Saturday, November 6, 2010

Inspiration of Scripture

This is an assignment I submitted for Vernacular Scripture:

The inspiration of Scripture means that God works through the authors of scripture to ensure the reliability and trustworthiness of scripture. The Bible is both divine and human in its attributes, and inspiration describes the process of how God was able to supervise and oversee the writing of scripture while maintaining genuine humanity in its production.

This concept of inspiration arises primarily from the second letter to Timothy:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:14-17, ESV).
Building an entire doctrine of inspiration from this one passage, however, is difficult. Craig Allert notes that the terms theopneustos (God-breathed) and hiera grammata (sacred writings) occur nowhere else in the Bible. He speculates that Paul may have coined the term theopneustos just for this occasion (A High View of Scripture? The Authority of the Bible and the Formation of the New Testament Canon [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007], 151-155). Since it is difficult to know precisely what theopneustos denotes, building an overly specific doctrine of inspiration from this one text is treading on speculative ground.

While this passage does not specify how God “breathes out” scripture, slightly more clarify is found in 2 Peter 1:20-21: “…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (ESV). This passage is more specific in that it addresses prophecy, and not scripture in general. The mechanism for God’s activity is described as being “carried along by the Holy Spirit”, which could imply some kind of mental suggestion or direction.

The divine versus human paradox of scripture which must be maintained despite its logical challenges. Inspiration is truly an incredible concept, meaning that God is able to ensure that His message is accurately communicated, while allowing the individual authorial qualities of personality and style to remain. God has chosen the weak things of the world, including the potential confusion and ambiguity of language to reveal His holiness and majesty.

The incarnation is a helpful concept in addressing the question of translating the Holy Scriptures. While still maintaining his attributes of perfection and power, Jesus Christ limited Himself and took on the form of a man, even that of a servant (Eph 2). God also limits Himself to speaking to humans in their own language. Human language is finite, while God is infinite, and thus a complete representation of God in human language is impossible. John Calvin speaks of God as “accommodating” Himself to humanity, both through the revelation of scripture and the coming of His Son.

In theology, the most responsible (or orthodox) view is generally that which avoids the potential extremes on either side of the theological aisle. In this case, an extreme conservative position is dictation, meaning that God read the Bible aloud word-for-word and the human “authors” merely wrote down exactly what they heard. This results from an overemphasis on the authority of the Bible.

Ultimate authority does not rest in the Bible, but in God. To elevate anything else, even the scriptures, to the status of God is idolatry. Elements of Karl Barth’s view of revelation are helpful in that the “Word of God” is first and foremost Christ Himself, as described in John 1. The Scriptures become the “Word of God” as they point to Christ and His work. However, this order should not be reversed; Jesus is alive, desiring a relationship to us, and the Scriptures are the written record we have of His life and ministry.

On the other hand, to deny any divine activity of God in the writing and transmission of scripture is to go too far in the opposite extreme. God is active in the writing of the Bible, and the human qualities cannot take precedence. The Bible does not contain merely the whims of musings of religious heroes of old. Rather, it is indeed the message of God.

For translation, this means that care must be taken in accurately representing the meaning of the Bible. While every word is important, the cultural meaning of idioms and phrases take priority over a slavish literalism. Scripture is not ensconced in a veneer of plenary structure which transfers exactly from language to language. It is culturally and linguistic specific, and these nuances must be taken into account when translating.

The guidance of the Holy Spirit must be sought when translating the Bible. Translations today are not inspired in the same way as the original scriptures, but this does not mean that the activity of the Holy Spirit has ceased. God is still active in His church, and still desires His message to reach all people. Translation is an essential component of this endeavor, and continues the process of God coming to us, speaking in the words we understand. What could be a more clear representation of God’s mercy than His care in allowing the message of the Bible to be expressed in any human language? Christianity is not a religious pilgrimage where all those desiring salvation must come to Jerusalem and learn Hebrew or Aramaic.

Inspiration is a beautiful concept meaning that God has spoken through the Bible. Not only has God spoken, but He has done so in the language of earth—not of heaven. The original message came in the specific languages of Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, but can be translated into any of the languages spoken under the sun. As the missionary movement continues to reach out and make disciples of all nations, translation is being used of God to replay the divine message of salvation and grace into all the languages of the world.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Snapshot of Year Three

Thus begins my third and final really feels like I am almost done with NEGST. This term started off pretty crazy..since I had a remaining term paper from an independent study last term which basically consumed my first three weeks. The school had issued a new set of financial policies over break, so the student council had to petition those...which I estimate took around 20-30 hours of my time the first few weeks of school. So many meetings...and I also missed several classes. But I do enjoy student council, and although it will be a relief I'm sure I will miss it when I'm done in February. It will have been two full I am constitutionally barred from running again:). It does lead to some random moments...from a few days ago "sir, I'm don't know if you are aware but they are shooting the cows...were they given permission to do that?" (we have a new TV studio set up next to our farm). And I doubt I would have spent quite as much time debating the merits of napier grass if I had gone to seminary in the US. Or "servicing" cows... Or the implications of separating rent from tuition accounts...

This year I am living in block R--meaning I was able to stay in a flat after my stint in block M last year. Thank God for leaking roofs, and thus my upgrade from a single room to full apartment. I have been loving the community in R, and have been able to host many people for meals, tea and conversation.

Talking to Sharday, a new American student, has brought back a lot of memories from two years ago, and also showed me that I have changed a lot since I've come here. I'm not nearly as afraid of Nairobi traffic as I used to be. Cockroaches no longer bother me at all, and I haven't killed any in months (once I fished one out of my water and proceeded to finish the water). I no longer boil water, but drink it straight from the tap. I've been pleasantly surprised to find my body can handle more than I thought, including some food "slightly" past its prime... Its nice knowing most people I see, and not worrying about eating nearly as much as I used to do. Ironically, this comes as I don't have an eating group anymore, its just Teke and I, and Jane only comes two days a week now to cook. I'm not totally sure how I eat, probably about half my meals I eat out of the house, but I almost always get food somehow. I counted once that I had eaten in like 8 different places over the period of a week...

This term has been busy academically, and I am taking 18 hours: vernacular scripture, principles of teaching, African theology, Hebrew IV, and Pentateuch. African theology has been great, and I have learned a lot in Pentateuch as well. Hebrew I've actually mostly enjoyed, and my study group with Solomon and Madut has been awesome. Could not do it without them. On the other two I'll attempt to refrain from comment. After this term I'll only need to take 15 hours for second term and then 11 hours, so that sounds awesome right now, and I can work full-time on planning for next July...

I haven't been as active in church as I would like, but I did join a small group off-campus, something I've desired for a while now. I'm excited for how that will go. I'm still have Swahili a few hours a week, but haven't been putting in the time I need to. I'll have a couple weeks in December to study a lot more intensely, and then should have more time starting in January. Still working in the IT lab, and helping out on occasion with the new registration software that still has not been launched yet. And I finally tracked down my compassion child! A few weeks ago I figure out exactly where her church and school are, and got the number of her pastor from my friend. Take that unhelpful internet form where I have to specify the dates I'm in Kenya, the hotel I'm staying in, and pay like hundreds of dollars to hire a car and translator. So I'll go out there to visit as soon as I can make time, probably beginning of Dec. I'm starting to think about December a lot, can't wait.

Please pray for my future after NEGST. I'd like to stay in Nairobi, serve God in some capacity, pay off my Wheaton debt, and sustain myself. Those are the parameters, and now I need to figure out possible ways to do that. There are many, and the question is which is the best one. So I'd appreciate your prayers (and job offers) in line with the same!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Spiritual Warfare

Being a theology student in Africa, spiritual warfare is something I have often come across since I have been here. It was actually partly my interest in this topic that first brought me to Africa. In my undergraduate studies, I had studied various aspects of healing ministries which address demonic oppression. I wanted to learn more about this topic in a setting where people, as a whole, still attribute many things to spiritual causes (which is not often the case in America).

One of my friends from Burkina-Faso told the story of how his dad went to a witchdoctor. His dad wasn’t a Christian, and he wanted to curse my friend and remove his Christian beliefs. My friend was in another country going to college at the time, and the witchdoctor told his dad that he approached my friend in the spirit, but that there was someone very tall guarding him holding a long sword, and he could not get any closer.

One of the debates I settled pretty early on in my study of spiritual warfare is whether Christians can be affected or influenced by demons. They most certainly can, and I believe that almost all are, to some degree. I have experienced it myself. Ephesians 6:11-12 says, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Spiritual warfare is first and foremost a battle of the mind. Demons operate by feeding you lies and manipulating your emotions. Satan is the father of lies, and this is by far his most effective weapon. We live in a messed up world, and there are so many opportunities to confuse people and destroy their image of God, of themselves, and of others.

I took a class called Power Encounter during my first year studying in Nairobi, and the main thing I learned is that it isn’t really as important to have a “power encounter” as it is to have a “truth encounter.” If someone is demonized, then it may be possible to talk to the demon, have a big confrontation, and cast it out, but this can be dangerous and violent and is often fruitless. More effective ministry is much more mundane. Demonic presence is merely a symptom of a deeper spiritual or emotional problem, as illustrated by the metaphor of flies around garbage. If we only kill the flies, more will come, but if we remove the garbage of the emotional and spiritual baggage from our past, then the flies will no longer find the situation so appealing. They will have nothing to feed on, and will move elsewhere.

Knowing one’s identity in Christ and prayer are essential components to successful spiritual warfare. The most important key to spiritual victory is truly believing the Gospel: that God made you, that He loves you, and that through Christ your sins have been forgiven. They really have been forgiven. For many of us, we don’t really believe that, and we continually relive the failures of our past – and demons love nothing more.

Though I still haven’t completely figured out all there is to discover about spiritual warfare, since coming to Africa, I have realized that the warfare described in Ephesians 6 is literal. I have also realized that the rest of Ephesians 6 is just as literal and applicable to all of us. There is warfare with demonic rulers, but we have all the weapons we need in Christ to overcome. We should be aware of the fight, engaging in spiritual warfare by standing firm against the enemy’s schemes. But we should also realize that the power to stand is not found in dramatic exorcism scenes, but in a diligent trust in God’s word and character.
(I contributed this post to my friend's blog, so I figured why not mine)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mounting Opposition To New York Islamic Center

Claiming the neighborhood where the Twin Towers once stood is sacred ground, radical conservative groups are spearheading opposition to the construction of a nearby Muslim community center, a facility that would include a swimming pool and a 9/11 memorial and be located more than two blocks from the attack site. Here are some other projects currently facing controversy:

New York — New Citibank ATM vestibule just two blocks from site of devastating financial collapse
Elizabeth, NJ — Bed, Bath, and Beyond on sacred IKEA grounds
Pearl Harbor, HI — P.F. Chang's location a reasonable cab ride away from the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial
Philadelphia — British consulate on hard-won U.S. soil
Terre Haute, IN — Frito-Lay display planned for Baesler's Market is an affront to the fact that Terre Haute was the original U.S. test market for Pringles
Culver City, CA — Comedy club built next to the site where that disaster Grown Ups was filmed
Provincetown, MA — Organic artisan cheese stand set up next to raw cashew cheese booth at farmer's market
Lakehurst, NJ — Balloon store only three miles from site of Hindenburg crash
Olathe, KS — Barnes & Noble

From the Onion:,17956/

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Motorbike to Mombasa

Ok so this blog really needs some action: we’ll see if this helps. For now I’m going to skip all the other updates I could give and settle for this one story. One Saturday afternoon at the end of May, Anson and I were sitting in my room trying to figure out what we should do. We both were kind of sick of school and wanted to get away (and I didn’t have any major deadlines for like 3 or 4 days, so it seemed like such freedom), so we ran through possible options: Westlands, Junction, something like that. He really wanted to go swimming, which I said was ridiculous, like it was way too cold. I said I would go to the pool but refused point blank to go swimming. We talked for awhile, and then he was like man let’s go to Mombasa. Now for those of you who don’t know, Mombasa is like across the country, 500 kilometers away, like 6 or 7 hours by car. I was like that is crazy, and paced up and down the house ranting for like 20 minutes going through all that could go wrong, how small 125 cc are, and what a crazy idea this was, until after I had worked it all out in my mind, and canceled my lunch appointment for the next day, I was like, ok yeah let’s do this.

We packed up and heading out on the motorbike. We stopped for dinner, and by the time we left it was dark, 8 pm. Now I didn’t even know the way for sure, but I assumed Mombasa road was a pretty straight shot there, and lo and behold it worked. At each gas station when we filled up, we would ask how many kilometers to Mombasa, but everyone was like, um you know that you can’t make it on that size motorbike. We were like, yeah we will, and we’ll stop by on our way back to tell you how it was. We had estimated our arrival time at like 4 am, but as we pressed through the night that looked increasingly less likely. We both became quite tired, and had to rest the engine a lot to prevent overheating. It had never been driven for longer than one hour before, poor thing. We were also getting tired, so fairly close to Tsavo national park we pulled off the side of the road to rest. Now I have seen The Ghost and the Darkness, and was aware of the location, so I’ll use standard Kenyan terminology and chalk it up to strong faith… We had a tarp and blanket with us, parked the motorbike right by us, and used our backpacks as pillows. It was awesome, and I slept so well…until I woke up to 4 police officers surrounding us yelling at the top of their lungs to wake us up. It was somewhat disorienting…but they were going on about danger, animals around, but I was really tired, so I persuaded them we would be fine and they finally left. We went back to sleep, and slept for another hour, until we were woken up again by another female police officer and her partner, and then I was like ok, lets go.

We finally arrived in Mombasa around 11 am, at which point I sent some text messages informing people where we were. After eating some Indian food at a restaurant I had gone to with Vincent, we went up to the public beach on the north shore to go swimming. It was pretty sweet, but after swimming for a bit I decided that I should sleep, so I slept on the beach for a few hours. Anson swam the whole time.

When it got dark, we left for Nairobi, stopping a few times for dinner and to rest. Now Mombasa is at sea-level, yeah, and Nairobi is really high up…so I was concerned about the journey back. Anson was really tired, so I did most of the driving at this point. About 1 am, we were probably 200 kilometers from Mombasa, with another 300 to go, and were in the middle of nowhere. Nothing around. I pulled off the road to rest the engine, and what do you know, the front tire is flat. I didn’t see anything I had hit or gone over, and we didn’t find any nail or anything in the tire. I think it just overheated. Now I had been going 90 kilometers an hour seconds before I stopped, and if the tire had gone at that instant…let’s just say it would not have been good. But here we are without a tire, so now what to do. This is pretty incredible to me…but I stopped right by a police check-point, and the policeman came over and kept asking me, so what are you going to do? I had no idea. Fortunately, he didn’t rely on my resourcefulness, but started asking all the buses he was pulling over if they had room to take us to Nairobi. My opinion of police-checks underwent a radical transformation…and I looked at all the buses flying through without stopping with a rather different perspective. However, after about 15 stopped, one agreed, so we threw the motorbike in an empty compartment on the bottom and we bought two tickets. At 5:30 am, we arrived in Nairobi, and it took 4 hours and lots of emotional negotiation before we finally found someone to fix the tire (which costs like $5, I can’t get over how cheap motorcycle repairs are here). So I missed the first two hours of systematic theology…but we rolled into campus only 10 minutes late for field ministry. And I’m pretty sure this story will be remembered at NEGST for some time…

*NOTE* Think of this as belonging to the genre of narrative, true not fiction, but is not intended to offer any propositional truths providing moral lessons leading one to infer the activities related herein are recommended or encouraged.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Camping at Mt. Longonot

To bring this closer to the present, term 2 was pretty difficult and not so enjoyable. I took 20 credit hours, remained secretary the first half of term (then ran for 2nd year rep, a much easier position), kept working in the IT, and started getting more involved at church. I did have some pretty good classes: Contemporary Theology, Greek 5, Systematic Theology 2, Hebrew 2, and African Traditional Religion. Contemporary was great. After a lengthy struggle, the term finally finished, and we had a two week break. Now last year I was the only student here under the age of 26. Søren and I would often try to get a third person to play games with us, and I don't believe we were ever successful last year. But this year is a different story, and there are now five of us who are 25 or younger, and we often do things together. Since Søren is leaving us soon, one of us had an idea: what if we had a camping trip to say goodbye? I'm still kind of surpirsed it worked out, but it did, and 8 of us went camping for 3 days at the base of Longonot, near Naivasha. Our group was composed of Søren and Charlotte (Denmark), Anson (India), BG and Dama (Kenya), and then Kelly, Aaron and myself (US). Aside from Søren, Charlotte, and me, they are all first year students. It was pretty awesome.

Anson, Kelly and I really tried to climb down into the crater, but didn't make it and had to turn back. It was really rough going, but Anson and I are committed to making it down there. It reminded me a lot of reading The Lost World (Doyle), a great book by the way.
We passed some baton of leadership or something like that.

Christmas at NEGST

One of my fears in staying over Christmas break was that I would be bored. After all, a month of no class, nothing going on, and most people having left to go home? But fortunately, boredom was not an issue for me this break. I actually had very little downtime. After I had been traveling for two weeks, I spent the last three weeks of break back on campus. I spent some time working in the IT, visiting the people who remained, on and off campus, and a lot of time hanging out. It was so fun. The best part was Christmas Day. I had envisioned for a long time having a Christmas get-together on campus for my international friends who didn’t have other places to go, and it really came together. Kelly, a first year student from America, and I spent days planning, inviting people, coordinating what people brought, shopping, baking, and setting up. We ended up with 25 people, from the US, Denmark, Kenya, India, DRC, and Zambia (and had food from Liberia and Ethiopia as well). It didn’t quite feel like “Christmas”, but I really enjoyed it—I think it may have been my best Christmas ever. Although I was disappointed I missed out on all the snow that Maryland was getting over their crazy winter, and I course I missed being at home with my family (this was my first Christmas away from home). We used the chapel to eat, and then had a time of singing and sharing our Christmas traditions, and then that night played games and hung out at my friends Søren and Charlotte’s place.

Then for New Year’s, there was a group of us that went out to a concert at Nairobi Chapel. It was called Totally Sold Out, and there were like 25,000 people there: it was crazy. Had to have been the biggest party in Kenya that night.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Update: Christmas Break 2009

So for those of you who might want to hear what has been going on, and not just my theological reflections on random topics, the time has come to say what I’ve been up the last several months. This December break I stayed in Africa, and after a church retreat with Nairobi Chapel, I went traveling around East Africa. I took the bus from Nairobi through Kampala all the way to Kigali, Rwanda (a 27 hour ride). I visited my friend Hillary, who had been in Kigali for a few months working with an NGO. We toured Kigali and saw the genocide museum and the hotel of movie fame. I was really impressed that the city is so clean and orderly (it felt more like being in Japan than in Africa). There is no trash on the streets, all the boda-boda (motorcycle taxis) drives wore helmets and carried one of their passengers, and its illegal to sell things by the side of the road. Then we went up to Gisenyi and stayed there for a few days, went swimming in Lake Kivu and I met up with another friend, Jean Bosco. He is from Rwanda and had graduated from NEGST. I preached at his church there and we stayed with his pastor, and then returned to Kigali.

If you've seen the movie Hotel Rwanda, this is the real hotel. I was really surprised to find it is right in the middle of the city, very exposed.
Rwanda is a really beautiful, green, hilly country.
This is at the genocide museum.
I'm not positive it was this one, but there was a volcano that erupted near this area a few weeks later.

From there I went to Uganda to visit my friend Dennis. We spent a week touring Kampala, went to the Martyr's Shrine, visited a museum, saw the source of the Nile, went swimming in Lake Victoria, and ate a lot of food. It was a good time.

In Kenya we call them matatus, but in Uganda they are called taxis.
By the source of the Nile.
The Ugandan Martyr's Shrine.
We went to a museum that had huts from various tribes.

1 Corinthians 7

Recently I have had several discussions about 1 Corinthians 7, so I felt I would share some of those insights. It is quite an interesting chapter. In the Order of Service of a wedding I just attended, it was described as recommending that we go into marriage discreetly, reverently, and in the fear of God. Now that sounds really good, and I happen to agree, and I think the Bible does support that, but unfortunately that is simply not what 1 Corinthians 7 says. At all.

This is what it actually says: “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” (1 Cor 7:8-9, ESV). My summary: marriage should be based upon the foundation of mutual uncontrollable lust. Imagine that as the basis of a premarital counseling class (so now that we have established you are both incapable of self-control and are burning with passion, let us begin…). In the words of Eugene Peterson: “The difficulties of marriage are preferable by far to a sexually tortured life as a single” (1 Cor 7:9, The Message). Nothing mentioned about discretion or reverence or fearing God.

This passage is fraught with interpretive difficulties. Not only do we have a remarkably negative view of marriage, described as a “concession” against the ideal of singlehood (7:6), but we have the challenge of Paul distinguishing between a command from the Lord and his own personal opinion (“To the rest I say (I, not the Lord)” 7:12, ESV). Now how exactly does that square with the notion that “all” scripture is inspired of God (and what “scripture” is being referenced by 2 Tim 3:16)? It’s tricky.

I think the most difficult verse in this chapter is 36. This is how it reads in the ESV: “If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin” (ESV). Now this seems to be saying that if a couple is engaged, and they would like to be “together,” and they get married, they are not sinning. Ok, good, so the transition from engagement to marriage is not inherently sinful. I kind of took that for granted. But how is he “not behaving properly towards his betrothed”? In this translation, it seems to be related to strong passion, but I am not completely sure what that means. Now the NASU puts a totally different slant on this verse: “But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter, if she is past her youth, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let her marry” (NASU). That is the exact same verse, in a different translation, and it says something completely different. Now someone is “acting unbecomingly towards his virgin daughter”, and apparently this means not allowing her to get married? No mention of passion in this translation. Notice that daughter is not in the Greek, and I have no idea where the translators got that idea.

But the NASU is not the only one that goes with daughter: “But if any man thinketh that he behaveth himself unseemingly toward his virgin (daughter), if she be past the flower of her age, and if need so requireth, let him do what he will; he sinneth not; let them marry” (ASV). On a literal read of this, it would seem that Paul is advocated that if man wants to marry his own virgin daughter, they should get married??? Um surely that can’t be. But if you are saying the father is allowing his daughter to get married, why would you say “they” should get married? Doesn’t make sense.

In Peterson’s translation “his virgin” is demoted to a “woman friend”: “If a man has a woman friend to whom he is loyal but never intended to marry, having decided to serve God as a ‘single,’ and then changes his mind, deciding he should marry her, he should go ahead and marry. It's no sin; it's not even a "step down" from celibacy, as some say” (The Message). That seems a very different idea also, and I am not sure why he interprets it that way.

For those that feel the Greek should answer all of these questions, here you go: Εἰ δέ τις ἀσχημονεῖν ἐπὶ τὴν παρθένον αὐτοῦ νομίζει, ἐὰν ᾖ ὑπέρακμος καὶ οὕτως ὀφείλει γίνεσθαι, ὃ θέλει ποιείτω, οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει, γαμείτωσαν (UBS4). τὴν παρθένον αὐτοῦ does mean “his virgin”, and γαμείτωσαν is 3 person plural, so any translation of let “her” or “him” marry is not correct, but rather a revision to avoid interpretive problems: it says “let them marry”. I don’t know where the ESV got the idea of strong passion (and why they dropped the idea of the virgin being past the prime of her age in some fashion), because it’s not there in the Greek.

Literally, it would something like this: “and if any one doth think [it] to be unseemly to his virgin, if she may be beyond the bloom of age, and it ought so to be, what he willeth let him do; he doth not sin — let him [except as noted above it should be 3rd person plural, them] marry” (Young’s Literal Translation). Doesn’t really help, does it? For those who swear by the King James, the behavior is described as “uncomely”: “But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry” (KJV).

Well, at least there is no one who could be described as “my virgin”—no daughter, fiancé, or woman friend to whom I am loyal but have now decided to marry, so I don’t need to worry about applying this verse to my life…

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Another Nairobi Adventure

Yesterday night at around 9 P.M. on Ngong road, close by Nairobi Chapel, my friend Aaron and I were returning from getting some pizza when I noticed that my motorbike was starting to sputter, and then it stopped entirely. Now I had been thinking that since I haven’t filled up for like a month, I should probably get gas soon, but I didn’t…I miss having a gas gauge. Anyway, this happened about 200 meters from a gas station, so I was like no problem, I’ll just push it down there and fill up and we’ll continue on our way. Now as I pushed the bike down the road, I remembered I had to walk right through the police checkpoint. To give a little context, I live, or rather drive, in fear of the police. I long ago determined that unless he has a gun and looks like he’s really going to use it, I will never stop for the police. I haven’t had to put that to the test until this past Sunday, when I was going down Ngong road in front of Junction and there were like 4 policemen standing out in the middle of the road, and one of them flagged me down, pointing right at me. I floored it and went right through. Like really, you’re on foot and I’m driving, and you expect me to stop…sorry, you can extort me some other time.

There were about 4 police on our side of the road, and only 1 on the other side, so I pushed the bike across the road and continued towards the checkpoint. Of course, they noticed me, and called across the street, asking what was wrong. I said I was out of gas, and was going to fill up. They said there was no gas there. I said, what do you mean, of course there’s gas there, and continued undeterred on my way. They asked me my destination, and I called back, actually that doesn’t matter, and hurried past them.

Getting to the gas station, prominently marked 24 hours on their sign, I see they are clearly closed. Now I had to think what to do. We are right by a heavily forested area known for bandits who carjack those going through. One of my friends lives not far away, so I could leave the motorbike there, and then we try to catch a matatu home, although they run less frequently at that time of the night, and it is more dangerous. Or I could call someone to bail me out and bring me gas. I called Ben, and he said just wait there.

While we are waiting, someone comes up and asks if we need any assistance. I said that I would really like some gas, and he informs me they are actually closed. I asked why there were closed when their sign says 24 hours, and he says that it is too dangerous to stay open after dark. Cool… So the two of us defenseless mzungus continued to sit by the gas pumps by ourselves, alone with a rather expensive piece of equipment, discussing African church history and marriage in the African context… But then Ben showed up, and I fueled up, and we drove home. Another Nairobi adventure.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Reflections on Relationships

I think interpersonal interactions are some of the most interesting aspects of being human, and have spent something like thousands of hours over the last several years analyzing and dissecting every aspect of guy-girl relationships. My sophomore year at Wheaton, there would times when I would spend eight hours a day going over every new detail or potential development in a certain situation with my group of relational advisors. I had about 15 guys and a number of girls as well that I would confide in, and with any new development I would make my rounds, getting feedback and advice. People have told me that I overanalyze things, so if you’re reading this and thinking um I need to say something…don’t worry, it’s been said. After a while I decided this was becoming a little ridiculous, and did cut down on the time spent in this area. I have often wondered how much higher my gpa could have been if I had arranged my time slightly differently... But hey, there was a whole lot that I learned in college that didn’t take place in class.

It wasn’t only my own situation that we would discuss, but a lot of people would also come to me and bring their questions and problems. I was always interested to hear what was going on and offer my interpretation and sometimes suggestions for the way forward. My first year at NEGST, I made a decision that I would avoid all the problems I faced at Wheaton, with the hope that my academic performance would adjust accordingly. I decided I wouldn’t become good friends with girls, wouldn’t spend a lot of time talking to them, and wouldn’t become close. I was coming here to study, and my primary goal in coming here was not to find girls, which I did not necessary expect to find here. I was somewhat surprised when I was met at the airport….but that’s another story. Since when I first came I didn’t know how flirting and such things are perceived in this context, there were some girls I was afraid to look at. I remember sitting in one of the first events of the single’s community here, when we all introduced ourselves. People went around and introduced themselves: name is “ –“, and I’m single and praying. Name is “ – “, and I’m single and waiting. Name is “ – “, and I don’t want to become the Pope.

Now I’m fairly sure I am as interested in getting married as any of them, but I would never put it in those terms. I guess in my particular American conservative-Christian cultural background being discreet and avoiding being obvious is prized above all else. I made note of any such female personages and was extra distant with them…just to be sure. Possibly I was too careful, but it worked, and I never had any problems in this arena last year. So if you want to know how to avoid such drama, that’s how you do it. This is very debatable, but I personally tend to feel that a close guy-girl friendship is by definition impossible. Yes, there are some exceptions, and I can think of a few examples in my life of that, but it is for all practical purposes impossible. Now in my definition, I would say that if at any point either one of them becomes interested in the other it is no longer merely a friendship. It may appear to be such, but that is not actually the case. So you can fairly easily have a functional friendship, but it most likely will shift at some point.

It often amazes me that anything ever works out. I have so much respect for all the married couples I know, especially those that have made it work for like a long time. It’s impressive to me. Now I have thought about this a fair amount, and I do really feel that if you both make the commitment, then there is no reason it wouldn’t work out. The key as I see it to recognize that the person you’re with is almost certainly not the best possible person for you. The goal is not to find the best possible person, that “one” this is idly waiting out there for you. The goal is to find someone that is compatible enough with you, and then commit to being with them.

I think if you’re trying to find the most ideal person, you’ll find someone and be so excited. Yeah, this is great, and this is the person I’m supposed to be with. But then, when things start not going so well, or you meet someone else, you realize, wow, that other person is actually a lot better for me. So you end it, and that attitude will not stop once you’re married. I question that very premise. You will never find the person you are best suited for. Like seriously, there are six billion people in this world. So don’t try! I’m fairly sure there are a number of girls somewhere I could marry and have it work. The key now becomes to have high enough standards that the person you choose fits into that category. For example, when I was dating, I made the decision: I’m pretty sure if I spent the next fifty years full-time just looking, I could find someone I’m more compatible with than you (now that could take like thirty-five years, because I was pretty happy with her, but eventually, it’s a pretty good chance). So I don’t care. You’re not the best person for me. But I’ve chosen you, which means I do not care who else I meet. It becomes utterly irrelevant to the decision that has been made. But not everyone thinks that way, as I found out. However, I maintain that attitude, which is what I will bring into my next relationship. Now the goal is to find someone else who thinks that way…and I hope it doesn’t actually take thirty two more years.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Future of Wheaton?

This is a fascinating article about the current decision being made to replace Dr. Duane Litfin as the president of Wheaton, some of the controversies during his tenure, and the implications of this decision:

This spring, the board of trustees at Wheaton College will appoint a new president. As the flagship evangelical institution—the “Harvard of the Christian schools,” say the tour guides—Wheaton will be closely monitored by other colleges, by pastors and churches around the world, and by observers of Christendom generally. Indeed, in a November 2009 article, the New York Times went so far as to characterize Wheaton, Illinois as a kind of “evangelical Vatican.”

This year also marks the college’s sesquicentennial: 150 years since fiery abolitionist Jonathan Blanchard founded it on land given to him by city father Warren Wheaton. As a result, 2010 promises to be a time of looking forward and looking back.

Friends of Wheaton certainly have much to celebrate: during outgoing president Duane Litfin's 17 years in office, the college expanded the physical plant, grew the endowment, added two doctoral degrees, kept tuition costs impressively low, increased admissions selectivity, and weathered financial crises better than many institutions. Long before the attacks of 9/11, Litfin sent the lance-toting “Crusader” mascot into much-deserved retirement. Many excellent hires of younger faculty on Litfin’s watch bode well for the future. Despite the protests of some deep-pocketed older alumni, Litfin revoked the infamous rule against off-campus drinking and dancing. And in marked contrast to many American colleges with religious roots, Wheaton has not strayed from the core commitments on which it was founded.

Still, when one spends time talking with Wheaton faculty, students, and supporters, alongside real appreciation one is also likely to hear expressions of deep concern about the unusually pro-active roles that Litfin and his provost, Stanton Jones, have assumed as the definers and defenders of orthodoxy across the college. On the eve of transition to new leadership, this concern needs to be aired—not for the sake of settling scores, not in a spirit of smug judgment, but rather to provide one more important perspective as the college and its constituency look to the future. Thus, though it is far too early for a definitive account, perhaps a philosopher can rush in where historians fear to tread.

Dan Brown Theology

Reading any Dan Brown novel is a holistic experience: an engaging mix of art history, historical theology, secret societies, cutting edge scientific advances, deranged villains, chase scenes, elaborate conspiracies, complex riddles, New Age mysticism, and biblical references. Sure, you can dismiss is at escapist fiction, but I think reflecting on the theological implications of his various books can be so interesting.

The Da Vinci Code remains one of the best books I have ever read, and I believe it has been the most effective anti-Christian propaganda tool of my generation. I really think one of the most effective ways to combat anything is to write a popular novel, then fill it up with pseudo-history, half truths, and deception masquerading as the historical framework of your story. Imagine the uproar of a similar popular novel trashing the character of Muhammad and distorting the origins of Islam. Of course, as the writer of your novel, you hide behind your genre and claim that its all fiction, so who cares. But people don’t read that way. Obviously there is no real Robert Langdon running around Europe trying to find the descendants of Christ, but what was the vote on the divinity of Jesus at the Council of Nicea? What if that was the first time anyone had imagined Jesus as God? Who is sitting next to Jesus in the painting of the Last Supper? Was everything in Christianity a cheap rip-off from the Roman mystery religions? Even if people are somewhat skeptical about all the details, the general picture sinks in, and I can guarantee you that the perception of Christian has been influenced.

Anyway, this is actually about The Lost Symbol, which I read during my rather infrequent downtimes during this past Christmas break. I did enjoy reading it, but at the end I found it so empty and ridiculous. It’s a less interesting version of National Treasure. By the way, if you haven’t read The Lost Symbol yet, and would like to, this will probably ruin it for you, so you may as well stop now (and I also give away the ending of National Treasure).

One of the biggest theological points made in The Lost Symbol is that we have divine potential within all of us. Ps 82:6 is quoted multiple times: I said, “You are gods.” Even as Jesus said: The kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21). The following section is fairly long, but I think its worth including:

“Peter, the Bible and the Ancient Mysteries are total opposites. The mysteries are all about the god within you . . . man as god. The Bible is all about the God above you . . . and man as a powerless sinner.”

“Yes! Exactly! You’ve put your finger on the precise problem! The moment mankind separated himself from God, the true meaning of the Word was lost. The voices of the ancient masters have now been drowned out, lost in the chaotic din of self-proclaimed practitioners shouting that they alone understand the Word . . . that the Word is written in their language and none other.”

Peter continued down the stairs.

“Robert, you and I both know that the ancients would be horrified if they saw how their teachings have been perverted . . . how religion has established itself as a tollbooth to heaven . . . how warriors march into battle believing God favors their cause. We’ve lost the Word, and yet its true meaning is still within reach, right before our eyes. It exists in all the enduring texts, from the Bible to the Bhagavad Gita to the Koran and beyond. All of these texts are revered upon the altars of Freemasonry because Masons understand what the world seems to have forgotten . . . that each of these texts, in its own way, is quietly whispering the exact same message.” Peter’s voice welled with emotion. “ ‘Know ye not that ye are gods?’” (on my pdf version its page 327)

You know what’s interesting is that my professor in systematic theology class just made almost the same point. He said that salvation is not about having our sins forgiven and going to heaven. We were looking at the heresy of Arianism, and to combat this view, Athanasius argued that God became man so that man might become God. If, as Arius said, Jesus was just a great creature, then this process is not possible. Now, what Dan Brown is saying is different. Brown is basically peddling an updated, retooled Gnosticism. We have the divine spark within us, which must be harnessed and eventually freed from this depraved realm of flesh. The goal of Christianity is to become like Christ, not to become our own god with our own little universe.

At the same time, in the section above Peter makes some good points. I agree that it’s terrible when religion becomes a tollbooth to heaven. I despise the chaotic din of those declaring the Bible is written to them and claiming the promises of wealth and prosperity. That’s what’s so subversive about any of these novels, is that so much truth is mixed in with the error. There was a council, and there was a vote, over how the divinity of Jesus was to be understood in the church. Yes, if mankind is completely separated from God, then the message of the Word is lost. That’s why you have to balance transcendence and imminence. Both are true, and neither can be denied without losing Christianity.

I’ve probably missed the point somewhere, but the biggest thing I found so dumb was the fact that after solving all of those puzzles, running all over the place, having this whatever director of the CIA involved, all these people killed, like thirty occurrences of different people being like “this is the biggest deal ever,” we end up with Langdon basically having a heart attack when he looks out from the Washington Monument. I quote:

The wave of shock and disorientation that tore through Langdon’s body reached down inside and spun his internal compass upside down. He nearly fell backward as his mind strained to accept the utterly unanticipated sight that was before him. In his wildest dreams, Robert Langdon would never have guessed what lay on the other side of this glass.

The vision was a glorious sight.

I’ve seen DC from the Washington Monument before. It’s not THAT amazing. I also really appreciated the sunset view over campus from my T7 dorm room freshman year. My friend George has a more impressive view of Chicago from his apartment. The book ends with them looking out over a sunrise from the top of the capital building. That’s cool. There’s also a fair amount talking about the benefits of wisdom, books, etc. I like those things too. But the build-up throughout Lost Symbol is so completely out of proportion to anything they find.

Ok, I guess I’m simply too materialist to appreciate whatever pluralistic drivel Dan Brown is trying to teach me about finding the grains of wisdom in all religious writings and the commonalities in Isaac Newton, Ben Franklin, so on and so forth. I just like how in the end of National Treasure they actually found…treasure.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Reading a section from Kerygma and Myth, “The Mythological Element in the Message of the New Testament and the Problem of its Re-interpretation,” by Rudolf Bultmann, was an interesting experience for me, as I realized I actually agree with much of what he is doing. His project sounds an awful lot like what I learned to do in ... contextualization. One of my paradigm shifting movements during my last year at Wheaton was taking Old Testament Cultural Environment, where we read many of the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) sources that influenced the Bible. That’s right, the Bible was actually influenced by its cultural environment, which was a revolutionary concept for me that did not at all fit into my previous understanding of the Bible.

I came to realize that the cosmology that undergirds the Old Testament is that of the “cosmic dome”: that the earth is flat, with a solid sky above with holes for rain and tracks for the stars to roll in, held up by pillars. Hades, the land of shadows, is underneath the earth as the abode of the dead (this concept has been reinforced by a number of conversations with Ben Byerly, who is a big fan of the cosmic dome). That is what the Jews believed. However, it has been well debunked by the advances of science and technology, and I am convinced that the earth is not flat and the sky is not solid. This concept is my standard illustration of the cultural nature of the Bible, the necessity of contextualization, and the dangers of an uncritical literalist reading.

Bultmann begins his project of demythologization by explaining this very same concept. He then goes on to include angels, demons, the Devil, all spiritual forces, miracles, the resurrection, second coming, etc. in this rubric of pre-scientific cosmology. Now I believe quite firmly in all those things. The question immediately came to my mind: why does he lump all these things together, and how do I separate them? Some of you reading this doubtless consider my belief in God and demons just as absurd and irrational as I consider anyone who still believes in a three-tiered world. Bultmann makes the statement that “there is nothing specifically Christian in the mythical view of the world as such. It is simply the cosmology of a pre-scientific age.” I completely agree. I don’t think mental illness is caused by the moon, or that lightning demonstrates the anger of the gods. However, my definition of this cosmology is much narrower.

I find the modernist rejection of anything supernatural ridiculous: it simply does not match the reality of life as we know it. If there is no such thing as the supernatural, it is a very strange category for every culture that has ever existed to invent. The current intellectual environment is much more conducive to a reality beyond what we can touch and see, albeit this becomes a very eclectic world spirit cosmic energy Dan Brownish meaningless religious nonsense. At least that is better than a blanket rejection of anything beyond the strict confines of scientific verification.

Yet, at the same time, I was raised in a strongly empiricist atmosphere, and when my motorbike doesn’t start, I look for mechanical reasons and don’t really consider spiritual causes. I understand the difficult in believing in something you can’t see or hear. That’s why I believe Christianity is fundamentally not provable by apologetics. You can’t assemble arguments that will win over anyone if they are smart or rational enough. At some point you do have to step, or leap, out in faith.

Reading Bultmann reinforces my idea that just about everything comes down to contextualization at some point. The question becomes how well is that contextualization done. I think Bultmann’s goal is rather similar to mine. I’m still thinking through how I would answer my question above—which might have potential for a future taco night topic—, but my initial response is that I believe the earth is flat both on good evidence and personal experience. I have seen a globe and traveled quite a ways across the world, and the explanation for the world being round makes perfect sense to me. I have also had a great deal of experience with the supernatural, both firsthand and from others. I have not spoken to demons personally, but I know a number of people who have, and everything I have heard and read about this is corroborative and fits with my cosmology. Since coming to Africa, I have modified my Western, scientific viewpoint to be even more inclusive of the power of spiritual forces. I think about the presence of demons in doing ministry and when I’m affected negatively in various ways. So I’m not being completely arbitrary as I reject a three-tiered world, an understanding of stars as angels, but keep the basic premise of unseen spiritual forces at work in our world.

There is a lesson somewhere here: learn to contextualize well.

(if you are interested in reading my professor's, Dr. Bill Black, thoughts on the same subject, they are found on his blog:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Moving Past Postmodernism

As I consider my life, there are a great number of uncertainties, especially at the present moment. I don’t know where I will be after my graduation, although I feel it is more and more likely that I will stick around, if not Nairobi, at least Africa for a few years. I’m not exactly sure what I will be doing or who I will be working for. However, one thing I am fairly sure of is that I enjoy doing theology. Ever since I have been about 14 I have said that I will be a theologian: not pastor or professor, but a theologian. Um I have since discovered that that is a bit difficult, similar to being a practicing philosopher, which does not generally constitute a livable position (although I remember looking for pizza in the phonebook with my friend Ted at Wheaton, and right before pizza there was one entry for philosopher, not sure how well that worked for him…).

I went into my Contemporary Theology class 95% sure I was going to go drop it after that period, since taking 20 hours is crazy and my life as I have embellished it following my academic void of only 12 hours last term is completely unsustainable. However, as I sat in the first class and listened to our professor talk about theological method and learning how to present our theology, and think about the prospect of getting back into primary sources again, I couldn’t resist. And so far its been pretty awesome. We read Schleiermacher for class on Tuesday, and then for Friday we discussed the first section of Barth’s groundbreaking 1919 Commentary on Romans. I’ve read it before, but it brings back memories of amazing classes at Wheaton such as Doctrine of Scripture and Global Theology, where I really started to learn how to carefully read and critique theology.

One of the things I hope to do with my life is to take the context we are in and provide careful theological reflection to address the pertinent issues that I see in the world today. I feel that so much theology I have learned and see theologians doing, especially in the West, are merely rehashing the old debates that we have been engaged in for the last 500 years. I really appreciate a lot of Reformed theology, and that framework forms the foundation for a lot of my theology, but I don’t want to spend my live refighting those battles over and over. Calvin wrote for a particular time and place, and while he remains one of the very best theologians of all time, and I have a high respect for history, we need to move past the 16th century…

To give a very rough history of intellectual movements over the last few hundred years, the Enlightenment demolished the place of the church and tradition as the unquestionable authority and set up reason in its place. Modernity took reason, applied it to every imaginable subject, tried to bring mankind into a whole new era of perfection, did make a lot of progress, but didn’t change the fundament nature of man. WWI basically showed where that project ended up. Much of postmodern thought questioned the whole premise of modernity, and noticed that we are actually very limited, and can’t achieve perfection, and even the things we think we know are only from our perspective. This concept can be rather discouraging, and so a lot of people have decided that there is no truth and nothing actually matters at all.

I think postmodernism gets a lot of things right, and corrects most of the particularly egregious elements of modernity. Just look at the mess that resulted from the mix of modernity and missions… However, it is always easier to deconstruct than to construct. I can tear apart theological systems, sermons, etc., much easier than I can propose an alternative one. What must be done now is to take the positive insights of postmodernism and construct a new paradigm that will allow for forward movement. According to the Wikipedia article on Post-postmodernism:

Since the late 1990s there has been a widespread feeling both in popular culture and in academia that postmodernism "has gone out of fashion."[11] However, there have been few formal attempts to define and name the epoch succeeding postmodernism, and none of the proposed designations has yet become part of mainstream usage.

One of the things I hope to do with my life is to not only observe but be an active formulator of the next age of philosophy. I think the best theology is done along with and in response to philosophy, and that these two disciplines are ultimately inseparable. Theology must take into account the current intellectual, political and social context and produce reflections that establish how Christianity is to be lived today. This is what Vanhoozer and N.T. Wright are doing, just to name two, but there will need to be a new generation that takes up what they have done and continues. Some of the concerns that theology is facing now are massive issues such as justice, poverty, the nature of the church, the nature of interpretation, a reassessment of truth, and seen more clearly from the perspective of much of the third world questions such as witchcraft and the nature of sustainable development. Quite a daunting task…