Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Monday, October 06, 2008

What A Friend We Have In (the critical study of) Jesus

The Jesus Seminar will hold its fall meeting next week. I am bummed that I will miss it. The Jesus Seminar has moved beyond the historical Jesus to look at Christian origins. You might be interested in the reports you can read in pdf. You will be even better informed if you subscribe to the Fourth R. I am pleased that they are putting these reports on-line. That is helpful for us bloggers.

In my sermon Sunday I mentioned that the Book of Acts is a second-century work of historical-fiction with the emphasis on fiction. Here is how the Jesus Seminar voted on this question:


* Red vote demonstrates strong agreement with the ballot item, Pink indicates agreement, Gray means disagreement and Black means strong disagreement.
  1. Acts created the myth of succession from Jesus through the apostles to Paul. .88 Red Red 70 Pink 26 Gray 4 Black 0
  2. Acts was written not later than 125 nor earlier than 100 CE. .80 Red Red 55 Pink 32 Gray 14 Black 0
  3. The purpose of Acts is to provide an apologetic response to issues that arose in second-century Christianity. .80 Red Red 55 Pink 32 Gray 14 Black 0
These statements voted overwhelmingly "red" should give pause to clergy who preach on these texts. What do we think we are talking about when we preach on Acts? If we affirm what critical scholarship is showing us, that Acts is "an apologetic response to issues that arose in second-century Christianity" and that Acts "created the myth of succession from Jesus through the apostles to Paul" how does that impact our preaching?

The question is larger than just the Book of Acts. The larger question for me is how will the church come to terms with critical scholarship of Christian origins and the Bible? Things may have changed since I was in seminary, although I think for the worse.

While we were introduced to critical scholarship we weren't given an adequate model of how to present it in our preaching and teaching. The options seemed to be:
  1. Ignore it.
  2. Resort to confessional apologetics (especially attractive to the fundamentalists).
  3. Escape into postmodern doublespeak (tell the story and don't worry them with facts).
The fourth option, which I have chosen, is to embrace critical scholarship. Be honest. Speak openly and publicly about critical scholarship in teaching, preaching, (and blogging). This option is frightening for clergy and apparently for our seminaries. Critical scholarship is viewed as a threat to faith. Frankly, I agree. It makes people question and doubt their confessional heritage. It makes them think and reevaluate what they believe and what they think is important.

In my opinion, if the church cannot handle critical scholarship then it deserves to go the way of the theory of luminiferous aether. It will become irrelevant. In actuality it will probably become more dangerous before it becomes irrelevant (ie. biblicism and its daughters, creationism, homophobia, and so forth).

Will critical scholarship change faith? To borrow a phrase from Sarah Palin: you betcha. In a similar way, our cosmological history and the theory of evolution has changed the way we think about what it means to be human.

Critical scholarship is a gift to the church. It is our friend. Whether or not the church (specifically my beloved PCUSA) embraces this friendship remains to be seen.

James Crossley (a critical scholar who is not a member of the American Jesus Seminar) is the author of Why Christianity Happened: A Socio-Historical Account of Christian Origins. This is an insightful book. He advocates for the serious consideration of secular methods in regards to the study of Christian origins. He concludes his book with this sentence:

If these and other such insights are not exploited, NT studies will retain its dubious academic status as being nothing more than the pious scholarly wings of the Christian churches, with their scholars often plying their trade in secular universities." (p. 176)
The way of aether.





69 comments:

  1. I use historical scholarship in my preaching. My struggle right now is where scripture and our confessions deviate. It seems to me that there are lots of places where the creeds are not consistent with scripture.

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  2. Hey Joan, welcome!

    I think that is a good struggle. I am glad you bring scholarship to light in preaching. I think it is good for folks to see clergy struggling openly with these issues.

    Love your blog!

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  3. In my preaching, I will from time to time introduce scholarship that I disagree with for a counterpoint. I am in no way afraid of liberal naturalistic/humanistic scholarship that denies the basic tenets of historic Christianity. You seem to ignore or downplay serious scholarship that disagrees with your perspective though.

    Did you present the evidence for the late date of Acts vs. that of an early date so that people could decide for themselves? If not, why not?
    Did you discuss Bock or Cadbury's dating data? Did you discuss the evidence from the "we sections" of Acts (16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16)? Did you discuss the haphazard use of these sections and the evidence that comes from a lack of precedent for this being used in a literary way as opposed to an actual historical Luke writing? How about the fact that Luke without exception in the earliest church traditions and history is considered the author of Acts, while many other more likely candidates could have been chosen? This and many more pieces of historic and literary evidence is usually brought to bear in defense of Lukan authorship and an early date usually within the 60's. Did you bring any of this up in your sermon? Did you present both sides of issue with their evidence in a handout for people to consider after the service? If not, why not? I have done this in the past, especially in a sermon series on a whole book of the Bible. I always do this in introduction of a book study class or small group. Are you really presenting all sides of an issue and being fair and balanced, or only the one that you believe is right?

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  4. The difference Adel, is that you approach it from a confessional standpoint where the confession is the highest truth and all scholarship ultimately must conform to what you call "the basic tenets of historic Christianity" or it isn't true.

    You even do the same with science, "I am intelligently designed."

    Confessional scholarship plays well in bible college and perhaps your church.

    It doesn't stand a chance in a secular university.

    For you, that is fine, because whatever truth that comes from a secular university is of the world or as you say "naturalistic/humanistic."

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  5. I have made no reference to confessions. In fact, I would not consider myself to be of the confessional heritage as you call it, but rather I am a biblicist and biblical student/theologian. I have merely asked you to support your contention of the late dating of the Acts of the Apostles. I have presented several lines of argumentation for an early date. There are many others, which I could present in detail.

    I have asked you clear questions that a person with a "scientific" mindset would find to be a very legitimate form of inquiry. I have not asked you why you do not affirm the confessions of the PCUSA.

    I have asked you if you presented the full evidence for all sides of the issue (there are usually three dating periods that are discussed in Luke-Acts studies). If not, then you have acted in just as dogmatic a way as those you oppose.

    I attended 2 secular scientific institutions as an undergraduate student in engineering and I have taught at two universities. I therefore have some background of what is acceptable and unacceptable within secular schools.

    But this has absolutely nothing to do with my line of inquiry. In fact, I would posit that my line of inquiry is well-suited in such institutions.

    My questions are still left unanswered. Have you actually researched the historicity of Acts, or do you simply rely on one small group of scholars with which you have some affinity?

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  7. Hi Adel,

    I took a look at your blog, "Time for Truth." What font is that? "Burn-in-Hellvetica?"

    Sorry, I couldn't resist.

    What about that post from Paul Capetz, who wrote:

    Biblicism approaches the Bible as an unquestionable authority, presumably on account of its divine inspiration or authorship. I say this is idolatry because it treats the Bible as though it weren’t really a human document at all but a compendium of the divine opinions. Hence, to disagree with the biblical writers in any way is to oppose the very Word of God.

    Someone once said, "We worship the water that pours forth from the fountain. We don't worship the spigot."

    Any comments?

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  8. Adel,

    I am not a biblical scholar. I am not an expert on Acts. I try to keep up as best as an amateur can. I am obviously at a disadvantage with your vast experience in the university setting.

    Of course your questions are of scholarly interest. They are far too numerous and technical to answer in this blog or in a sermon. And frankly, the tone in which you ask them is hostile.

    Yes, I am interested in what the Jesus Seminar is doing. They are taking the study of Acts and Christian origins in what I think is an exciting direction.

    The Acts Seminar of the Jesus Seminar has been working on Acts since 1999.

    For those interested here is a link to their reports in the Fourth R.

    If you really give a shit, here is my answer:

    When I look at Acts it appears to be in the genre of romance or novel as opposed to history.

    Every chapter contains obvious legend. It begins with the disciples watching Jesus fly up to heaven. Is that history?

    Acts appears, like the gospels, to have a theological agenda. It wants Paul to be part of the orthodox tradition.

    The later date reflects a period of struggle between the early communities and Acts wants to set the story "straight" as it were. Joseph Tyson has some interesting thoughts along this line.

    My thoughts. So what. They could change tomorrow and likely will. Critical scholarship is always changing.

    You, however, do have a theological agenda. Every time you comment on my blog you voice it.

    What I mean by confessional heritage is a belief that you are interested in maintaining. Yours, according to your blog and to your comments on this blog, is an inerrant Bible.

    My question to you is why is it important that Acts is written in the 60s by Luke? For argument's sake, let's say it is. What if it is still fiction? What if all of your biblical studies lead you to regard the gospels as legend and Jesus as a product of creative imagination? What then? What if you find out that Luke was the biggest bullshit artist the church has ever known? Where is your truth then? Are you on a mission, Adel? Are you out to preach the truth against every scholar and preacher who doesn't believe the bible is the inerrant word of God?
    Should I send all of my sermons to you first for approval? Maybe you can photocopy and mail handouts to me so you can be sure my congregation is getting the info from all sides?

    You are an apologist, Adel. God bless ya. Apologists use scholarship to buttress their theological agenda. That's fine. Many folks apparently need that. I don't.

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  9. "We worship the water that pours forth from the fountain. We don't worship the spigot."

    Well...I worship the Holy Spigot.

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  10. John,
    I received my education in a secular university. When I took a lot of my books and explained in a class titled "The new search for the historical Jesus," taught by a Jesus Seminar fellow, that the "Son of Man" title Jesus often used signified his deity--it was not suggested that I was some kind of fundamentalist idiot rather I received an A. When I said that it seemed to me that dismissing sayings of Jesus that sounded too Jewish as some Jesus Seminar writers do, was wrong since Jesus was a Jew, the teacher agreed. The late biblical scholar, Metzger, in one of his books on the New Testament suggested that the Q document, rather than hurting the N. T. text, strongly verifies the scripture text because whether written or oral it would be much closer to the time of Jesus, perhaps written as he spoke. I could go on. My point is, knowing about or even using higher criticism does not mean one has to deny the authority of the Scriptures.

    You do everyone a disfavor when you write as though the Jesus Seminar lecturers are the only ones with any kind of real scholarship. If Marcus Borg was willing to share a book with N. T. Wright perhaps you should read some N. T. Wright.

    By the way where have all of your extras on the sides of your blog gone? are you redoing?

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  11. My point is, knowing about or even using higher criticism does not mean one has to deny the authority of the Scriptures.

    I never said it didn't. Confessional scholarship does make use of higher criticism. The difference between critical scholarship and confessional scholarship has to do with the ceiling of confession, (ie. "the authority of the Scriptures.") Although, in your case, I don't know exactly what you mean when you use that phrase.

    You do everyone a disfavor when you write as though the Jesus Seminar lecturers are the only ones with any kind of real scholarship.

    I have not said that and I don't. I referenced James Crossley in this post who is not a member of the Jesus Seminar and is in fact critical of their work. He is one example of many scholars I have referenced on this blog. If you think the Jesus Seminar is liberal, you should read Thomas Thompson. Again, when I use the phrase critical scholarship I mean it in the sense of not being subject to a theological creed.

    If Marcus Borg was willing to share a book with N. T. Wright perhaps you should read some N. T. Wright.

    I have read him. In fact, I have led a class in the study of that very book. Perhaps you and Adel could follow me around every where I go and monitor what I read and teach. N.T. Wright is a good example of a scholar who uses critical methods for confessional ends. He is a scholar for the church. That said, I appreciate what he does. He has helped me understand a lot things. Personally, I find N.T. Wrong more persuasive.

    By the way where have all of your extras on the sides of your blog gone? are you redoing?

    Everything is there as far as I can see. Maybe it is your browser.

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  12. Burn-in-Hellvetica. That was priceless!

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  13. John,

    Maybe you can share why the scholars of the Jesus Seminar would date the book of Acts into the 2nd. century. How have they come to this determination, and what has personally led you to agree with their opinion?

    Are you feeling that these scholars are also unbiased? It seems to me that to be human is to reflect some bias.

    I personally feel that all truth is God's truth, and that we can learn something from every quarter. But, it's been my experience in study that many of the critical scholars do reflect this naturalistic bias as Adel shares.

    And, then of course this impacts their conclusion. Do you see what I'm saying. It's not as if one group is totally open, thinking, and objective, and the other not. But, it's true, their paradigms are different.

    This is a personal question. But, it seems to me that you have pretty much bought into naturalism? I could be wrong. But, I"m wondering why?

    I also notice no small amount of hostility between you, and the more conservative elements in your church. Is there part of you that doesn't want to be associated with them, and their thinking no matter what?

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  14. John,
    Let me see if I understand your answer. You as an ordained Presbyterian pastor, have rejected the historicity and veracity of Acts because:
    1.The Jesus Seminar said so.
    2.It looks like fiction to you because of miracles reported as fact.
    3.It teaches theology.
    4.It includes Paul in the history of the early church [this is the first time I have ever heard anyone reject the historicity of Paul within the orthodox tradition].
    5.The church several decades later would have wanted to “set the story straight” [whatever that means and despite the overwhelming unchallenged evidence that the early church rejected pseudonymous writing].

    Well, I can certainly see why you would want to reject the position of the church for the last couple thousand years on the historicity and veracity of Acts. Who wouldn’t after that overwhelming evidence?

    As to your personal attacks, I’ll simply ignore them and only answer one of your lines of inquiry about me. You belligerently asked me…“What if it is still fiction? What if all of your biblical studies lead you to regard the gospels as legend and Jesus as a product of creative imagination? What then? What if you find out that Luke was the biggest bullshit artist the church has ever known?” Simply answered, I would have the courage of my convictions and become an atheist, agnostic or something else that has nothing to do with Christianity. I’d spend my precious Sundays golfing (Allah or whoever or whatever mindless force permitting).

    DR,
    Thanks for the information about the font on my blog, I was wondering what font it was. I am glad to find someone with firsthand, experiential knowledge of its source.
    As for Capetz’s comment…it is a non sequitur that is popular among progressives. To worship the triune God of the Bible is to passionately love and fervently desire to fully understand all that he would have to tell us. To reject what God would have to say to us, is like telling my wife I love her, but I don’t want to hear anything she has to say. To reject God’s Word is to reject the God who gave it to us. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2Peter 1:21).

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  15. Johm,
    Just to let you know,
    when I go to your blog there is nothing but your posts and your top part that says who you are. So far your postings consist of only your last two with no other links of any kind, not to other blogs or to back posts.
    I have not had that problem with anyother blog. You might want to check with someone else who lives in California.

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  16. Grace,

    Maybe you can share why the scholars of the Jesus Seminar would date the book of Acts into the 2nd. century. How have they come to this determination, and what has personally led you to agree with their opinion?

    If you go to their webpage on Acts Seminar and scroll down you will find reports in pdf that show the results of their voting. Here is a piece:

    Joseph Tyson’s paper, “Christian Self-Definition and Anti-Judaism in the Second Century: Marcion, Acts, and Justin,” attempted to tease out further the implications of reading Acts as an early second-century document. Tyson’s target in this instance was the function of anti-Judaism as a component of the developing self-identity of second century
    Christianity. He chose three examples of this process to compare and contrast: Marcion, the author of Acts, and Justin Martyr.
    Tyson pointed out that both the author of Acts and Justin Martyr constructed Christian self-identity over against Marcionism on the one hand and Judaism on the other, a proposal which both Fellows and Associates affirmed. Whereas Marcion rejected Jewish scriptures, the author of Acts and Justin affirmed them, but did so by proposing Christianity as the fulfillment of Jewish scriptures.

    Acts embedded this theme in its story. Justin distinguished
    his non-literal interpretation of scripture, which supported the promise-fulfillment theme, from the literal interpretation he proposed as characteristic of Judaism of his day.


    They go into a great deal more depth in the papers they have written about it. I have no personal horse in this race. I am an interested observer. It makes sense to me.

    Are you feeling that these scholars are also unbiased?

    Is anyone without sin? I suppose we all have unexamined biases. In the scholarly world, that is why they have peer review.

    I personally feel that all truth is God's truth, and that we can learn something from every quarter.

    I do as well.

    But, it's been my experience in study that many of the critical scholars do reflect this naturalistic bias as Adel shares.

    Can you define "naturalistic bias'?

    This is a personal question. But, it seems to me that you have pretty much bought into naturalism? I could be wrong. But, I'm wondering why?

    Please define naturalism.

    I also notice no small amount of hostility between you, and the more conservative elements in your church.

    I assume when you say "church" you mean other PCUSA people. Many sure are hostile all right, especially when I mention the Jesus Seminar.

    Is there part of you that doesn't want to be associated with them, and their thinking no matter what?

    Actually, it is the other way around.

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  17. Adel,

    You as an ordained Presbyterian pastor, have rejected the historicity and veracity of Acts...

    What would being an ordained Presbyterian pastor have anything to do with it?

    Simply answered, I would have the courage of my convictions and become an atheist, agnostic or something else that has nothing to do with Christianity.

    You are making my point with these statements. If critical scholarship leads to these conclusions, for you, Christianity is no longer worth your time. Obviously, there is a great deal at stake for you theologically that critical scholarship does not challenge beliefs about the historicity of Acts.

    As far as not finding the views of the Jesus Seminar persuasive, OK then. Others might.

    [this is the first time I have ever heard anyone reject the historicity of Paul within the orthodox tradition]

    Clarification. JS and other critical scholarship does not reject the historicity of Paul. It views with suspicion what Acts says about him.

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  18. Thanks, Viola. Maybe California has blacklisted me. Anyone else have this issue?

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  19. I would define part of naturalism to mean that there is no mystical or supernatural element to the world we know, that the universe is just a closed system of cause and effect, and that divine intervention is an impossibility or just irrelevant to discuss.

    So, if a scholar comes to the study of Scripture, or Christian origins with this kind of paradigm, then any reference to the miraculous or to supernatural intervention, the fulfillment of prophecy, etc. can never be accepted as true, or expressing a historical event. Some other explanation must surely be found, however tortured or speculative.

    On a related note,years ago, I remember reading Bultmann's "Kerygma and Myth," and thought this was just total nonsense, even then.

    I'll say it again, John. Do you suppose that the almighty God can be limited by finite human reason, and bound up in this naturalistic box. If so, He would hardly be worthy of our trust, and worship at all.

    God have mercy! What more can be said?

    Love,
    Grace.

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  20. P.S.

    I'm having the same problem as Viola, and I don't live in Calif.:)

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  21. Something is up with blogspot and internet explorer. I use mozilla browser so I don't have that problem. Thanks for pointing that out. I have to see what is up.

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  22. Grace,

    Anytime you come with presuppositions like those you mentioned you limit possibilities of uncovering what is the best explanation of a phenomena.

    However, your concern is misplaced.

    A person does not need to resort to philosophical naturalism to question the historicity of the ascension story, for example, in the Gospel of Luke, or for the origin or rise of Christianity.

    Historical scholars ask what is probable. Rather than accept a supernatural claim at first, historians ask if there are other rational means of explaining the existence of a story or a movement.

    It could be that there is a supernatural reason for something. The question is whether in that specific instance if a supernatural explanation is probable or whether or not it is probable that a more mundane reason exists for this literary text.

    This isn't just about Christianity it is about anything including natural events and human events.

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  23. I think it works now. It was that Sarah Palin Joe Six Pac post that messed me up. Perhaps it couldn't handle two videos in one post.

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  24. "(Allah or whoever or whatever mindless force permitting). "


    Bigot: a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion.

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  25. "I would define part of naturalism to mean that there is no mystical or supernatural element to the world we know, that the universe is just a closed system of cause and effect, and that divine intervention is an impossibility or just irrelevant to discuss."

    The sort of shall we say "practical" naturalism of which I'm familiar does not say that there is no mystical nor supernatural element to the world we know. It says that there is no way, through scientific means to access knowledge or evidence about supernatural phenomena. Perhaps that nuance is too fine a distinction for some, but I don't have a problem with it. I suppose some folks might take that further to say that supernatural events don't exist, but I think if one begins by saying that we cannot explain or evaluate such phenomena through scientific means, it's pretty tough to rule them out entirely, because it raises the question, "How do you know?"

    Also, cause and effect aren't what they used to be. In fact they never were. Just ask poor ol' Schrodinger's cat. ;)

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  26. Many people (scientists, theists and otherwise) would like us to believe that science and religion are in a state of conflict, suggesting that someone can adopt a scientific world-view or a religious world-view, but no combination of the two. I find the view extremely suspicious. I believe that science represents our best methodology for understanding the natural world. I'm skeptical about whether science can answer moral questions, for example. What separates science from religion, however, should be regarded less as a matter of subject-matter and more an issue of methods. The methods employed by the scientists and the theologian are importantly different. The former involves testing, explaining via natural phenomena, predicting and so on. The latter projects meaning, value and order onto an otherwise meaningless world. Problems quickly arise when the methods of one are employed to answer questions pertinent to the other. Scientific materialism (naturalism) just doesn't have the resources to investigate why the universe exists or why science is reliable; religion shouldn't (though often does) attempt to explain naturally occurring phenomena.

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  27. Alan--nicely put. Practical naturalism.

    Rachel--also well done.

    There are scientists and there are theologians and there are scholars of history who analyze religious texts and movements.

    Not really scientists are they. Not really theologians. I think it is with their work that much of the confusion arises.

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  28. Just a question.

    This was a vow that you were required to make at the time of your ordination.

    "Will you fulfill your office in obedience to Jesus Christ,
    under the authority of Scripture, and be continually
    guided by our confessions?"

    Will you be working to change this and other language in the BOO that speaks of the authority of Scripture in light of your positions on the Jesus Seminar and your affiliation with Biblical Minimialists?
    If not, how do you reconcile these things?

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  29. Adel,

    It is good to see that you have conceded the point regarding confessional vs. critical scholarship. That of course, was the point of this post.

    As far as your question is concerned, here is your answer:

    I affirm all of my vows.

    Now, if you don't believe me, why don't you take me to church court?

    That goes for any of you fundies. Put up or shut up.

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  30. Grace,

    I think the discussion about science versus faith would be better informed if we bring the discussion in the direction of Phillip Johnson.

    Check out this article:
    http://www.arn.org/docs/johnson/scirel98.htm

    I believe that what you mean by naturalism is better termed as "philosophical materialism". It would better serve the scientific community to move to a testability model, where all suppositions can and should be tested.

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  31. John,

    First, I have conceded nothing. I did not realize you asked a question, or expected some comment. If you would like further comment on something simply ask.

    Secondly, for further information about the Jesus Seminar, I would refer you to Dr. Craig Blomberg's (considered by a great many biblical scholars of all theological persuasion to be one of the foremost Gospel scholars in the world) 1994 article for a basic assessment of their previous work.
    http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/cri/cri-jrnl/web/crj0183a.html


    Third, the question was not do you still affirm your vows, but how do you reconcile in your own mind that particular vow and the dozens of other references to the high authority of Scripture with your support of the Jesus Seminar and your biblical minimalist views.

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  32. Adel your worries are unfounded.

    Everyone posting here believes in God.

    Why isn't that good enough for you?

    God does exist. Everything material is an illusion.

    Sixteen reasons why I believe a theistic worldview is more reasonable than an atheistic worldview:

    1. Our conviction that the universe must have had a cause and that it didn't cause itself.

    2. The exquisite fine-tuning of the cosmic parameters, forces and constants.

    3. The existence of coded biological information.

    4. The fact of human consciousness.

    5. Our sense that reason is trustworthy.

    6. Our conviction that we are free to make genuine choices and that the future is open.

    7. Our deep sense that we are obligated to act morally.

    8. Our experience of feelings of guilt.

    9. Our yearning for answers to life's most profound questions.

    10. Our desire for justice.

    11. Our need for a meaning to our existence.

    12. Our sense that we have a self which perdures through time.

    13. Our belief in human dignity.

    14. Our belief in human worth.

    15. Our belief in the existence of objective human rights.

    16. Our longing for life beyond death.

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  33. Adel,

    Well Adel. I have no problem reconciling the vow and critical scholarship. The problem is apparently yours not mine.

    So, is the concern with the Jesus Seminar critical or confessional?

    In other words, in your mind, are the Jesus Seminar folks bad critical scholars or are they unbelievers?

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  34. Rachel,
    This comment, "God does exist. Everything material is an illusion." is a contradiction to this comment, "Sixteen reasons why I believe a theistic worldview is more reasonable than an atheistic worldview."

    A theist believes that creation is real but different than God. If all that is is God that would be a form of panthism. In fact, it is the pure monism of extreme Hinduism.

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  35. John,

    It depends on what you mean by "critical scholar".

    Read Blomberg's article and you will understand my assessment.

    I find that their historical recreations and assessments to be very poor scholarship.

    And a philosophical materialist (anti-supernaturalist) presupposition, by definition, is opposed to the historic protestant definition of "believer".

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  36. John,

    You continue to avoid the question of "how" you reconcile these issues. By basic definition of terms there is at least a seeming contradiction. You have seemingly affirmed contradictory things. Are you now moving in a postmodern direction, happily affirming contradictory statements?

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  37. Viola, to be a little more clear, the things that matter most in this world are spiritual in nature. It is true that the spirit cannot exist without the material, but if you ever lose a house or a loved one, you start to realize that the material things in life are just an illusion to happiness. The only true happiness comes from God (peace,love,light,unity).

    Why is it so important to fight over the details amongst religions? Why can't we all look inward and realize that basically we all have the same mission and goals in life, which is to create sustaining peace and prosperity and brotherly and sisterly love. Why are the details so important to so many Christians?

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  38. "Are you now moving in a postmodern direction, happily affirming contradictory statements?"

    You mean like monotheistic, trinitarian Christianity?

    You mean like fully God, yet fully man?

    You mean like a God who is both imminent and transcendent?

    Sorry, couldn't resist. There's nothing "postmodern" about affirming contradictory statements.

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  39. Why is it so important to fight over the details amongst religions? Why can't we all look inward and realize that basically we all have the same mission and goals in life, which is to create sustaining peace and prosperity and brotherly and sisterly love. Why are the details so important to so many Christians?

    Very good. I forget that simple thing all the time.

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  40. You continue to avoid the question of "how" you reconcile these issues.


    It is because, Adel, I don't have a problem. You are the one who sees issues. The problem of reconciliation is yours.

    If you need help reconciling the language of faith and the language of reason, I am sure there are resources available to help.

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  41. Alan,

    Either you do not understand the idea of "mystery" in regards to the Trinity and the incarnation, or you simply like to create confusion.

    #1 Transcendency and immanency are not contradictory ideas. God being both in the World and separate from the world (nonpantheistic) is a harmonious concept. God is Transcendent in being (Isa. 57:15; 1 Tim. 6:15, 16) – above, separated and distinct from His creation. God is imminent in providential activity – present and active in sustaining, guiding and governing His creation (Jer. 23:24; Acts 17:28).

    #2 The Trinity definetly has mystery involved within an infinite being. Three persons in unity as God. There is mystery involved because we are finite, while God is infinite.
    It would be contradiction to say that God is three persons, but one person. That is not the Trinity. We are speaking about a God who is one in essence and three in persons (centers of consciousness).

    #3 There is also mystery involved with the incarnation, but without contradiction. When we affirm the incarnation of Jesus, we are not affirming that Jesus is only man and only God (this would be a contradiction), but fully man and fully God. We are not saying that Jesus was fully man and fully not a man, or fully God and fully not God. We are affirming both that he is fully God and fully man, with a mystery (limited, incomplete understanding).

    On the other hand, to affirm the authority of Scripture, which by definition means that God's Word has the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes, and also to affirm a minimalist view of scripture is a contradiction. Logically to affirm both A and non-A is a logical contradiction.

    But I suspect (though it is a mystery to me) that you understand these things, and only wish to poke fun.

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  42. I find that their historical recreations and assessments to be very poor scholarship.

    Would that include each of them as individuals or just as a group?

    How about some others not associated with the seminar, like James Crossley or Thomas Thompson? How do they rate? Or how about that guy that Grace didn't think much of...Rudolph Bultmann?


    And a philosophical materialist (anti-supernaturalist) presupposition, by definition, is opposed to the historic protestant definition of "believer".

    Uh huh. Each of the Jesus Seminar scholars has declared that as his or her presupposition or do you assume it?

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  43. John,

    Are you saying that faith is anti-reason? Is your faith "unreasonable"? Therefore, you believe things for no reason at all?

    Is faith for you like choosing a favorite song or color...just because something within me finds it appealing? If so, why bother with all the higher critical scholarship? Does it really matter if faith is all about subjective preference?

    Or do you mean something else by "language of faith" and "language of reason"?

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  44. "But I suspect (though it is a mystery to me) that you understand these things, and only wish to poke fun."

    Tongue in cheek, maybe. Poke fun? Not really. I just get annoyed at people using words like "postmodern" for things they don't like and/or don't understand, when the word already has a perfectly good meaning. Frankly, I didn't really expect an answer, since you usually ignore my comments.

    "Logically to affirm both A and non-A is a logical contradiction. "

    Unless one decides that such a contradiction is simply a "mystery". You're simply defining things out of existence, ie. it can't be a contradiction because we've defined it as a mystery, and since it's a mystery, it isn't a contradiction. I'm perfectly OK with the belief that the trinity is a mystery. However, I also understand that we simply label it a mystery because we don't understand the contradiction, which is, I believe more honest than simply shutting our eyes and saying "Contradiction? What contradiction?" ;)

    "On the other hand, to affirm the authority of Scripture, which by definition means that God's Word has the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes, and also to affirm a minimalist view of scripture is a contradiction."

    If I understand what Biblical minimalism is, I don't think it's a contradiction to affirm that the Bible is authoritative and yet dismiss the idea of a 6000 year old Earth, for example.

    But then I'm pretty sure you'd think that I'm unable to reconcile my beliefs and my ordination vows as an elder is probably the least of my problems in your opinion. ;)

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  45. I have not read or heard anything by or about Thompson. Can you recommend something? I'll put it on my list.

    I have heard one debate with Crossley, and read one of his book reviews of a particular biblical scholar. His review of the book had some good criticism as well as some positive things to say, but at the end of the book review he clearly indicates that he rejects a priori a Jesus who performs miracles. Therefore, I would include him in my statement on the Jesus Seminar's philosophical materialism, since they all black-balled the miraculous. They clearly set forth that they cannot accept any of the post-resurrection words attributed to Jesus because historical analysis does not allow for the miraculous. Read Blomberg's relatively brief article as he addresses this.

    Having not read most of their individual writings, I am assessing them only on their presuppositions and conclusions from their group publication. Just as you are a fan and supporter of them as a group, I am a critic of them as a group.

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  46. Alan,

    I don't ignore what you have to say, I have simply at times not had anything to say to you.

    I think I have explained the difference between mystery and contradiction. Please read my previous statement again, but I'll try one more example.

    If I were to say that God is both 3 persons and 1 person, that would be a contradiction. This is not what it means to speak of God as Triune. The Trinity biblically understood is three persons and one in essence. Do I completely understand this, or does the Bible clearly explain this? No. There is mystery involved (not contradiction) as we are speaking about the essence of an infinite God.

    I made it clear that I would never consider both affirming A and non-A as mystery, this is logical contradiction (or paradox for neoorthodox) and is to be rejected, in faith, logic, science, language, etc.

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  47. I don't understand why the Trinity is a mystery to you Adel and Alan.

    The trinity is simply that God exists; Jesus represents God; God and Jesus are righteousness, and the Holy Ghost (i.e.conscience-good/God/Jesus) exist in each one of us if we just listen.

    See there, it's no longer a mystery.

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  48. "I think I have explained the difference between mystery and contradiction. "

    Yes, you have, and as I already indicated, I understand what you're saying. I simply recognize that it's a simple trick of definitions. If something is in essence one, a unity, indivisible, then dividing that something up into three persons is indeed a contradiction. But we say that it isn't a contradiction because we've decided that it's a mystery instead. It's just word play for something we don't understand, but we somehow think it would be wrong to admit that it seems like a contradiction.

    That's OK. Really it is. You don't have to defend yourself to me. We all spend far more time than is necessary, trying to fit God down into a tiny box the size of flawed human logic. I'm simply saying that I (usually) try to recognize when I do that, rather than defending the practice of naming something a "mystery" is somehow necessarily "logical." Given our fallen nature, I have no problem admitting the limits of human logic in such matters.

    But now we're pretty far off topic.

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  49. "Fallen nature." Now there's a concept I raise a rant about. So here goes.

    A host of today's problems with religion arise from clinging to the very tired presumption of being born in sin.
    It really is a sucky notion -- one that's right in there with hating evolution by assuming that survivial of fittest means that the riches always go to the biggest, most brutish asshole.

    I should start a list of world-killing assumptions.
    1. We are all born of original sin.
    2. The "fittest" in the evolutionary dogma "survival of the fittest" refers to the most agressive, strongest, meanest and selfish individual.
    3. George Bush should have ever been considered fit to be president.

    Opps. Strike that last one. It's true, but a digression.

    Original sin refers to the fact the Eve disobeyed God's direct order by eating from the fruit of the tree, and then Adam followed suit. That was the original sin. Therefore, as a result this transgression, all subsequent generations are born into a condition of sin, into a condition of irredemable separation from God...until....drumroll please...God impregnates a virgin who gives birth to his only son, whose brutal murder appeases God's wrath so all of mankind can be forgiven of the horrible crime of generations past: namely, the crime of eating the wrong damn apple. Puhleeeze! Give me a fatuous break!
    And if the story I just described isn't ridulous enough it gets worse with closer scrutiny.

    The initial perp, Eve, was created in the idyllic garden. She had no background, no history, no experience in the world whatsoever. She was so innocent that she had absolutely no concept of right and wrong. This is obvious, because the tree she was ordered to avoid was the tree that bore the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. As the serpent pointed out, "Eve, if you eat the fruit, you'll know the difference between good and evil," which she obviously did not know at the time of her crime. She couldn't possibly have known that she was doing the wrong thing by eating the fruit because "doing the wrong thing" had no meaning to her whatsoever. The wrongness of disobediance was not a concept she was capable of entertaining or understanding. She was in a state of total an absolute naivety. She did not know good from evil. So when the snake comes along and says, "eat the fruit, girlfriend", what could she have possibly offered to resist?

    Nothing.

    So upon the purely innocent act, by someone who could not by any possible reasoning have known any better, hangs the everlasting ruination, despair and torture of all of mankind for thousands of years? Upon this one simple, guiltless act hangs the entirely of the fallen nature of man and his ever present perdition? Yuck! What a crappy story-line. What an aribtrary, mean-spirited God that's required to make this story happen.

    But yet, we must cling, with all rabid fervor to this impossible story, because if we throw it out, we might have to accept that we were not automatically born into a state of sin. And if we accept that fact, we sorely threaten the value of Jesus' death as substitutionary atonement. We threaten the idea that our own salvation that is based on Jesus blood. We threaten to throw out the reason that Jesus died. And for many, this is the prime spiritual real estate of the whole religion.

    Well, throw it out then. And good riddance to bad rubbish.

    Now the bible thumpers can pound their holy books and proclaim my heresy. They would cast me out, deny my claim to Christianity and condemn me to hell. Why? Because I expose the ugly myth for being the watery, bitter gruel that it is. In their eyes, being a Christian is all about believing correctly and proclaiming loudly, and if you agree with me that this is a stupid, primative story about a hateful God, you're out, too. For the bible worshipers, being a Christian has nothing to do with loving a loving God, it has nothing to do with loving each other, even though Jesus said as much. It's all about beleiving the lie, falling into line, embracing the fear, and submitting to their authority.

    Amen.

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  50. I don't know, rastus. There is some wisdom to the Bible, besides the storyline, wouldn't you say? Are you suggesting throw the Ancient texts out? I don't have a problem with the stories as long as we teach them as just that--stories (i.e Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah, etc.). They serve a purpose to teach good morals, right?

    Thankfully, the bible worshipers (i.e. bible literalists) are becoming a minority.

    But we're still in trouble because nowadays, to still your line,

    Being American is "all about beleiving the lie, falling into line, embracing the fear, and submitting to their authority."

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  51. Adel,

    Thomas Thompson, The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David.

    His first chapter is a critique of the Jesus Seminar. In response to some of your questions:

    Are you saying that faith is anti-reason?

    Not anti-reason. Informed by reason? Different order from reason altogether? Maybe.

    I like Michael Dowd's night language (faith) vs. day language (reason). It is like poetry vs. fact.

    Is your faith "unreasonable"?

    Could be. I am unreasonable about a lot of things. Ask my wife.

    Therefore, you believe things for no reason at all?

    Is faith the same as belief?

    Is faith for you like choosing a favorite song or color...

    Getting there. Although it feels like it is chosen for me...

    just because something within me finds it appealing?

    And it makes me feel hopeful, helpful, at peace...

    If so, why bother with all the higher critical scholarship?

    Because it helps me to understand why these authors wrote these texts and what faith meant to them. It helps me appreciate that what they experienced might resonate with and inform my experience.

    Does it really matter if faith is all about subjective preference?

    I am a subject, but I can learn from others.

    Or do you mean something else by "language of faith" and "language of reason"?

    Day and night as Dowd suggests.

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  52. rastus,

    I never thought of the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden as man being condemned by what many call the "original sin."

    I just took it as representing good versus evil and the ways that we are tempted in this life to do evil. If we do evil then we move further away from God, similar to how Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden of Eden.

    I was never taught about "original sin" in my church. Rather I was taught that we are not accountable for Adam's transgression in the Garden of Eden and that we are all born innocent. Men and women should be accountable for their own sins.

    As for the fallen state, don't you think that we are in a fallen condition, separated from God and subject to physical death?

    If you argue that we are not in a fallen condition, then will you argue that sin does not exist?

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  53. Bob Funk said that original sin is the innate capacity that human beings have to deceive themselves.

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  54. I think he was lying to himself when he said that.

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  55. Good sermon, Rastus. You have hit on one of the core issues. The main storyline of Christianity has become less and less credible. So who is Jesus for us today?

    Poor Eve. So maligned, when in truth she opened our eyes.

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  56. "Had the apple not been taken, we would have not become. Blessed be the time the apple was taken. Therefore, let us sing "Thank God!"*


    *my humble translation of "Deo Gracias", anon., 15th century

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  57. Rachel Baker said: "I don't know, rastus. There is some wisdom to the Bible, besides the storyline, wouldn't you say?"

    Absolutely Rachel. The Bible is a rich and sacred text. I revere it. I love parts of it. Some of the world's greatest wisdom can be found in the Bible. But I don't worship it, I certainly don't believe it is the absolute Word of God, and it is not literally true, as the Biblicist contends. It has error. It contradicts itself. Two quick examples:

    1. How Judas died. Either he hung himself (Matt 27:5), or he exploded in Potter's field (Acts 1:18).
    2. The geneology of Jesus (Matt 1:2-16 versus Luke 3:23-38) follows very different and irreconcilible paths.

    But these are only trival markers that point to the metaphorical beauty in the Bible.

    You wrote: "I just took it (the story of the fall) as representing good versus evil and the ways that we are tempted in this life to do evil. If we do evil then we move further away from God, similar to how Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden of Eden."

    You view the story as a metaphor, which is, IMHO, the best view.

    Yes, there is sin. Plenty of it. And also lots of evil.

    ---------

    I like your 16 points.

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  58. As a measure of just how bad my Saturday night is I'm reading this.

    Adel,

    You have my deepest respect, but you will probably find banging your head into a concrete wall more rewarding. You will not get the answers you seek here.

    In our hosts world, the only acceptable scholarship is critical. The only critical scholarship that is acceptable is that which agrees with his biases and those of the JS etc. Any other critical scholarship will be ignored or swept away as simply "approaching it from a confessional standpoint". Despite our hosts assertion I know of no one who believes "confession is the highest truth and all scholarship ultimately must conform". But it is a convienient way to dismiss any who disagree with those he likes. Again, I salute you and wish you luck in this endeavor.

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  59. Honestly Craig, I do not know precisely why I question, answer and post on this blog. At times it does seem to be more fruitful for me to bang my head against the wall. But hope springs eternal.

    I am often so baffled by what masquerades as intelligence and scholarship, that I am almost compelled to write. I guess in a way I want those who might run across these and other postings to doubt the veracity of these claims. I guess I am just being a good critical scholar of Presbytery and Presbyterian related blogs.

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  60. Adel,

    You're fine as long as you only apply critical scholarship to the Bible. Of course, as long as the results of said scholarship buttress the preconceptions of the JS and our host. If not well you are obviously not a scholar. Good luck with this.

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  61. Adel writes, "I guess I am just being a good critical scholar of Presbytery and Presbyterian related blogs."

    This from a guy who has promoted papist clericism and congregationalism on other blogs?

    LOL

    Yeah, sorry, not so much. ;)

    Nice try.

    craig writes, "Of course, as long as the results of said scholarship buttress the preconceptions of the JS and our host. If not well you are obviously not a scholar."

    Actually I've had many opportunities to disagree and or question our host, and I, for one, have always found those opportunities interesting.

    Nothing ... and I repeat ... nothing ... remotely approaching anything like scholarship has been presented here. To paraphrase a Monty Python sketch, disagreement is not scholarship.

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  62. Alan,

    You are correct about the fact that there has been no scholarship presented on this blog.

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  63. "You are correct about the fact that there has been no scholarship presented on this blog."

    Indeed. So I'm sure you disagree with Adel when he wrote, "I guess I am just being a good critical scholar of Presbytery and Presbyterian related blogs."

    ;)

    John has not provided detailed scholarship, but he has provided brief summaries, and provided links and many, many book resources for more information. That's plenty more than you've done, or Adel has done. Again, simple contradiction is hardly an argument, and certainly not scholarship.

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  64. Alan,

    Over the months that I have been responding to this post, I have suggested a number of scholars (some who even use the historical critical method) who disagree with the conclusions John has embraced (apperantly without any critical study himself). In the hopes that it might spark a dialouge. During that time John (or any other posters) have never acknowledged that it is possible that scholarship could come to a different conclusion. I couldn't care less if John buys what teh seminar is selling, it's the fact that he ignores or dismisses anyone who has come to a different conclusion. When was the last time John used critical scholarship in one of his book reviews, or looked at the Jesus Seminar with a critical eye. Now he's just posting books based on the publisher and printing the capsule reviews.

    Alan, so feel free to redefine scholarship, if you and John want to. Fine by me. But, what's the point in continuing to suggest resources (I'm done cutting and pasting quotes, it's a waste of time), if anything other that the home team is going to get ignored.

    Now I'm going to take my original advice to Adel and go beat my head against a wall. It's more productive.

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  65. Hi Craig, I hear ya. God exist. But you won't get any "critical scholar" telling you that because duhhh... it's a matter of faith. They are different realms. The spiritual realm is apart from the physical realm. You will never come to know God if you rely on the physical Universe and scholars who study the physical, historical Universe. It's spiritual; of the mind; ya know what I mean?

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  66. Craig,

    I agree. There is no point. Why don't you start your own blog and talk about these things. You could even name it after me.

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  67. craig,

    "I have suggested a number of scholars (some who even use the historical critical method) who disagree with the conclusions John has embraced (apperantly without any critical study himself). In the hopes that it might spark a dialouge. "

    What you want is not dialogue. John generally does a good job responding to commenters, as do the other folks on any side who comment here. He truly has much more patience than most bloggers (and thank God for that! If he didn't keep you folks busy, you'd no doubt bug the rest of us. Which is *not* an invitation to do so.) Nope, what you want is agreement. You say your piece, I say mine, others give their opinions. I have no problem with John when we disagree. I don't agree with lots that John has to say. So? I'm not fragile. I don't lose any sleep over it, nor do I feel any particular compulsion to require people to agree with me in the name of "dialogue."

    What bothers you is not that you don't get to state your opinion, because clearly you do. Thus, what bothers you is that people don't agree with you. That, Craig, is your problem, not John's, nor mine, nor anyone else's.

    I'm not sure if banging your head against the wall is the answer, but it does sound like you need a some kind of hobby. There are probably better ones though, which aren't as hard on the wall. ;)

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  68. John,

    that sounds like a great idea, except naming it after you though. Unfortunately, I have too much going on in life to do much more than make occaisional comments when I get a little time. I actually wish I had the time to invest.

    Alan,

    I'll repeat, If you and John don't want to acknowledge that there are scholars out there writing scholarly works who have come to a different conclusion, that's fine. But for John to claim that his pet scholars are the only representatives of "scholarship" seems to defeat the purpose. I do agree that "dialogue" is difficult on this site. Since the presumption is that anyone who doesn't agree with you is to be "tolerated/ridiculed".

    I'm really sorry that I keep forgetting to use the little smiley face sign I know it's hard for you to pick up on my homor some times. I'll try to do better.:)

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  69. "But for John to claim that his pet scholars are the only representatives of "scholarship" seems to defeat the purpose."

    Even though that appears to be exactly what you're doing.

    I know this comment thread has become quite long, but you should read the whole thing before commenting. Then you would realize John never claimed that. Instead, he has claimed the opposite:

    When Viola wrote, "You do everyone a disfavor when you write as though the Jesus Seminar lecturers are the only ones with any kind of real scholarship."

    John responded, "I have not said that and I don't. I referenced James Crossley in this post who is not a member of the Jesus Seminar and is in fact critical of their work. He is one example of many scholars I have referenced on this blog. If you think the Jesus Seminar is liberal, you should read Thomas Thompson. Again, when I use the phrase critical scholarship I mean it in the sense of not being subject to a theological creed."

    and, "N.T. Wright is a good example of a scholar who uses critical methods for confessional ends. He is a scholar for the church."

    "I'll repeat, If you and John don't want to acknowledge that there are scholars out there writing scholarly works who have come to a different conclusion, that's fine."

    I've said nothing of the sort. I am simply open to hearing people ask questions, whether or not I agree with them. I'm not so fragile that I believe everyone must agree with me on everything.

    We can keep going if you wish, but really, you should re-read the thread so that you know what you're talking about. This is, apparently, your MO. You make false claims, you don't back them up with actual quotes, and you don't read what people have actually written, and you attempt to read minds when it suits you. I'm happy to continue to set you straight, if you wish, however.

    "Since the presumption is that anyone who doesn't agree with you is to be "tolerated/ridiculed". "

    Nope. You keep saying these things as if you believe I agree with John et. al. on everything. I doubt I agree with him and many of the other commenters here on most things theological, actually. (You also make such claims as if you actually knew what I believe about anything. You don't, obviously, have a clue.) I don't have a problem with people with whom I disagree. I have a problem with people who are disagreeable.

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