There’s Nothing New Under the Sun

And people are the same as they have always been-

ezekHe said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet and I will speak with you.” As he spoke to me, a wind came into me and stood me on my feet, and I heard the one speaking to me.

He said to me, “Son of man, I am sending you to the house of Israel, to rebellious nations who have rebelled against me; both they and their fathers have revolted against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and hard-hearted, and you must say to them, ‘This is what the sovereign LORD says.’

And as for them, whether they listen or not—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them. 

But you, son of man, do not fear them, and do not fear their words—even though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions—do not fear their words and do not be terrified of the looks they give you, for they are a rebellious house!  You must speak my words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious. 

As for you, son of man, listen to what I am saying to you: Do not rebel like that rebellious house! Open your mouth and eat what I am giving you.”  Then I looked and realized a hand was stretched out to me, and in it was a written scroll. He unrolled it before me, and it had writing on the front and back; written on it were laments, mourning, and woe (Ezekiel 2:1-10).

And Up Next- Pedophile Rights….

Using the same tactics used by “gay” rights activists, pedophiles have begun to seek similar status arguing their desire for children is a sexual orientation no different than heterosexual or homosexuals.

Critics of the homosexual lifestyle have long claimed that once it became acceptable to identify homosexuality as simply an “alternative lifestyle” or sexual orientation, logically nothing would be off limits. “Gay” advocates have taken offense at such a position insisting this would never happen. However, psychiatrists are now beginning to advocate redefining pedophilia in the same way homosexuality was redefined several years ago.

Well there ya go.

Earlier this year two psychologists in Canada declared that pedophilia is a sexual orientation just like homosexuality or heterosexuality.

Van Gijseghem, psychologist and retired professor of the University of Montreal, told members of Parliament, “Pedophiles are not simply people who commit a small offense from time to time but rather are grappling with what is equivalent to a sexual orientation just like another individual may be grappling with heterosexuality or even homosexuality.”

He went on to say, “True pedophiles have an exclusive preference for children, which is the same as having a sexual orientation. You cannot change this person’s sexual orientation. He may, however, remain abstinent.”

When asked if he should be comparing pedophiles to homosexuals, Van Gijseghem replied, “If, for instance, you were living in a society where heterosexuality is proscribed or prohibited and you were told that you had to get therapy to change your sexual orientation, you would probably say that that is slightly crazy. In other words, you would not accept that at all. I use this analogy to say that, yes indeed, pedophiles do not change their sexual orientation.”

And

Milton Diamond, a University of Hawaii professor and director of the Pacific Center for Sex and Society, stated that child pornography could be beneficial to society because, “Potential sex offenders use child pornography as a substitute for sex against children.”

Diamond is a distinguished lecturer for the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco. The IASHS openly advocated for the repeal of the Revolutionary war ban on homosexuals serving in the military.

The IASHS lists, on its website, a list of “basic sexual rights” that includes “the right to engage in sexual acts or activities of any kind whatsoever, providing they do not involve nonconsensual acts, violence, constraint, coercion or fraud.” Another right is to, “be free of persecution, condemnation, discrimination, or societal intervention in private sexual behavior” and “the freedom of any sexual thought, fantasy or desire.” The organization also says that no one should be “disadvantaged because of  age.”

David Congdon’s “The Mission of Demythologizing”

9781451487923hFortress sent a copy and I’ve completed my review.  The publisher suggests

Rudolf Bultmann’s controversial program of demythologizing has been the subject of constant debate since it was first announced in 1941. It is widely held that this program indicates Bultmann’s departure from the dialectical theology he once shared with Karl Barth. In the 1950s, Barth thus referred to their relationship as that of a whale and an elephant: incapable of meaningful communication. This study proposes a contrary reading of demythologizing as the hermeneutical fulfillment of dialectical theology on the basis of a reinterpretation of Barth’s theological project.

That nicely summarizes this volume’s goal.  The immediate question potential readers will ask, then, is ‘did Congdon manage what he aimed to do?’  The aim of what follows is to answer that question.

In 1953 Barth wrote a telling little volume titled Rudolf Bultmann: Ein Versuch, ihn zu Verstehen (2nd ed). Barth failed. And he did so because Barth’s chief flaw was arrogance and an inability to think along with others. Mind you, Barth could think. And he could analyze. But he couldn’t read sympathetically. He couldn’t enter into the mind of others and follow their thoughts with them and thus Barth really couldn’t understand anyone else. Especially those who disagreed with him.

This is why Barth could never understand either Brunner or Bultmann. And why he could never love them. And why he was always combative and dialectical. Barth HAD to be right and he couldn’t conceive of anyone disagreeing with that basic premise.

But Barth was so influential and so important a thinker that his views of both Brunner and Bultmann were adopted by his followers and students and because they numbered in their thousands and found academic homes in Universities across Europe and America, the screeching voice of Barth echoed around the world and, therefore, without even really knowing why, Brunner and Bultmann were denounced by persons who had, like Barth, never thought their thoughts with them.

By the time Brunner died, his name was already slowly sinking from public view. When Barth died, societies rose in his place to continue his legacy. And lastly, when Bultmann died, Barth and Brunner were being eclipsed by new fads in theological thinking.

Then something incredible happened: Gareth Jones wrote a study on the thought of Bultmann and kicked off what can only be called a renaissance in appreciation for the old Marburg Professor. The year was 1991 and the title of that remarkable volume was Bultmann: Towards a Critical Theology (American edition, 1990 for the UK). That kicked the block from underneath the wheels and Bultmann studies began to rise from the ashes of historical indifference.

Fast forward to 2015 and David Congdon’s very large doctoral dissertation on Bultmann and demythologizing finds a home at Fortress Press and comes to public awareness in the volume currently being considered. Each word of the title is a carefully chosen window on the volume’s intent. The Mission- that is, the goal or aim, of demythologizing- that is, of restating the truth of Christian faith in a way sensible to its audience in whatever time and place it resides. Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology- that is, Bultmann’s aims as a member of a theological movement which he took in new directions which Barth could neither understand nor appreciate.

Congdon’s volume is 863 pages long (though it could have been shorter had the font been smaller and the sentence spacing less generous) and, as one might easily suppose because of it, amazingly thorough. In eight chapters Congdon describes and discusses

  1. The Problem: They Mythical Picture of Bultmann
  2. Reinterpreting the Myth: A Periodization of the Barth-Bultmann Relationship
  3. The Missionary Essence of Dialectical Theology
  4. The Mission of Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology
  5. The Truth of Myth and the Necessity of Demythologizing
  6. Toward a Dialectical Intercultural Hermeneutic
  7. The Problem of Myth and the Program of Deconstantinizing
  8. Eschatological Existence and Existentialist Translation

And then in a concluding chapter (which readers ought to read first, and not last), titled The Future of Demythologizing, Congdon wraps things up.

Congdon’s work is extremely thorough.  He clearly is well acquainted with the historical period of the early and middle 20th centuries in Europe.  He knows German right well (although he does follow the crowd in at least one instance where he shouldn’t have), and he – unlike Barth – understands Bultmann.

But, with all due respect to Karl Barth, understanding Bultmann is not at all difficult.  You simply need remember that he was a pious Lutheran who stood at the door with the poor box in his hand and received monies for the destitute at the Marburg Church every Sunday he was in town.  He was never ordained, but instead was a lifelong lay teacher of Scripture in the University graced and enriched by his presence and a man who loathed what Liberal Christianity had done to the faith at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century and so spent his life showing to all who had eyes to see that the core of the Gospel is not tied to the historical happenstances of its appearance and those historical happenstances could be done away with by moderns whilst the truth of the Gospel could, and should be retained.

In point of fact, his program of  Entmythologisierung des Neuen Testaments, whilst usually translated ‘De-mythologizing’ should by rights be translated ‘Re-mythologizing’.

Which brings me to my first criticism of Congdon’s work (and there’s just one)-  he writes

In continuity with more recent scholarship, I have not maintained the earlier tradition of differentiating between geschichtlich and historisch by using the terms “historic” and “historical”  (p. xv).

This is, in my view, a mistake.  To the theologians of the early 20th century (like von Rad and Bultmann and Brunner and the majority of the practitioners of the historical-critical arts) the distinction between geschichtlich and historisch is absolutely critical.  In our own context they reflect the difference between minimalists and maximalists.  To use the same word to describe both approaches would be completely misleading.  Similarly, to abandon the very crucial difference between the concepts explicated by geschichtlich and historisch will only hinder proper understanding not only of Bultmann’s program but of the entire era.

It is absolutely essential that words written in a particular historical Sitz im Leben are allowed to carry the same weight in different historical periods elsewise the subtle and careful arguments of the past will be lost to us.

Moving forward from those slight concerns, the book at hand is a genuine masterpiece of Bultmannian goodness.  As indicated in the chapter listing above, Condgon moves carefully through the proper materials and gives readers a better introduction to the work and theology of Bultmann than has ever been done since Gareth Jones got the ‘ball rolling’ in 1990.  Few have comprehended Bultmann better and only one has done a superior job of letting insiders and outsiders alike into the inner workings of Bultmann’s mind.

My usual inclination is to tell people to read books BY Bultmann before they read books ABOUT Bultmann.  But in this case, this book should be read by those interested in discovering Bultmann before they read anything by him.  Doing so will ensure that those readers of the Marburg-ers still incredibly important works will correctly interpret them in their time and place.

If You’re Surprised that This Will Be The Next ‘Equality’ Quest, Raise Your Hand

Here ya go.

The fight for LGBTQ+ rights in America is far from over, but after last week’s major win, it’s worth properly reflecting on the important questions Roberts and his fellow dissenters have raised about polygamy (briefly setting aside their fear mongering motives in doing so).

Estimates for the number of polyamorous relationships in America range from 500,000 to 10 million depending on how such relationships are defined. Fear also drives the discrepancy.

“Polyamorists have good reason to hide their relationships from the general public because being exposed as sexually or relationally unconventional can mean loss of employment, housing, relationships with friends and families of origin, or custody of children. With so much to lose, it is no surprise that polys and other sexual or relational non-conformists sometimes hide their relationships,” researcher Kelly Cookson told Psychology Today last year.

I live in South Africa where President Jacob Zuma legally has four wives. I mention Zuma not as a positive example of polygamy in action (…it’s difficult to find anything positive to say about the man…) but to remind readers that poly family configurations do exist and are legally protected in many countries. They’ve also been the bedrock of “traditional marriage,” depending on when we start the clock on that fluid term.

Thanks, #SCOTUS.  In a few years we can all marry whatever we want to.  Whatever, whoever.

Calvin’s Ailments

John Piper writes in his little book on Calvin

To get a clearer picture of his iron constancy, add to this work schedule the “continuous ill health” he endured. He wrote to his physicians in 1564, when he was 53 years old, and described his colic and spitting of blood and ague and gout and the “excruciating sufferings” of his hemorrhoids.

But worst of all seemed to be the kidney stones that had to pass unrelieved by any sedative.

“[They] gave me exquisite pain. … At length, not without the most painful strainings, I ejected a calculus which in some degree mitigated my sufferings, but such was its size that it lacerated the urinary canal and a copious discharge of blood followed. This hemorrhage could only be arrested by an injection of milk through a syringe.”

Yikes….  an injection of milk through a syringe up in there….  I’d be super cranky.  Truth told, Pastors these days take a vacation if they sneeze two times in one day.  The Sixteenth century bred heartier souls.

British New Testament Society Registration Update

Colleagues,

I am pleased to report that the glitch on the website for booking this year’s conference has now been fixed. We have extended the discounted booking rate to the 8th July. Bookings can be made here: http://www.epay.ed.ac.uk/browse/extra_info.asp?compid=1&modid=2&catid=3&prodid=1860

Best wishes,
Paul.

Dr Paul Middleton
Secretary, The British New Testament Society

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Are Christians Obliged to Assist All in Need?

Einsatz für bedrängte Christen?, by Philippe Dätwyler
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Sollen, ja müssen Christen allen Menschen helfen, die in Not sind? Unabhängig von ihrer religiösen Zugehörigkeit? Selbstverständlich. Der Meister von Nazareth hat mit seinem ganzen Leben und dem Gleichnis vom barmherzigen Samariter den Weg gezeigt: Die Nächstenliebe darf keine Grenzen haben. Das ist manchmal gar nicht so einfach, dieses grosse Herz. Aber es ist wichtig. Denn wer das Herz klein macht, ist ein Religionsegoist, der das Evangelium verrät.
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Und sollen, ja müssen sich Christen für Christen einsetzen, die in Not sind? Selbstverständlich. Selbstverständlich? Heute muss man sich dafür manchmal fast entschuldigen und rechtfertigen. Ich bin kein Biblizist, der sich bei allem auf eine Bibelstelle beruft. Aber der Appell von Paulus gefällt mir: «Darum lasst uns, solange wir noch Gelegenheit haben, allen Menschen Gutes tun, am meisten aber denen, die mit uns im Glauben verbunden sind» (Gal 6,10). Ist darin nicht dieser doppelte Ansatz auf den Punkt gebracht, dass das eine ohne das andere nicht geht?
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Exklusive Parteinahme für Christen ist unchristlich. Unchristlich ist aber auch, das Leid unserer Glaubensgeschwister nicht wahrzunehmen und uns anwaltschaftlich für sie einzusetzen. Doch was heisst das? Wie umgehen mit diesem Spannungsfeld? Mit diesen beiden Notwendigkeiten? Dem nötigen Einsatz für das Wohl aller und der nötigen Solidarität mit Christen in Not?
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Ich behaupte: In dieser Zeit, in der der unheilige Krieg des IS auch ein gnadenloser Religionskrieg ist, müssen wir die Balance zwischen den beiden Aufgaben neu ausloten. Schon früher wurden Christen bedrängt. Zumeist aber nicht allein wegen ihres Glaubens. Religiöse, historische, ethnische und ökonomische Faktoren haben sich meist vermischt. In Zeiten des IS hingegen reicht es, ein Kreuz um den Hals oder als Tattoo auf dem Arm zu haben. Das allein kann schon das Todesurteil bedeuten.
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Drei Seiten, die zusammengehören
Natürlich müssen wir uns fragen, was für gewollte und ungewollte Folgen eine Neudefinition dieser Balance haben kann. Die Gefahr ist offensichtlich: Man könnte damit vorhandene Ressentiments noch schüren und Spannungen unter den Religionen weiter anheizen. Das wäre fatal und darf nicht passieren.
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Ein dezidierterer Einsatz für bedrängte Christen muss deshalb verbunden sein mit einer Intensivierung des interreligiösen Dialogs. Ja, mit einem beherzten Einsatz für die berechtigten Anliegen der Muslime unter uns. Zu oft werden sie beargwöhnt. Zu oft sind sie die Projektionsfläche für unsere diffusen Ängste. Zu oft sind sie die Prügelknaben für die weltpolitischen Irrungen und Wirrungen.
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Diese dritte Seite gehört zwingend mit dazu. Wer diese ausblendet, verengt Blick und Herz. Wird dumpf und stumpf. Wird Religionsegoist. Und das ist gefährlich. Denn ein Blick in die Abgründe der Geschichte zeigt: Religionsegoisten sind fast immer auch Brandstifter gewesen. Und haben mit bestem Gewissen im Namen Gottes die abscheulichsten Taten begangen. So wie zur Zeit der IS in Syrien und im Irak.

The Sad State of Preaching in Zurich in the Pre-Zwingli Days

279193Things in the Canton, in fact, were fairly tragic concerning proclamation of the Word of God when Zwingli arrived and they came to a head in 1525 when

On June 30, 1525, [Zwingli] published his book on the office of the preacher, with a dedication to his fellow Toggenburgers. It was really directed against the Anabaptists, who claimed that all the Lord’s people were prophets.

The book to which Prof. Jackson refers above is this one: Von dem Predigtamt.

It addresses the very important questions of who, and what, is a Preacher and what does his office entail? But even more centrally, the ‘problem’ with which this book wishes to deal is the question, ‘ob ein ley sollt das wort gottes sagen’. Do layfolk have the right to preach?

It might seem an odd question to us, but in 1525 Zwingli was at the center of the Anabaptist storm and among those people, unauthorized preaching was part and parcel of their belief that the entire church was corrupt, including all the ordained. So preach they did- even if as equipped for it as a dog for higher science.

Zwingli has some pretty forthright things to say in this text including but not limited to

Anabaptism is wholly and totally against God.

and

Without a thorough knowledge of Hebrew and Greek there is no knowledge of the contents of the Old and New Testaments. Every commentary in the world cannot measure up to the value of a knowledge of those languages.’

and

Romans 10:15 clearly shows that only the ‘sent’ may preach.

And of course by sent, Zwingli means duly authorized by the rite of ordination. These re-baptizers, though, were sent only by their own wicked imaginations and were therefore neither legitimate nor authorized by God.

Zwingli’s book is a fantastic read. For even more on Zwingli’s understanding of the preaching office, Hans Scholl’s essay in Zwingliana is a valuable resource.