George Washington & How a Truly Great Man is Inaugurated


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“It has occasionally occurred to me when in [Washington’s] company, that if a stranger to his person were present, they would never have known from anything said by the president that he was conscious of having distinguished himself in the eyes of the world.”
Bishop William White on Washington’s refusal to boast

The following is excerpted from Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life:

Though the Constitution said nothing about an inaugural address, Washington, in an innovative spirit, contemplated such a speech as early as January 1789 and asked a “gentleman under his roof ”—David Humphreys—to draft one. Washington had always been economical with words, but the collaboration with Humphreys produced a wordy document, seventy- three pages long, which survives only in tantalizing snippets.

In this curious speech, Washington spent a ridiculous amount of time defending his decision to become president, as if he stood accused of some heinous crime. He denied that he had accepted the presidency to enrich himself, even though nobody had accused him of greed: “In the first place, if I have formerly served the community without a wish for pecuniary compensation, it can hardly be suspected that I am at present influenced by avaricious schemes.” Addressing a topical concern, he disavowed any desire to found a dynasty, pleading his childless state.
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Developing Ancient Creeds & The Trinity


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Yes, I graduated from seminary, and yet I still have a couple more classes I’m finishing up. One of them is going through the documents, Creeds, Confessions that define the theology of my denomination, the Reformed Church in America. I’m having to write a bunch of reflections on differents aspects of these writings, and I offer them here.

Every way of understanding the world involves creeds and confessions. “Creed” comes from the Latin word meaning “I believe”, and a Confession from the Latin for “acknowledge”. A Creed or Confession, then, is simply a distillation of what you acknowledge and believe. There’s nothing weird or particularly “Catholic” about it.

From Creeds to Trinity

If you are a Christian, no matter which part of the family you call home, your beliefs almost certainly fall in line with what have been called the “Ecumenical Creeds”, which are the oldest and simplest articulations of the Christian essentials. They include the Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds.

Now, if you were going to start writing out the core of what you believe, where would you begin? The interesting thing about these Ecumenical Creeds is that they are built entirely, both in foundation and structure, around the doctrine of the Trinity. Why?
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Good Friday Creation & Re-Thinking “The Fall”


Bosch-Garden-Earthly-Delights-Outer-Wings-Creation-WorldEach year during Lent, I press all the more deeply into a motif that appears throughout the Bible: that in some mysterious way, the God of the Universe has had a “slain” and “suffering” aspect to his nature for all eternity–even before the world came into being.

When this world did come into being, the Bible says that it came to exist “through” this suffering and slain Jesus. Therefore the rhythms of Christ’s own nature and life are written into the very DNA of the world. All of our history is an echo of Jesus’ life, both from eternity past and while on earth.

I’ve written before about what this means for the world and what this means for us, but what might this mean for the entire history of God’s work in this world?
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My Pilgrimage to Israel & Palestine: Day 1


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A couple of days ago, I kissed Philadelphia goodbye, boarded a plane, and began the nearly 24-hour process of traveling to the Middle East for a two-week long trip to Israel and Palestine. Today was Day 1 (I’m 7 hours ahead, so while I’m about to go to bed, most of my readers are probably getting this in the afternoon).

I’m part of a team of students in my seminary program who are engaging in this Intercultural Immersion trip, where we will be spending time throughout Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Anyway, I’m sitting here at the end of the first day. I’m exhausted physically, as well as emotionally. I had no idea just how disconnected my religious faith has been to the real world. I love historical things and enjoy walking in others’ footsteps and inhabiting their space once more. And yet, for the most important part of me, I have never had any material interaction with the physical, tangible stuff of my faith’s own story.

I realized today that I have learned to live my Christian life in such a way that I have no mental frameworks for how I’m processing this. I took for granted that I could have a thriving, deep, spiritual existence without having seen and walked the lands and places from which the beliefs were born. And yes, we can have such thriving spiritual lives without visiting this land.

But (to overuse a phrase people use all the time when they come back from this region), I feel like the Bible has transitioned from a silent, black-and-white movie, to a full HD Imax one. It’s crazy. I’m still processing it all. It’s surreal, to say the least.
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Jonah: a Children’s Story of Verbs


Jonah-boat-comicMy Hebrew class has moved from learning grammar to the actual process of translation and interpretation. To do this, we’re going through the book of Jonah. Our first interpretive assignment was to look at all the Jonah-related verbs in the first six verses and draw some theological conclusions. Here was my contribution.

But first, my incredibly literal and somewhat stilted translation of the opening verses [Jonah 1.1-6], including all the odd word order and idioms of Hebrew:

(1) And the word of the LORD was to Jonah son of Amittai, in order to say, (2) “Rise, go to Ninevah, the large city, and cry out against her because their evil arose to my face.” (3)And Jonah rose in order to flee in the direction of Tarshish from the toward-facing faces [Hebrew idiom for “Presence”] of the LORD and went down to Joppa and he reached a ship going to Tarshish and he gave its fare and went down in it in order to enter with them to Tarshish away from the toward-facing faces of the Lord. (4) And the LORD hurled a large wind upon the sea and it manifested as a large storm among the sea and the ship thought to shatter towards itself. (5) And the sailors were afraid and they cried out, man to his God, and they were made to throw the receptacles which were in the ship into the sea away from them towards making themselves small and Jonah had gone down into the rear of the vessel and had laid down and slept heavily. (6) And the chief sailor came to him and said to him, “Why are you sleeping? Arise! Cry out towards your gods! Perhaps the god of you will bear us in mind and we will not perish.”

And now for some lessons we can draw…
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A Holy Saturday kind-of Easter (on doubting the Resurrection)


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The culmination of Lent is Holy Weekend, prefaced by Maundy Thursday and consisting of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. I realized that each year that I have been really intentional about my Lenten engagement, one of those four “Holy Days” seems to overshadow the the others and carry over into this Easter season (yes, it’s a season).

There are some years where the foreshadowing and ever-repeating Presence of Jesus in Communion makes Maundy Thursday the highlight (or lowlight?) of Lent. Some years, the utter darkness, weight, and drama of Good Friday overtake me and linger in my mind well into Easter season. And still others, no matter how I try to reflect and meditate on sinfulness and fallenness, I still can’t escape the lighted joy and horizon-cresting dawn of Easter, whose anticipation overshadows (or over-brightens?) my Lenten experience, making all the doom and gloom seem foreign to me.

For me, this year is a Holy Saturday kind-of Easter.
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Let’s just finish Esther already (On Purim & History) | Esther 9 & 10


Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur—that is “the lot”—to crush and destroy them; but when Esther came before the king, he gave orders in writing that the wicked plot that he had devised against the Jews should come upon his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. Therefore these days are called Purim, from the word Pur. Thus because of all that was written in this letter, and of what they had faced in this matter, and of what had happened to them, the Jews established and accepted as a custom for themselves and their descendants and all who joined them, that without fail they would continue to observe these two days every year, as it was written and at the time appointed. These days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every family, province, and city; and these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants.
Esther 9.24-28

Historically, I wonder: Is this it? Is this the reason for this story? As I said before, it genuinely doesn’t look like this story is historical, so it must have served some other purpose in the community. I wonder if the Jews were coming back from exile and had this random festival named after the plural of “lots”, and so they needed to write a story about how it came about. But if so, how do you go from the word “lots” to all of this story? Quite the stretch. So…what’s the historical core? This one’s tough.

King Ahasuerus laid tribute on the land and on the islands of the sea. All the acts of his power and might, and the full account of the high honor of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the annals of the kings of Media and Persia? For Mordecai the Jew was next in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was powerful among the Jews and popular with his many kindred, for he sought the good of his people and interceded for the welfare of all his descendants.

Esther 10

So… Mordechai is the hero here? I guess it could make sense, but he plays such a bit part in the story. He’s consequential, sure; he’s just not around that much, is all. This seems more like the mythologizing of a popular leader in the Jewish diaspora.

And lastly, one last “Christian” reading of this story. If we can analogize this a little, Mordechai “intercedes” for God’s people, for their good and for their descendants. And they’re enemies (like death and sin for us) are comprehensively and almost over-the-top-ly destroyed. And God is faithful to accomplish all of this, even when he seems absent. With this book, that’s the best I can do. I genuinely don’t like this story.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Ancient Miracles, Skepticism, & Historicity | Mark 2.12


And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Mark 2.12

Even ancient people knew magic tricks. This was utterly different than anything else they’d ever seen or even thought was possible. This point is especially interesting considering the things they believe God had done in history in the past. Even though they “believed” the things happened, it wasn’t until they were face to face with the New Creation that they really saw the things this God could do.

Similarly to today, I wonder if there’s a subtle, unconscious “wink-wink” about how seriously we take some of these things. In their case, I actually think it was right, however, as those miraculous things in their stories were to be seen more as symbols and shadows that would point forward to an “actual” manifestation in Christ–not as historically-essential events. And yet, when that Christ was there, it still blew there minds.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

The Echoes of History & Abraham| Genesis 24.22-23


When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold nose-ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels, and said, “Tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?”
Genesis 24.22-23

On a random historical note, though it is clear that these stories come from older narratives and traditions written down much later, it is interesting that these stories still have features that would have been accurate for the time at which the story took place, millenia before the story was written down. You can see an example here. At the Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology, you can see artifacts from this area and supposed time (where I have seen with my own eyes the type of jewelry that this would be referring to). From doing that, it really looks like things such as these bracelets and gold rings were used for currency a lot more at this particular time in history. Later on, in a story such as this you would have more references to gold, money, cattle, or more established forms of barterng.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Charismatic Confessions, pt. 2: Tongues Don’t Have to be Weird


peter-preaching-statue{abstract: The Bible talks about two types of tongues that take place among the Church: speaking in human languages that get translated, and speaking a “heavenly language” that sounds like non-sense and an interpretation is given. The apostle Paul encouraged people to prefer speaking in regular human words rather than tongues, and this practice turned into the later historical practice of rooting authoritative Church speaking in Bible-based sermon preaching. Paul then encourages, and I have embraced, that we move speaking in tongues away from a corporate church usage and a private, prayer one. The next post will talk about praying in tongues.}

UPDATE: Part 3 is up, where I talk about the what, why, and how of individual praying in tongues.

Yesterday, I got thinking about my charismatic past. I mentioned an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times about recent research on the phenomenon of speaking in tongues. This got me thinking about my own charismatic past and experience of these sort of things, and reflecting on how little a part of my life those things are now. Except, that is, for personal praying in tongues.

A couple of nights ago, I raided my bookshelf and pulled down every theologian that may have said anything about this phenomenon and looked through all of them. Every person said something different. There are so many different opinions about tongues. I don’t write this post to sort out this issue or give a definitive account or defense of where I land. I just want to introduce some people to this idea who might otherwise be weirded out, strongly against it, or don’t really know what to think about it.

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The Historical, Political & Theological Roots of Urban Pain


26359563536I’m trying to get an early start on reading my seminary books (which I’m still trying to purchase–thank you so much to all who have helped out!). I’m currently enjoying Mark Gornik’s To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith & the Changing Inner City. I’ve read similar books before, and expected more of the same, but this really is a much higher level-analysis of urban policy than I thought it would be. He is writing from the context of the inner city community of Sandtown, in West Baltimore. I’m really liking it and encourage you to check it out yourself.

I wanted to devote my entire post today to a series of excerpts from his section going through the historical and theological roots of urban and racial difficulties. In light of recent comments–especially by conservatives–demonizing those who live at this level and at these places in the world (or demonizing the government policies that serve them), I found this appropriate in offering us some perspective.

On a side note, for newer readers: I do not ascribe to a particular party and I actively speak out against both of the main ones wherever I see injustice, hypocrisy, and absurdity. This just happens to be an area of policy where Republicans are far more guilty. Here are the excerpts (the bold-faced lines are my emphases). Continue reading

New Testament & History: Christians can be confident [a retort]


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(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

Update: Daniel has posted a reply below.

When I have these kinds of exchanges on the blog, I really try to let the other person have the last word. After all, I have home field advantage here. I was absolutely ready to move on to my last part of this ongoing exchange with my friend Daniel Bastian in response to his Facebook post about his Atheism.

Last week, I wrote a post trying to give a cursory response to some of his claims about the Bible and miracles. Daniel wrote a response, posted a couple of days ago. I offered a brief response to his critique of my view of miracles. I was really eager to get back to writing about other things.

But it seems I can’t. Not yet.

I’m starting seminary back up this Fall, not simply because I’m interested in all the “knowledge” about the Bible, but because I feel I actually have a (pastoral?) concern for the spiritual well-being of people. I care a lot about what people might see on this blog, and I care that they are able to receive these things in ways that will be ultimately helpful to them.

And I fear that his post, at least for Christians not well-read in these issues, will cloud the waters more than clear them. Don’t get me wrong. Christians should wrestle with what Daniel has written in earlier posts, especially when it comes to the more abstract philosophical concerns of God’s existence and work in this world. These are things that don’t have easy or even clear responses by Christians. I’m not worried about Christians having restless nights or days as they wrestle with legitimate difficulties in the seeming difference between what they believe about God and the way the world seems to be.

But, when it comes to the Bible and the Resurrection, I don’t think we are on as shaky ground as Daniel makes it seem. Let’s discuss.

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“New Testament Historicity: A Response” by Daniel Bastian [GUEST POST]


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(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

Today continues an on-going exchange between myself and a friend of mine, Daniel Bastian. These were inspired by a Facebook post he wrote about why he is Atheist (in this current post, whenever he says “OP”, he means “original post” and is referencing that). Last week, I wrote a post about the trustworthiness of the Scriptures and miracles. Here is his response.

Update: I have some responses posted for his section on miracles in this post. And, honestly, I feel he gets so many things wrong int his post, I’ll have to write another response to this tomorrow. 

More important update: I have a full response to this article now posted.

Paul,

Thank you for the thoughtful post. I think this is your most cohesive piece yet and, better yet, even dives below the surface of a few of my arguments. And allow me to just say up front that it is truly a breath of fresh air to commune with a non-fundamentalist on matters of faith. Rarely do I find a Christian with a sophisticated understanding of the faith’s foundational texts and the underlying nuance operative in these discussions. It is truly refreshing.

In my response I’d like to first address the broader themes of your post and then drill into a few of the more specific items you have noted. Along the way, I will correct some errors, highlight some omitted details, and point out some oversights and oversimplifications that obscure the analysis of New Testament historicity.

At the first, it seems that you still resist recognizing the non-Christian-centric applications of my arguments. Yes, some of my arguments did single out Christianity, as that is the religion I retired from at age 25 and is thus the one in which I am most conversant. However, if you were to step outside the hermetically sealed Christian bubble for just a moment, their broader implications should become apparent. Let’s try again.
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Simplistic Atheism {3}: The Bible, Miracles, & History


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(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

We continue our response to Daniel Bastian’s blistering critique of religious belief. Part 1 tried to respond to what seems to be Daniel’s basic understanding of the world, reason, and spirituality. Part 2 focused entirely on his use of scientific claims and findings to discredit (at least the need for) religiosity. Yesterday, Daniel responded to Part 2 (here was my response). Today, we narrow in on his views of the Bible, miracles, and history.

A Simplistic Bible

(Disclosure: a lot of this is cut-and-paste from various comments here and on Facebook. Also, I’ve taught a few classes that have a more detailed discussion of a theology of Scripture. Those can be found here, here, and here.)

The points about the Bible in Daniel’s post were especially difficult to read. In fact, they were my inspiration for my post last week talking about how Christianity can shape the types of Atheistic beliefs people come to. My frustration came from the fact that, since Daniel originally wrote this (a while ago), I’ve watched him engage with and express respect for others that offer substantive critiques to what he ended up re-posting last week.

In his points, he expresses a view of the Bible that is mechanical, wooden, systematic, simplistic, and puts expectations on the text that it doesn’t even place on itself. It seems like he is only responding to the modernist, fundamentalist view of the Bible (what I called a “Straw Bible”), and I know his thinking is far more nuanced than that–I couldn’t understand why he still perpetuated this. But nevertheless, he did, so I’ll address it as it’s posted.
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The Martyrdom of Perpetua: read the earliest Christian writing by a female


Perpetua-21In my last post in our series on Women and the Church, I mentioned a young girl named Perpetua, who was martyred in Carthage in about 202 or 203 CE. Her prison diary, written in the days leading to her public and violent death, is still the earliest known piece of Christian writing we have by a female. She was 22-years old when she died.

And so, as we head into Palm Sunday weekend, I thought I’d share this work of hers with you. It is a stunning, beautiful, and passionate work.

The bulk of her diary consists of her father trying to convince her to abandon Christianity, as well as her visions and dreams she has to encourage the other prisoners around her. As she is sent off to die, she entrusts the diary to an unnamed individual who picks up the story from there and describes her dramatic death. This individual also added a brief introductory paragraph.

I hope and pray that the example and visions of Perpetua will speak deeply to us, in the midst of our own pain, weakness, and sorrow.

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