American Christianity

hill-of-crosses-in-lithua-001They won’t tell you this in seminary but

– most church people have no more interest in becoming better, more committed, more devoted believers than cows have in being better milk producers.

Mediocrity of commitment is as high as most aim and 90% will never be more than Sunday morning (on occasion) believers.

Brace yourselves.

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Posted by on 25 Aug 2019 in Theology


Because It’s Harder to Smuggle A Snicker’s Into A Theater…

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Posted by on 25 Aug 2019 in Modern Culture


Beware the ‘Church Shoppers’

If someone comes to your Church and asks what you can offer them in terms of ministries and services- tell them the Cross.  If they leave, you don’t need them.  Or want them.  They haven’t come to serve but to be served and in that they are the opposite of Christ.

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Posted by on 25 Aug 2019 in Modern Culture


Was Katie Luther the Driving Force Behind Luther’s Anti-Semitism?

Dear Katie. Yes, on the way, shortly before Eisleben, I became dizzy. That was my fault. Had you been here, however, you would have said that it was the fault of the Jews or their god. For shortly before Eisleben we had to travel through a village in which many Jews are living, [and] perhaps they have attacked me so painfully. At this time over fifty Jews reside here in the city of Eisleben. It is true that when I passed by the village such a cold wind blew from behind into the carriage and on my head through the beret, [that it seemed] as if it intended to turn my brain to ice. This might have helped me somewhat to become dizzy. But thank God now I am well, except for the fact that beautiful women tempt me so much that I neither care nor worry about becoming unchaste.*

Is Luther here hinting that Katie despised Jews ‘and their god’ ( truly remarkable Marcionite-ish phrase) more than he?  Is it worth digging more deeply in Katie Luther’s life to find out?  I would think so.  Here’s why:  Men often are persuaded to viewpoints by their wives (just as wives are by their husbands). I know a man who had fairly common notions of sexuality until he married a woman who had quite ‘open’ views and before long his matched hers in mirror fashion.

Luther here clearly hints that Katie’s attitude towards the Jews was harsher than his own.  He says ‘it was my fault’ and then he says ‘however you would have said that it was the fault of the Jews or their god’.  Did she persuade him to her views?  After all, we are all quite well aware that the ‘Early Luther’ had very decent things to say about the Jews.  So what changed?

Things that make you go hmmmm…..

*Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 50: Letters III (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 50; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 290–291.

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Posted by on 25 Aug 2019 in Modern Culture


Those Who Know The Least…

The New York Times reports

Those with the least understanding of science oppose it the most and also think they know the most, a study showed.

In related news, those who know the least about the Bible and theology also think they know the most.  Welcome to the wikipedia-ization of knowledge.

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Posted by on 25 Aug 2019 in Dilettante


It’s Better to be Baptist

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Posted by on 25 Aug 2019 in Modern Culture


Fun Facts From Church History: How Luther Became an Amulet

In the second half of the sixteenth century, in a strange inversion of the devotional traditions so fiercely condemned by evangelicals, portraits of Luther would take on the imputed powers of a amulet, or even perform miracles, such as when a portrait of Luther emerged unscathed from a conflagration that destroyed everything else in the house: the ‘incombustible Luther’.  — Andrew Pettegree

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Posted by on 25 Aug 2019 in Modern Culture


Zwingli In Einsiedeln

This is a fascinating essay.

Es sind nur ein paar Wörter, aber sie sind wertvoll. Wertvoller als so manches dicke Buch. Letzte Woche hat Urs Leu sie entdeckt – und damit eine Leerstelle geschlossen, welche die Schweizer Reformationsforscher lange beunruhigte. In der Bibliothek des Klosters Einsiedeln fand der Zürcher Historiker in einem Kodex aus dem 9. Jahrhundert drei kurze, mit schwarzer Tinte geschriebene Randbemerkungen. Für Leu war sofort klar: Das ist Huldrych Zwinglis Handschrift! Der Duktus der Buchstaben, die charakteristische Form des «d» mit dem lang heruntergezogenen vertikalen Strich – da war jeder Zweifel ausgeschlossen. Und was das bedeutet, war Leu bewusst. Er hatte entdeckt, wonach man bis jetzt vergeblich gesucht hatte: die Spur, die Zwingli bei seinem Aufenthalt in Einsiedeln hinterlassen hatte.

Then discussion about Zwingli’s studies and viewpoints during that period.  And

Zwingli nahm das alles mit wachen Sinnen zur Kenntnis. Und was er davon hielt, zeigt eine Randbemerkung in einem seiner Bücher. An einer Stelle, wo der Autor warnend schreibt, guter Wein und üppiges Essen würden selbst gefestigte Seelen zu sinnlichen Sünden verführen, hält er lakonisch fest: «Das mögen die Benediktiner sich merken.» Man glaubt deutlich zu spüren, dass er weiss, wovon er spricht.

Doch selbstverständlich wusste er auch sehr gut, was er dem Kloster Einsiedeln verdankte. Zum Pater pflegte er ein freundschaftliches Verhältnis, und vor allem: Er las sich durch die Bibliothek. Obwohl er als Priester für ein riesiges Gebiet mit rund 1500 Einwohnern zuständig war und dazu die Pilger geistlich zu betreuen hatte, nützte er jede freie Minute, um zu lesen. Und Zwingli war ein aufmerksamer Leser, dem nichts entging. Das zeigt sich an den Randbemerkungen in seinen eigenen Büchern, die heute in der Zentralbibliothek Zürich (ZB) aufgearbeitet werden. Bei der Arbeit an Zwinglis Bibliothek stiess Urs Leu, der an der ZB die Abteilung Alte Drucke leitet, auf die Spur, die ihn schliesslich zu seinem Fund führte.

Read it all.

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Posted by on 25 Aug 2019 in Zwingli


Get your Box of Tissues Ready…

Before you click this link.  That little boy has more decency than the entire Trump administration.

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Posted by on 24 Aug 2019 in Modern Culture


Calvin to Cheer You Up

At the conclusion of his refutation of Castellio, who denied predestination, Calvin remarks, acerbically-

In this refutation of dog-like depravity, since the omnipotence of God is affirmed honestly and clearly against all calumnies, I am confident that I have accomplished a work not less useful and gratifying to the Church of God than it is acceptable to God.  –  John Calvin

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Posted by on 24 Aug 2019 in Modern Culture


The Latest Issue of ‘Textus’

The 2019 Volume of Textus – A Journal on Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible – is available online. The complete issue contains the following articles, and can be found here:

Table of Contents

  • Was Samuel Meant to Be a Nazirite? The First Chapter of Samuel and the Paradigm Shift in Textual Study of the Hebrew Bible, Anneli Aejmelaeus
  • The Second Church Slavonic Translation of 1–4 Kingdoms: A Witness to the Proto-Lucianic Text, Alessandro Maria Bruni
  • The Literary Development of MT 1 Kings 8:1–11 in Light of the Septuagint, Julian C. Chike
  • “Darius Son of Ahasuerus, King of the Persians”: Textuality and Chronology in Jacob of Edessa’s Book of Daniel, Bradley J. Marsh Jr.
  • Criteria for Determining the Common Basis of the Greek Versions of Daniel, Daniel Olariu
  • Haggai and Zechariah in Greek Psalm Superscriptions, Michael Shepherd
  • On the Use of Greek Translations in Dating the Shift from Targum Proto-Jonathan to Targum Yerushalmi in Ezekiel, Richard C. Steiner
  • The Use of Glossaries by the Translators of the Septuagint, Sarah Yardney
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Posted by on 24 Aug 2019 in Bible, Biblical Studies Resources


Our Real Sense of Surprise Should Erupt When People Do Good

When people express surprise at how awful people can be, I express surprise at their ignorance of total depravity. People. Are. Essentially. Evil., Not. Basically. Good.

Our real sense of surprise, then, should erupt not when people do awful things, but when they do good things.

If you doubt it, you simply don’t know anything about Scripture’s anthropology:

There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips. Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Rom. 3:10-18)


Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.  (Gen. 6:5-6)

That’s humankind in its essence and being.  Good is foreign to humanity and is a surprise when it is found.

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Posted by on 24 Aug 2019 in Theology


It Has Arrived

With essays by Rebecca A. GiselbrechtJennifer Powell McNuttElsie McKeeEdwin Woodruff TaitKirsi Stjerna and others.

Get your own.

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Posted by on 24 Aug 2019 in Church History


Faith: An Observation

Real faith is lived faith.  Any faith that isn’t lived, isn’t real.

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Posted by on 24 Aug 2019 in Modern Culture


False Confidence is a Bad Idea

‮כֹּֽה־אָמַ֞ר יְהוָ֤ה צְבָאֹות֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל הֵיטִ֥יבוּ דַרְכֵיכֶ֖ם וּמַֽעַלְלֵיכֶ֑ם וַאֲשַׁכְּנָ֣ה אֶתְכֶ֔ם בַּמָּקֹ֥ום הַזֶּֽה׃‮  אַל־תִּבְטְח֣וּ לָכֶ֔ם אֶל־דִּבְרֵ֥י הַשֶּׁ֖קֶר לֵאמֹ֑ר הֵיכַ֤ל יְהוָה֙ הֵיכַ֣ל יְהוָ֔ה הֵיכַ֥ל יְהוָ֖ה הֵֽמָּה׃ ‮כִּ֤י אִם־הֵיטֵיב֙ תֵּיטִ֔יבוּ אֶת־דַּרְכֵיכֶ֖ם וְאֶת־מַֽעַלְלֵיכֶ֑ם אִם־עָשֹׂ֤ו תַֽעֲשׂוּ֙ מִשְׁפָּ֔ט בֵּ֥ין אִ֖ישׁ וּבֵ֥ין רֵעֵֽהוּ׃

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Posted by on 24 Aug 2019 in Bible


Let It Sink In…

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Posted by on 24 Aug 2019 in Modern Culture


Zwingli’s Foreword

Zwinglis Vorrede zu Schwenckfelds Schrift “Ein anwysunge, das die opinion der leyplichen gegenwertigheyt unsers Herrens Jesu Ohristi im Brote oder under der gestalt dess brots gericht ist widder den ynnhalt der gantzen schrifft was published 24 August, 1528.

Here it is for your reading pleasure:

Like the other Magisterial Reformers, Zwingli was often asked to write a foreword to this volume or that.  Such short works were basically little more than endorsements of the works of lesser known persons by widely known and respected ones.  As such, they introduced the views of others (although said views were always in line with the views of the great Reformers else they wouldn’t have agreed to a foreword).

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Posted by on 24 Aug 2019 in Modern Culture, Zwingli


Today With Zwingli: The Unveiling of the Wasserkirche Statue – 24 August, 1885

They sang this song on the occasion of the unveiling and dedication of the statue of Zwingli on this day in 1885, the 401st anniversary of the Reformer’s birth:


Lord, guide the car [of War] Thyself!
Otherwise crooked
All our course becomes.
That would be joy
To our enemies,
Who Thee
Despise so wickedly.


God, elevate Thy Name
To the punishment
Of the wicked goats!
Thy sheep
Again awake,
Who Thee
Love so ardently!

Help, so that all bitterness
May be far removed,
And old fidelity
May come back
And grow anew;
That we
Ever may sing Thy praises!

Zwingli composed the song during the First Kappel War, in 1529.  As SM Jackson remarks

Bullinger gives it (ii., 182) and states that it was immediately and widely popular. It was sung at the Swiss celebrations of the four hundredth anniversary of Zwingli’s birth in 1884, and at the unveiling of the Zwingli statue in Zurich, Monday, August 24, 1885. The poetical versions given in the English translations of Hottinger by T. C. Porter (p. 301), Christoffel by J. Cochrane (p. 430), Merle d’Aubigne by H. White (iv., p. 488), the last reprinted by Schaff (Hist. Chr. Church, vii., p. 173), with the alteration of one line, are so exceedingly free as to misrepresent the original in thought and metre.

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Posted by on 24 Aug 2019 in Modern Culture


The Origins of Devotion to Jesus in its Ancient Context

A new post from Larry. And the best thing about it is that he is feeling better.

Larry Hurtado's Blog

(Several months ago, I was asked to write a contribution to a multi-author work on Jesus to be published in French, my contribution to deal with the origins of Jesus-devotion.  I was given a word-limit, and so had to be brief.  The result is something of a capsulized treatment of the matter.  I post below the English version, which will be translated for the French publication.  As will be clear from this posting, I’m still around and actually feeling better than expected, at least for now.)

Reverencing Jesus in prayers, hymns, and other devotional actions may be so familiar a part of Christian life and worship that we may not realize how much it was an innovation in the historical setting in which it first appeared.  To be sure, in the larger Roman religious environment of the early first century A.D. there were many deities and divinized human figures, all…

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Posted by on 23 Aug 2019 in Modern Culture


Melchizedek, King of ‘Sodom’

Sodom and its king, Melchezidek.  That’s the topic of Cargill’s third book.

Robert Cargill commences his study with an historical overview of the interpretation of Melchizedek.  Here he invites readers to an alternative theory concerning the city over which this character served as King.  A theory which appears to have arrived on the scene only in the early 20th century (1903 to be exact) as explicated by one Charles Edo Anderson.  Anderson believed (without any manuscript support) that Salem was actually Sodom in the story of Melchizedek in Genesis 14.

To carry on the Andersonian tradition, Cargill does a bit of exegesis in his second chapter, describing the structure of the narrative and the meaning of the King’s name and other such exegetical things and, frankly, he does a very good job of it.

Chapter three turns to the real heart of the matter: how did Sodom become Shalem in the Andersonian reading of Genesis 14?  To attempt to answer this question, Cargill looks at the text of the Hebrew Bible. He also takes a side glance at the propriety of adopting the more difficult reading.  Which is a bit odd here given the fact that the principle applies to text critical matters and there isn’t any ancient text which has Sodom in the place of Shalem.  Indeed, Cargill confesses

… I propose that in verse 18 the name is to be misunderstood as a gloss.  Specifically, I propose that in verse 18 the name Sodom was altered to Shalem for the theological purpose of distancing Abram from exchanging goods and oaths with the king of Sodom . … Melchizedek was originally the king of Sodom, not Shalem.  (p. 20)

I appreciate the proposal, but there, again, isn’t a shred of textual evidence for this supposition.  It is a hypothesis without a foundation.  It is speculation lacking evidence.

Mind you, Cargill will spend the remainder of the book building a very carefully constructed edifice in support of his hypothesis.  And readers may find themselves persuaded by his argument.  It is, after all, very good.  It is very Cargill-ian.  It is very bright and creative and almost persuasive save for the one troublesome fact that there is no support for it that isn’t imaginary.

At the end of chapter three, after arguing with all the acuity he possesses (and that is considerable), Cargill again opines

I propose that the change from Sodom to Shalem occurred in the post-exilic period, after the initial redaction of the Pentatuchal texts yet prior to the separation of the SP and MT traditions, and prior to any translations of the HB, including the LXX and the Targums (p. 35).

That’s convenient timing.  It allows the proposition to evade the unpleasant textual reality of the written text that we actually have.

Chapter four turns to the subject of how El Elyon became Yahweh.  This interesting chapter could stand on its own as an encyclopedia article on the subject.  It’s quite informative and ‘I find no fault in it’.

Chapter five is Cargill’s mighty attempt to demonstrate that there were sectarian redactions made to the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Masoretic text.  And of course he’s right.  There were sectarian redactions made and that fact is in and of itself well established.  Cargill’s abiding problem, however, is that there is no textual evidence that Sodom transformed into Shalem because of sectarian emphases.  Indeed, even if we posit the possibility of such changes, what could their motivation be?

But Cargill actually undermines his argument at this point, for he gives textual examples of sectarian changes!  A thing which he cannot do with Genesis 14.  So he provides readers with detailed, wise, and cogent illustrations from texts such as Ex 20 and Deut 5 and the SP’s 10th commandment; Dt 27:4 and its Mt Gerizim love.  And he’s right to insist that the Pentateuch was adjusted for sectarian reasons.  His problem is that Genesis 14 has no textual evidence of such a sectarian adjustment.   That sectarian changes happened does not prove that Genesis 14 is an example of them.

Chapter 6 is an examination of the transformation of Shalem to Jerusalem.  He begins

The evidence I have presented so far demonstrates clearly that there was an ideological competition, from the fifth through second centuries BCE and beyond between the Samaritan cult centered on Mt Gerizim and the Jerusalem cult centered on Mt Zion. (p. 55).

The word ‘clearly’ is always something of a red flag, isn’t it.  It may be clear to Cargill that his case has been made but others may not be equally convinced.  After all, we still have no textual evidence for the central claim.  And we don’t even have, yet, any corroboration.  We have instances and examples of various sectarian dabblings in the text; but we do not yet have any clear demonstration that sectarian interests affected Genesis 14’s choice of ‘Shalem’ and altered it to ‘Sodom’ or vice versa.

But Cargill continues quite manfully to muster evidence, even including a bit of Ugaritic (in Ugaritic font!!!).  When he arrives (after discussing Shalem  : Jerusalem) he brings readers to another aspect of his evidence: Tithes.  This too is an exceptionally written chapter which could also stand on its one in an extensive encyclopedia entry.  Cargill really is a very bright exegete and his work really is superb (even if his thesis in this volume lacks evidential support).  Chapter 8 examines Psalm 110.  And here, it has to be said, Cargill is at his very best as exegete.  He understands the text and its issues and he brilliantly describes the texts meaning.

His abiding problem, however, is that no matter what evidence he musters and what texts he assembles which happen to name Melchizedek, he has no reason besides supposition to assert that Sodom should replace Shalem as Melchizedek’s city.  In short he doesn’t make his case, in spite of his excellent exegesis, because the case cannot be made without textual support.  His is an impossible task because whatever case he makes, it stands on air.

Cargill, after his conclusion, provides readers with the Masoretic Hebrew text of Genesis 14.  This is followed by a second appendix with Cargill’s own translation of that passage.  A translation which – at verse 18 – describes Melchizedek as ‘King of Shalem’.  It’s hard to argue with what’s written when there isn’t any variant reading offering support for our speculative theories.

Finally there are a slew of other appendices (all the way to Appendix J) which offer the Hebrew language folk plenty of charts and tables to add to their other charts and tables (which things Hebrew language people dearly love).

There are endnotes instead of footnotes (why, Oxford?  Why?), a VERY thorough bibliography, an index of verses, and an index of subjects.

All in all this is a very interesting book. You should read it.  You should encourage your library to buy a copy.  Its central thesis is unproven but the material is well presented.

Perhaps at some point in the future there will be a discovery in the Judean desert and that discovery will be of a jar and in that jar there will be a scroll and on that scroll there will be a copy of Genesis 14 and in that copy of Genesis 14 there will be a variant reading and in that variant reading we will discover that Melchizedek was described as the King of Sodom.  And Cargill’s argument will be vindicated (if not entirely proven).


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Posted by on 23 Aug 2019 in Book Review, Book Review Pending, Books