Conservative Theology

January 03, 2009

BrewBlogging / Online Hebrew Resources

JB

DailyHebrew has an awesome list of free online resources for Hebrew.

December 29, 2008

The Bible / The "Plain Sense" Meaning of Scripture

JB

Over at Ancient Hebrew Poetry there is a fascinating conversation going on about hermeneutics and the "plain sense" meaning of scripture.  The context is a post about complementarianism/egalitarianism, but I found the general conversation in the comments about the "plain sense" meaning to be much more interesting.

December 19, 2008

General / Proselytizing

JB

A friend of mine pointed to a great video about proselytizing.  The short form of it is that if you believe that salvation is in Jesus, and you don't proselytize, how much must you hate someone?

I have problems proselytizing.  In fact, most of the big issues that I care most deeply about I don't wind up following through with (faith in Christ and abortion to be two big ones).  I'm not quite sure why that is.  The way I justify it to myself (rightly or wrongly) is that the problems are usually bigger than a short-and-quick interaction will be able to solve, and that the surface solutions to those problems (i.e. proselytizing and political campaigning or picketing) aren't necessarily long-term solutions to the problem.  Especially in the case of proselytizing, since ours is a culture that knows about Jesus already, I'm always unsure whether my particular contribution in the form of proselytizing will be helpful rather than hurtful.

So, with regards to the big issues, I often feel, well, stuck.  Everybody knows what Christianity is, and everyone knows the arguments against abortion.  And yet, the world (at least the US) seems to be going a different direction.  With proselytizing, I feel like I'll just be one more added to the "crazies" category as a reason for people not to be a Christian. 

The way I've handled it to this point is to simply be a Christian and try to follow Jesus, and not hesitate to make Christ the center of my decision-making (this doesn't always happen, but indeed it is a goal), and so hopefully Christ will speak through me to people for whom actually talking might be less than helpful.  In addition, it is my hope that with this blog (among other things) I might help bring the Church back to its foundations, so that we can all live as a public witness to this world again.

Should I be proselytizing?  Probably.  But I just feel stuck.

December 16, 2008

General / Theology Around the Web

JB

A Few interesting conversations going on:

Emergent Village argues against Sola Scriptura

Here is an excellent post on the argument between the "faith of Christ" vs. "faith in Christ" question.  The argument is that πιστεως χριστου is a larger, more-encompassing term than either of those translations.  Instead, "the Christ Faith" should be preferred (perhaps, to use a slight anachronism, "Christianity" is a proper translation).

Art has led me into covetousness.

Here is an interesting interview with an Evolutionary Creationist.  As is often the case, I just didn't the feeling that he "got" what either Intelligent Design or Creationism were all about.  In the first case, he criticized Intelligent Design for not having a theory of origins.  Of course, the reason for that is because Intelligent Design is a theory of causation, not origins!  He then criticized Creationism, but failed to engage in its cornerstone - flood geology and its relationship to Genesis 6-9.  Now, the real interesting thing is that Young-Earth Creationism was actually one of the things which caused him to be saved!  As I said, it's a very interesting interview, well worth your time. 

Here is a very interesting review of the Creation Museum.  Based on who it is who is reviewing the museum, I'll count it as extremely positive.  I ran across this when it first came out, but then never could find it again.  Basically, the reviewer was expecting to find the Creation Museum to be put together by people who didn't know science.  He found out that he was wrong - they knew the science better than he did, and their explanations of their reasoning was based on modern postmodern philosophy.  He didn't convert or anything, but you can see how, despite his extreme annoyance with YEC, the beginnings of some respect start to show through.

This looks like a great conference, but its on the wrong side of the pond.

How someone's life was torn apart because of a $100 donation.

Ancient Hebrew Poetry has a whole slew of interesting posts on translation issues.  I accidentally linked that back-to-front, so start reading with the last link and work backwards :)

Also a great post about the Judeo-Christian historical metanarrative.

 

December 09, 2008

The Bible / Modern Pharisees

JB

Wade Hodges made an interesting post about the righteousness of the Pharisees, but I think he has it exactly backwards.

I'll have to disagree here, because  Jesus was explicit about the Pharisees' problem.  At various time, Jesus offered these criticisms of the Pharisees:

  1. They followed man's commands/traditions instead of God's commands, using their own traditions to trump God's commands.  See especially Matthew 15.
  2. They made rules for others that they themselves broke (23:2ff)
  3. They held the outward appearance of righteousness but lacked the heart (Matthew 15:19-20)
  4. They misrepresented what the primary concerns were from the secondary concerns, emphasizing the secondary but ignoring the primary (Matthew 23:23)

Jesus's criticism of the Pharisees was absolutely NOT that they were too focused on scripture, it was that they weren't focused enough, and instead were too focused on themselves.  They used scripture as an excuse for doing/believing what they wanted to do, instead of listening carefully to what scripture was saying.

The discussion about "We keep it simple, we follow the Bible" was almost nonsensical.  It's a matter of epistemological priority - how would we know what Jesus said to follow Him if we didn't follow the Bible?  In fact, I have seen it happen that many try to put words and meanings into Jesus' mouth which clearly are not Biblical.  I think this is a better representation of a modern Pharisee - someone who uses Jesus as leverage to get what they want, self-justify their attitudes/actions, feel good about themselves, and live righteously according to their own self-determined standard of righteousness, rather than submitting to scripture and what scripture says about Jesus and the community of faith. 

This happens from both liberal and conservative ends - conservatives can hold too tightly to traditions which have arisen (which may have even made sense at the time) but which are non-Biblical, and elevated those traditions above scripture's commands.  Liberals tend to take their own sense of morality (whatever it is), then make a general feel-good argument about the kind of things Jesus would do (without actually studying the scriptures to see if this is true), and then claim Jesus' authority for their own beliefs and actions.

I think these are the modern  representatives of the Pharisees - those who favor human tradition and knowledge above God's revelation.

I actually think that this post of Wade's is a bit Pharisaical itself - he could have easily spent the time to study what it is that Jesus did or said about the Pharisees, and then followed Jesus, but instead decided to use Jesus as a means of attacking people and ideas that he himself finds disagreeable.

December 04, 2008

General / The Emergence of Evangelicalism from Fundamentalism

JB

I have just submitted a paper for my Christianity in the United States class on the emergence of two groups from early 20th century fundamentalism, which I classify as the Evangelical Middle and the Evangelical Right.  I give a short review of their historical and intellectual developments.  I have also added an addendum for my friends and blog readers in which I give the reasons why I consider myself part of the Evangelical Right and not the Evangelical Middle.

The paper is in PDF format - download it here.  Let me know if you have problems downloading it.  If I get time, I might post some summaries of different parts of the paper.

November 30, 2008

Religion and Politics / The Methodist Church and Abortion

JB

Another reason I'm glad I left the United Methodist Church.  Apparently now they support abortion.

November 30, 2008

Religion and Science / The Myth of Religious Neutrality

JB

Metanexus has posted an excerpt from Clouser's excellent book, The Myth of Religious Neutrality.  The excerpt includes Clouser's novel view of what constitutes religion.  Clouser defines religion as the belief of something which is not dependent on anything else.  Therefore, since the materialists believe that matter and the laws of nature are not dependent on anything else, by Clouser this would be fall under the category of a religious belief.  Similarly, the gods of the Roman Empire would not be considered a religious belief because the gods (at least most of them) were dependent on something else for their existence.

November 28, 2008

BrewBlogging / Visual Body-based Vocabulary Help

JB

Adam Couturier had the following vocabulary-help image on his blog:

http://parkersmood.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/hebrew-human-anatomy-with-dual-forms-1.jpg

November 27, 2008

Religion and Politics / Christianity and Conservatism, Pt 4

The Moral Hazard of Regulation

JB

For this entry in our series, I am simply going to quote Ron Paul (all emphasis is mine):

Since the bailout bill passed, I have been frequently disturbed to hear “experts” wrongly blaming the free market for our recent economic problems and calling for more regulation.  In fact, further regulation can only make things worse.

It is important to understand that regulators are not omniscient.  It is not feasible for them to anticipate every possible thing that could go wrong with whatever industry or activity they are regulating.  They are making their best guesses when formulating rules.  It is often difficult for those being regulated to understand the many complex rules they are expected to follow.  Very wealthy corporations hire attorneys who may discover a myriad of loopholes to exploit and render the spirit of the regulations null and void.  For this reason, heavy regulation favors big business against those small businesses who cannot afford high-priced attorneys.

The other problem is the trust that people blindly put in regulations, and the moral hazard this creates.  Too many people trust government regulators so completely that they abdicate their own common sense to these government bureaucrats.  They trust that if something violates no law, it must be safe.  How many scams have “It’s perfectly legal” as a hypnotic selling point, luring in the gullible?  Many people did not understand the financial house of cards that are derivatives, but since they were legal and promised a great return, people invested.   It is much the same in any area rife with government involvement.  Many feel that just because their children are getting good grades at a government school, they are getting a good education.  After all, they are passing the government-mandated litmus test.  But, this does not guarantee educational excellence.  Neither is it always the case that a child who does NOT achieve good marks in school is going to be unsuccessful in life.  Is your drinking water safe, just because the government says it is?  Is the internet going to magically become safer for your children if the government approves regulations on it?  I would caution any parent against believing this would be the case.  Nothing should take the place of your own common sense and due diligence.

These principles explain why the free market works so much better than a centrally planned economy.  With central planning, everything shifts from one’s own judgment about safety, wisdom and relative benefits of a behavior, to the discretion of government bureaucrats.  The question then becomes “what can I get away with,” and there will always be advantages for those who can afford lawyers to find the loopholes.  The result then is that bad behavior, that would quickly fail under the free market, is propped up, protected and perpetuated, and sometimes good behavior is actually discouraged.

Regulation can actually benefit big business and corporate greed, while simultaneously killing small businesses that are the backbone of our now faltering economy.  This is why I get so upset every time someone claims regulation can resolve the crisis that we are in.  Rather, it will only exacerbate it.

Key points:

  1. Regulators are not omniscient.  They do not have the power to see either the large-scale outcomes of their regulations, nor the ways in which someone might find a loophole.  And attorneys get paid more than regulators.
  2. Regulation favors big business over small ones (and I would add existing businesses over new ones).  Big businesses have the manpower to work through endless regulations, and can hire the attorneys to find the loopholes.  Thus, you get big businesses who can skirt the law, and small businesses who are no longer able to compete.  The big businesses can look very magnanimous by proposing additional regulation, but that can just be a cover to keep their power.
  3. Regulation encourages average people to put their trust in the regulation, assuming that the regulators have controlled for everything they need.  This creates a moral hazard, because it means that consumers no longer exercise proper judgment, assuming that the regulators have done adequate planning.  The judgment shifts from the individual's judgment to the beaurocrats.  I think we've had enough experience with beaurocrats to know that such a move is unwise.
  4. Regulation, by creating a confining space, shifts the question from "how should I solve this problem" to "what can I get away with".  The market can react quickly to bad behavior, but beaurocracies react slowly to changing conditions.  Therefore, regulation can actually prop up bad behavior, and discourage good behavior.

This doesn't mean that all regulation is bad.  But it does mean that an economy which is governed more by regulation than by free market principles will likely be more morally hazardous than the reverse, and tend to have more systematic injustice than the reverse.

People tend to think that any regulation will make the situation better, but in fact it is really easy for regulation to harm a situation.  It easily leads to morally hazardous situations which favor the big guy over the small guy, even when the subject of regulation is the big guy.