Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Jesus Has No Father... I Have No Heavenly Father?

Some who work to evangelize Muslims suggest dropping the language of "Father" and "Son" to refer the _________ and the _________ of the godhead. The need for blanks to write the second clause of that sentence might suffice as a tidy illustration of the problems that arise in doing that: (1) It makes it clear that we really have no other clear way of talking about their distinct existence and eternal relationship. (2) It hints that loosing these two expressions means losing the Trinity. (3) It means we lose "our Father" who is the giver of every good gift. (4) It means we lose our elder brother, to whom we are joined as co-heirs of all God offers.

It makes it clear that we really have no other clear way of talking about their distinct existence and eternal relationship. The people proposing that we avoid this language suggest that we must use another expression, so we avoid the stumbling stone of Muslims getting the offensive notion that God the Father sired the Son by sexual relations with a goddess or woman. This is indeed an offensive and deeply pagan notion. But it's not Christian doctrine. And what other language does God's self-revelation allow us but Father and Son for this?

Would we move to the sub-Christian position of Adoptionism? Would we suggest that Yahweh God adopted either a human or a secondary "god" as his "son" and then conferred upon him some measure of divinity? Dropping the Father-Son language seems like the fast track to Christological heresy of one form or another.

Would we forsake familial language entirely?If so, we would at that point begin speaking of something other than what the Scriptures speaks of. That's not even acceptable as exposition--let alone translation. What other relational terms do we have that would convey this eternal relation in the godhead? At best, any substitute suggested might convey a limited aspect of what the relation is. Drop "Father" for "The Almighty"--and then distinguish that title what? Jesus Christ the Lord is The Everlasting Almighty God. Drop "Son" for some expression of messianic royalty? But any legitimate member of the Davidic dynasty carried a messianic title, and that title came by being called "my son" by Yahweh (Ps 2:7; 2Sam 7:14; Ps 89:26-27). Throughout the Old Testament, that title came by divine adoption at their coronation; in Christ, that title came by ontology, he is eternally "the Son."

It hints that loosing these two expressions means losing the Trinity. Really, I fear that losing these two expressions means abandoning orthodox trinitarian theology. Nowhere in the Scriptures does any writer explicitly spell out the trinitarian distinctions and mutual divinity of the three members of the Godhead. We arrive at "the Trinity" from clear and necessary implications deriving from how the members of the Godhead refer to each other. Jesus says, "my Father" (Matt 10:32-33; Matt 11:27); the Father says, "This is my Son" (Matt 3:17). Abandoning familial language means losing the Trinity--and the Church rightly calls that heresy.

It means we lose "our Father" who is the giver of every good gift. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught the "Our Father" (Matt 6:9). When Jesus taught on prayer, he told his disciples to trust God to give good gifts--like a father does (Matt 11:9-13). In spite of all the titles that a Muslim learns for God, one beloved relational title is missing, "our Father." and oh what a loss that is! Oh what a comfort an assurance that provides believers. Oh what robbery to deny, forgo, or hold off telling the lost that their Father awaits them with open arms.

It means we lose our elder brother, to whom we are joined as co-heirs of all God offers. We gain nothing from God, except in Christ; we're heirs of heaven and earth in Christ. Jesus, the eternal Son, is the inheriting Son (Heb 1:2). Indeed, we become fellow heirs with Jesus the Christ (Rom 8:17). "For every one of Godʼs promises are 'Yes' in him; therefore also through him the 'Amen' is spoken, to the glory we give to God" (2 Cor 1:20).

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Biblical Studies Resources

I've recently joined the Tyndale House project called STEP - Scripture Tools for Every Person - in Cambridge, U.K. I am now the project's Director of Distance Research.  

I'll continue my travels to lecture all over Eurasia for our Bible schools and seminaries, and I'll continue writing courses for Global University's graduate program. But the Assemblies of God World Missions has seconded me to that project, so I can devote considerable time to it. I'll be recruiting and supervising volunteer researchers, writers, and editors. I'll also likely do a lot of final editing.

For a long time I've wished that my students and colleagues had access to the same quality of biblical studies tools that I generally take for granted. We aim to make that happen. We aim to produce the highest quality biblical studies tools and distribute them on the widest possible basis, totally without cost to the user. 

All of these tools will be accessible at three different levels: an entry level, an intermediate level, and an advanced level.
  • To see what we're up to Facebook users can just search there for "Tyndale STEP," or anyone can look here.
  • Check here if you would like to watch the actual program while it's in progress. It will be like peeking through the safety barrier at a construction site: It may look messy, parts will be missing, some parts won't work on the first try, and so forth. But you can play around with it and see where we're heading with some of it.
  • Why don't you volunteer to help us. We're recruiting volunteers with a variety of skill sets to work as volunteers, so we can produce this for free and distribute it without cost. We would especially solicit help producing the Interlinears module, which is a priority right now. You can see what's involved with that and all the other modules on a slide show here. Of course, some of the work requires pretty high-level biblical studies or programming skills, but people with a good knowledge of the English Bible and a desire to help out can make a big contribution as well.
If you would like some really high-quality moderated collections of web resources for biblical and theological studies, I would point you three sources:
  • Tyndale House has Biblical Weblinks, which you can actually include on your own personal or college web site if you like.
  • And Rob Bradshaw has a wonderful classified collection at Theology on the Web, which STEP will incorporate.
  • And if you want a plethora (an excessive amount or number, an abundance) of biblical studies resources available right on your browser's toolbar, get the Tyndale Toolbar. On this, you can do a wide range of things like these: (1) Search for books and articles, (2) find a host of online Bibles in various languages, (3) check an interlinear Bible, (4) translate short phrases from German, Latin, French, and so forth, (5) get free fonts for the biblical languages, (6) find a lexicon for Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, Coptic, Latin, and so forth--and much more.

I've also been recommending some free desktop Bible software.
  • For a long time I've recommended and distributed e-Sword to my students and colleagues who cannot afford to buy expensive commercial Bible software. 
  • Recently I've discovered TheWORD, which I may start recommending and distributing. I'll have to check it out some more and see if I like it better than e-Sword.
Of course, if you can actually afford to buy pricey biblical studies software, I can only give you some choices and characterize them briefly:
  • I use BibleWorks, which is the ultimate in Windows based high-end academic Bible software. People do sometimes run it on Apple computers, using Parallels or some other approach to running Windows software.
  • Mac, iPad, and iPhone users will more likely prefer AcCordance, the equally high-end academic Bible software. And if you own the desktop AcCordance software, you can use it and any of its modules on your iPhone and/or iPad without any extra cost.
  • Another choice, which runs on nearly all platforms is Logos software. This is not the most powerful original languages study environment, pride of place goes to BibleWorks and AcCordance for that; however, if you want to build a thoroughly integrated biblical studies electronic library, this may be the way to go.
  • For use on the iPhone and iPad, I really like two free apps, one called BibleReader from Olive Tree software and the other called Blue Letter Bible. I think both BibleReader and Blue Letter Bible are available for Android devices as well.
One final note about academic word processing, or just getting a good word processor, spreadsheet, presentation manager and so forth if you can't afford to buy Microsoft Office.
  • For just raw power as an academic word processing environment, I use Note Bene, which does it all from automated footnotes to finding resources on the web to handling all the biblical languages beautifully. Doubt if I would actually recommend it to most people who read my blog, but if you're into academic writing, maybe you want to check it out.
  • If you can't afford Microsoft Office and need an office package that doesn't cost anything, I've recommended OpenOffice for a long time, but now I definitely would recommend LibreOffice, it's great!
  • And whether you use MS Word, OpenOffice, or LibreOffice, you people writing academic stuff need to quit fighting with the footnotes and bibliography content and style. Let the free software from Zotero do it for you. It is really amazing software, and you'll be stunned at what a labor saver it will be if you write a lot of stuff with footnotes or embedded citations and bibliographies. Take a tour of Zotero here.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Wycliff Avoiding Familial Language for Godhead

Perhaps you've heard of the Wycliff Bible translators move to drop familial language in references to the Godhead, so there would be no "Father" and "Son" in translations meant for Muslim contexts. They've talked of doing this to escape the misunderstanding that Jesus is a biological "son" resulting sexual procreation between God the "father" and Jesus' mother.

They worry that using "Father" and "Son" leads to this misunderstanding, and that translations for the Muslim culture should use other dynamic equivalents in place of this familial language.
Over the next few blogs, I'll address this issue, looking at questions like the following:

1. Suggested dynamic equivalents: The proponents suggest various options, generally revolving around messianic theology that speaks of a royal heir to the throne. What do we gain and/or lose if adopt them?
2. The threat to trinitarian theology: Is it possible retain fully Christian trinitarian thought if we loose track of the Father, who sent the Son, and the Son, who obeyed his Father, and the Spirit whom the Son sent?
3. Whether this is a linguistic difficulty or a theological difficulty: What specific languages are we concerned about, which lack any non-biological reference when speaking of a father and son relationship? Is it really linguistic, or is it actually a theological issue.
4. Biblical limits to accommodation for the sinful reader: How far can we safely move for the sake of the receptor's understanding and still faithfully communicate the Sender's intent.

I'll try to blog this issue over the next few days, and if I also write something more substantial than blog entries, I'll include a link for it when it's available.

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Location:E Independence St,Springfield,United States

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

This fulfilled...

Matthew's infancy narrative describes Joseph taking his young family to Egypt until it was safe to come back. And Matthew says, "In this way what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet was fulfilled: 'I called my Son out of Egypt'" (Matt 2:15; quoting Hos 11:1). It's interesting to note that Hosea wasn't even making a prediction; he was describing history that was already about seven centuries gone by.[1]

It's not a prediction, so Matthew's idea of fulfillment has to be broad enough to include some other dynamic than prediction and its fulfillment. Perhaps the shorthand for explaining this is to speak of typology. If you will, Israel was a type of Jesus Christ; or Jesus is the antitype of Old Testament Israel. One of my old seminary professors once said, "Jesus was the 'remnant' of Israel reduced to One."[2] Matthew saw in God's pattern of preserving Israel in the Old Testament a foreshadowing of his preservation of Jesus in the New.

Maybe Matthew learned this way of reading the Old Testament from course notes taken during the Emaeus Road lesson in Christological hermeneutics, or Christocentric biblical theology (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47). I'm thinking that Paul must have found a copy of those lecture notes too, since he said, "Every one of Godʼs promises are 'Yes' in [Christ]" (2 Cor 1:20).
And Paul drew conclusions that we should also follow: "therefore also through him the 'Amen' is spoken, to the glory we give to God." From Genesis to Revelation, it's all ultimately about Christ.
1. If we see the Exodus occurring in the 15th century BC (1446-1406 BC) and see Hosea as an 8th century prophet.
2. Raymond Dillard. I think you can find that in the Dillard & Longman Old Testament Introduction.
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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Emaeus Road Biblical Theology Lesson

Luke 24 records a post-resurrection lesson in biblical theology. Jesus chided his discouraged disciples for not understanding more about the Old Testament. Then he pointed out the Christological import of all the Old Testament, the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms.

Some scholars suggest that this speaks of select Old Testament texts that are Old Testament prophecies of Jesus' coming, death, burial, and resurrection. But the reference to all the Scriptures indicates that Jesus was prescribing a comprehensive Christological reaching of the whole Old Testament.
I would say that we need to adopt that same Christological reading today--we have no license to read it otherwise.
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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Faith and "who knows?"

We sometimes speak as though faith and certainty operate in lockstep. And of course, we have good biblical warrant to link certainty to faith (Heb 11:1). But sometimes real faith says, "Who knows?" or "maybe," or "perhaps."
God's ways are above our ways, and "no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor 2:9). So sometimes faith will say, "Who knows?" meaning of course, "only God knows." But what a delightful promise that uncertainty entails.

It's also important to note that the Scriptures also describe real faith being able to say "who knows" in the sense of "perhaps." I think of Joel telling a chronically rebellious people, "Repent" and then saying, "Who knows? Perhaps he will give you a reprieve" (Joel 2:14). Or what about the bold step of faith Jonathan was able to launch off of a "perhaps" when he a fellow warrior took on Israel's enemies: "Perhaps the LORD will help us, for nothing can hinder the LORD. He can win a battle whether many warriors or only a few?" (1 Sam 24:6).
If God's ways are above our ways, we will sometimes say "who knows?" And if we trust in the goodness of God's ways, we will sometimes even be willing to launch out on a bold endeavor even if we initiate it with a "maybe."
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Modern Idolatry

"I could never worship a God who..."

It seems like people who say, "I could never worship a God who..." are generally just about to launch off into the modern version of idolatry. If idolatry is creating God in our own image and likeness, instead of accepting him as he has revealed himself, that can happen theologian's pen just as surely as under the carver's knife.

For example, theologians who do not accept reality of eternal torment in Hell sometimes turn to that phrase, and even flirt with blasphemy too boot. They say, "I could never worship a god who condemned people to eternal torment." Then they sometimes follow on: "A god who would do that would be worse than Hitler."

How much better to take the self-revealing God on his own terms. He has finally revealed himself in his Son. And then, instead of torturing our theology of God until he conforms to our image of what is holy, righteous, and good; let us submit ourselves to the Word of God as the Holy Spirit will impress it into the fabric of our being. This will instead, transform us, so that we are transformed into his image--which is what he created us for.

This transformation will prove the epitome of anti-idolatry, just as idolatry proves itself the nadir of anti-creationism.