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On Listening to God and One Another

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “On Listening to God and One Another.”

See also:

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“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord . . .” (Isaiah 51: 1 ESV) In the scene of the Transfiguration, the Father calls on us to listen to the Son.  The voice from the cloud says, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” (Mark 9: 7b ESV)   We are to listen to the words of the Lord.  In these words are wisdom and righteousness.

We are also to listen carefully to the words of others, not that they always are words righteousness and truth.  They are not.  The ” . . . tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.”  (James 3: 6 ESV)  So we are to discern and distinguish the words of others for truth and untruth.  To do this, carefullistening is required.

We must listen so that we understand as thoroughly as possible what the other person is saying.  We can not respond to that person with accuracy if we do not listen to attain accuracy.  No understanding can be achieved without careful listening.  To listen carefully is an instance of love of neighbor and love of the enemy.

We must take seriously instances when we are corrected by another in our listening. “I did not say this, I said that.”  We must consider such responses seriously, not brushing them off as mere obfuscations.  The goal is to get an accurate picture of what the other is saying.  We would wish the same for ourselves.  We must seek understanding, not a confirmation of our prejudices.

What are some simple rules to follow?

  1.  Prayer that you may be an instrument of God. As Saint Francis’ great prayer says, “Grant that we may not so much seek  . . . “to be understood as to understand.” (Lutheran Book of Worship, Pew Edition, p 48).
  2. Ask the Lord to open your ears.
  3. Listen to what God has to say to you.  Many passages of the Holy Scriptures will help you in this.
  4. When in dialogue with another in an informal or formal setting, be intent on understanding what he/she had to say. You may help clarify their own thinking. Ask questions to clarify for yourself.  When necessary, repeat what is said to you to confirm whether you are hearing correctly or incorrectly.
  5. Do not use a strategy of misrepresentation or rely on a straw man.
  6. Do not be tempted to entertain a crowd at the expense of truth.  Humor can be used effectively without falling into such temptation.
  7. Keep as a goal, especially in formal debate, of clarity of both or several points of view whether they are right or wrong.
  8. Understand our own limitations as well as those of the other person.  Sometimes, we do not intend to misunderstand.  We just do.
  9. Listen to the Word of the Lord.  Again, listen to the Word of the Lord for guidance and truth.  Frequent reading of Scriptures with a deep intention to understand them will help.

Michael G. Tavella

July 1, 2019

Templeton Project: The Holy Spirit as Apologist

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “The Holy Spirit as Apologist.”

See also:

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In what is called “The Synoptic Apocalypse” (found in variant forms in all three Gospels) as presented in Mark, Jesus says, “”But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them.  And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given to you in that hour, for it is not you who speak , but the Holy Spirit.”  (Mark 13: 9-11 ESV)   In a similar passage in Luke the word defense is used: ” . . . they will lay hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.  This will be an opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate before how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.” (Luke 21: 12-15 ESV)  The phrase “how to answer” translates the verb that can also be translated as “to prepare your defense.” (NRSV) In Luke 12 we find the same Greek verb.  “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12: 11-12 ESV) It is in the latter part of Luke’s work, Acts, that we have Paul’s defense before those in authority.  Both the verb and noun for defense are found there.

The passage about the Holy Spirit as the guide in Mark is found in other places, not in the apocalypse, in Matthew and Luke (Matthew 10: 17-21 and Luke 12: 11-12).  The idea is that the Holy Spirit will be speaking through the one who is making his defense (Luke is the one who actually uses the verb for defense). Christians are to be confident that their defense comes from the Holy Spirit. As Luke describes, the Holy Spirit is our mouth.

We are not to avoid defending the faith, because we do not feel confident to do this.  The Spirit is behind our words. He teaches us as we speak!  In the biblical text there are no reservations about this fact,, but should we have reservations?  ls the Holy Spirit really speaking through me?  We are sinners and may get it wrong. Much we do not know.  Again, we may get it wrong. No advice about this concern does Jesus give us.  We need only ask the heavenly Father, who gives all good things, to grant us the Holy Spirit for this task (Luke 11: 13).

In our witness and defense we call on the Holy Spirit to guide our words with confidence that He will.  He will speak through us with the message and defense of the Gospel.  We can rely on Christ’s Word: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth ‘ ‘ ‘ (John 16: 13 ESV)

Michael G. Tavella

July 1, 2019

Templeton Project: Jesus and His Opponents in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Jesus and His Opponents in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew.”

See also:

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In the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus engages in controversy with His opponents.  These controversy narratives are short encounters, ending with a definitive statement by Jesus. The Pharisees and the Saduccees test Jesus (Matthew 16: 1), and the Pharisees accuse Him of working for Satan (Matthew 12: 22ff).  These two groups, representing different views on the interpretation of the Law, oppose Jesus throughout the Gospel.

Only a few times in Matthew are Jesus’ opponents called brood of vipers, first by John the Baptist.  He condemns the Pharisees and Sadducees for not bearing “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3: 9 ESV) and for relying on Abraham, their ancestor, for their standing before God. Those who do not bear good fruit are “thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3: 10 ESV)  Those who profess strong religious conviction are lacking in repentance, indicated by the failure to bear fruit.

In a lengthy passage in Matthew 23 Jesus condemns the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  At its beginning Jesus advises the people to “practice and observe whatever they tell you–but not what they do. for they preach but do not practice.” (Matthew 23: 2 ESV)  Later in the text they are called hypocrites. (Matthew 23: 13 ESV)  The word, hypocrite, comes from the Greek stage.  The actor was one who hid his own personality as he played a role in the theater.  In the Gospels a hypocrite is one who hides himself behind a mask of pretension, of being something he is not, that is, repentant and obedient to the Lord.  They are motivated by status and praise.

The piety of the Pharisees and the Saduccees was a sham, hiding what they really were. Jesus describes the hypocrite in the Sermon on the Mount.  “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.”  (Matthew 6: 2 ESV)  Jesus’ opponents from the religious establishment hide behind a mask.  In Matthew the epithet is found mostly in the Sermon on the Mount and in Matthew 23 where Jesus emphatically condemns the religious leaders.

The Pharisees are also called blind guides, because they teach falsely (Matthew 15: 10ff).  The scribes and Pharisees are called hypocrites and blind guides in Matthew 23.  There again Jesus accuses them of teaching erroneously.

In Matthew 5: 21ff, verses in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns against anger.  He radicalizes the Old Testament commandment against murder by prohibiting anger. Those who do not refrain from anger have opened themselves to judgment.  The same is true for those who insult a brother or call him a fool. But, Jesus also calls people fools.  Does He contradict His own teachings?

In Matthew 25 Jesus speaks of the wise and foolish virgins.  The wise are prepared to meet their Lord when He returns while the foolish are not. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus contrasts the wise one “who hears these words of mine and does them” with the foolish one  “who hears these words of mine and does not do them.”(Matthew 7: 24 ESV)  Fool/foolish are apt words to describe those who do not follow the teachings of Jesus.  The wise/fool dichotomy is found in various places in the Holy Scriptures (see Proverbs).  When used as an insult, such a label as fool is namecalling, but not so when it describes an actual condition of a person who opposes God’s will.

Jesus calls the religious leaders fools, hypocrites, blind guides, and a brood of vipers.  Is this language appropriate when we make a defense?  We could say that since Jesus is Son of God, He does not have to follow the same standards as He calls us to follow. In Matthew Jesus is the lawgiver who teaches according to the divine will.  For Him to transgress what He teaches would make Him liable to the charge of hypocrisy.  But, Jesus calls HIs opposition what they truly are.  On them falls divine judgment, and Jesus announces this judgment.

These epithets, or labels, accurately describe Jesus’ foes.  The opponents are condemned for their disobedience and opposition to the divine will.   They are not names used to make fun of the antagonist and insult HIm.  The names Jesus uses are not intended to ridicule but to warn the religious leaders of divine judgment.  Most epithets do not fulfill this purpose, but are meant to disarm and insult.

In our own encounters when we are called on to make a defense of our faith, we are to refrain from abusive names.  We may use names that are accurate in their description and that call the other to heed the untruth he is promoting.  When we discover that we have been inaccurate or wrong in such use, we are to express our regrets to our opponent.  Such names used to address others in apologetic discourse should be used very sparingly.

MIchael Tavella

July 1, 2019

Templeton Project: Christ, Culture, and Christians

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Christ, Culture, and Christians.”

See also:

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On the sixth day according to the Book of Genesis, God created human beings. After a time, God observed that it was not good for the man, called Adam, to be alone.  Causing a deep sleep to come over him, God formed a wife for him out of his rib.  Adam called her Eve, “the mother of all living.” Shortly thereafter, Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden for disobeying God’s command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  The gates of Paradise were closed against them.  The cherubim and the swirling sword prevented their return.

God commanded humanity and all creatures to “be fruitful and multiply.”  After their expulsion from Eden, Adam and Eve had children. Sin increased in the world through their son, Cain, and other descendents of the original couple. The early chapters of Genesis (Genesis 1-11),called the primeval history, deal with the increase of sin.

Humanity increased, forming tribes and nations with various languages and customs.  The writer of Genesis explains that different languages came about by God’s command at the Tower of Babel because of the sin of human being’s trying to become like God.  They intended to build a structure that would reach to the heavens, a prideful and arrogant thing. Many different cultures and languages resulted from this dispersion.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines culture as “the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations . . . the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group . . . the set of shared attitudes, values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic.”

When God created a helpmate for Adam, Eve, to join Adam and commanded them to participate in the ongoing development of creation by bearing offspring, God effectively established culture.  Culture is intrinsic to human beings who are by their very nature culture-creating, culture-bearing, and culture-perpetuating beings. Human beings have founded many cultures and developed and subsequently transmitted them to succeeding generations. God declared His creation to be “good” and upon seeing His creation of human beings that includes culture, described it as “very good.”

But, things went wrong.  Adam and Eve disobeyed God, an act that got them cast out of Paradise. Culture was affected and infected by this act of disobedience (see Genesis 4)  The solution for sin, the Bible tells us, is our salvation in Jesus Christ.

Christ, a Greek word meaning “anointed one,”  taken from the Hebrew word, Mashiach, is a title applied to Jesus of Nazareth.  The mission of Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, was, and remains, the establishment of His eternal kingdom.  Through HIs willing sacrifice on the cross, he redeemed humanity.  Those who believe in Him are saved.

He redeemed humanity from what?  The Holy Scriptures make it clear that human beings were created to enjoy a perfect existence; however, tragically, we turned our backs to God through our disobedience and sin, the setting up of ourselves as idols above God.  This event, part of every human life, beginning with Adam and Eve, who set it in motion, is called the Fall in Christian doctrine and theology.  Human beings fell from perfect and sinless communion with God to a broken relationship.  The implications of the Fall permeate every aspect of human life.  We are now subject to sin, death, the world, and the power of the devil.  The culture is subject to the disastrous effects of the Fall; because, it has negatively affected those called to form “pattern[s] of human knowledge, belief, and behavior.”

The Gospel of John often uses the term, “the world,” to describe human culture as fallen, steeped in idolatry as a result of our disobedience to God. Our idolatry puts other gods before the true God. The world is opposed to the will of God.

Jesus contrasts His peace with that of the peace offered by the world when he says “peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14: 27)  He draws a stark contrast between the world and Christians when He says “if you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world; but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15: 19) and “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world . . .They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (John 17: 14, 16)

Human culture had been negatively impacted by the Fall.  It is the context for the world opposed to God, darkness, and the work of Satan. This fact poses a significant challenge to Christians as they both pursue a life in and with Christ, but do so within our imperfect and fallen culture.

Christians also belong to a subculture, the Church.  Unfortunately even inside the Church, we are impacted by the fall into sin.  Despite the fact that Christ founded the Church, Christians struggle with the influence of sin in their subculture.

How do Christ and culture relate? (See H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture and D.A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited) The first thing to recognize is that some sort of culture–regardless of whether one is a Christian, atheist, devotee of another religion, or pagan–is impossible for humans to avoid.  Any community of people forms a culture and, to that end, has language, cuisine, musical forms, a system of etiquette, style of dress, dance, architecture, entertainment, literature, ethnic customs and outlook among other things. Culture is fallen, because human beings are fallen. It is “the world” insofar as it is in opposition to God in Christ and hates the Church, the people of God.  The Church is burdened with sin; but, at the same time, is the place where the redeemed dwell.  Saint Augustine describes two societies: the earthly city and the heavenly city.  The Church is a pilgrim people, whose sins are in the process of being cleansed, as we fare toward the heavenly city.  We are pilgrims seeking the destination of the kingdom of heaven.

The Christian who wishes not to be “of the world,” must come to terms with the fact that he will in significant ways engage with culture and deal with sin in the congregation he belongs to.  Even those Christians that are the most withdrawn from the world, like the Amish or a monastic community, will engage with the culture and the opposition to Christ and His Church in it. They cannot seal themselves off from culture. They will also struggle with their own sin. Therefore, Christians must come to terms with culture and with how to live in and with it.  But also, Christians must avoid fraternizing too closely with culture such that we become indistinguishable from the world, as some denominations have done in recent times.  The Church itself is a culture that opposes the world.

The Church recognizes that culture should be subservient to the Lordship of Christ.  The Church neither completely withdraws from culture, nor capitulates to it.  To do either would cause great harm to her life in the world that is her mission field.

Most Christians live in an uneasy paradox, seeking the grace of perserverance against the world and asking Christ to sustain us through our interaction with it. Culture is fallen, yet impossible to avoid. Although culture is subject to the Fall, it is an overstatement to suggest that it is entirely corrupted by the Fall, that it is entirely evil to the extent that Christians may not participate in it at all. It serves as a medium through which the Gospel is communicated to those outside the Church.  Through the ages goodness and virtue have been described and sought in cultures by philosophers, poets, theologians, and others.  In The Divine Comedy Virgil, the pagan Roman, is chosen to guide Dante along part of the way to heaven.

The Church and Christians need to have a reasonable and sober view that recognizes that culture is essentially human and is good in its origination, yet is also a result of the Fall.  We must use our faith as a guide to decide how, when, and where to participate and not to participate.

The Church and individual Christians must discern where culture is consistent with Christ, where it has departed from the truth, and what remedies are possible this side of the fulfillment of the kingdom of heaven.  But, the most important concern of the Church is to reflect Christ in the life of the City of God in pilgrimage.  We pray for the Church in the words of a Collect taken from The Book of Common Prayer, “O gracious Father, we humbly beseech thee for thy holy Catholic Church; that thou wouldest be pleased to fill it with all truth, in all peace.  Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it.  Where it is right, establish it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of him who died and rose again, and ever liveth to make intercession for us, Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord.  Amen.

How does this article relate to the theme of this blog, which is, ways to engage in respectful conversation with those who disagree with our faith, especially atheists?  It introduces the divide that exists between secularists in the culture and the faithful in Christ. Christians and unbelievers would bring to the table great differences regarding the meaning of life, the way to live, relationship to the culture, priorities, and commitments.  A lot is at stake when we would sit down together.  Anger could be quite apparent in such encounters.  It would not be too difficult for a discussion to turn into a quarrel. (More on anger later). Contempt for the other may also be brought to such meetings.  The gap is wide between contemporary American culture and the Church and even wider between the contemporary culture (called the world in its sinful and rebellious aspects) and Christ.

In future articles H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture and D.A. Carson’s Christ and Culture Revisited will be reviewed.

James Cushing

Templeton Project: Unbelievers

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Unbelievers.”

See also:

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Templeton Project: Saint Paul’s Civility

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Saint Paul’s Civility.”

See also:

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When brought before representatives of the state, described in the Book of Acts,  Paul showed great respect without timidity. From the following analysis it is hoped that some rules of engagement with unbelievers, especially atheists, will emerge.

In the latter part of the Book of Acts Luke tells us of instances when Paul makes a defense before a crowd and state authorities.  His defense is in response to being accused of desecrating the Temple and false teaching.  To the crowd he told of his life including his involvement against those who follow the Way (Christians) and his conversion and call.  The crowd would hear no more and grew violent.  The next day Paul spoke before the Jewish Council, where he defended his belief in the resurrection from the dead, a matter of contention between Pharisees and Sadducees, and the reason for his troubles.

In protective custody Paul is taken to Caesarea where he speaks before the Roman governor, Felix, and, two years later before King Herod Agrippa II and Festus, the Roman governor.  In the first instance he defends himself against the accusations of the high priest and one Tertullus, representing the elders.  Paul says that he cheerfully makes his defense, a description that shows that rancor and bitterness were not found in his demeanor or words.  The apostle claims that he worships God according to the Way (Christians) and the Law and Prophets.  He does this with a clear conscience.  Then, he describes what happened that led to his imprisonment.  Paul claims that it is because of the doctrine of the resurrection that he has been accused.  Days later Paul witnesses to Jesus Christ before the governor.  We can take from the speech that Paul showed great respect for authority and witnessed to the Christian faith.

Two years later Festus became governor.  During these years Paul remained in jail.  Serious accusations were brought against him as before so that he again made his defense in a judicial setting.  Festus briefed King Agrippa about the case.  The king wanted to speak to Paul himself, the occasion for the apostle making another defense. In his defense before Agrippa, Paul mentions again that the controversy pertains to the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead.  He tells of his persecution of Christians and of his conversion to Christ and call to proclaim the Gospel.  He has witnessed to Jews and Gentiles about Jesus Christ and also witnesses to Festus and Agrippa. Both the king and governor agreed that Paul had done nothing wrong.

Paul shows respect, clearly explains the situation that led to his imprisonment, and uses his predicament to confess Christ without timidity.  In our own defense with those who are unbelievers and atheists we should remember these characteristics.

Some principles to apply:

  1.  Do not call people, Christians or pagans, abusive names, but honestly apprise them of their situation with accurate nomenclature.  Names that describe accurately their views or the consequences of those views are acceptable.
  2.  Use your defense as an opportunity for witness to Jesus Christ.
  3. Be prepared to describe the church’s doctrine.  If you are inadequate to this task, join a Bible or  theology study or study on your own.  Participating in a group is preferable.
  4.  Pray for those you might encounter and ask the Lord for the self-control not to get angry.
  5.  Always wish for the other’s spiritual welfare that involves confession of Christ as Lord.
  6.  Know your own faults and limitations to the extent that it is possible and repent of them so that you may not become prideful.
  7.  Observe the culture closely and read up on what is going on around you.  Be a close observer of human nature.
  8.  Follow rules of politeness: do not interrupt someone with whom you are conversing; listen carefully, try to understand where the other person is coming from and where you might help that person re-think his position; do not show contempt or disdain for the other; and do not claim intellectual or any other kind of superiority.
  9. Do not fear.  The Lord is with you.

 

Michael G. Tavella

June 6, 2019

Templeton Project: Flannery O’Connor’s “Push Back”

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Flannery O’Connor’s ‘Push Back’.”

See also:

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Flannery O’Connor was a southern Catholic writer who has bequeathed to us wonderful short stories and two novels.  She has some good advice for Christians in this secular age.  “Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you.  What people don’t realize is how much religion costs.  They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”

“Push back” may be a harsh metaphor when we Christians are striving for civil speech in a contentious, combative society.  But, let us not forget the  primary point that O’Connor is making.  We are to speak up on behalf of Christ–His redemptive sacrifice and wise teachings.  When we are conversing with a friend, talking in a group that has gathered for dinner or some such activity, or participating in a formal setting of discussion or debate, we are called on to defend the faith, no matter what the risk.  To follow Jesus is to carry a cross.

Having to make an apology, or defense, for many of us may be a frequent opportunity in our secular setting.  We must balance civil speech with a firm stand.  To be gentle and respectful does not mean to accede to falsehood.  We may be objects of ridicule and scorn.  No matter, we are to stand for the truth even unto persecution.

Our challenge in any dialogue may not only have to do with civility but also knowledge.  Do we have enough knowledge to feel adequate to the task?  We must also commit ourselves to study, especially of the Bible.

Next time we will discuss how Saint Paul comported himself before people in power.  To do this we will turn to the Acts of the Apostles.

Templeton Project: The Present Cultural Environment in America

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “The Present Cultural Environment in America.”

See also:

 

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The situation for Christians in contemporary American culture can be described as increasing pressure to conform to secularism, an ideology not only different from Christianity but hostile to it.    The circumstances did not come into existence overnight.  Read Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age or a summary of his book by James K. A. Smith, entitled  How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. 

Is cultural hostility becoming a situation of outright persecution?  Are we headed toward an environment of “trials” similar to the exiles in First Peter, or worse?  We do not have too long to wait to find out.  Developments are moving at a fast pace. Secularism is an ideology that by its very nature is intensely inimical to Christian faith.  Our apostolic and catholic confession is a threat to its tenets. And, of course, theirs to ours.  But, as Christians, we are expected to react in love for our neighbor, even our enemy; but, we must also stand firm for our confession of faith.

What do we see on the cultural landscape?  A sexual revolution has taken place that contravenes Christian ethics. (see R. Albert Mohler, Jr., We Cannot Be Silent).  Our government has been active in promoting laws that would limit freedom of the practice of religion.  Note the attempt to replace free exercise of religion with freedom of worship only, a change that would greatly restrict the intent of the First Amendment’s protection.  Hollywood and the media have aligned themselves with secular ways of thinking and doing. Intellectuals have directed attacks against Christian theology and ethics. Though attacks on the faith are not new, today it seems more common and virulent.  Science has become scientism–a philosophy that insists that only science provides knowledge. The humanities and theology, in this view, are not considered sources of knowledge.(See J.P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism).  We are moving toward a brave new world of drugs, sex only for pleasure, and laboratory production and experimentation that challenge Christian ethics  (See Aldous Huxley, Brave New World)  We have state law that allows the killing of a child outside the womb of the mother.  Our societal symbols, representing who we are, could turn out to be the condom and the joint.

In some quarters, the church has become an object of ridicule and contempt. It is in this environment that we must speak the truth and proclaim the Christian faith.

We have churches who have allied themselves, astoundingly enough, with this secular culture in the name of Christ.  The result has been bitterness and hostility within the Christian community. Are churches that renounce orthodox theology and ethics Christian? Because of our many divisions, the church has not spoken with one voice, based on orthodox theology and traditional Christian ethics. Valuable energy and positive influence are lost in these ecclesiastical and ecumenical conflicts.

What are Christians called to do in this situation?  Despite the obstacles and dangers and threats, we must speak out. We must push back, as writer Flannery O’Connor advises.  More on this next time.

Michael G. Tavella

June 1, 2019

Feast Day of Justin Martyr, c. 165

 

Templeton Project: Elect Exiles of the Dispersion–The Importance of Identity

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Elect Exiles of the Dispersion–The Importance of Identity.”

See also:

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Peter addresses his readership as “elect exiles of the Dispersion.”  The terminology comes from the Old Testament where Israel and then Judah went into exile.  The Jews are the elect people of God whose historical experience was exile and dispersion into many lands. Only in recent history have Jews returned to their homeland of Israel.

Christians are those chosen by God,  who are found in many nations and whose identity is one of exile from the homeland of heaven.  The communities of Christians found in several provinces of the Roman Empire, located in what is now the nation of Turkey, were experiencing “various trials.”  Persecution was an everpresent danger. Their experience was one of exile, an unpleasant and difficult reality, from the heavenly country for which they longed.

The post-New Testament Letter to Diognetus takes up the theme of Christians as aliens in this world.  The sender of the letter writes, “They (Christians) live in their own countries, but only as aliens.  They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners.  Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land.  They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring.  They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed. It is true that they are “in the flesh,”  but they do not live “according to the flesh.”  They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.”  (Cyril Richardson, translator and editor. The Library of Christian Classics. Early Christian Fathers, Volume I. Westminster: Philadelphia,1953, p.217).  Christians are not distinguishable from others in many things, but they are set apart by their moral practice.  For example, they shun adultery and the exposure of their children unto death, as pagans sometimes did.

Christians consider themselves as exiles or aliens here on earth.  Our permanent home is in heaven.  These characteristics are primary to Christian identity in the world.  We are separate from the unethical practices of the world, even though sometmes Christians fail in this.

Peter also characterizes Christians as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own (God’s) possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (I Peter 2: 9-10 ESV)  We who have had God’s mercy shown to us through Jesus Christ are an elect peole who are to proclaim the mystery of our salvation so that others may also become a part of God’s people.

This way of looking at life, determined by our redemption in Christ, sets us apart from the world; and, as a result, causes conflict with the world.  Our interface with the world has all the possibility of inspiring anger and hatred in us as it does with those who are not Christians.  Our path, though, should be one of gentleness and respect.  Hard as it is to practice, we are called to address the world in the love of Christ.  But we are also to be separate from the corruption of the world.  Relying on texts from the Old Testament, Paul instructs the Corinthians with these words: “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them says the Lord, . . .

Michael G. Tavella

June 1, 2019

Feast Day of Justin Martyr, c. 165

Templeton Project: With Gentleness and Respect

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “With Gentleness and Respect.”

See also:

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We are to make our defense “with gentleness and respect.”  These words are found in I Peter 3: 13ff in the text that has been and will be the focus of this blog. Different English versions of the New Testament provide different translations of the words under consideration.  The Greek word, translated gentleness (ESV) in English, has also been translated as meekness (ASV, KJV) and humility (WEB and Word Biblical Commentary, I Peter). The word is translated gentleness in NCV and NIV, as well as ESV.

The noun, translated gentleness (ESV), is used in I Peter only in Verse 15 of Chapter 3.  Another form of the word is used as an adjective in I Peter 3: 4, and only there in the letter, where wives are instructed, “Do not let your adorning be external–the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear–but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” (I Peter 3: 3-4 ESV) A woman who behaves in this way has the approval of God.

What can we say about the meaning of gentle/gentleness in I Peter?  How we say what we say in the event of making a defense must be without harshness, contempt, courseness, rudeness, and violence.  It would include mildness by our avoiding threat or anger and certainly avoiding profanity.  Body language would conform to mild speech. Ad hominem arguments would be unacceptable.  More on this later. Make no mistake gentleness does not mean a lack of determination to make one’s defense as a witness to the opponent.  Gentleness does not mean giving up one’s conviction out of timidity. To accede to the others’ threat is to fail to make a defense.

In his commentary on I Peter, J. Ramsey Michaels observes, “Gentleness is “. . . an inward quality or attitude of mind (cf. 3: 3-4), a profound acknowledgement of the power of God, and of one’s own poverty and dependence on Him (cf. Matt 5: 5). Yet this God-centered quality of the heart finds expression also in one’s behavior toward others’” (J. Ramsey Michael. I Peter. Word Books, Word Biblical Commentary,  Waco, Texas, 1988. p. 189).

The second word is translated respect in the English Standard Version.  Elsewhere it is translated fear or reverence. Michaels raises the question of whether respect has to do with God or other people.  Before citing his view, let’s see how the word is utilized elsewhere in the epistle.

The Greek word, phobos, means fear.  We have borrowed it into English in many instances–arachnophobia-fear of spiders; agoraphobia–fear of open places; hydrophobia–fear of water.  The noun is used five times in I Peter.  Its first use is found in I Peter 1: 17:  “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”  (I Peter 1: 17-19 ESV).  The fear is reference to the fear of God.  The word is tranlated repect in our central text in Chapter 3  The “time of exile” is this earthly life.

The Greek word in I Peter 2: 18 is translated as respect in ESV, the same translation as in our primary text in Chapter 3.  Servants are instructed to obey their masters with respect, whether good and gentle or unjust.  Note that the antonym in this context for gentle is translated as unjust.  In 2: 17., the verse immediately before this passage, the community is exhorted to “Fear God,” The word is a verb, used three times in the letter.

Michaels concludes that both words have a reference both to our relationship to God and also our relationship to our neighbors including the hostile ones. (Michaels, p. 189)  Michaels’ own translation of these two words is “humility and reverence,” a translation that seems to emphasize our relationship to God.  We are commanded to proper conduct with our neighbor but also proper attitude toward God. Proper conduct in making a defense applies both to formal debate as well as to informal encounters.

In our conversations with unbelievers we are always to be guided by a relationship with God that has certain ethical consequences., Unbelievers do not have the same foundation as Christians. However, even unbelievers may be influenced by factors leading to conduct similar to Christians, but not with the same motivation. We will follow this thought in future posts.

Michael G. Tavella

March 23, 2019

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