Talk about a productive summer!

Last year I tackled the 740 page The Resurrection of the Son of God – by far the largest and most “serious” book I’ve tried to read in my attempt to remedy my thin grasp on church history, philosophy and theology. I didn’t have the background to understand half of what he was talking about, but it was well worth it anyway.

I realized though that the earlier volumes in the series (that was book number 3), might be of greater interest. I’m beginning with the first volume, which is more about the New Testament itself, the surrounding history of Israel, and what we know about the early church.  The second book in the series is about Jesus. He has yet to complete volumes four and five. One of them is about Paul. Not sure about the other one. At the rate I go, I’ll be lucky to finish it in 2 months.

As someone who is a rather slow writer, I’ve always been amazed at how incredible the output of some folks can be. My friend Brendan one commented that Peter Leithart can write faster than he (Brendan) can read. If that’s true, than for N.T. Wright it’s even more so. And he’s not just blabbing either. This is RICH stuff.

I came across this in the “thank you” section of his introduction:

In the main draft of volumes 1 and 2 and the first half of volume 3, was written while on sabbatical in Jerusalem during the summer of 1989.

-N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, p.xix

You’re kidding. I know it’s only the first draft, before it’s cleaned up, but that’s still 1000-1500 PAGES (in a pretty small font I might add) written in, what, 4 months? Absolutely astounding. And the work itself is a masterpiece, not just chatter.

This is up there with Michael Phelps winning 8 gold medals, and breaking 7 world records in one week (only without smoking bongs are a party afterward). This is like that prodigy musician who could play the 100+ existing Miles Davis transcriptions from memory when he was 14.

I’m trying not to be a N.T. Wright fanboy, but it’s hard sometimes. I mean, if you want to be a critic, it’s not that hard to find some areas he’s surprisingly weak in. But come on! How many brilliant scholars are there like this? Quite a few I imagine actually. But in addition to thinking well, how many can work this hard and fast? It’s impressive. That’s all.

On the introductions of Christian books

The family small group I’m in at church recently decided to work through a book on parenting over several weeks. Before I opened the book, I decided I would wait and see if how long it took for the word “unfortunately” to show up. Answer: The second paragraph of the introduction.

That’s pretty normal really. The book actually isn’t too bad, but it follows the usual pattern of Christian self-help:

God really wants Christians to do ___________________.

Unfortunately, we all stink at this. Good thing you’ve got this book! Now I’ll tell you how to fix it.

a slightly improved option is the “appearance of humility” introduction:

Don’t you want this great thing the Lord has for you? We’ll I’m going to help you do just that.

Disclaimer: I don’t know all the answers, so God help me. I probably know more than you though, so listen up.

It’s refreshing to find something seriously different. I just cracked open another book by N.T. Wright and found this in the introduction:

I make many mistakes in moral and practical manners, so why should I imagine my thinking to be mysteriously exempt? But whereas if I hurt someone, or take a wrong turn in the road, I am usually confronted quite soon with my error, if I expound erratic views within the world of academic theology I am less likely to be convinced by contradiction. We all have ways of coping with adverse comment without changing our minds.

-N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, p.xvii

Oooooo. We all have ways of coping and not changing our minds when we’re wrong.

I’m so sick of hearing about how “great leaders use self-deprecating humor”. Most of the time it seems forced or faked actually. There is no mistake on this into to one of Thomas Merton’s journals:

In any case, the careless style, the callow opinions and all the other defects are those of writer much younger and even more unwise that I am at the present.

-Thomas Merton, Secular Journals, preface

We could all use a bit more authentic humility in our religious discorse if you ask me. And you don’t have to compromise your beliefs to do it either.

“god” versus “God” in writing

I remember ever since I was young, the capitalization of the word God and especially the pronouns Him and Himself bothered me. I remember getting marked down on an essay once for not capitalizing “him” in a sentence that was referring to Jesus. Now, I understand what they (whoever came up with this scheme) is trying to do, but I think they were going about it the wrong way. I’ve always felt this was an unnecessary tweaking of grammar, that the meaning was ALWAYS explained the context anyway. The fact that their use is rather spotty between different Bible translations and authors aggravates the problem. In fact, I do it myself all the time!

Why use these code words? It’s like when you are talking about the President of the U.S., you say “him*” with an asterix. And if you are talking about a “him” that is a father, then the word should be underlined. And if “him” is a animal, like you pet doggy, circle the letter “m”. Also, if you like the person you are talking about, use a blue marker. If you think they have a silly hairdo, use a red maker.

I’m sure whoever originated this practice had good intentions, but at the end of the day I think it serves more to muddle grammar and weaken language than to glorify the one true god and reduce confusion.

Frankly though, I’d never thought about this much. I just found it annoying.

In the preface to his huge work on the New Testament, N.T. Wright takes several paragraphs to sort out why he doesn’t like the capital “G” god either.

There are … matters of linguistic usage on which I must comment, and either apologize for or, perhaps, explain why apology should be unnecesary.

I have frequently used ‘god’ instead of ‘God’. This is not a printer’s error, not is it a deliberate irreverence; rather the opposte in face. The modern usage, without the article and with a capital, seems to me actually dangerous. This usage, which sometimes amounts to regarding ‘God’ as the proper name of the Deity, rather than essentially a common noun, implies that all users of te word are monotheists and, whithin that, that all monotheists believe in the same god. Both these propositions seem to me self-evidently untrue. It may or may not be true that any worship of any god is translated by some mysterious grace ito worship of one god who actually exists, and who happents to be the only god. That is believed by some students of religion. It is not, however, believed by very many practitioners of the mainline monothestic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) or of the non-monotheistic ones (Hinduism, Buddhism and their cognates). Certainly the Jesus and Christians of the first century did not beieve it. they believed that pagans worshipped idols, or even demons.

It seem to me therefore, simply misleading to use ‘God’ throughout this work. I have often preferred either to refer to Israel’s god by the biblical name, YHWH (nonwithstanding debates about the use of this name within second-temple Judaism), or, in phrases designed to remind us of what or who we are talking about, to speak of ‘the creator’ or ‘Israel’s god’. The early Christians use the phrase ‘the god’ (ho theos) of this god, and this was (I believe) somewhat polemical, making an essentially Jewish-monotheistic point over against polytheism. In a world where there were many suns, one would not say ‘the sun’. Furthermore, the early Christians regulrly felt the need to make clear which god they were talking about by glossing the phrase, as Paul so oftem does, with a reference to the revelation of this god in and through Jesus of Nazareth. Since in fact, the present project presents a case, among other things, for a fresh understanding of the meaning of content of the word ‘god’, and ultimately ‘God’, in the light of Jesus, the Spirit and the New Testament, it would be begging the question to follow a usage which seemed to imply that the answer was known in advance. I think it quite likely that many of those who come to a book like this with the firm conviction that ‘Jesus is God’, and equally wel man of those who come with the firm conviction that he is not, may hold views on the meaning of ‘god’, or ‘God’, which ought to be challenged in the light of the New Testament. The christological question, as to whether the staement ‘Jesus is God’ is true, and if so in what sense, is often asked though ‘God’ were the known and ‘Jesus’ the unknown; this I suggest, is manifestly mistaken. If anything, the matter stands the other way around.

-N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, p.xvii

That very last statement is the most interesting:

The christological question, as to whether the staement ‘Jesus is God’ is true, and if so in what sense, is often asked though ‘God’ were the known and ‘Jesus’ the unknown; this I suggest, is manifestly mistaken. If anything, the matter stands the other way around.

We assume that we know God – that if we met him walking down the street, we would recognize him. That’s the given. We’re all over that. But Jesus? Who knows, that was so long ago and all we have are some stuff some guys wrote about him. Really? Do you see how odd that is?

In the next section he talks about how he always says “Jesus” and not “Christ”, since in the context of the New Testament, Jesus’ Messiaship was very much in question. Even amongst his followers. That’s a more specific case though.

Another note against “blank slate” eschatology

I already mentioned earlier how I was pleasantly surprised to find George MacDonald’s eschatology to be in the same vein as N.T. Wright’s. That is, focusing on the redemption of creation as a whole and rejecting a Platonic, ethereal notion of heaven and resurrection.

Here, he invokes astronomy, as well as the animal kingdom:

The new heaven and the new earth will at least be a heaven and an earth! What would the newest earth be to the old children without its animals? Barer than the heavens emptied of the constellations that are called b their names. Then, if the earth must have its aimals, why not the old ones, already dear? The sons of God are not a new race of sons of God, but the old race glorified – why a new race of animals, and not the old ones glorified?

-George MacDonald, from Sermon: The Hope of the Universe

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Appealing to visceral intuition

I listened to a lecture by Os Guiness yesterday where he lamented how few young American’s have thought critically about what they believe. They have beliefs and opinions galore but if asked to explain them, would come up with little more than an appeal to visceral intuition.

My excursion into reading and study these past two years has largely been a reaction to my own frustration at not being able to explain in a satisfying way what I believe. This includes matters of faith and philosophy mostly, but also ideas about art, beauty, parenting, you name it. I feel think I’ve only scratched the surface.

Along these lines is this quote from George MacDonald I came across yesterday:

What many men call their beliefs are but the prejudices they happen to have picked up.

-George MacDonald, from Sermon: The Hope of the Universe

Kickin’ Economics Commentary

Alright, this blog is MY little scrapbook of stuff. Reblogging or reposting somebody else’s stuff is not what it’s about. But SOMETIMES, it just has to be done. This economic commentary from Fearsome Comrade has so much wrapped up in it. I just couldn’t stop sayin’ “right on!”.

I always find it amusing when some sociology graduate student headed straight for a career in retail describes himself as a “committed Keynesian,” as though how economies work were a matter of heartfelt commitment. You might as well describe yourself as a “committed Ptolemaist.” Simply put, Keynes was wrong. Not wrong the way Peter Singer is wrong about ethics, but the way Hippocrates was wrong about disease. He was wrong in the sense that after decades of putting his theories to the test, his prescriptions have at worst aggravated the ills they were intended to cure and at best failed to accomplish anything. Moreover, the simplified, caricatured version of Keynes’ theories that actually gets implemented in federal policy (at least in the West) is even more wrong. Keynes’ General Theory is certainly important from a historical view, as it provided the rational justification for greedy politicians’ pursuit of expanded power in the Anglo-influenced world, but from the standpoint of economics, it ought to be consigned the same place that Aristotle’s Physics is in the world of modern science. In time, it probably will be.

How you wish the millions upon millions of daily human interactions would work is a matter of ideology, but that’s not economics. How they actually do work is a matter of theory and observation, and that’s what economics is about. It’s not an exact science, but it’s more of a science than a religion.