Monthly Archives: October 2015

Is Feminism Finished?

germaine-greerThere has been an interesting (disconnected) series of articles over at The Spectator (UK) on whether or not feminism is “finished.” One young feminist, Emily Hill, does not bother asking the question, but simply asserts: Feminism is over, the battle is won. Time to move on:

Most self-styled feminists argue that we still struggle in the workplace. On close inspection this isn’t borne out either. Women in their twenties have out-earned men for the last few years; now the under-40s are doing so as well. The speed of our trajectory is startling. Across Europe and America, and particularly in Scandinavia, women are pushing their way on to executive boards and into the seats of power. The French government has passed a law which will require that two in five executive board members of the largest public companies are women. Feminists argue we need quotas in this country, too, but isn’t there a sweeter triumph in the sisters doing it for themselves?

In a second article, another commentator asserts that Women’s issues are for everyone now, not just feminists. In this article (written by a man) we hear that,

That protest was exactly the kind of women-only activism that makes headlines and noise and achieves nothing of substance. It shows that the label ‘feminist’ and the world view of feminism has served its historical function. Feminism has much to be proud of. But now it’s an impediment to progress.

Finally, archetypal  feminist Germaine Greer is in the headlines again, this time accused of “having no place in feminism!”

Alarmingly, Cardiff’s feminist students are running the campaign to shut Greer down. The petition for her lecture to be cancelled was started by the student union women’s officer, who says Greer’s views have ‘no place in feminism’. What a spoilt, ungrateful generation, hilariously unaware that their very ability to speak their minds and rouse some rabble is down to decades of intellectual and social agitation by people like Greer. She helped give them a voice; they try to silence hers. (See: Germaine Greer can say whatever she likes about trans politics.)

So, is feminism “finished”?

Perhaps in some ways the historic movement of feminism has achieved its primary objectives in western societies, or will, as increasingly educated and accomplished women move into more and more influential positions in all sectors of western society.

Still, in my view, more work remains to be done, and not simply by women. The dreadful and ongoing scourge of domestic violence here in Australia is testimony to the continuing difficulty men and women have in establishing mutually respectful and equitable relationships.

Further, women and girls in western and non-western countries are sometimes – too often – subject to the most terrible abuses. Much of this abuse is centred around destructive sexual practices, and in some cases, is largely ignored by western feminists. A female columnist in The Australian last week (sorry, I cannot remember or access the article) blasted her feminist counterparts in this country for their celebration of the sex industry as a sign of female empowerment, and for their apparent lack of concern for women and girls caught in prostitution and sex-trafficking both here and abroad.

The issues are difficult, contentious, and very, very important. Globally, terrible abuses continue to be meted out to women and girls. Vigilance by both men and women are required to ensure that some of these same abuses do not take root in western countries. If western feminists ignore the very real plight of women globally, and the equally real threat toward women in their own cultures; if they seek refuge instead in what a feminist friend labels “outrage at micro-aggressions,” then perhaps feminism is finished after all.

On the Apostolic Fathers

ApostolicFathersFor it must be said in general that the apostolic fathers are not men of brilliance or penetrating theological insight; rather, their central contribution lies not in their elaboration of the faith but in their call for obedience to the ecclesiastical hierarchy, their warnings against heresy, and their simple commendation of the faith, even in the face of martyrdom. There is no doubt that a man like Polycarp, for example, was a great Christian leader and a great man of faith, but a great theologian he was not. 
(Gary Badcock, Light of Truth and Fire of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit, 36)

A Prayer on Sunday

HauerwasSpirit of Truth,
Direct our attention to the life of Jesus
so that we might see what you would have us be.

Make us, like him, teachers of your good law.
Make us, like him,  performers of miraculous cures.
Make us, like him, proclaimers of your kingdom.
Make us, like him,  loving of the poor, the outcast, children.
Make us, like him, silent when the world tempts us to respond in the world’s terms.
Make us, like him, ready to suffer.

We know we cannot be like Jesus except as Jesus was unlike us, being your Son.
Make us cherish that unlikeness, that we may grow into the likeness
made possible by Jesus’ resurrection.

(Stanley Hauerwas, Prayers Plainly Spoken, 27.)

The Deity of the Holy Spirit

basil-the-greatI love this epigram from Basil of Caesarea in his little letter to Eupaterius and his daughter, thought to have been written about 373. Basil here asserts the divinity of the Holy Spirit together with a rationale for it, in as brief a statement as I have ever seen:

As we were baptized, so we believe. As we believe, so also we offer praise. As then baptism has been given us by the Saviour, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, so, in accordance with our baptism, we make the confession of our faith, and we worship in accordance with our faith. We glorify the Holy Spirit together with the Father and Son from the conviction that he is not separated from the divine nature; for that which is foreign by nature does not share in the same honours.

One thing worth noting here is Basil’s theological method and authority: he resorts to Jesus’ saying as recorded in the gospel of Matthew and deduces his position from that passage.

(From: Letter CLIX, Basil: Letters and Select Works NPNF volume 8, second series, 212, amended).

Earliest Draft of King James Bible Found

Draft KJVAn American scholar, searching in the archives of a Cambridge University library, was looking for an undiscovered letter from the early seventeenth century. He found what he was looking for. He also found something else: the earliest working draft yet discovered of a section of what later became the King James Version of the Bible. Dated to between 1604 and 1608, the notebook is the work of Samuel Ward, master of Sidney Sussex College, and in the 1980s had been catalogued as “verse by verse commentary” with “Greek word studies and some Hebrew notes.” As Professor Miller tried to decipher what passages Samuel Ward was commenting on in the seventy or so pages of notes, he realised it was not commentary but a draft.

“You can actually see the way Greek, Latin and Hebrew are all feeding into what will become the most widely read work of English literature of all time,” Professor Miller said. “It gets you so close to the thought process, it’s incredible.”

Scripture on Sunday – James 2:5

JamesJames 2:5
Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?

In this verse James extends the point of his little parable, by means of another question which, like the question in verse four, anticipates a positive answer. In fact, verses four through seven comprise a series of rhetorical questions, all calling for a positive response:

Have you not then made distinctions among yourselves?
(Have you not) become judges with evil thoughts?
Has not God chosen the poor in the world?
Are not the rich those who oppress you?
(Are not the rich those) who drag you into court?
(Are not the rich those) who blaspheme the honourable name?

The first two questions (v. 4) function to accuse the congregation of their wrong intentions and the dire consequences of these intentions in the assembly. The question in this verse provides a theological rationale which highlights their fault, while those in verses six and seven provide common sense reasons for abandoning their present form of behaviour. Thus James calls his “beloved brothers and sisters” to listen to his message (akousate, adelphoi mou agapētoi), and to learn afresh the ways in which God is at work in the world, and so also to learn afresh the ways in which God calls his people to conduct themselves in the world.

“Has not God chosen” (ouk ho theos exelexato) draws on a rich vein of Old Testament imagery with which his listeners would be familiar: God’s election of Israel as a small and insignificant community of slaves to be God’s own possession and heirs of his covenant promises (see Deuteronomy 6:6-9). This same text in Deuteronomy, like the New Testament also, insists that God’s election is grounded in God’s own goodness and love. That God has chosen “the poor in the world” (tous ptōchous tō kosmō) is not original with James, of course. Behind James’s words stand those of Jesus, the similarity being unmistakable:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God … But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation (Luke 6:20, 24).

Jesus’ beatitude addresses the poor with the promise of the kingdom, while also assailing the rich. This theme was also prominent in the song sung by Jesus’—and James’s—mother:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant…He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty (Luke 1:47-48, 51-53).

Of course it is not the case that Jesus excludes all rich persons and accepts only the poor. The rich may enter the kingdom of God—although such a difficult outcome is possible only with God (Mark 10:23-27). Nor is it the case that all the poor necessarily find their way into the kingdom. In 1:9-11 James contrasts the rich with the “lowly,” and in so doing draws on the Old Testament prophetic tradition of the Anawim in which the poor are those who are not simply economically destitute but who in their desperation also turn to God as to their only help and hope (see McKnight, 94-96, 194-195). According to Moo (91), “‘the poor’ became almost a technical term designating those who were both economically oppressed and spiritually inclined.”

God has chosen the poor that they may be “rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom” (plousious en pistei kai klēronomous tēs basileias). Here we may note that it is not simply the fact of being poor which in and of itself confers the blessing of the kingdom, for faith is also required. Nevertheless God has chosen the poor for just this reason. “Rich” (plousious) and “heirs” (klēronomous) are predicate accusatives and so provide further definition of “the poor” (tous ptōchous). The Greek text does not contain the verb “to be,” but Vlachos notes that this is often the case with predicate accusatives (73). Therefore “rich” and “heirs” are descriptive of what God intends for the poor. The term “kingdom” (tēs basileias) occurs only here in James, despite it being a favourite term in the teaching of Jesus. This kingdom remains in the future, “promised to those who love him” (hēs epēggeilato tois agapōsin auton). James has used identical language in 1:12 to speak also of the “crown of life” which God has promised to those who love him. Therefore the poor who ultimately inherit the kingdom are not only rich in faith but also among those who love God.

This is a deeply challenging verse, especially for those who like myself are extraordinarily rich—historically and globally, if not necessarily in the context of contemporary western culture. James’s blunt assertion that God has chosen the poor in the world runs counter to human expectation as Jesus also taught: “What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). Thus, whereas in the world’s sight, the poor are merely ‘the poor,’ or are even despised and misused, in God’s sight they are valued and chosen. That the early Christians were drawn largely from amongst the poorer members of the society finds expression also in Paul who notes that God has chosen those who are foolish, weak, low and despised in the world, rather than those considered wise, powerful and noble (1 Corinthians 1:26-28).

If it is the case that God chooses the poor of this world, then the church must not shy away or recoil from a similar commitment to the poor. Indeed the church must be a place where the poor are welcomed and included, honoured, heard and valued. Late twentieth-century Roman Catholic theology developed the idea of a “preferential option for the poor,” which claims that there is in the Bible a discernible trend which gives preference to the well-being of the poorer and more vulnerable members of the society. This text in James is a clear example of that trend.

Millard Erickson on Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual-Gifts-SermonIn his chapter on the work of the Holy Spirit Erickson surveys the work of the Spirit in the Old Testament and in the life of Jesus, before turning to the work of the Spirit with respect to the commencement and continuation of Christian life. In the Old Testament the work of the Spirit is predominantly understood in terms of the Spirit’s anointing whether for leadership, service or prophecy, and as a sanctifying presence producing the moral and spiritual qualities of holiness and goodness in the lives of those upon whom his presence comes. This work continues in the Christian experience of new covenant believers where the key aspects of the Spirit’s work include illumination, sanctification and empowering. Erickson concludes the chapter with an unconvincing and somewhat ambivalent discussion of the contemporary manifestation of the miraculous gifts.

In my judgment it is not possible to determine with any certainty whether the contemporary charismatic phenomena are indeed gifts of the Holy Spirit. … What we must do, then, is to evaluate each case on its own merits (801).

Erickson’s cautious approach to the topic is not inappropriate though it does require the work of the Spirit to exhibit a degree of rationality and proof that seems unwarranted. Because the kinds of religious phenomena associated with charismatic spirituality can also be explained by appeal to psychological or even demonic causation, caution is in order; nevertheless,

No conclusive case can be made for the contention that such gifts are not for today and cannot occur at the present time….In fact, it may be downright dangerous, in light of Jesus’s warning regarding  blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, to attribute specific phenomena to demonic activity (802).

Nevertheless Erickson immediately continues,

In the final analysis, whether the Bible teaches that the Spirit dispenses special gifts today is not an issue of great practical consequence. For even if he does, we are not to set our lives to seeking them. He bestows them sovereignly; he alone determines the recipients (1 Cor. 12:11). If he chooses to give us a special gift, he will do so regardless of whether we expect it or seek it (802).

I find this statement to be quite unlike Erickson and assume that he can make it only by granting his experience priority over the biblical testimony which he is so scrupulous to follow elsewhere. I cannot imagine him using this rationale with respect to conversion or the preaching of the gospel. No, indeed! Erickson will passionately and persuasively exhort people to believe, to preach the gospel, etc. Paul, of course, does tell the church to earnestly desire spiritual gifts and especially that they might prophesy (1 Cor. 14:1, 39). He exhorts them to seek to excel in the building up of the church for it is precisely for this reason that the Spirit gives the gifts (1 Cor. 14:12; cf. 12:7).

If the Spirit intends that every believer experience his manifestation for the benefit of all, then surely it is something we should prayerfully, humbly and diligently expect and seek. Might it be that we do not experience as much of the manifestation of the Spirit as we might wish precisely because we do not prayerfully expect or seek his presence and activity?

Millard Erickson on the Spirit, Faith & Doctrine

Erickson_MillardErickson’s three chapters on the Holy Spirit are not the strongest section of his work. Nevertheless, in his chapter on the person of the Holy Spirit, he argues effectively on the basis of indirect biblical testimony that the Holy Spirit is a divine personality, at once fully God and fully personal. This is crucial, for the Spirit is the God who in a supremely personal and intimate way, is God with us. “The Holy Spirit is a person, not a force, and that person is God, just as fully and in the same way as are the Father and the Son” (786).

The deity of the Holy Spirit is not as easily established as is the deity of the Father and the Son. It might well be said that the deity of the Father is simply assumed in Scripture, that of the Son is affirmed and argued, whole that of the Holy Spirit must be inferred from various indirect statements found in Scripture (782).

Erickson helpfully provides a thumbnail sketch of the development of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the history of theology, moving quickly through the pre-Nicene period to the controversies which resulted in the creedal affirmation of the Spirit’s deity at Constantinople. He notes in passing issues such as the Montanists and the Filioque, treats minimally developments in the medieval and Reformation periods and notes the long period of decline with respect to the doctrine in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, “due to a variety of movements, each of which in its own way regarded the Spirit and his work as either superfluous or incredible.” I note with interest his fascinating comment with respect to the first of these movements:

One of those movements was Protestant scholasticism. It was found in Lutheranism, and particularly the branch that derived its inspiration from the writings of Philipp Melanchthon. As a series of doctrinal disputes took place, it became necessary to define and refine beliefs more specifically. Consequently, faith came increasingly to be thought of as rechte Lehre (correct doctrine). A more mechanical view of the role of the Scriptures was developed, and, as a result, the witness of the Spirit tended to be bypassed. Now a Word alone, without the Spirit, was regarded as the basis of authority. Since belief rather than experience came to be viewed as the essence of the Christian religion, the Holy Spirit was increasingly neglected (779).

This problem, unfortunately, persists today—see my post on Paul Helm’s treatment of Calvin’s inner testimony of the Spirit. There are many today who want to establish the authority of Scripture not simply on a doctrine of Scripture, but on an authorised interpretation of Scripture that also presupposes an implicit hermeneutic and application. Erickson is correct to insist that Christian faith cannot be reduced to correct doctrinal belief. This is not to say, of course, that doctrine is unimportant; Erickson would be the first to reject such a view. Good doctrine helps ground, secure and explain our faith intellectually. It protects us in the face of the variety of experiences which we and others have. Nonetheless, this experiential aspect of Christian faith, this reception of the Spirit, is crucial. “Let me ask you this only: did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2).

Scripture on Sunday – James 2:4

JamesJames 2:4
Have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

In this verse, the scenario described by James in verses 2-3 comes to its climax. The way in which James told his little tale implicated his hearers: “Suppose a gold-fingered man wanders into your assembly and you say…” That is, if the congregation shows favouritism and partiality to some guests on the basis of their socio-economic standing, and if on the same basis they withhold it from others; if they then treat the two persons differently, favourably on the one hand and contemptuously on the other, then, says James, they have “made distinctions” among themselves where presumably no such distinctions should exist, and so have become “judges,” indeed have set themselves up as judges, but evil judges with evil thoughts.

The two key terms in this verse form a word-play: diekrithēte (“made distinctions”) and kritai (“judges”). The first term occurs also in 1:6 where it means to doubt, or to waver between different possibilities. Here its meaning is often understood as “to discriminate, to make distinctions,” which fits well with the second part of the verse where James accuses his listeners of becoming judges—those whose principle activity involves the kind of discrimination required to make judgements. Vlachos, however, notes that the verb is in the passive voice, and so suggests that another meaning may be more appropriate, viz. “you have become divided” (71). It is not necessary to choose between these various options: making distinctions on the basis of status and appearance results in division in the assembly. These distinctions—and the resulting division—occur “among yourselves” (en heautois) which suits the whole context better than “within yourself,” and also suggests that the problem is characteristic of the congregation generally, rather than restricted to just a few of the members.

By making these distinctions they “have become judges” (kai egenesthe kritai). James will later insist that God alone is the one law-giver and judge, and so it is wholly inappropriate that some members of the congregation would presume to judge their neighbour (4:12). Not only have they become judges, however, but have become judges “of evil thoughts” or intentions (dialogismōn ponērōn). James will go on in the following verses to show why such intentions and activity are evil, but it is possible already to discern the reason: faith in Jesus is incompatible with favouritism or partiality. “Receiving the face” (prosōpolēmpsiais) of the other in verse one is the equivalent of making distinctions in verse four, and so utterly out of place in the community of God’s people.

One final grammatical point remains to be noted: James’s twofold question in this verse begins with ou (“not”), a particle that functions in rhetorical questions when the person asking the question anticipates a positive answer. The questions, then, are loaded questions expecting the answer, “yes indeed” (see McKnight, 188). That is, “have you not made distinctions among yourselves?” Yes; yes you have. “Have you not become judges with evil thoughts?” Yes, indeed you have.

We have seen already in 1:10-11 that James is concerned that the messianic congregation transcend the socio-economic distinctions common in the world—in the light of eternity and of the judgement to come. That the congregation continue to make such distinctions indicates that their perspectives are flawed. Their values are still shaped by the priorities of the world. Their faith in Jesus has not yet penetrated their lives sufficiently to reshape their vision and reset their values. Their flawed attitudes issue in actions incongruent with their faith and which then lead to division between rich and poor in the assembly. Because their judgements do not echo God’s judgements about the relative worth of persons, earthly conditions and “deservedness,” they are false and therefore evil judgements.

James has not pulled any punches. Like a professional boxer, he has cornered his opponent and landed every blow. His accusation against his hearers is pointed, specific and decisive. The strength and vigour of James’s assault highlights the utter seriousness with which he regards this matter. He cannot and will not allow his congregation to think that such favouritism is permissible—it is not. It is evil. Such partiality is incompatible with faith in Jesus Christ.

The strength and vigour of James’s assault also challenges the church today and in every age. The question of application cannot be side-stepped. To what extent do we allow the vision and values of the surrounding culture to shape our response to the poor around and among us? Are our attitudes and actions congruent or incongruent with our faith in Jesus Christ? Further, might we map other categories onto those used by James? He does not mention “slave” or “free,” but it is very likely he would extend his argument to these persons also. Might the prohibition against making distinctions be extended also to those distinctions between educated and uneducated, old and young, male and female, conservative and progressive, married and single, gay and straight, mentally ill and sound of mind? It is likely, I think, that James would extend the principle to other socio-economic relations, but not to relations he considered immoral or against God’s commandments. Whether he would have extended it to the distinction between male and female may also be questioned, although it is worth noting that he places Rahab alongside Abraham as those justified by their works (2:23-25). That the prostitute and the patriarch are associated so closely suggests that in the community of faith, brothers and sisters, rich and poor, high and low are equally honoured. In any event, we are certainly on safe ground when we stay with what James has actually said, and do not use these kinds of questions to avoid or even forget our call to be the kind of community that welcomes, includes and respects the poor.

Beth Felker Jones – Faithful: A Theology of Sex (Review, Pt. 2)

Faithful (Felker Jones)(Continued from yesterday…)

One of the great strengths of this little book is its insistence on the integrity and goodness of the single life, a theme which comes to the fore in the fifth chapter. The Christian sexual ethic has always proclaimed two ways of bearing radical public witness to the faithfulness of God: celibate singleness, and exclusive, permanent marriage. Both ways, argues Felker Jones, function as a sign of the kingdom, a repudiation of commodified relationships, sexual slavery and selfishness, and cultural mores that enslave and demean.

Early Christianity was bold enough to imagine that all of us have—in Christ—the freedom to bear witness to who God is. The Christian understanding of sex was dramatic in the ways that it ran against Roman sexual morality. Roman women were not free to not marry. Christian women could choose—even insist on—celibacy. For Christians, women aren’t property or baby makers. We’re witnesses to the life of Jesus Christ in our bodies. Including in the ways we choose to have and not have sex. For Christians, men aren’t lust machines or power mongers. They’re witnesses to the life of Jesus Christ in their bodies, including in the ways they choose to have and not have sex. … In Rome, you were either a slave or you were free. In the kingdom of God, we’re all free. As a witness to this, we value singleness and marriage as two routes, two ways of life, in which the Christian may be truly sexual and truly free. (71-72)

Chapter six addresses consent, an issue fraught with difficulty in the present, and almost impossible, especially for the vulnerable, in an unrestrained, anything-goes culture. Yet, if sex is to be freely given and received, consent is essential. Felker Jones suggests that consent is at the heart of a biblical-Christian sexual ethic, and is in fact, one of the most Christian things about the ways in which Christians have—and don’t have—sex (78). True consent must be freely given and mutual, and for Christians this happens in the marriage ceremony in a very public way: “See this man? (or, see this woman?)—I’m having sex with him tonight” (79).

Although deeply committed to values traditional evangelical Christians will affirm, Felker Jones takes aim in her seventh chapter at a prominent movement in recent evangelicalism: the so-called “purity” movement. Since sex belongs in a context of grace and freedom, bodies must never be made commodities, and marriage and sex must never be made a reward for effort; thus “purity” must never be reduced to a pelagian work of self-effort toward holiness. The economy of grace and the market economy are antithetical (91).

If sex is in any way a sign of God’s grace, it can never be commodified. It can never be wrenched out of the framework of free, mutual, consensual relationship and placed on the market floor. If sex is thus free, then sexual holiness cannot—cannot, cannot—mean having a “valuable” kind of body or preserving that “value” against loss of value. But we’ve failed to be clear about that. Instead, we’ve bought into a mistaken set of ideas about what purity looks like. (83)

The purity paradigm turns physical virginity into a possession. This tendency heightens the sense that purity matters most for females and heightens the unbiblical idea that virginity and purity don’t apply to men. The purity paradigm makes virginity into a thing that one needs to cling to in order to retain value. It tells the graceless lie that we are more valuable spouses for someone if we have this thing. It tells the demonic lie that our market value is what makes us precious to God. (91)

While she is careful to note that “there is much that is healthy, holy and happy about the situation in which both spouses can come to a marriage without sexual experience” (108), she insists that purity, marriage and singleness are about discipleship in the kingdom of God and never about our value as persons.

And so we return to the central point: married or single, the body is one hundred percent for the Lord. Our bodies bear witness, our flesh is for mission, for witness, for giving glory to God. Both faithful marriage and celibate singleness may be ways in which we harness all of our life and pour that life out for God (69). “The sexual orthodoxy of our fallen world wants to create a body that is something to be consumed. Christian sexuality recognizes that the body is meant to be a witness. Sex is a witness to what God does in our lives, a witness to the God who is faithful and keeps promises” (104). The faithful body tells a story of God’s faithfulness. It witnesses to the goodness of embodied life as created by God. It does kingdom work in relationship and service to others. It testifies to the longing and consummation of God’s eschatological future. It witnesses to the fact that we already are “bought with a price.” In Christ we have been made free to be truly and fully human, and so truly and fully sexual—in the ways we do—and don’t—have sex (97).