George Berkeley, Aaron Weiss, and Thomas Aquinas

One of my favorite songs is by mewithoutYou.

It’s part of a concept album about a train wreck from which several animals escaped. This particular song is about the Elephant, who in a previous song, you discover, caused the crash so her friends could escape. The song has several layers of intertextuality. For instance, the title is reminiscent of “God in the Dock” by C.S. Lewis and the Elephant is a sort of savior figure in the song. In real life, in the 1910s, an Elephant was hanged in Erwin Tennessee. And the chaplain has a brief line during his prayer/address to the people wherein he notes his Berkleyianism.

In court, the Elephant meets the chaplain:

Good of our chaplain to sail Kalispell Bay
And now down on his marrow for this old fool to pray,
“Lord, for sixty-so years I’ve surrendered my love,
to emblems of kindness, and not the kindness they were emblems of,
Trammels and rings, with the strength of old strings,
and some hobble skirt spring, by the old problem caught,
Children, sometimes I think all our thoughts are just things,
and then sometimes think things are just thoughts.”

George Berkley (1685-1753) was an apparently brilliant man who contributed to philosophy, mathematics, optics, and theology. He was an empiricist and a Christian apologist who largely wrote about the possibility of knowledge in the world and what it means to perceive things. I am vastly oversimplifying his ideas here, but he also wrote an influential refutation of the Calculus of Leibniz and Newton that included a philosophical justification for how the Calculus still got correct answers. If I know the history correctly, his critiques lead to a more rigorous definition of the Calculus concepts based upon the limit (Morris Kline, Mathematics in Wester Culture, 246-248). More famously though, Berkeley denied the existence of the physical world. To him, everything was just thought. This seems so absurd to me, that I feel safe denying it without a second thought. 

But, sometimes when I’m cleaning or building stuff in my garage, or organizing everything so that my hell semester coming up won’t kill me I give things second thoughts.

A friend of mine, who is a Thomist philosopher, was talking to me about the seeming opaqueness of the phrase, “God created matter.” He said, “What does that mean or entail?” He said, “If the arguments for God’s existence are true, then God is spirit or God is mind. For creation to be contained in God seems similar to saying that a thought is contained in a mind.” I thought, wow, that’s interesting. Then I thought more about it yesterday while my wife and I were running around town getting things situated and consolidated for easier bill paying yesterday. It hit me that Berkeley, though he’s probably wrong, isn’t crazy for this proposal. On several levels and with the presuppositions common in his day, the conclusion makes sense. And, on a certain level, it is a possible conclusion if you accept Aristotle and Aquinas’ theory of causality…which I do.

So, if you ever think thoughts are just things and then sometimes think things are just thoughts…you’re not crazy. Your just Berkeleyian.

Also, listen to that whole mewithoutYou album. If you’re disappointed then there’s nothing I can do about that.

Biblical Studies and the Question of Truth

One of the questions I’ve always had is this: How does what the Bible teaches relate to the world outside of the text? Obviously, two true descriptions on one topic much coincide in some way. But if the Bible is unclear on a topic, can a field of inquiry into the same topic bring clarity to the topic, and thus to the Biblical text?

This question has an obvious answer to many people. The problem is that it is treated precisely as obvious.

If I’m not being clear about this, for the sake of argument, let us assume that A) Jesus really was raised and B) therefore the canon (Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox will do) is, in some way, true.

So, if the canon is true and I am investigating Paul’s conversion experience or the descriptions of conversions in Acts I would do this:

  1. Check carefully what the text says in various places.
  2. Ensure that I am understanding the genre correctly (is it generally reliable historical reportage, helpful fables, an extended allegory, etc?)
  3. Carefully weigh that against what other ancient texts say (Old Testament, Gospels, Inter-testamental, Greco-Roman, later Christian works, etc) and see if those shed any useful light on the events reported in Acts.

At this point, I at least have a description of what Luke thought it meant to convert to Christianity and perhaps an ancient perspective on what it meant, in general, to change from one religion to another. But, here’s the thing, have I found: A) what it always means to convert to Christ and B) could a modern sociological perspective on how conversion works be used to shed more light on what happens in Luke’s text and thus what actually happened that Luke is reporting?

Then from these questions about understanding conversion in Luke and then, for a Christian, in the world, how does this become prescriptive? My thought it that, because of Luke’s genre, it is only prescriptive in the broad sense of showing the virtues of the early Christian movement. Thus, it is not meant to necessarily communicate what to do, so much as to report the generally virtuous and successful lives of those who did. To find what to do, the Christian need look no further than the Epistles, the Gospels, and especially in the ancient church, the local leadership. This issue at hand though is: In what sense is the Bible true here. Is it true in the sense that any relevant study of the same topic on which the Bible speaks can give us insight into that topic and thus into the text? If the Bible talks about conversion and modern scientists talk about conversion should I piece both together? On a side note, many sociologists aren’t scientists. For evidence read their books.

Another more obvious example is the evolution/age of the earth debate. Full disclosure, I find the debate in its present form so logically simple to solve and so obviously rhetorically misguided that I’m literally confused and have been since my teenage years about why it continues. I’m merely using this as an example:

  1. You study Genesis and come up with what it apparently teaches about God, ancient Israel, and the relationship between God, humanity, and the realms of earth.
  2. You read ancient literature that gives inflated time periods for ancient dynasties and think that perhaps the Biblical text is using a similar device, but the genealogies in Genesis aren’t about dynasties so you decide on a mathematical reading of the numbers. 
  3. You read the relevant science on the age of the earth and realize that your literal reading of the genealogies is contrary to the time line of the earth’s age. 
  4. Now the question is: was the Bible meant to teach the age of the earth? If so, then this scientific data points to the more accurate reading of Scripture (the ages are a literary conceit). But if it was inspired precisely to teach something else (and the ages are just part of the story whose point, not necessarily details are true) and the mathematical reading of those texts is correct, then the Bible, in a certain sense, is wrong about the timeline created. But, it could be that it is only wrong in the trivial sense that parables are “wrong” for not happening.

This problem comes up again with certain questions of self-regulation in the Christian life. The Bible gives us a great deal information about what Jesus taught and what his closest friends and associates thought that meant for the church. This is revealed data about the priorities of the moral life. So, if the Bible, in some places, is about the moral life and Stoic texts are about the moral life how do they relate?

  1. Some New Testament scholars see stoic influence all over Paul’s letters (Engberg-Petersen). In this sense, studying ancient stoicism helps us see what Paul means because they shared the same conceptual frame.
  2. But, supposing Paul did not utilize their framework, they still both wrote about what it means to lead a moral life. In this sense, if a stoic insight is clearly true and the Christian finds it to not contradict Paul’s teachings, shouldn’t he begin to practice it? And again, could it, because it is true data about a topic on which Scripture teaches, offer insight into what Scripture means?
  3. The same goes for the transcendentals. Those are categories independent of Scripture. But they seem like broad enough categories that A) Scripture could give insight into what they ultimately mean and B) they could give a framework for understanding parts of Scripture.

A non-Biblical example might be asking whether or not modern studies in physics can give us insight into the text of Aristotle’s Physics. I think modern physics and Aristotle’s Physics both give us insight into nature (though Aristotle is wrong so often). But I’m not sure that reading his physics does much for our grasp of gravity, though it might tell us how cause and effect, as principles, exist in a physical system. Thus, it seems that modern physics won’t help us understand Aristotle’s text. But, Aristotle doesn’t claim inspiration. Thus, in that respect, the reader isn’t obligated to find the truth, in some sense, in Aristotle. Modern cognitive psychology though, could give us insight into what Aristotle was getting at in his Ethics. Both fields are about habits and maybe, for somebody without Aristotle’s keen grasp of human nature, reading a few recent studies on habits could give insight into this or that aspect of Aristotle’s work on habits that remained difficult even after attempts at exegeting the text.



There isn’t much of a conclusion here. I have a position on this topic but I don’t care to express it until I find a more satisfactory way of stating it. I’m bringing this up because several books I’ve read have touched on it: Who were the Israelites and Where did they Come From by William Dever, The Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas, Scholastic Metaphysics by Edward Feser,  Foundations of Soul Care by Eric Johnson, On Christian Doctrine by St. Augustine and The Deliverance of God by Douglas Campbell. All of these authors, in one way or another, deal with whether or not the Bible corresponds with reality. The questions in Biblical studies, at least for the Christian are,

  1. What did the text mean when it was written and is that true in a significant way for the church today?
  2. Should data from outside of my direct field of inquiry assist me in determining the meaning of the text?
  3. If so, how? For Catholics this might be easy. The Bible could completely contradict your system and you could just claim, “Doctrinal development led us beyond the text.” Doesn’t make the claim right, but the psychological difficulty would be dealt with.


Romans, Debt, and Obligation

A feature of Paul’s letter to the Romans that I’ve never noticed being explored in depth is the concept of obligation or indebtedness. I am interested in this topic because there is a great deal of hand wringing in modern Christian thought about the notion of debt or obligation to God.

John Piper, for instance, thinks that the language of obligation in the context of the Christian life and worship is akin to telling your wife that you bought her flowers out of obligation (Desiring God, 97-98). Piper even calls obligation the “mortal enemy” of worship. Similarly, Greg Boyd (Piper’s opposite), in his book Seeing is Believing seems to say something similar, “striving to be holy, loving, kind or patient means nothing if these attributes are sought as ethical ideals, or to fulfill a rule, or to meet an obligation (Seeing is Believing, 53).” These attitudes toward obligation are psychologically confusing to normal people who don’t have doctoral degrees to help them keep silly things straight. When Jesus says, “train them to do everything which I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19),” we rightly feel obligated to do what he says and to tell others of the obligations Jesus lays on them.

My sense is that both of these thinkers are trying to claim that there is an ideal to be met. The ideal is having a relationship with God wherein our emotions/passions and automatic habits line up with the commands in Scripture. I agree with that this is the ideal. But in the Bible, the ideal is not the litmus test for true spirituality. In Scripture, there is tremendous dignity ascribed to those who do the hard thing that they do not want to do (see all of Proverbs).

In fact, there is no contradiction between doing your duty always and sometimes finding it to be a delight and even spontaneously discharging that duty out of pleasure. Incidentally and contra Piper’s point, Paul sees sexual encounters between husband and wife as an obligation in (1 Corinthians 7:3), but I doubt that the obligation does not carry pleasure with it. I hope that what follows gives a picture of the nature of duty/debt/obligation in Paul’s thought. In so doing, I hope that it clarifies some of the confusion that might even make people feel guilty about following Jesus out of duty or obligation.

Thesis: Obligation and duty are central features of the Paul’s picture of being a disciple of Jesus in his letter to the Romans.

Probatio and Exposition
Paul utilizes the word ὀφειλέτης in several passages:

(Rom 1:14-15 BGT) Ἕλλησίν τε καὶ βαρβάροις, σοφοῖς τε καὶ ἀνοήτοις ὀφειλέτης εἰμί, οὕτως τὸ κατ᾽ ἐμὲ πρόθυμον καὶ ὑμῖν τοῖς ἐν Ῥώμῃ εὐαγγελίσασθαι.

I am a debtor to the Greeks and to the Barbarians, to the wise and to the ignorant, thus I am willing also to proclaim the gospel message to you who are in Rome.

Here Paul seems to be noting that his wish to share the gospel in Rome and (as we’ll find later) to receive assistance from the Roman Christians for a trip to Spain (15:26-30) is based on a sincere sense of obligation, not on a desire for money or public acclaim. Paul sees himself as obligated to those who do not know the gospel. Obligations carry negative connotations these days, but in reality obligation is a positive concept and in the ancient world it was certainly seen that way. The obligation Paul sees laid upon his person is such that he is able to show tremendous love and care toward people of a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and to introduce them into the Jesus movement and thus to the God of Israel.

(Rom 4:4-5 BGT) τῷ δὲ ἐργαζομένῳ ὁ μισθὸς οὐ λογίζεται κατὰ χάριν ἀλλὰ κατὰ ὀφείλημα, τῷ δὲ μὴ ἐργαζομένῳ πιστεύοντι δὲ ἐπὶ τὸν δικαιοῦντα τὸν ἀσεβῆ λογίζεται ἡ πίστις αὐτοῦ εἰς δικαιοσύνην·

To the one who works, the reward is not accounted according to principles of grace, but according to principles of obligation, on the contrary, to the one who does not work, but places his trust in He Who Justifies the Impious, his faith is accounted toward righteousness [or “his faith is accounted/credited for the purpose of righteousness” which would carry the meaning in English “his faith is counted as good as righteousness”].

Here Paul uses obligation in a strictly financial sense to bring a notion of ancient patronage that all auditors would know and understand into his discussion about justification. The idea is that an ancient patron could pay you justly for work or in order to boost his own honor, provide a grace/gift with no expectation (or possibility) of remuneration. The correct response to this gift would be to show loyalty or trust toward the giver (See David DeSilva, Honor Patronage Kinship, and Purity (IVP, 2000), 121-156). In this case, the gift is the death and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 4:24-45) and the show of loyalty is faith and entering into this patron-client relationship with He Who Justifies the Impious leads to justification/righteousness. As Robert Jewett notes: “faith was the response of converts to the message that Christ died for the impious, and it led to their joining small communities of faith in which righteousness became a social reality as the dishonored were restored to honor, that is, to “righteousness.”*

(Rom 8:12-13 BGT)  Ἄρα οὖν, ἀδελφοί, ὀφειλέται ἐσμὲν οὐ τῇ σαρκὶ τοῦ κατὰ σάρκα ζῆν, εἰ γὰρ κατὰ σάρκα ζῆτε, μέλλετε ἀποθνῄσκειν· εἰ δὲ πνεύματι τὰς πράξεις τοῦ σώματος θανατοῦτε, ζήσεσθε.

Therefore now, brothers and sisters, we are obligated, not to the flesh in order to live according to the flesh, for if you live according to the flesh you will die; if, by means of the Spirit, you put to death the practices of the body, you will live.

What seems to be going on here is that the Christian has an obligation to fulfill as a debtor, but not as a debtor to the flesh (because though Jesus came in the likeness of sinful flesh and was raised bodily (Romans 1:1-5, 4:24-25, 5:1-11, 6:1-4 8:1-11), it was the Spirit of God who raised him (Romans 8:11). Thus, though the body is important, not everything we do in it is good. There is sin in our members (Romans 7:5), but we are not obligated to that way of life. In fact, if we paid off our debt to the flesh, it would be like nothing other than working as a servant of Sin, who pays his workers with death (Romans 6:23)**

(Rom 13:7-8 BGT) ἀπόδοτε πᾶσιν τὰς ὀφειλάς, τῷ τὸν φόρον τὸν φόρον, τῷ τὸ τέλος τὸ τέλος, τῷ τὸν φόβον τὸν φόβον, τῷ τὴν τιμὴν τὴν τιμήν. Μηδενὶ μηδὲν ὀφείλετε εἰ μὴ τὸ ἀλλήλους ἀγαπᾶν· ὁ γὰρ ἀγαπῶν τὸν ἕτερον νόμον πεπλήρωκεν.

Give to all what is obligatory: to whom you owe tribute tax, give tribute tax; to whom you owe customs tax, give customs tax; to whom you owe reverence, give reverence; to whom you owe honor, give honor. In no way be obligated to anybody except to love one another. For the one who loves the other fulfills the Law.

Here Paul’s point is that being mindful of the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5-8) is not pie-in-the-sky-ism. It is rather a very practical way of life that involves making way for the gospel to influence all peoples in all nations. In this respect, the Christian is to live in appropriate relationships with the legal customs of the surrounding world precisely so that there is freedom to love the other, namely the Christian who is not yourself (note that the main idea is to love one another, elsewhere Paul clearly expresses A) his debt to all men and B) that Christian love extends beyond the in-group.

(Rom 15:1 BGT) Ὀφείλομεν δὲ ἡμεῖς οἱ δυνατοὶ τὰ ἀσθενήματα τῶν ἀδυνάτων βαστάζειν καὶ μὴ ἑαυτοῖς ἀρέσκειν.

But, we who are capable, are ourselves obligated to bear the weaknesses of the incapable and to not please ourselves.

Here the main point seems to be to the effect that Christian of serious scruples about dietary laws and Old Testament customs should be showed dignity by Christians who are capable of not participating in those customs. In this case, Christians who have an advantageous perspective should show due deference to their brethren of weaker conscience. This principle is based partly on the honor accorded to all for whom Christ died (Romans 14:6) and partly upon the example of Jesus in bringing Gentiles into God’s people in the first place (Romans 15:7-9).

This might also be explanatory for Paul’s reminder to non-Jewish Christians that they should not, in arrogance think ill of Jewish folk because in their arrogance they may abandon the gospel (Romans 11:15-23). Thus, within the church, Christians are to regard each other (when disagreements about Christian ceremony come up) with humility and respect, treating one another as people with burdens to bear. Paul expects this, I think, of everybody. The rhetorical move may very well be to get any Christian to think of themselves as a capable person and thus to bear his own load and that of his brethren so that everybody might be built up and that there might be peace (Romans 14:19 and Galatians 6:2-5).

(Rom 15:27 BGT) εὐδόκησαν γὰρ καὶ ὀφειλέται εἰσὶν αὐτῶν· εἰ γὰρ τοῖς πνευματικοῖς αὐτῶν ἐκοινώνησαν τὰ ἔθνη, ὀφείλουσιν καὶ ἐν τοῖς σαρκικοῖς λειτουργῆσαι αὐτοῖς.

For they were pleased to do this and they were debtors to them. For if they shared their spiritual blessings with the nations, they are debtors with respect to material things to those who thus served them.

Here Paul’s point, that I said I would get to earlier, is that the other gentile churches were pleased to offer financial aid to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. The idea here is that the gentile Christians not only served the poor out of obedience to Jesus (which would make sense to do), but in this case, served the poor Jewish Christians out of a sense of reciprocity. The Israelite nation had given them the gospel of Christ, therefore, it was fitting for the gentiles to offer material assistance during the famine.

The overall picture is that Christians should see themselves as being to other Christians, debtors (in imitation of Paul) to outsiders who need the gospel, and as non-debtors to the flesh. Paul also uses the term “placed in service” in Romans 6:22 to refer to the relationship a believer has to God. Certainly there is an element of joy in that in Paul’s mind, but there is also an element of obligation to God. This is naturally due to God’s nature as well as due to God’s revelation to us in Christ. It appears that being obligated toward God and others is not only a part of Paul’s conceptual world, but it is an important part that is exactly part of the process of learning to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). It is also important to note that Jesus thought that the notion of having a servant-self-image was part of the process of becoming great in God’s kingdom (Mark 10:45). Thus, it’s okay to do Christian things out of a sense of obligation. Not only that, but it might even be freeing at times because you don’t have to be in control of your feelings to know whether or not your doing the Christian life the right way.

*Robert Jewett and Roy David Kotansky, Romans: A Commentary, ed. Eldon Jay Epp, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006), 315.

**I still don’t know why people interpret Romans 6:23 to mean that the penalty for sin is death when the passage seems to be indicating that Sin, when you treat it like a master and live for its purposes destroys you rather than gives you the life it promises. Romans 1:18-32 does note that death is a punishment for sinning or at least it is potentially the just-dessert of sinning. But Romans 6:23 just doesn’t say what it is often portrayed as saying. I think the common interpretation is based solely on the simplification it offers for gospel tracts.

Dave’s Top 20 Books on the New Testament

If you want to read the whole list, find it here.

I just wanted to comment on his list because part of blogging is forcing yourself to write and part putting your thoughts upon the internet so that other people can ignore them.

Ephesians by Markus Barth. Barth was an outstanding lecturer in Basel. He was even a greater writer. Just read what he has to say about marriage in Ephesians 5 and see if you don’t agree.

The Subversive Kingdom by Jacque Ellul. We manifest true kingdom living when we experience the perfect love of God toward us and then manifest that love toward others. If you share this vision of the kingdom, will you join me in praying for the church in North America that God will awaken us to the political delusion that has descended upon us?

Christian Anarchy by Vernard Eller. I’ve summarize this outstanding work in my book Christian Archy.

These three don’t surprise me at all.


Greek Words with Hebrew Meanings by David Hill. A follow-up to Barr’s tome on semantics. It completely changed the way I viewed New Testament lexicography.

I hadn’t even heard of this. It looks good but these days it’s a bit pricey.

The Synoptic Problem by William Farmer. Bill and I shared similar views about the historical origins of the Gospels. His was the first book to get me to rethink Markan Priority.

I read this after reading Black’s book Why Four Gospels.  It’s pretty good. I’m not sure if its convincing. Part of me wants to just say, “The external evidence all favors Matthew’s gospel being first. Let’s just go with that.” Another part of me says, “It’s really hard to know for sure and so many assumptions utilized in examining the synoptic problem are themselves open to debate or accepted for no reason whatever. Why bother?”

Church Dogmatics by Karl Barth. I read all of these volumes, in German, when I was studying in Switzerland. Barth’s theology may be off in places, but his exegesis of specific New Testament texts is often impeccable.

Dr. Black told me this in person when we talked about learning German. I’ve been reading it in English lately. I’ve got a ways to go.

The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. This book plays “the Devil’s advocate” as none other. We all have “distractions” that would keep us from following Jesus wholeheartedly. The problem is that we are usually unaware of them. This book will help us.

At first, this book shocked me. But then I realized that any book about the Christian life is thus about the New Testament. So, yeah, this makes sense.
Here’s my list of 5 books on the New Testament that have most influenced me:

  1. The New Testament and the People of God by N.T. Wright. This book is very important for any newcomer to studying the New Testament precisely because it gives a big picture view that includes a forward view to applying the text of the New Testament to the lives of believers. 
  2. Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity by David Wenham. This book really goes far in showing the connections between Paul’s letters and the traditions of the gospels. I have found it to be immensely helpful.
  3. Redating the New Testament by John A.T. Robinson. I don’t know that I can agree all of his conclusions, but in general Robinson is a model of sleuthing the assumptions that held the day in New Testament scholarship in his day. He even references Sherlock Holmes in the first few pages.
  4. On Christian Doctrine by Saint Augustine. The beauty of this is found early on when he notes that the main point of interpreting Scripture is so that the truth about God leads people on to love God and their neighbor. Then he goes into the technicalities of Biblical interpretation.
  5. Honor, Patronage, Kinship, and Purity by David DeSilva. He shows what ancient culture was like and how the Bible fits into it. What more could you want?

Runner up: The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight. The content of the four gospels is essentially what the apostles would have identified as the gospel message. The gospel isn’t just the atonement, it isn’t a trip from guilt to forgiveness, it isn’t a call to transform culture, etc. Good stuff.

On Keeping up with the Joneses

So, I’ve always wanted a garage and due to some Deus Ex Machina in the history of my life, a local microbiologist with whom I am acquainted found work doing coral reef research in a far away land. So, my wife and I were offered the house for rent at a ridiculously low fee, probably lower than anything even remotely this size in town. In fact, apartment prices have been driven up very high since we moved out of the rather modestly sized apartment. If we were to get the next size down from our old apartment, it would be $100 dollars more than our previous place. This might sound cheap to some, but with local economics in mind, it’s exorbitant. I wonder if the oil field has driven up rental prices? Anyhow, back to the post. We live in the house and it has a garage (it also came with my friend’s children’s dog because it couldn’t go with them). The sad thing about this is that it was filled with a great deal of his things. He told me I could use all of it, and that with the exception of a select few items that, if upon inspection something turned out to be worthless, it could be throw away (they had to move suddenly).

But, my garage has been a mess for quite some time. I’ve always wanted a garage (I lift weights, enjoy hitting a punching bag, I enjoy building stuff, I like having a place to sit in the shade outside when it’s too hot, etc).

But, one of my dear friends has a garage. He cleaned it up, turned it into a place to roast gourmet coffee, he has his weight equipment inside, it’s organized, not covered in dust or filth, in short it is a model garage. As I looked at it, I thought to myself, “Geoff, why aren’t you enjoying your garage? You always wished for a garage. Your wish came true. You have one of the top seven things you’ve ever wanted. You should fix it up.” So, I mostly did. Some of it is beyond my skill to repair. The foundation is literally broken and spreading apart. That’s actually where all the dust comes from as the concrete atomizes it creates a nice film of nightmare death powder for asthmatics.

Now I have a space to do dead lift, room to move around my heavy bag and dodge the uneven ground to practice foot work or pain tolerance for stubbed toes. I have the main light switch accessible and I found another light switch (ha!). I built a stand so my wife can do dead lift because the 25 pound plates have a radius that is too small for comfortable warming up. I swept out most of the concrete detritus, I moved a giant work bench to a more useable location, I got a stool for said work bench, put in a fan, and have organizes many of the tools.

So, I’ve been keeping up with the Joneses because they reminded me to keep up with my own goals. There is certainly a healthy place for feeling ashamed of yourself in life. This was one of those times. Paul even notes that “shame/grief according to God (2 Corinthians 7:9-11)” is a kind of grief that leads to positive change. Grief for public show or as a paralyzing feature may range from being a serious moral flaw to a psychological problem for which you should seek help. But if feeling bad leads you to make a change for the better, it’s probably a good thing. Fixing my garage wasn’t a monumental life change, but it was important for the schedule my wife and I will be keeping next school year. I’ll be taking 14 hours of engineering courses and more in the spring while teaching five classes M-W-F. We’ll need to train in the garage rather than the gym. I’ll also need to find things to do besides books. The garage will be the perfect place.

Brief Moralistic Appendix:

Don’t keep up with the Jonses if it has no benefit to you. Just admit to yourself and others that you don’t care what they have. I was literally internally ashamed of my laziness with regards to a pretty major advantage I have (a garage). Don’t buy a boat because Tom Jones has one. That’s stupid.

Weird Glitch

I was typing an article in wordpress, which is usually a mistake, but I figured that I had quite a bit of battery life on my laptop. I had saved the draft several times and watched it autosave several times as well. Suddenly, with about 80% power, my laptop just shut off. The batter entirely discharged instantly and it won’t turn on even when plugged in. Thankfully I just built a desktop. I bought the parts for the desktop and a new smaller laptop because I’m about to go back to school and needed a more powerful pc and a less heavy and less worn out laptop. The weird thing is that on my desktop the draft for wordpress is not available. It’s like my browser was just going through the motions without actually sending any data to the wordpress servers. So the whole post is gone unless by some form of magic it is still in the ram on my apparently defunct laptop that I really hope is still under warranty.


I don’t know why the laptop battery discharged, but it did. I also don’t know why it suddenly turned back on when I came back into my study after a brief errand. I do know that when WordPress initially loaded it just told me that the link was broken. Then when I hit back, then forward, the page came back with my entire post. So I saved it as a draft, again, and now it is available on my desktop.

Colossians 1:21-23

And you, who at one point were, in terms relating to the mind, alienated [from God’s people] and enemies [of God] by evil works, but now he has reconciled you in the body of his flesh through the death to present you holy and blameless before him, if indeed you remain in the faith, firmly rooted and steadfast and do not shift away from the hope of the gospel of which you have heard, which was proclaimed to all creation which is under the sky (heaven), of which I myself, Paul, became a representative (servant). Colossians 1:21-23 (my translation)

This particular passage of Scripture always struck me as an interesting insight into Paul’s understanding of conversion (you used to be bad, but now you’re not) but other than that, not particularly important. But as I’ve studied Colossians I’ve changed my mind. This passage is actually where Paul outlines, albeit in reverse, the direction he intends the rest of the letter to go.This is called the partitio where the propositio (thesis statement) is divided into useful pieces. I used to think that was a bit daffy until I broke things down the way Ben Witherington prescribes in his commentary (read the verses as though the left side of the slash represents the piece of the partitio and the right side represents the exposition of the partitio in the letter):

When the thesis an orator is going to argue is complex, having several parts, the propositio is divided up into several parts. It is interesting that Paul enumerates the parts in reverse order from how he will treat them in the discourse:
 the recognition of Paul’s role in proclaiming the gospel 1:23c/1:24–2:5
 the need for the addressees to continue in the faith 1:23a–b/2:6–3:4
the work of Christ to produce holiness in the believers’ lives


Ben Witherington III, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians : a Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 137.


My old idea was that the partitio was contained Colossians 2:6-10. But looking at things now, I think that passage is perhaps thematically central to the overall argument of the letter, but it nevertheless remains a part of, not a description of Paul’s argument. The Colossian believers need to remain in the faith (1:23) precisely by means of and because of what 2:6-10 says.

Claudio Sanchez, Freddy Krueger, and Retellings.

In an old post here, I wrote about Coheed and Cambria’s retelling of the Joker/Batman mythos. The lead singer of that band is Claudio Sanchez and he’s at it again. He wrote this song:

This time the song is about Freddy Krueger. He wrote the song from Krueger’s perspective. In the Coheed song about Batman, the Joker is still awful, but he has a level of self-reflection that allows him to critique Batman on a psychological level. In this case they rewrite Krueger as a misunderstood guy who has a crush on Nancy (the female protagonist in the first film). His obsession with her leads to poorly conceived flirting tactics that, in a creepily realistic way, lead to violent attempts to garner her attention with Krueger’s ability to confront people’s souls and endanger their bodily health in a realm of dreams.

In one sense, this song is kinda cute, because upon a first hearing, it’s just about a kid who loves a girl and has dreams about their future together. This is pretty standard fare for popular romantic music. On another level its macabre, but in a hilarious way. There’s a guy who savagely destroys several people’s lives in a sort of comedy of errors because he misunderstands how romance works. On a third and more realistically horrifying level, the song portrays the sort of obsession young men develop when they cannot manage their emotions and how they respond to being unable to relate to the opposite sex.

Anyhow, I wonder if Krueger just needed to read his Ovid:

  The title of this book when Cupid spied,
  “Treason! a plot against our state,” he cried.
  Why should you thus your loyal poet wrong,
  Who in your war has serv’d so well and long?
  So savage and ill-bred I ne’er can prove,
  Like Diomede, to wound the queen of love.
  Others by fits have felt your am’rous flame,
  I still have been, and still your martyr am;
  Rules for your vot’ries I did late impart.
  Refining passion, and made love an art.

P. Ovidius Naso, Ovid’s Art of Love (in Three Books), the Remedy of Love, the Art of Beauty, the Court of Love, the History of Love, and Amours (Medford, MA: Calvin Blanchard, 1855).

On Doug Campbell’s Proposal

In 2009, back when I thought I had a future in Biblical Studies, I bought and read Douglas Campbell’s tome of interminable length, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Grand Rapids, MI: 2009) I was impressed by his breadth of reading as well as his depth of thinking. He spent a great deal of time explaining various difficulties concerning what he terms justification theory. Those problems alone apparently required over 100 pages of end notes. The problems are enumerated on pages 168-172. He outlines his understanding of the common Christian understanding of Salvation (Justification Theory) and the problems with it on pages 28-29.

I appreciate Campbell’s hard work and his effort to point out problems of logical incoherence in popular and scholarly explications of the gospel message. That effort alone should prove useful. Campbell also deals well with the question of Paul’s coherence as a thinker in a preliminary way on pages 12-14 and in a more meta-way in 461-930. The problem with his treatment in the later chapters is how much he relies upon his brilliant but unexpected and eccentric (in the best sense of the term) rereading of Paul. He is also one of the few writers I know of who has cited David Bentley Hart’s essay on Anselm’s theory of Atonement (which is marvelous). Those nice things aside, there are some serious problems with his proposal.

What is his proposal?
His proposal is that Paul’s gospel, in Romans, is not fully explained until Chapters 5-8 and that the discourse related to judgment upon ungodliness in Romans 1:18-3:20 is actually a form of “speech-in-character” debate/dialog wherein the condemnation of sin in Romans 1:18-32 and the various utilizations of the Old Testament in chapters 2 and 3 are examples, not of Paul’s thought, but of the false teachers whose influence he is inoculating the Roman Christians against. The implications for this, in Campbell’s mind, are vast. In one sense, based on his rereading, people who utilize the concept of moral law to help people see their need of the atonement are actually preaching the message Paul preaches against!

The Problems

  1. The picture of Paul in Acts is of somebody who preaches a message very similar to that of the other Apostles. James Dunn, David Wenham, Mike Bird, and Scot McKnight have all argued successfully in my mind, that the early gospel was very similar to the content of the four gospels. If Paul preached that and adaptations of that, it is difficult to discern how his message in Romans 5-8 is his gospel qua gospel rather than an apocalyptic description of what the gospel does for the Christian community and how the gospel redefines the meaning of human history. That does not make Romans 5-8 untrue or not useful for explaining the gospel. It just means that those chapters are part of the gospel or the implications of the gospel (and thus they are gospel) but not the gospel. In other words, it appears that Campbell’s approach leaves us with a gospel message that has very little or perhaps no room for the actual ministry and teachings of Jesus beyond his incarnation (as a concept) and his apocalyptic death/resurrection/ascension/return. 
  2. When I read Campbell’s I had just met Chris Tilling (at SBL) and he told me that it was a big, big deal. That’s why I bought it. The book is a big deal, but I had also started reading the rhetorical manuals and was always a fan of the Socratic Dialogs. Thus when I heard Campbell defend his thesis at SBL that year (Mike Gorman is the only person I recall being on the panel), I was very excited to read whether he could make the case for speech-in-character. I wasn’t super impressed. I saw his argument as possible and not remotely probable. And in Chris Tilling’s volume Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul: Reflections on the Work of Douglas Campbell, Robin Griffith-Jones seems to put Campbell’s arguments to rest. I could be wrong, I haven’t read Campbell’s response yet, but Jones’ material comports well with my own conclusions based upon the manuals.
  3. There remains a fairly serious difficulty in Campbell’s approach when he attempts to reread Romans 9-10 with speech-in-character (in my opinion here and Romans 7 are the most realistic places to see this). He ends up saying that the nation of Israel is culpable for rejecting God’s righteous act in Christ (which I think is Paul’s point there all along). The problem with this is that Campbell appears to be lapsing himself back into a Justification Theory reading of Paul (771-821). He is careful to define Israel’s ‘unbelief’ in a very specific way. “It is that they have repudiated the coming of God…(821).” Even though Campbell then reminds us that belief in the gospel is merely assurance/evidence of salvation, not a sufficient criterion, for Paul’s argument to have any force, he needs to be saying more than, “My people weren’t rejected by God, they rejected God and thus have no evidence that God has delivered them.” Even the evidence at that point would be the gospel that they found compelling and thus would be a piece of information that they received (and Campbell is very concerned to make sure that the gospel not be a piece of data to which people cognitively assent because in Justification Theory that is the crux of the problem.)
  4. Campbell’s theory is difficult to find outside of his book in church history. That’s not a reason to reject it. It is simply puts perspective on such a radical redefinition of Paul’s preaching when compared to the past few centuries of Christian theology, interpretation of Romans, and preaching.

There is much to applaud and enjoy in Campbell’s book. I hope he releases a shorter volume that simply proposes the theory and briefly outlines its results with a brief appendix explaining what he sees as the major problems of Justification Theory (rather than the several hundred pages of problems). It might the case that, if his theory is so important for evangelism (he is explicitly critical of many evangelistic organizations in endnotes 11-16 on pages 1005-1006), that he make some pdf files available so that pastors and college ministers can weigh his case against Scripture without having to buy a 1200 page tome that they might not be able to follow. I understand that he might be circumspect about these things because he wants the academics to debate the merits of his case, but I think the gospel on the ground floor of church work is where Campbell’s critique is (if true) most apt, despite its academic analogs.



Thoughts on the Dangers of Seminary

This has been a weird summer for me for several reasons. The first is that it is the first Summer since I became a teacher when I am not working several days a week. It is also the Summer during which I take an extremely difficult version of Calculus in order to prepare for an Engineering program I start in the Fall. The point is that I’ve had plenty of time to revisit books I bought while in seminary but never finished. It’s been good to read Anselm, Aquinas, Augustine, and Barth. Reading these guys got me to thinking, though. In seminary strange things can happen.

  1. You start to read books and come away with this or that author’s perspective on this or that subject. So you get Anselm’s perspective on the ontological argument, or Aquinas’ view of justification, or Douglas Campbell’s view of Paul’s view of justification. Or you could get Alister McGrath’s view of Aquinas’ view of Paul’s view of justification. In one sense this is good. An author writes about a subject, but what is written isn’t the subject. But nevertheless, if Christianity is true, there is more than this or that perspective on things. There is a truth and it is out there, beyond my perspective, beyond this or that author’s perspective, and that truth takes time to find and humility to hang on to and further understand.
  2. Studying Scripture becomes a chore for a grade (this never holds true if I’m reading in Greek, I can still get lost for hours in the Greek New Testament or the LXX).
  3. Talking to Christians with a more popular understanding of the gospel can become awkward. I have several friends who never went to seminary but who read deeply and broadly in Biblical studies and church history who have this problem too. You end up trying to find quick ways out of conversations without glazing over or rudely stopping somebody when they say something weird rather than looking for an opportunity for the “body to build itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16).”
  4. You can become accustomed to talk about what Scripture says over against what God has done. This one is tricky because it is, in most ways, a good. To speak of the revelatory text, what it says, and what it means is a salve for idolatry. You avoid speaking ill of God because you’re sticking with what God has inspired. Even if you’re wrong, but you point toward love of God and neighbor, the Scripture’s purpose has been met (which is a major point in Augustine’s theory of interpreting Scripture). Nevertheless, the Scripture itself gives warrant to those who wish to speak of God’s work in their lives to do so (see the Psalter), although it does seem to favor speaking about the Apostolic witness (Acts 2:42-48).
  5. Seeking after God and his kingdom can begin to seem illusory when your career is tied up with the process. If you’re having career trouble, it can be so much the easier for you to see the church or a parachurch ministry purely in terms of personal economics. This is why it’s important to pursue skills in another field prior to the seminary.
  6. You can graduate with such a narrow field of interest or such a small skill set that you’re not much use to others in conversation or actual physical help.
  7. Similarly to point 6, you can be so narrowly interested in one particular theological group or camp that you lose the ability to tell when people are saying the same thing with different words. You could also be so narrowly focused on one aspect of things that you actually start believing certain in-group caricatures of people outside that group.

The biggest solution I see to this problem is to make sure that you live outside of the realm of concepts. Feed people, learn to cook, learn to solve physical problems, etc. The other solution is to remember that despite all of the perspectives, despite the extreme importance of exegesis using linguistic and socio-rhetorical tools, at the end of the day it isn’t just about what this or that person thinks. At the end of the day studying Scripture remains a task for who Jesus is, what he said, what he did, and thus what he reveals about God to the church in all ages. I’ll post more on that closing thought in the future.