Archive for December, 2010
I hope everyone is having a Merry Christmas, as well as a Happy Boxing Day (HT to my sister and Canadian brother-in-law living in the UK).
I just wanted to let you know (if you aren’t already aware) that you can subscribe to ThinkHardThinkWell by a couple of different means. First, you can be notified of new posts via e-mail through the gadget on the right of the homepage. Second, you can copy the RSS feed (http://thinkhardthinkwell.wordpress.com/feed/) into a tool such as Google Reader, which you can also add as a gadget to your iGoogle page. Be sure to check out the Links and Papers & Presentations pages periodically for new material.
Thanks again for the time you spend reading and commenting here at ThinkHardThinkWell. Corrie, Daniel and I wish you a happy and prosperous 2011–unless you happen to be a member of the Philadelphia Phillies…
For the last week or so I have been in Illinois with my wife, son and in-laws, visiting my wife’s extended family. We had a lovely trip to the Chicago area and then continued on to central IL.
While we were away, one of the more prominent news stories was the UConn women’s basketball team’s winning streak, which they extended to 88 games on and then 89 games on Tuesday night. With the 89th consecutive victory–11 wins this season following back-to-back 39-0 national championship seasons–the Lady Huskies passed the mark of 88 consecutive wins by the UCLA men’s basketball team between 1971-74.
Now, praise should be given where praise is due. These ladies are exemplary on and off the court, and they are better athletes than I will ever be–they would kick my butt at hoops any day of the week, and they could probably beat me up, too. With that in mind, it’s a bit risky to voice this opinion–but that’s what blogs are for, right?
This is certainly a remarkable and laudable achievement. But my question is, why is this achievement being compared to the UCLA men’s record? Watching ESPN this week I became more and more disgusted by the cowardice displayed by the analysts: no one would point out that these two records cannot really be compared–for fear of being labeled sexist.
Hear me out, here. No one disputes that the UConn women are the best women’s college team out there, by far. But when we talk about breaking records, it’s important to compare apples to apples.
If an eighth-grade team somewhere in the nation won 100 games in a row, what would we say about it? We would say, "What a great achievement for them," but we wouldn’t compare it to a similar achievement in the NBA. The NBA record for consecutive wins, BTW, is 33, set by the Lakers in ’71-72. The non-NCAA record for consecutive wins by a women’s team is 131 wins by Wayland Baptist University of Plainview, TX (1953-58), but no one argues that those girls could beat these UConn women. The UCLA men’s teams of the early ’70s might have had a shot on any given night at beating those Lakers.
But it’s a guarantee that the UCLA men would have beaten today’s UConn women in a head-to-head matchup. The Bruins had two 6’11" players, including future NBA Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton. The Lady Huskies’ tallest player is Stephanie Dolson at 6’5", and the average height on the team is 5’11". The opponents that these teams had to face were of similar size, skill and athletic ability–that’s the whole idea in competitive sports.
I think it’s unfair to both teams–the Bruin men and the Lady Huskies–to compare their records. To do so would short-change the men’s achievement while undermining the credibility of the women’s achievement. What are we trying to convince ourselves by comparing the two teams? That women are better or more athletic than men?
Let’s just acknowledge that women and men have different physical endowments. If sports (even the farce that is college athletics–but that’s a discussion for another time) is about teamwork, dedication, patience, perseverance and physical fitness, let’s applaud those traits–and not let politics and culture wars overshadow what these women have achieved.
I’ve attached some photos of the parentally-proclaimed World’s Cutest Baby®. Daniel is growing quickly, holding his head and upper body up well–not quite sitting up at 4.5 months. He smiles quite a bit and loves to snuggle–much to the delight of all who hold him. The ladies in the nursery at church are especially fond of him, and he seems to kick the charm into high gear when he is being held by a pretty girl. I’m going to have to watch that kid….
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous New Year, etc. Thanks for reading ThinkHardThinkWell so faithfully these last two years.
Various news outlets (here and here) have picked up the story of David Epstein, a 46-year-old professor at Columbia University who is accused of having a “consensual” incestuous relationship with his 24-year-old daughter.
I find the public response to cases like these (see also here) to be quite fascinating. Everyone says, “Eeeew.” Conservatives say, “Prosecute!” Liberals say, “Disgusting, but we have no right to interfere.” William Saletan at Slate has tried to argue a middle position.
There are two issues at the heart of our society’s debates about sexuality. The first is whether sexual behavior is in its essence a social act–and by that I mean, the concern of society. The second is the pragmatic question of whether society can effectively regulate sexuality, and whether it should be done by government or by free associative (or dissociative) choices by individuals.
For Christians, it seems hard to escape the fact that biblical sexuality is a social concern, not a private matter. Sexual expression has social implications and should be regulated.
Practically, though, how should a secular government (or, more complicatedly, many secular state governments) encourage socially productive sexual behavior and discourage socially destructive behavior? If biblical standards regarding sexuality are not the standards we choose to uphold, what is the alternative standard?
If the social standard is just pragmatics, you can end up going down some weird lines of reasoning. If the danger of incest is birth defects in children, the government could require those engaging in incestuous sex to be sterilized. Or, perhaps the government could publish a list of HIV-positive people on the Web so that potential sexual partners could make informed decisions. I’m sure there’d eventually be an app for that….
All this to say: when we pervert God’s wonderful gift of sexuality, we end up tying ourselves up in knots trying to deal with all the social, political and personal consequences.
Happy birthday to me! Today is my 27th birthday, so I am 26 years old. Woot.
Apparently, I share a birthday with two coworkers, a child of a friend from church, and the great entertainers Donny Osmond and R. Stephen Taylor. That got me thinking about the rather remarkably high probability that two folks in any given set of people will share a birthday.
Obviously, the chance that you and I share a birthday is only 1 in 366 (including February 29). But if you and I don’t share, and we add a third person, the probability that he would share either of our birthdays is 2 in 366. The more folks we add, the better chance that two will share a birthday. If we have a group of 367, we are guaranteed that two will share a birthday. So, the probability that two of us will not share a birthday is expressed as follows:
P = (366/366) * (365/366) * (364/366) …
|# of people in a set||Chance that none of them will share a birthday||Chance that two people in that group will share a birthday|
Try this at the next boring party or business lunch: see if you can find two people who share a birthday. I’ve attached a spreadsheet that calculates the probability for any size group.
BTW, I will accept cash or check for my birthday; also, my Amazon wish list is fully stocked and prioritized for your convenience…
Should Scripture be the basis for our understanding of Scripture? I hope so. Reading the Bible faithfully means trusting that Scripture is true, and that the God of Scripture has been faithful to his nature and his promises to us.
However, each of us comes to Scripture with his/her own baggage. Scripture itself has its own “baggage”: history, tradition, language, time. But the situation is not as bleak as some would make it out to be: we know a lot about the historical background of the Bible, and much has been preserved in tradition. And–most important–we as Christians have the Holy Spirit indwelling us, helping us to understand the biblical texts.
On Saturday night (at the Semiannual Westminster Beerfest), I had a lengthy discussion with some friends about inerrancy and the nature of Scripture. I’d like to share some thoughts stemming from that discussion.
The question at hand was whether apparent contradictions in Scripture should influence our understanding of inerrancy. Now, I started by invoking a statement from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, from the initial Summary, point. 2:
Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: It is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms; obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises.
Now, I think I will want to disagree with, or at least nuance, points 4-5 in that same section. But I believe this is a wonderful, helpful statement. In my discussion, I was trying to spin out some of the implications of the phrases I underlined in the statement. Biblical authority and inerrancy is a given; the real question is, what does Scripture actually affirm?
Of course, most inerrantists would say that Scripture does not truly affirm faulty cosmology, such as pillars supporting the earth, or a heavenly dome with storehouses. Scripture does not affirm lies recorded in Scripture, such as words of Satan (Job 1) or false prophecy (1 Kgs 13:18). But how do we know this? We learn this by looking at the larger context, the whole counsel of God. The story of Job demonstrates that YHWH vindicates his people over the slanderous charges of hassatan. The mentions of cosmology in poetry affirm God’s creative and sustaining power over the world. Scripture affirms truth.
So far, so good. But what about trickier questions of history and historiography, and synoptic contrasts between Samuel-Kings and Chronicles, or between the Gospels?
There are many examples I could give, but in Saturday’s discussion I used as a test case the question of the date of Passover in the Passion narratives. Here’s a summary of the conflict.
- In all four Gospels, the Last Supper is a Thursday evening, and the crucifixion is a Friday. Jesus is removed from the cross and buried before the Sabbath began on Friday evening (Mat 27:62, Mk 15:42, Lk 23:54,
- In the Synoptics, the Feast of Passover/Unleavened Bread begins on Thursday evening (all Jewish holidays begin in the evening); see Mat 26:2, 17-20, 26-30; Mk 14:1-2, 12-15, 26; and Lk 22:1, 7, 11, 15. Note that Mark refers to Thursday as the “First Day of Unleavened Bread,” not the first festival day, but the day of preparing the meal (“when they sacrificed the Passover lamb”).
- In John, the Passover begins on Friday evening, and Jesus is crucified at the time when the lambs are being sacrificed in preparation for the Passover (Jn 13:1; 19:14, 31). The Last Supper does not appear to be a Passover meal at all.
So, was the first day of Passover Thursday-night-Friday-daytime, or was it Friday-night-Saturday-daytime? These two portrayals seem to be irreconcilable, though some have tried. Either one is right and one is wrong, or both are wrong–but both can’t be “right.” So, does Scripture affirm historical error?
This example is a very useful one, because we see conflicting historical facts that are important parts of the authors’ respective points-of-view. In the Synoptic chronology, Jesus is a new high priest and king, sitting around the Passover table (new exodus) with his Twelve (new Israel). John, probably writing 30 years after the other Evangelists, portrays Jesus as the Passover “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29; Rev 5). He probably also wants to place some distance (politically and socially) between Christianity and the post-70-CE Judaism, thus marginalizing the connection between the Eucharist and the Passover.
If we understand inerrancy as encompassing all the historical details of these stories, I believe we do the Bible a disservice by making it affirm contradictions. However, if we say that Scripture affirms the theological points that the Evangelists are making on the basis of conflicting historical facts, then we can see that they are not only compatible, they are complementary.
|Higher truth: What Scripture actually affirms||Jesus is priest and king over a new Israel||=||Jesus is the Lamb of God|
|Lower truth: Portrayal of history||Passover begins Thursday night; the Last Supper is a Passover Seder||≠||Passover begins Friday night; Jesus is crucified before Passover begins at sundown|
I don’t want to say that Scripture is contradictory, because that implies that it affirms everything contained in it. Remember: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16), so what Scripture teaches and affirms is useful for the church in these ways. Scripture is without error in what it truly affirms.
I realize there are a whole host of questions that this presentation raises. But it seems to me that Scripture itself raises them, and we can’t just avoid them. A flat statement to the effect of, “God doesn’t lie, so the Holy Spirit wouldn’t inspire error,” is not sufficient. In my view, that’s a shortcut out of doing the difficult exegetical, theological and historical work that is required to discern what Scripture truly affirms.
Furthermore, I think that understanding these apparent contradictions enhances our understanding of Scripture. Without going into detail, we understand all the Gospels more fully when we see what Matthew and Luke did with Mark’s material, and we understand Samuel-Kings in contrast to what the Chronicler did with those sources. Source criticism and synoptic comparison can be a helpful tool to illumine authorial intent. If we believe that God inspired human authors, we shouldn’t be afraid to discern what these authors were doing–in fact, it is imperative that we do so.
“A Slain Lamb, Not a Dead Lamb” is a sermon I preached at Preakness Valley United Reformed Church in Wayne, NJ, in November 2010. The text is Revelation 5.
Here is the MP3 audio (28:49, 26MB), and an excerpt:
Revelation also connects us with the grand, overarching story of God’s plan to save his people and redeem the world. Have you ever read an epic story, such as the Iliad or the Odyssey, or watched a movie like The Lord of the Rings trilogy? There’s a reason why you feel relieved, satisfied, exhausted after getting deep into, and then finishing, a story like these stories: they are tales of cosmic battle between good and evil—and the good king wins. If we could boil down the message of Revelation into a single, simple sentence, this would be it: the good King wins. By “reading the words of this prophecy,” and by “keeping what is written in it,” Revelation tells us, we become part of that story—and we are on the side of the good King.
Audio and text: ©2010 by Benjamin D. Giffone. Reproduction and distribution are permitted, providing that the author is properly credited and that no fee is charged.
“God’s Freedom, God’s Purpose” is a sermon I preached at Preakness Valley United Reformed Church in Wayne, NJ, in November 2010. The text is Deuteronomy 7:1-16.
Here is the MP3 audio (29:34, 27MB), and an excerpt:
God himself is completely sufficient to meet his people’s needs. Remember, we talked about the fertility cults of the Canaanites? Well, in the Ancient Near East, one of the things you did when you conquered another tribe, another country, is you would adopt their local gods as your own. The idea is that your gods help you in your country, but now you need to appease these new gods of this territory, so that you don’t make them angry like the people you just conquered made them angry. After all, that’s why you were able to conquer them, right?
But YHWH God is saying to Israel in this passage, “You don’t need these other gods, these idols of wood and stone and clay. I will provide for you—I, YHWH, the one true God, the almighty God, the giver of all fertility.”
Audio and text: ©2010 by Benjamin D. Giffone. Reproduction and distribution are permitted, providing that the author is properly credited and that no fee is charged.