13 July 2012

reentry, as it were

Off I go again, except this time it's we who go off together.

Off to Atlanta to attend Readiness Evaluation, the long-term missionary candidate assessment of the agency that brought us together (if accidentally). We'll be poked and prodded to see what sort of a marriage we have and what sort of a call we have and whether we have any business in cross-cultural mission.

I'm intimidated but excited. It is and isn't a job interview, a situation where we've been told not to try to perform but will no doubt be given plenty of opportunities to do so. It's human contact after piles of tests, psychological profiles, personality indices.

Mostly, it's reentry, at least from our perspective here. Once upon a time - and hereafter, if we're approved - "reentry" meant "invading what-used-to-be-but-no-longer-quite-feels-like your home culture with your now-ever-so-slightly-off ways." Now, having marinated in that culture for a couple of years, which has felt like another stint in between life phases, we will try to remember the strange jargon, the acronyms, the feel of the missions agency, to remember what it was like to be their employees and to see where our hindsight was rose-tinted or where things have changed.

The week will also be a time of breath-holding, knowing that nothing in our minds can be called "plan" without the green light we hope for after seven days. If you think of us on any of those days, pray.

27 May 2011

from the presence of the Lord

I'm trying to make it a summer goal to read through as much of the Pentateuch in Hebrew as I can. Who knows how far I'll get, but the exercise is, I think, spiritually valuable as well as good practice for this fall (when I'll start Old Testament Historical Traditions at school). There's something about the very difficulty of reading in a foreign language - you have to slow down, and because you do, you notice words, expressions, themes that tend to melt into the background when you read in English.

So I'd like to try to throw out some of these observations, things I notice from what little of the Bible I've read in the original languages, just to get thinking about how things fit together, how themes pop up over and over. I've started with Genesis 2 (having spent quite a bit of Hebrew III in Genesis 1) and have just finished chapter 4.

Cain is a failed Adam in several ways. He's a tiller of the soil (`obed 'adamah, v. 2) like his father was made to be (2:15), but where Adam was also to "keep" or "guard" (shamar) the garden, the guilty Cain disavows his own duty as keeper/guard (shomer) of his brother (v. 9). Elements of the curse in chapter 3 are fairly obvious; "sin" is personified as a wife to Cain, carrying Eve's curse of desiring him, though where God earlier predicts Adam's mastery over Eve (3:16), here He urges Cain to exert mastery over sin (4:7).

Here too is the curse on the ground that Adam earned (3:17): except its curse is transferred to Cain (4:11) - assuming "now you are cursed from the ground" is the best reading of we`atah 'arur 'atah min-ha'adamah. That "from the ground" pops up thrice here. In v. 10 it's the origin of the cry of Abel's shed blood; in v. 14 it's where Cain complains he's driven away from (there it's "from the face of the ground") to wander the earth. That suggests to me a double meaning: the outcry against Cain rises from the ground; so does a curse upon him, a curse that sends him away from the ground that has hitherto given him his livelihood.

I wonder, too, if there's a comparative aspect to the min- ("from") here. "You are more cursed than the ground you have defiled with your brother's blood" - interestingly, the earth "opens its mouth" to receive the shed blood, which could be taken as a fulfillment of the curse against Adam. Cain has irrigated the land with blood, making it barren, in contrast to the purpose of God's creation of man (2:5); now the land participates in and bears his guilt, although he bears it all the more. Cain's exile completes Adam's exile, while Seth's line will stick around and labor on the ground in hope of one who will bring relief; it will take a sort of baptism and renewed sacrifice to wash away the blood-guilt from the ground.

When Cain leaves, he goes away "from the presence of the Lord" (not just from the land), a phrase (milliphney YHWH) taken up in Jonah and repeated several times. Jonah would rather be a Cain than go and bring the enemy city to repentance; he flees west to avoid doing so. There are numerous Cain-Jonah parallels, especially in Jonah 4: isn't this what I said would happen, asks Jonah, while I was still "in my country" - literally, "on my ground [adamah]"? God asks, "Do you do well to be angry?" much like he prompts Cain to "do well." Jonah then leaves the city and "settles to the east" (v. 5) just like Cain. When God appoints the plant to shade Jonah, He is referred to as "YHWH Elohim," "the LORD God," just as He was named in Gen. 2-3, and "Elohim" as in Gen. 1 when He destroys the plant; when He addresses Jonah with His judgment, though, He is once again Yahweh, rebuking Jonah for his attachment to the plant he did not make grow, instead of godly pity for a city of 120,000 "Adams."

That'll do for a start.

27 April 2011

a true easter thing about me

When I was a youngster, I distinctly remember never liking Easter very much, chocolate and hard-boiled eggs notwithstanding.

As I've come to adulthood, I realize that this was most likely a result of an allergy to lilies.

12 March 2011

broken words

I think Jameson's latest on his reading through the Old Testament gets a lot of things exactly right, and once again I don't think the interaction I'd like to do with it would fit in a comment, so I'll pull some quotes over here and try to share some thoughts and (I hope) fruitful ways to deal with some of the questions he raises.

(What kind of insight might we gain if we listened to a professional actor read the whole of Deuteronomy as a dramatic monologue?)
I can only heartily second this sentiment - especially in light of, say, Nehemiah 8, in which the command of Dt. 31:9-10 (quoted in Jameson's post) is fulfilled once again after the years of exile. These words were meant to be heard.

Fun little factoid: "These Are the Words" is in fact the title of Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Bible - since the Pentateuch in particular is essentially a single five-volume (i.e. five-scroll) work, the different scrolls were identified simply by their first words, so that the Hebrew title of Genesis is "In the Beginning," that of Exodus is "These Are the Names," Leviticus is "And He Called," and Numbers is "In the Wilderness." Jameson's reflections on the significance of the titular words are spot-on: the words themselves are life or death, and Israel is exhorted to choose life.

It's especially worth noting the connection between the words of life and death and the idea of testimony, the establishment of a figurative courtroom setting in which heaven and earth (31:19), the Israelites, and God Himself are to bring their respective cases in the inevitable event of a breach of covenant. This is absolutely vital, I think, especially to John but really to all four Gospels (on which a bit more later).

The theme of land and the purity thereof is also very well read - and I think this context helps the hard-to-swallow harshness of God's commands for the coming war of conquest at least make sense. Note the emphasis on destroying the cultic existence of the current inhabitants - it's more explicit in some places than the emphasis on killing the people themselves. The point is to destroy the enemies of God as enemies of God, not to subjugate them and create an empire that simply absorbs the pollution they have worked in the land. Not once, so far as I know, is the wholesale destruction of the Canaanites commanded without reference to idolatry

And though I know it seems like making excuses, I do want to invoke the case of Rahab at Jericho here - the response of faith in Yahweh and cooperation with Israel saves her and her family from the utter destruction of her city, and there's not the slightest indication, so far as I can tell, that this mercy toward these few who responded in this way was seen as contrary to the general command to wipe out the Canaanites. There's an evangelism in this, as repugnant as the general practice comes across to our sensibilities.

Jameson's final section is most pertinent to our ongoing discussion; there are some things that are very clearly expressed in the text that can make a lot of evangelicals (at least the Reformed type) shuffle uncomfortably while reading.

He starts with an honest assessment of how the Law is presented in its original context:
First, the law, as taught by Moses, was seriously meant to be followed. It is simply not a lens through which we are meant primarily to see our absolute sinfulness. It never says that it is, and in fact it tries to indicate just the opposite.

Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. (30:11-14)

There it is, plain as day. This book was meant to be followed. Not that Moses actually expected the Israelites to follow it: "For I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly, turning aside from the way that I have commanded you. In time to come trouble will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands."
This is crucial, and I think it's absolutely right. While many of us in the Reformed world would love it if the text said, "Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, because Jesus Christ will follow it perfectly on your behalf," but it just doesn't. As Jameson points out:
There is nothing in the law that requires absolutely perfect obedience--hence the whole sacrificial system, which is meant to atone for even unintentional sins.
This is unavoidably clear in context, and as others are fond of pointing out, it's typical of the whole Pentateuch and, really, the whole Bible. If we're going to be honest in claiming to acknowledge the Bible's authority and unity, we'd better get used to this fact.

The problem, of course, is that the Israelites would not follow the clear and reasonable commands of God to them, as Jameson also points out:
Not that Moses actually expected the Israelites to follow it: "For I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly, turning aside from the way that I have commanded you. In time to come trouble will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands." (31:29) Why was Moses so pessimistic about Israel's faithfulness? Was it original sin? Was it total depravity? Moses never appeals to theological categories; his evidence is simply his first-hand experience of his people: "If you already have been so rebellious toward the Lord while I am still alive among you, how much more after my death!" (31:27) ... What Moses was saying about Israel was that they were prone to completely disregard even the basics.
I think this is the key point that helps us know what to do with Jameson's second point:
Second, the law, as taught by Moses, was meant to be followed forever. "You shall love the Lord your God, therefore, and keep his charge, his decrees, his ordinances, and his commandments always." (11:1) Over and over again, Moses repeats that the Israelites should keep the entire law, saying, "You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you." (4:2) Now, I simply do not know how to deal with this as a Christian. Jesus rescinded some commandments (e.g. food laws) and added others (e.g. no divorce). If we truly respect this text as it stands, we cannot pretend there is perfect continuity. Does Jesus have the authority to reinterpret the law, or not? If he does, fine! There is no reason why Moses should stand if "something greater than Moses is here." But that means Moses was wrong, and if Moses was not wrong, Jesus was wrong. Not completely wrong, not utterly wrong, just wrong, as in, not right, at least not totally right. As in, I don't see what it would mean to take every single word of this as "authoritative," unless you mean something quite different from the classical orthodox Protestant meaning of "authoritative."
I think the difficulty here must be resolved precisely in terms of what's come earlier: the Israelites simply wouldn't do it! There's no real obstacle to affirming wholeheartedly (not that Protestants have necessarily done so consistently!) that the Law was meant to be kept entirely and eternally; the only problem is that, by the time Jesus shows up, it's not happening and never will be.

This is where the notion of the "courtroom" comes in: for all the Gospel writers, especially John, Jesus is Yahweh come to make His case against apostate Israel, and when he is rejected, the crucifixion and resurrection are simultaneously Jesus' vindication in court and Israel's condemnation. The Mosaic Covenant is broken, not solely because God decided to do something different (though I think we can affirm this from the perspective of God's eternal purpose), but because Israel has broken it again and again, and finally they have ceased to be Israel.

So Jesus isn't coming in to tweak the marching orders the Jews were following; he's coming to give Law that will be in effect in the finally-coming Kingdom of God, and while there's a radical continuity in some ways with the broken-for-good Torah, it's ultimately the Law of a new community that finally fulfills promises older than Moses. There would be a legitimate question of whether Jesus and Moses are in conflict if Moses were still really in play by Jesus' time; as it happened, this just wasn't the case. The Jews chose death, but Jesus came once again to set before them life and death, and not just before them, but before the whole world.

10 March 2011

as it is written

So then: if we're seeking an understanding of Scripture in keeping with our quest to live and think as followers of Jesus, we need more than anything to sit at his feet and learn from him how best to regard what we think of as the "Old Testament."

Again, I don't want here to try to nail down a particular stand on "inerrancy" - what I'm most concerned to do is to demonstrate that Jesus affirms (insists on, I might say) a fundamental unity to the OT witness and an authority to which he himself submits and to which his disciples and opponents alike are called to submit.

It's hard not to sail into a sea of proof-texts here, and my eyes always glaze over when I look at a paragraph that's half chapter-and-verse listings, so I'll try to be selective and quote briefly such that using the quotes as search terms here will get anyone who cares to look them up to the passages I mention. Most typically quoted here is Jesus' "not an iota, not a dot [traditionally "not a jot or tittle"] will pass from the Law until all is accomplished"; it's a classic text to haggle over in terms of what it means for our relationship to purity laws and such, but I think it's more important to note that, for Jesus, every bit of the Pentateuch (at the very least) counts as what he has come to "fulfill." That is to say, the books of Moses are unified in having their ultimate reference point in Jesus himself.

Jesus also settles theological disputes - notably silencing even those who are ready to stone him for blasphemy - by quoting the Psalms, taking their language as precedent for his own testimony, and asserting that "Scripture cannot be broken." They may ignore his reasoning and continue to seek his life, but evidently Jesus considers his citation of the OT as something that should settle the issue. So we have the purview of Jesus' appeal to Scripture extended at least to the Psalms, and we see Jesus' expressed expectation that the specifics of the OT's content should be decisive for disputes on teaching.

Note also the Emmaus Road experience: it's "all the Scriptures" that Jesus interprets to the grieving disciples to show them how to understand the tragedy they'd experienced in light of God's promises and plan.

This is, as I say, a pretty small sampling of what Jesus has to say about, by use of, or in explanation of the OT, but I think it's also pretty representative. I've hinted above (I hope) that I'm trying to say only as much as is warranted, by a pretty conservative reckoning - but it seems to me that the available evidence in the Gospels (all four of them) shows that Jesus understood his identity and mission primarily, if not exclusively, in terms of both the conceptual framework and the very specific words of what we now call the Old Testament, which he shows every sign of considering to be a unified, cohesive, coherent whole, and without exception a collective witness to who he was to be and what he was to do.

None of these affirmations lets us off the hook in wrestling with the stuff in the OT that we find unpalatable, or in trying to work through what the OT's complex textual history (and the NT's reliance on the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew) means for our understanding of where inspiration happens or where inerrancy resides; still, I think we can safely affirm with Jesus that the OT is not the way it is by accident and that it speaks with a voice we need to hear and submit our understanding to if we are going to see it with the eyes of our hearts enlightened.

I don't want to skip over discussing our acceptance of the New Testament as Scripture if that would be incomplete, but this whole series of posts was sparked by problems with the sticky bits of the OT. If it's agreeable, I'd be interested in trying to have some dialogue on where it's difficult to see the unity (or even agreement) between Jesus' teaching (as God's spokesman par excellence) and the interpretations put forth by the authors of the OT, as well as whether the tensions we perceive show up within the OT itself.

08 March 2011

the Word and the word

Having laid out the agenda thus far, I want to try to move from Jesus the Word of God toward developing my understanding of Scripture as the word of God - the whole of it, unified, with all its parts interdependent and all normative for our understanding of God's character and works (whether or not they are all normative in the same way).

The historicity of Jesus' person, work, life, death, resurrection, ascension and inauguration of the Kingdom is, as I've said, the starting point for Christians. Initially, then, I would suggest that our link to a Christ-conditioned understanding of Scripture must be the simple need for source material - that is, how do we know what we know about these historical events? There are, of course, references to a Jesus from Nazareth called "Christus" or "Chrestus" or something, who was crucified while Pontius Pilate was over there mucking about in Judea, in Roman literature fairly close to the events. But that's about it - we know this Jesus had a reputation as a wonder-worker, we know he died the same death any number of rebels, thieves, and other miscreants suffered, and we know there were some followers saying some truly bizarre things about the events following his death.

Obviously, the Gospels flesh out this information considerably, giving further indications of the nature of his teaching and works and especially the events leading up to and following his crucifixion, and this alone makes them by far the most valuable sources available to us for reconstructing the history of the Jesus event. But far more important is the fact that these documents provide us with a written record of the interpretation of these events. "Jesus was crucified" is more or less a raw historical fact. "Jesus died to take away sins" is an interpreted historical fact, one wholly unavailable to us without the testimony of the Church historically, which it is fair to say, I'd venture, is embodied in the canonical Gospels. That is to say, we can say that the kerygma (proclamation) of the early Church is the essential source of the propositional (and relational!) truths we affirm about Jesus, and if that is so, then we are somewhat duty-bound to acknowledge, as they did from a very early date, the Gospels as being permanent repositories of the Apostolic message.

I am not here arguing out of this for any stance on "inerrancy" one way or another - I simply want to assert what seems to me hardly controvertible: that any Christian is deeply indebted for what he or she believes about Jesus to the Gospels, and as such, if he or she intends to be a follower of this Jesus, no other source will provide with any reliability or depth the teaching of Jesus on any given topic.

The upshot of all this is that, I argue, our doctrine of Scripture can and must be developed under Jesus' own instruction, and that if we have committed ourselves to him, we have committed almost by logical necessity to the reliability of the Gospels, and so we can look into their reportage on Jesus' attitude toward Scripture in order to shape our own. Onward and upward...

07 March 2011

what does biblical authority even mean?

Thus one of the big questions is stated.

Maybe it's the big question for the self-styled evangelical: so we've got this book. This library, really, which didn't really have an original form other than a whole pile of scrolls. And I am somehow going to try to argue - for my own benefit as much as for anyone else's - that there is a radical, underlying unity to all these disparate sources, and more, that they still speak authoritatively to God's people today, which is to say that they both reliably recount and authoritatively interpret God's dealings in space and time with people, and that this witness continues to be directly relevant to us where we are situated in space and time, both to locate our own individual and corporate narratives within the grand arc of The Story, God's own history of the world, and to give us the tools we need to answer the related question, "How shall we then live?"

Thus far my attempt (by no means definitive or final) of stating what I mean by "biblical authority." What I'd like to do from here on out is to try to develop it by thinking through some of those sticky issues that Jameson raises - why don't we go ahead and affirm some notion of continuing revelation? Why consider the canon closed? Why should the New Testament continue to govern our decisions on gender roles, homosexuality, and the like? More basically than that, how (and why) do we seek to consider our present situation in light of these documents?

I mean more to set the agenda here than to jump into these questions individually, but I'd like to begin outlining where my thinking is, to show something of how I approach the issues. First, I think it's fair to say that all of these issues are relevant only in the context of affirming the definite significance of the Christ event - that is, Jesus' incarnation, ministry, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Spirit. Whatever else we want to say about Scripture, none of it matters (for a Christian) if these things didn't actually happen. I'd venture to say, beyond that, that if we're affirming the centrality of this event, then we need to hold at least a basic respect for the Gospels as witnesses to it and interpreters of it. If we take that step, then that has major implications for our attitudes toward the rest of Scripture - which is what I'd like to go on to sketch out.

06 March 2011

death, destruction and love

For purposes of space, I want to interact here with Jameson on his latest post charting his reading through the Bible.

It seems to me that he's assumed, more than anything, the mantle of arbiter of morality.

What does he mean by "experiencing the text firsthand, before making... a judgment" on why one should bother? That seems naive; he didn't stumble upon this book in the absence of any prior information on its history or its context within a larger set of texts. No one does, not really. I appreciate the notion of reading the text without trying to eisegete one's prior theological commitments or hobbyhorses into every passage, but it seems to me very much the case that he's decided to go into his reading with an eye toward judging the text, as opposed to going in with the intention to be instructed by God. I don't think there are more alternatives than that.

The clear message of the entire Pentateuch is that Yahweh is far more consistent than any people. Whatever the commentators might say, God's anger with Moses isn't that hard to explain: Moses just didn't obey. He took it upon himself to decide how things would be done, whatever details you latch onto. God isn't like that; He isn't shown to waver. He is merciful and compassionate, but He hates sin. There's no flinching from His purpose to raise up a people in fulfillment of His promise to Abraham, and even in threatening to obliterate the people He's been leading through the wilderness He never abandons that promise. God is consistent; we aren't.

You know what? If Allah is God, and if his commands are what the Qur'an indicates, then it can't be wrong to blow up buildings in his name. It can't, because "love" and "righteousness" are not eternal attributes of Allah, and "right" and "wrong" are not rooted in his revealed character. But they are of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - which means that, unless someone can show me where our God condemns Israel's attempts to practice this genocide, then those commands cannot be inconsistent with His love. Period.

That doesn't make this easy to work out. It doesn't make it easy to stomach the thought of wholesale slaughter and destruction. It makes me thoroughly grateful to live in the era in which I do live. I know Jameson isn't not very impressed with DeYoung's defense of the doctrine of God's wrath, but what about God's wrath as a function of His love in the face of human scorn?

And whatever else God's wrath is, it's not arbitrary. Don't forget that Israel's failure gave Canaan an extra generation of life, prosperity and stability. Don't forget that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all their people lived in Canaan as worshipers of Yahweh for centuries before their exile in Egypt. Don't think God didn't judge Canaan for a multitude of atrocities of their own; this was God striking down kingdoms that were utterly perverse. And even in the midst of that, as he notes, the tribes do keep popping up later - for all God's anger at Israel for an incomplete extermination, He didn't truly wipe everyone out, and in quite a few cases, one may notice, He allowed for the preservation of individuals, families, and even peoples - to the point of incorporating them into the Messianic family tree.

I hardly think God's wrath went away with Jesus, either! Who talks about hell more than anybody else in the Bible? Goodness, the nonviolence of Israel's mission was established long before Jesus' time. This wasn't under the new covenant - it was God's direct command to His people before the coming of the Messiah, and it was the establishment of a new way for them to become a blessing to the whole world, though they failed at that too. Like it or not, the commands God gives His people are progressive in nature; He is not using them for the same particular goals in every epoch, and it is terribly arrogant to presume that because we know God's commands for us, we can judge whether it was the same God who gave other commands to people in another time or place. But our questions are continuous with Israel's; it is the same God, and the different commands at different times are part of the same plan. If that's not the case, Jesus makes no sense at all.

Let me be clear: I'm not saying "God doesn't work like that anymore, but it was okay back then." I'm saying that it would be okay right now, if that were where "right now" fell in God's plan of redemption. And it would not have been okay for Israel to execute God's judgment on Canaan if God had not so ordered. We have the benefit of living 2,000 years after God permanently defined the mission of His people as the discipling of all nations. Our culture and our assumptions, praise God, have been radically shaped by Christ (whether that's acknowledged or not). The definitive judgment of God that He executed through mankind has been accomplished in Jesus' suffering and death. But how can you say that the slaughter of the only innocent man who ever lived was an act of love and not be willing to say that war can be such as well?

If war, slaughter, death and destruction are incompatible with God's love, then He is either not love or not there. I don't think you can get around that.

18 December 2010

the possibility of first principles

More thoughtful thoughts from Jameson, this time explaining some of the basics of what he's working through politically.

I don't love politics, but I think he's a little too pessimistic on some points.

Am I being true to my faith, and trying to build a consistent Christian worldview? Or am I simply picking and choosing what I want to believe?

I feel that the only way to deal with this question is to break down some common assumptions with which Christians are often burdened. The first is that there is such a thing as a Christian worldview. I simply know of no comprehensive view of the world that has ever been shared by the majority of Christians.
I'm not sure how this begins to deal with the question, really. To ask, "Am I trying to build a consistent Christian worldview," then dismiss such a project by saying, "There is no such perfectly formed worldview out there," seems to me analogous to asking, "Am I trying to play by the rules of football?" and then claiming that this is impossible because no football game one can remember has ever been played start to finish without any penalties.

I suppose Jameson may be interacting with Van Til's language here, but I don't know that it's fair to characterize his (or his disciples') view as implying an overrealized eschatology in which Christians have been given a comprehensive world- and life-view, ready made, and have failed only to apply it as comprehensively as it deserved (taking exceptions, or some such). The assumption that that is the notion behind talk of a "Christian worldview" is evident:
This fact is symptomatic of a deeper truth: we do not arrive at our understanding of the world through a predefined system of learning. We learn about the world largely by accident, through our interactions with whatever lies in our limited sphere of existence.
First, "by accident" always makes my little Calvinist nose twitch. It's a key issue: is the way we learn a function of randomly defined limits on our perspective, or is there a governing will behind our individual situations? And does this degrade the notion that our knowledge, though necessarily limited, can be true? I think it might.

More importantly, though, is the problem that this appears to deny that the facts we take in do come to us interpreted, even if our interpretations don't necessarily live up to that definitive interpretation. Hence the following:
The hope of constructing a thoroughly Christian worldview presupposes the ability to evaluate everything from a God's-eye perspective, which we do not have. It will not do to appeal to those sources, such as the Bible or the pope, which we hold to be authoritative, since there is still the problem of interpretation. As tempting as it is to dismiss all interpretations we don't agree with as heretical, experience shows that this kind of dismissal rests on a great deal of presumption.
I'd say, rather, that the hope of constructing a thoroughly Christian worldview presupposes only that there is in fact a God's-eye perspective, not that we can ever share it (which, again, Van Til would treat as the most delusional presumption possible). This hope would rest on, again, the existence of that perspective and the promise that God is actively intervening to promote a worldview among His people that is more in line with it - not in its comprehensiveness, but in its character. We certainly can't dismiss any interpretation that disagrees with ours as heretical, but there is a line somewhere with just about any issue. Where is that ever to be drawn, if our attempts to think through these issues lack a Christian teleology?

Then comes the question of "first principles":
A second related assumption is even more basic: we are tempted to assume that we can at least agree on first principles when it comes to something like politics. This is false. It is by no means obvious, even in principle, how to treat politics in relation to faith. Should we be concerned with politics only insofar as it allows us to be devout in this brief existence, until we finally leave this world behind and go to heaven? Or is our task in politics to enact God's will on earth? Perhaps our task to find some middle ground, in which we do our best to enact God's will but trust that most of the time we will probably have to be patient, waiting for God to act on his own. Or maybe we just shouldn't be involved in politics at all! This is by no means a settled question, and if we cannot even settle on a starting point for political discussion we can hardly expect to agree on most of our conclusions.
I don't know that I would be so hasty to make this denial. Is it not fair to say that "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to [Jesus]" might function as a first principle of Christian political thought, whatever one then does with it? That is to say, aren't all the possibilities listed in that paragraph somewhat overlapping, and don't they in some way hold that particular principle in common? It seems that seeking to make politics allow us private, devout lives in this temporary state would be one way to try to "enact God's will on earth," as would avoiding involvement altogether. Either way, we're trying to work out the implications of the fact that it is Jesus who is really King - and I don't think it's unfair to say that any "Christian" view of politics (or anything else) which flat-out denies that fact really is heretical, even entirely un-Christian.

And I think Jameson goes on to affirm this nicely:
I do think faith is to be all-encompassing. God's sphere of influence is everything, and even if we can't evaluate everything from a God's-eye view, we can at least be conscious that our Father does see all things. We may not arrive at a comprehensive worldview, but we can inch our way toward a greater understanding of the world that has been given to us. If as little children we must enter the kingdom of heaven, we ought to start here on earth to fumble around as little children do, trusting that our Father will teach us how to thrive. If we know at least that the second greatest commandment is "Love your neighbor as yourself," politics should be one of our greater concerns as Christians. Politics, after all, is fundamentally about that critical question: "And who is my neighbor?"
But isn't this precisely what he's just denied is possible - the assertion of a first principle that all Christians ought to be able to agree on? If it is such a principle, then we've probably all signed on to it, regardless of how we go on to apply it, and the result is an attitude of seeking to grow in grace and in the knowledge of God in our political thinking and action. That's precisely what I, demanding that Christian political thought conform to a Christian worldview, would ask - increasing conformity to a perfect standard that does exist, to which our access is indeed limited, but not thereby false. Our interpretations cannot be identified with God's, but I think they can and should be judged on their conformity to what we know of the divine standard, and I think we have good reason to believe that they will, over the generations, come to conform increasingly to that standard. I think that having these (again) first principles in mind - there is a God, and we are not Him - help to assuage much of the worry Jameson has over the thought of trying to construct a specifically Christian political philosophy.

I'll pass over most of the rest of what he brings up (for already-much-diminished brevity's sake), moving to Jameson's final paragraph:
Christians will continue to disagree for very good reasons about what our political philosophy should be. But I am very sincere in my belief that Christians ought to hold to the principles of individual freedom from coercion and minimal arbitrariness in government. This is not a direct revelation from God, nor did I deduce this belief from scripture. It is the simply the product of my reading, thinking, and, believe it or not, praying. I offer it up simply as my own belief, and I hope that others will consider it or at least be challenged by it.
"...nor did I deduce this belief from scripture" - but why not? I think he certainly could have. Read the Old Testament with basic political questions in mind and a careful eye for the implications of God's law for Israel, and you'll find pretty stringent limitations on the power of the state over individuals. At the very center of the Law, in fact, is included an affirmation of the lawfulness of private property, and case studies show God's response to arbitrariness on the part of rulers.

The simple fact that any Christian thinker ought to acknowledge is that any political philosophy that is worth implementing is inevitably so precisely because and to the extent that it does accord with God's will and is consistent with the founding principles of the Creator-creature distinction, divine providence, and Christ's sovereignty - unless there is not a living God who made heaven and earth, whose Son upholds the universe by the word of his power. To deny this theoretically is to deny Christianity. To deny it practically is to be inconsistent with Christianity. To implement it consistently - well, that's hard, and no one should say it isn't. But it should be our goal, and consciously so, more and more, as God leads His people into all truth.

11 October 2010

right on

My goodness, it's like he knows churches and single people and everything.