My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

16 August 2006

A great cello concerto by Edward Elgar.

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African missionaries to England. This is both encouraging, in the missions-mindedness of the African church, and discouraging, in the reliance on "African exuberance" that many missionaries are showing.

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Our friend Meg gave me a link to this guy over at Slate.com. A "non-observant" Jew reading through the Bible for the first time and writing about it. David Plotz claims some familiarity with the Bible, but his writings show that his familiarity was only surface level. The reason these posts fascinate me is that they're honest, detailed pictures of what people really think when coming into contact with Scripture for the first time. He confesses that his writings are probably somewhat inaccurate and blasphemous; I would have to agree. But they're interesting nonetheless - and helpful, insofar as they are a picture into the unbelieving mind's view of God's Word.

Here's his first post on Genesis. He's up to somewhere in Numbers now. ...if only Christians paid this much attention to Scripture!

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Cool bookstore: Splintered Light Bookstore. They have some connection to Ken Meyers, of Mars Hill Audio fame. Apparently, they carry all the books he talks about on the Journal.

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This fall I get to teach the college class at church. We're doing an overview of church history using Mark Noll's Turning Points. I hope I can get the students into it; if you're coming this week, be thinking about why we should study church history. Brownie points (maybe even candy) could be awarded.

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Last week we held a picnic for new international grad students. We fed about 250 folks and had some great conversations; my son learned some Chinese and made a lot of new friends. And we got to worship with five of those students on Sunday! Purdue ranks second in the nation in the number of international students enrolled per year. What a treasure at our doorstop! Pray that God might teach us how to love them like Christ would.

9 comments:

Ellen Olivetti said...

What is "African exuberance" and why is is wrong for the church?

Jared said...

African exuberance was a phrase used in the article about charismatic (maybe even hyper-charismatic) worship practices. The idea among some African missionaries seems to be that church needs to be exciting and strange enough to attract the disenchanted youth. Of course, I disagree.

The articles does, though, relate that other missionaries take soul-winning more seriously and don't settle for the butts-in-the-pew approach.

Ellen Olivetti said...

So, not all African preachers are "exuberant" in this sense, is that correct?

Our church supports an African preacher who is building churches in his native land. He is "exuberant" in that he is passionate and energetic in his preaching, but not charismatic.

And I, for one, think we could all use to be more exuberant about our faith.

Jon said...

I just have to throw out a note saying that I really LOVED the Slate entries. Not for what they said about the text of the Bible itself (although, as I expect from Slate, there's a nice, witty repartee), but for what they say about our own reading practices.

We read as part of community, and we identify meaning in the text because we read through a lens of interpretations. This is the point of what Van Till calls "presuppositionalism." This is also Derrida's larger argument when he says, "There is nothing outside the text." Everything is interpretation, and we only arrive at stability through community instantiation.

I've been spending a lot of time recently wondering what it would look like if we took a serious look at Calvin, for example, without reading always him through Hobbes and his understanding of the modernist individual who can only be brought into community through contract.

When Calvin says that Scripture speaks plainly and that, through it, God "opens his own most hallowed lips," he is speaking to the community of believers. Calvin is not arguing that the text itself has a rational, a priori meaning such that the individual can just pick it up and absorb the obvious. He was about a hundred years too early to have had that thought. Instead, Calvin relates meaning to the communication of the Spirit (and we have to be careful not to read this as the communication of the spirit to the contractural individual) and the community of the church.

The notion of rational, universal meaning that applies to all individuals regardless of context only becomes possible with Hobbes's idea of atomized individuals who are not, by nature or by God, part of any community and can only become citizens of community through contract.

It seems to me as though reformed churches often want to both have and eat the cake on this issue. On the one hand, we talk about "covenants" and the fact that God works through community. On the other hand, we want to be fully "modern"--in the tradition of Hobbes and Rousseau--by clinging to a notion of universal, idealized (and apparantly uncorrupted) rationality that reifies the Scripture as an object whose "meaning" should be able to be absorbed by the individual reader. Hodge was wrong: Scripture is not nature that can be analyzed and dissected though scientific means. We mistake Augustine's "take up and read" as a Descartian privitization of the individual, and that creates no end of confusions in our message.

I'm a bit tired this morning, so I'm not sure if any of that made sense, but there we are:)

Jared said...

Jon - interesting comments! Do you think your thoughts are answered by Westminster's statements on Scripture?

Note "our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit"

And "The whole counsel of God...may be deduced from Scripture...Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word."

Tamara said...

I think that all men are aware of the essential truths. Example: In the Bible it specifically talks about the truth of God/and His law being evident to all men. So in that manner it is plain and obvious. However, once saved more revelation and understanding of the deeper relational issues of God are revealed. The Holy Spirit leads in truth, but for the purpose of restored relationship with God not just for head knowledge. But, I am a lay-man in a lot of regards. Thanks for the slate link, Jared. Most appealing.

Jon said...

Jared --

I would say "yes," but with qualifications. The problem with those two passages (it's been too long since I read the WCF, so I don't have the context) is that, pushed to their conclusions in a modern context, you end up with a situation where everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes.

It's become a truism at this point that a person can prove any argument by referencing the Bible. Luther was well aware of this danger, because the peasants were taking up his Bible to justify all kinds of "unseemly revolts" (how unseemly we would judge them is a different question), but he didn't really have a solution.

Calvin, on the other hand, took up Luther's problem and struggled with how to reinstitute some kind of authoritarian structure into post-reformation thought. Calvin's doctrine of Scripture develops in the following way. The Bible is true because it is the Word of God, and it therefore demands allegiance. The text is known to be the Word of God because of the testimony of the Spirit of God, and the truth of the Spirit is discerned by its agreement with the written text

However, if followed by individuals operating as "free agents," this is just cicular reasoning that gets us nowhere closer to solving Luther's problem. So, Calvin spends a good deal of space in the Institutes reinvesting authority in the institutional church. His passages on Scripture apply to the church, not to individuals, because, for Calvin, God created us to be always in community.

In this sense, Calvin reinstitutes a kind of Catholicism--only this time, with the Scriptures open and speaking. I believe that when the Westminster divines wrote the passages you reference, they intended them for the church, not for the furthering of individual judgement.

Reformed believers get in touble when they try to merge Calvin's doctrine (from Augustine) that Scripture and Spirit support each other in the context of community, with a modern notion that there is, within the text of the Bible, an "obviously correct" interpretation that can be derived through the application of various scientific and literary techniques. Meaning as such is only found in community. Salvation--and this is a very Catholic notion, but also, read through the reformed tradition, a very important one--comes only through the church.

Jared said...

Hmmm...some thoughts.

1. If we take Calvin's position (as you've reported it) to extremes, we end up with a priesthood instead of a pastorate. Problems abound, esp. re: the priesthood of believers.

2. But if we take the individualist position to extremes, who needs the church (outside of which is no salvation)?

3. The Westminster Divines didn't believe that all parts of Scripture were perfectly clear, but that the main message of Scripture was able to be discerned by the "learned and unlearned" alike, if they followed the "due use of ordinary means". I believe by "due use of ordinary means", the Divines meant both the church's handling of the Word (preaching and teaching) and the saints' individual reading and searching of the Scriptures. (WCF 1:8)

4. Theologically, we have to wrestle with (1) the illumination of the Word by the Spirit, (2) the noetic effects of the fall upon the mind of men, and (3) the perspicuity and perfection of Scripture. I do believe there is one meaning to each text (though maybe not an "obviously correct" one) - but the variances of interpretation should be attributed to (1) the effects of sin upon the minds of interpreters and (2) the quality of their exegesis. This means we need preachers and teachers who are in deep fellowship with Christ, completey dependent upon the Spirit's work of illumination *and* skilled exegetes and expositors.

Jon said...

Quick thoughts:

1. The Westminster divines wrote in a community that reinforced a particular set of interpretive norms. Can we apply their argument to our own community, where those norms are no longer enforced?

2. Is the Spirit the starting point for exegetical reasoning or the other way around?

3. Is there an unsustainable conflation between Word and text, which results in applying the perfections of Word to the text itself? Isn't there a problem in saying that our minds and exegesis are corrupted by sin, but not our language?

4. Are we thinking too much in universalizable terms? Reading back, both you and I talk about the logical conclusions of certain propositions, but are these arguments reducible to the standards of logical propositions? Put another way, is our ideal to find the perfect, logical, universalizable interpretation of Scripture (cf. Hodge)?