Wednesday, February 23, 2005

extra-marital affairs

i attended a sexual ethics seminar today. the purpose of the seminar was to uncover potential issues for clergy with extra-marital affairs and other crossings of relational boundaries.

the speaker stated that a leading reason for extra-marital affairs is one of the spouses feels like the other spouse is acting like a parent to them. in other words, a wife feels like her husband is treating her like her father treated her or a husband feels like his wife is treating him like his mother treated him.

the speaker posited that the husband would automatically lose feelings of affection for the wife because he would group his wife in the same emotional category as his mother. (or other way if you start with the wife).

i think the married men walked out wondering if they were treating their wives like their their wife's dad and the married women walked out wondering if they were treating their husbands like their husband's mom...

Monday, February 14, 2005

the equivalent

i have often asked the question "what is the female equivalent to a guy's struggle with pornography?" in other words, what makes a female wake up the next morning hating herself?

i just read a book titled 'The God of Thinness' in my Addictions and Grace class. i think i found the answer to my questions - eating disorders or struggles with food.

i plan to write more about what i am learning from this addictions class. it is eye-opening information that applies to basically everything that humans experience...

Friday, February 11, 2005

the interpretation and authority of scripture (systematic theology I)

this is a continuation of my Systematic Theology critical log (see 1/28/05 for explanation)

The Interpretation and Authority of Scripture In the Life and Witness of the Church – 2/11/05

Initial Thoughts:
I have worked with a definition of the authority of Scripture until recently. My definition of Biblical authority over the years has been the Bible is the irreplaceable Word of God that provides the first and final truth on every aspect of life and faith, both to the individual as well as to the world. This word has always been rooted in a belief that fallible human beings wrote the Bible but the output was a single, inerrant word that accounts for the entire history of humanity from creation to consummation. I viewed all questioning of the Bible’s origination and content as a direct attack on God himself and an automatic sign that the individual or group was looking to find away to justify his or her behavior that fell outside the realm of the Bible’s authority. In summary, the Bible had one meaning, as located in the original meaning of the author, for all people of all time and that meaning needed to be received from God and applied to the lives of sinful humans.
I started to question this view of authority when an extreme dispensationalist friend challenged me to take the Bible more literally. The authority of Scripture for him was based on not only the precise, divinely orchestrated wording of the Bible but also on the literal meanings found in prophetic writings. In short, he tried to intimidate me and I was confused from the experience.
I have been wrestling with the notion of the authority and interpretation of Scripture since that encounter. I have witnessed both the danger in using the Bible literally to respond to a personal question (i.e. why do people still sin after salvation?) as well as individuals justifying behavior by discounting the authority of Scripture. I have also noted the role of context in how individuals formulate theologies and worldviews. My main question going into the reading for this week is can the Bible bear witness to Jesus Christ and, subsequently, guide and form the community of believers without being viewed as a perfectly written, historically accurate word from God? In other words, how can a non-fundamentalist view of the Bible have any authority in the lives of sinful individuals and groups who want to justify their own agendas?

Cone: God of the Oppressed (57-98)
Cone continues to raise new insights into the interpretation of Scripture in light of real cultural issues. He provides a description of his view of the authority of Scripture in relation to checking ideologies on p. 93 when he states “Checks against ideological language in theology are not derived abstractly from the Word of God because God’s Word is not an abstract object, but is the liberating Subject in the lives of the oppressed struggling for freedom.� He repeatedly asserts that the only valid exegesis of the Scriptures is when Jesus Christ is viewed as the Liberator, the helper, and the healer of the wounded. Furthermore, he boldly asserts on p. 72 that individuals cannot follow Jesus if they have any priority higher than the gospel of the liberation of the poor.
Cone’s arguments for Jesus as the liberator of the poor and the call for a much-needed understanding of this is persuasive. I do not agree, however, if his repeated statements that only those who are poor or are oppressed can understand the gospel message. He boldly states that the Jesus’ telling of the rich man to sell his goods was a proof that Jesus only wants people whose priority is the liberation of the poor. He also unfairly refers to the person who wanted to bury his father. Cone conveniently leaves out references to stories where Jesus doesn’t require rulers, such as the Centurion, to leave their life as a ruler. Jesus also tells Nicodemus to be born again but he doesn’t require him to discontinue his role as a Pharisee. Overall, Cone’s argument loses its initial persuasiveness when he doesn’t include any potential counter-examples and responses to those examples. To be fair, he does include some warnings to the oppressed that are susceptible to the same temptations as their oppressors if/when they are liberated from their circumstances. However, this doesn’t answer the in/out argument that he sets up for those who do not consider the liberation of the poor as the highest priority as revealed in Jesus Christ in the Scriptures.

How much does the immediacy of Cone’s context and situation play into his extreme arguments that leave very little room for counter-examples and subsequent discussion? This raises the question of the theologian herself/himself as a criteria for good theology?

Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion (69-81, 94-96)
Calvin transitions from his discussion of the general revelation to the role of Scripture. He frames the discussion by describing the Scriptures as a better help to be added (to general revelation) to direct individuals to the Creator. Calvin equates the Word of God with Holy Scripture and anyone who is outside of Scripture is full of vanity. He states that Scripture has full authority among believers only when individuals believe that they came from heaven and they are the living words of God. More specifically, the highest proof of Scripture derives from the fact that God in person speaks in it and the testimony of the Spirit regarding this is more excellent than all reason. Finally, the believer must avail oneself to Scripture in order to receive from the Spirit of God because the Word and Spirit belong inseparably together.
Calvin’s response to the Church’s emphasis on itself as the authority leads to a view of Scripture that equates it with God. The outcome of Calvin’s move, however, is shows how the assumption of the infallibility of the Bible should be put under the same questioning as the infallibility of the Pope and/or Church. Is the Bible the Word of God or is Jesus the Word of God who is given witness in the Scriptures?
I have always viewed the Bible as the inspired and infallible Word of God without subjecting this assumption to any rational questioning. My fear of having the Bible not hold up in an argument, especially against people who are ‘smarter’ than me, led me to take a classic “retreat to commitment� stance on the Bible as perfect. Calvin states that we should strive onward by a straight path if we seriously aspire to the pure contemplation of God. My response to my past view of Scripture and Calvin’s notion of pure contemplation is that perfect and pure approaches to the Bible and related contemplation are not possible. Instead, the authority of Scripture doesn’t fall in the perfection of every word and letter, but in the way that it continues to be the primary guide to the community of faith. At this point, I do not know how to reconcile the role of the Bible in the community if the community doesn’t view the Bible as authoritative in the sense of being a perfect Word of God. This discussion shows that I have left the safety net of my beliefs to date.

How can a believer in Jesus Christ receive guidance from the Bible if he or she does not view the Bible as infallible in all senses? In other words, how can a community of faith exist if each person or group can pick and choose what is authoritative and what is not based on his or her or its specific question or problem set?

Tillich: Systematic Theology Volume One (34-59)
Tillich provides the building blocks for his method of correlation in this section. I read the section on the method in the first week without the much-needed background information that was provided in this section. The discussion on the sources, mediums, experiences and norms involved in systematic theology framed Tillich’s approach.
I admittedly was ignorant of church history before coming to PTS. In particular, I fell under (and still in some ways) the category of those who believe that everything that is needed for theology and the church community is in the Bible. I didn’t realize how fundamentalist-leaning I was until I came to PTS. My exposure to church history in classes has raised many questions and Tillich provided more to consider in this section. In particular, he proposes the Bible, church history, and the history of religion and culture as sources of theology. He rightly points out that the debate between Protestants and Catholics regarding the authority of each one continues to undermine the importance of considering both.
Tillich’s notion of a norm is portrayed the patterns of the encounter of the church with the biblical message throughout the history of Christianity. The material norm, such as the early church creeds, and the formal norm, such as the early hierarchy of authorities, reveal the demands of the situation. My predisposition to the Bible as the main source of authority is disturbed by this view of the interaction between the church and the Bible as the norm as opposed to the Bible itself. However, Tillich’s examples show the changing demands of the situation by relating them to the updated norms. More specifically, he reveals how each norm places emphases on different parts of Scripture based on the demand of the situation. The one example that struck me was Martin Luther’s desire to reduce the influence of the book of James due to its focus on works.
Tillich states, “the norm decides the canonicity of books� on p. 51. I disagree with this statement because, once again, I see this as placing too much power or authority in the possession of an individual or group who wants to set the agenda. Shouldn’t the canon check the norms that are set by personal agendas? The Luther example proves to me the importance of letting the canon check the norm instead of the other way around. The book of James was selected to be in the canon for specific reasons and one of the reasons, from what I gather, was to keep Christians from moving away from the significance of works in the Christian life and community.

How does Tillich’s notion of the partial openness of the canon as a safeguard of the Spirituality of the Christian church apply to norms that develop far outside of the traditional views of church history and the Biblical interpretation? Should the canon be further divided than it already is based on new norms?

Ruether: “Feminist Interpretation: A Method of Correlation� (111-124)
I agree with Ruether’s assessment that the traditional, patriarchy interpretations in the church have reduced women’s roles. In addition, I agree that the full humanity of women is an issue that has not been addressed through much of the history of Christianity. I continue to disagree with her assumption that the anything that has contributed to the less than full humanity of women in any way needs to be removed and deemed without authority. My question to Ruether is are the issues a result of the text or the interpretations of the texts? In other words, does she really believe that removing certain texts will solve the issue? My issue with her description of authority is that the entire problem does not lie with the texts but also, in my opinion, is related to the sinful responses of humanity, both male and female, to the treatment of women. I see solutions that do not involve the discarding of parts of the Bible simply because they have contributed in some form or fashion to the patriarchy worldview.

Final Thoughts:
The authority of Scripture is called into question by modern theologies when the result is a system that oppresses a group. The reaction, based on what I have read so far, is to both declare that the given authority is not legitimate and to seek ways to change the interpretation and/or the actual text itself. The voices of black theologians, feminist theologians, and others need to be heard but how quick should we be to change almost 2000 years of the history of Christianity? I haven’t seen any concessions by Cone or Ruether that point to any legitimacy to views that oppose their own. Ruether states that the full humanity of women does not mean a less humanity of men but she doesn’t state any potential problems with her theology. I will need to see a concession (or more) by the modern theologians for me to take their arguments more seriously. I want to take into account their worldviews but I need to see that they can step outside of their goals in order for me to incorporate their views into my systematic theology. At the same time, I will continue to listen to the voices of Cone, Gutierrez, and Ruether in order to see how I may be challenged in my theological assumptions.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

significance of withered entities

i read the entire gospel of Mark in less than 2 hours today in order to get a full view of the gospel. i often read only parts of it but i wanted to experience the whole story. i decided to include one of my observations in my weekly reflection for my Mark class. here it is, again the greek is transliterated (kinda) to english so ignore that part of the entry...

The reading of the entire Gospel according to Mark in one sitting revealed new connections. One example is the use of the verb wither (xhrainw) and its forms as applied to multiple entities. The two instances that will be discussed in this reflection are the man with the withered hand in the synagogue in Mk 3:1 (h=n evkei/ a;nqrwpoj evxhramme,nhn e;cwn th.n cei/ra) and the fig tree that withered after Jesus’ words in Mk 11. A relationship exists between each entity’s ability to bear fruit and its withered state.
This relationship points to a deeper meaning beyond the physical bearing of fruit. In Mk 3, the man with the withered hand is described as being in the synagogue but nothing more is shared about him. The other healing and exorcism stories show that individuals with diseases were ostracized from the community. Jesus heals the man in the midst of the community that excluded him. The assumption, based on healing stories, is he was restored to the community and was able to contribute to its life and mission. In other words, he could bear fruit again.
The opposite event occurs in Mk 11. In this instance, Jesus interacts with a fig tree as opposed to a human being. More specifically, his action is the opposite of the healing in Mk 3 and the result is he caused the tree to withered away to its roots in Mk 11:20 (thn sukhn vexhramme,nhn ek rizwn). The explanation provided is that Jesus did not find any fruit on it. Jesus judges Israel due to its lack of bearing fruit and the result is a withered state. The Gospel of John provides additional insight in John 15 when Jesus describes whoever doesn’t abide in him, and doesn’t bear fruit, as being thrown away like a branch and withering. These observations raise more questions than answers. Are the withered entities still able to be healed like the man in the synagogue or are they destined to never bear fruit again or are they simply in a temporary worthless state waiting to be re-attached to the true vine?

Monday, February 07, 2005


there is nothing theologically deep about this entry (or maybe there is )

i just went in to my daugther's room (19 months) to cover her with a blanket. she was sleeping peacefully... i stood by her crib and watched her for five minutes or so.

i think that part of the reason we sleep is so that God can look at us when we are not moving...

sorry, if you were looking for some academic or intellectual write-up then you came to the wrong place... (or maybe you didn't)

Friday, February 04, 2005

the meaning of revelation (systematic theology I)

this is a continuation of my Systematic Theology critical log (see 1/28/05 for explanation)

The Meaning of Revelation and its Reception In Different Historical and Cultural Contexts - 2/4/05

Initial Thoughts
My definition of revelation up to this point in my life has been based on Jesus’ words of John 14:6-7 and Colossians 1:15. The starting point of revelation is Jesus Christ as the way to know the Father and as he serves as the image of the invisible God. The basic notion of looking at Jesus, as described in the Bible, and ascertaining God’s actions from his actions serves as my first way of understanding God. The specific revelation from God through Jesus Christ comes from an interaction with the Bible and the community of believers applied to the specific circumstances of the one whom God reveals himself to.
My view of general revelation has been based on Romans 1:20 (God’s invisible qualities have been clearly seen), Romans 2:15 (since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts), and Ecclesiastes 3:11 (he has also set eternity in the hearts of men). These verses display how God is available to everybody through creation and the conscience.
I started to raise questions in college about how different people responded to general revelation and how this played out apart from Jesus Christ. The classic question of what happens to a person on a deserted island summarized these questions. I didn’t, however, consider the roles of different cultures in my understanding of revelation.

Tillich: Systematic Theology Volume One (106-137)
Tillich’s definition of revelation is different than any description I have encountered. I need to utilize this log entry to wrap my head around his view of revelation. It is built upon a set of concepts diagrammed below. He describes revelation is a special and extraordinary manifestation which removes the veil from something which is hidden in a special and extraordinary way. The hiddenness is often called “mystery�. The concepts flow from this relationship and sub-relationships. The descriptions are detailed in this log as a foundation for future discussions in the log about revelation as described by Tillich.

mystery – characterizes a dimension which “precedes� the subject-object relationship and the term should not be applied to something which ceases to be a mystery after it has been revealed. Revelation always is a subjective and an objective event in strict interdependence.
miracle – mystery appears objectively in terms of what traditionally has been called “miracle�.
ecstasy – mystery appears subjectively in terms of what has sometimes been called “ecstasy�. Ecstasy points to a state of mind in which is extraordinary in the sense that the mind transcends its ordinary situation.
inspiration – the cognitive element of ecstasy which emphasizes the pure receptivity of cognitive reason in an ecstatic experience. Original revelation is a result of inspiration.
illumination – the divine Spirit, illuminates believers individually and as a group, and brings their cognitive reason into revelatory correlation with the event on which Christianity is based. Dependent revelation is a result of inspiration.
Overall, Tillich describes revelation, whether it is original or dependent, as having revelatory power only for those who participate in it, who enter into the revelatory correlation. He accounts for the reality of objective (miracle) and subjective (ecstasy) elements of mystery while also accounting for the foundation (original) and ongoing (dependent) aspects of revelation. I still do not see, however, how Tillich accounts for the tendency for humans to create their own agendas and projects in his method of correlation. The existential questions and context need to be incorporated into the ‘equation’ but I still haven’t seen how his method can stand unless a check is added to the method. In terms of revelation, this check would need to be applied to the dependent revelation that results from the subjective elements of the encounter with the mystery of God.

Are there any constraints to what falls into the realm of dependent revelation? How does the Bible and tradition play a role in defining whether a revelation to an individual or group relates back to the original revelation? Again, who judges whether a dependent revelation relates to the original? If someone (whoever that is) makes a decision, then is this classified as a new original revelation? If so, then is Mormonism an example of new original revelation or is it a dependent revelation?

Cone: God of the Oppressed (36-56)
Cone presents his thesis that all Christian theology is human speech about God and is always related to historical situations, and thus all its assertions are culturally limited. He supports this thesis by first appealing to Feuerbach, Marx, and the sociology of knowledge (Mannheim, Berger, Luckmann). He then applies his conclusions to white and black theology.
Feuerbach asserts that theology is anthropology and that the idea of God is humanity itself projected to infinity. Marx goes further by utilizing sense data to show that the task of philosophy is not merely to interpret the world but to change it. He posits that the ruling class promotes religion to justify the present material relations and that religion should be addressed as a means to remove unjust societal conditions. Lastly, the social of knowledge states that ideas do not have an existence separate from life but arise out of a framework of reality constructed by people.
Cone’s application of these ideas to white and black theology is eye-opening. Two attacks on Christianity that many friends and co-workers over the years have thrown at me is Christianity’s oppression of women and support for slavery. These predictable questions have always challenged me but I have not researched a strong response. Cone’s assertions expose my limited and shallow view of the slavery issues, especially within Christianity.
Cone states what I often have stated with regard to Christianity when he says that “the gospel grants people the freedom to transcend their cultural history and to affirm a dimension of universality common to all peoples.� He says this in relation to the white theologians who openly condemned slavery. I have always thought that “true� Christianity overcomes all the accusations that Christians are against women, blacks, the environment, etc. Cone’s quote shows that the gospel has the ability to do just that.
At the same time, Cone raises the reality that most (if not all) of the world does not allow the gospel to grant people that very freedom he described. In fact, the opposite is still true. His most poignant critique of the Christianity that I know is when he said “that is why they spend time debating the relations between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith than probing the depths of Jesus’ command to feed the poor.� The ideas of Feuerbach, Marx, and the society of knowledge applied to white theology show that whites, when not open to the gospel’s power to grant the freedom to transcend, only care about white issues and the status quo that favors them.
Cone fairly applies the same matrix of critique to black thought on Christianity. He admits that it has been influenced by its social context. My respect for Cone increased when I read this because I am growing tired of people with agendas who do not apply their criteria to themselves. His application reveals that black theology is expressed in the style of story and its content is liberation. He doesn’t state, however, any weaknesses in this view. Instead, he reasserts that “black folks tell tales� without citing any missing pieces to that mode of theology.

Cone states that “blacks simply appropriated those biblical stories that met their historical need�. What does black theology do with the biblical stories that do not meet their historical need? How do they account for groups that utilize other biblical stories for their own historical need? Do these outputs ever conflict? If so, then is one historical need greater than the other?
Cone also states earlier that “what people think about God, Jesus Christ, and the Church cannot be separated from their own social and political status in a given society.� Is there any consistent content (even one word) that is shared by people of different social and political statuses? Are the differences more in the application of a consistent set of base truths or are there no base truths?

Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion (43-58)
Calvin asserts that there is an awareness of divinity within the human mind and that even idolatry is ample proof of this conception. He stresses that if a person does not know God, then he or she degenerates from the law of their creation. Furthermore, he posits that only 1 in 100 humans receives the seed of religion but, instead, create superstitions, turn away from God, fashion God in our own religions, and only consider the seed of religion if compelled to do so. He adds that humans are further accountable because of God’s self-disclosure in creation and in humanity itself.
Calvin incorporates sin into his argument for how God’s revelation is obscured in this world. His references to Romans 1 show that he sees anything that is too human-focused is an idol fashioned by humanity for its own purposes. Calvin rightly accounts for the danger of humans playing too large a role in describing God, whether apart from the Bible or using the Bible for their own agenda. On the other hand, I do not see how Calvin wuld apply his view of revelation to account for specific issues that are outside of the tradition of the church.

Is Calvin restricted in his view of revelation or are the groups that contextualize theologies restricted by their view of revelation in their specific social and cultural situation? Which one is more limited? What role does sin, as defined as self-promoting actions apart from God, play in understanding God’s revelation?

Gutierrez: A Theology of Liberation (27-46), Introduction to Job
Gutierrez describes theological thought about God as thought about a mystery. He refutes the arrogance displayed by those whose God-talk is sure that it knows everything there is to know about God. He contrasts this arrogance with the humility that comes from considering the very difficult question of where is God when innocent people are dying and oppressed in Latin America. How are these people supposed to talk about God? I am starting to extend beyond the space allowed for this section of the log so I will pick this subject up next week.

Final Thoughts:
I plan to record a short, hypothetical discussion between the writers every few weeks to capture where I see them coming from on the topic. This initial discussion will include a set of preliminary questions. The responses will be addressed as the semester goes on. Let’s meet the participants (in no specific order):

John Calvin:
Paul, the consideration of existential questions in your method of correlation, if applied without error, could provide the right answers. I do not see, however, how you account for the reality that human beings, because of sin, fashion religions for their own purposes. What prevents an individual from using your method of correlation to fashion God in their own religion as driven by his/her own personal questions or problems?

James Cone:
Let me take that question and respond with my own questions. John, what is your definition of “right� answers? Do your right answers consider only questions from a while theologian’s perspective? How does your definition of sin play out in a different context than your own? Do you realize that I am not concerned about God’s self-disclosure if that disclosure results in oppression?

Paul Tillich:
James, good use of a contextual reality that displays that we cannot believe that we can theologize apart from the existential questions we face. John, revelation is found in both original and dependent forms based on inspiration and illumination respectively. Dependent revelation, if fashioned after a personal agenda, will not speak to the specific group or individual and will no longer be considered. My main example are the Greek gods and the views of Mary. Do you believe that you can stand apart from revelation and judge which will remain and which will not?

Rosemary Ruether,
The context and the sources of revelation should be tested for patriarchal attitudes. All of these questions point to the tension between tradition and existential questions but are there issues with both of these ideas that need to be addressed, namely, feminist concerns? We need to step back from this discussion to make sure that we are not moving forward without this voice.

Gustavo Gutierrez:
I agree with Rosemary in the sense that all God-talk must not suppose that the speakers know everything there is to know about God. John, do you mention that depravity clouds the view of God’s natural revelation but do you see the sin in the suffering of the innocent? How do reconcile real problems with a theological system that doesn’t address specific issues? If your theology addresses these issues, then I am looking forward to that discussion in the coming weeks.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

one type of event, two outcomes

this is from a short reflection paper on Mark 1:16-45 for my Gospel of Mark exegesis class... the greek words are spelled out as a result of the copy/paste and the lack of greek font for this blog.

Mark 1:16-45 includes a series of events that demonstrate the kingdom coming with power through Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mk 1:1). Jesus’ impact on the people he encounters in the first chapter of Mark reveals his authority and ability to restore. In particular, there are multiple instances where one type of event leads to two outcomes. Are the double-meanings an intentional literary technique used by Mark to show Jesus’ power or do these examples show Jesus’ power through intentional events? The two examples are Jesus’ authority in his teaching and his restoring action through healing.
Jesus’ authority (evxousi,a) is displayed in his teaching as well as his healing. The first example is Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue (Mk 1:22). Mark states that the listeners were amazed (evxeplh,ssonto) and differentiated Jesus’ teaching from the instruction of the scribes. They note that Jesus’ teaching had authority. The second example is Jesus’ healing of the man with the unclean spirit (Mk 1:27). This elicits the same response (evqambh,qhsan). The observers surprisingly refer to the action as new teaching (didach. kainh). Their use of the word “new� displays a comparison to prior actions of other teachers. Jesus’ authority associated with teaching is an example of one entity that manifests itself in two ways: word and deed (Moloney, 54).
Another example where one reference points to two outcomes is Jesus’ restoring act of the leper (lepro.j) in Mk 1:41. The man’s leprosy is healed and he is allowed to re-enter the community of Israel. He was sent away from the community according to Levitus 13-14 (Moloney, 58). The suffering is related to the condition as well as the alienation from people. Sin has the same impact. Jesus’ healing is a second example of one type of event that manifests itself in two ways: physical and relational restoration.

additional thoughts/questions:
the power of the kingdom of God is displayed in Jesus overcoming unclean spirits, diseases and taboos. Jesus' touching the man with leprosy is a major taboo of the time. he is then reconnected to the community of faith.

how does sin cut people off from the community of faith?
how does Jesus' healing (in forgiveness) restore people physically and relationally?