An anniversary and a testimonial

Today is the 52nd anniversary of my high school graduation.

It might sound odd to remember that, but high school was formative for me because, almost impetuously, my parents and I agreed that I should go to a Christian (specifically Evangelical) boarding school. So off I went at age 14 (specifically, Labor Day 1963) to forge a life somewhat separate from my parents — an experience most of my contemporaries postponed for another four years. By that point in my life, living in dormitories was “old hat,” college “same old, same old.”

I should qualify the preceding paragraph by noting that only 40% of my school was boarding students. The other 60% was commuters from the nearby Evangelical Jerusalem: Wheaton, Illinois. I suspect that Wheaton Academy itself was “old hat” for my commuter classmates, many of whom had attended Wheaton Christian Grammar School, whereas I had attended public schools to that point in my life (with my parents requesting some exemptions to let me observe Evangelical taboos about, say, dancing — public schools were not yet required to teach fornication).

We Evangelicals, of course, were very focused on the Scriptures (which we received from the historic Church pretty much unacknowledged) because they, in theory, were our final authority. But those Scriptures are many (66 by Evangelical count, more than that historically) and varied. The inability to fully harmonize them, or to credibly discern the science of cosmic creation therein, leads some Evangelicals to the shipwreck of faith.

There is a different and much more historic way to approach Scripture, and it always amuses me when the New Atheists and their ilk presume that the Evangelical (shared closely with Fundamentalists) approach is the exclusively correct one — before using it to rip such Christian faith to shreds — a presumption betraying an ignorance so profound that they really should just shut up.

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As I write, early in the morning, I’m still re-orienting from a very intense weekend wherein my Orthodox Christian parish Church was consecrated by our Bishop with the assistance of multiple priests and with me leading the singing of unfamiliar hymns proper to a consecration. My Christian pilgrimage has taken me there, deep into the historic roots of Christianity and thus a long way from Evangelicalism, for Evangelicalism is rooted mostly in the frontier revivalist vein of the Second Great Awakening of some 200 years ago.

Over my intense weekend, I made the acquaintance of a professional who joined his son, a recent Purdue graduate who was active in our parish, for the consecration and following Liturgy and banquet. His professional specialty is the same as one of my Wheaton Academy classmates, whose practice has grown large and, by what reputation I knew, very prominent.

I asked our guest if he knew of it, and it turned out he knew it, thought very highly of it, and almost joined it after interviewing with my classmate, his son and his daughter-in-law, all professionals in that field. He confirmed the practice’s excellence, and confirmed my impression that my classmate is still “very tightly wound” (my characterization) — adding some praise of the family’s Evangelical and charitable involvement as well, for it sounds as if the large practice is still owned and controlled largely or entirely by my classmate’s family and presumably has yielded considerable wealth.

Such thoughts of my classmate, and of my different Christian path, brought back to mind our different “life verses” (an ironically extrabiblical bit of Evangelical youth piety). Any time I say “life verse” from now on, you may gloss it as “important Bible verses favored by or associated with this person.”

My classmate’s life verse at the time seemed to be II Timothy 1:7: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” That always seemed to me (though I don’t know my classmate’s mind) like the outward-looking verse of a doer, and my classmate has done a lot — enough that I felt like a slacker in comparison until I went back to school at age 30 for some graduate work of my own. He himself uttered that verse as a life verse (or close to it); the association isn’t my projection.

I’m pretty sure I never declared any “life verse,” but I believe I wrote by my signature in schoolmates’ yearbooks “Ephesians 3:17-19” which reads (in the King James Version):

That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

That always seemed to be to contrast with my classmate’s verse — in my favor, of course, or I could have changed.

I was also quite taken by Hebrews 5:12 – 6:3:

For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit.

This puzzled and challenged me, as “laying again (and again, and again, and again) the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God” seemed rather the whole point of our revivalist (remember: Second Great Awakening) “altar calls,” and I thought “the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” were very deep — meaty, not milky.

Finally, although it may (though I think not) have first obsessed me somewhat later than high school, Romans 12:2: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” What makes me think it may have grabbed me later than high school is that I pretty much translated that to “thinking Christianly” (which “mind” justifies better than does the untranslatable Greek nous), and I think that “translation” came in college or even a bit later still.

All three of my passages/”life verses” seem to me introspective, or at least relatively so — “figuring stuff out” more than “doing,” and sinking roots more than (to use the modern barbarianism) “moving fast and breaking things.”

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I don’t know if the best way to characterize our different verses, mine and my classmates, is as acorns, as in “mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow.” That metaphor seems like the idea that encouraged us Evangelical lads and lasses, very wet behind the ears, presumptuously to grasp the nettle by picking a life verse anyway.

I tend to think a better organic metaphor is “as the twig is bent, so grows the tree,” or even Immanuel Kant‘s “out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.”

Scriptures are many and varied. There’s no scriptural reason why one should be guided primarily by II Timothy 1, another by Ephesians 3, Romans 12, and Hebrews 5 and 6. I suspect we latch onto verses because of how our twigs were bent by our DNA, our upbringing and such — even our our gut flora, as science seems to be finding. But I don’t think relativisticly that Evangelicalism is the “right” Christian tradition for my classmate, Orthodoxy for me, because of such things.

I believe there is a deeper human nature to which Orthodoxy responds fully and of which Evangelicalism at its rare best only dreams of. Orthodox Christianity is what I was dreaming of unawares as I dreamed of  being rooted and grounded in love, filled with all the fullness of God, going onto perfection, renewing my nous.

That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Bake for them two?

It turns out that I wasn’t the only one to note the problems with Bake for them two, which had a number of my friends purring approval and, as I admitted, getting an initial approval from me. Some of the other caveats are pretty harsh:

But this one, from an organization formally committed to opposing SSM to the bitter end (via a Declaration I subscribed), had worthy moments, starting with acknowledging (mansplaining?) a good impulse behind the bad exegesis:

Kantrowitz, a free-lance editor and part-time nanny, penned a blog that went viral, competing with the reach of those of us who do religious liberty for a living. That’s noteworthy for two reasons:

First, and foremost, it tells me Christians are desperate to communicate love to LGBT people. Indeed, many Christians are willing to ignore biblical principles they know to be true to avoid the appearance of judgment or rejection. This reality stands in stark contrast to the popular misconception of Christians as ignorant bigots. As influential activists in the LGBT movement further this misconception, Christians grow more fearful of embodying the caricature. The result is a spiral of silence among Christians, and historic gains for LGBT activists.

The spiral of silence is evidence of the second lesson: the widespread failure of pastors and other church leaders to properly equip everyday Christians to respond to the culture wars.

In the first half of the next sentence, though, I personally think he goes off the rails:

Christians don’t know what the Bible says, and lack heroes who model both grace and truth.

Maybe I’m reading too much into “don’t know what the Bible says.” In my experience, Bible proof-texts are ever on their lips, be it “go the second mile” or some clobber verse. The first has cultural purchase because it sounds nice when applied to wedding cakes; the latter is almost always worse than a failure in public discourse.

The Declaration I subscribed cited more than the Bible:

We set forth this declaration in light of the truth that is grounded in Holy Scripture, in natural human reason (which is itself, in our view, the gift of a beneficent God), and in the very nature of the human person.

Then comes the real surprise. “Go the second mile” wasn’t even “nice” when uttered. Kantrowitz’s proof-text is at least as out-of-context as any clobber verse:

Now, finally, we come to Matthew 5: 41. Does this section apply to the current clash over religious freedom and LGBT rights, and, if so, how?

Here is the section in full:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:38-48)

… At the time of Jesus, Roman citizens held immense power over Jews, who had few rights. Jesus is instructing believers how to respond to coercive acts in an systemically unjust system. He is not affirming that system. This is similar to the instruction Paul offers slaves to obey their earthly masters (Ephesians 6). Such an admonition is not an endorsement of the slavery system, but a guide to faithful living in the midst of a broken cultural reality.

Furthermore, Jesus’ instruction is a means to preserve one’s dignity in a situation where humanity is being denied. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, to turn to him the other also is a display of powerIf someone sues you for your tunic, to willingly offer your cloak also relocates the false pretense of power embodied in an unjust system to the shoulders of the one whose dignity is grounded in something else entirely.

Matthew 5 is a subversive text ….

I assume Bake for them two will become the squishy Christian clobber verse against troglodytes like me. But for my money, more in the original spirit of “go the second mile” is this Note from Creator Cakes:

Though we’ve never been asked to service a same-sex wedding, and though it looks increasingly that we someday will, we want to notify our customers of a policy that Creator Cakes will pursue. We’ve decided that if asked, we will provide a cake at a same-sex wedding ceremony. But we will take every dollar from that sale and donate it to an organization fighting to protect and advance religious liberty—organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom, Manhattan Declaration, or the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

No organization, company or person should be compelled to participate in events or speech that conflict with their convictions. This is a basic freedom we thought was afforded under our constitution. But our culture is beginning to turn its back on its rich legacy of protecting dissenting viewpoints. If Caesar insists that bakers must be made to bake cakes or else close up shop, we’re going to see to it that Caesar’s edicts get undermined by channeling resources designed to fight Caesar.

So, we will serve same-sex wedding services. We will do so unhappily and with a bothered conscience. But if we must do so with a bothered conscience, we reserve the right as a condition of the marketplace to bother others’ consciences as well. If we are coerced into baking for events we disagree with, we will return the favor and use the funds of those we disagree with to fund the organizations they disagree with. If you are unhappy with this new policy or it conflicts with your own convictions about marriage, we invite you to take your business elsewhere.

If you need proof-texts for that, let’s look further into Romans than 1:27, to 12:18 and 13:1.

Care to fault my exegesis on that?

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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Who vandalized the Old Testament?!

I read a very good devotional Monday on Wisdom of Solomon 5:15 – 6:3. I wanted to share it, together with an excerpt from this book of the Bible.

But I couldn’t find a hypertext English version online, and therein lies a tale.

The content of the Christian biblical canon is a fairly vexed topic, which is one reason why lurid fantasies like Dan Brown’s capture people’s attention. I was going to try give you a thumbnail Orthodox version, and try not to load it up with hyperlinks. But a version that was simultaneously truthful and concise eluded me. So here goes a pretty defective version.

When the New Testament was being written, there was no New Testament yet. (Gee! Thanks, Mr. Obvious!) New Testament references to Scripture generally are almost invariably to the Old Testament, the exception that come to mind being II Peter 3:15-16, where the Apostle Peter refers to unidentified writings of the Apostle Paul implicitly as “scriptures.”

One of the most notable New Testament scriptures that, in referring to “scripture,” refers to the Old Testament is that favorite sola scriptura prooftext, II Timothy 3:14-17. Read in the Protestant way, but in historic context, it teaches not that the Christian Bible is all you need to be “perfect,” but that the Old Testament is all you need.

But I digress. What was the Old Testament? That had not then been defined authoritatively. Why should it have been? In “New Testament times,” there had never come any point when Jews said “okay, scripture’s all done now; we’re just waiting for Messiah.”

Many Jews of the diaspora were Greek speakers first, Hebrew second if at all.  There was, consequently, in those “New Testament times,” a Greek translation and collection of Hebrew writings called the Septuagint. It included books that remain in Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bibles but are omitted from Protestant Bibles – one of which is Wisdom of Solomon, whence my difficulty finding an online hypertext version.

The New Testament repeatedly (340 times, by one source) quotes the Septuagint and much less often (33 times by that same source) quoted Hebrew texts. Here’s a table of the references, using the Roman Catholic numbering and divisions of books.

Centuries into the Christian era, the Jews formally closed their canon. They chose a 39-book “Masoretic” canon rather than the canon of Septuagint. There’s some Christian suspicion that they did so because some of the prophesies most clearly fulfilled by Christ are in books they omitted.

So why do more mainstream Protestants omit books with pointed Messianic prophesies? I honestly am having difficulty finding an argument that doesn’t sound like I’m setting up a straw man. I probably could do better with time, but the most sympathetic and credible account I’ve found is from the Orthodox Wiki:

The differences [of the Orthodox Old Testament canon] with the Protestant canon are based on the 16th century misunderstanding of Martin Luther. When he was translating the Old Testament into German, he mistakenly believed that the oldest source for the Old Testament would be in Hebrew, so he found and used the so-called Masoretic Text (MT), a 9th century Jewish canon compiled largely in reaction to Christian claims that the Old Testament Scriptures belonged to the Church.

I’m frankly making a judgment call here about the relative credibility of “scholars.” I discount sectarian internet cranks like Jim Searcy who, in claiming that Jesus and the New Testament writers never quoted the Septuagint, sound as if they could as well be arguing that Jesus never drank wine, or that “leaven” in the New Testament is always a bad thing. (Large red text on a turquoise background is a dead give-away, isn’t it?) They are not mainstream Protestants, but some kind of particularly deluded Fundamentalists.

I’m not likely to welcome comments from King James Only, New Testament Don’t Quote No Stinkin’ Septuagint types, but I’d welcome some Protestant accounts, especially those that aren’t circular (e.g, we reject from the canon those books that teach error and only retain those books that teach the truth, as we understand the truth, based on the correct Bible canon), to explain my tendentious question: Why do you prefer, to the Bible Jesus and the New Testament writers apparently used, a Hebrew canon that was not settled until centuries into the Christian era? Just because it’s in Hebrew?

Other Sources:

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Stay off the Roof

Rachel Held Evans committed the kind of painfully protracted performance art that happens when Evangelicalism has utterly lost its sense – of decorum and of how to read scripture – and its publishing houses have become a commercial racket:

Intrigued by the traditionalist resurgence that led many of her friends to abandon their careers to assume traditional gender roles in the home, Evans decides to try it for herself, vowing to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year. Pursuing a different virtue each month, Evans learns the hard way that her quest for biblical womanhood requires more than a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4).​
It means growing out her hair, making her own clothes, covering her head, obeying her husband, rising before dawn, abstaining from gossip, remaining silent in church, and even camping out in the front yard during her period.

Evans’ schtick incited Deborah Cruz at The Stir, reportedly secular herself, to indict her for making a mockery of the Bible:

Here’s my issue — isn’t it better to just be honest about your beliefs in the first place? I may not be living biblically, but I am living honestly. I’m not so sure the same can be said for Evans. She appears to be poking fun with her book, though she vehemently denies that she is. But you don’t make a spectacle, write a book, and make videos in a “poking fun” manner if you are taking a challenge seriously.

But Cruz, while right about Evans making a mockery of the Bible, may have inadvertently become a bedfellow (if that term isn’t too evocative) with Evans, says Strange Herring:

Interesting that that’s how the book is being read by some, although Cruz is making the same mistake Evans is. Which is to say, by trying to follow Old Testament precepts only to show them up as unrealistic in 2012, Evans has succeeded in proving absolutely nothing. Like the people who demand that Christians endorse “X” because we no longer stone adulterers or forbid the eating of shellfish — and those things are in the Bible! So it’s all relative!
As if the “New” in “New Testament” really meant “Same Old.”

If you have to “assume” roles — whether you believe them to be biblically based or culturally normative for a 21st century couple — you sure as hell aren’t being yousomething is being buried or ignored, and your marriage is doomed, I don’t care what you call it.

Say the Creed, say your prayers, go to work, feed your face, and try and actually enjoy your life together.
Flip the bird to the rest of it.
And stay off the roof.

Is Evans really crazy enough to think that her mocking (or is it merely “playful”?) treatment – of the Bible, of marriage, of sex roles – builds up marriage, which as a married, albeit “feminist” Christian, she presumably supports?

Maybe I should add Judaizing to my list of blows by the 98% to traditional marriage.

(For the record, I’d have seen none of these trendy young websites were I not following the Tweets of MZHemingway.)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

G.K. Chesterton on Biblicism

Catholic writer/blogger Mark Shea today delivered up this Chestertonian gem, in response to a question about the Dan Brown-ish sort of “lost gospels” nonsense, and how Evangelicals who get a lot of book larnin’ are apt to throw over the Bible, as has pop scholar Bart Ehrsman:

Every great heretic had always exhibit three remarkable characteristics in combination. First, he picked out some mystical idea from the Church’s bundle or balance of mystical ideas. Second, he used that one mystical idea against all the other mystical ideas. Third (and most singular), he seems generally to have had no notion that his own favourite mystical idea was a mystical idea, at least in the sense of a mysterious or dubious or dogmatic idea. With a queer uncanny innocence, he seems always to have taken this one thing for granted. He assumed it to be unassailable, even when he was using it to assail all sorts of similar things. The most popular and obvious example is the Bible. To an impartial pagan or sceptical observer, it must always seem the strangest story in the world; that men rushing in to wreck a temple, overturning the altar and driving out the priest, found there certain sacred volumes inscribed “Psalms” or “Gospels”; and (instead of throwing them on the fire with the rest) began to use them as infallible oracles rebuking all the other arrangements. If the sacred high altar was all wrong, why were the secondary sacred documents necessarily all right? If the priest had faked his Sacraments, why could he not have faked his Scriptures? Yet it was long before it even occurred to those who brandished this one piece of Church furniture to break up all the other Church furniture that anybody could be so profane as to examine this one fragment of furniture itself. People were quite surprised, and in some parts of the world are still surprised, that anybody should dare to do so.

This is one of many issues on which Catholic and Orthodox traditions (which were unified for the first millennium) are in substantial agreement. We would differ in emphasis if not in substance from Shea’s oversimplified version how the canon of Scripture came to be the canon (from which Protestant Bibles omit a number of books, by the way), but we agree on this:

  • The early Church had no canon other that the Old Testament, with lots of evidence that the Septuagint was favored.
  • The early Church had a vital Christianity before the first book of the New Testament had been written.
  • Gnosticism beset the Church early on, and many gnostic pseudo-Christian documents were written.
  • The Church rejected those writings in practice and eventually in precept.

I’m not foolish enough to try to top Chesterton’s colorful fable of how today’s “conservative Evangelicals” treat the Church which gave them the Bible they misuse to abuse the Church.

To be deep in history is to cease being Protestant.”

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Standing advice on enduring themes.