block from my house one evening. When the officer saw that I was a clean-shaven, untattooed, middle-aged person, he was very polite, as I was in response.

He said he pulled me over because my tail light was out. I got out of the car and went back and looked at it, and we both saw it was working fine. He said, “Well it must be a short, you better get that checked out.”

Yes sir, officer.

Since he had pulled me over, he had to run my licence plate.

Nashville said my licence was expired.

But officer, it has the new sticker right on it. I just got it last week.

“Well, anyone can get a sticker. I’m going to write you a ticket. If you can proof you have a proper registration and paid for this years tags, the court will dismiss it.”

It took me several days of personal visits and phone calls, being sent from the County Courthouse to the city office, and more calls to Nashville. It turned out it was a simple mistake. Someone locally had not properly notified Nashville. Eventually the problem was solved.

But I learned two things. I saw how profiling works–in my case I was profiled because of a flashy car. Second, I saw how bureaucracy works and learned how frustrating it can be.

The Education Bubble is Bound To Bust

Its been about thirty years since our federal and state governments started reducing direct support for higher education and started steering students toward student loans.  Now students commonly leave college with the equivalent of a mortgage payment, a debt many of them can never repay or escape.

Private colleges, and specifically, church-related Christian colleges have bought into the same student-debt funded tuition scheme.

When I entered one such college in another millenium, I never heard of FAFSA.  Typically I would start the fall semester with enough money to pay my tuition, then in January, I might take out a short-term loan from the college, which I was able to repay over the summer and start the cycle again.  I was able to get through more years of graduate study than is profitable in the same way.

Back in those days we were reminded that our tuition was only a token, it only paid a small percentage of the cost of our education.  We were reminded that little old ladies on Social Security and hard working farmers contributed to our institution from their meager savings.  And that was true.

But somewhere in the last few years administrators of Christian colleges found it was easier to raise tuition than to raise support for their students.

Their peers headed for law school or business school might look forward to a lucrative job that would make repayment of their student loans easy.  Most of our students were headed to for far more modest (to put it mildly) salaries, and will be saddled with debt.

Hearing the tragic news about Kayla Mueller this week, I thought about some of my own former students who majored in intercultural studies and are serving people and God overseas, as she did.  These were some of our brightest and most dedicated students.  But many of them have to devote several years to paying off their student loans before than can go and serve in other lands among other cultures.

There will be another economic downturn, and tuition will become unsustainable.  Meanwhile, students are customers paying for a service and are entitled to have it their way.

There are only a handful of colleges that are bucking the trend.  One is Christendom College, a Catholic college in Virginia, and College of the Ozarks near Branson, Missouri.

Let the Earth Bring Forth Life

Sensational headlines get attention, so you can’t blame Salon for the bit of hyperbole in the title of the article God is on the Ropes, about a new theory that claims “Under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life”–certain conditions being those that prevail on a planet such as the earth.

I have been thinking for a while about a couple of verses in Genesis 1.  In the first God says, “Let the earth bring forth vegetation” (1:11).  Then in verse 24 “Let the earth bring forth living creatures (animals).”  Similar is verse 20, “Let the waters team with living creatures.”

God assigns a role in creation to the earth.  Other verses describes God as arranging “certain conditions,” separating the land mass from the oceans, providing an atmosphere, and roles for the sun, moon, and stars.

Genesis 1 uses simple images to describe the process of creation and the sequential development of life on earth as the creator willed.  If the language of science is mathematics, then you would have to say Genesis is unscientific because it does not use scientific formulas.  But there is nothing in Genesis 1 incompatible with what the natural sciences have shown us about the origin and development of life on the earth.

A New Journal–Free Online

A New Journal, the Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting, is available online free, here: 

The last article is a review by Craig Evans of the Jewish Annotated New Testament.

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 studied the inevitable drift away from specific doctrinal commitments and from a narrow curriculum to broader and more liberal curricula.  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.

Open Election

Here is what Ephesians teaches about predestination:

  1. God has determined that the people who put their hope in Christ will be adopted as his children and will become Christlike.
  2. Before he created the world God chose Israel as the people who would live by the promises of God that would ultimately be fulfilled in Christ.
  3. The people of Israel were the first to hope in Christ. They didn’t know his name would be Jesus, in fact through most of Israel’s history they didn’t even know his title would be Christ or Messiah. (The title ‘Messiah’ comes fairly late in Israel’s history and in the literature of the Bible.) But the story of the Bible is forward looking, beginning with God’s call of Abraham through whom all the peoples of the earth are to be blessed
  4. God’s choice of the nation Israel as his “chosen people” seemed like an exclusive thing, like a closed circle. In fact Israel’s various rituals, sacrifices, and purity laws were almost guaranteed to exclude the other nations. But Ephesians is about a surprise: “You Gentiles were included when you heard of Christ and believed in him.” The circle is now open, the wall of separation is broken down, and it was God’s secret plan all along.

Election refers to God’s act of choosing people to belong to him. In Ephesians chapter 1, Paul teaches that election is dynamic, open, and growing. Everyday people from unexpected places are coming into the light and life that Christ offers to us.

Conference Next Weekend

The Western Fellowship of Professors and Scholars meets Oct 19-20 in Manhattan, Kansas.  I will be posting the rest of the schedule, but here are the themes for the breakfast panel discussion.

1.  New Interest in Modern Pentecostalism’s Kansas Origins, Dr. Robert D. Linder

Professor Linder is Kansas State University Distinguished Professor
(Ph.D., University of Iowa, 1963): History of Modern Christianity from the Reformation to the Present; History of Religion and Politics in Europe, Australia and the United States.

Greatest quote: “History, religion, politics, baseball! These are the important things of life. What else is there?” — Professor Bob Linder

2.  Renaissance Adorations and the Black Magus: Interpreting an Iconographic Transformation, Tamica L. Lige

 Until the middle of the fifteenth century the iconography of the Adoration of the Magi remained fairly consistent, with three white kings shown arriving to pay homage to the Christ Child. Around 1450, however, a shift in representation occurred, and one of the magi was now portrayed in the guise of a black African. Scholars have put forward various reasons for the appearance of the Black Magus. One view suggests that the Magi are thought to represent the three known continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa and that the “blackness” of the Magus symbolizes his native land. A second links the Black Magus to sin and heresy due to medieval associations of blackness with death, the underworld, and witchcraft. Another examines the Queen of Sheba as an archetypal figure to the Magi and suggests that written descriptions of her blackness inspire the adaptation of a Black Magus in Adoration scenes. This paper builds on these theories, but argues that representations of the Black Magus also need to be analyzed within the contexts specific to individual works of art. To further this end, this study examines several European examples of the Adoration of the Magi through various lenses to discern meanings specific to each. In order to interpret the meaning of the Black Magus in these works, I will explore the relationship between the Queen of Sheba and the Magi, the effects of reformist ideas in Northern Europe at the time, and the role a patron’s interests play in the iconography of works they commission.

Tamica Lige, of Manhattan KS, is an Italian Renaissance art historian. Her work thus far has explored art patronage by elite families, iconography, and methodology. Ms. Lige’s interests generally surround religious works commissioned by lay patrons and range from architecture to painting.

The Underground Railroad in Kansas: Cooperation of God’s People, Karre L. Schaefer

 We will explore the little-known Underground Railroad in Kansas. Recently, scholars have found that contrary to original belief, African-Americans ran most of the Underground Railroads in the Eastern United States. However, as usual, Kansas is unusual.

Because of the lack of African-Americans in Kansas, the Underground Railroad was run by white Americans. Mostly, these consisted of various Protestant denominations who joined together to help African-American runaway slaves escape to Canada and Mexico.

Congregationalist members, such as the Beecher Bible and Rifle Church, while believing that the United States was an authority in place by God, chose to run the UGRR contrary to that authority. Working with the Quakers in Harveyville and other churches, an alternate route was created to throw the slave-hunters off track as they traveled up and down the well-known route. These men and women who ran this railroad believed they did so by authority of God Almighty. This was no small thing – harboring a fugitive slave in Kansas meant immediate death. This Railroad is a case where God’s people put their lives on the line so that others could be free. I will leave us considering whether we would do the same thing.

Karre Schaefer is a graduate student in the Political Science Department at Kansas State University. After receiving her BA in history, she set out to explore why people did what they did, and found herself concentrating in Political Thought. Ms. Schaefer combines political thought, religious thought, Biblical principle as well as enlightenment to seek answers to why social movements occur and their long-term effects.

What’s It All About? (Phil 1:20-26)

Paul has such faith in Christ that he is sure he will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” and that he has no reason to fear death. Death is gain because he will see the one who gives his life meaning face to face.

But until then Paul finds meaning in life here and now. He finds meaning in his work and in his relationships. Paul’s work is spreading the Gospel, planting churches, and providing continuing pastoral care and leadership for the churches. He is confident God still has work for him to do, and he will continue to find meaning and joy in his work.

Most of us are not apostles, but if we are Christians two things are true: One we all have a part in sharing God’s love with those who cross our paths, especially those for whom we have a responsibility. Second, any honest work can be a holy calling, a vocation through which we may benefit others and glorify God.

Paul’s work involved people whom he came to love deeply. He found meaning in those life-long relationships with fellow believers in cities all around the Mediterranean world.

He also found a sense of satisfaction in what God had accomplished through him. Paul often speaks of boasting and pride in a paradoxical sense. He knows pride is a sin that is associated with arrogance and jealousy. But he also understands that one can boast in the Lord, and so he is proud of what the Lord has accomplished through him.

Philippians 1:19-20 Confident of Victory

It seems that the date of Paul’s trial is near.  Paul will be led from his rented home where he is serving house arrest and taken to the tribunal to be heard by Caesar himself, where Paul will defend the Gospel and his role as an ambassador for Christ.  At the end of the trial either Paul will be allowed to leave a free man, vindicated by Caesar’s court, or he will be led away to the place of execution.

Paul has no human way of knowing the outcome, and he claims no explicit revelation from God: no vision, no clear inner voice, no word of prophecy.  He does, however, have the confidence of faith.  His faith gives him the confidence that God still has a purpose for his life on earth, in particular encouraging his faith family and especially those who are both friends and brothers and sisters from Philippi.  His hopes will not be realized automatically but through the prayers of his friends and the workings of the Spirit.

Regardless of the outcome of his trial before Caesar, Paul has the hope of final vindication before the throne of Jesus; but his faith is also inspired by the examples in the Psalms of those who expressed their hope for God’s deliverance in this life and on this earth.

Paul’s situation is ambiguous and his hope is ambivalent.  We should expect some ambiguity in his language, and it is present throughout this passage (Phil 1:15-26).  Paul confidently expects his trial to result in his salvation.  Normally he uses the word to express the ultimate consummation of a believer’s faith, which will happen when Christ reveals himself to the world as both Savior and Judge.  You could say Paul is hedging his bets, because he is assured of salvation in that sense.  But he is also using the word in the context of God’s deliverance of the faithful from their temporal and earthly enemies, a context seen so frequently in the Psalms.

If David’s faith could give him the hope of triumphing over his enemies, was Paul not entitled to expect the same result?  He is not seeking personal revenge over his enemies—but he does trust that God will grant him a personal victory.  Paul will emerge from the ordeal as a conquering hero.  Paul uses the language and imagery of a military victory parade.  In fact—here’s where some of the linguistic ambiguity comes in—he uses the terms that otherwise normally refer to the Second Coming to describe his anticipated return to the Philippians, in verse 26.  He speaks of his parousia palin.  Apart from reference Christ’s triumphant return, the expression was used in military and political circles to describe the glorious arrival of Caesar, accompanied by his retinue, to a Roman city.

The word parousia is a compound from a prefix meaning “with, beside” and a the verb eimi, which is a homonymn/homograph meaning either “I am” or “I arrive”.  So parousia can mean either “being with” or “presence” or else “coming to (someone’s presence)” or “arrival.”  It is used in the second sense here, and in the context of a victorious appearance.

Since we sometimes fail to appreciate literary subtlety, irony, and imagery, I should point out that Paul’s militant, triumphal imagery is metaphorical and paradoxical language.  The battle from which he hopes to emerge victorious is a spiritual battle, and the weapons that lead to triumph are faith, love, and prayer.  And the defeat of his enemies may well be that they are brought to their knees in homage to Paul’s Lord and become willing captives to him as Paul himself is.

If Paul’s greatest hopes were realized, and if we were able to see the event, we would not see a conquering hero–except through the eyes of faith.  We would see a little old man with scars on his body, dressed in well warn clothing, being unceremoniously released onto a dirty Roman street, perhaps to be greeted by a handful of friends.  But they would have the eyes of faith and would be quietly rejoicing in Paul’s triumph.

Linguistic Trivia–Translating τα σπλαγχνα

Meaghan Smith, an alumna of MCC and now working as an exegetical checker with an SIL Bible translation team in Ethiopia, was on campus today.  She spoke to my Greek class about issues in translation, and the words τα σπλάγχνα in particular in Philippians 1:8.  The words are mostly metaphorical for what we call “the heart” and refer to affection, sympathy and compassion, or other tender emotions.  That part is easy enough for translators.  In Philippians 1:8 it’s simply a matter of asking “How do speakers [of the target language] express that?

But we also got to thinking about the non-metaphorical use of the words.  Like our word “heart” ta splanchna literally refers to internal organs, but the question is “which organs?”  I have told my students (and you, gentle readers) that the splanchna are the organs above the diaphragm, i.e., the heart, liver, spleen, and so forth.  We looked it up in class this morning and found that according to Lowe and Nida, the splanchna are “the intestines.”  Have I been giving misinformation?

After class I went to TDNT and found that in classical usage the words do refer to the “nobler organs” (I find the quaint, almost Victorian expression interesting).  In fact, Homer refers to sacrifices in which the splanchna of sacrificial sheep are the heart, liver, and so forth which are cooked and eaten by the celebrants as part of the sacrificial ritual.

So maybe I was right after all?  But Lowe and Nida point to the one non-metaphorical usage in the NT, where Judas fell headlong and his splanchna burst out.  It seems more likely that the lower organs would be dislodged by a precipitous fall than the ones protected by the ribcage and held up by the diaphragm.

So now we have the question of synchronous or diachronous linguistics?  Well you have to go with the usage more contemporaneous with the source you are comparing–if there is enough evidence.  But I would still ask whether this one passage is enough synchronous evidence or not.  My one complaint about Lowe and Nida is that the lexicon does not cite any contemporary evidence outside the New Testament.

One other trivial issue.  A couple weeks ago Michael Halcomb was asking for onomatopoeic expressions in Greek.  I have always thought σπλάγχνα made an interesting sound, but I’m not quite sure it qualifies as onomatopoeia.  Did Judas’s noble or ignoble organs go SPLANCH! when he hit the rocks at the bottom of the cliff?

These questions are just curiosities, thought don’t really affect the meaning or translation of the passage in Philippians.  But I had a professor once who said you might learn something useful as a by-product of pursuing things not so obviously useful.

Next time I will return to more edifying thoughts–more honorable, pure, and noble themes–when I return to the Epistle to the Philippians.  In the meantime I’m interested in what some of my linguistically inclined friends think.  How would you translate σπλάγχνα?  Is it a good case of onomatopoeia?

Eleven Years Ago

I’ll get back to Philippians, but I thought I’d take a minute to reflect on the events of eleven years ago today.

We had just moved from Memphis back to Kansas.  I was in about my third week of teaching at Manhattan Christian College.  My son was still in Memphis and had been in an accident.  I had been on the phone with him that morning.  I didn’t have an early morning class that day, but we did have a chapel service at 10:00 AM.

I was driving an old beat up pickup at the time, which didn’t have a working radio.  My commute to work is 27 miles.  I enjoyed the scenery on my way in.

Sonja had taken a job traveling to different cities to work in her profession as a health information coding specialist.  She had been in Milwaukee the last three weeks, working a four-day work week and coming home on weekends–and it was not working out.  On Sunday evening she drove to her sister’s house in KCK, to go to the airport early Monday morning.

Monday afternoon she showed up back in Manhattan and said “I’ll explain later.”  She had an interview at Wamego City Hospital and accepted the job.

Meanwhile I arrived on campus a little before ten.  I went into our chapel and things seemed confused.  The college president, Ken Cable, was there and explained we would be dividing into prayer groups.  I still wasn’t sure what had happened.

I heard someone mention the Twin Towers.  I said, no that was five or six years ago, and the explosion was a failure–a car bomb in the parking garage.  There were a few people killed, which is tragic enough, but it didn’t bring down the towers, and I believe they arrested the bomber.

I eventually learned what had happened.  I stayed in the chapel and prayed for a few minutes, then wandered back to the faculty building where some of my colleagues were watching a television.  We saw the second airplane hit the building then.

At some point, I believe I must have talked with my dean and told him I needed to go back to Memphis because of a family emergency.  I went home and watched TV for a while, stunned.  Then got in my truck, filled up with gas, grateful that the local gas station had not raised the price, and headed down the road with a cheap transistor radio.  I remember thinking, “I’ve got a family emergency, I don’t have time for a national crisis.”  Not a rational thought, just part of my confusion.

The skies seemed eerily calm.  It was a clear day.  At some point I noticed trails in the sky from fighter jets patrolling from nearby Fort Riley.  At that moment it seemed comforting that they were protecting us.  And I was glad Sonja was home.  She would have been stranded in Milwaukee, was it three weeks before air travel resumed?

Philippians 1:12-18

1:12 But I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my circumstances have led rather to the progress of the Gospel.  Early followers of Jesus addressed one another as adelphoi, “brothers and sisters” because of the family bond they had through their common faith and life.  The practice is common in many religions and other movements where adherents share a common purpose.

It was common for Jews too to refer to each other using family language, both because of their common spiritual heritage and because of their ethnic bonds, but faith in Jesus transcended national and ethnic boundaries.  Family language is more than a metaphor among followers of Jesus, they are part of the family of God.

In Greek grammar, the masculine gender is used for groups that may include either gender; so adelphoi is appropriately translated “brothers and sisters.”  In this epistle we know by name two of the women included in the group of brothers and sisters, namely Euodia and Syntyche (4:2).

Verse 12 forms a transition from Paul’s description of his prayer to informing them of his circumstances, that is, his imprisonment.  Rather than what they might think, his confinement has served to advance the Gospel.

The message itself, is described in the imagery of an army waging peace, a progressive movement advancing toward victory.  The Gospel is the story of Jesus, his faithfulness to the father, his love displayed on Calvary, his victory over death, hatred, and sin, his power to create a new humanity who follow him in the way of peace and love.  The Gospel story and the transformation that follows in its wake, is being furthered by Paul’s sufferings, in two ways:

1:13     First, it has become obvious even in the capital city, even in the emperor’s inner circle that Paul is a prisoner for Christ.  They might never have heard of Christ or Paul had he not been brought to Rome as Caesar’s guest; or at least they would not have had accurate information.  It is true, there were Christians in Rome before Paul, and it is true that they had been attracting some attention.  Vigorous debates had been going on in Rome among Jews who followed Jesus as the Christ and Jews who did not.  The result was misinformation.

But God had come up with a plan to infiltrate Caesar’s elite Praetorian Guard.  Probably at least four teams of two guards were kept with Paul daily.  He may have been in chains; but they were a captive audience!  Under house arrest Paul had freedom to meet with other believers, members of the synagogue, or interested parties.  He had freedom to pray, read Scripture, dictate his letters, hold conversations—and the guards couldn’t help overhearing.

When they were alone with Paul, they may have asked questions.  The learned that Paul himself and his fellow Christians were honorable people, not criminals; their only crime was finding the meaning of life in Christ.  Further they learned the content of the Gospel.  At the end of the letter, Paul will drop a little surprise (4:22).

1:14 Second, The majority of fellow believers in Rome have gained courage from the inspiration of Paul’s strength during his imprisonment and have become far bolder in speaking the Word fearlessly.

The word they are speaking is the story of Jesus Christ, how he defeated sin, death, and hatred by enduring them on the cross and rising again, how he will come again to finish the work of transforming all creation into the place where God’s will is done on earth as in heaven, and how he empowers his followers through the Spirit of God to live a life that is a foretaste of and witness to the glory and victory that is to come.  The word is not yet written down in the four Gospels or any creed, but it has been summarized in creed-like confessions and hymns, and is contained in a recognized body of traditional teaching.

When they speak the word, they are not proselytizing, they are evangelizing.  That is they are not are not trying to convert people from one religious-ethnic identity to another; they are sharing the Good News of God’s transforming power.

1:15-16  Paul shares here the surprising news that some who are proclaiming Christ are doing so from corrupt motives, the motives of political ambition and personal rivalry.  They were Christians who envied the honor that others gave to Paul and the influence he had.  They saw his confinement as a chance to promote their own careers.

Of course for Paul apostleship was not rewarded with prestige or wealth (1 Cor 4:9-13), but others imagined they were contending on a Christian cursus honorum.  It’s not clear how they hoped to add stress to Paul’s bondage.  Maybe they claimed to preach only a “spiritual” Gospel with a Jesus who was no threat to Caesar’s lordly rule on earth—implying that Paul was in fact a threat to the public order?

Paul’s response is somewhat surprising given his vehement rejection elsewhere of those who preach “another Jesus” or a false Gospel (Gal 1:6-9 and Phil 3:2).  It may be that the essential message proclaimed by his enemies in Rome was correct; only their motives were suspect.

Paul was content to leave the judging of those up to God.  Maybe had he been free, he would have confronted them to their face; maybe he would have counseled them or prayed with them.  Lacking that freedom, he left it up to God.  In the meantime he would also commit the results of their preaching up to God and rejoice that the name of Christ is being proclaimed.

1:18     Of course, only a few were preaching the Good News from bad motives.  Most were sincere and motivated by love for Jesus and love for his apostle as well.  Paul had double reason to rejoice at this fact.

Philippians 1:2-11

1:2 Timothy joins Paul in a customary but genuine prayer for the Philippians to experience God’s grace and peace.  Grace is God’s love in action, empowering, uplifting, redeeming, and enabling us.  Peace is the state of harmony and well being that was God’s original intention for all his creation.  These blessings come from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who are inseparably linked together.

1:3-6 Paul now adds his own prayer, though Timothy of course would join in spirit and add his amen.  I thank my God at every memory of you, or “every time I remember you.”  Paul no doubt continued to observe the Jewish practice of having set hours of prayer every day, but he also “practiced the presence of God,” living his life in a continued awareness of God’s presence.  In this sense, it is possible to pray without ceasing, to pray with one’s eyes open, to pray short prayers specifically for others whenever you think of them.  Prayer for others is not a burden but a joy, and since we cross paths with so many others we can never run out of people to pray for.

When we pray for others, we are sometimes disappointed and we may wonder “What good does prayer do?”  Prayer is first of all a way of caring, a way of sharing someone else’s burden.  It is also true that sometimes surprising things happen when we pray.  Prayer is also a way of tuning our hearts to God.  As we become more experienced in prayer and walking with God our prayers will become more and more in line with God’s desires, and we should expect to see more and more of our prayers answered.

Paul is thankful for the community’s participation (koinoniain the Gospel from the first day until now.  Koinonia refers to the spiritual fellowship we have with each other and to the active participation and sharing in an activity.  When Paul first came to Philippi he received hospitality from Lydia and the jailor, and many other unnamed believers.  They had also contributed financially to Paul’s mission in other places and had continued that support in his imprisonment.  They had experienced the blessings that come from the Gospel.  They had shared the Good News with their neighbors and continued to do so in spite of opposition.  The Gospel is the news of what God has done for the world through Jesus Christ.  In Jesus Christ God had fulfilled the promises found in Isaiah:

You who bring good tidings to Zion . . . lift up your voice with a shout . . . say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!”  See the Sovereign LORD comes with power . . . He tends his flock like a shepherd (Is 40:9-11).

Paul had seen the evidence of God’s work in their hearts, and he was convinced that God would finish what he started and they would be found strong and faith on the day when Jesus Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, to renew the earth, uniting heaven and earth, to call the wicked to account, and to reward the faithful.

Salvation is God’s work, and God can be trusted to finish what he starts.  A Christian should never be presumptuous–God expects us to participate in what he is doing in our lives.  But we should never be anxious.  We have good reason to have confidence in God.  It is true that we can never see completely into another person’s heart, and that people often surprise and disappoint us.  But we can see on people’s faces and in their actions a consistency in spiritual growth (or lack thereof).  Paul had seen the reality of their faith and has good reason for confidence in them personally.

1:7 Therefore he adds, it is right for me to think this way for all of you because I have you in my heart.  Greek is often more precise than English, but in this case it is more ambiguous.

Paul uses an infinitive construction in which the subject and object both use the same grammatical form (the accusative), so the last clause could also be translated, “because you have me in your heart.”  A painfully literal translation would be “because of the to have me in the heart you.”

The immediately following context would support the translation “because you have me in your heart,” but recent research into the usage of infinitive clauses tends to support “because I have you in my heart” as the translation.  Both ideas are true, but Paul probably had one in mind.

Paul’s confidence in them is based on the personal relationship he has with them and the knowledge he has of their character.  They have been partners with him in the defense and confirmation of the Gospel as well as in his imprisonment.  The work of the Spirit of Christ in their lives manifested in “the fruit of righteousness” is the confirmation of the Gospel.  Their confession of faith and steadfast faithfulness is their participation in the defense of the Gospel.  The best apologetic is a believing community from whose lives flows the love of God.

1:8God is my witness” is an oath.  Paul evidently did not see this as a contradiction of Jesus’ words “let your yes be yes.”  Paul uses this kind of oath when he wants to express something strongly, sometimes when his motives or truthfulness has been challenged.  Here the physical separation caused by his imprisonment causes a frustration that leads Paul to say, “God is my witness how I long for all of you with the passionate affection of Christ.”  The Greek word splankhna, refers literally to the organs in the chest (lungs, spleen, liver, etc.) where emotion is deeply felt.  Metaphorically it conveys intense compassion or affection, so I have translated it “passionate affection.” Maybe “the passion of Christ” would convey the idea just as well.

Bible translators tell amusing stories about where in the anatomy emotions are perceived to be experienced in different cultures.  Some peoples say “I love you with my kidneys,” for example.  (The expression found in the KJV certainly is not help for today’s readers.)

1:9-11  Paul summarizes his personal prayer for them:

  1. that your love may overflow more and more.  Here agape expresses a deep concern for the well being of other people, their spiritual as well as physical well being, now and into eternity, that unconditionally seeks their best interest, while respecting their integrity as free and responsible individuals.  Believers are commanded and empowered to love one another and to love their enemies with this kind of Christ-like love.
  2. in all knowledge and ethical sensitivity.  The word aisthesis (whence the English aesthetic) indicates perception, insight, and moral sensibility.
    • A rabbi dealing with an ethical issue today illustrates this kind of sensitivity with a parable: “A woman comes to me with a question about a chicken).  I ask her to tell me about her life, her family . . . ”  What he means is that he will not apply a cookie-cuter ruling to everyone.  It depends on the need of her family and her financial resources.  If they are a poor family, rather than letting the children go hungry, the rabbi will find a way to make the chicken kosher.  If she is wealthy he will say, “just buy another chicken.”
    • The teaching in the Bible is written to help us form this kind of ethical sensitivity.  It is not to give us dueling verses or a weapon to bash people over the head with.
  3. so that you will think critically and make the best decisions,
    • The verb dokimazo means examine, test, prove, or approve; ta diaphoranta the things that are distinguished, excellent, preferred.  In the context of “knowledge and ethical sensitivity” Paul is referring to critical thinking and learning from experience.
    • Love that overflows needs to be guided by wisdom, knowledge, experience, and critical thinking to produce results that really benefit the ones loved.
  4. and so you will be pure and blameless in the day of Christ,
    • Clear thinking and wisdom that comes from experience will also help followers of Christ examine their own motives and actions so they can avoid self-deception and falling into harmful patterns of behavior.
    • On the day Christ is revealed to the world, there will be no partiality: regardless of religion and nationality every person will be held accountable for the life he or she has lived.  All will have to answer how they have responded to the gifts and opportunities they have been given and to the needs they have faced or avoided.
    • Those who turn to God and seek forgiveness can be assured of receiving it.  However, we would hope to have more to show on the day of judgment than a blank slate.  How have we treated those considered “least” by the world but “brothers or sisters” by Jesus?  Have we loved God with pure hearts?
    • There is a paradox here, of course.  Those who do the right thing from pure motives will be rewarded: but having pure motives means not seeking a reward.
  5. filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ and returns to the glory and praise of God.
    • Through faith we are united to Christ and his righteousness becomes ours.  We are “counted righteous” by God and, as we become aware of the presence of Christ in our lives, we become more righteous in our motives and behavior.
    • The fruit of righteousness is the natural outgrowth of a relationship with God.  It consists of qualities such as “love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, gentleness,” the renunciation of violence or revenge, seeking to live at peace with all people, and similar Christ-like behaviors, attitudes, and commitments.  See Rom 12:9-21; 14:17-18; Gal 5:22-23.
    • God is glorified when hurting people are healed, when those who are lost are found; when people find wholeness and salvation through a relationship of faith and love with God through Jesus Christ, when children, women, and men understand and respond to God’s love for them.

“Not Even Wrong” is an expression Christopher Hitchens was fond of.  I believe the original expression was “not even false.”  The idea comes first from analytic philosophy, according to which some statements are true, others are false, and others are merely nonsensical.  This idea was taken over into science where it led to the idea that a theory must be testable and, at least in principle, “falsifiable.”  If there is no way a theory could be tested and produce a result that is either true or false, it is “not even false,” it is a worthless theory.

In this sense, two ideas commonly asserted by the aggressive atheists of this new millennium are not even false.

  1. The first is the idea that faith and reason are irreconcilable opposites, that faith requires one to leave his shoes and his mind at the door.  In fact faith requires critical thinking.  I don’t want to promote stereotypes, even positive ones, but everyone knows Jews have been disproportionately overachievers in academics.  Could it be because centuries of debate over the meaning of the commandments in the Torah have created a culture of critical thinking?  Could it be that teaching that study (even secular study) is an act of devotion to God have created a climate that values the intellect?
  2. The second is the idea that Christians serve God out of cringing fearor for base motives of a future reward, that they live a life of drudgery mindlessly following rules and regulations first formulated in the bronze age.  This total misunderstanding of the motivation for Christian behavior so misses the point that it is not even wrong, it is not even close to reality.
    • Unfortunately there are Christians who share the above misunderstandings.  Religion in general does poison nearly everything, it constantly distorts the reality of the relationship God desires to have with us.  From Genesis to Revelation, the prophets and apostles of God fight against religion as it is actually practiced by most of mankind in their day, including those who understand themselves to be the people of God.