You see, my goal in fostering dialogue is to … foster a spirit of dialogue.
I think that having a spirit of dialogue is an excellent state of mind, and is itself an excellent goal. Some may be concerned that dialogue is not, in fact, a destination. You carry out dialogue to produce other effects. And indeed you do. But one of those effects is the spirit that goes with dialogue, an inquiring spirit, a listening spirit, a humble spirit. You get the point. And yes, those attitudes lead to other beneficial results.
In discussing defending your faith with some young people this past summer I told them the first question when they want to argue with someone should be how that person came to their particular belief, not how you can challenge that belief. Some might think this is giving up the high ground of TRUTH. On the contrary, even if you decide you must argue vigorously against their position, that their position is dangerous and destructive, knowing how they came to that opinion can only make discussion more effective.
But, and it’s a big “but,” you may also discover weaknesses in your own position on the way to understanding how they came to theirs. That’s another benefit for you. It’s possible you might even change your mind in the process.
From the letters of Paul (but see below) we get two statements that are in tension. The first is in 1 Corinthians 8:2, “Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.” (NIV. I got this from Bible Gateway, a very useful resource.) Think about that! It doesn’t stop biting you if you want to stand on your knowledge with pride. Then there is 2 Timothy 3:7, “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Somewhere in the tension between those two there is a good place where you humbly hold your ideas, always willing to learn, yet can be firm in your faith. (You should be aware that many scholars do not credit 2 Timothy, or the other pastoral letters, to Paul. That is another good subject for dialogue.)
In fact, I believe that we humans are much too likely to set a current position in concrete, and very unlikely to let new knowledge or overlooked facts change our opinion. A spirit of dialogue helps us overcome that. We don’t have to accept every idea that comes along, but we listen to others and we examine the various options before we make a final choice. And when we make a final choice, it is final only until we discover new reasons to continue.
This applies to many fields of endeavor. In science it is perhaps easier to express. It takes a great deal of effort to change a scientific consensus. I have heard science and scientists criticized for this. The major triumphs of scientific endeavor have sometimes been portrayed as failures, as a history of being wrong. The discovery that the earth is not the center of the universe or even of this solar system is also the discovery that we were wrong before. But that is not the important thing. The important thing is that we moved on to something better. Relativity tells us that Newtonian physics was wrong, but Newtonian physics fostered many accomplishments and many new discoveries. The most wonderful thing, however, is that continued study resulted in a new understanding. We may yet discover that Einstein was wrong, or that his understanding was just too limited. Then we’ll move on. That is the triumph of science.
People are currently complaining about the level of fraud in scientific results. You can find stories about this through such search engines as Google News. But you need to also realize that it is scientists looking for faults who are discovering the problems. Yes, people are wrong. People do wrong. But it is the idea that the study and the dialogue about the results must continue that makes it possible for these wrongs to be corrected.
In theology and faith we often set our ideas in stone. We have a number of ways of expressing this:
It’s not me, it’s just what the Bible teaches.
I heard from God.
God showed me this after much prayer.
This is God’s absolute, unchangeable truth.
All of these sayings precede (or follow as an “author’s credit”) the expression of a human opinion about what the Bible says, what God has said, or what absolute truth actually is. We think this is a way to avoid arrogance, but it is, in fact, one of the most arrogant forms of expression. Yet almost all of us are guilty of something similar at some point.
There is no weakness in changing these statements just a bit:
This is what I believe I have heard from the Holy Spirit, or my study has led me to believe, but I’d like to hear about your study, also guided by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps we’ll combine what we’ve heard and get closer to God’s will.
I’ve been trying to listen for God’s will; will you also listen and share with me?
I’ve studied prayerfully, and finally I think I have found an answer. Will you help test it with me?
As far as my limited mind can understand, I think this reflects one of God’s eternal principles.
The spirit of dialogue doesn’t say there is no truth. In fact, it respects truth more strongly by admitting one’s own weakness and looking to others to help test.
I certainly have my own opinions. I have opinions on just about everything. But my goal in publishing is not to convince everyone of some set of opinions, but to foster the continued testing of opinions and the continued discovery of more about God’s wonderful universe in whatever fields of knowledge there are.
Last night after my discussion of eschatology, in which I mentioned that we tend to discover what we’re looking for in scripture, I returned to the house. Now I think this warning is important. We need to check our questions. On my hub site, henryneufeld.com, I use the slogan “helping you find the right questions.” It’s important to examine our questions, as they can determine our conclusions.
And life gave me an illustration. My wife generally has dinner about ready to go when I get done with my study. We were having nachos. She dropped something, and I headed around the counter to pick it up for her. Now at the same time as she dropped something (note that I’m not telling you what it was), I had dropped one pinto bean on the floor. I picked that up first. A stepped-upon pinto bean makes a nasty looking mess. In my head now is dropping an item of food while setting up a plate of nachos.
I go around the counter look back and forth and fail to find the item that my wife had dropped. I see nothing anywhere. Finally, she points at the floor, somewhat frustrated. Her cane has fallen and is right there and obvious as can be. So I picked it up and handed it to her.
What happened? I firmly had in my mind that since we were both fixing our nachos and I had just dropped a food item, she had dropped one too. There was no food item on the floor, therefore there was nothing to pick up. I was totally unaware of the cane, much larger than a food item, sitting there hidden in plain sight.
The question I have is just how many answers will be hidden in plain sight as we study the scripture because we know what is there?
Tonight I’m giving myself permission to ramble in my presentation. “How will that be different?” you ask. I would imagine largely in that I won’t feel guilty while I ramble!
There are few areas that demonstrate differences in views of biblical inspiration and interpretation than eschatology, whether we mean end-time events or our own end-of-life considerations. ” Where does everyone go at the end? and What happens to me when I die? tend to lead us to similar issues even though the chronology involved is different. In addition, the difference between a scattered proof-text approach and one that is carefully grounded in historical and literary context will come out substantially different. I don’t mean that if we could just choose one method of interpretation, we would all agree. We’re all human; we will disagree. But it would be nice to debate about the actual issues.
I recall debating online with a Seventh-day Adventist. Since I am a former SDA, he expected me to “understand” certain things about prophecy, by which he meant that I would “see them as true.” Of course, “understand” and “see as true” are not synonymous. I recall that the debate came down to whether there was a connection between Daniel 8 & 9. Is there some relationship between the opening of the “2300 evenings-mornings” of Daniel 8:14 and the prophecies of Daniel 9? He simply refused to discuss the possibility of a connection. There was no connection and could not be. Why? Because his interpretation of the two prophecies required that they be separated. Now this observation doesn’t determine whether, much less how those two passages are connected. What I’m noting here is simply that for him, there was no possibility of a connection.
In terms of inspiration, we have the additional issue of just what we expect to be able to know as a result of studying eschatology from scripture. Is there a single view of the end times that one can piece together from pieces coming from 3rd Isaiah (Isaiah 56-66), Ezekiel, Daniel, the gospels (Mark 13/Matthew24/Luke 21), Paul, and Revelation, along with quite a number of other scriptures? Should we expect such a thing? If not, in what way can we view these scriptures as inspired? If so, why is the process of piecing this material together made so difficult?
My intent this evening will be to draw a very general map of the material and how it contributes to this topic. In order to understand eschatology, one must have somewhat of a handle on the whole of scripture. This is a daunting task. There are far too many people claiming to have simple solutions to everything when they show know awareness of the extent of “everything” with regard to this topic.
As you can see, I interspersing material from the study guide with time spent discussing some of the source texts. In some cases, we will come back to those texts after we’ve studied further from the guide and also from other scriptures. For example, does your understanding of Mark 13 change when you think about realized eschatology in connection with it? Does your understanding of the materials in the gospels as a whole change after you study Daniel?
As you can see, I can have fun with this topic for an indefinite period of time. I may follow up a more general study with chapter by chapter studies of Daniel and Revelation, though I’d be more tempted to do this with Ezekiel. So we shall see!
I opened my mailbox today to be greeted by a slick flyer inviting me to discover what the Bible really says about a variety of things. Among the the questions I’m told I can get answered: What is the future of our country during this economic downturn? What does the Bible really say about the second coming? What does the Bible really say about law and grace? What does the Bible really say about a vacation every week?
I’m rather well acquainted with this type of brochure, because I grew up as a Seventh-day Adventist. We had plenty of opportunities to see this sort of advertising. We were supposed to be the people who were right, and thus who would eventually straighten out the rest of the world. Well, at least those who were not destined for the lake of fire.
One of the things that my SDA teachers wanted me to learn was to go to the Bible about everything and to study it for myself. I did, and as a result I decided that the SDA church wasn’t the church for me. Especially on the topic of eschatology, I came to very different conclusions.
That’s the critical thing. The internet and the airwaves are filled with people who claim that they know precisely what the Bible teaches about almost any subject you can imagine, even when the Bible may not say much of anything about it.
To discover God’s message for you in scripture, you need to study for yourself. Now one of the things I was taught to do as a child was to look up the texts the evangelist used to see whether he was citing them correctly. There’s nothing wrong with doing so, but in a way this is a trap.
Studying the texts that someone else provides in the order and in the structure in which they provide them will very often lead you precisely to their conclusions. What you need to do is study the scriptures for yourself, in an order that you may discover, prayerfully, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit that God promises to you, not just to experts or ordained leaders.
While you’re doing that you need to examine just how it is that you come to understand the text, and especially to understand the way in which the text applies to you and to your life.
You can illustrate the problem with the way that the brochure I received talks about a “weekly vacation.” What the writers of the brochure mean is the seventh-day Sabbath. For various reasons that seem good to them, they believe that the command to keep the seventh day holy still applies, while other commands, such as various sacrifices do not. I don’t mean here to argue that they’re wrong about that, but rather that their view comes from a particular way of understanding scripture.
Some of our presuppositions and their impact.
I remember a certain book about the King James Version, one that advocated it as the only Bible Christians should use. “It’s a very scholarly book,” I was told. “It’s filled with footnotes.” The problem is that the footnotes varied between those that were to unreliable sources, those that were plain wrong, and those that were to other examples of the author’s own work.
Similarly, just because a presentation of scripture has a large number of texts doesn’t mean it’s scriptural. Neither does it mean it’s not. What it means is that you should examine it and decide for yourself.
When I cite SDA documents many people approve. Of course we should examine (and dismiss) the claims of schismatics like Seventh-day Adventists. They are, after all, wrong! But there is no type of mistake in understanding scripture that is truly exclusive to SDAs. You’ll find these mistakes in many denominations and tradition streams.
You need to examine everything. Think about these things for yourself. Get multiple scholarly opinions and test your own work against those. If you do this, you may be surprised at how many opinions about the Bible are predetermined by the presuppositions of the person holding that opinion.
I’m going to follow a different pattern for this study, however, so don’t expect a chapter per week. What I’m planning to do is go back to something I’m more familiar with and illustrate these various approaches by looking at specific passages of scripture. I’ll focus on one, but will bring in others to show the connections, both where I see intertextual relationships and where students of eschatology have tended to draw connections irrespective of any demonstrable intent of the author.
At the beginning of the year I began a journey through the gospel According to John, using as my guide the book Meditations on According to John by Herold Weiss. I began this study largely for myself. I admit it. My motivation was selfish. I wanted to force myself to stick with the study week by week and to look into it more deeply than would be required just to satisfy my curiosity. I wanted to be able to present something based on each chapter of the book. (The entire study is now available as a playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLdArFvZynbMDmk-CI_5EvufFIIxKfqxLN.)
The book is a bit alien to me. I stuck rigorously with the fundamentals of biblical studies, the languages, the history, the cultures, and the means of coming to some sort of idea of what that writer meant to say to his (or her) original audience. I avoided application because that is much harder to nail down, much less certain.
I have frequently noted on this blog that I am not a theologian. That’s in the professional or academic sense. My training has not been in theology. I continue to maintain that. Teaching through one book does not make one a theologian. Nonetheless I do now have a much greater appreciation for the theological task.
What Dr. Weiss has done in this book is opened up in a practical way some approaches to connecting theology with what one reads in scripture without at the same time trying to force scripture to fit in with our creeds. We tend to see this as an either-or situation. Either the creed is scriptural or it is not. Either the trinity, for example, is scriptural, or it is not. But it is not quite so simple. One can pick up some pieces that eventually formed a part of the doctrine of the trinity without imagining that the particular text actually operated in a trinitarian framework. Indeed, one can believe the doctrine of the trinity without believing that it is actually taught in scripture. There’s a difference between being able to trace the roots to various texts and affirming that those text teach what grew out of interacting with them, with other texts, and with the experience of people living the faith.
Dr. Weiss made a valuable comment on that in his final interview for this study. (He graciously appeared twice to answer questions during the series.) He noted that very few of us really had the knowledge of philosophical language and categories of the time sufficient to really understand the results of those early councils that formulated the doctrine of the trinity. I would add that it is therefore not surprising that so many people, in talking about the trinity, fall afoul of one or another officially condemned heresy on the subject, without being aware that they have done so.
I am the publisher of Dr. Weiss’s book. One might suppose that my sole reason for using it was that I publish it and want to publicize it. I don’t deny that publicity was in my thinking. I do want to publicize the book. But for me editing this book was a profound experience. This is not because I believe that every view that Dr. Weiss expresses is set to become the new academic orthodoxy, but rather because he challenges us constantly to look at the text and what it meant and can mean.
One of the most critical issues is also probably the most controversial. Dr. Weiss challenges the common idea that the book is fundamentally sacramental. He believes that the view of operation of symbolic actions (and here I summarize a huge amount of text with some trepidation—I will provide a link to Dr. Weiss so he can correct me if I’m wrong) is more to be found in the washing of the disciples’ feet than in the traditional “sacramental passages such as the wedding at Cana, the discussion of eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood, or “born of water and the spirit” in John 3.
Participation was small during these studies. The most watched episodes, other than interviews, are in the 20s for views, and the least watched episodes are in single digits. I actually expected it all to be in the single digits. After all, I’m not truly an expert on this gospel.
This experience will impact my teaching in almost all areas. Some of the time I spent looking at the use of metaphors, of symbolism and how it can be layered, and the relationship between our experience, the text we read, the traditions we’ve inherited, and whatever creeds we follow will lead me to change the way I talk about almost any scripture. Of course, there are also many elements here that will remain applicable to this gospel alone. In fact, there are many ways in which I will be more wary of seeing symbolic meaning in something straightforward than I was before, because I have seen writers go a bit over the top with it.
I’m writing this both as a summary and to personally thank Dr. Herold Weiss for this book. I think it’s a great gift to the church. I think that a serious read of the gospel of John alongside these essays would be constructive for almost anyone interested in reading the Bible more seriously.
I’m now doing a preliminary read of Dr. Weiss’s next book, Meditations on the Letters of Paul, and I am also finding that they profoundly challenge me to think more and differently about that apostle. I’ll probably find occasion to use some of that material online in the future.
Next week, August 20, I will begin a study of Eschatology. The first couple of weeks I’m going to lay out a road map, looking at definitions of major terms used. In this, I’ll follow the study guide written by Dr. Edward W. H. Vick, Eschatology: A Participatory Study Guide. The study will continue indefinitely every Thursday evening at 7 pm central time.
Once I’ve drawn the road map with definitions, I will go into studying some specific passages and the way in which they are applied in eschatology. This study will be much more what I’m used to doing, as I look at the historical setting. At the same time, I will be pointing out how these passages are used in the various schools of thought about eschatology in the church today.
I’d enjoy having your input here in the comments or during the Google Hangouts on Air. Watch this blog for announcements and links to each event.
In the comments to my announcement for Thursday night’s interview with Dr. Herold Weiss there was a comment that included a question. I missed it and failed to ask it during the interview. I e-mailed it to Dr. Weiss, and he sent me a response. Since this ties into the topic of the interview, I will also include the YouTube embed of the interview video below:
Q: As I’m sure Dr. Weiss knows, the Jesus Seminar allocated no sayings of Jesus in “According to John” as “likely authentic.” How does Dr. Weiss rate Jesus’ sayings in “John”, and how does he explain the vast difference between the Jesus of “John” and the Synoptics?
A: The difference between the Synoptics and John is due to the bifurcation of the oral tradition that started with the disciples but quite early departed into different trajectories. We can identify four of them: the tradition of Q, the tradition in the Gospel of Thomas, the tradition in Mark and the tradition in John. At some points there are connections between them. The tradition of John, as I point out in the book, can be seen being developed within the Johannine community, so that now there are some tensions withing the gospel. As for the work of the Jesus Seminar, I find it a bit pompous. The criteria of authenticity are logical, but their application is always subjective. All the sayings of Jesus are colored by the oral traditions behind them. That is also true of the work of the ‘historians’ of antiquity. They had no sense of responsibility to evidence and facts. The case of Josephus, or Tacitus is well documented. ‘Scientific history’ is a child of the XIX century.
There may be some who think that if we cannot be certain of every word in the gospels as ‘history’ we cannot believe in Jesus. I find that quite amazing. If one is to depend on history for what one believes, then all you have is a Jew who was crucified as a traitor by the Romans. The Gospel is about something else completely.
This is from the forthcoming book The Incredible Shrinking Gospel by Lee Wyatt. Formatting progress doesn’t allow me to tell you the precise page number.
Oddly, his [Jesus’] ministry as we find it in our canonical gospels suffers considerable neglect in North American churches at present. Conservative churches tend to find their theological center in a view of Paul and his teaching largely shaped by the issues of the Reformation in the 16th century rather than the 1st century Jewish setting he actually lived in. Thus they work out their theology in a rather surprising neglect of the gospels. There is nothing wrong with Paul, of course, understood in his own setting. But he himself, by his own testimony, builds on the foundation which is Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-11). So I believe we ought to return to that (oft neglected) foundation ourselves.
Liberal churches focus more on Jesus but tend to treat him largely as a moral example and inspiration for our own efforts to be faithful Christians in the world. But surely the Jesus we meet in the gospels is much more than, though certainly not less than, a moral example for us to follow. This reading misses the fullness and depth of the drama of the Jesus story. Thus, a rereading of the Jesus story certainly seems in order.
Followed by this comment in chapter 2:
What I am calling “The Incredible Shrinking Gospel,” got that way by virtue of both a “shrunken” biblical story and, in consequence, a truncated theology. Somewhat Esau-like, we have “despised (our) birthright” (the biblical gospel) in favor of tasty “red stuff” (the incredible shrinking gospel) that promises to slake our immediate hunger but will leave us thirsting to eat again very soon.
This book will be on pre-order on Energion Direct by tomorrow morning and I’ll publish a direct link at that point.
Well, I hope it’s not my final interview ever, and since we’re going to announce his next book, already under contract (and I have a preliminary manuscript in hand!), it likely won’t be. But it’s a wind-up interview for my study of According to John using Dr. Weiss’s book Meditations on According to John. You can find out more about the interview on the Google+ Event Page, or simply come back to this post and use the viewer embedded here.
Be sure to post any questions in the comments here and I’ll ask Dr. Weiss during his interview.