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Worst Christian Bookstore Name Ever

December 16, 2011

Wandering through a mall in Durban, South Africa, last month, we came upon this unfortunately-named Christian bookstore:

I have yet to figure out what the acronym might stand for. It is an acronym, right?

Here’s their website, where you can order products such as …

Or, just in time for the holidays …

I wonder if they know.

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Did Paul Write the Pastoral Epistles? Part IV

December 13, 2011

This will be the final post on the topic of the authorship of the Pastoral epistles. Follow these links for Part I, Part II, and Part III. We’ll wrap up by examining two apparent conflicts between the Pastorals and other NT writings by or about Paul. These conflicts raise further doubt about whether Paul is the author of the putative letters to Timothy and Titus.

Historical Difficulties

The Pastoral epistles describe travels of Paul that bear little resemblance to what we know of his journeys from Acts and other Pauline letters. They have Paul ministering in Crete and leaving Titus to continue the work they had begun. They have Paul wintering in Nicopolis (Western Greece). They have Paul leaving Timothy in Ephesus when he departs for Macedonia (seemingly contrary to Acts 20 which says that Timothy was Paul’s companion on his journey from Ephesus into Macedonia and Greece).

There is no external evidence for any of these trips and no easy way to reconcile them with the chronologies provided by Acts and the undisputed Pauline epistles. Recognizing this, some have suggested that these journeys must have occurred after the time frame covered by Acts. In other words, maybe Paul managed to survive his Roman imprisonment, was released, and returned to the Eastern Mediterranean to complete the journeys mentioned in the Pastorals.

The first problem with this suggestion is that there is simply no evidence of it.

Second, the idea that Paul survived his Roman imprisonment and went on to complete further missionary journeys is at odds with passages in Acts that give the clear implication that Paul would meet his end in Rome.

In Acts 20:25, Paul bids a tearful farewell to the elders at Ephesus:

Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.

The author of Acts gives us no indication that Paul was mistaken about this. Rather, at verses 36-38 he continues:

When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again.

Did Paul surprise everyone (including himself) by surviving his imprisonment in Rome, returning to the Eastern Mediterranean and launching a new work in Crete? I suppose this is possible. But the more likely explanation (particularly in light of all the other evidence pointing away from Pauline authorship) is that the historical details don’t fit because someone is writing these letters in Paul’s name at a later time. The author has sufficient knowledge of Paul’s travels and companions to include personal details that sound plausible, but insufficient knowledge to do so in a way that doesn’t conflict with our more reliable records.

The Role of Women

Scholars have noted that the Pastorals’ teachings on the role of women in church life seems at variance with Paul’s view. Would the Paul who provided instructions on how women should pray and prophecy in I Corinthians (11:4-6) also tell Timothy that women must learn in silence (1 Tim. 2:11-14)? Would the Paul, who frequently commended prominent women in the church (eg. Phoebe, Priscilla, Chloe) and who described Junia (a female name) as “outstanding among the apostles” (Rom. 16:7), now forbid women from teaching or exercising authority over men?

There are several clues throughout the Pastorals that the author is motivated by a desire to reduce tensions with those outside the church, such that Christians might enjoy “peaceful and quiet lives” (1 Tim. 2:1-3). We know from ancient sources that the early church was criticized for the prominent role afforded to women and for teachings that were seen as disruptive to the household.

An extreme example of the sort of teaching that was raising eyebrows is found in the mid-2nd century AD text, The Acts of Paul and Thecla. This early Christian novel portrayed Paul as teaching a strict form of asceticism that forbade marriage and sex. The heroine, Thecla, takes Paul’s message to heart and refuses the marriage arranged for her. She preaches, baptizes herself, narrowly avoids death … it’s all very exciting. But to encourage women to carry on in such a fashion was, to a Roman audience, scandalous.

5-6th century fresco of Paul, Thecla (left) and her mother (right)

The Pastorals may be, in part, an attempt by followers of Paul to counter such interpretations of the Pauline message and alleviate tensions with those outside the church. The message: Paul was no enemy of traditional Greco-Roman family roles. Rather, women should strive for propriety, quiet submission and salvation through childbearing (1 Tim 2:15), i.e. by fulfilling their traditional role in the household. [For more on this point, be sure to listen to Professor Phil Harland’s podcasts 1.11 and 1.12 at Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean.]

In sum, the Pastorals appear to teach a more restrictive role for women than do the undisputed letters of Paul, possibly as a reaction against interpretations of his message that were bringing the church into disrepute.

Conclusion

Taken in isolation, one might be able to mount a cogent rebuttal to each of the arguments canvassed over the last four posts. But the case against Pauline authorship is a cumulative one. Considered together, the various pieces of evidence make it difficult to resist the conclusion that Paul did not author the Pastoral epistles — a view shared by most mainline scholars.

What does this means for 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus? What does it mean for the Bible as a whole? Must we “throw the whole thing away because it’s not trustworthy,” as suggested by Aaron Armstrong? I certainly haven’t cut the Pastorals out of my Bible. Nor should you. They represent an important record of how early followers of Christ interpreted the message of the Apostle Paul as it had been passed down to them.

The presence of pseudonymous writings in the NT does, however, raise some interesting questions about whether the privileged position given to canonical texts is always warranted. For my part, I would tend to give greater weight to something found in the undisputed Pauline corpus than to a teaching unique to the Pastorals. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

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Did Paul Write the Pastoral Epistles? Part III

December 11, 2011

This post is Part III in a series examining the problems scholars have identified with attributing the Pastoral epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus) to Paul. For Part I click here. For Part II click here.

Lack of Substantive Debate

In Part II, we looked at the emphasis in the Pastorals on keeping “the faith”, which may indicate that the Pastorals were written after apostolic teaching had an opportunity to coalesce into a recognized body of doctrine. A corollary of this point is the manner in which false teachers are opposed in the Pastorals. When it comes to false teachers, the Pastorals are heavy on name-calling, but light on substantive debate.

Paul’s usual approach is to confront his opponents with reasoned debate and an authentic gospel. Consider, for instance, the epistle to the Galatians where Paul spends several chapters developing his argument against the Judaizers (who taught that gentiles must adhere to the external signs of the covenant).

The author of the Pastorals, on the other hand, is content simply to denounce false teachers. There is no apparent need to mount any lengthy argument against the false teaching. It is sufficient to point out that the impugned teaching is at odds with established teaching. The opponents have “departed from the faith” (1 Tim. 6:21) and little more need be said.

We should be familiar with this kind of approach because we hear it all the time. Those who view themselves as faithful and orthodox Christians will condemn a particular viewpoint, not on its merits, but on the ground that it is contrary to the creeds or the “fundamental truths of the faith” or “the historic teaching of the church.” There’s nothing inherently wrong in making an argument like this. But in order to make it, you must be living in a time when such traditions have already been established. Thus, scholars see the frequent appeals to tradition in lieu of substantive debate as a further sign that the Pastorals date to the post-Pauline era.

Presence of Gnostic Thought

Woven throughout the Pastoral letters are attacks on certain heresies. Some have observed that the false teaching the author is combatting appears to have elements of proto-gnosticism. The author’s opponents forbid marriage (1 Tim. 4:3), and get caught up in myths and genealogies (1 Tim. 1:4; Titus 3:9). They maintain that the resurrection has already occurred (2 Tim 2:18). Timothy is warned about “what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Tim. 6:20), gnosis being the Greek word for knowledge. Part of the repudiation of the false teachers is an explicit affirmation (contra gnosticism) of the goodness of the material world, “For everything God created is good” (1 Tim. 4:4).

Charting the origins and emergence of gnostic thought is notoriously difficult, but some scholars have suggested that these elements in the Pastorals suggest a date of composition towards the end of the 1st century or early 2nd century.

Developed Ecclesiology

The Pastorals’ emphasis on the roles of bishops, elders, deacons and widows is typical of the more developed ecclesiology of the late first century rather than Paul’s era. Concern about the roles and qualifications of church office holders is absent from the uncontested works of Paul. In those letters, church leadership has more to do with spiritual gifting/charisma than with a clearly defined system of offices.

James Dunn summarizes the argument from ecclesiology as follows:

The degree of church structure seems more developed than anything in the earlier Paul. A distinctive office of “overseer (bishop)” has emerged (1 Tim 3:1; Titus 1:7), as also that of “deacon (minister)” (1 Tim 3:8). These titles were already in use in Phil 1:1, but the concept of a formal office is more in evidence. Likewise, the office of “elder” appears in the Pauline corpus for the first time (1 Tim 5:17; Titus 1:5). It looks as though on this point the Pastorals share the hindsight perspective evident also in Luke’s account of Paul’s mission (Acts 14:23; 20:17), of which there is no trace in the earlier Pauline letters. It may also be significant, then, that the only use of the term “charism,” so central to Paul’s concept of the body of Christ (Rom 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1), is limited to talk of Timothy’s charism given through the laying on of hands in the past (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6).

Dunn, James D.G., The First and Second Letters to Timothy and the Letter to Titus: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections. 

Dunn goes on to caution, however, that the ecclesiology in the Pastorals is still emerging. It is not yet as developed as in the letters of Ignatius (circa 110 AD), which evidence a monoepiscopacy [try saying that word 5 times fast! – it means having only one bishop per city]. The important point is that the Pastorals reflect a degree of institutionalized church structure unknown in Paul’s day.

******

In the next and final post in this series, we’ll look at the role of women in the Pastorals as well as some historical difficulties with the letters. On a personal note, I must apologize for the month-long hiatus in the middle of this series. I have just returned from a three week trip to South Africa during which I had rather limited internet access. As a token of my apology, I offer this irresistibly cute photo of a momma marmoset and her baby, taken in Hout Bay, South Africa. Sadly, I was not permitted to bring them home with me.

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Did Paul Write The Pastoral Epistles? Part II

November 15, 2011

In my last post, I discussed some reasons for being cautious about accepting 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus (the Pastoral epistles) as genuine writings of the Apostle Paul. In this post, we begin considering some of the evidence that has moved scholars from mere caution to downright skepticism.

Vocabulary & Style

The vocabulary of the Pastoral epistles is different from that of the undisputed letters of Paul. Of all the letters attributed to Paul in the NT, the Pastorals have the highest proportion of words appearing nowhere else in the Pauline letters. Many of those words are more characteristic of 2nd century writing than of Paul’s.

Norman Perrin explains the data as follows:

… [O]f 848 words (excluding proper names) found in the Pastorals, 306 are not in the remainder of the Pauline corpus, even including the deutero-Pauline 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, and Ephesians. Of these 306 words, 175 do not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, while 211 are part of the general vocabulary of Christian writers of the second century. Indeed, the vocabulary of the Pastorals is closer to that of popular Hellenistic philosophy than it is to the vocabulary of Paul or the deutero-Pauline letters.

 The New Testament: An Introduction, pg. 264

Some will argue that differences in vocabulary may be attributable to Paul writing to a different audience for a different purpose at a different time. I agree that an e-mail I send to my wife will probably use different vocabulary than a brief I draft for court. I get that. But the fact that over 1/3 of the words in the Pastorals are absent from Paul’s other letters in combination with the presence of over 200 words typical of 2nd century Christian writing … it all just seems awfully suspicious.

One example of a significant difference in vocabulary is the word “Savior”. Christ and God are frequently called “Savior” in the Pastorals (10 times, by my count). Paul, on the other hand, tends to refer to Christ as “Lord”. The descriptor “Savior” is never used of God and only once of Christ in the undisputed letters of Paul. The sole usage is in Phil. 3:20:

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,

[I find it fascinating that Paul’s only use of the word “Savior” in the undisputed letters is in reference to a role that Christ has yet to fulfill, but that’s a topic for another day.]

The argument from vocabulary gets even stronger when you consider Paul’s syntax. In their NT commentary, Achtemeier, Green and Thompson explain:

Most telling of all, some nineteen participles, conjunctions, and adverbs that characterize the undisputed Pauline letters are absent from the Pastorals; an author tends to use such words automatically, and their absence betrays an author other than Paul.

Achtemeier, Paul J., Joel B. Green, and Marianne Meye Thompson, Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and TheologyGrand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001, pg. 461.

But it’s not only the words; it’s how Paul uses them. Perrin describes the distinction between the literary style of the Pastoral epistles and Paul’s style:

Paul writes a characteristically dynamic Greek, with dramatic arguments, emotional outbursts, and the introduction of real or imaginary opponents and partners in dialogue. The Pastorals are in a quiet meditative style, far more characteristic of Hebrews or 1 Peter, or even of literary Hellenistic Greek in general, than of the Corinthian correspondence or of Romans, to say nothing of Galatians.

 The New Testament: An Introduction, pg. 265

To accept the Pastoral epistles as authentically Pauline, one must accept that Paul’s style, vocabulary and syntax all underwent a discernible change at some point in his letter-writing career. That’s not impossible. But a pseudonymous author is a far simple explanation.

The Emphasis on Keeping the Faith

Even when the author of the Pastorals uses Pauline vocabulary, there is a subtle shift in the meaning of some words – a shift that may betray the fact that the author is writing in the post-apostolic era.

In the undisputed letters, Paul does occasionally refer to Christian belief as “the faith” (eg. 1 Cor. 16:13), but usually the word “faith” refers to trust in God.

In the Pastorals, the expression “the faith” takes on greater significance. Again and again, the phrase is used as a shorthand for the established body of Christian teaching from which one should not depart. Many people are said to have wandered from, abandoned or denied “the faith”. (1 Tim. 4:1; 1 Tim. 5:8; 1 Tim 6:10; 1 Tim 6:21) Deacons must be those who hold to the “deep truths of the faith” (1 Tim. 3:9). Timothy is to be “nourished on the truths of the faith” (1 Tim. 4:6). One gets the clear sense that, by the time of the Pastorals, “the faith” is a thing unto itself. Some parameters of orthodoxy have been established (within this author’s community, at least) and the author’s aim is to encourage adherence to that orthodoxy.

In the Pastorals, the object of faith has begun to shift. It is not merely fidelity to the gospel of Christ that is encouraged, but fidelity to the apostolic teachings about the gospel. This suggests that the audience is living in an age in which the apostolic traditions have had a chance to coalesce into a recognized body of belief.

In a similar vein, the Pastorals employ a construction foreign to the undisputed letters that seems aimed at emphasizing the pedigree of particular teachings. The Pastorals frequently describe a particular truth claim as pistos, a Greek word meaning trustworthy or faithful.

1 Tim 1:15 “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance …”

1 Tim 3:1 “Here is a trustworthy saying …”

1 Tim 4:9 “This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance.”

2 Tim 2:11 “Here is a trustworthy saying …”

Titus 1:9 “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”

Titus 3:8 “This is a trustworthy saying.”

Outside of the Pastorals, pistos is used to describe faithful people or a faithful God, but only in the Pastorals is it used to describe the soundness of particular points of doctrine. This continual appeal to trustworthy or faithful Christian teaching fits nicely with the theory that the author is a later adherent of Pauline Christianity calling his readers back to authentic apostolic teaching.

Titus 1:9 (quoted above), in particular, implies a concern for continuity: this message was passed on to you, now you must pass it on faithfully to others. This aim of securing the long term integrity of the message seems unlikely to have come from the pen of Paul, who was possessed of a rather imminent expectation of the parousia (see, for instance, 1 Thess. 4:15–17).

In the next post, we’ll consider further the problematic relationship between the content of the Pastorals and their claims to Pauline authorship.

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Did Paul Write the Pastoral Epistles?

November 13, 2011

Over at New Ways Forward, Mason Slater has two recent blog posts (Part 1 and Part 2) on the question of Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus). In his second post, Mason responds to this piece by Aaron Armstrong at Blogging Theologically. Aaron is clearly of the view that to admit that the Pastorals are not authentically Pauline is to deny inerrancy. This would be disastrous, he maintains, because without inerrancy, the whole edifice of Christian belief crumbles.

Aaron’s blog post reminded me of the frequent refrain from Al Mohler’s blog. In response to evidence that challenges biblical inerrancy, Mohler seems invariably to move directly to an argument from adverse consequences: X can’t be true because, if it were, undesirable consequence Y would follow. This is what frustrates me most about apologetics. Its practitioners decide in advance upon a set of non-negotiable conclusions that must be defended. They then work backwards, accepting or rejecting evidence, not on its merits, but on the basis of how it comports with their preordained conclusions.

Now, to be fair, Aaron isn’t saying we shouldn’t ask the question or consider the evidence. But when you start with hand wringing about the terrible consequences that will befall the faith if any pseudepigraphy is found in the Bible, you have hopelessly prejudiced your analysis before you even begin.

So what is the evidence that 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus were not authored by Paul? Turns out, there’s quite a bit. I’ve decided to break this up over several blog posts. I’ll start today by explaining why there are valid reasons to question Pauline authorship and then proceed, in the blog posts that follow, to delve into the specific pieces of evidence that are often cited in answer to that question.

The Unreliability of the Epistles’ Authorship Claims

1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus each explicitly identify the Apostle Paul as their author. The reason that these authorship claims cannot simply be taken at face value is that pseudepigraphy was a real problem in the first several centuries. Pseudepigraphy was the practice of putting one’s own words into the mouth of a reputable figure, usually from the past. And we have reliable evidence that some early Christians were using Paul’s name to add legitimacy to their writings.

The second century Muratorion fragment (ca. 170 A.D.) condemns two circulating Pauline letters (one addressed to the Laodiceans and the other to the Alexandrians) as Marcionite forgeries.  3 Corinthians is another example of a letter penned in Paul’s name that is known to be inauthentic. Even our own canon contains a warning in 2 Thessalonians (2:2) of false letters claiming apostolic authorship (an ironic warning, given that the authenticity of 2 Thessalonians is itself much in doubt).

The take-away point is that pseudonymous writing was a problem during the nascent years of Christianity. Thus, the fact that the Pastorals bear the label “Paul, an apostle” is no more determinative of authenticity than is the label “Rolex” on a watch from China.

We have to inspect the letters more closely.

Late Attestation & Mixed Reception

A second factor that should give us pause before uncritically accepting the Pastorals’ authorship claims is the evidence we have about how and when these letters were received by the early church.

The first known attempt to canonize certain writings as authoritative scripture was undertaken by Marcion circa 140 A.D. His canon contained 10 Pauline epistles. He included all of the putative Pauline epistles in our canon (plus a couple extra). Notably absent, however, are 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.

Papyrus 46 (Image from Wikipedia)

Similarly, Papyrus 46, a codex of Pauline epistles from about 200 A.D., although damaged, appears to have contained all of the letters traditionally attributed to Paul, except for the Pastorals.

Tatian in the mid-second century accepted Titus, but rejected 1 & 2 Timothy.

We must be careful not to stretch this point too far. Other early Christian writers do appear to have accepted the Pastorals as authoritative. Polycarp, for instance, in his Letter to the Philippians (ca. 110-140 AD) uses language at several points that may be lifted from 1 & 2 Timothy. Irenaeus quotes them explicitly, though not until ca. 170 A.D.

What can be said is that the Pastorals do not appear to have received the same early, widespread acceptance within the early church that the uncontested Pauline epistles did. As such, caution is warranted.

In the next post, we’ll start examining some of the data relating to the texts themselves — data that has led most scholars to concluded that the Pastoral epistles are indeed pseudonymous. Stay tuned.

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Kenton Sparks on Fundamentalism

October 23, 2011

“At its heart, each of these [fundamentalist] movements views modernism as a threat to the stability of culture and to the predictability of life. Fundamentalists yearn for a world in which all is fixed and certain. For this reason they militantly eschew anything and anyone that introduces doubt, uncertainty, or ambiguity into their worldview. This ideology puts fundamentalism into direct conflict with modernism because modernity is the product of a world gone international and intercultural. But modernity is not the creator of pluralism, as fundamentalists often suppose. Modernity’s pluralism is instead the inevitable consequence of human diversity — and it is contact with this diversity, and its ‘pollution,’ that fundamentalism fears.

“Fundamentalism’s response to modernism is a kind of ideological paranoia that features two interrelated defensive strategies. First, every fundamentalism secures the uniqueness of its worldview by claiming access to an inerrant text or authority that provides perfect knowledge. This assertion not only secures the validity of the community’s beliefs but also ensures that the beliefs of outsiders are in error. Nothing is more important to a fundamentalist than being right and being sure of it. Fundamentalism’s second defensive strategy erects a thick cultural wall between the community and those outside it. The primary purpose of this wall is to prevent contact with opposing views that might challenge or raise too much doubt about the community’s worldview. As a rule, this barrier is constructed by forbidding or greatly discouraging the study of materials that come from those outside the fundamentalist guild. For instance, while Christian fundamentalists are quite likely to read descriptions of modern evolutionary theory that have been written by other fundamentalists, they would rarely study a book that was written by an evolutionist, or study evolutionary biology in a university setting. For most fundamentalists, such pursuits would be a waste of time at best, and downright dangerous at worst.

“… [T]he difficulty in circular reasoning is that it includes far fewer pieces of reality than it should. It juggles a few balls successfully when there are many other balls that should be juggled. Fundamentalists attempt to perpetuate this illusion of hermeneutical success by denying the existence of the extra balls. But so long as Christian fundamentalists live in the real world, they will face an almost constant barrage of evidence that does not fit their view of things — evidence that the universe is very old, that evolution is true, that languages were not created at the tower of Babel, that there was no worldwide flood, and so forth. This is a list that could be easily extended. It is pitiful and even painful to watch as naive fundamentalist students nervously and fearfully traverse their first year university Bible classes, flailing desperately to keep their heads above the water in a sea of evidence that neither they, nor their parents and pastors, suspected could exist. At the same time, it is truly exciting to see thoughtful and healthy Christian students, fully committed to the theological orthodoxies of the Christian tradition, who are able to traverse those same seas with a spirit of enthusiasm for discovery. Fundamentalism fears the evidence that challenges its views; healthy Christian orthodoxy revels in the evidence, since it believes that all evidence, properly understood, will lead to a healthier view of life and faith.”

-Kenton L. Sparks, God’s Word in Human Words, pp. 307-08

 

 

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Driscoll and the God of Hate

October 10, 2011

It was only a few days ago that Roger Olson offered these thoughts on why he could not be a Calvinist:

It seems to me that most 5 point Calvinists I know seem bound and determined to believe anything they think the Bible says regardless of how horrific that may be.  In other words, IF they became convinced that somehow they had been overlooking something in Scripture (as they think I do) and, in fact, God and the devil are actually the same being such that God is evil, they would believe it because the Bible says it.  I, on the other hand, presuppose that God cannot be evil; that goodness and being belong inextricably together or else there is no ground for basic trust.

That’s why we cannot be Calvinists–because IF WE believed what Calvinists believe God would not be good and therefore could not be trusted.  We realize that Calvinists (at least most) do not believe God is a monster, but we are saying if WE believed what they believe we would find it necessary to think of God that way–as indistinguishable from the devil.  I find most (all?) Calvinists simply sweep that aside as unworthy of consideration and fall back on quoting isolated Bible passages that they think prove their view of God and salvation, etc.

As if on cue, Mark Driscoll devoted a good portion of his sermon yesterday to proving Olson’s point. Here’s a sampling [skip to 4:30 if you don’t have the time to watch it all]:

The quote at 4:30 is as follows:

Some of you, God hates you. Some of you, God is sick of you. God is frustrated with you. God is wearied by you. God has suffered long enough with you. He doesn’t think you’re cute. He doesn’t think it’s funny. He doesn’t think your excuse is meritous [sic]. He doesn’t care if you compare yourself to someone worse than you. He hates them too. God hates, right now, personally, objectively hates some of you.

I have a few questions:

1) What about the rest of the Bible?

Driscoll tells us that God hates, not just sin, but sinners themselves. In support of this proposition, Driscoll quotes a few verses from the imprecatory Psalms. This is exactly what Olson was talking about – the idea that we’ve no choice but to adopt a view of God, no matter how repulsive, if there are a few isolated verses that appear to support it. Does Driscoll really think that the best place to look for clear insight on God’s character is in the anguished cries of a psalmist imploring God to punish his enemies?

Why should those verses force us to overlook the many passages that describe God’s attitude toward the wayward as one of love:

Proverbs 3:12 “For the Lord disciplines those he loves, just as a father disciplines the son in whom he delights.”

Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Ephesians 2:4-5 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved!”

Luke 13:34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it!”

The overwhelming message of Scripture is that God’s posture towards the rebellious is one of broken-hearted love, not hate.

2) What is the psychological impact of this view of God?

I worry for the children and young people in this church. What kind of fear-based relationship with the Almighty is engendered by your pastor hollering at you that God is sick of you, that God “personally, objectively” hates you?  If you internalize the message that God hates you, it’s going to be hard to shake those fears no matter how repentant you become. What if I slip up? What if I fall short? Is the terrifying, wrathful God of hate gone for good or is he hiding around the corner, ready to punish me the moment he gets sick of me again?

As Rob Bell has observed, it’s hard to trust a God who can switch between hate and love in an instant.

3) Where is God the Father?

If you’ve listened to Driscoll enough, you’ll know that he frequently draws upon his experience as a father to explain God’s relationship with us. Strangely, we don’t hear any of those analogies here. We don’t hear Pastor Mark explaining how he hates his children when they rebel. He doesn’t mention that his hatred towards his rebellious children is only assuaged by pouring out his wrath on them (or someone in their stead).

Perhaps we don’t hear this from Driscoll because he’s actually a good and decent father. And because the heart of a good father towards a rebellious child is one of love and reconciliation, not hate.

4) How should we feel towards those outside the church?

Let’s be consistent. If God hates sinners, then so should we. I even have a verse from an imprecatory Psalm to prove it:

Psalm 139:21-22 “O Lord, do I not hate those who hate you, and despise those who oppose you? I absolutely hate them, they have become my enemies!”

I guess we have to follow this verse uncritically as well. Seems the Westboro Baptist Church had the right idea all along.

If you believe God hates sinners, it’s going to affect how you treat them.

5) Is Driscoll’s God “good” in any meaningful sense of the word?

Driscoll’s theology makes a monster out of God. He insists that, “God doesn’t just hate what you do. He hates who you are.” In other words, God hates you because of your sinful nature. Remember that thing you were born with? That thing about which you had absolutely no choice? That’s the thing that makes God hate you.

The idea of God hating people because of a nature they were born with (as per Driscoll’s theology) is the moral equivalent of hating people because of the color of their skin. It’s abhorrent.

6) What does vengeance have to do with justice?

In my view, the most telling part of the sermon comes when Driscoll says the following [at 0:55]:

Some of you say, yes, this is the problem with religion. It’s so primitive. It wants things like justice. And might I say, when someone breaks into your home, so do you. [long pause] It’s the wrath of God.

It’s fairly self-evident that the purpose of the pause is to allow Driscoll’s audience of 20-something men to imagine how they’d want to kick the crap out of someone who broke into their house. This is supposed to help them understand why God wants to kick the crap out of them.

Driscoll’s imaginary critic is quite right. That is “primitive”. Because what Driscoll is describing is not justice – it’s vengeance.

As a criminal defence lawyer, I routinely represent people who have broken into other people’s homes (and worse). Most have tragic stories of dysfunctional families, physical or sexual abuse, abandonment, and drug addiction. The prosecutor will often invite the victim to submit a “victim impact statement” to the court. Some victims are just like Driscoll’s notion of God. They want “justice”, by which they mean that they want the offender to be punished. They were hurt and they want to see the offender hurt in return. In short, they want revenge.

The nobler of the victims respond differently. Sure, they recognize the need for consequences. But they are more concerned with seeing the offender rehabilitated. They want consequences that serve a purpose, namely, to see the offender restored to society. Sometimes they even offer forgiveness, unsolicited.

Justice may require consequences, but by no means does it require the hatred or retributive wrath that Driscoll ascribes to God. [For more on this point, see this thoughtful piece by Steve Douglas.]

Like Roger Olson, I am convinced that the “‘goodness’ attributed to God cannot be totally different from every understanding of goodness (and love) we know of.”

If God is perfectly good, then surely he rises above the human instinct to seek revenge. Surely the Heavenly Father does not hate his children for being what they cannot help but be. Surely he is more like the father of the prodigal son, scanning the horizon for any sign of his beloved child returning.

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Did Science Denial Kill Steve Jobs?

October 7, 2011

When a man with a net worth of $7 billion dies after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, you assume that he succumbed to his disease in spite of the best medical intervention money can buy. In part, this is true. Steve Jobs underwent a surgery that rearranged his digestive organs in 2004 and a liver transplant in 2009.

But, sadly, proper medical treatment wasn’t his first course of action. After receiving his cancer diagnosis in 2003, Jobs delayed seeking conventional medical treatment for some nine months. Why? Apparently, Jobs had been taken in by peddlers of alternative medicine. A 2008 article from Fortune magazine reported:

While a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is often tantamount to a swiftly executed death sentence, a biopsy revealed that Jobs had a rare – and treatable – form of the disease. If the tumor were surgically removed, Jobs’ prognosis would be promising: The vast majority of those who underwent the operation survived at least ten years.

Yet to the horror of the tiny circle of intimates in whom he’d confided, Jobs was considering not having the surgery at all. A Buddhist and vegetarian, the Apple CEO was skeptical of mainstream medicine. Jobs decided to employ alternative methods to treat his pancreatic cancer, hoping to avoid the operation through a special diet – a course of action that hasn’t been disclosed until now.

Yesterday, Brian Dunning wondered aloud whether earlier medical intervention might have prolonged Jobs’ life. According to Dunning, life expectancy for this form of cancer depends on how quickly the tumor is removed:

The median survival is about a decade, but it depends on how soon it’s removed surgically. Steve caught his very early, and should have expected to survive much longer than a decade. Unfortunately Steve relied on a naturopathic diet instead of early surgery. There is no evidence that diet has any effect on islet cell carcinoma. As he dieted for nine months, the tumor progressed, and took him from the high end to the low end of the survival rate.

Jobs deserves credit for dumping the advice of the cancer-diet charlatans when it clearly wasn’t working. But one has to wonder whether giving the tumor an additional nine months to grow made a difference is his long-term health outcome.

It would be wrong to call Jobs a science denier. After all, he built an empire by staying on the cutting edge of computing technology. But when it came to the health sciences, for a brief but critical period of time he ignored the advice from the cutting edge of that field. He got conned into buying an abacus when he really needed a MacBook.

I am sad that Steve Jobs has died. I am even more saddened by the scores of unnecessary deaths that result from otherwise intelligent people eschewing clinically-proven medical treatment in favor of ineffective fad alternatives. As Michael Specter puts it (in what is possibly the best TED talk I’ve ever watched), “We hate Big Pharma. We hate big government. We don’t trust the man. … So we run away from it. And where do we run? We leap into the arms of Big Placebo.”

Do yourself a favor and watch the video. Spread it around. It might just save someone’s life.

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Rob Bell leaving Mars Hill

September 24, 2011

Mars Hill church has announced that Rob Bell is moving on:

Feeling the call from God to pursue a growing number of strategic opportunities, our founding pastor Rob Bell, has decided to leave Mars Hill in order to devote his full energy to sharing the message of God’s love with a broader audience.

Read the full announcement here.

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The Whore of Babylon Identified

September 20, 2011

Ever wonder who or what the author of Revelation had in mind when he penned these verses:

1 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. 2 With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”

3 Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. 5 The name written on her forehead was a mystery:

BABYLON THE GREAT

THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES

AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.

6 I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.

(Revelation 17:1-6)

Well wonder no longer. Damon Thompson has heard from God and it turns out the whore of Babylon is Rob Bell!

Who knew?


Okay, so the whore of Babylon isn’t Rob Bell himself. According to Thompson, the whore of Babylon is “the universalist church”, but if you’re reading Rob Bell, you are flirting with said whore.

Rob Bell, probably praying to the Beast

It’s about time someone pointed out how “drunk with the blood of God’s holy people” those universalists are. Why, just this week a Reformed church in my neighborhood was firebombed by a mob of universalists wearing TOMS and chanting slogans about the reconciliation of all things. Those bastards!

What I found particularly helpful was Thompson’s insight that Gehenna can’t be a reference to the Valley of Hinnom outside the walls of Jerusalem. Why not? Because worms die in the Valley of Hinnom. Hell, on the other hand, is located in “the bowels of the earth” and has no shortage of worms capable of tolerating the 4000+ kelvin temperatures in the earth’s core for all eternity. Game, set and match, you inclusivist Babylonian hookers.

So in case you got lost, here’s a recap: When the Bible describes the place of the dead as being under the earth, that’s literal. When it mentions immortal worms eating the dead, that’s literal. When it describes a prostitute with the name “Babylon the Great” on her forehead, that’s a metaphoric reference to Christians who believe God intends to reconcile all people to himself.

Exegesis is so much easier when stuff just means what you want it to mean.