Living Theology: You Are A Story

In the age of the internet, it is quite common to fill out an “about me” section:
Name. Date of birth. Job. Title. Education. Current City. Likes. Dislikes. Etc.

We often place others and ourselves into these neat little categories of political affiliation, economic status, extrovert or introvert, and so on. But that’s not how we learn about people. Yes, these things may be true of others and ourselves, but we don’t get to know someone by simply filling in the blanks. We get to know people through story. You, I, and others are a story. Our lives are a story.

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Hermeneutics: Jonah | Interpretation (Part I)

imageThis is the first installment of my Jonah series. This will be an exercise in hermeneutics in light of an Old Testament book, revealing both the insights and struggles of biblical interpretation.
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Jonah is a very misunderstood book, partially due to the popular way it’s been taught to children in the West. There is more to Jonah than the whale. In fact, there is no whale. It’s a fish. That’s already one way reception history (how something has been received/understood throughout history) has affected our understanding of the book. Another way “Jonah and the Whale” has affected the actual understanding of Jonah is by its unusual amount of attention – the aquatic creature is only mentioned twice (1.27, 2.10)! So what is the book of Jonah about? It’s more than simply a prophet running away from God. It’s about Creation, Salvation, and Inclusion.

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Early Church: Clement of Alexandria and Fundamentalists

Due to the insufficiency of certain interlocutors, recent debates between Christianity and Science have sustained the old, false polemic between religion and modern culture. What has Jerusalem to do with Athens? Or Oxford? Or New York? The Christian fundamentalist camp demands everything be seen through “bare faith” – a faith that is often uniformed or misinformed about the world around us due to naivete or active ignorance. Long before Christians talked of reading with the Bible in one hand and the Newspaper in the other (Karl Barth), Clement of Alexandria urged the importance of engaging and applying surrounding academic and artistic pursuits to Christianity:

Some, who think themselves naturally gifted, do not wish to touch either philosophy or logic; nay more, they do not wish to learn natural science. They demand bare faith alone, as if they wished, without bestowing any care on the vine, straightway to gather clusters from the first. […] So also here, I call him truly learned who brings everything to bear on the truth; so that, from geometry, and music, and grammar, and philosophy itself, culling what is useful, he guards the faith against assault. Now, as was said, the athlete is despised who is not furnished for the contest. For instance, too, we praise the experienced helmsman who “has seen the cities of many men,” and the physician who has had large experience; thus also some describe the empiric. […] And how necessary is it for him who desires to be partaker of the power of God, to treat of intellectual subjects by philosophizing! […] “And nothing,” it is said, “was made without Him”—the Word of God. And did not the Lord make all things by the Word? [1]

Against “Fundamentalists”

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Living Theology: God Forgives; Forgive Me

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And forgive us our debts,
    As we also have forgiven our debtors;
…For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
(Matthew 6.12 and 14-15, RSV)

This past Sunday was Forgiveness Sunday, where partakers ask forgiveness from God and from each other. Our world is torn apart due to exile and alienation; we are foreigners to God and to each other. Even in communities where there is love and familiarity, there is still conflict and broken relationships. The role of forgiveness seems to be obvious at this point: To mend these relationships. But is there more to forgiveness? I cannot word it better than Fr. Alexander Schmemann:

The rite of forgiveness is so important precisely because it makes us realize – be it only for one minute – that our entire relationship to other men is wrong, makes us experience that encounter of one child of God with another, of one person created by God with another, makes us feel that mutual ‘recognition’ which is so terribly lacking in our cold and dehumanized world. [1]

Creation and Theosis

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Hermeneutics: New Testament and Intertestamental Writings

imageA common claim amongst Protestant Christians is that the New Testament does not quote from, or is independent of some of the material from, the Apocrypha. I want to challenge this assumption.

I want to establish a few things:
     First, I use the term “Intertestamental” instead of “Apocryphal” because the term “Apocryphal” (“the hidden”) has gained a negative connotation in Protestant circles. Rather, I use the term “Intertestamental” to note an Early Church consensus (Eusebius, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, Gregory of Nazianzus)[1] to distinguish between the books in the Hebrew Bible and the books known as 1 and 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Esther additions, the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch with the Epistle of Jeremy, the Song of the three Holy Children, the History of Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Manasses, and 1 and 2 Maccabees.[2]
     Second, any wide reading of the Early Church Fathers shows that they quoted the Apocrypha quite freely, especially Clement of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, and Tertullian. Any skimming of their letters will show their knowledge and application of these texts. This was long before the Roman Catholics “canonized” Tobit, Judith, Ecclesiasticus, and the Wisdom of Solomon in 1672.[3]
     Third, we have to admit that direct quotation is the not only indicator of influence. If directly quoting were the only means in which we saw someone or something as authoritative, it could be easily concluded (and has been by a few scholars!) that Paul rarely quotes teachings from the Gospels, therefore he doesn’t think most of the teachings in the Gospel traditions are authoritative![4] It’s been said that if “we had to depend on Paul for our knowledge of Jesus’ life and mission, how little we would know, how bare would be our picture of Jesus”![5] So direction quotation cannot be our sole criterion for judging importance or influence. What I want to point out are indirection quotations or allusions to the Intertestamental writings.

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Early Church: Clement of Alexandria and the Metaphors of Salvation

imageCertain traditions of modern Christianity are obsessed with the “dead in sin” metaphor in relation to sotierology (“how are we saved?”). This is a correct biblical metaphor, found in such passages as Ephesians 2.1-5 and Colossians 2.13. However, relying solely or dominantly on this metaphor misses the complex nature of Christian anthropology and salvation. More precisely, the early church believed that we have free will even though humanity is tainted with sin. Clement of Alexandria, around the end of 2nd century, declared:

“Sick, we truly stand in need of our Savior; having wandered, of one to guide us; blind, of one to lead us to light; thirsty, of the fountain of life of which whosoever partakes shall no longer thirst; dead, we need life; sheep, we need a shepherd; we who are children need a tutor, while universal humanity stands in need of Jesus… He figuratively represents Himself as the Shepherd of the sheep. And he is the tutor of the children. He says therefore by Ezekiel, directing his discourse to the elders, and setting before them a salutary description of his wise solicitude:
'And that which is lame I will bind up, and that which is sick I will heal, and that which has wandered I will turn back; and I will feed them on my holy mountain.' ”   [1]

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Hermeneutics: James Dunn and The Synoptic / Historical Jesus Problem

imageMatthew, Mark, and Luke share much of the same material, and so have been deemed “Synoptic” gospels – constituting a synopsis of similar observations. However, any reader of the Gospels will be quick to note major differences between the Synoptic Gospels: Why doesn’t Mark include a birth narrative? Why does Matthew have longer discourses than Mark or Luke? Why does Luke have episodes not included in either Matthew or Mark? The differences become even more interesting when reading passages (or “pericopes”) that are in common with the three Gospels. There are included in one account, but left out in another. This has lead to the study of the Synoptic Problem:  What is the relationship between these three gospels and their differences?
          This vulnerable spot in the New Testament has been ravished by redaction criticism by pointing out that many of the original sayings of Jesus, especially in Matthew and Luke, are filtered through the author’s (or editor’s) theological agenda.[1] Attempts to reconstruct what the original, literary source of the Gospels (termed the “Q source”) looked like are produced by stripping the synoptic gospels to their bare similarities, sometimes formulated as “an anthology of Jesus’ sayings and without infancy or passion narratives.”[2] By eliminating the filters of the gospel authors as much as possible, these bare sayings of Jesus give us a picture of the historical Jesus and what the earliest teachings of Jesus looked like.[3] However, many scholars depict the Gospels as distortions of the “Q” source. One claim is that the Gospels are editing the story of a Jew from Galilee into a Messianic, divine figure.[4]
          Those who come from a conservative Christian background (no matter what tradition) and ingest this scholarship often become spiritually paralyzed at its overwhelming claims.[5] Questions with unclear answers arise. The two most pressing questions that emerge, both in the spiritual and academic realm, are: “Who was Jesus, really?” and “What did Jesus really say?”

A Missing Voice, A New Perspective

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