Philippians 1:1

1  Timothy joins Paul in wishing grace and peace to the Christ followers in Philippi.  Timothy is not a co-author (Paul uses the 1st person singular throughout the Epistle and will speak later of Timothy in the 3rd person), but he is a witness and vouches for Paul’s authority and the authenticity of the letter.  He is also a role model for the Philippians (2:19-24) and will be a personal delegate from Paul to them.

Paul and Timothy are servants of Christ Jesus (douloi Christou Iesou), a phrase modeled after the Old Testament expression eved YHWH, which is a position of great honor.  They willingly acknowledge owing their lives to Christ and being owned by him “in whose service is perfect freedom” and therefore though they are servants to all they can never become slaves of men.

In Galatians 3:26-4:7 Paul explains why the word “slave” is inadequate to describe our relationship with God.  Jesus also taught that we are “no longer slaves but friends.”  We are heirs and friends having a freedom and authority that slaves could never dream of–this applies to those who are slaves “according to the flesh,” in their earthly, worldly status.

The believers are saints (hagioi, holy people) because they have been claimed by God through Jesus Christ for his own purposes.  Their lives are dedicated to God and their behavior is becoming more holy and righteous day by day. To us sainthood or holiness sounds other-worldly, but to become holy really means becoming authentically human, becoming all we were meant to be, being whole and upright, and wholly motivated by love.  It is holy to embrace the joys of life with enthusiasm and zest; it is also holy to fully experience grief and pain, and to share both experiences, joy and pain with others.

The word hagioi also points to future victory: the saints will come again with Christ when he establishes his kingdom and will reign with him.

At the coming of Christ the righteous dead will be raised and given glorified bodies, and the faithful living on earth will receive glorified bodies and will be visibly “raptured” briefly, caught up in the air to meet Christ as he descends, and then get in line behind him as he returns to the earth in victory, where he will be recognized by all who have ever lived.  The imagery of the second coming of Christ “with his saints” is derived from Daniel’s vision and is expressed in the imagery of a Roman conquering hero’s victory parade.  (See Dan 7:25-27, Jude 14, 1 Thess 5:14-17.)

There is no evidence in the Bible for a “secret rapture” of the saints before a great tribulation on the earth.

Of course the saints will not just sit around in the meantime waiting to escape from the world.  They are called to be a Holy Nation, God’s people on earth who experience and demonstrate the reality of his kingdom here and now.  They live at peace with one another in the presence of God, praying for their enemies, showing compassion to the poor, the lonely, the needy, healing the sick, driving out destructive forces that keep God’s creation from flourishing as the creator intended.  (See Ex 19:5-6, 1 Pet 2:9, Eph 3:10, Matt 10:1, Luke 4:18-19.)

God’s holy people are elsewhere called by a name derived from Athenian democracy, ekklesia (usually translated church) the assembly of free citizens who have an equal right of free speech (parrhesia in Greek).  Each believer has spiritual authority and freedom, and the assembly decides local issues by discussion and consensus, voting or other democratic procedures.  The believers form an egalitarian community (Matt 23:8-12, Gal 3:28).  Paul’s letter is addressed to them, to all the saints; but the saints do have leaders and the leaders are not excluded.

Paul greets the saints with the bishops and deacons.  The English word “bishop” actually comes from the Greek word episkopos.  Drop the initial vowel and the ending, then change the initial /p/ to it’s voiced equivalent /b/, and after fifteen hundred years or so, you get bishop.  The original Greek episkopos, however, did not originally refer to a powerful office (like the chess piece) but to a function of leadership and care giving.  A bishop was one who oversaw or looked after others.

Other evidence from the New Testament indicates that the terms “elders” and “bishops” (presbyteroi and episkopoi) were either synonymous or overlapping.  Those with wisdom and experience in living godly lives were respected as elders, and the elders were appointed to the function of overseers.  In the New Testament, that is in the first century, there was always a group of elders in each church.

By the early second century a distinction was made between the bishop (singular) and the council of elders (still plural), in each church, with the bishop serving in a role identical to that of “pastor” in a local church today.  By the third and fourth centuries, the bishop was the leader of the largest church in a city, then in a region, and exercised authority over all the churches in his region.  By the sixth century the bishop of Rome had claimed to be the “first among equals” over the bishops of the other great cities such as Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople.

But in the early church, the term episkopos did not refer to a hierarchical authoritarian office.  The overseers of the congregation provided spiritual care for individuals and families, looked after the sick and needy, taught the congregation and led worship, and helped direct the overall administration of the local church as the members sought to please God and reach out more effectively among their neighbors.

We know that the twelve apostles were men, although women played a prominent role in the ministry of Jesus and were in fact the first to preach the Gospel of the Risen Christ to the apostles.  We know that the bishops whose names were recorded in the second centuries and beyond were men.  But Gordon Fee and others have pointed out that there may have been women in the earliest church who exercised the role of providing spiritual care and direction.  Fee mentions Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians 4:2 and Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2.

Phoebe is described as a diakonos and a prostatis, the latter term having a meaning similar to that of episkopos, one who “stands before” another, giving aid, spiritual or physical care, or leadership and direction.  We know from 1 Cor 11 and 14 that women exercised the function of speaking “for the edification, encouragement, and instruction” of the church, a function described as “prophesying.”

Any group, no matter how egalitarian, needs leadership, guidance, and support.  Leadership in the early church arose in at least three forms:

1) Spiritual maturity and wisdom was recognized, and elders possessing such qualities were appointed to offices called “elder” or “bishop.”

2) Charismatic gifts gave individuals the ability to exercise various roles, including speaking, teaching, and leadership roles.  These gifts were recognized and evaluated by other believers.

3)  Persons who were prominent in the larger (civic) community had means, including houses large enough to host the church, and influence, such as connections with city leaders to provide some protection, legitimacy, and support to the church.  These persons provided a kind of natural leadership in the churches.

Over time no doubt some of these roles faded, some merged, and occasionally there was some conflict among them.

Deacons were servants in the church who took care of the poor, but also became ministers of the word of God.  The Greek word diakonos originally referred to a waiter or server, who served meals in a private home.  The original idea is one who “waits on a table.”  But then bankers also had tables, so sometimes financial managers were called diakonoi.  Those who served the congregation by feeding their souls, bringing them the bread of life, were also called diakonoi.

It seems the first deacons are those described in Acts 6, young men full of the Spirit, of wisdom, and of faith, who were chosen to deliver meals to the widows in the growing Jerusalem congregation.  They no doubt prayed with them, listened to them, encouraged them and were encouraged by them, and grew in their faith as a result.  The first deacons named went on to become ministers of the word and evangelists, including the first martyr Stephen.

The Greek word diakonos (plural diakonoi) gramatically is of common gender, the same form applies to masculine and feminine nouns.  Phoebe is called a diakonos of the church at Cenchrea.

One reason the bishops and deacons are mentioned could be that they were officially in charge of collecting, managing, and sending the offering to Paul.

Introduction to Philippians

Paul wrote his letter to the church at Philippi for three main reasons:

  1. As a Newsletter to inform them about his circumstances and his decision to send Epaphroditus back to them.
  2. As a Pastoral Letter to encourage them to be strong in their faith in spite of opposition, to have confidence that Paul is in God’s hands and whatever happens will advance the cause of Christ, to be united by being humble and thinking of others.
  3. As a Thank-you letter for a gift they sent him.

The most likely setting is the house arrest in Rome, as described in Acts 28.  Paul is under constant guard by Roman soldiers, but he is free to receive guests.  In this way Paul continues his ministry of teaching and writing letters.  He also has a unique opportunity to share the Gospel with Caesar’s Imperial guard.

Philippi is on the main highway going east from Rome, about 800 miles. Despite the distance, there was evidently quite a bit of communication back and forth between Paul and the community of believers.  The church at Philippi sent Epaphroditus to deliver a financial contribution to Paul’s ministry and to stay and serve as his personal attendant.  His duties would include doing mundane things like going into town to buy groceries for Paul, paying the rent on Paul’s house, arranging meetings with church leaders in Rome, and helping Paul in other ways.

When Epaphroditus arrived he brought Paul news of the congregation back in Philippi.  The news was mostly positive, but Paul learned of a few problems: There were some quarrels among members, in particular two women named Euodia and Syntyche.  There was also anxiety about Paul’s fate and also some concern for their own future if their founder was to be condemned as a criminal.  They were also experiencing some opposition from their neighbors.

Epaphroditus became seriously ill while with Paul.  When the church back home heard about it they became anxious for him.  When he learned of their concern it broke his heart.  Paul prayed for him, and God graciously healed him, but now Epaphroditus was now desperately homesick so Paul made the decision to send him home, bearing Paul’s letter in his hand.

Paul’s mission to Philippi is described in Acts 16.  There were evidently fewer than 10 Jewish men living there when Paul arrived.  Women played a prominent role in the society of Macedonia (the region of which Philippi was the most important city).  Women formed the core of the church and continued to have leadership roles in the church.  A girl whom Jesus delivered from demon possession through Paul’s ministry, Lydia, a wealthy business woman, and the Philippian jailor’s family are the first people described in Acts as becoming followers of Jesus.

The city of Philippi was founded by Philip, king of Macedon and father of Alexander.  Later it became a Roman Colony and was settled by retired Roman soldiers.  Influenced by their soldier neighbors, the people of the city were strong, independent, ambitious, and patriotic.  Emperor worship and recognition of the gods of Rome would be a part of civic life in the city, creating tension between the Christ followers in the city and their neighbors.

The letter was preserved by the early church because of Paul’s importance as the Apostle to the Gentiles; and so it was incorporated into the New Testament Canon.  Although it was written to one specific church, it has significance for followers of Christ at all times and places.

Philippians is one of the most positive and joyful letters in the Bible.  It doesn’t teach positive thinking in general, but confidence in Christ.  It is not wishful thinking, it recognizes suffering and opposition but also expresses confidence based on what Christ has already accomplished and on what he has in store for those who love him.

In Philippians we see Paul’s personal devotion to Jesus Christ and Paul’s Christology.  Jesus is the one who left a position of equality with God to become a servant and die for us on the Cross.  He is also the one who was exalted and given the “Name above every name” and the one to whom every knee will bow.  For Paul he is the meaning of life and the hope beyond death.

As Christians live out their life of faith and gratitude to Christ they experience confidence through facing opposition, they experience fellowship with Christ through suffering, and are daily filled with joy.

Notes on Philippians

I haven’t been too active lately on this blog, but I decided to get back into it by posting my notes on Philippians, which I hope to begin doing tomorrow. I’ve started several projects that I’ve never finished–I’ve kept them on the back burner though, and someday I will get back to it–due to interference from my day job. But this time I think I will complete the project, because I’m doing it for a class I’m teaching this semester and have to keep up.

It will be something in between a full-scale commentary and random notes. I have a few insights and opinions on the epistle that I think may be helpful to others. Anyway, it is helping me to clarify my understanding of this little jewel of an ancient Christian letter.

WFPS 2012

Religion on the American Frontier, 1801-1901.

The Western Fellowship of Professors and Scholars will explore

the theme of New Religious Movements in the 19th century.  Several colorful and novel religious movements sprung up in America as the country was expanding westward; some promoting new revelations and new practices, and others claiming to return to primitive patterns and teachings.

What was it about this period of history that produced diverse groups such as Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, Disciples of Christ and churches of Christ, and Pentecostals?

The WFPS will meet in Manhattan, Kansas, October 19-20, 2012.  Stay tuned for further announcements, and watch your mailbox and email for an official call for papers.

Religious Cults

There are cults in religion too. The word cult comes from the same Latin root that brings us culture and cultivate. The Romans cultivated both their fields and their gods.
In religious studies the words “cultus, cultic, cult” refer to formal rituals or acts of worship. All religions have cultic aspects, in this sense of the word. Ritual movements, words, and the handling of sacred objects, among other things, make up the cultus of a religion.
Practitioners of a religion believe they achieve some sort of contact with the divine, sacred, or transcendent during the enactment of the cult. Outsiders might call it magical thinking. In a catholic or orthodox liturgy the “cultic” elements (in the academic sense) are obvious: sacred vestments, incense, and the transformation of ordinary bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
In pentecostal church services believers speak in heavenly languages and receive divine healing. In a baptist service lost sinners recite a sinner’s prayer and are born again, transformed forever by the power of God.
When I was a student, back in the seventies, the word “cult” was being used in the sense of a new, unorthodox, and dangerous religion. The primary emphasis was on the deviant beliefs and practices of these religious cults.
In the nineteenth century, several new religions emerged in America as the young country was expanding westward: Christian Science, the Watchtower Society of Jehovah’s Witnesses, various Mormon sects, and Seventh Day Adventists sprung up. These were groups that were usually considered cults back when I was a student. They had in common the complete rejection of traditional Christianity and new revelations and sources of authority.
But in the 1970s and ’80s we began to become aware of newer religious cults, many of them splitting off not from Christianity but from Eastern religions. People became more concerned about the sociology of these groups than their theology.
Cults became religious groups that exerted extreme control over their members. The greatest fear of parents of college-age students was that their kids would fall victim to a cult.
The most gruesome example of the extreme social control practiced by cults was mass suicide of the followers of Jim Jones in Jonestown, Guyana.

. . . more to come

Concluding Thoughts on Learning Ancient Languages

One of my students this morning asked if I knew where we could get a flux capacitor.  If we had one, we could build a time machine and transport ourselves back in time and learn Greek by immersion in the language and culture.  Barring that, we could go to Greece for a six-week summer language immersion program and we would be speaking real Greek.

I think that would help quite a bit.  We would be internalizing the language and building vocabulary.  It still wouldn’t be ancient Greek; there would still be a lot to learn if we wanted to read Paul or Plato.  Ideally, we could spend a couple of years mastering the modern language and then enroll in a classics program at a University in Athens or Thessaloniki.

Lacking a time machine or the funds to live in Greece several years, the old fashioned text book approach to learning grammar and vocabulary will get you there.  I have decided in my teaching of Greek to use all the help I can find, to try creative things like conversations, drama, role playing, games, etc.  Someday I will bring some Greek food to class, blindfold students, and have them name each item in Greek based on taste.

But it still comes down to this: the goal of most of us who study ancient languages is not to communicate with ancient people but to analyze ancient texts.  For that reason, we can’t get away from learning grammar.

If I were able to become proficient in communicating in ancient Greek I would succeed in creating my own style.  I don’t know if that would help me or anyone else who wanted to study ancient literary or documentary texts.

I had a class in “Latin Prose Composition.”  When I thought I was getting pretty good, my professor told me my style was too poetic.  Well, I had been studying Latin poetry but not so much prose.  My professor was right, of course.

I have found that each ancient author has his or her style and it takes quite a bit of effort to get used to a new author.  Without developing good analytical skills that can be an insurmountable challenge.

So I probably won’t be joining the ancient Greek conversation cult.

Another Cult

The cult that is currently trying to draw me in is the cult of speakers of ancient languages. They don’t just study ancient Greek, they have conversations in it and argue over how it should be pronounced.

I first became susceptible to the thinking of this group nearly thirty years ago. I was learning two languages at the same time: biblical Hebrew and German.

In fact, I was in my second semester of Hebrew when I started my German class, and about six weeks into the German class I felt more confident in that language than in Hebrew.  If someone asked me to say something in German I could blurt out, Guten Tag! or Wie Geht’s.  If asked to say something in Hebrew, I might mutter, bereshith bara or something like that.

So I thought to myself, what if we could reconstruct ancient Hebrew conversation and learn the language conversationally?

A couple years later I found myself in a graduate program in classics and started asking the same questions.  Since the dialogues of Plato were already conversations, I thought, they might be a great place to start.

Then I found out it wasn’t a new idea, in fact, folks had already been doing it with Latin.  Not only had it been done, but up until just a year or two previous it had been done at my university.  They taught Latin conversationally and continued their Latin conversations outside of class.

The program had been discontinued because the university officials thought it was becoming a cult!  The students began to imagine they were medieval monks living in medieval monasteries, and evidently some of the students had evidently converted to medieval Christianity, and the university was threatened with lawsuits for advocating a particular religion.  All this I learned through the grapevine.

Soon after learning about this I found myself teaching Latin, strictly by the book, not by immersing myself and my students in Latin conversation.  I had a few students in the class who had learned Latin via vocis viventis by the conversational method.  I was impressed with them the first few weeks.  Their pronunciation was excellent and they had a pretty good head start.  But I also noticed that by the sixth or seventh week of college Latin they had reached the limits of their high school students, and from then on no one had an unfair advantage.

More to come . . .

My Experience with Cults

I came out a while back on Facebook and admitted to belonging to a cult.

My kids suspected it almost twenty years ago when I started wearing lycra cycling shorts, which back then had a chamois pad made from real leather, by the way.  When I built my new bike this summer and found a killer deal on the top-of-the-line, Campagnolo  Super Record carbon crankset with ceramic ultimate level technology bearings that spin in Cronitecht steel races, I realized there was no need to hide it any more, no covering it up with black tape.

I have joined the Campy Cult.

(By the way, google “campy cult” and you are likely to get “Rocky Horror Show, campy cult classic.)

Campy Crank

Ceramic Ultimate Level Technology

I admit it’s a bit ridiculous for me to have elite racing equipment on my bike.  Kind of like Danny DiVito thinking if he wears the same shoes as Michael Jordan he can beat him in a slam dunk contest.

Bicycling Magazine in the current issue (December 2011) has a great article on the Campagnolo company, one of the last hold outs against the pressures of globalization.  While everyone else is chasing cheap labor and outsourcing production to the far east, the family owned company continues to use highly skilled, well-paid craftsman in Vincenza, Italy.

It used to be that nearly every rider in the Tour de France–always the winners– used Campagnolo components.  But that changed with Lance Armstrong.  Never faithful to the women in his life, he was steadfastly monogamous in his loyalty to his sponsors.  Shimano parts worked well enough for him to win seven championships.

When Campy first came out with a ten-speed set of rear sprockets, Lance continued to win with only nine cogs in the rear and waited patiently for Shimano to introduce their own ten-speed cassette.  We devotees of the classic Italian components concede that Lance was just that good–he was able to win on inferior equipment (with one gear tied behind his back, you might say).

We just hope the company survives the coming economic Armageddon in Italy.  As one cycling legend said in the Bicycling article, “I’d rather walk than ride anything else.”

I’ll be back in a day or two with a report on the other cult I’m in danger of being drawn into . . .

Banned in Missouri

Kurt Vonnegut from http://www.alternativereel.com/includes/top-ten/display_review.php?id=00088
Click on image for more Kurt Vonnegut quotations.
  • I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee.
  • I have also told them not to work for companies which make massacre machinery, and to express contempt for people who think we need machinery like that.

Are those thoughts contrary to the teaching of the Bible, or more specifically the teaching and practice of Jesus?  Evidently a school board in Republic, Missouri thought so and removed the book Slaughterhouse Five from the high school curriculum.

It’s been a while since I read the book.  I suppose there was some profanity in the language of some of the characters.  I don’t particularly like that and I tend to tune it out.  But that’s not what I remember about the book.  Slaughter House Five is one of the great anti-war books of recent times, one that makes us question our righteousness even in the one war we consider just, noble, and necessary.

My cousin read the book his senior year in high school, just before embarking on a career in the air force.  He thought it was a great book.  The questions raised by Vonnegut didn’t stop him from serving his country.  I think everyone who is going into the military should read the book.

The Greatest Invention of the Twentieth Century is . . .

In my humble opinion, the greatest invention of the twentieth century was the bicycle derailleur shifting system.

This invention made the bicycle a realistic mode of transportation in a variety of terrains.

Average people with a few weeks of practice can travel on a modern multi-speed bicycle on moderately hills roads at an average speed of around 13 miles per hour.  With improved fitness a normal adult can average 15 miles per hour.  This makes daily commutes of 7-10 miles realistic.

Of course elite athletes race up steep mountains at speeds over 20 miles per hour, and they descend the other side of the mountain at 50 mph or more.

Before the derailleur was allowed in the Tour de France in 1938, racers had two gears, one on each side of the rear wheel.  Just before entering a mountain stage, for example, they could pull over, remove the rear wheel and flip it around.  In those days riders didn’t have support teams.  They had to carry tools and supplies in their pockets with spare tires slung over their shoulders.

Tullio Campagnolo invented the quick release in 1927 after frozen fingers prevented him from turning the wing nuts to release his wheel so he could flip it around.  He went on to found a bicycle parts company that eventually perfected (though they did not invent) the derailleur.  The device itself began to appear as early as 1905.  Its predecessors included complex systems of levers and pulleys.

The bicycle was invented early in the 1800s.  Hundreds of bicycle companies rose up in the United States.  By 1900 there were two large patent offices in the nation’s capital.  One was for bicycle inventions, the other was for everything else.

Susan B. Anthony once said,

The bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything else.

The bicycle could also do a lot to emancipate us from dependence on oil.  The author’s of the book Bicycle Science estimate that a human powered by the equivalent number of calories in a gallon of gasoline could travel about 1000 miles.  Or, drinking milk instead of gasoline (remember milk is over 90% water) a rider could go about 99 miles.  If riders neglected to replenish all those calories, cycling could also help liberate us from the plague of obesity and diabetes.

Sources:

Jim Langley, Campy Only, Pedaling History.

Peck to Sponsor Fair Trade Bill

Representative Peck has introduced a bill to ban any government agencies, including vending machines in the capital building, from purchasing Hershey’s products until the company pledges to oppose child labor and engage in fair trade practices.  Chris Kobach is cosponsor, and Governor Brownback has pledged to sign the bill as soon as it reaches his desk.

More Information here.

Cloning Scandal in Kansas

NCAA officials are

investigating reports

that the University

of Kansas used cloned athletes to win the Big-12 Championship and advance to the “elite 8.”

A reporter searching the high school records for  Marcus and Markief Morris, the famed “Morris twins,” revealed a surprising fact: There is no record of Marcus or Markief attending high school.  Instead there was only one name–Mark Morris.

Anonymous sources from the university of Kansas Medical School mention suspicious cloning activity around the years 2004-2008.

A spokesman for coach Bill Self says the Jayhawks “deny the allegation and defy the alligator.”  Further, coach Self adds, even if it were true it violates no rule.

We have the original rules, written by coach Naismith himself.  There is no prohibition of using cloned athletes.

Meanwhile, there are also reports of suspicious activity in the genetics lab at Kansas State University.

Coach Frank Martin has been quoted as saying,

KU obviously had an unfair advantage with two Morrises.  If we had two Jacob Pullens, we would have been unstoppable.

Holy Ignorance?

Thanks to Joe for the tip on a new book, Holy Ignorance, reviewed here.

What is heresy?

Strictly speaking, a heretic is one who causes divisions in the church by teaching an aberrant doctrine in an attempt to draw followers after himself.  A person who privately holds some views or entertains discussions on issue not considered orthodox is not a heretic until he becomes divisive about it.

What is heresy? One definition would be a doctrine that has been condemned by a council.  The Fifth Ecumenical Council is often thought to be a condemnation of universalism, because it condemns the teachings of Origen by name.  But the specific issue was Origen’s belief in the preexistence of souls; it was his belief that these souls would be restored to their original state that was condemned by the council.

The Council never condemned universalism universally, in all its forms.  The Council never mentioned Gregory of Nyssa who taught a form of universalism but whose theology was otherwise orthodox.  In fact Gregory is still considered on of the greatest fathers of the church.  (See Robin Parry’s discussion)

On the other hand, the council of Orange specifically condemned the teaching that God predestines anyone to evil:

We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema.

Historians say this statement was specifically directed toward those who teach “double predestination,” i.e., the belief that some have been ordained by God to reject his grace.  They of course did not condemn Augustine by name even though many believed this was implied by his teachings.  Otherwise the council of Orange fully supported Augustine against Pelagius.

Still, by the standard of church councils, we have to admit that universalism per se has never been condemned as heresy, but the doctrine that often passes by the name of Reformed theology has been given the official anathema.

Ernest Tubb, Hank Jr., and others had a country song a few years back, “I Guess We Should Have Left Him Alone and Let Him Sing His Song.”  One line keeps ringing in my mind (it sounds better when I can hear the tune),

If we don’t like the way he sings, who’s gonna cast the first stone?

Bell’s Hell

I suspect that Rob Bell’s new book will prove more subtle than MacArthur’s.

Maybe it doesn’t take much of a prophet to say that.

Here’s what I am betting Rob actually will say, in his book Love Wins.  I take a clue from a book by my former teacher, Lynn Gardner.  In Commending and Defending Christian Faith, he summarizes St. Augustine’s views on the final destiny of each of us:

In the end of time God will give people what they love most–sharing his presence or eternal separation from him.

In this way of thinking, it is possible that “love wins” could mean hell is an option for those who prefer to live without God.

This was also Dante’s view.  In his inscription on the gates of Hell one reads,

Primal love made me.

G. K. Chesterton said hell is a tribute to the dignity of man.  C.S. Lewis summarized this view, saying there are some who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and some to whom God will say, “Thy will be done.”

What these ways of thinking about hell have in common is that they see it not as an arbitrary punishment but as the consequence of God giving humans free choice.  In Dante’s vision of Hell the choice of sin and the punishment of sin are the same thing.

God loves us enough to let us have our choices and to let our choices be meaningful.

I think something like this is what Rob Bell will present as one possible option of what hell could mean.  I think he may well present as another possible option the real possibility that love really will win. God will find a way to reach every human being with his love and bring even the most hardened sinner to repentance, reconciliation, and redemption.

Hell, a place of punishment, could be a means to bring about this change of heart on the place of hardened sinners.  This was hinted at by many of the Eastern fathers.  The Scottish author George MacDonald, who so greatly influenced C.S. Lewis,  said,

God will not conquer evil by crushing it under-foot-any god of man’s idea could do that-but by conquest of heart over heart, of life over life, of life over death, of love over all.

I believe that no hell will be lacking which would help the just mercy of God to redeem his children (more here).

The great biblical commentator William Barclay agreed with his fellow Scotsman.  He cites the  Greek fathers Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, and refers to several passages in the New Testament (more here).

I think Rob will say there are a variety of options for understanding the final outcome that are compatible with the teaching of Scripture and the character of God.  I think he will say none of us can know for certain and humility behooves us.  What we do know is that we can trust God to have a solution that is consistent with his wisdom, power, and love.

I like what Scot McKnight said,

If there is an eternity, and I believe there is, and if there is a judgment, and I believe there is, then let us keep the immensity and gravity of it all in mind and refrain from flippancy, gloating, triumphalism — and let it reduce us to sobriety and humility and prayer (Jesus Creed).

[For a review from someone “who actually read the book,” check out Greg Boyd.]

Are You a Slave to Jesus?

Christians have always understood the paradox: in the service of God is perfect freedom.  John MacArthur’s sermon and promo for his book Slave doesn’t seem to appreciate subtleties like paradox.  He recognizes that the δοῦλος – κύριος metaphor is a metaphor; but he doesn’t seem to recognize that it is an inadequate ultimately judged inadequate by Jesus and Paul.

A twenty-minute check in the library confirmed that MacArthurs conclusions after three years of intensive study are basically valid–on the literal level and with one important exception.

Two standard Greek reference sources, Kittle’s famous Theological Dictionary and Bauer’s lexicon as edited by Danker in the third edition.  Both agree that δοῦλος basically means “slave.”  Both of these sources also agree that in Greek culture the whole idea of slavery was degrading, whereas in the middle eastern world of great empires, the kings ministers were called “slaves” or “servants.”  In that context, it was considered an honor to be the δοῦλος of a great king.

This concept was transferred in the Hebrew Bible to the privileged servants of the Lord: Abraham, Moses and the prophets.  The Lord keeps his servants in a special relationship to himself:

Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?  (Numbers 12:6-8)

Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets (Amos 3:7).

It is in this sense that Paul applies the term δοῦλος to himself and other members of the apostolic team; other Christians he normally calls brothers and sisters.  The expression paradoxically implies humility and service on one hand, but honor and authority on the other hand.

Jesus and Paul both recognize the inadequacy of the expression δοῦλος to convey our relationship with God.  Jesus said,

I no longer call you servants . . . Instead, I have called you my friends (John 15:15).

In the epistle to the Galatians, Paul compares the relationship slaves to heirs.  The whole point of Galatians is to reject the imagery of slavery in favor of the mature and free relationship that adult children have with their father.  Galatians is the magna charta of Christian liberty and the manifesto of the Reformation.

Because you are sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts . . . so you are no longer a slave, but a son or daughter  (Galatians 4:6)

The Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother    . . . we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman (Galatians 4:26,31).

Does Jesus Own Slaves?

In John MacArthur’s sermon on the subject of his new book, he announced an amazing discovery: English translators of the Bible, going back to the authors of the King James Version have perpetrated a massive fraud on the reading public.

The Greek word δοῦλος (doulos) means slave, not servant.  Jesus doesn’t have servants, he only has slaves.  We, as slaves of Jesus have no rights at all.

Disclaimer: Since I haven’t read the book yet, I will admit it may be more nuanced.  I am here responding to a thirty-minute sermon.  You can see his You Tube introduction here where he claims “I uncovered a distortion of truth . . .”  He even calls it a “conspiracy.”

I am teaching a class on “Interpretation” this semester.  The class deals with the proper linguistic, historical, and theological interpretation of the Bible.  We use a textbook that is well accepted by evangelical Christians: Grasping God’s Word by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays (Zondervan).

Here are three points from the book, which could be illustrated in any textbook on the subject.

1.  Words do not have one inflexible meaning, but a range of meanings depending on context.  It is not possible to translate a Greek or Hebrew word always with the same English word.  (Think of the English word “pass” in these contexts: at the dinner table, on the football field, when driving a car, and when taking an exam.)

2.  We have to understand words and passages in the Bible against their historical, cultural, and social context.  We have to take a journey back into the ancient and strange world of the Bible and understand the text in its own world before we can understand its meaning for us.

3.  We have to read the Bible theologically, in light of the bigger picture of what it says about God and his ways and purposes and our relationship to God.  In particular, when understanding metaphorical language we have to compare various metaphors to get a total picture.

(updated 3/16/2011)

Reviewing Books I Haven’t Read

I’m going to “review” a couple books I haven’t read yet–or rather I’m going to comment on the main idea of a couple of new books, based on the authors’ presentations elsewhere of the contents of their books.

I heard a sermon by John MacArthur last week on the radio driving home after a visit with the grandchildren on the theme of his new book Slave; I assume his own words are a fair representation of his views and a fair summary of the conclusions he reached in his book.  If you missed the sermon last week, you can see a You Tube promo for the book by MacArthur himself.

I tell my students, if they are going to review a book they should actually read it.  So I won’t call this a review.  I will call it a presentation of my on thoughts on the same topic.

The other book is not out yet–Rob Bell’s Love Wins on Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever LivedRob Bell also has a You Tube Promo of this new book.  Many people have already judged the book, some favorably, others with condemnation.  A pastor in Minnesota dismissed the book and its author with a tweet, “Farewell, Rob Bell.”  (More here)

I am going to try something even bolder than reviewing a book without actually reading it–I’m going to predict what the author’s conclusion is.

But right now I have to go teach hermeneutics to my students.

My Experience as a Union Member II

I was trained as a minister, not a profession highly represented by labor unions.  For various reasons, in the mid-1980s I decided to spend a few years working with my hands while I raised my family and learned a little more about life.

I got a job with Eastern Airlines which had just expanded its hub in Kansas City, MO.  A daily commute of about 40 miles each way made it possible to continue living in a small town without disrupting our children’s lives.  I joined the union as a condition of employment.  Missouri did not have regulations banning exclusive contracts.  Harry Truman supported the rights of workers to organize and did not allow “right-to-work” laws to take root in his home state.  By that time, my thinking had changed and I was in favor of belong to the union anyway.

The workforce I joined consisted of some old timers who had transferred from Philadelphia, Atlanta, Miami, and New York.  Many of them represented the old style of union workers: they had bad attitudes and resented the company.  But most of the workers were young, energetic, conscientious, and hard working.  Most had college degrees.  This was a time of high unemployment and they were smart enough to recognize an opportunity for a good job with good benefits.

Eastern had just entered a new phase of management and worker relations.  A new contract based on cooperation between management and works had taken root and was working.  Under the contract workers had agreed to concessions of about 18%.  In return they would form teams working to find more efficient ways of getting the job done and enhancing revenue for the company.  When the resulting savings could be demonstrated, an appropriate percentage of the concessions would be returned to the workers.

It worked beautifully.  Everyone had a good attitude (well, the old-timers kept their attitude to themselves).  Flights got in and out on time without luggage being lost or damaged.  It turned out that the people who did the job knew how to do it best.  Customer satisfaction was high and millions of dollars in savings were identified.

Then a new president was hired, a man who took pride in breaking unions.  He didn’t like the new ways of cooperation and wanted to go back to the old ways of fighting.  He demanded new, deeper, and permanent concessions–take it or leave it.

Overnight the workforce was demoralized.  Company supervisors were required to use harsh tactics and fire so many people they clogged up the grievance process.  I saw first hand how vicious and malicious corporate management could be in its attempt to control workers.

In particular, I remember the case of one man who had been appointed to the safety committee because he was so scrupulous.   He made sure all of his coworkers followed safety rules to the letter, to the point of becoming a friendly nuisance.  We would groan, but actually appreciate his concerns even in matters we thought trivial.  During the apocalyptic last days of the company he was fired on the spot when equipment he was operating malfunctioned.  The supervisor knew it wasn’t his fault, but he followed his orders.

The union felt it had been betrayed and vowed never to accept another concession.   Like old Samson, they would rather pull the financial house down on top of them than be bullied into submission.  And that’s what happened.  The end result was a strike, bankruptcy, and the end of Eastern Airlines.

People don’t like being bullied or dictated to.  They want to have a voice in their destiny, political or financial.

My Experience as a Union Member I

I grew up in a so-called “right to work” state.  Most of my family worked in some aspect of housing construction and made good money without the benefit of union membership.  I read articles in Reader’s Digest about corruption in the big unions and violence during strikes; so back in the 70s, I didn’t see the need for unions.

A few facts I didn’t realize at the time:

1.  During times of full employment non-union employers have to compete with union wages.   Non-union workers were benefiting from the standards set by union contracts.  During times of recession, though, employers can cut the wages as low as they want.

2.  Most of the people I knew making good money in construction were paid as self-employed “sub-contractors.”  Their take-home pay was good, but they had no benefits and had to estimate and pay in their own self-employment tax.  Unfortunately, most of the people I knew did not have the financial discipline and accounting skills to keep up with the quarterly estimated payments and ended up having tax problems.

3.  Many of the self-employed workers did never got around to getting health insurance or investing in a retirement plan.

4.  “Right-to-work” laws are nothing else than government regulations forbidding private businesses from entering into an exclusive contract with a labor union.

5.  I was unaware of the history of the labor movement and how violent and corrupt the opposition to it was.  The goons and thugs and corrupt cops worked for the corporations.

6.  Organization and representation in the workforce is an extension of democracy.  If we don’t accept taxation without representation, why should we accept employment without representation?

. . . more to come