Monday, April 14, 2014

The 2014-2015 Horizon's Bible Study "Reconciling Paul" - a continuing review # 4

This is Holy Week and I am attempting to write my review of lesson 4 of the Presbyterian Women’ Bible study, Reconciling Paul with the week’s somberness and final celebration as my focus.  

In lesson 4, "Carrying in Our Bodies Jesus' Acts of Healing, Reconciliation, and Love," the text, 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10 carries the events of Holy Week, the suffering and resurrection of Jesus Christ, into the lives of individual believers as well as the whole church. While Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, the author of the lesson, focuses on that part of the text which speaks of Christ’s suffering and death there is no mention of resurrection.  One is left with advocacy for the oppressed which is good but not the final blessed outcome of the gospel.

As Hinson-Hasty shows Paul speaks of carrying about in his body the death of Jesus.  However, in order to do justice to that statement the text surrounding it is needed. This isn't just about death; it is about resurrection, not an abstract idea of eternality but real bodily resurrection.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you. (4:7-18)

Jesus’ life given to the believer is real life based on the fact that a bodily resurrected Jesus sees and guides the Christian through the Holy Spirit and makes himself known in the midst of trials. And as Colin Kruse points out in his Tyndale commentary on 2 Corinthians the being delivered over to death and carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus is not “a mystical” statement, but a reality of the suffering of Paul and his companions.  Nor is the life of the resurrected Jesus mystical, but is truly “manifested in his body.” Kruse writes:

Thus the one who proclaims the crucified and risen Lord finds that what is proclaimed in his message is also exemplified in his life. On one hand he is daily subject to forces which lead to death, but on the other hand he is continually upheld, caused to triumph, and made to be more than a conqueror by the experience of the risen life of Jesus in his mortal body (cf. Rom. 8:35-39; 2 Cor. 1:8-10; 2:14; Phil. 3:10; 4:1213).

Hinson-Hasty focuses the idea of God’s power in bodies to marginalized bodies and how God’s power overcame the marginalization.  She writes:

Understanding the body in this context [the way some bodies were marginalized in ancient Rome and its many conquered lands] punctuates the radicalness of Paul’s use of the metaphor “treasures in clay jars.” When Paul claims that God is made manifest in a weak, earthenware vessel, he directly challenges the dominant hierarchical scale upon which people in his culture judged and valued different bodies.

So her focus is on such groups as women and slaves but this misses the point.  Paul isn’t here pointing to only the oppressed; he is referring to all bodies. Human bodies (which include the soul) are like earthen vessels. We are all prone to crack and break; we are all sinners, rich and powerful, poor and marginalized. And it is those who have Christ who have the treasure of God found in Jesus Christ. His glory shines through the broken vessels spreading to others with the life that belongs to God.

And this is not possible without the resurrection a Christian reality that Hinson-Hasty never addresses in this study. There are hints but one is reminded of a sixties song that speaks of Jesus but never quite passes by his death.
Hinson-Hasty writes:

For Paul, God’s power is best exemplified in the crucified body of the Jewish Jesus. The broken Jesus still remained a treasure and overcame defeat, even in the death dealt to him by the most powerful empire of his time. By using the metaphor of “treasure in clay jars” to describe the body of the community, Paul associates the power of the community of faith in acts that make the strong weak and the weak strong.

Speaking of Gnosticism, Hinson-Hasty wants to emphasis that Paul is not “saying that we can or even should try to escape from our bodies.” This is true but it misses the promise of God of our own bodily resurrection when we shall be like our Lord.  But here the author attempts to clarify the future and make way for better things—and yet she leaves the reader without hope:

Paul says that the realization of God’s redemptive future will be embodied, realized in fragile bodies, even if in an imperfect way.

The community of believers gathered at Corinth had realized and embodied some of Jesus’ teachings and yet there were more to be realized. Both Paul and the Corinthian church were living within the boundaries established by Greco-Roman culture, but they were growing beyond the limitations that their culture imposed on them.

Hinson-Hasty’s view of the Christian’s future is entirely materialistic and progressive. While it contains the promise of good deeds which she will later connect to those Christians who rightly stood for equality in South Africa, it nevertheless leaves death and sin unconquered.
Jesus Christ, lived, died and rose again. The Christian carries that death in his body too often suffering as Christ suffered. But the Christian also carries the life of Christ infusing God’s world with the love of Jesus.
Picture by Stephen Larson

Friday, April 11, 2014

The 2014-2015 Horizon's Bible Study "Reconciling Paul" - a continuing review # 3

The third lesson in the Presbyterian Women’s Bible Study is “Covenants and God’s faithfulness.” The biblical text is 2 Corinthians 3:1-4:6. This lesson, written by Hinson-Hasty, covers a wide range of theological issues.  Yet, the most important issue in this lesson is the author’s denial of the biblical teaching that “God’s full and final revelation is only in Christ.”

Three theological issues drive this study: (1) Hinson-Hasty’s misunderstanding of evangelical eschatology and its connection to covenant theology; (2) God’s covenant/s; (3) the denial of the uniqueness of Jesus.

I have added the first issue, eschatology, the return of Christ, to an already loaded posting because of a quote by Hinson-Hasty. Under the subtitle, “Paul’s Jewishness and the Consistency of God’s Covenant,” when writing of the new covenant, she states:

For example, premillennial evangelicals promoting what is known as “new covenant theology” look upon such passages as these in Paul’s letters to support their belief that clear distinctions are made throughout the biblical text  that prove that the “new covenant”  supersedes the “old covenant.”  In other words from the perspective of “new covenant theology,” God’s full and final revelation is only in Christ.”  Judaism is an unfulfilled religious faith and represents only a partial fulfillment of God’s covenant.

First notice the words ‘premillennial evangelicals.” There are the dispensational premillennial evangelicals who uphold a teaching called the rapture, a fairly recent teaching. They believe in two second comings of Christ, once to gather believers out of the world and then again to set up his kingdom. But the other branch is classic to many of the early church fathers and mothers. That is the teaching that Christ will return and set up a thousand year kingdom.

There is one other teaching that is classic and that is amillennialism. That is the teaching that the thousand year kingdom refers to the whole church age. In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), among evangelicals and orthodox, the latter two definitions are probably well represented.  Dr. David Torrance, a brother to Thomas and James Torrance is undoubtedly, from his writings, a premillennialist, and he sees the Jewish people, whether in rebellion or in obedience, as the elect of God. But he also believes that to experience salvation they must experience the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

Earlier Hinson-Hasty insists that those who claim that “God exclusively reveals the path to salvation in the person of Jesus Christ,” have used the claim to “marginalize people of other faiths,” and later infers that because of the Holocaust the church must rethink her position on the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. For Hinson-Hasty, this all revolves around the idea of God’s covenant. The question is has God annulled the covenant with the Jews in order set out a new covenant?

Hinson-Hasty writing of God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12 & 15) calls it a perpetual covenant and divides it from a conditional covenant giving the text of Deuteronomy 12-1 as an example of the latter.  She sees the abrahamic covenant as different because it rests solely upon God’s faithfulness and the consistency of God’s care.  And it does rest on those two attributes of God.

However, Hinson-Hasty in attempting to make an allowance for salvation outside of Jesus Christ empties the covenant God made with Abraham. The promises in each instance of God’s covenant making are all there in the covenant to Abraham, not only land, a small thing compared to the promise of being God’s people and blessing the nations, but also all the promises of the Messiah are in God’s covenant. It is the Messiah who will bless, redeem and sit on the throne of King David ruling the nations. The ‘new’ covenant does not change the Old Testament covenant it fulfills it. It is one covenant.

The Jewish people have not ceased to be the chosen, in obedience and disobedience they are still the Lord’s. God, to fulfill the promise, sent them into exile in Babylon, away from the land, that they might return minus the idols they so loved. This was God’s consistent care and faithfulness to all of us, Jew and Gentile.  God in consistent care and love fulfilled the myriad promises to Israel that a redeemer and king would be sent and this was for all of us. Salvation comes through Jesus Christ.

Hinson-Hasty is making the case that both the covenant to Abraham and the ‘new’ covenant that Paul writes of which is tied to Jeremiah 31:31-33 rests on God’s faithfulness and that “the new covenant should not be seen as contrary to the first.” I think she is right but she is missing the messianic part of the whole covenant.  Hinson-Hasty quotes Romans 3:1-4 which is:

What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God. What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true ….

While I concur with that verse, Paul doesn't leave the matter there. He goes on to speak of how God is faithful. It is the fulfillment of rich promises to the Jew first and then to the Gentile:

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in his blood through faith. (Romans 3:21-25 a.)

Although, as I have stated,  Hinson-Hasty appeals to the Holocaust as a reason for Christians to change their views about the superiority of Jesus, the truth is it was those Christians who held to the superiority of Jesus Christ and his Lordship who refused to be fettered by Hitler’s bigotry. In answer to the German Christians who were insisting on the Aryan clause in the church’s constitution which would exclude Jewish Christians from the church, Karl Barth wrote:

The fellowship of those belonging to the Church is not determined by blood, therefore, not by race, but by the Holy Spirit and Baptism. If the German Evangelical Church excludes Jewish-Christians, or treats them as a lower grade, she ceases to be a Christian Church.

And yet, Barth is the one who wrote most of the Theological Declaration of Barmen which among other things states:

1. I am the way and the truth, and the life: no one comes to the father, but by me.” (John 14:6) Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. … I am the door: if any one enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10:1, 9.)

Jesus Christ as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events, and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation. (8.10-8.12)

Truthfully, Hinson-Hasty is simply pushing for Christians to deny that salvation is only in Jesus alone.  She, like most pluralists, denies the uniqueness of Jesus. She writes:

There is a wonderful diversity of faith traditions beyond Judaism and Christianity that make up the religious landscape of the world—Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Muslim, Sikh, and many more. Amid this colorful diversity, Christians need not insist on their own superiority to explain or claim the efficacy of their own faith. Learning about the faith traditions of other peoples, entering into authentic relationship with others, and seeking to understand the mysterious God who inspires us all bears the greater promise for us to deepen our understanding of God’s unconditional love and begin to embody that love ourselves.

Certainly, we should not claim our own superiority, we like everyone else are sinners, but we should winsomely, kindly, joyfully proclaim the superiority of Jesus Christ.  But what is that superiority? It is that God took on our flesh, lived among us, suffered and died for us and rose again. It is, that in our faith, given by the Holy Spirit, we are united to the resurrected Jesus and are given in grace, eternal life, his righteousness, and forgiveness.  

Picture by Ethan McHenry

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The 2014-2015 Horizon's Bible Study "Reconciling Paul" - a continuing review # 2

“Paul in the Context of Ancient Corinth” lesson # 2

One of the great disservices to the Christian community is the use of speculative theology; such theology should not be trusted. It is the attempt to make theological statements when there is no biblical textual information to back up the statement. Years ago I worked with an apologetics group and it often fell my lot to read some rather strange books coming from the far fringe side of the charismatic movement. Speculative theology was generally the problem and too many times it led to heresy.
2 Corinthians, chosen by Presbyterian Women for the 2014-2015 Bible study, lends itself to the same problem. There is uncertainty about how many letters Paul wrote to the Corinth church and whether any of the extras might be found within the second letter. There are also questions about the kinds of problems Paul and the Corinthian church were experiencing. But the problems have answers arrived at by proper scholarship and with the understanding that they will undoubtedly never know all the answers with certainty.

Rosemary Radford Ruether:

Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, author of Reconciling Paul, the PW’s Bible study, in the first as well as the second lesson, uses a radical feminist author, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and speculates wildly about events and people in the text. Given Ruether’s theology the reader should expect speculation when encountering her writing. This section of my review will cover information about Ruether since Hinson-Hasty not only uses her in the first two lessons but also in her first footnote includes pages 75-82 of Ruether’s book, Sexism and God-talk: Toward a Feminist Theology
In Ruether’s book Sexism and God-talk, which Hinson-Hasty uses in her first lesson (p. 11), Ruether states, “Christ, as redemptive person and Word of God, is not to be encapsulated ‘once-for-all’ in the historical Jesus.” In other words, Jesus and Christ are not the same and the living word of God will appear in other incarnations.

In the same book Ruether writes of God as the Primal Matrix and refers back to a primordial matrix writing, “the liberating encounter with God/ess is always an encounter with our authentic selves resurrected from underneath the alienated self.”[1]
Ruether’s view of deity is either a panentheistic or a pantheistic view. The former means that creation is a part of God but God is more than creation, the latter means that God is everything and/or everything is God.[2] Panentheists generally view God as dynamic and changing. Hinson-Hasty’s views about God and humanity seem to fit neatly into the first view, panentheism.

In the pages listed in Hinson-Hasty’s footnote of Ruether’s book one finds a continuing supposed history of patriarchy’s horrific treatment of women. This is after Ruether has attempted, much earlier in her book to prove that the first religions were goddess centered. The last statement in the section highlighted by Hinson-Hasty is a historical myth created by an early 19th century feminist, Matilda Joslyn Gage and carried forward by Mary Daly in her book, Beyond God the Father
The myth presented by Ruether is that in the 14th to 17th century up to a million (Gage and Daly raised the number to 9 million), witches were burned at the stake by church leaders (men). The truth is that must accusations were by other women who were concerned about domestic protections of small children and animals, and the one million is itself inflated.[3]

Looking at lesson two:
The second lesson in the PW Bible study, is meant to cover 2 Corinthians 1:1-2:4. Hinson-Hasty writes about the many letters to the Corinthians and she writes about the city and its culture. She also writes about the problems Paul faces within the Corinthian church. But this is where her speculation begins.

Hinson-Hasty attempts to make the man, Apollos, one of Paul’s problems. She quotes Ruether writing:

Theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether points out in her book Women and Redemption: A Theological History that for those attracted to Apollos’s [sic] teachings, new life in Christ begun in baptism, overcame the old world of sin and brought the believer into a present experience of resurrected life.”
Hinson-Hasty continues Ruether’s thoughts:

This new life overcame gender differences, equalized social relationships, and was often expressed in assemblies where the spirit fell upon and inspired both women and men to pray and testify about their beliefs.
Hinson-Hasty then writes that Ruether “suggests that Paul felt threatened by these practices and confronts them in his letters to the community in Corinth.” The author then mentions that Apollos met friends of Paul, Priscilla and Aquila, who in their concern “took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately. (Acts18:26)” Hinson-Hasty with Ruether is wildly speculating as well as shredding several biblical texts.

Several items from Ruether’s book, Women and Redemption, will add clarity to the statements because reading the quotes is confusing; it would seem that Paul and Apollos should be in agreement. But if one reads further in Ruether’s book they will find that she believes that Apollos held the theological position of a ‘realized eschatology.’ That is she implies that Apollos taught that the kingdom of God had already fully arrived and there was no need for the return of Jesus.  The actual biblical teaching has to do with ‘already not yet;’ the kingdom has come because of the work of Christ, but not in its fullness. It will come in fullness with the return of the lord.

And there is no textual reason to believe that Apollos was a problem. In 1 Corinthians Paul admonishes the Corinthians because they in arrogance were divided over different leaders who had baptized them. And Apollos is one of the leaders, but only one of them. Ruether in her book insists that Paul’s naming of the other leaders was just a ruse to hide the fact that he was angry with only Apollos.
This is all unfounded speculation meant to open the door to a variety of views about God and inclusiveness in the very early biblical church. But this is a poor methodology. Paul’s words to the Corinthian church must be taken in their whole and common sense meaning. To suggest that Paul was lying to the church to cover his own emotions is simply untenable. It belies the wholeness of the word of God. 
Hinson-Hasty writes that the book of Acts and the letters to the Corinthians contradict each other. That acts shows that the Corinthian church was mostly Jews while 1 Corinthians portrays them as Gentiles. She gives Acts 18:4-11 as her proof. But Hinson-Hasty fails to read further into chapter 18 where Paul as usual leaves the Synagogue and turns to the Gentiles.

Next Hinson-Hasty turns to the opinions of “post-colonial” theorist and after looking at the wide range of “socio-economic groups” in the Corinthian church decides that one of the problems occurring was Paul’s refusal to accept patronage from the wealthier members of the church.  And yet Paul instead makes a case for the right of those who lead and work for the church to be cared for by the church. Paul did not asked for pay so that he might not cause a “hindrance to the gospel of Christ.” Paul is so concerned that the gospel of Christ be preached without attachments that he writes: 

I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it (1 Corinthians 9:23).
Hinson-Hasty closes the second lesson giving suggestions about what Paul might have taught the Corinthian church while there.  And wonderfully, she is right Paul did focus on Christ crucified. Still, Hinson-Hasty opines that we may never know the Corinthians answer to Paul, and prepares the reader for the next lesson with the words:

Some biblical scholars suggest that perhaps the message that Paul left went to their heads, or better their egos, because after he left the church Paul began to hear news about divisions and factions that had developed. In Paul’s interpretation of the situation, some were claiming ‘spiritual superiority.’  That they had the power of God.
The reader is being prepared for the next lesson. It is about pluralism, and the view that to find Jesus superior, above all other lords or gods, is to dabble in spiritual superiority.  

[1] Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology, reprint, (Boston: Beacon press 1993), 48, 71. See also, Viola Larson, An Exploration: Feminist Ethics and the Principles of Orthodox Christianity, Masters History thesis “Rosemary Radford Ruether” 49-57.
[2] For more information on Ruether’s God views see: John w. Cooper, Panentheism: The Other God of the Philosophers, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic 2006) 291-294.
[3] For more information on this subject see, “The Rise of Radical Feminism in Mainline Churches: A History #3” at

Picture Saint Paul Writing His Epistles Probably Valentin de Boulogne (1591 - 1632) (French) Wikipedia

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The 2014-2015 Horizon's Bible Study "Reconciling Paul" - a continuing review # 1

An early twentieth century Danish author, Sigrid Undset, wrote three books about the life of a medieval woman, Kristin Lavransdatter. The stories cover her often unhappy marriage and her later life as a nun; they end as the Black Death invades Denmark. The author, a winner of the Nobel Peace prize for literature and a Catholic convert, intertwined her story around the old pagan forces of Denmark and the new religion, Christianity, which came late to that country. In one crucial moment in the second book The Wreath, Kristin’s priest tells her:
"But I hold on to the cross with all my strength--one must cling to it like a kitten hanging on to a plank when it falls into the sea."

Now paganism, sometimes noble sometimes not, has reentered the contemporary western world while forces aligned with radical pagan narcissism and egotism, not at all noble, are invading the church.  One is encouraged to look to one’s own experience and post-modern culture to find any meaning in the word of God.  And rather than clinging to the cross with complete submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ one hears the echo of individual and community desires portrayed as God’s word to the Church.

Such is the new, 2014-2015, Horizons Bible study, Reconciling Paul, written by Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, with suggestions for leaders by Irene Pak. The reader will find, not the words of Paul or the words of Jesus, to place light into their lives, but the themes that so often resonate with such Presbyterian groups as the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns.  The lessons in this study use extra-biblical material, begin with women’s experience, use radical feminists perspectives and even deny that salvation comes by Jesus alone. To choose to use this study is to wade into some very dark and murky water.
I will look at each lesson separately over the coming weeks. The first lesson is, “The promise and the problem of Paul.”

Paul, according to Hinson-Hasty, has two views of inclusiveness, which includes women, slavery and sexuality, all coming from his time and cultural ethics and his own sense of being a Jewish minority in a Hellenistic culture. Supposedly Paul lives in tension between his need for exclusiveness and his desire to be inclusive.
The author, in the first lesson, offers four possible perspectives one might use to study Paul and 2 Corinthians. The first two are, as she puts it, polar extremes.

The first, “Applying moral advice and teachings found in Paul’s letters directly to the circumstance to our contemporary lives.” Hinson-Hasty description is a caricature and portrays a certain amount of arrogance.  She writes:

“The Bible says it. I believe it.  That settles it!” Some Christians will appeal to their belief in the divine inspiration of the Bible to avoid critical engagement with the biblical passages.  These readers believe that faithful people do not need to know much, if anything, about the historical context or original languages in which the Bible was written. Biblical passages can be applied directly to the circumstances of our contemporary daily life and, therefore, Paul’s letters offer relevant moral advice regardless of the differences in historical settings.

Hinson-Hasty elaborates on this using 2 Corinthians 11:3 as her proof text that this methodology will always mean the subordination of women to men. Her second methodology is “Dismissing the moral authority of Pauline letters because they were written for a world so vastly different from our own.” Hinson-Hasty rejects this also as too extreme. But, before I go on to the next two, the last one being the author’s methodology, I want to examine the first.
As I stated Hinson-Hasty has set up a caricature and really it is a double edged one.  There are, of course, very conservative scholars who do not believe that women can be ordained and believe that men in Christian households are to be the heads of their families. And yet they know and care deeply about the ancient languages and they certainly study and understand the historical context of the text.

On the other hand, there are those who are also conservative and believe women should be in ministry and they also hold to the inspiration of Scripture. The truth is, they, unlike Hinson-Hasty, properly use Scripture to interpret Scripture. Their views are different than those whose understanding involve the submission of women, but their faithfulness to the inspiration of Scripture is intact.
Where there is a seeming contradiction the biblical scholar studies Scripture in its historical context and in its ancient languages to find the solution. But contemporary culture and experience are not the arbitrator of the problem, only the word can speak to the issue. Hinson-Hasty belittles those who view Scripture as the word of God.

The third methodology can be conservative although Hinson-Hasty does not say so. It is, “Examining the historical context in which Paul wrote his letters will reveal the meaning and message of even troublesome texts.”
Those conservative scholars who believe that women may be ordained and lead, fall into this category. The difference between the conservative and the liberal in this group is that the conservative notes if there is a seeming contradiction within the text itself, while the liberal will too often use the contradictions between culture and Scripture as the starting point.

The fourth methodology, which is the one Hinson-Hasty uses in this study is, “Reading Paul’s letters afresh.” The author explains:

Our interest in Paul’s writing cannot be only historical. The past has a vote in our overall understanding of Christian faith and practice, but the past should not have the full authority or veto. Our study of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians must attend to our own lived experience because we read and hear his writing in the midst of our contemporary struggle to remain faithful. We are then pressed to live a dynamic relationship with the God who is witnessed to in the biblical text and a God who is still creating and imagining new realities within and for our world.

Hinson-Hasty goes on to list five aspects of her study. But we should look carefully at her methodology; within it one can see her view of God and Scripture. And undoubtedly her view of morality as well as redemptive theology will follow although that will be included in other lessons.
When speaking of the Scriptures and their historical context, to say that the two together do not have full authority or veto in our Christian faith and practice is to deny the authority of Scripture, it is to deny their inspiration. To believe instead that we are forced to live in a dynamic relationship with a god who is still creating and imagining new realities within and for our world is to believe in a process god. A god who is as influenced by humanity as humanity is influenced by god.

And this goes further, Hinson-Hasty, because she is speaking of God’s word to the Church, is denying the final revelation of God, who is Jesus Christ the Lord of the Church. Surely God continues to uphold his creation and though the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, moves in the life of the Church, guiding her to do God’s will. But there are not new realities, nor new truths beyond that one who is Truth. As John in his third letter states, “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.” (3 John 9)
“He is the image of the invisible God the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created both in heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the church; and he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things to the himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; though him I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” (Colossians 1:15-20 NASB)

Picture- Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt, from Wikipedia

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

An Israeli American student speaks about divestment

On March the 25th, I wrote of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement attempting to make inroads onto universities in the United States. I pointed out in the article that the BDS movement in reality is pushing for there to be no Israel at all as some of their signs and words suggest, that is, they say “Palestine: from the Ocean to the Sea.” Some of the actions have been successful, some have not. The University of Michigan’s Student government said no to divestment.  
This is a video of an Israeli American student, Dafna Razz, who spoke at the university’s debate. Her family has lived in the holy land many years before the birth of Israel. Follow carefully her family’s history, it tells a true story and undergirds the understanding that there are two sides to this conflict and both are hurting. 

 And as a University of Michigan professor, Yael Aronoff, in another video, points out BDS resolutions make the matter a battle between a saint and a monster when this just isn’t true.

Razz points out the divisiveness such a resolution brings and questions the moral right of a student government to make such a decision for the whole student body.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Tricia Dykers Koenig, "Marriage and the Book of Confessions" more than unconstitutional

Tricia Dykers Koenig, national organizer of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, asks: “Would it be permissible for the PCUSA to interpret and/or amend the Book of Order section on marriage to reflect the reality of same-gender marriage, even though The Book of Confessions uses the language of ‘a man and a woman’?” In her posting, “Marriage and the Book of Confessions,” Koenig, writes about the concerns raised at the 2012 General Assembly as to whether changing the Book of Order’s wording without changing the Book of Confessions would be constitutional.  She also uses two papers, one by Joseph Small[1] and one by Charles Wiley, offered at the Moderator's second “Conversation on Unity with Difference,” December 11-13, 2013.
Remarkably, Koenig introduces the ‘Unity and Difference” conferences, with these words:

Anticipating that this question [on the confessions and the Book of Order]  would arise again at the 2014 General Assembly, current Moderator Neal Presa convened a group of theologians in December to consider the issue of how the Confessions function in the PCUSA, and the confessional, constitutional, and ecclesial implications of the marriage overtures coming to this summer’s Assembly …
In the first part of her posting, Koenig relies on the argument put forth by Paul Hooker moderator of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution at the 2012 GA, that the Book of Confessions is, because of its diverse nature, inconsistent and “therefore its nature is as the primary repository of our basic theological commitments, and it cannot be treated as a rulebook.” Koenig goes on to give a minor history of the evolving Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

And the idea that the Confessions are not a rule book but rather a help is seemingly her main focus. Using examples of discarded portions of confessions and the Westminster Confession, Koenig writes, “These examples illustrate the fundamental flaw of treating the Confessions as “a rule of faith and practice” rather than “as a help in both,” as Westminster teaches. [6.175]”
While Koenig and others, such as Hooker, have focused on the inconsistencies in the confessions, I would like to address the consistencies of the confessions.  And then I want to use several ideas that Small provides in his paper, ““Confessions and Confessional Authority in the Reformed Tradition.” I believe that something more dire than passing an unconstitutional overture may occur during the GA.

There is certainly consistency in the confessions’ views of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is consistency in the statements about the Incarnation.

The Lord Jesus Christ is “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made; being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and made man, was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. …”(The Nicene Creed 1.2b) There are no confessions in the Book of Confessions that contradicts this statement. 

There is consistency in the confessions’ view of Jesus Christ as the one Lord and Savior whose embrace includes life and denial brings death. “The same Jesus Christ is the judge of all men. His judgment discloses the ultimate seriousness of life and gives promises of God’s final victory over the power of sin and death. To receive life from the risen Lord is to have life eternal; to refuse life from him is to choose the death which is separation from God. All who put their trust in Christ face divine judgment without fear, for the judge is their redeemer.” (The Confession of 1967 9.11) No other confession contradicts this.
There is consistency in the confessions’ view that God is a loving God and that God’s love is known in Jesus Christ. “In everlasting love, the God of Abraham and Sarah chose a covenant people to bless all the families of the earth. … Loving us still, God makes us heirs with Christ of the covenant.” (A Brief Statement of Faith 41-43, 47-48) God’s love is never questioned in any of the confessions nor is its manifestation in Christ denied.

There is a consistency in the confessions that the church possesses unity and that unity is in Jesus Christ. “And those who are such in the Church [sheep who follow the voice of Christ] have one faith and one spirit; and therefore they worship one God, and him alone they worship in spirit and in truth, loving him alone with all their hearts, and with all their strength, praying unto him alone through Jesus Christ, the only mediator and intercessor; they do not seek righteousness and life outside of Christ and faith in him.” (The Second Helvetic Confession 5.138) There is no confession which contradicts this view of the church’s unity.
Now please note that in all of this consistency there are barriers set against false doctrine and this can be stated as a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ of the confessions as Small points out in his paper:

When we listen to that part of the tradition given voice in The Book of Confessions, what do we hear?  We hear expressions of the search for distinguishing marks of faithful Christian community.  Those who have gone before us asked and answered questions about where to draw identifying lines between faithful and unfaithful confession of God, between faithful and unfaithful living out of that confession.  Christians in Nicaea and Rome, in Geneva, Heidelberg, and Edinburgh, in Barmen and Portland, shaped Christian faith and faithfulness by saying “Yes” to some things and “No” to others.  Genuine confession of faith is always both affirmation of truth and denial of untruth.  “If the Yes does not in some way contain the No,” said Karl Barth, “it will not be the Yes of a confession. . . . If we have not the confidence to say damnamus [what we refuse], then we might as well omit the credimus [what we believe].
To change any of the above consistencies would draw the denomination into heretical teaching concerning the person of Christ or the nature of God. The Presbyterian Book of Confessions would no longer be a Christian document.  Instead of a no to Arianism or to Gnosticism or to racism there might be a yes. A very heretical yes. All of these isms are rooted in a denial of the person and work of Christ. For instance, a yes to racism means that the unity connected to faith in Christ will be destroyed. A yes to Arianism destroys the deity of Christ and humanity is left without a God who has shared our suffering and experienced death for our redemption.

So here is one more important consistency:

There is consistency on the idea of marriage in the confessions. All of the confessions which speak of marriage, hold up marriage as a desirable existence for Christians, and that is only in the context of marriage between a man and a woman.
But first a return to Koenig’s posting, she offers several reasons of why the use of woman and man in marriage is unimportant. One is that “the Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in the United States prior to Reunion had a section on marriage (Chapter 15) without any gendered language, and apparently nobody thought that that section was in conflict with the Westminster Confession held as the PCUS confessional standard.” But of course everyone at that time understood those words to imply man and woman. So that is a silly argument, after all what Koenig wants is words that will mean something different than just man and woman.

One other argument is that in some of those instances which refer to a man and a woman in the Book of Confessions the authors are saying no to polygamy. Well surely they were as some fringe groups on the outer edge of the Anabaptist movement were practicing polygamy. But just as surely that was not the sole reason for the references to a man and a woman. For two thousand years the church has considered marriage to be between a man and a woman and same sex coupling to be sin.

The Second Helvetic Confession states of marriage that it was “instituted by the Lord God himself, who blessed it most bountifully, and willed man and woman to cleave one to the other inseparably, and to live together in complete love and concord.” This statement conforms totally with Jesus’ words about divorce and marriage when he turns to Genesis repeating that marriage is between a man and woman and the man is to cleave to his wife. Biblically speaking, in reality, the word, which is God’s word, belongs to Jesus Christ.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, states of marriage:

Christian marriage is an institution ordained of God, blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ, established and sanctified for the happiness and welfare of mankind, into which spiritual and physical union one man and one woman enter cherishing a mutual esteem and love, bearing with each other’s infirmities and weaknesses , comforting each other in trouble, providing in honesty and industry for each other and their household, praying for each other, and living together the length of their days as heirs of grace. (6.131)
The Confession of 1967 states of marriage: The relationship between man and woman exemplifies in a basic way God’s ordering of the interpersonal life for which he created mankind. … Reconciled to God, each person has joy in and respect for his own humanity and that of other persons; a man and a woman are enabled to marry, to commit themselves to a mutually shared life, and to respond to each other in sensitive and lifelong concern; …The church comes under the judgment of God and invites rejection by man when it fails to lead men and women into the full meaning of life together, or withholds the compassion of Christ from those caught in the moral confusion of our time. (9.47b)

Looking at each of these quotes from the Book of Confessions one sees how they align with confessional truths about the person of Jesus Christ. His creativeness, his unity which he gives to the church, his redeeming and reconciling act on the cross, his life given to believers all undergird with grace Christian marriage—marriage between a man and a woman.
Small, whose whole essay should be read, states:

Confessions are understood as a crucial element in the continuing reform of the church.  Reformed churches understand themselves as “reformed and always to be reformed [ecclesia reformata semper reformanda] in accordance with the word of God [secundum verbum Dei].”  Reform of the church is not mere change, certainly not modernization, and never a product of the church’s own achievement.  The church is always to be reformed, not to imagine that it can reform itself, in accordance with the word of God, that is, in harmony with the clear witness of Scripture.  Because Reformed confessions are subordinate standards, always accountable to Scripture, they are authoritative only to the extent that they are faithful expressions of the primary apostolic witness.  The Reformation motto sola scriptura is often misunderstood to mean “Scripture alone”; it actually signifies that Scripture is the normative authority against which all other authorities are measured, including the confessions.  
Conservative Presbyterians, whether they identify as evangelicals or orthodox or both are reformed because they love confessing the faith and because they believe that the confessions must be “in harmony with the clear witness of Scripture.” No, although a standard, the Presbyterian Book of Confessions is not a rule book, it is the Church’s (through the ages) confession of faith and it is not so if it ignores Scripture. Marriage between a man and a woman is scripturally on the lips of Jesus our Lord. Marriage between a man and a woman is scripturally introduced in the first pages of Genesis when God creates a helpmate for Adam and the helpmate is a woman. Marriage between a man and a woman is used as metaphor for the care and love Jesus gives to his church. (Eph. 5: 25-33)

The Presbyterian General Assembly may change the Book of Order in such a way that it no longer conforms to the Book of Confessions when referring to marriage and insist that it is not unconstitutional. But by inserting words into the text of the Book of Order that are meant to be as readily interpreted as same gender (in marriage) in addition to man and woman, the GA will have cut themselves off from orthodoxy and faithfulness. They will have created a separate confession that has nothing to do with the Book of Confessions nor with Scripture. They will have created their own particular rule book which neither adheres to the Book of Confessions or to Scriptures. And they will, by moving away from the faith, be the cause of schism.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Will there be aggressive intimidators overwhelming the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly?

Will there be aggressive intimidators overwhelming the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly? Since 2004 the PC (U.S.A.) has voted on divestment from companies doing business with Israel. In 2004, commissioners voted yes, in 2006 the GA apologized to the Jewish Community and voted against divestment. Once again we are voting on divestment but some things have changed. The Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement has recently invaded many of America’s universities. And while some student councils have given an emphatic no, there have been those among the BDS movement who have manipulated, intimidated and threatened those who declined the invitation to divest.
One newspaper, the Washington Free Beacon on March the 21st published an article, “Palestinian Activists Violently Threaten Pro-Israel Students, with the subtitle, “Cops called in after Palestinian activists threaten BDS opponents.” This was at the University of Michigan where the student government refused to back divestment of companies doing business in Israel. While the student reported threats from those staging a sit-in, there were other reports one given by Dumisani Washington, director of The Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel. In a Facebook report he wrote:

 "I received disturbing news from a friend, and am speaking out (before I turn in).

Apparently there is an African American young man who is being ridiculed, shunned and even receiving death threats for voting against BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) measures against Israel. He is also being kicked out of the schools BSU (Black Student Union) in retaliation.”

And from a wider view, and an intimidating one, Philip Weiss, of Mondoweiss wrote of the aggressiveness of activist at Vassar. “Over 200 students and faculty jammed a large room of the College Center, and torrents of anger ripped through the gathering. Most of them were directed at Israel or its supporters.”
Weiss, in fact, in his article, “Ululating at Vassar: the Israel/Palestine conflict comes to America,” encourages such actions and attitudes as shouting, bullying, and belligerence. He writes about the conflict at Vassar in which some students and professors were traveling to Israel and Palestine to study water issues. The protest was over whether the itinerary was too Israel focused. After writing about the conflict Weiss writes:

But the meeting shows where the Israel/Palestine conflict is headed: to the United States. The battles we’ve seen so far on campus are just preliminaries. The ugly and intractable Israel-Palestine conflict is set to become a raging conflict inside the American progressive community and spread from there to the broader discourse. And given the liberal establishment’s marriage to Israel (from Pelosi to de Blasio to Jerry Brown to Vassar) things are going to get much more belligerent before there is any understanding.

In fact, that belligerence may be necessary to the resolution.
One particular university, Northeastern University, has banned the Students for Justice in Palestine, a group connected to the BDS movement, from campus and from funds. According to an NBC news report:

The administration cited several violations of campus policies and procedures, most recently when SJP failed to get university approval to distribute 600 fliers on February 23.

The fliers were designed as mock eviction notices to symbolize the Palestinian experience in occupied territory, where homes have been razed for Israeli settlements. It warned the reader that their dorm was “scheduled for demolition in three days,” followed by statistics on displaced Palestinian families. The flier was punctuated by a disclaimer at the bottom: “This is not a real eviction notice. #BostonMockEviction.”
There is a dispute about whether the group has been unfairly targeted—and it is a fair dispute—and yet if one scrolls down toward the bottom of the article there is a very telling picture which makes a statement that really defines the whole BDS movement and is itself intimidating. It is a picture of pro-Palestinian demonstrators with a sign that states: “From the River to the Sea: Palestine.”  That means no more Jewish State of Israel, in fact, no more Israel at all. How should Jewish students feel, if not intimidated? The SJP organization, which, as I have stated, is a part of the BDS movement, is asking for an end to the solid ground of the Jewish student’s world, the end of their safety net.  (*)

General Assembly leadership, take note, the Israel/Palestine Mission Network has already set the tone for this GA with their awful ZionismUnsettled, and they are part of the BDS movement. They constantly use and even write for Mondoweiss. They linked to the article on Vassar on their twitter page. They also read that quote that “belligerence may be necessary to the resolution,” and still thought it was a good article.
In a movie I am especially fond of, “To Sleep with Anger,” a character representing Satan, played by Danny Glover, visits a family who believe he is an old friend. Alongside him, eventually, comes a long string of other ‘old friends’ with various ugly character flaws who almost destroy every relationship in the family.[1] (One will notice in this case the mother in the family becomes the Christ figure.) But the point is one opens the door to evil and the host of hell follows.

The danger is far greater than we might imagine. Scripture reminds us that we are not struggling with flesh and blood, but we are struggling against “the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” That means that our souls are in danger because of our own anger and frustrations. And our concerns for both the Israelis and the Palestinians can be destroyed in the fray. We must remember, we are not struggling against people, but for the will of the Lord to be done. I believe we must be committed to His purpose and His peace.

* See also Stay Strong Northeastern

[1] This is the trailer. None of the other videos on YouTube have anything to do with the movie.