Saturday, 23 June 2012

Ronnie Makes the Big Time

After all this time Ronald Weinland has hit the big time.  Yes,  finally people are paying much-deserved attention to the man who claims to be God's prophet and one of the Two Witnesses of the Book of Revelation.  Behold, the Lord has opened doors for Ron which no man - especially Ron himself, can shut.  The Final End-Time Prophet has broken through into the mainstream media at last.

But not, one suspects for the reasons Ronnie hoped.  You see, poor Ron has been through taxing times...

Learn about this spiritual titan and giant of End-Time righteousness courtesy of the Huffington Post, or, if Forbes magazine is more to your taste, here.

Kudos to Gary, who has been keeping the information flowing on the Banned by HWA blog. 

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Just What Do You Mean - Protestant?

What is a Protestant?

My parents' generation entertained few doubts.  It was basically anyone who wasn't Roman Catholic.

That meant Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians.

But also Christadelphians, Mormons, Adventists and Christian Scientists.

But, of course, there are problems with this approach.  There are some highly confused, high-churchly Anglicans who don't consider themselves Protestant at all, but some weird kind of hybrid.  Adventists do consider themselves Protestant, but most related Adventist sects in the Church of God stream emphatically do not.

And can you regard non-Trinitarian sects like Christian Science as Protestant?  My father, for much of his life a camp follower of Mary Baker Eddy, certainly did, and I wasn't going to be the one to disillusion him.  I mean, does someone have a certified list of criteria?  (Kiwis might also ponder the nature of the much neglected Ratana and Ringatu faiths.)

The Great Protestant/Catholic Divide only really made sense in the kind of culture where Western Christianity was the de facto faith of all right-thinking, decent, patriotic citizens.  Eastern Orthodox Christians?  Who even cared?  Coptic Christians?  Who the heck are they?

Atheism was seen as the preserve of decadent, dissipated, chinless, university-educated types, so they hardly counted in any discussion.  Remember the old joke about the thugs who bailed up a hapless drinker in a Belfast pub demanding to know whether he was Catholic or Protestant.  "I'm an atheist," he replied.  "Yes," came the response, "but are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?"

And what about non-Christian faiths: Baha'i, Islam, Buddhism?  They were beyond the farthest pale for the good folks of the 1960s - at least where I lived.  Exotic beliefs of 'foreigners'; need one say more.

But the world has changed, thank God, and it seems - to me at least - that this contentious term Protestant is rather rapidly disappearing from common usage.  It is perceived as a nasty, narrow term, spouted forth by the likes of the not-so-reverend Ian Paisley.  Would anyone under forty describe their faith as 'Protestant'?  In the twenty-first century it arguably makes good sense, and is a measure of good taste, to flush the thing completely.

Lutherans, for example, have much more in common with Catholics than Baptists or Open Brethren.  So do elements of ye olde Church of England, despite the fact that no church body has more enthusiastically spawned schisms than the Anglican communion, ranging from the various Darbyite Brethren sects to the Salvation Army.

I'm sure there are people who still run to a dictionary to resolve conundrums like these.  The trouble is that dictionaries simply provide the current common usage, not an inspired and inerrant definition that will be the final word on the subject.   Here's what God's favourite dictionary (and if not God's, then mine) saith on the subject.
a member or adherent, or someone who shares the beliefs, of one of those churches founded by the Reformers (formerly by some confined to Anglicans or Lutherans, now disavowed by some Anglicans), or any of the churches which have developed or separated from them... [The Chambers Dictionary, 12th edition, 2011]
You could drive a truck - indeed a whole fleet of lorries - through that sucker! 

And what in hades do you do with the deviant prosperity gospel cults that mimic older denominations, but have elevated an "I deserve a blessing" message to the forefront of their proclamation.  Is Joel Osteen even Christian, let alone Protestant?

Presumably the concept of 'Protestantism' will endure a little longer in Northern Ireland where the Great Divide is entrenched in bitter sectarian history, and as a handy 'one size fits all' label for old school Catholics to paste as they please.  But for the rest of us it may be time to simply lay the term to rest.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Just What Do You Mean...?

Back in my salad days I collected a series of booklets entitled "Just What Do You Mean...?"  Each focussed on a term much used in the world of churchianity, such as "Just What Do You Mean - Salvation?" and "Just What Do You Mean - Born Again?"

As I said, those were my salad days.  The answers all came proof texted, and therefore I took them quite seriously at the time.  Another case of "live and learn."

Anyway, beginning shortly, I want to do an Otagosh series inspired by those  worthy tomes (or better, "worthless tomelets"?) of old.

Just What Do You Mean - Christian?
Just What Do You Mean - Protestant?
Just What Do You Mean - Reformed?

Unlike the blue-covered booklets, there'll be few if any proof texts, and more questions than answers, as I'm convinced all three terms are problematic.

In the meantime, how would you define any or all of the above labels?

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Time for a quick Praise Chorus?

What kind of deity is it that would be capable of creating angels and men to sing his praises day and night to all eternity?  It is, of course, the figure of the Oriental despot, with his inane and barbaric vanity.  Such a conception is an insult to God.

Alfred North Whitehead

Sunday, 10 June 2012

An extraordinary question

Tim Bulkeley points to a great posting on the whole historical Jesus question by Mark Goodacre
There are so many different reconstructions of the historical Jesus, each one only an approximation of what the historian can know on the basis of the extant sources.  There are lots of historical Jesuses that I do not believe in.  I don't believe in Crossan's historical Jesus because I don't believe in his sources.  I don't believe in Wright's historical Jesus because he believes all his sources.  I don't believe in Morton Smith's historical Jesus because he composed one of his sources.
...  doing ancient history is not like doing modern history.  The vast majority of ordinary punters made no impact on the archaeological record from antiquity.  Their impact, their "existence", if you like, can only be measured in so far as they influenced the memories of those who told their stories, and only in so far as those embellished, interpreted, creative memories ultimately found their way into the texts that managed to survive.
Well worth reading the whole thing.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Witlessing in Pukekohe

This morning, right early, I was wandering the main street in Pukekohe, killing time while the Noddy car was being serviced.  I was going to hunker down in the comfort of the library, but wouldn't you know it, it was closed for renovations.  En route for a coffee shop where I could sip slowly over the Saturday issue of the Herald I was offered tracts - not once but twice - by members of something called the 'Independent Baptist Church'.  You could tell these folk were a bit different by the freshly scrubbed 1960s look, short hair on the blokes, long dresses on the sheilas.  Well, you know me, never turn down a tract...

Back home, much the poorer in the wallet department and feeling a bit grumpy about Toyota, I decided to find out a bit more about these good folk.  It turns out that they're KJV-only believers; their website masthead declares: The Authorized Bible of 1611 by God / The Only Bible Authorized by the King of Kings.

And I wonder, given the fact that this is New Zealand in the 21st century, how these folk - who I'm sure are decent, sincere people - manage to live and raise their kids in an intellectual wasteland, a pocket universe walled up from the inside.  And how come, if they love the Bible, they're so deeply ignorant about it.

Then I read this: "We are Independent, Fundamental, Bible (KJB) believing Baptist missionaries in New Zealand.   We are sent by our home church, Old Paths Bible Baptist Church of Clarendon, NY and are aided in the work by Word for the World Baptist Ministries of Rossville, GA."

So I'm wondering no longer.

Inquisitions, M&Ms and, um, other matters

Now how could you resist this? 
"The long awaited Human Bible episode eight arrives! This week we look into some of the harsh lessons the Bible teaches, most involving some kind of horrible death. We introduce a new segment called "Audience Inquisition in which we ask you, dear listener, for some answers. This week we ask if you've ever heard someone ‘quote' something from the Bible that isn't actually in the Bible.

"We also wonder where the heck the original writings that make up the Bible actually are. My first guess: the same mysterious place that entire bag of M&M's I dropped down the couch went. And, we inquire about the most distant places from Jerusalem that the Bible mentions.

"And, most important of all, we break some news about the Bible and masturbation. It's good news, people. I mean, uh, it's probably good news for this one friend of mine."

Outside the box

A nice little Naked Pastor 'toon that appeared on Gary's excellent blog.

Somehow - and the devil may be making me make this association - I can't help thinking about the big wet squelch that crotchety old Maurice Casey and his mates are trying to dump on the mythicist hypothesis...

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Jewish NT scholars

There are apparently four (US?) Jewish scholars who hold academic posts in New Testament studies.  Three I'm familiar with; Amy-Jill Levine, Mark Nanos and Pamela Eisenbaum.  Each is worth their weight in gold.

Jewish scholars bring fresh eyes to old problems, unencumbered by the dead weight of sanctified dogma.  Eisenbaum's Paul Was Not a Christian is simply brilliant.  Nanos's readings of Romans and Galatians are groundbreaking, and Levine - who I've had the privilege of hearing 'in person' - is an amazing communicator.

But they're highly marginalised out there in the crusty halls of Christian theology.  Not helped by the attitude, expressed openly by an Otago University worthy, that non-Christians (i.e. Jews) simply can't understand or comprehend the excellencies of Christian theology.

What the heck would he know - sipping at the poisoned wells of Reformed dogma!

In my time studying through Otago, none of these scholars - Levine, Nanos or Eisenbaum - got a look in.  Crusty Scottish divines?  Most certainly.  Even brain-dead Dallas apologists were ladled up in course readings from time to time. 


Being a bit stroppy, I remember citing Eisenbaum in an assignment.  I got the feeling that the Wise One doing the marking had absolutely no idea who she was.

I've beaten my gums raw elsewhere on the issue of papers on 'Christian Ethics' being soaked in Reformed pseudo-scholarship while completely and totally ignoring Catholic Moral Theology.  How can that be justified? How can you begin to discuss Christian ethics - assuming the term isn't an oxymoron - without adequately addressing the perspective of the largest Christian communion?

And how come some leading lights involved in teaching theology - specifically biblical studies - at a secular university seem so completely uninterested in thinking outside the square, even a little.

And you have to wonder whether theology - as opposed to religious studies - should still get a free pass in a university environment when it's clearly in thrall to a significant degree (no pun intended) to the vagaries of subjective belief.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The (Un)Real Jesus?

On his Religion for Life radio show and podcast John Shuck has been asking the question, "will the real Jesus please rise?"

So far nobody claiming to be Jesus has answered the call, but John has pulled both Bishop Jack Spong and Bart Ehrman out of the hat.  In his third interview we hear from Bob Price.  If you haven't yet heard a presentation putting forth a lucid version of the 'mythical Jesus' hypothesis, this would be a good place to start.

Get it while it's hot!

Next time John interviews that old Irish charmer, John Dominic Crossan.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Latest Journal

As you may already know, the latest issue of The Journal: News of the Churches of God has been released.  The Journal chronicles developments and trends within those bodies that originated in the Worldwide Church of God.  As such it's a unique read.

My byline appears again with a piece that appeared recently on Otagosh.  I was expecting - dreading even - a reaction to my last piece on the canon, but it seems to have sunk out of sight, out of mind.  Only that trusty Aussie commentator, Henk Jens, has risen this time to the challenge initially posed by editor Dixon Cartwright, and that's in the ad section.
The question of the correct canon of Scripture is the latest in a series of shocks to test the faith of Church of God members since the 1986 death of Mr Herbert W Armstrong... Questioning the canon of Scripture is close to the ultimate snare Satan can put before the Church of God because, if we can not depend on the Bible for Truth, then how can we be converted?
Henk is obviously easily shocked. 

There's a good deal about the Stan Rader interview with the late Mike Wallace, more on the role of women, and a nice little piece about David Barrett's upcoming book.  The usual suspects dominate the advertising section.

For those so inclined, the entire issue can be downloaded in PDF format for free.

A literal translation - yeah, right!

Publicity for yet another Bible translation features in the latest Journal.  Based on a press statement, the announcement fairly gushes:
  • the new version "is more amazing than the Dead Sea Scrolls."
  • it's "a literal translation."
  • the Old Testament is from "the original Hebrew manuscripts."
  • the New Testament is from the "original Aramaic."
Amazing indeed!

Amazing because there are no original Hebrew manuscripts.  The earliest available are the Dead Sea Scrolls.  What we do have is copies of copies and, as those self-same DSS demonstrate, there's obvious development of the Hebrew Bible with variants floating around back in the BCE.

Amazing because the New Testament was written in Greek, not Aramaic.  Those few Aramaic phrases that do appear stick out like a sore thumb.  There are a few scholars, somewhere south of the academic consensus, who imagine substantial chunks of the Gospels do go back to an Aramaic source - Maurice Casey is among the best known.  But Casey himself would, I suspect, have an apoplectic fit if any of his students made the claim that the full NT - or even the complete Gospels - hark back to Aramaic, or worse, that the Peshitta is anything other than a translation.

Given that any 'Aramaic' re-envisioning of the New Testament is an exercise in speculative and creative reinterpretation, it is equally amazing that this could be touted as "a literal translation."  A literal translation of what?

Amazing also that this whole project seems to be largely the work of one bloke, Don Esposito, "senior elder of the Congregation of YHWH Jerusalem."  Don seems to think that the Peshitta pre-dates the Greek New Testament.  That's a truly novel approach.  Don's qualifications?
I will say upfront that I am neither a Hebrew or Aramaic scholar, and don’t claim to be one.
Now let's think.  Don isn't a Hebrew or Aramaic scholar, by which I take it that he knows next to nothing about these languages.  Yet...
I have fervently prayed and asked our Heavenly Father for guidance throughout the year and a half that I have been working on this project. I can also tell you that many times while doing this work I felt the spirit of YAHWEH directing and guiding me to the finished work of this translation.
Oh well, that's all right then.

My conclusion is that this isn't a literal translation and, given Mr Esposito's lack of familiarity with the languages, not even a translation as such.  Mr Esposito seems to me to be one very confused chap.  If you want an English translation of the Peshitta with a modicum of credibility, George Lamsa's Holy Bible: From the Ancient Eastern Text is still readily available.

Not that this isn't a labor of love; I'm sure it is.  Not that Mr Esposito is trying to make a fast buck out of the naivete of his flock - he provides a free PDF download of his version.  But as a serious Bible translation it ranks right down there with Fred Coulter's.  Well, maybe below Fred's - he at least reads Greek.