Wednesday Night Church Online, and One of My Favorite People

My church has decided to go completely online to avoid the crowd issues of COVID-19.  This is our first crack at Wednesday night service online, called “Word at Home.”  It features our Pastor, Mark Williams, and a gathering of men to do music, led by Jeremy Richardson, formerly of the Christian group Avalon.  After that Mark interviews his dad, Bill Williams (that starts at around 26:45,) who like most in his generation has been through some tough times.

Bill Williams is one of my favourite people, for reasons I hope become evident.  He grew up in West Virginia, but spent many years as a pastor in Texas, where Mark was raised.  While there he became a University of Texas fan, but after he retired and moved to Cleveland I leaned very heavily on him to switch to the Aggie faith.  (Texas A&M’s entry into the SEC in 2012 helped.)   I told him one time that if he had been an Aggie fan from the start, his grandson Austin Williams would have been named College Station.

His response: “It’s not too late.”

Prominent Novelist Sven Lidman Shocked Sweden in 1921 by Converting to Pentecostalism — Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

This Week in AG History — March 12, 1927 By Darrin J. Rodgers Originally published on AG News, 12 March 2020 When Sven Lidman (1882-1960), one of Sweden’s most prominent authors, accepted Christ as Savior and was baptized at the leading Pentecostal church in Stockholm in 1921, it seemed as though the entire nation took […]

via Prominent Novelist Sven Lidman Shocked Sweden in 1921 by Converting to Pentecostalism — Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

Stephen and Joy Strang Deposit Charisma Media Archives at Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center — Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

By Darrin J. Rodgers Stephen and Joy Strang have deposited the archives of Charisma Media at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center. The Strangs founded Charisma in 1975, which has become the magazine of record of the charismatic movement in the United States. In 1981, they formed Strang Communications (now Charisma Media), which has published over […]

via Stephen and Joy Strang Deposit Charisma Media Archives at Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center — Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

Is the “Classic” Concept of Original Sin Based on a Mistranslation?

An intriguing suggestion from J.N.D. Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrines.  First, concerning Ambrosiaster’s influential Commentary on Romans:

Ambrosiaster’s teaching is particularly note­worthy because it relies on an exegesis of Rom. 5, 12 which, though mistaken and based on a false reading, was to become the pivot of the doctrine of original sin. In the Greek St. Paul’s text runs, ‘…so death passed to all men inasmuch as (εφ ω) all sinned’; but the Old Latin version which Ambrosiaster used had the faulty translation ‘…in whom (in quo) all sinned’. Hence we find him  commenting, ‘”In whom”, that is, in Adam, “all sinned.” He said, “In whom”, in the masculine, although speaking about the woman, because his reference was to the race, not the sex. It is therefore plain that all men sinned in Adam as in a lump (quasi in massa). For Adam himself was corrupted by sin, and all whom he begat were born under sin. Thus we are all sinners from him, since we all derive from him.’ (p. 354, quote from Ambrosiaster’s Commentary on Romans, 5,12)

And Augustine:

So Augustine has no doubt of the reality of original sin. Genesis apart, he finds Scriptural proof of it in Ps. 51, Job and Eph. 2, 3, but above all in Rom. 5, 12 (where, like Ambrosi­aster, he reads ‘in whom’) and John 3, 3-5. The Church’s tradition, too, he is satisfied, is unanimously in favour of it, and he marshals an array of patristic evidence to convince Julian of Eclanum of this. The practice of baptizing infants with exorcisms and a solemn renunciation of the Devil was in his eyes proof positive that even they were infected with sin. Finally, the general wretchedness of man’s lot and his enslavement to his desires seemed to clinch the matter. Like others before him, he believed that the taint was propagated from parent to child by the physical act of generation, or rather as the result of the carnal excitement which accompanied it and was present, he noticed, in the sexual intercourse even of baptized persons. As we have seen, Augustine was divided in mind between the traducianist and various forms of the creationist theory of the soul’s origin. If the former is right, original sin passes to us directly from our parents; if the latter, the freshly created soul becomes soiled as it enters the body. (p. 363)

There are a couple of things that need to be noted about this.

First, although Kelly places the mistranslation with the Old Latin version, the Vulgate is no different.  That in part is because the Vulgate translation of the New Testament isn’t really a fresh translation (unlike the Old Testament, where Jerome did so from the original Hebrew) but a revision of the Old Latin.

Second, there’s no doubt that the Church Fathers all taught that the Fall was a disaster and left us in a sinfully impaired state.  The issue here is how that disaster has been propagated.  Ambrosiaster and Augustine were of the idea that Adam’s sin was directly passed from parent to child, based on the reading from the Old Latin.  (Ambrosiaster’s expansion into “gender-neutral” territory is an interesting aspect of his teaching.)  That has influenced many things in Christianity, from the Roman Catholic doctrine of Limbo to the insistence that infants be baptised.

As always, Bossuet has a full exposition of this idea, which you can find here.

Francis Chan Bails on Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology

As you see here:

“Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology” is my catty description of Zwinglian theology, which posits that the Holy Communion is a mere symbol.  As I noted in my piece entitled Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology: It Depends Upon What Is Is:

Until the Reformation Christianity uniformly confessed that, when Our Lord said “is” he meant “is”, up to and including the concept of transubstantiation, which Aquinas details in the Summa.

With the breakage of the Reformers we start seeing a variety of explanations of how this “is”, something that Bossuet has more fun than a human being ought to have in his History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches.  But the biggest variation, one that started with Huldreich Zwingli, basically stated that “is isn’t”; that it’s just bread from start to finish and that the Lord’s Supper is purely symbolic.  That “theology” made its way into many Evangelical churches, including the Southern Baptist Convention.

Welcome, Francis Chan.

Guatemala, Then and Now — Chet Aero Marine

One of the things I’ve learned in the many years I’ve worked on this site is that my family has a habit of following in the wake of its ancestors, even if the followers were reluctant to admit it. Our trips to the Bahamas were in the wake of Chet’s SPA trips; our moving to […]

via Guatemala, Then and Now — Chet Aero Marine

John Eric Booth-Clibborn: The Assemblies of God Missionary Who Gave His Life for Burkina Faso — Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

This Week in AG History — January 2, 1926 By Darrin J. Rodgers Originally published on AG News, 2 January 2019 John Eric Booth-Clibborn, a 29-year-old Assemblies of God missionary, laid down his life in the French West African colony of Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) on July 8, 1924. He died from dysentery and […]

via John Eric Booth-Clibborn: The Assemblies of God Missionary Who Gave His Life for Burkina Faso — Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

Anatheism: What Is It, and Do I Have It?

I probably spend more time than I should online following seminary academics.  That’s not just considering their impact on me: sometimes they bite back, especially if they’re of a Reformed background.  In any case a series of events has led me to discover something called anatheism, which is the discovery (for want of a better term) of one Richard Kearney of Boston College.

So how did I get interested in this?  Well, I was asked to find the latest publication of one Austin Williams, a PhD student at Boston College (and probably a protégé of Kearney.) Austin is the son of my church’s pastor, Mark Williams. (I get a whiff from his Twitter feed that Austin is bailing on Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology, of which his father is an adherent.  If that happens, it would be a major triumph for me.)

So I discovered this book review of Richard Kearney’s Anatheistic Wager: Philosophy, Theology, Poetics in Pneuma.  It piqued my interest.  So what, you ask, is anatheism?  The best way to answer that question is to go to the man himself, and he explains it (in a pithier way than many seminary academics manage) in this video.

Rather than get into a full-blown critique of the concept, I’d like to make some observations that perhaps will shed light on the subject and/or engender some conversation.  (The last is a dangerous objective online.)

Most people obtain their faith beliefs while being raised (or discipled for adult converts) in “the system.”  Generally the objective of “the system” is to bring people into some understanding of the faith without going over their head intellectually while at the same time minimizing the possibility that they would challenge what they’re being taught along the way.  (I have this illustration of that process in the Roman Catholic RCIA.)  The problem with this is that eventually, especially when people get to university, they’re confronted with hostile belief systems they aren’t prepared to deal with, which in many cases leads to them bailing on the faith for atheism or even this.

What Kearny is talking about is a moment when we are confronted with a choice (he characterises our response as either hostility or hospitality) between God and atheism, and then those of us who choose God have to make a wager to follow God. (That’s a nice touch for someone who teaches Pascal’s Law to his Fluid Mechanics Laboratory students, but don’t tell the Pope or James Martin.)  Those who get through that, in Kearny’s view, return to “God after God,” thus anatheism.

His first illustration of that is Abraham, who actually has two anatheistic moments: the first when the three visitors come to announce the coming birth of Isaac, and the second when he takes same Isaac to sacrifice.  In both cases he wagers for God, and as Paul reminds us “What then, it may be asked, are we to say about Abraham, the ancestor of our nation? If he was pronounced righteous as the result of obedience, then he has something to boast of. Yes, but not before God. For what are the words of Scripture? ‘Abraham had faith in God, and his faith was regarded by God as righteousness.'” (Romans 4:1-3 TCNT)  That kind of encounter, although seminal in our salvation history, is one that is lacking in the experience of many Christians.

And that leads to the personal part: have I ever experienced this?  In thinking back, yes, at least three times.  The first was at the start, as I mentioned in my dialogue with Ron Krumpos.  The second was my year in prep school which led me to “swim the Tiber.”  (In fairness, I must say that my hapless school chaplain wasn’t alone in forcing this moment; he had a lot of help.)  The third was the experience I had in the Texas A&M Newman Association.  So I guess I have it.  In all of these I should make a qualification: atheism wasn’t really the alternative.  That’s in part because I came from a long line of secular people/Lodge dwellers who didn’t need outright atheism to marginalise religious belief and practice.  To have that kind of experience is good, and does give you a different perspective on your walk with God, but it makes you an outlier in normal local church/parish life.

There are two other observations I’d like to make.

First, I get the impression that Kearney’s idea is that, if more people had this kind of anatheistic experience, they would be less dogmatic in their faith.  I don’t agree with this.  One good example of this is Mohammad, one which Kearney himself brings up.  Another is Pascal, the person who advanced the whole concept of wager in both mathematics and religion.  After his experience he became the most vociferous defender of the Jansenists, much to the regret of the Jesuits.  It helps to have that experience but it doesn’t necessarily dampen the enthusiasm.

Second, I’m not sure how well any theistic concept works in Buddhism which, in the form the Buddha set is down, really has no need for a god.

I’m sure that there are philosophical and theological objections to the way I have presented my observations.  But I don’t believe that it is good that the musings of academics be divorced from the reality of those in the pews that have to endure the sermons of those who emerge from seminary academic.  Kearney has made in interesting contribution to Christian thought, one that deserves further discussion in an age when people are transitioning away from their faith at a significant rate.

We Africans are not children in need of western enlightenment — Ad Orientem

Friends, please hear me, we Africans are not afraid of our sisters and brothers who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered, questioning, or queer. We love them and we hope the best for them. But we know of no compelling arguments for forsaking our church’s understanding of Scripture and the teachings of the church universal. […]

via We Africans are not children in need of western enlightenment — Ad Orientem

The Polyepiscopacy of the Early Church

An intriguing (and sensible) suggestion from Trevor Gervase Jalland’s The Church and the Papacy:

Though there are, as we believe, adequate grounds for rejecting the view that Clement formally identifies episcopi with presbyters, yet in the face of this evidence it appears equally impossible to deny that he refers to the episcopate in a way that suggests that it was held by more than one person in a single community. It may be pointed out further that we are bound to infer from Clement’s description that the function of the episcopate at this time was purely and solely liturgical. Thus it may well be that his frequent use of liturgical language, to which commentators on this document repeatedly call attention, is due to his deep sense of the outrage which has been committed by unjustly depriving ministers of the liturgy of their peculiar office.

If it be asked how this plurality of the episcopate arose, it is impossible to offer more than conjecture in reply. It is probable from the evidence in Acts, I Corinthians and Romans that the primitive basis of Christian liturgical organization was the ‘house church’, such as that of Prisca at Rome. It is equally probable on the same evidence that in large centres of population such as Rome and Corinth, more than one such ‘house church’ would be acquired at an early date by rapidly expanding community. Now when an Apostle was present, to him would properly belong the privilege of ‘Breaking Bread’, as in Acts XIX. But to whom would it be assigned in the Apostle’s absence? The natural inference from Clement, who evidently refers to established and recognized custom, is that it would be given to an episcopus, and thus a plurality of house churches would at first naturally lead to a plurality of episcopi. (p. 80)

Jalland goes on to describe how this polyepiscopate morphed into the “monoepiscopate” normative in Anglicanism (well, sort of,) Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy.  But his concept solves many of the problems in sorting out the leadership offices described in the New Testament and shortly afterwards.

What Jalland is describing is what has come back as a kind of cell group system.  And, when I read this, I said to myself, “Score one for those in the Church of God who wanted to call the highest ministerial rank ‘bishop’ and not just those who supervise a region.”

Jalland also assumes that these bishops had liturgical duties from the beginning, and the whole idea of liturgical worship in the New Testament church is a complete freak-out for much of Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity.