Monday, September 13, 2010

Is Biblical Eisegesis Ever Permissable?

Apparently the Old Testament scholar Gerhard von Rad's reading of Deuteronomy bordered on eisegesis rather than sound exegesis:
In his hands, Deuteronomy became not a law book demanding obedience, but rather a collection of sermons pervaded with a spiritual, even a "'protestantische' Atmosph�re."4 Written laws became homiletic sermons meant to encourage and inspire. Israel's obligation under YHWH's covenant treaty for obedience to his statutes and ordinances became Israel's unconditional election to salvation. On that basis, any sections of Deuteronomy that seem to make salvation dependent on works, i.e., obedience to the law, were deftly and systematically explained away. Either their significance was deemphasized, or they were relegated to later exilic or post-exilic expansions of the text, like the blessings and the curses of Deut 28.5 The support for these claims is often absent, so that von Rad's analysis of Deuteronomy, particularly the legal corpus of Deut 12-26, comes closer to eisegesis than to exegesis.

To be fair von Rad was trying to buck up against the Nazi idealogy that was so prevalent in his day---in his reading of Deuteronomy, von Rad was trying to reclaim the Old Testament from Nazi corruption and return it to it's rightful Jewishness:
From 1933 until 1945, the Hebrew Bible and the connection between Christianity and Judaism came under attack in Nazi Germany. Gerhard von Rad defended the importance of the Old Testament in a courageous struggle that profoundly influenced his interpretation of the book of Deuteronomy.

Gerhard recognized the importance of his work for:
(he) kept returning to Deuteronomy throughout his career, beginning with his doctoral dissertation in 1929, Das Gottesvolk im Deuteronomium, and continuing through Das formgeschichtliche Problem des Hexateuchs (1938), Deuteronomium Studien (1947), and his commentary on Deuteronomy for the prestigious series Altes Testament Deutsch (1964).2 Perhaps more striking than his preoccupation with this pivotal text, however, is the way von Rad characterized its textual content, its priorities, and its theology. His rhetoric frequently took the form of a series of antithetical formulations: Deuteronomy is not X but is Y.3 At times it seemed that von Rad was concerned just as much to establish what Deuteronomy is not as to show what it is. As is well known, von Rad argued that Deuteronomy is not law but rather a series of sermons by traveling Levites preaching a renewed message of redemption. He maintained that Deuteronomy's law code is not a dead text but live instruction, not demands for obedience to incomprehensible requirements, but spiritual exhortations to remember God's grace.

So do you think what he did was right or not?

The Church In A Time Of War

Several thoughts from around the web:

The UCC on becoming a Just Peace Church:
The Just Peace Church vision is a hallmark of United Church of Christ theological identity.

For nearly two decades, the Just Peace Church program has been a grassroots movement of UCC congregations committed to corporately naming and boldly proclaiming a public identity as a justice-doing, peace-seeking church.

The movement traces its history to the 1985 General Synod, when a Just Peace Church Pronouncement called upon all settings of the UCC to be a Just Peace Church, underscoring the words of Dr. Robert V. Moss, the second president of the UCC, who wrote in 1971, "We now need to put as much effort into defining a just peace as we have done in the past in defining a just war."

The General Synod defined "just peace" as the interrelation of friendship, justice, and common security from violence. The pronouncement called the church to a vision of shalom rooted in peace with justice and placed the UCC General Synod in opposition to the institution of war.

From the official Pronouncement on affirming the United Church of Christ as a Just Peace Church:
Biblical and theological foundations
A Just Peace is grounded in God’s activity in creation. Creation shows the desire of God to sustain the world and not destroy. The creation anticipates what is to come: the history-long relationship between God and humanity and the coming vision of shalom.
Just Peace is grounded in covenant relationship. God creates and calls us into covenant, God’s gift of friendship: “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore” (Ezekiel 37:26). When God’s abiding presence is embraced, human well-being results, or Shalom, which can be translated Just Peace.
A Just Peace is grounded in the reconciling activity of Jesus Christ. Human sin is the rejection of the covenant of friendship with God and one another and the creation and perpetuation of structures of evil. Through God’s own suffering love in the cross, the power of these structures has been broken and the possibility for relationship restored.
A Just Peace is grounded in the presence of the Holy Spirit. God sends the Holy Spirit to continue the struggle to overcome the powers ranged against human bonding. Thus, our hope for a Just Peace does not rest on human efforts alone, but on God’s promise that we will “have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
A Just Peace is grounded in the community of reconciliation: the Just Peace Church. Jesus, who is our peace (Ephesians 2:14), performed signs of forgiveness and healing and made manifest that God’s reign is for those who are in need.The church is a continuation of that servant manifestation. As a Just Peace Church, we embody a Christ fully engaged in human events. The church is thus a real countervailing power to those forces that divide, that perpetuate human enmity and injustice, and that destroy.
Just Peace is grounded in hope. Shalom is the vision that pulls all creation toward a time when weapons are swept off the earth and all creatures lie down together without fear; where all have their own fig tree and dwell secure from want. As Christians, we offer this conviction to the world: Peace is possible.

Shuck and Jive on Imperial Religion: Shuck and Jive: Our New Imperial Religion.

The Christian Conscience and Nuclear Escapism:
It is correct to say, as Robert McAfee Brown does, that the possession and manufacture of nuclear weapons are immoral. But if the alternatives are also immoral, as the bishops suggest, it hardly follows that Christians should say an "unequivocal no" to participation in nuclear weapons development. Brown believes that such an unequivocal stance is "risky." Granted, it carries the risks of job loss and accusations of disloyalty. These risks are significant, but they pale before an even greater risk which they reduce. This is the risk of unfettered thinking whereby the human mind, as Augustine said, is stretched and stretched until eventually it encounters something that transcends and judges it, which is Truth. We try to avoid divine judgment and the anxiety it brings by refusing to think, by permitting our prepossessions to prevent the emergence of new insights, as the late Bernard Lonergan wrote.

This is part of the appeal of unequivocal stances. Because they are unambiguous and devoid of irony and paradox, they allow us to suppose that we are righteous. The result is that on the peace issue, we come to sound like those fundamentalist churches that call people out of a sinful world to a holy place of painless. personal salvation. If, however, we resist what Flaubert called "the mania to conclude," we are bound to fathom finally that for the moral problem of deterrence, there is no sanctified ground on which to stand. We learn instead, as London’s G. R. Dunstan writes, that there is only a choice between evils and "everlasting mercy for those who, in good faith, are driven to choose"

At first, Ramsey seems directly opposed to Brown, who rejects deterrence altogether. Actually, Ramsey and Brown are closer to each other than either is to Dunstan or the bishops. Both believe that nuclear morality involves choosing between good and evil. This is what Dunstan and the bishops deny, saying that we choose only between wrongs.

The stark honesty of such a view calls to mind a response to war known as "agonized participation," which is associated with the names of Reinhold Niebuhr and Roger Shinn. and which is described by Edward Long, Jr., in his 1968 book War and Conscience in America (Westminster). This position is not to be confused with statements of just-war theory. The agonized participant believes war is never an act of justice, but that it may sometimes be necessary to prevent an even greater evil. The agonized participant accepts the necessity of war without obscuring its tragedy.

I do not think that a person can have a role in the wartime firing of a nuclear device, or even in the development or production of a destabilizing weapon, as an agonized participant. Those would be acts devoid of conscience. But workers on projects that make the world safer should develop the mind of agonized participants. Their work can be justified, but it provides no cause for patriotic self-congratulation. It is necessary, but it is still immoral. When these defense workers ask how they can resolve the conflict between their religious principles and their participation in nuclear weapons projects, the churches need to tell them that there is no resolution. As Niebuhr said, God’s forgiveness enables us to live with moral dilemmas, but it does not make our deeds righteous.

The churches must speak these things without pointing fingers, as though nuclear defense workers constitute some special, reprehensible class. Their dilemma should be felt acutely by any Christian who lives under the nuclear umbrella and enjoys the prerogatives that come from a military security bought at an awful moral price.

In "Ethics and Tragedy" (Explorations in Theology [SCM, 1979]), D. M. McKinnon recounts a story about the duke of Wellington. An admirer said to the great man: "A victory must be a supremely exhilarating and glorious experience." The duke, by then an old man, replied: A victory, Madam, is the greatest tragedy in the world, only excepting a defeat." Today, living with nuclear deterrence is the greatest tragedy in the world, only excepting what might result from its alternatives. Since there is no handy exit from this tragedy, we may be forced to learn the wisdom of another generation -- that Christian ethics is not a deus ex machina to extricate us from our predicaments. Instead, in the words of neo-orthodoxy’s most systematic thinker, ethics exists "to remind us of our confrontation with God, who is the light illuminating all actions." In a nuclear age, we confront a sorrowful God whose righteous anger boils over in the face of our folly. The miracle is that this weeping, angry God still graces us to hope and to labor for peace. But hoping and peacemaking, we must see, are very different things from indulging in one form or another of nuclear escapism.

Matthew 5 Project - Evangelicals for Nuclear Reduction:
1. As Bible-believing Christians, we recognize Christ’s lordship over all areas of life. The end of the Cold War and the rise of global terrorist networks call for a renewed application of Jesus’ lordship and our own best moral convictions to meet the challenges of our time.
2. Jesus Christ Commands Us to Go, Make Peace with Our Adversary: Matthew 5:21-26 is a command, not an option; the apostle Paul followed it; so must we. This is the central theme of our statement.
3. Jesus Christ is Lord Over Every Area of Life, in Our Relations with All the World: The sanctity of all human life created in the image of God includes all persons. The Holy Spirit empowers us to make our witness to even the remotest part of the earth. God is revealed in Christ and sovereign over the whole world.
4. Overcoming the Nuclear Threat Requires International Cooperation: Our church experience of getting adversaries to talk together, as well as the historical examples of North Korea, Libya, Iran, and sixteen nations that were persuaded not to develop nuclear weapons, show the realism in our context of Jesus’ command to go talk with an adversary to make peace while there’s time.
5. Governments Need International Checks and Balances: Government is part of God’s good creation, but is also fallen and therefore in need of checks and balances, and respect for law. This applies also to governments that have the power to create enormous destruction. We honor our elders, who saw the devastating destruction of World War II, and dedicated themselves to creating international networks so that the scourge of war might be prevented.
6. Nuclear Weapons are a Physical and Moral Threat that Need International Agreement: Nuclear weapons are a physical threat to the survival of human life on earth. They are also a grave moral threat. Prominent national security experts have recently called for reducing and abolishing reliance on nuclear weapons, by verifiable international agreement, in order to enhance national security. This cannot be accomplished unilaterally; it requires international cooperation and verification.
7. A Call for Action: In order to safeguard life, liberty, community, and security for its own citizens and for the world, the United States must demonstrate moral leadership in protecting the human rights of the most vulnerable, strengthening the rule of law in the international community, and seeking diplomatic negotiations with allies and enemies alike. Christians should pray for our leaders and leaders of other nations. We urge churches to teach members ethics for discernment, including just peacemaking practices based on the teachings of Jesus, so they are well prepared to meet today’s challenges in ways faithful to Christ. We encourage church groups to consider engaging in interfaith dialogue and witness, and in building international partnership with fellow Christians around the world. We call for governmental action to oppose the rise in global terrorism by working for international justice and peacemaking. We call for verifiable international reduction of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. We affirm that overcoming the threat of global poverty, global warming, global terrorism, regional insecurity, and nuclear war requires international cooperation. We call for obedience to the Lordship of Christ in all that we do, including talking with an adversary and seeking to make peace.

Patriotism, Nationalism, and the Christian Life:
This is my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my
heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy
But other hearts in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true and high as
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
But other lands have sunlight, too, and
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, O God for all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.
Tune: “Finlandia”
The New Century Hymnal 591

CBF-NC Foundational Document Revisions

Apparently the Baptist blogosphere has been a-buzz about the proposed revisions of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina's “foundational statements." Bruce Prescott weighs in:
Cooperative Baptists in North Carolina are revising their “foundational statements” to delete traditional references to liberty of conscience and “soul competency” and assert the priority and authority of the community in matters of faith. Like the fundamentalists in the Southern Baptist Convention, communitarians within the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship are determined to effect change within Baptist churches by redefining the traditional Baptist understanding of the “priesthood of the believer.”

Fundamentalists redefined “priesthood of the believer” to mean “submission to pastoral authority.” Communitarians are redefining “priesthood of the believer” to mean “submission to the authority of your church.”

Both are weary of the conflict of interpretations that are inevitable when finite and fallible human beings are passionate about reading scripture and living faithfully in accord with a revelation whose meaning is inexhaustible.

Both believe they are authorized to replace the Holy Spirit in the mind and heart of the believer. Fundamentalists replace the Holy Spirit with the authority of the pastor. Communitarians replace the Holy Spirit with the authority of the community. Either the pastor or your community serves to legitimate or delegitimate interpretations of scripture.

Neither fundamentalists nor communitarians make allowances for human imperfections. In the real world, both pastors and church communities often oppose valid interpretations of scripture and legitimate movements of God’s Spirit. That is why Baptists, historically, have been the Christian faith’s staunchest advocates for “liberty of conscience” or “soul competency.” Baptists, at their best, have always left room for the “prophets” – those who seem to be born out of due time because they are responding to a divine summons to serve the community in ways that challenge its consensus.

Read the full post: Here.

Abandon Image: The Scariest Verses in The Qu'ran!!!

Abandon Image: The Scariest Verses in The Qu'ran!!!

The Piety That Lies Between: A Progressive Christian Perspective: A Recent RD Article, and Some Further Thoughts on Qur'an Burning

The Piety That Lies Between: A Progressive Christian Perspective: A Recent RD Article, and Some Further Thoughts on Qur'an Burning

Grace and Truth to You - Wade Burleson: KOKH FOX 25 :: Special Reports - Pastor strip club investigation

Grace and Truth to You - Wade Burleson: KOKH FOX 25 :: Special Reports - Pastor strip club investigation

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Toyohiko Kagawa (賀川豊彦 Kagawa Toyohiko) And The Transnational Church

Recently I just read about an interesting Japanese Christian reformer Toyohiko Kagawa who always seemed to buck the system as he was always getting arrested for critiquing the Japanese State in the same way the Confessing Church did the Nazi Church. One of the most courageous incidents which he was arrested for of note is the following scenario:
In 1940, Kagawa made an apology to the Republic of China for Japan's occupation of China, and was arrested again for this. After his release, he went back to the United States in a futile attempt to prevent war between that nation and Japan.

Kagawa was definitely a man of deep conviction and conscience who took the call to Kingdom living seriously. It is said that "he believed that Christianity in action was the truth of Christian doctrine which he used the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of a socially active Christianity." Toyohiko Kagawa's Christian journey was certainly one rooted in Christ-centeredness:
he met and learned English from Henry Myers a Presbyterian minister. He learned more than that—he learned about Christ and Myers baptized Kagawa unto Christ. Horace Shipp said, “Young Kagawa became a Christian. He did a rarer thing: he began to practice Christianity.” He was a pacifist to the core, at times he literally turned the other cheek and he insisted on giving away all his possessions and often his food. In 1904 Japan without warning attacked the Russian ships at Port Arthur and destroyed their whole Baltic fleet. Japan as a nation hailed this as a great triumph and justified it on the basis of less obvious but threatening developments in Russian foreign affairs. At the seminary where he now attended Kagawa dared to speak against Japan’s act of war and the students would take turns to beat him up. Finally he was expelled, he fell ill (tuberculosis) and went away to die in a little fishing village. But a boat was wrecked on the coast and Kagawa worked until he was absolutely exhausted helping to rescue people. This experience made him determined to live and later his stated aim was “The salvation of 100,000 poor, the emancipation of 9,430,000 laborers and the liberation of twenty million tenant-farmers.”

He took a header into the infamous slums at Shinkawa and for nineteen years he lived in a cubicle six feet by six feet, with one side open to act as door and windows. As one of the lowest of the low even by Shinkawa standards he shared his living quarters and for four years he held the hand of a murderer that couldn’t sleep alone. He got a little income from a Training school and he doubled it by working as a chimney sweep and gave it away or gave away all the food and clothes it bought. It was from one of his ceaseless stream of visitors that he contracted a fierce eye disease that moved him closer and closer to blindness. The slum bullies robbed him with violence, burned down his shack, knocked his teeth out and challenged his faith by demanding that he give away his clothes. He did that on more than one occasion and had to wear a woman’s robe until he could replace them. Once he was on the verge of taking on a jeering and threatening bully who was going to stop his preaching but instead he turned and ran. The crowd roared with laughter but he was back the next day in the same place preaching Christ.

It’s no surprise then that when the earthquake hit and Japan was in awful need that they let him out of prison and asked him to be Chief of Social Welfare. Once when he visited an American University two students went to hear him speak but when he was done, unimpressed one said to the other, “He didn’t have a lot to say, did he?” A woman behind them leaned over and said, “When you’re hanging on a cross you don’t need to say a lot.” He died in 1960.

Venerated by both the ELCA and the Anglican Church alike, Toyohiko Kagawa stands as an influential figure within the Transnational Church and one that should be read within Emerging/Emergent circles as well as the larger Church as illustrated here:
Kagawa’s Alternative Vision: Christianity as a Social Movement

Although Kagawa maintained cooperative relationships with missionaries and was an ordained minister in good standing in the Presbyterian Church, he was extremely critical of the established churches on a number of grounds. Several points should be considered here. Like other Japanese minor founders, Kagawa was critical of the theology of the established churches, which he considered to be too abstract and disconnected from the realities of everyday life. He did not abandon the institutional church and reject the sacraments and ordained clergy as did Uchimura KanzØ, for example, but did insist that preoccupation with specific creeds, catechisms, and denominational traditions was not what Jesus intended for his followers. In a message addressed to young foreign missionaries at a Language School Retreat in Tamagawa some years after the formation of the Friends of Jesus, Kagawa reaffirmed his stance: “I want to say, let us start from Christ, not from Pharisaism, nor the Nicene Creed, nor from the Westminister Catechism, but from Christ himself.”9

A second problem Kagawa had with the established churches was their individualistic interpretation of the faith – something he thought was due to the excessive influence of European and American thought on the Christian faith. As Sumiya (1995: 168) points out, there was a tendency at the time for Christianity to be interpreted in most Japanese churches as an individualistic spiritual movement (seishin undØ). While Kagawa agreed that individual salvation was one important dimension of the faith, he maintained that for Christianity to be faithful to its founder’s vision and example it must also be a social movement.10

9 This message is reported in a Friends of Jesus publication (estimated date, 1928 or 1929).
10 It is interesting to note that Kagawa’s perspective – though somewhat unique in the Japanese Christian world at the time – has parallels within the larger world of Japanese religions. A number of other Japanese new religions (OmotokyØ, for example) similarly emphasized both kokoro naoshi and yonaoshi or the healing of the heart and the world, which is sometimes referred to as yo no tatekae tatenaoshi or the “rebuilding and renewal of the world.” (See Shimazono 1993: 223; Mullins 1994)

-Mullins: Christianity as a Transnational Social Movement 77

In 1919, about two years before the formation of the Friends of Jesus movement, Kagawa published Seishin undØ to shakai undo (Spiritual and Social Movements), a title that captured his concern for both individual and social transformation. This vision was also central to his lectures published as Seisho shakaigaku no kenky¨ (Studies in the Sociology of the Bible) in 1922.11 The person of Jesus is at the center of Kagawa’s faith, but it is faith in one who taught the path of redemptive love and formed a movement to bring about God’s kingdom and rule of peace and justice on this earth. The whole of scripture, he argues, points to the conclusion that a biblical religious movement is a social movement of emancipation. Some years later Kagawa offered the following commentary on Luke 4: 18-19, which is surely the locus classicus for his view: “Jesus’ understanding of the Gospel included economic emancipation (preaching to the poor); psychological emancipation (healing the broken-hearted); social emancipation (preaching deliverance to the captives); physical emancipation (recovery of sight to the blind); and political emancipation (setting at liberty them that are bruised). The Gospel of Christ means not merely individualistic mental healing. It means a healing of everything. It means an emancipation from all sorts of evil.”12

Kagawa never abandoned the church and continued to serve as a pastor, but he was extremely critical of a church that failed to practice redemptive love (shokuzai ai no jissen 贖罪の実践), which for him meant moving outside the walls of the church to live and work with those in greatest need. The membership composition of established churches tended to be dominated by the educated or white-collar classes and those groups of people who were in most critical need – the “underside of modern Japan,” to borrow a phrase from Mikiso Hane (1982) – were largely missing. Kagawa reasoned that clergy were failing to cultivate lay leaders and mobilize them for ministry to the poor and the larger work of the Kingdom. It was Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God that captured Kagawa’s imagination and commitment, and for him this was an inclusive notion that not only included the preaching and evangelistic work of the church, but all of those social movements that addressed the needs of humankind.13 While some critics accused him of being nothing more than a social activist, the corpus of his writings make it clear that he

11 These lectures were given to Sunday School teachers in Osaka and originally published by Nichiyo Sekaisha in Osaka. The volume is included in the Kagawa Zensh¨, Vol. 7, 8-83. See Muto (1966: 117 ff.) for a helpful synopsis.
12 “Following in His Steps,” Friends of Jesus, Vol. 4, No. 1. January 1931, 6.
13 Kayama (2004) makes a convincing case that the “Kingdom of God” was the central concept in Kagawa’s thought, which enabled him to integrate his understanding of the individual and social dimensions of the Gospel. For Kagawa, in other words, the scope of the sacred extends to all spheres of life and is not confined to the institutional church.

-78 Japanese Religions 32 (1 & 2)

never abandoned the conviction that individual transformation was also required. The improvement of material conditions alone, Kagawa maintained, does not eliminate the need for spiritual transformation.

(Read more here: Mark R. Mullins *Christianity as a Transnational Social Movement:
Kagawa Toyohiko and the Friends of Jesus

Find Kagawa's writings on: Amazon.