Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Brief Addendum

I would like to make one small clarification to my last post, and in particular to my statement, "God seems to have brought disharmony, pain, and strife" My intention with this statement was not to give God the credit for the disharmony, pain, and strife experienced by Adam and Eve, and, all mankind subsequently, rather, my intention was to suggest that as a result of their sin God removed Himself, though not to the point where he became an inactive God, and gave them over to themselves and the sin, such as pain and strife, which they brought upon themselves by eating of the fruit.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Man and Women: A Biblical Perspective on Gender Roles

I must apologize up front for those of you who decided to follow this blog so as to track the progress of a book I proclaimed I was going to wright, and, as it is, still plan to write. That stated, I must make a very important point: any undertaking, of any kind concerning writing and research, is always done with a bit of "haphazardness," in that the ideas and premises of said work will always, and in fact ought to be, changing as new revelations emerge. Thus, I once again am writing to make such a proclamation. Before any significant work can be done with regards to theology and apologetics, I must first make a valiant effort in the field of Biblical Hermeneutics. (If you are not sure what this is, just stay tuned, I plan on not only defining this study, but digesting it as I go along.)

Now, for something new. The title of this post is Man and Women: A Biblical Perspective on Gender Roles. Last week I read to my 7th period World History class, for time permitted such an endeavor, 1 Timothy 2: 9-15, a passage which stipulates specific rules and regulations for women. At the time, I could not tell you why I read it, for such was all I did; I provided no in depth explanation, nor provided any major clarification of its intended meaning. (I know, at this point I look like a pig. Clearly, I have given ammunition to any of the boys who may have viewed women as inferior. I can hear it already, "The bible says women are to be submissive, so, there you have it.) If such was a result, I apologize, but despite the potential negative outcomes, the Lord showed me, but a day later, why I read that passage. Wednesday, after my last class, which is 7th period, one of the students, a female, stayed after and asked me, "Mr. Keys, what is meant by the portion of the passage which asserts, "But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet." What a question, and more importantly, what an opportunity to try and bring clarification to a deep theological question: THIS IS WHY I AM DOING WHAT I AM DOING.

At this point, I pulled out the text I had been reading, and while it took a while for the two of us to get to a logical, and, what I hope was a biblical conclusion, we eventually came to answer, though not in its entirety, the much larger question in need of answering, a question she had not directly asked, but one which ultimately would come to answer her specific question: What specific gender roles exist in the Bible, and when were such roles generated. In trying to answer this question, a number of other questions arouse, and indeed, so did a number of new biblical passages, namely Genesis 3: 16. In the end, we concluded two things.

First, Paul was addressing this statement to a specific group of women with whom Timothy would have interacted with. Paul understood that many of the women in Ephesus were not prepared to teach, and did not have the knowledge with which to lead those around them. This should not be taken to mean, however, that women have no biblical standing upon which they can both teach and lead others. Let us recall what is said in Romans 16: 1-2, "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well. Thus, in reading the Word, one must first approach the passage with an understanding of the time period in question, and should have a clear contextual understanding of the versus in question.

Our second conclusion was, and is, a bit more complicated, and while I am still thinking through both the validity of this conclusion, as well as its ultimate ramifications, we came to conclude that God had specific gender roles in mind when he created Eve. In Genesis 2: 18 it states, "Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." Clearly, Eve was intended to be a help mate to Adam, and while this does not inherently indicate her subjectivity to Adam, it does provide some evidence that God had specific jobs and roles for each gender. As it was, these roles worked in Harmony with one another prior to fall, and as such, no animosity existed between Adam and Eve as it related to their specific roles in the Garden. This changed, however, the moment Eve tuned away from God, and, as Wayne Grudem seems to suggest, towards man. Consequently, God executed his righteous judgment upon them, punishing each according to their specif jobs:

"To the woman He said, "I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children;Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you." Then to Adam He said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat from it'; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3: 16-19)

In the end, women would be ruled over by her husband, and she would desire his position. In this way, God seems to have brought disharmony, pain, and strife as it concerned each of the roles already created for each sex, and this obviously meant leadership roles. Again, this does not mean that Eve was unequal to Adam as a human, for let us remember the second greatest commandment to love all as we love ourselves: this means both sexes. Rather, we should understand this to mean that the work given to each sex is different, though not necessarily any less important. According to one theologian, "In Ephesians, Paul notes that the man is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church, and that this was true from the beginning. Actually, the Fall obscured this relationship such that the woman would want to rule over the husband, but that the husband would domineer over her.

My conclusion then seems to be sound; God had always intended for specific roles to exist, but with the fall, those roles were distorted, and as such, Harmony could no longer exist between them. This is not to assume, however, that the relationship cannot be fixed. As is the answer to mankind's sin, so is the answer to this apparent problem: Jesus. "In Redemption, therefore, it is possible, through a relationship with Jesus Christ, to redeem this relationship back to what it was originally supposed to be."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Time for Reflection

During this process I have come to conclude that a great deal more study on my behalf, concerning both Christian theology and apologetics, is needed before I can really continue with the project set before me. This is not to assume that I have little or no grasp of my own beliefs, for indeed this is not the case, but rather, I believe that if I am to do justice to any defense of Christianity, I must ensure that I understand not just the basics of my faith, but the deep things as well. Consequently, over an indefinite period of time, I will be doing further research in the areas listed above, while also engaging in some oral interviews so as to further develop the historical side of the project. Thus, the postings you will see, are, and will be, my own thoughts and contemplations upon the word of God, and the deeper meaning of His word.

As always, I will take comments, but please understand that what is posted is not intended to be taken as my final word on my beliefs, or even my final understanding of them. At present, I am evaluating Wayne Grudem's book "Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, but I am still in need of a good apologetics. Presently, the only apologetics I have are The Case for Christ, by Strobel, and a piece written by Josh McDowell, and, of course, C.S.Lewis Mere Christianity. If anyone knows of a great apologetics, please leave me a comment.

It sates in Mark 12: 28-30 that I am to "Love the Lord our God with all your Heart, all your Soul, and all your Mind. " That is my goal, to love him with all my mind. I am going to try and accomplish this by better understanding his word, its meaning, and its personal and larger applications.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Christian Theology: A Time For Defense

One of my desires when creating this blog was to establish a forum for dialogue, concerning any topic, but predominately issues pertaining to apologetics and, as I have found myself, epistemology, which would not only add to my work, but dialogue which would cause contemplation and reflection. While my end goal is to create a history of world religions, as well as a Christian apology, I think it important to set aside my study of the history momentarily, and further develop the biblical worldview and apology which will ultimately find its way into the finished product.

Therefore, I think it only appropriate to stop and ponder that which I have already set forth. Since my last post, I have had a number of questions asked of me, many of which have prodded me to further develop many ideas which are, to some, not carefully and dutifully explained sufficiently. Thus, I will do my best to address each question and concern independently and fully. As always, I welcome the comments and questions of any who wish to give them.

The first question I will address is "Are you saying that scripture is to be taken literally? Is it inerrant?" This question was prompted by my own statement, "The most fundamental belief concerning the Bible is that it is both authoritative and divinely inspired; it is the direct words and thoughts of God written down by man, who acted as a "stenographer" on His behalf for the good of His people.”

To answer this question plainly and directly, yes, I do believe that the bible is, for the most part, to be taken literally. I believe it is to be taken literally to the extent to which the author intended for the reader to take it as such. In other words, I assume the content of the bible is to be taken literally, unless something directs or requires me to understand it otherwise. According to one author, writing for gotquestions.org, "When we read any piece of literature, but especially the Bible, we must determine what the author intended to communicate. Many today will read a verse or passage of Scripture and then give their own definitions to the words, phrases, or paragraphs, ignoring the context and author’s intent." As is true with anything one reads, if the context and intent of any passage in any text is clear and literal, then it should be taken as such; to always be of the assumption that some metaphorical and non-literal meaning exists is foolish. For example, in Exodus 20: 14 it states, "Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery". Clearly, this is to be taken literally, and when placed into its full context, that is all of chapter 20, and even the totality of the book of Exodus, it becomes even more clear that the author intended for this to be taken literally. According to Gary NyStorm, "The basic rule for a literal interpretation of the Scriptures, and whether or not a figure of speech was intended by the author is: "When the plain sense of Scripture makes sense, seek no other sense." In other words, the literal interpretation recognizes that a word or phrase can be used either plainly (denotatively) or figuratively (connotatively)." Another way of stating this is "if the literal sense makes good sense, seek no other sense lest you come up with nonsense." (Josh McDowell)

This leads me to another vital point, and that is that, at times, the bible speaks in figurative language, and thus, there are parts of the scriptures which can not, and indeed, should not be taken literally. Within the scriptures there are a number of poetic books which quite often speak in a very figurative sense; this truth is really applicable across the whole spectrum of the bible where figurative language is to be found, including the gospels. For example, in John chapter 15: 1 Jesus asserts, "I am the true vine". If one were to take this from a literal perspective, then, one would have to conclude that Jesus was, in fact, a vine, a conclusion which is both not true and, ultimately, absurd. Here we see that the author, John, and more directly, Jesus, is being metaphorical, and as such, a deeper meaning, rather than a literal meaning, is to be looked for. McDowell notes that, "Many have built a straw man out of the teaching of literal interpretation, alleging that we have to take everything in the Bible literally, e.g., "the trees of the field shall clap their hands." Indeed, one can not take all things literal, for as has been shown, some portions of the bible are intended to be taken figuratively.

In summation, the bible is to be taken literally insofar as the author intends for it to be taken literally, and while their are clear examples of figurative language within the scriptures, it is dangerous to assume that all of the bible is open to any ones interpretation. Drawing once again from Gary Nystorm, writing for biblicist.org, "To achieve an accurate interpretation of Scripture (or any literature, for that matter) the reader must recognize the writer's use of symbolism and figures of speech and how the writer uses them in context. But it is error indeed for the reader to superimpose a non literal or spiritual interpretation upon Scripture when clearly the writer himself is not presenting a symbol or figure of speech. When the text does not warrant it, it is error indeed to force a passage to conform to one's own presupposed ideas."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Christian Theology: The Bible

If I am to have a starting point, I believe the best place to begin would be to outline the fundamental values, traditions, beliefs, and practices of the Christian faith. (By Christian beliefs, I refer to those practiced within the Protestant/Judeo-Chrsitian tradition) It is only with a clear understanding of what the Christian faith believes, and why they believe it, will I truly be able to accomplish the task I have set before me.

According to Wayne A. Grudem, in his work, Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know: Christian Beliefs, "Any responsible look at a single Christian Belief should be based on what God says about that subject. Therefore, as we begin to look at a series of Basic Christian beliefs, it makes sense to start with the basis for these beliefs--God's words, or the Bible." (p.13) I believe this is both fitting and proper, and thus, I shall begin by outlining the core beliefs about the Bible held by most Christians.

Belief: The most fundamental belief concerning the Bible is that it is both authoritative and divinely inspired; it is the direct words and thoughts of God written down by man, who acted as a "stenographer" on His behalf for the good of His people. It is, in its simplest form, an authoritative account of God's nature, as well as an account of His expectations for His people. It is the primary source to which Christians turn to in order to discover the will God has both for the individual, as well as the Church as a whole. According to Pastor Herschel H. Hobbs, in his book Fundamentals of Our Faith, "If the Bible is discarded, Christians are like a ship without rudder or compass." (p.1)

Before I can give an apologetic account of the Bible itself, I would first like to further develop the way in which the Bible was written. I stated that the books of the Bible, of which there are 66 in all, were written inspirationally . In total, it took approximately fifteen hundred years for the entirety of the Bible to be written, and, as it is, the inspiration for its content came from a number of different places, two in particular.

On a number of different occasions, the content of the scriptures was handed down directly from God Himself. Examples of this can be found throughout all of scripture, including the books of Joshua, 1 Samuel, and Isaiah; but the most well known account of God's direct influence upon the content of the Bible is in the book of Exodus where God directly spoke to Moses instructing him to go to Pharaoh, as well as the account of the 10 commandments. Other examples of God's direct inspiration can be found when the scriptures preface or conclude any statement with "thus says the Lord", such as in Exodus 4: 22 where it states, "Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the LORD, "Israel is My son, My firstborn." According to Gudem, "This phrase, understood to be like the command of a king, indicated that what followed was to be obeyed without challenge or question." It must also be noted that those versus not attributed as direct quotes from God Himself, were, and are still, seen as divinely inspired by both early converts to the faith, as well as to those who hold fast to its values today. In 2 Timothy 3: 16 it states, "all scripture is breathed out by God", indicating that all, not just parts, of the Bible were and are divinely inspired.

The other way in which the scriptures were divinely inspired was through the workings of the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit often times moved in the lives of those who wrote the scriptures, bringing to the forefront of their hearts and minds the teachings of Christ, teachings they then put down into written words. In John 14: 26 it states, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you."

In summation, the Bible was, and remains to this day to be a text inspired by God for the good of his people. The words of the prophets and all other Biblical content, though stated and penned by man, were divinely inspired. Isaiah 1:2, "Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth; For the LORD speaks." Finally, in 2 Peter verse 1 chapter 21 it says, "for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."

It is for many, I am sure, difficult to swallow that which I have laid out above; and it is because many disavow the Bible as nothing more than moral rhetoric, ethical stories with no real actual truth or empirical evidence to support its claims. It is to this that I seek to move forward in providing an apologetic case for the Bible itself. It must be understood, that if the bible can be proven, and empirically validated both historically and archaeologically, then it stands as its own authority, and thus, all claims made within, must be nothing more than Absolute Truth.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Brief Preface

In the Biblical book of John chapter 10: 3-18, Jesus makes reference to sheep and the gate in which sheep reside. Speaking to the religious leaders of the day, Christ, in metaphorical terms, explains that any who enter the gate of the sheep are nothing more than robbers and thieves. "I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber." (The Bible: NKJV, verse 1) He goes on to say, "But he who enters by the door is the Shepard of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out . . . yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." (The Bible: NKJV, verses 3 and 5)

In this story, Christ is both the gate and the Shepard, while mankind are the sheep. Sheep are safe in the gatehouse so long as the Shepard is nearby to ward off any and all dangers, and upon calling, the sheep will then move when directed for any purpose deemed necessary by the Shepard. Similarly, Christians are safe from eternal damnation , so long as they reside in Him, and are knowledgeable enough of his word to respond when they hear the good Shepard's voice when he calls.

The applicability of this story is immense to the lives of Christians generally speaking, but its relation to this current project reveals just how important and necessary the project actually is. You see, if we are sheep as Christ states, then it is only by his voice that we can truly know what to do; even if we do not understand why we are called to do it. Unlike sheep, however, God has created mankind with a free will, a will which drives many to reject Him; as it concerns these people, the voice they listen to is not of God, and they seek, with great rigor, to espouse their doctrine to those who are willing to listen. Here lies the danger! As aforementioned, many Christians, though they might know the what of their faith, do not understand the why of their faith, and are thus greatly susceptible to the "other voice"; they are not able to distinguish the voice of Christ from that of any other.

Christ's relation of mankind to sheep has within it a duality, a polarized component which might seem strange. On one hand, sheep will follow even unto death, simply because they follow. From this perspective, mankind is described as nothing more then mindless followers, who sway as the wind changes. On the other hand, however, sheep will only respond to the voice of the Shepard, and in this way, become immovable in their positions. It is this aspect of sheep that I seek to harness in Christians, and as a result, write this book. I want Christians to be like the sheep who only move when they hear the voice of their Shepard, in our case, Jesus Christ.

A short note: This blog will not incorporate the history of the religions I discuss; I do hope to publish and sell this book, and such an endeavor would be made moot if one could read the entire content online. Therefore, this blog will set forth only my theological understanding of stated religions, and a brief, but by no means exhaustive, apologetic overview. I will try and update this blog once every week or two, or as often as my reserach and analysis is completed.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Time for Explanation

Why? Why is the question that I ask! I ask it not for the mere sake of creating or maintaining conversation, but rather, because it is the quintessential question one must answer if they are to truly grasp anything. A terrifying question, for within it dwells the possibility of exposing mankind to things previously unknown. More terrifying still, however, is that it is the one question which can destroy the dearly held truths to which one holds to. Why?

This question I have asked a number of students over my years of teaching, a question I apply to a number of variant topics, topics including history, politics, and literature, but none so vital as religion, and more specifically, Christianity. As a World History teacher at a private orthodox Protestant Christian school, I have the privilege of sharing my values and beliefs with students from many different socioeconomic, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, many of whom come from predominantly Christian homes, and as a result, claim the faith as their own. What is remarkable about many of these students, however, is not so much their ignorance of the Christian faith, but rather their inability to articulate the why. Consequently, the effect is a generation of mindless “Christians” who, for the most part, could provide the basics of the gospels, but who upon questioning, would be unable to describe and explain how and why the faith they claim is real. This is a reality among many young Christians today, and I can only assume that such is true for Christians across all generations.

The cause of this phenomenon I cannot say, but what I fear is that a future generation of Christian leaders and believers will develop without understanding why they believe what they claim to believe, and as a result, will be more apt to fall victim to any number of thoughts and ideas which might crawl across their consciousness. There is a war of ideas, and as Christians we must be armed to defend ourselves, we must be prepared to give an apology of our faith.
It is to the accomplishment of this that I set forth to write an apologetic history of world religions. My goal is to develop a historical and theological breakdown of those religions which vie for attention in this day, while simultaneously developing an apologetic viewpoint as it pertains to each one. The end result will be a full length and documented text, but here I create a forum where I will lay out my theological understanding of today’s religions, and do so both for my own clarification, but beyond that, to obtain further insight from those who might read my notes.

Thus, I ask that from time to time you, who read this now, might return and provide comment upon the work I currently do. Thank you, and may God bless you