Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Calvin resurgence: a two-edged sword pt.1

(this article is a critique of "John Calvin: Comeback Kid" by Timothy George published in Christianity Today, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/september/14.27.html)

As a subcategory of epideictic rhetoric, biography informs the audience about values which are important to the author, and beyond that of the kind of change the author intends to effect in the reading audience. So, a significant question to ask in evaluating a biographical piece is what change did the author seek to effect. Answering this question provides a key to unlock the values of the biographer and in turn gives insight into the criteria used for the selection of the details included the biographical piece. On the other hand, if the elements isolated for presentation and commendation (implicitly so) are a means of measuring what an author values, it seems fair, on the other hand, to take note of the significant components of the subject of investigation which were suppressed and not presented, and seek from them some insight into the values of the subject which are worthy of blame. In turn, this kind of inquiry should provide insight into some significant differences of opinion between the biographer and his subject of study and presentation.

Timothy George in his biographical essay on John Calvin entitled, “John Calvin: Comeback Kid,” presents a Calvin standing on the fringes of modernity to readers positioned tentatively in the stream of postmodernity. The aim of this biographical piece was to draw out enduring lessons for a 21st century reading audience on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth, presenting noteworthy details from Calvin’s academic development, call to ministry, social life, and theological labors. The thesis of this paper is that George presents a portrait of a two-sided Calvin, one who is malleable and adaptable to progressive evangelicals in a postmodern age and one who is intolerant, divisive, and better ignored and left in the past.

In developing the portrait of a malleable and adaptive Calvin, George suggests three reasons why Calvin is receiving so much attention with the arrival of the 21st century and the postmodern age. Before analyzing the three reasons he provides, it is instructive to notice the placement of these three points within the flow of the essay. Just prior to stating his three reasons he charts the backdrop of Calvin’s reception over the past five centuries. After portraying Calvin as somewhat ambivalent on the question of political revolution he notes that his own followers both in the 17th century in England justified regicide in the case of Charles I in 1649. Following that he charts the course of Calvin’s heritage in America following the trail from the Mayflower landing to Jonathan Edwards, to Emerson, the liberal grandson of Puritans, and finally to the embryonic yet growing Calvin resurgence emerging after the turn of the millennium exemplified in popular evangelical authors and speakers such as John Piper and R.C. Sproul, as well as among select academia including Notre Dame’s leading philosopher Alvin Plantinga and Harvard Divinity School’s George Marsden. This wide, yet disparate reception throughout the centuries suggests that Calvin, in spite of wide spread suspicion, just may well be a man for all seasons after all.

Having set up the brief historical backdrop of Calvin’s reception, George discloses his reasons for Calvin’s current resurgence among postmodern evangelicals. The first is that “postmodernity has placed us all ‘on the boundary’—on the border between the fading certainties of modernism and new ways of understand the world with its promises and perils.” Appealing to Calvin’s own status as a refugee in Geneva where he spent the bulk of his public ministry and teaching, he notes that Calvin’s model of pursuing the call of God as a sojourner in the strange and unfamiliar waters of life at a time of great social and ecclesiastical upheaval makes him adaptable to a 21st century evangelical swimming with or against the tide of postmodernism (whatever the case may be) in a time similarly marked by questions about ultimate issues and anxieties about the stability of the future.

While it is true that Calvin’s time as well as our time is marked by intellectual uncertainty and anxiety about the stability of the future, whether that be politically, economically, or environmentally, it is not clear, from what George says, just how it is that contemporary evangelicals are to abstract concrete direction from Calvin’s model. George provides no cues for his readers to look to whether that be in Calvin’s actions, life experience, theology, or methodology, in order to trace outlines for contemporary application. Perhaps it is George’s intention to portray Calvin as cloudy and amorphous in order to make him more attractive to intellectually “confused” postmodern types, but if that is his intention, it is a far cry from what is known of the way in which Calvin fought for his own ideas and there application to his own society and the Church. Though he was well schooled in the arts and humanities as attested to by his fist published work, a commentary on Seneca’s De Clemencia, Calvin was anything but ambivalent about his method and the authority of the source of his theological ideas and ecclesiastical policies. Anyone familiar with his published works, as George most certainly is, is well aware that Calvin uncompromisingly held to the sole authority of the Bible as his epistemological foundation. If it were George’s intention to draw direct lines from Calvin’s pursuit of his ministerial calling as a refugee in uncertain times to contemporary postmodern evangelical refugees in post-Christian culture, it seems odd that he did not stake out an objective point of reference for the contemporary audience to look back to in order to find guidance in the tumultuous world of the 21st century. By remaining silent about the objective point of reference it may be that he intends to keep Calvin more mysterious, and more postmodern, while leaving it to the reader to fill in his or her own blanks for application, but, if that is the case it fails to do justice to what the historical record indicates about Calvin.

The second aspect of Calvin’s model that George extrapolates for contemporary application is the character of Calvin’s theology, that, contrary to expectation, on account of Calvin being oft perceived as “an intellectualist and theological rationalist” his theology is actually pervaded by “mystery.” While it is true, as George himself points out, Calvin often referred to doctrines such as the incarnation, the riddle of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and the real presence of Christ in the eucharist as characterized by mystery, to simply assert that Calvin’s theology was characterized by mystery without explaining further what that means and what application it might have for contemporary evangelicals, is very misleading. Certainly Calvin saw mystery in many aspects of Christian doctrine, yet the reality is, Calvin found mystery and confessed mystery only where he thought the he found mystery in the Bible. Again, George seems to present Calvin as a postmodern before his time, as if, being a refugee in turbulent social and ecclesiastical context, Calvin was fond of poking holes in traditional doctrinal formulations, deconstructing accepted metanarratives, and pondering questions without seeking absolute answers. Such a conception could not be further from the truth. Calvin, if anything, was a man who was quite certain that there were clear answers to be found about doctrine, ecclesiastical polity, and the natural world; all one needed to do was consult the Bible and the writings of the church Fathers and theologians, and for questions about the natural world he conceded that many of the sounder philosophers and scientists had sufficient answers. While it might be true that Calvin questioned the theological arguments offered by the Roman Catholic magisterium, and though he certainly did question the legitimacy of papal authority, he certainly did not maintain the posture of an epistemological skeptic or that of a mystic either. The only way to find a hologram of a postmodern thinker in Calvin is to impose it upon the historical record, and then transport it forward in time!

Finally, George explains that Calvin is experience a resurgence today because he was “a theologian of the long view.” What he means by that is that though Calvin was uncertain about the prospects of ecclesiastical reform taking firm root and having sustained impact on into the future, he evaluated the prospects of failure or success in view of the eternal horizon and not a temporal one. In other words, he maintained a deep-seated theological conviction that “victory” would ultimately and climactically come in the future by direct divine intervention. There is nothing substantially incorrect or difficult with that so no comment is needed.

(come back soon for pt.2)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rampage quits the UFC!?

I am sure most of you MMA enthusiasts and UFC fans saw this headline yesterday. At first it caught me off guard and I thought, "oh no, he cannot do that before he fights Rashad." WHATEVER....there is no way that this is legitimate. Either Rampage is on a momentary high (which is possible after last years driving incident)or this whole thing is being staged by Dana White and the UFC to jack up the numbers for a mega pay-per-view event. I tend to think it is the latter. Vince McMahon and the WWE could not have pulled off a better stunt than this. We are only into the 2nd week of the new TUF series, with new people being drawn in because of "Kimbo Slice" and the UFC figured out how to make a huge ratings run off this new group of viewers who are tuning in to the UFC for the first time.

If it truly is this last option, and its all a publicity stunt, then watch out for Don King next, because the UFC is going to hell in a hand basket. Honestly, I thought I saw all this coming when they first announced the fight between Rampage and Rashad. They had the big stair down and then all the hype about this is going to be "black on black crime" like you have never seen before, and then all the feigned tension between the two, and I thought to myself, "this is a joke." Well, apparently it is no joke. Here is why: Rampage is quoted as saying that he did not want to "mess up his second career." Are you kidding me, "his second career"? Now that is utterly delusional or he is being fed talking points from a UFC written script that is so laughable they must be paying him huge dollars to make such ridiculous comments. Does he really think he is going to make a run at an Oscar?

Here is the end game
, look for this to be talked about and blown up large for a few months right up until the end of the TUF show. You are going to be seeing the UFC talking about this in an end of series special aired on Spike where Dana sits around throwing f-bombs and Rashad telling us how disappointed he is because he does not get to settle the score with Rampage, and then there will be the inevitable interviews with Rampage's coaches and close friends who say that they think he has turned a new page in his life and has moved on. Then after the show airs and more public support for the fight has built up, and after the UFC does some polling to figure out how big the audience might be for this UFC soap opera, then Dana will go to Rampage and tell him how much of a cut he will receive from the huge pay-per-view event and WE WILL SEE RAMPAGE AND RASHAD IN THE OCTAGON sometime in March, as it had already been rumored to be re-scheduled for in the first place.

In the mean time, the UFC gets some headlines, Dana becomes an even bigger whipping boy for driving a star fighter out of the UFC, and Rampage gets time he needs to heal up and make toothpaste commercials or do whatever it is that his new acting career leads him to do next. In a sense, everybody wins. Bottom line, we will see this fight, which is good for fans because it will be a good one, but in the end it will be a loss for the UFC and their loyal fans because it means that the UFC has gone full on WWE, and will no longer be a serious MMA competition venue.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Calvin on the Sabbath: an outline of the Institutes 2.8.28-34

Out of a concern that too many people who claim to be confessionally Reformed, that is, those who officially subscribe to the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort, are making the argument that the Reformed confessions maintain the same view on the 4th commandment as confessional Presbyterians, those who officially subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, I am presenting this brief outline of Calvin's view of the 4th commandment, where he makes it abundantly clear that he is not "sabbatarian" as are the Presyterians.

One reason I believe this is necessary is that many members of confessionally Reformed churches have had to live with a bound conscience when it came to the 4th commandment, because their teachers told them that the Reformed faith requires a strict observance of the Sabbath as taught in the Westminster Confession. I also post this up as a refutation of those teachers who want to claim that they stand with Calvin in binding and compelling consciences with respect to the 4th commandment. Many teachers who hold that point of view, will not be persuaded that based on this portion of Calvin's writings that they are wrong. That is fine with me, but at least the average person with little access to the broader arguments about this dispute, will have the proof before them, that Calvin's view of the 4th commandment is not Westminster's and it is not "sabbatarian." Calvin's own words are quite sufficient by themselves to refute the sophistries of those who make the false claim that they stand with him on the 4th commandment and impose a rigorous form of sabbath observance that savors of Judaism rather than Christ.

For all you then who are weak and heavy laiden in conscience due to being compelled to conform to the Westminster view of the 4th commandment, I hope Calvin's christo-centric and biblical-theological interpretation of the 4th commandment gives you considerable rest.

1. 2.8.28
a. the purpose of the commandment: The purpose of this commandment is that, being dead to our own inclinations and works, we should meditate on the Kingdom of God, and that we should practice that meditation in the ways established by him.
b. The 4th commandment and the interpretation by the Fathers
c. 3 reasons for the Sabbath
1) 7th day observance as sign of resting from sinful works
2) provide for a day for worship
3) give servants rest from labor

2. 2.8.29
a. fore-shadowing of spiritual rest occupied the chief place in the Sabbath.
b. the Sabbath is a sign whereby Israel may recognize that God is their sanctifier
c. a very close correspondence appears between the outward sign and the inward reality. We must be wholly at rest that God may work in us; we must yield our will; we must resign our heart.

3. 2.8.30
a. For the Jews the observance of one day in seven customarily represented this eternal cessation. The Lord commended it by his example that they might observe it with greater piety. To know that he is trying to imitate the Creator has no little value in arousing man’s zeal.
b. The number 7 indicates perpetuity
c. The Sabbath will not be consummated until the last day
d. the Lord through the seventh day has sketched for his people the coming perfection of his Sabbath in the Last Day, to make them aspire to this perfection by unceasing meditation upon the Sabbath throughout life.

4. 2.8.31
a. an alternative way of interpreting the number 7: he assigned the seventh day, either because he foresaw that it would be sufficient; or that, by providing a model in his own example, he might better arouse the people; or at least point out to them that the Sabbath had no other purpose than to render them conformable to their Creator’s example.
b. The principal meaning of the 7th day: perpetual repose from our labors.
c. by the Lord Christ’s coming the ceremonial part of this commandment was abolished
d. Jesus Christ is the true fulfillment of the Sabbath
1) For this: reason the apostle elsewhere writes that the Sabbath [Colossians 2:16] was “a shadow of what is to come; but the body belongs to Christ” [Colossians 2:17.
2) This is not confined within a single day but extends through the whole course of our life, until, completely dead to ourselves, we are filled with the life of God. Christians ought therefore to shun completely the superstitious observance of days.

5. 2.8.32
a. 2 aspects in which the 4th commandment is still binding under the New Covenant
1) Although the Sabbath has been abrogated, there is still occasion for us: to assemble on stated days for the hearing of the Word, the breaking of the mystical bread, and for public prayers [cf. Acts 2:42];
2) to give surcease from labor to servants and workmen. There is no doubt that in enjoining the Sabbath the Lord was concerned with both.
b. Support for the 1st aspect: Meetings of the church are enjoined upon us by God’s Word; and from our everyday experience we well know how we need them. But how can such meetings be held unless they have been established and have their stated days
c. We could meet every day: Why do we not assemble daily, you ask, so as to remove all distinction of days? If only this had been given us! Spiritual wisdom truly deserved to have some portion of time set apart for it each day. But if the weakness of many made it impossible for daily meetings to be held, and the rule of love does not allow more to be required of them, why should we not obey the order we see laid upon us by God’s will?

6. 2.8.33
a. its not Judaistic to regularly meet on the 1st day of the week: because at present some restless spirits are stirring up tumult over the Lord’s Day. They complain that the Christian people are nourished in Judaism because they keep some observance of days.
b. The difference between Judaistic observance and Christian observance of the 4th commandment: we transcend Judaism in observing these days because we are far different from the Jews in this respect. For we are not celebrating it as a ceremony with the most rigid scrupulousness, supposing a spiritual mystery to be figured thereby. Rather, we are using it as a remedy needed to keep order in the church.
c. Proper motive for abstaining from labor on the 1st day: they therefore abstained from manual tasks not because these are a diversion from sacred studies and meditations, but with a certain scrupulousness they imagined that by celebrating the day they were honoring mysteries once commended.
d. The change of day from last to 1st explained: because it was expedient to overthrow superstition, the day sacred to the Jews was set aside; because it was necessary to maintain decorum, order, and peace in the church, another was appointed for that purpose.

7. 2.8.34
a. resurrection is the reason for 1st day observance
b. It is permissible to gather for worship on other days: I shall not condemn Churches that have other solemn days for their meetings, provided there be no superstition
c. 3 applications of the 4th commandment:
1) we are to meditate throughout life upon an everlasting Sabbath rest from all our works, that the Lord may work in us through his Spirit.
2) each one of us privately, whenever he has leisure, is to exercise himself diligently in pious meditation upon God’s works. Also, we should all observe together the lawful order set by the church for the hearing of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and for public prayers.
3) we should not inhumanly oppress those subject to us. f289 Thus vanish the trifles of the false
d. Calvin rebukes those who treat the 4th commandment like a Jew:
1) They asserted that nothing but the ceremonial part of this commandment has been abrogated (in their phraseology the “appointing” of the seventh day), but the moral part remains — namely, the fixing of one day in seven.
2) Yet this is merely changing the day as a reproach to the Jews, while keeping in mind the same sanctity of the day. For we still retain the same significance in the mystery of the days as pertained among the Jews. And we really see how they profit by such teaching.
3) For those of them who cling to their constitutions surpass the Jews three times over in crass and carnal Sabbatarian superstition.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bitzer's rhetorical situation

Aristotle famously argues that rhetoric is about using the available means of persuasion in any given situation. In other words, situation shapes both the form and substance of a speech or conversation more than any other factor. Lloyd Bitzer writing on rhetoric more than 2,000 years after Aristotle (in 1968) finally took that Aristotelian insight and broke new ground with it. In his article entitled, “The Rhetorical Situation,” Bitzer finally asks and attempts to answer one of the key issues in rhetoric, what makes a situation rhetorical. The new ground Bitzer breaks is not found in his identification of the significance of situation to rhetoric, it is rather in his definition and description of a rhetorical situation.

Maybe just a word about the significance of the concept of the rhetorical situation is in order before unfolding Bitzer’s definition and explanation of it. Rhetoric is always situational as Bitzer points out. Rhetorical address doesn’t call a situation into existence, the situation calls rhetoric into existence. The situation is not rhetorical in the sense that, “a speech hinges upon understanding the context of meaning in which the speech is located.” Neither is the situation rhetorical in the sense that a speech can only be understood contextually either in terms of the speech itself or the historical context of the speech, nor is it the persuasive situation which “exists whenever an audience can be changed in belief or action by means of a speech.” (3). A situation is rhetorical when some specific situational circumstance calls rhetoric into being. A situation calls rhetoric into action to move the audience to do something.

Now with that backdrop in mind, let’s get to Bitzer’s rhetorical model. First of all Bitzer defines a rhetorical situation as “a complex of persons, events, objects, and relations presenting an actual or potential exigence which can be completely or partially removed if discourse can so constrain human decision or action as to bring the significant modification of the exigence.” (6). That definition is a mouthful, but contains 3 key terms which form the essence of the rhetorical situation.

First, every rhetorical situation has some exigence. An exigence is some imperfection, some problem that needs to be addressed and resolved by rhetoric. Bitzer argues that if rhetoric cannot resolve the exigence, then the situation is not rhetorical (that is debatable, but I wont deal with that). The rhetorical situation consists of a problem and moves a speaker to call for action from a particular audience.

Second, every rhetorical situation has an audience. This is not surprising given the fact that for Bitzer the rhetorical situation always includes a problem that an audience can fix if they are moved to do so by a speaker. The audience is the mediator of change. They are people of sound mind and reasoning faculties who will be able to respond to the words of the speaker as he identifies the problem and the steps to be taken in order to fix it.

Third, every rhetorical situation consists of constraints. Constraints are persons, events objects, attitudes, or beliefs, which are “parts of the situation because they have the power to constrain decision and action needed to modify the exigence.”(8) When you think about constraints, you need to look for things in the situation and you need to think as broadly as possible. For example, in Obama’s recent health care address to congress, he used constraints to persuade the auditors to change. We will skip over the fact that he was speaking to different audiences and focus on the one in the congressional chamber when he gave the speech. The constraints in that situation ranged from the fiscal implications of not fixing health care and how that might effect future budget deficits, to the recent death of Teddy Kennedy who wrote a letter to Obama expressing his passion for seeing health care legislation passed, and to the anecdotal stories of ordinary Americans who cannot receive the health care they need either because of cost or because of insurance company bureaucrats who call the shots on health care decisions instead of doctors. The list could go on and on, but you get the point, these are things within the context which constrain the audience to accept the claim which identifies the need and the solution which outlines the steps to take in order to remedy the problem.

That is Bitzer’s rhetorical situation in a nutshell. His main point is, the situation controls rhetoric and not the other way around. Obviously it does not capture everything and is open to various criticisms, but if you catch hold of the main idea, you will see that it is a valid insight into how situation affects rhetoric. Speech is effective only when a specific situation calls for it and subsequently when the speech uses the constraints of a specific situation to call forth concrete action from the audience who are the agents of change.

So next time you hear a speech from Obama or some other politician, stop and ask yourself one question: what situation called this speech into action. To identify that rhetorical situation ask, what is the problem that called the speech into being, who is the intended audience, and what are the constraints of the situation which are used to compel the audience to action. If you do that, you will be able to filter out all the talking points provided by the pundits and talking heads, and arrive at substantive conclusions about the speech all on your own.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

1Corinthians 9:4-14: Ministerial compensation and Christian liberty

Paul having asserted his apostleship and defended it with evidence (vv1-3), now turns to the implications of his apostleship for the argument he wants to make about denying Christian liberty to self in the interests of other believers. He begins in v4 with an assertion that he will defend all the way through v14: I have a right to food and drink. What this means is that as an apostle and minister of the word, he has a right to be financially compensated for his ministerial labor. He offers two main arguments to substantiate that claim, marshaling an array of evidence to support each main point.

His first argument is a rational argument. It basically runs like this, everyone knows that if you work you are supposed to get a paycheck for it. So in v7 he gives 3 indisputable examples to establish the claim. Then in v5 he gives another line of evidence from the ecclesiastical world, as he points out, that the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, as well as Peter himself all receive financial compensation. So the point of defense from human arguments has been defended.

Second, he turns to scripture to establish the next point. In v9 he cites Deuteronomy 25:14 and argues from the prohibition against restraining the ox with a bridle while he threshes the corn, that ministers are to be compensated for their work. Its a lesser to greater argument: if God would care enough for oxen that they should receive a "wage" for their labor, how much more ought a minister to receive material compensation for ministerial work. The other argument is based on a parallel between the Levitical priests and the New Testament ministry of word and sacrament. Just as God set up laws for the material provisions of the priests from the tithes and offerings of God's people, so the New Testament ministers of word and sacrament are to be supported from the tithes and offerings of God's people. To nail that down, in v14 he even says "so also the Lord has appointed" that ministers be paid for their work. Paul probably has Luke 10:7 in mind where Christ commands the 70 to take support form the people they minister the word to. I believe that a reasonable conjecture since Paul quotes that very passage in 1Timothy 5:18 and then follows it up with Deuteronomy 25:14. Bringing these two passages together in relationship to the issue of ministerial compensation in 1Timothy 5 puts us on good grounds to think Paul has that passage in mind here in 1Corinthians 9 as he addresses the same topic of ministerial compensation, and applies the same Old Testament passage to the issue at hand.

So Paul has defended his claim that he has a right to financial compensation since he is an apostle, but also points out that he refuses to accept what is due to him so that the gospel will not be hindered. That is the point of connection to the broader context. Paul is addressing this to the broader issue of denying rights and privileges to self, in order to be a spiritual blessing to other Christians. Paul's admonition to Christians based on his example of self-denial is this: just because you have the right to something does not always mean it is wise for you to make use of it; you need to ask whether your indulgence will be a blessing or a stumblingblock for others.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

1Corinthians 9:1-3

This passage opens with a jarring change in both form and substance. In chapter 8, Paul had been admonishing the "strong" Christians not to use their Christian liberty, by eating meat sacrificed to an idol, in a pagan temple, in front of their "weaker brother." Apparently this practice was causing a significant problem in Corinth and led to spiritual harm to the weak.

Now in chapter 9, Paul begins by saying, "Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus Christ?...." That is the jarring change in both form and substance. He moves from admonition to rhetorical questions and to a change in topic. All in all, there are 16 rhetorical questions in 27 verses and a very sustained focus upon Paul and his apostleship. This abrupt change has led interpreters to suggest a range of solutions. Some have argued that Paul is simply digressing from his point in chapter 8 as Paul sometimes does, and will swing back to his thought in chapter 10. Others argue that chapter 9 has been clumsily inserted into 1Corinthians by an early editor. However, others argue that Paul has not left topic at all, rather he is turning the discussion to his own example as an apostle, which has a principial bearing upon the issue of how strong Christians are to use their liberty around weak Christians.

I am persuaded that the latter interpretation is correct. The very first word in chapter 9, "free," seems to link up conceptually to 8:13 where Paul has in view the proper use of Christian liberty. So what Paul does here in vv1-3 is turn the topic to his apostleship, then, particularly to a narrow aspect of his apostleship, the fact that he is entitled to financial compensation for fulfilling his duties as an apostle, vv4-14. Subsequently, in the following sections, in vv15-18 he will explain why he denies himself a paycheck, in vv19-23 Paul will take up his own use of liberty as he fulfills his calling as an evangelist, and finally, in vv24-27 he appeals to his own example of self-discipline for these Corinthians to emulate.

Now, having given an overview and breakdown of the chapter, let's come back to these first 3 verses. In order for Paul's argument to have any force and relevance, he must defend his apostleship. Everything hinges upon that. If he really isn't an apostle, then he cannot credibly make the argument that he is owed compensation for ministerial labor, and that in turn means his denial of certain privileges to himself, cannot function as an example for how to deny privileges to self for the sake of other Christians. So he must defend his claim to apostleship, and he does that with two primary forms of evidence: one, he has seen the resurrected Jesus, and two, the very existence of the Corinthian church, as founded by the preaching of Paul, is divinely furnished proof of his apostleship.

The last thing I want to say about this passage is that Paul verbally links proof of his first claim to apostleship, that he has seen Jesus, to his historical encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. In that encounter, Paul uses the words, "who are you JESUS" in response to Christ's questions. This verbal linkage establishes Paul's claim that he has seen the resurrected Jesus with his physical eyes. Why belabor this point? Well, because it is crucial to validate his apostleship. Acts 1:21-26 lists the qualifications of an apostle and having seen the resurrected Christ is a key requirement. So, Paul's argument that he has "seen Jesus" makes his claim to apostleship credible.

Romans 14:5-6 and observing holy days and diets

I have been thinking about these verses since I taught on them at my men's study group and I ran my interpretation by them, and now I throw it out to a broader audience to see if I can get more feedback. My concern in this passage is with Paul's admonition to not judge a brother who observes Old Testament holy days and a kosher diet out of conviction, and further, his admonition for each person to be fully convinced in his own thinking about these things(as if it were an option available to all Christians to be conscience bound by such practices). What I am thinking is that Paul has in view a temporary patience with those who are bound in conscience by the law's teaching on these things. Further, I don't believe that Paul envisions that the church will have to long deal with this kind of a division in piety and practice.

My argument is twofold:

First, Paul is dealing with people he calls "weak" who were brought up in Judaism and taught the scrupulous observance of holy days and diets as a form of piety before the Lord. Now a contemporary Jew, brought up within a strict orthodox setting, might have the same struggles and make the same claim. Though I am sympathetic to that claim, and am open to making a concession in this kind of a situation, I still believe there is a vast difference between the person Paul is talking about in Romans 14 and the contemporary person brought up in strict Judaism. The person Paul is addressing as the "weak" was brought up under Judaism when the Mosaic covenant was yet in force, and was the only covenantally sanctioned relationship between God and any people on earth. Mosaic legislation, along with the rest of the canonical Old Testament scripture was the most up-to-date revelation from God which instructed people in covenant piety and duties. Further, the temple was still in standing in Paul's day and the sacrifices were still being offered. In other words, this was a unique redemptive-historical period in a time where there was real covenantal overlap. That is not true today, and therefore I argue that Paul's advice in dealing with the struggle between the weak and the strong on holy days and diets, is historically and contextually conditioned and limited to the apostolic era.

Second, we must also bear in mind, that one reason this struggle between the "weak" and the "strong" was able to percolate as it did, was because of a lack of thorough and sustained apostolic teaching to help clarify what New Covenant piety and obligations were. The church at Rome was not founded by an apostle; it was most likely founded by Jews converted at Pentecost who took the gospel back home to Rome when the feast was over. There is no indication by the time of the writing of the letter to the Romans that any of the apostles had spent much time there teaching these Christians the distinctives of the New Covenant. So, bearing that in mind, Paul admonishes the "strong" to bear patiently with the "weak" and he admonishes the "weak" to not be haughty and sit in judgment on the "strong" who were simply acting in accordance with their conscience. However, once they did receive in-depth apostolic instruction in these matters, explaining how holy days and diets were covenantally conditioned duties prescribed for "the church under age" until Christ came and fulfilled their meaning and set them aside.

The bottom line is, Paul would admonish us to be sensitive to people who come to church who have a lot of spiritual baggage, whether that be temptations to engage in old sins which were technically speaking "matters of Christian liberty" but were used to the point of abuse and led to enslavement to sin, and people who grew up in various sects and cults and false religions. He would advise the "strong" not to use their Christian liberty in such a way that would lead these new converts to do things their conscience was not ready for. However, I firmly believe, he would advise the church to thoroughly instruct these new believers, and lead them into maturity. Beyond that, I do not believe he would have us allow people to entertain for a second that they are being pious by observing Old Covenant holy days or diets. In other words, we he would not tell contemporary Christians that they are free to get an opinion on these matters and be bound in conscience by the opinion that they must observe holy days and diets.

Well, those are my thoughts, please give this some thought and offer me some feedback.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Murray on Romans 14:1-12

Intro: it is necessary to be less positive about the problem Paul addresses, than some exegetes have been. It may have been that various types of weakness proceeding from different backgrounds and influences were represented in that situation which Paul imagined. This passage deals with the question of the weak and the strong in a way that applies to every instance in which religious scrupulosity arises in connection with such things as those exemplified in this chapter (174)

I. vv1-3
A. v1 accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions…. Accept…this exhortation is directed to those who are not in themselves in the category of the weak and therefore of those who were strong in faith. The implication appears to be that the weak were in the minority. Accept means that there is no discrimination in respect of confidence, esteem, and affection (175). Passing judgment on his opinions…the acceptance of the weak is not to be for the purpose fanning the flames of dissension respecting difference of conviction on the matters in question. They are not to receive the weak for the purpose of subjecting their opinions to censure (175).
B. v2 one person eats vegetables only...we have meat eaters vs. vegetarians
C. v3 for God has accepted him…reference is to God’s reception of the strong. The wrong of censorious judgment is rebuked. If the conduct in question is no bar to God’s acceptance, it is iniquity for us to condemn that which God approves. By so doing we presume to be holier than God.
II. V4
A. in this verse the wrong of censorious judgment on the part of the weak is exposed by showing the intrusive presumption that it involves. The Lord in this case is the Lord Christ and what is affirmed is the certitude of the believer’s standing firm in the service of Christ (176).
B. Stand…in the sphere of ordinary domestic relations the servant of another is not to be judged by our norms but by those of his own master. He stands well or ill according to the judgment of his master. Likewise in the believer’s relation to Christ it is Christ’s judgment that is paramount, not ours. There is no warrant to suppose that this here refers exclusively to the last judgment. The issue of standing refers to the judgments on the part of the weak toward the strong. The weak tended to regard the exercise of liberty on the part of the strong as falling down in their devotion to Christ and as therefore subjecting them to the Lord’s disapproval. Paul’s assurance is to be regarded as having reference to the standing of the strong believer and of his conduct in the approbation of the Lord Christ. He will stand and the reason is given: the power of the Savior is the guarantee of his steadfastness (177).
III. Vv5-6
A. v5 the most reasonable view is that the weak viewed the holy days of the ceremonial economy as having abiding sanctity. The strong treated every day the same. The person who esteems every day alike, not regarding particular days as having peculiar religious significance, is recognized as rightfully holding this position. Hence it is the person esteeming one day above another who is weak in faith. Be fully convinced…the injunction to be fully assured in one’s own mind refers not simply to the right of private judgment but to the demand. Compelled conformity or pressure exerted to the end of securing conformity defeats the aims to which all the exhortations and reproofs are directed (178).
B. v6 for the Lord…expresses the religious conviction, namely, conscience toward the Lord out of regard for which the diverse practices are followed. Proof that the strong believer eats to the Lord is derived from the fact that he gives thanks to God. The thought is that thanksgiving implies gratitude to God. This state of mind carries with it the conviction that he eats to the Lord. he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat… The consciousness of devotion to the Lord is also true of the weak believer in his abstinence from certain foods. There is no undervaluation of the weak believer. He is credited with an equal sense of devotion to Christ, and he likewise gives thanks (179). gives thanks to God…should be taken as referring to the thanks he offers for that of which he does partake. This thanksgiving is likewise a manifestation of his sense of obligation to God and devotion to Christ (179).
IV. vv7-8
A. in these two verses it is the principle regulating and controlling the believer’s subjective attitude that is in view, the disposition of subservience, obedience, devotion to the Lord. It indicates that the guiding aim of the believer is to be well-pleasing to the Lord (180).
B. The lordship of Christ in his mediatorial capacity is as inclusive and pervasive as is the sovereignty of God (Matt. 11:27; 28:18; John 3:35; 5:23; Acts 2:36; Eph. 1:20-22; Phil. 2:9-11).
C. V8 the transformed attitude to death, springs not from any change in the character of death but from the faith of what Christ has done to death and from the living hope of what he will do in the consummation of his conquest (181). It is the hope of resurrection after the pattern of his, and the removal of sin which is the sting of death that transform the relation of the believer to death (182).
V. v9 this verse harks back to the latter part of v8 and states the ground upon which rests the lordship of possession just enunciated. Observations about the lordship of Christ: 1) the lordship of Christ here dealt with did not belong to Christ by native right as the Son of God; it had to be secured. It is the reward of his humiliation (Acts 2:36; Rom. 8:34; Phil. 2:9-11); 2) it is to the end of securing and exercising this lordship that he died and lived. Lived refers to his resurrection (182). It is by the life which Jesus lives in his resurrection power that believers live unto the Lord (183).
VI. vv10-12
A. Paul returns to the thought of v3. Now we have the interrogative address which points up the presumption of judging or despising a brother (183). The sin resided in the assumption to ourselves of prerogatives that belong only to Christ and to God (184). The reproofs of v10 draw their force directly from the appeal to God’s judgment seat as the end of the verse. That all will stand before the judgment seat of God offers the severest kind of rebuke to the impiety of our sitting in judgment upon others whether that be in the form of censorious condemnation or haughty contempt (184).
B. In the present text he is addressing believers and therefore of believers it is said “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.” (cf. 2Cor. 5:10). These two texts place beyond all dispute the certainty of future judgment for believers. It is of the behavior of believers that Paul is here speaking and it is for the correction of wrong behavior that the fact of God’s future judgment is adduced. Conduct will be judged. This judgment embraces not only all persons, but also all deeds.
C. Support for this assertion is derived from Isa. 45:23. The refrain of this chapter in Isaiah is that the Lord is God and there is none else (vv5-7,14,18,21,22). This is directly germane to the fact of judgment.
D. Reluctance to entertain the reality of this universal and all-inclusive judgment springs from preoccupation with what is conceived to be the comfort and joy of believers at the coming of Christ rather than with the interests and demands of God’s glory. There will be no abatement of the believer’s joy, because it is in the perspective of this full disclosure that the vindication of God’s glory in his salvation will be fully manifest. It is to God each will render account, not to men. It is concerning himself he will give account, not on behalf of another. So the thought is of judging ourselves now in the light of the account which will be given ultimately to God. We judge ourselves rather than sit in judgment of others (185).

Odds and ends

The joy of blogging is that it offers the opportunity to express your thoughts on particular matters with others and thereby join a broader discussion. On the one hand, it does not require the discipline and rigor of the academy, although it is not generally helpful to offer observations or make arguments which are not relevant, sound, or based upon some kind of evidence, and on the other hand, it is also not driven by someone else's agenda. Another way of putting it is that you get to say what you want to say, according to your own self-imposed standards, on the topic of your choice, and in the form, detail, and length you choose to express your ideas. If others choose to listen in and join your conversation either to critique, enrich, affirm, or seek further clarification, they are free to do so, but are under no compulsion. In short, it means the blogger has a lot of latitude; he or she is driven by things of interest to him/her.

Where is this all going? Well, what I am ramping up to say, is that I plan to start offering a wide range of topics to throw out for discussion. Beginning today and from here on out, until I change, get bored, or I hear many calls for a change in the course of action, I will contribute my thoughts on a wider range of issues. I will keep posting my thoughts on things of interest in the MMA world and random anecdotes of interest found in the media as I have in the past, but I plan to post on a whole new range of things. For instance, I plan to start offering a summary of the texts I am preaching on each week. Right now I am working through 1st Corinthians, so I will post up a few paragraphs about what I understand the basic meaning of a particular text is which I am currently looking at and try to begin to offer some idea of the "so what?" question that the text addresses to concerns we have today. I will also post my outline notes on the Book of Romans, that basically consist of a summary of John Murray's comments taken from his commentary on Romans. Beyond that I will make an attempt to discuss the readings from the monthly study I lead on Calvin's Institutes. I meet with a group of men once per month on Thursday evenings to discuss a pre-assigned portion of the Institutes as a way to interact with the men of my church and of course with any visitors who would like to attend. At other times, you may come to the blog and find me talking about a range of bewildering topics relating to rhetorical theory and criticism. Currently I am a graduate student in Human Communications at CSU Fullerton. Human Communications (HCOM everafter) is basically the study of messages; how are they constructed, what influences shaped them, who are they addressed to, what affect do they intend, why was this message communicated to a particular audience at this particular time and occasion, and so forth and so on. It is a very broad field and a number of brilliant people ply their skill to the trade of interpreting communication texts (BTW a text is any piece of communication whether that be a speech, a photo, work of art, song, TV show, movie, etc) from an array of angle's, some more helpful, others mystifying and nearly incomprehensible, and some flat out nutty. At any rate, I would like to include you in my reflection on such things and engage your thinking in order to receive interaction, input, and critique from you.

I probably have left something out that I want to tell you I plan to address, but that is ok, because part of the intrigue will be experiencing what the wise ol Forest Gump once said, "life is like a box of chocolates and you never know what your going to get." Hopefully, in a good way, that is what you will experience when you check things out here.

That being said, I hope you come back frequently, I encourage you to tell your friends and neighbors to stop by, and please, by all means, interact. I want to hear from you and I want to learn from you too.

Thanks for stopping by Calvin On Tap