Friday, October 31, 2014

A Ride in the Reconstruction Zone, part 3

From the September 2011 E-Block.

As in our last installment, my reading of the second half of Rushdoony's Roots of Reconstruction has produced none of the controversy that I would have expected from all the naughty things I have read about him from certain disgruntled sources. There is still no promise to reinstitute stoning as a penalty if Christians get in charge. Nor is there yet anything objectionable in moral terms. 

There is also, as yet, still very little in terms of specifics of how Rushdoony sees Christians taking dominion over all aspects of life. He tells us (552), "Christainity has an obligation to train people in the fundamentals of God's grace and law, and to make them active and able champions of true political liberty and order." All right -- how? We're not told; all we have in RR is a strong emphasis on construction of Christian schools, but the means of instruction for "people" at large is not specified. We are told that we should tithe to support reconstruction (608) but other than for schools, if you're looking to be told how to spend it, you won't find it here. We are told we ought to make television a Christian domain (1102) but not told how either. Buy all the stations with tithe money and replace the programming? Take over the FCC? "The state cannot be neutral towards God." (907), we are told. All right -- so must it be a theocracy? Must all politicians be Christians? I don't wish to seem facetious, but the weight of "do this" that is unbalanced by the lack of a "tell me how" becomes disgruntling after a while, as it leaves far too much to the imagination. 

There are also some interesting parallels to today's problems of the church; again I can only imagine how much worse Rushdoony would say things are now. At one point he appears to be taking on (564) an earlier version of the emergent church. Later (582) he refers to churchgoers who "sit under pastors who know less Bible and doctrine than they do" (ouch -- how well I know that). And it is not only pastors (755): he has a few words for Christians who substitute "emotionalism and enthusiasm for discipline and work." He minces no words even for the greatest names; he refers to Billy Graham as a compromiser and charges him (689) with adhering to "basic humanism". How can I of all people dislike someone for being this straightforward? 

So are there any problems to report? Well, yes. I have noted Rushdoony's sparse documentation at times, and I selected three claims at random to check for validity. 

(570) He reports that two Nigerian personalities, Sir Ahmado Bello and Sir Abubaker, on January 15, 1965, were eaten by cannibals at a state dinner. This doesn't check out at all; Bello's death was one year later (January 15, 1966) and he was murdered in a coup. I can find no indication that his body was consumed by cannibals. Abubaker was killed in the same coup, and it appears that his corpse was found by a roadside and put in a tomb, not eaten. 

(589) He reports that on January 31, 1967, Lois Murgenstrumm was used as a living altar in a Satanist wedding. This claim is repeated without documentation in some sources of questionable reliability. Perhaps it simply is too old to be on the radar today, but it smells suspicious. 

(1021) He says that a Declaration of Mental Independence was delivered in 1825, by one Robert Owen, founder of a sort of humanist colony. He also reports a visitor to the colony, Gabriel Rey, who saw a mired horse that was left to die. On this one the year is repeated differently in different sources (one said 1826, another 1829) but it does appear that Owen did deliver such an address. On the other hand, I cannot find any confirmation of the Rey aspect of the story. 

So what does that leave us? It's not certain, especially since the book gives no source for these claims. They may seem trivial as claims, but they do raise questions in my mind about how reliable Rushdoony's research may be. 

Next up, we'll start looking at his Institutes of Biblical Law.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cruel Vegetable Soup

From the September 2011 E-Block.
By request we are examining an article titled, "Did Abel or Cain Offer a Lamb in Sacrifice to God?" by John Vujicic, in which just about every hook or crook in the book is used to explain away Abel's sacrifice of an animal. The motivation here appears to be some sort of misplaced vegetarianism, or perhaps some sort of primer against animal cruelty; but of course the arguments remain the same even if the motive is for Vujicic to earn enough money to buy a new bicycle. Vujicic's treatment, however, is remarkably long, tedious, and tendentious, so we will pare it down to the basics. 

Not that any motive would do much to improve the arguments. The first resort is to suggest -- using Jeremiah 8:8's "lying pen of the scribes" as a bludgeon -- that conveniently, the particular text on Abel and Cain was changed in such a way that it happened to obscure the point of view Vujicic prefers, which is to suppose that the sacrifices were reversed, and it was Cain who killed an animal and was punished for it. Textually, this one is a no-brainer: There is no evidence for any such textual change in Genesis at all in any manuscript from any period. The Jewish historian Josephus certainly doesn’t have any awareness of a different text; so likewise Philo makes it clear that Abel performed an animal sacrifice. 

Vujicic's desperation is such, however, that he seeks any possible external confirmation for a textual change in Genesis, and he believes he has found one such in a document called the "Essene Humane Gospel" in which Jesus is quite specifically said to indicate that Abel "offered up the grains and fruits of the earth" while it was Cain who offered the blood sacrifice. As you might expect, no credentialed scholar is aware of such a text at all; I found one vegan source that claimed it was found as a third century manuscript in (of course) the Vatican library, but naturally, there is no documentation for this anywhere, and as far as I am concerned, barring evidence, this is to be dated no earlier than the 20th century in which it was printed. 

Due credit may be offered in that Vujicic at least admits to his readers that the words ascribed to Jesus "may or may not be authentic". That's putting it mildly.
Vujicic offers a second document where Cain and Abel's roles are reversed, but this one is no better off. Let us deepen the irony with his detailed description:

The World Bible Publishers have put a book together which is compiled of ancient manuscripts which did not find their way into the canonical Bible. This book is entitled The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden. Various translators were used to translate the manuscripts from their original tongues. The manuscript we are interested in is entitled Adam and Eve. For the translation of this manuscript we are indebted to two great Bible scholars: Dr. S.C. Malan, Vicar of Broadwindsor and Dr. E. Trumpp - Professor at the University of Munich. Ethiopic and Arabic originals were used for the current English translation.

Bible scholars? Not quite. Malan was an orientalist of the 19th century, and Trumpp was an earlier translator. You’ll find this work put out today by esoteric, not scholarly presses. The very fact that the alleged “original” is said to be in Ethiopic or Arabic tells us enough of how little a case can be made for its authenticity. Scholars who do take it seriously suggest dates between the fifth and eleventh century AD.

Vujicic's next point says:

...we also know for certain that the Jews who lived in Egypt, in an area known as the Elephantine, although they built a Temple there - an exact replica of the Jerusalem one - did not kill the lamb during their Passover observance nor did they ever offer blood sacrifices. They only authorized and sanctioned the practice of a “pure oblation”. The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Vol. 2, on p. 60, says:

“Meal offerings [oblations] and incense are specified as the only ritual procedures to be followed, as was done formerly. Another smaller Aramaic text dealing with the proposed reconstruction of the temple states specifically that sheep, oxen, and goats were not offered there.”

This is accurate as far as it goes, but there’s nothing in the ISBE entry to suggest that the lack of animal sacrifice at Elephantine had anything to do with some distaste for sacrifices; more likely it was because that was considered the exclusive province of the Jerusalem temple.

The next non-canonical book Vujicic turns to is the Clementine Homilies, where Peter is said to have reported that Adam disliked bloody sacrifices. In this case, Vujicic has the virtue of at least some scholarly support; some will date these texts to the third century AD. However, it is far from clear that this offers any authentic word of Adam; much less does it offer a motive that aligns with Vujicic’s, or indicate that Adam's distaste is universal. It is as well to suggest that Adam disliked sacrifices because it reminded him too much of the original sin episode, when animals were killed to make clothes for him.

There is next a section in which, having assumed the Essene Humane Gospel correct, he then uses Hebrews 11:4 as silent validation (that is, assuming Hebrews shares the view of the Essene Humane Gospel!). Vujicic's one attempt to find the re-reading in Hebrews 11:4 is to point out that whereas Hebrews describes Abel's "gifts" in the plural, Cain's "gift" is described in the singular, and this is said to cohere better with Abel offering fruit (plural) and Cain offering a lamb (singular). From what can be determined, however, both words refer to what Abel offered.

Next on Vujicic's fringe-documents list: A reputed Ebionite book called The Ascents of James in which James the brother of Jesus spoke against sacrifices. This one to has some potential as an older work (though far from first century) and has even received attention from worthy scholars. However, it is clear from the text that James’ motive was the end of the old covenant, not Vujicic’s concern for animal rights.

It is also noted that the "Church Fathers unanimously testify that James from his birth never tasted animal flesh." No citation is given, but even if this is true, it does not establish a motive in line with Vujicic’s; as it is, the low availability of meat in the ancient world just as well frames this as James being ascetic, as opposed to concerned with animal rights that way Vujicic is.

Next up, Vujicic appeals to Jeremiah 7:22 (as also alluded to by the Epistle of Barnabas) -- yes, that same one we've dealt with before -- and also another fake document, but this time one we've seen before, The Gospel of the Holy Twelve (link below). Based on the above -- not textual evidence -- Vujicic declares the text of Leviticus 7 to be forged.

The next Biblical text appealed to is Is. 43:22-24 -- as it appears in the Septuagint:

I have not now called thee, O Jacob; neither have I made thee weary, O Israel. Thou hast not brought me the sheep of thy whole-burnt-offering; neither hast thou glorified me with thy sacrifices. I have not caused thee to serve with sacrifices, neither have I wearied thee with frankincense. Neither hast thou purchased for me victims for silver, neither have I desired the fat of thy sacrifices.

There's no need for a fresh answer here: This is simply another version of Jeremiah 7:22, and of the same negation idiom in use. Vujicic simply interprets the text the same way a fundamentalist atheist does. The same may be said of his appeal to Is. 1:11-12 and Ps. 40:6-7, 51:16-17, and other passages in which sacrifice is said to be less preferred than mercy and good works. The use of negation idiom is a much simpler, much better attested notion than Vujicic's tendenetious and paranoid suggestion that scribes wildly altered texts all over the place. If that is the game to play, why not suggest that what the scribes actually altered was the texts that Vujicic thinks forbid animal sacrifice? In the end, he is compelled to declare many chapters of Leviticus to be fraudulent, out of preference for a mere handful of verses -- an incredibly radical suggestion made worse by both the lack of textual evidence and by his misreading of the texts (see link below) as referring to God literally using sacrifices for food.

Much space is then devoted to emotional descriptions of animal sacrifices, as well as a tendentious description of God as reputedly comparable to a little child having a temper tantrum if He's really demanding animal sacrifices. Atonement theory is rather more complex than that, but it matters little since ultimately Vujicic's solution is to say that the "lying pen of the scribes" is responsible for the introduction of these texts (or else,were written by people who didn't know that the lying scribes inserted those texts). Further, texts that decry animal sacrifice without faith are simply designated as wholesale condemnations of sacrifice based on this assumption.

So far Vujicic has been honest if incomplete in what he presents, but he does step over the line in this one:

Please note the text of Isaiah 22:12-14: “…You KILLED SHEEP AND CATTLE TO EAT, and you DRANK WINE…This EVIL will NEVER BE FORGIVEN THEM as LONG AS THEY LIVE” [Good News Bible].

The ellipsis hides a certain sin, though – look at the whole text:

And in that day did the Lord GOD of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth: And behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink; for to morrow we shall die. And it was revealed in mine ears by the LORD of hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die, saith the Lord GOD of hosts.

Vujicic dishonestly omits the special command to mourning, which is what defines the sin here – not performing sacrifices per se. In similar fashion, Amos 6:4-7, which is properly read as a condemnation of the indolently wealthy who have no regard for God, is imaginatively taken as a condemnation of animal cruelty; eg, Amos point out that these people sleep on ivory beds, not because to do so signifies wealthy indolence, but because, “[i]n order to enjoy this luxury, one must slaughter many elephants.” That reading is as doubtful as one that would say that winebibbers are condemned in the same passage because wine drinking requires the squeezing of so many grapes.

Further on, Prov, 23:20 is read as a condemnation of all eating of meat; it is ignored that what is condemned is gluttony (excess), not meat eating per se. The most obnoxious mishandling of Scripture occurs, however, in the use of Zechariah 11:4-6:

The LORD my God said to me, act the part of the shepherd of a FLOCK OF SHEEP THAT ARE GOING TO BE BUTCHERED. THEIR OWNERS KILL THEM AND GO UNPUNISHED. They sell the meat and say, praise the LORD! We are rich! Even their own shepherds have no pity on them.

Vujicic takes this as God condemning those who kill actual sheep, but the context clearly indicates that the “sheep” here is those in Jerusalem who are about to be judged.

The article closes with some ethical arguments about vegetarianism that are beyond our scope. However, we have seen enough to say that Vujicic is not a reliable exegete. He calls on documents with little concern for their provenance, merely assuming they reflect early teachings; he arbitrarily declares as late insertions any texts he disagrees with, and mishandles texts to make them say what he wants to hear.

It’s enough to make me want to go get a burger.

Jer. 7:22
Gospel of the Holy Twleve
Relevant item from the ThinkTank

Friday, October 17, 2014

Musicians' Gambit: Petra

From the September 2011 E-Block.
For this Musicians' Gambit entry, we'll take a step back in time to one of the more classic bands, Petra. I once read this group described as a "meat and potatoes" band, which might suggest that we'll see a lot less fluff than we do in many of the groups we have reviewed so far. That does seem indeed to be the case.

Consider first this set of lyrics:

This thirsting within my soul
Won't cease till I've been made whole
To know You, to walk with You
To please You in all I do
You uphold the righteous and Your faithfulness shall endure
Adonai, Master of the earth and sky
You alone are worthy, Adonai
Adonai, let creation testify
Let Your majesty be magnified in me
Adonai you are an endless mystery
Unchanging consuming fire
Lift me up from mud and mire
Set my feet on Your rock, let me dwell in Your righteousness
When the storms surround me, speak the word and they will be still
And this thirst and hunger is a longing only You can fill

Although there are certainly touches of what we would come to see as an over-focus on a too-personal relationship, the balance of these lyrics is weighted overwhelmingly towards the attributes and majesty of God, and the references to our own experience, even so, are the minimum necessary to express the inevitable I-thou aspect of interaction with God. In short, there is a transcendence here that has been missing from so many of the groups we have previously surveyed.

And where before have we seen doctrinal matters so clearly laid out, than with words like these?

When our labor all retire
there will be a trial by fire
Will your treasure pass the test
Or will it burn up with the rest
You may build upon a sure foundation
With your building in delapidation
When it all comes down to rubble
Will it be wood hay and stubble
Or precious stones, gold and silver--
Are you really sure
And we all will stand at the Bema Seat
All will be revealed--it will be complete
Will there be reward in the fiery heat
When we see our lives at the Bema Seat
Every talent will be surely counted
Every word will have to be accounted
Not a story will be left untold
We will stand and watch the truth unfold
Every score--will be evened--nothing to defend
Every building will be shaken
Every motive will be tried
He'll give reward to the faithful
Will you recieve or be denied

Apart from Casting Crowns, we have seen no group put such a heavy emphasis on personal responsibility -- but not even CC laid the weight this heavily upon the listener, and placed their focus in the main on the experience of the one who suffered, as opposed to the process of judgment. Arguably one might say that there was a balance that needed to be struck between both, and that this is a case of a pendulum swung too far, reactionarily, in the wrong direction.

Petra was, as I recall, not a group that considered themselves beneath a little humor. To this day, "Breakfast" by the Newsboys remains one of my favorite songs, and this one by Petra seems to have been of the same type:

Lucas McGraw, what's come over you?
We're beginnin' to think you're touched
We hear ya got religion
Ya ain't been 'round to see us much
Ya threw away your corncob pipe
And your jug of moonshine brew
And we hear ya ain't been doin'
All those things you used to do
Lucas McGraw, what's come over you?
You're shavin' ev'ry day
You ain't been chasin' women
And you kissed your wife today
You went to church last Sunday
And you shook the preacher's hand
And they say that you been talkin'
'Bout a home beyond this land
Lucas McGraw, what's come over you?
Ya never cuss no more
We hear you ain't been feudin'
You hung your rifle by the door
Ya take a bath each Sunday
If ya need it or not
And ya go to work on Monday
Even when it's hot
Lucas McGraw, what's come over you?
We're beginnin' to think you're touched
We hear ya got religion
Ya ain't been 'round to see us much
But ya know we've all been wonderin'
If what ya got just might be real
And all the while we're laughin'
Is it really God, Is it really God
Is it really God you feel?

I must confess to have never heard this one before, on Christian radio or anywhere else! But we probably should have. The emphasis on personal testimony, which I normally consider out of place, likely has its best expression in settings like these where it becomes a sort of self-effacing mechanism (as opposed to a sort of "tell all scandal" format).

Even more amazingly, Petra offered a similar song based on an incident in the life of St. Augustine: night I heard a knock at the door
The boys were really painting the town
I was just another bored teenage boy
Kickin' up and actin' the clown... Yeah
One dare led to another dare
Then things were getting out of control
We hopped the fence and we stole the pears
And I threw away a part of my soul
Yes, I threw away a part of my soul (now it's)
Haunting me how I stole those pears
'Cause I loved the wrong
Even though I knew a better way
Not for hunger or poverty

It is hard to imagine some of our current groups (aside from CC) making use of what is a relatively obscure story like this one; but there is perhaps a connection to be made here between depth of theological knowledge and awareness and "meatiness" of lyrics. Those who make themselves earnest disciples will bear fruit (not pears!) in accord with that.

Petra was also not afraid to be critical of the brethren for misplaced priorities:

Everybody look there's a new bandwagon in town
Hop on board and let the wind carry you around
Seems like there's not enough to keep us busy till the Lord comes back
Don Quixote's gotta have another windmill to attack
Another Witch Hunt looking for evil wherever we can find it
Off on a tangent, hope the Lord won't mind it
Another Witch Hunt, takin' a break from all our gospel labor
On a crusade but we forgot our saber
There's a new way to spend all our energies
We're up in arms instead of down on our knees
Walkin' over dollars trying to find another dime So send out the dogs and tally ho
Before we sleep tonight we've got miles to go
No one is safe, no stones left unturned
And we won't stop until somebody gets burned
Bro Bro Bro Bro Bro Bro Brothers

My one reservation is that I have no idea where Petra would draw the line between a "witch hunt" and a genuine doctrinal dispute worthy of attention. I can only say based on their lyrics that I tend to think they'd draw a line that was a responsible one.

Did I find anything that looked too familiar, like so much of today's music? This came closest to crossing the line:

Why should the Father bother to call us His children?,
Why should the Spirit hear it when we pray?,
Why should the Father bother to be concerned with all our needs?
It's all Because of what the Son has done.
Once we were lost out on the Ocean with no direction or devotion,
tossed about by every wind & wave , Now we are in the world not of it,
and we can surely rise above it, Because the Lord has risen from the grave
And we cry "Abba Father", "Abba Father" ,"Abba Father" , "Abba Father"
We cry "Abba Father", "Abba Father", "Abba Father" , "Abba Father",
Once we were strangers from the Promise, We were doubters worse than Thomas,
Till the Spirit opened up our eyes, Now he has offered us Adoption & we have taken up the option, To be His family Eternally.
It's all Because of what the Son has done.

It came closest....but was ambiguous enough to not cross the line into the problematic "buddy God" treatment. In that regard I found Petra to be entirely sound and never lacking in reverence.

For our next few entries in this series, we'll continue to look at older groups, and perhaps there will be some sort of identifiable trend in which we find that the overfamiliarity of the most recent Christian music can be seen as a relatively recent aberration. It's hard not to wax nostalgic here -- I still recall such favorites as Petra, Stryper, and David Meece, and they now seem so reverent compared to what we have today.

That I describe Stryper as reverent in comparative terms might speak enough for itself!

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Elite Set

From the August 2011 E-Block.
A reader requested that we have a look at an item by Stan Telchin titled, "Messianic Judaism is Not Christianity", and the quote marks should be noted, as the title is reputed to be a quote of what is said by some Messianic Jews. I'd have to sum up this item by saying it is an extended exercise in making a mountain out of a molehill: Telchin makes rather too much out of what he perceives to be "elitism" (that in quotes in him, too) that he thinks inconsistent with the Bible.

I'd like to use this opportunity to both briefly evaluate Telchin and expand upon similar perceptions sometimes had over other matters -- such as, for example, the believer who chooses to inform themselves as an apologist might. I'll illustrate that with a personal example.

There was a trying time not long ago for my beloved and I when one of her relatives -- a professing but insincere Christian -- justified some outrageous behavior of his with a particular Bible passage. I corrected him, appealing in the process to sound contextual scholarship, but he dismissed me and my explanation on the grounds that I was being prideful.

Telchin also raises the specter of pride against messianic Jews, and does so in an equally clumsy and unjustified way. He remarks upon one woman who said she would "feel as though" she was being "discriminated against" and was stunned when one man said, "If you don't read the Old Testament in Hebrew, you really cannot understand what is being said."

Stunned? Why? It's a given that every language has nuances lost in translation; thus, the man's statement, if intended (as is most likely the case, as hyperbole) is nothing to be "stunned" about and is not in any sense elitist. You do either need to read the Hebrew, or the works of someone who does, to get the bigger picture; all else is filtered through what is called "bilingual interference" and while not entirely incoherent, will at least be lacking in potentially important contextual parameters.

At the heart of all this is a matter that may pain some modern ears: The Bible teaches equality and elitism in the Body of Christ. It should be recalled that Jesus taught two parables which show this. One showed men being hired throughout a workday, with all being paid the same at the end (Matt. 20:1-20). The other (more than one, actually – example, Luke 19:20-27) has people being rewarded proportionately according to effort. It would be correct to say that the former parable represents salvation, and few have problems accepting this, but the idea of rank and honor in heaven by works tends to grate on the modern ear – and we seldom hear as much about it.

It was C. S. Lewis who once remarked that “democracy” is badly taken to mean that everyone should be equally untalented, ungifted, and unaided. We can see the dark shadow of this kind of “democracy” in Telchin’s protests, and they are supported, as Lewis also predicted might happen, by appeals to how the other person “feels” by not being part of the gifted group. To not recognize unique giftedness has manifest results in the church at large: Unless your gift happens to be to entertain people in some way (eg, as a singer, or a musician), you’re very likely to end up looked down upon for having a gift, to be supposed to be putting on airs, or end up not being trusted or given a chance to exercise your gift.

The result, as Lewis predicted, is a democracy of the lowest common denominator. It has also been a recipe for inactive Christians. Assured that all are equal under salvation, without the complementary message that works will be rewarded in kind, the result is a broad exercise of the gift of being seated, with little if any awareness of larger issues which affect faith – and paradoxically, believers who take a sort of perverse pride in being equal to everyone else.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Book Snap (or Plunge): James Sire's "Apologetics Beyond Reason"

I have a fair amount on my plate today, so I'm pleased to instead link to a review of this valuable book by my ministry partner Nick Peters. I had been sent a review copy, but since it isn't my topical bag, I'm glad Nick already had a review up.'