Symposium Recap –  Matthew McAffee on Divine Judgment in the Old Testament World

by Kevin L. Hester

Dr. Matthew McAffee, Provost of Welch College, provided one of the more technical and stimulating papers at the 2017 Theological Symposium. His paper entitled, “Losing Favor with the Gods: Divine Judgment in the Old Testament World” analyzed Northwestern Semitic funerary and monument inscriptions to shed light on certain understandings of death and judgment in the region. His review of several Phoenician and Old Aramaic inscriptions documented a close association between the memory of an individual and his or her rest in the afterlife.

He notes the Semitic penchant for parallelism in several curses offered against those who would disinter the remains of the dead elite or efface their monuments. Robbers and enemies were warned that to “disturb” the grave of the dead was an abomination to the Gods and would place them under divine judgment (3) [1]. Just as such offenders disturbed the rest of the body in the grave, they would find no rest in life or death.

The same parallels may be seen at work in warnings and curses related to the expungement or alteration to inscriptions bearing the names of the dead. Images and inscriptions in this context were viewed as inseparable from the person represented. Erasure of such names led to the loss of such individuals from memory and unsettle their restful place in the afterlife. The curses upon the offenders were likewise dedicated to cutting off their “seed” (children/memory) and will find no place among the dead (10-11). Those who “blot out” or sponge away the names of others will find themselves wiped away (12). In a similar fashion, to delete the memory of a previous ruler by destroying or removing an inscription or monument will lead to the removal of the offender’s place among the living (12). They would be “cut off” and brought to an end (13-14).

McAffee then draws out a number of biblical parallels with this mindset. These are especially visible in Old Testament passages related to judgment. Psalm 49 warns those who follow after riches that they will be “prevented from having a dwelling place among the dead” (15). In Exodus 32 following the incident with the golden calf, Moses responds to God’s intention to wipe out the Jewish people with a request to instead “blot out” his name from God’s “register” (15). God’s response is relenting and he decrees that He will only blot out from this document those who have sinned (Exodus 32:31-33). McAffee also connects the judgment of being “cut off” with the high-handed sin referenced in Numbers 15. Here we read that those who sin against God will be “cut off from the midst of his people” (16); and, “cut off from the covenant community” (17).

While McAffee sees a number of parallels and similar language he also hastens to point out a clear distinction between the Jewish people and other aspects of Northwest Semitic culture. Though the Old Testament often uses similar language and concepts to describe divine disfavor it also recognizes that the ultimate significance in divine judgment is one’s removal from the covenantal people of God. Worse than losing one’s progeny or one’s life, was the loss of his or her place in God’s merciful covenant. Thus, the language of the Old Testament, in distinction from the culture, focuses upon the idea of a personal relationship with God. Such warnings therefore find different ultimate resolutions serve “as a means of fostering covenantal community” (17).

Reflection

McAffee’s work is important from a scholarly perspective for at least two reasons. First, in distinction from much of the modern consensus on Northwest Semitic views of the afterlife, he continues to document that there was indeed a recognition of continued personal presence in the afterlife. Second, his documentation of funerary, inscriptional, and monumental parallels in the language of divine judgment should spur continued research on the meaning of Biblical warnings that employ similar warnings.

From a more practical perspective, I believe that this article also demonstrates some theological truths that will be helpful for all of us to remember. The first of these relates to revelation. God does not speak to us in revelation in words or in language that we cannot understand. Indeed, God revealed Himself to the Jewish people in the midst of their culture. He did not hesitate to use previous terms and concepts, but drew appropriate parallels and worked to redefine erroneous ideas in the context of His revelation. As we work to proclaim the Gospel to our own culture and those with which we come into contact, we must do the same.

Proclaiming the Gospel is possible because God has preserved aspects of His truth among all men. He has set “eternity in their hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Sin has clearly twisted this revelation of God (Romans 1), but there remain several contact points for the Gospel. Our presentations should therefore build upon these remains, but work to correct corrupted cultural ideas and expressions with the truth of God’s word.

Finally, I find it interesting that the Jewish people recognized that the ultimate judgment was the loss of an individual relationship with God. This Biblical truth demonstrates the significance of the human person created in the image of God. We were designed for this purpose and in it we find our true significance. Whether we are remembered by those in this life is unimportant. We only need to be remembered by the eternal God. Lasting peace and rest is afforded to us not through memory, not through monument, but through the everlasting promise of God’s covenant.

_________________

[1] All page numbers are derived from the Symposium Digest.

 Matthew McAffeeLosing Favor with the Gods: Divine Judgment in the Old Testament World 

Symposium Recap – Matthew Bracey on Faith and Scholarship

by W. Jackson Watts

Matthew Bracey’s Symposium paper really scratched a personal itch of mine, which is the relationship between faith and scholarship. Specifically, my good friend helped the audience think about this as a mutually-reinforcing enterprise to which all Christians are called.

Though he outlines several definitions of faith, and a few of scholarship, Bracey essentially means a committed appropriation of Christianity, applied to everyday life, church ministry, and the academy. He distinguishes between lay Christian scholars (all disciples) and professional Christian scholars (in the church and other professions).

Regardless of what type of scholar or student one may be, all scholarship is predicated on our pursuit of God’s glory, the knowability of truth, and a Total Personality (thinking-feeling-acting) understanding of personhood. From these we can faithfully express a vibrant intellectual life.

Bracey is clear to help us avoid a cold, purely cognitive understanding of the intellect. He calls for us to see how the life of the mind is indeed a spiritual concern, even if it is primarily concerned with ideas. His choice of an excellent James Sire quotation really drives this home. I’ll include just a snippet here:

           An intellectual is one who loves ideas, is dedicated to clarifying them, developing them, criticizing them, turning them over and over, seeing their implications,  stacking them atop one another, arranging them, sitting silent while new ideas pop            up and old ones seem to rearrange themselves, playing with them. . .[1]

Though it may only be the calling and gifting of the professional scholar that is characterized by such a rigorous engagement with ideas, all believers are to love God with their minds.

Bracey also discusses the role of worldview in scholarship. This is a rather extensive discussion, partly due to the fact that so many varied definitions surrounding this contested term. In summary, though, Bracey’s point is that the professional scholar integrates all truth he acquires into “some coherent view of life and of the world” (68). He also cites seven helpful tenets of faith-learning integration from Beckwith and Moreland. I’d encourage interested readers to purchase the Digest online, or listen to Bracey’s presentation on our site to catch each of these. They’re all worth some reflection.

Moreover, Bracey lists some of the intellectual virtues which are essential to Christian scholarship. I found these to really expand one’s vision of intellectual and spiritual integrity, and yet remain consistent with what I think we find in the New Testament.

So many different facets of this topic were pursued in this paper, but one sentence that really stood out to me was a quote Bracey provided from A.G. Sertillanges: “by choosing one road I am turning my back on a thousand others.”[2] As someone who knows all too well the pull of ideas on my own heart and mind, I think this is something worth pondering in terms of choosing what we will give our time to.

Response

I really appreciated the topic being taken up in this setting. After all, is there a more appropriate venue for such an exploration?

Mr. Bracey and I have discussed this topic countless times, as well as many of the secondary themes and points of his paper. We orient ourselves to this subject a little differently, and yet I find his presentation touching nearly every major theme one would need to consider in order to think well on this topic.

In an era where so many Free Will Baptists are pursuing higher education, rightly understanding the relationship between Christianity and scholarship is as important as it ever has been. It’s a good thing that papers like this are being given, and insight like this is being provided. I pray it gets a wider hearing.

______________________

Note: Page numbers in parenthesis above follow the printed Symposium Digest of Papers.

[1] James W. Sire, Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), 27-28; Cited by Bracey in Symposium Digest, 67.

[2] A.G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods, trans. Mary Ryan (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America, 1998), 62; Cited by Bracey in Symposium Digest, p. 73.

Matthew Steven Bracey: Faith and Scholarship: A Christian Calling

Free Will Baptists and Evangelical Scholarship

by Theological Commission

Two years ago a post appeared on this blog that noted the relationship between Free Will Baptists and evangelical scholarship. This was specifically in reference to there being four presenters at the National Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society who serve Free Will Baptist churches and/or entities. This year’s meeting took place two weeks ago in Providence, Rhode Island. The theme was the Heritage of the Reformation, and as usual the meeting featured a range of interesting presentations, panel discussions, plenary addresses, and more.

This year five Free Will Baptists presented or moderated across five different sections of the program. The following are the presenters and their paper titles:

Dr. Matthew McAffee (Provost and Professor at Welch College): “Ugaritic Ditanu and  Greek Titans: An Appraisal of Etymological and Narrative Connections.”

Rev. Jesse Owens (Church Planter, Adjunct Professor; Doctoral Candidate) – “English General Baptists: the Arminian Anti-rationalists.”

Dr. Matt Pinson (President of Welch College; Commission Chairman) – “Are Predestination and Election Corporate or Individual? Toward a Reformed Arminian Account.”

Rev. W. Jackson Watts (Pastor, Commission member; Doctoral candidate) – “Cultural Analysis and the Dynamics of Leading Change in the Church.”

Dr. Jeff Cockrell, professor at Welch College, moderated a New Testament section on the Gospel of Mark, and Mr. Matthew Bracey, Vice Provost and Professor at Welch also attended.

Audio recordings of these presentations can be found and purchased at Word Mp3. Readers may also note that a few of these papers are adapted from presentations given at the 2017 Theological Symposium. For more information on ETS or these specific presentations, you may leave us a question on the blog’s comment thread.

 

Symposium Recap: Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election

by Kevin L. Hester

In his presentation, “Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election,” J. Matthew Pinson, president of Welch College, introduced his personal reflections on the nature of predestination and its placement in modern Arminian theological circles. At the heart of his discussion is the common misconception that Arminians reject predestination – the concept of the election of individual believers and the reprobation of individual unbelievers.

Far from rejecting individual election, Arminius taught that God

wills that single men should come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved, that is, all and each, rich and poor, noble and ignoble, male and female, &c. As the knowledge of the truth and salvation belong to single human beings, and is, in fact, prepared, by predestination, for the salvation of single individuals, not for classes, and is denied, by reprobation, to single individuals, not to classes, so, also, in the more general providence of God, antecedent, in the order of nature, to the decree of predestination and reprobation, the divine will has reference to single individuals of classes, not to classes of single individuals.[1]

Pinson argues that Arminius, Wesley, and other foundational Arminian theologians taught conditional, individual election. He asserts that this is a more biblical model than the concept of corporate election introduced to Arminianism by Shank and others.[2] The idea of corporate election has attracted numerous Arminian adherents because of its rejection of particular Calvinist themes and the growing popularity of corporate emphases on salvation expressed in N.T. Wright and other New Perspective authors.

In contrast, Arminius’s view of election as individual was characteristic of the Reformed theology of his time. He distinguished himself by offering a correction to a misplaced ordering of election that “inverts the order of the gospel” and diminished Jesus Christ’s office of mediator of the covenant of redemption.[3] He posited an ordo salutis that emphasized 1) God’s unconditional election of Christ as Mediator, 2) God’s unconditional decree to save those who repent and believe, 3) God’s unconditional decree to “administer the means of salvation,” 4) God’s unconditional decrees “to save and to damn certain particular persons according to his foreknowledge.”[4]

This foreknowledge is more than mere prescience of repentance and belief, but introduces an intimate relationship of love and grace. In predestination and election, we see “an eternal administration of what is taking place in the lives of the elect and reprobate in time.”[5] For Pinson this is a Biblical model and a theological expression of the “natural reading of the predestination and election passages in the New Testament.”[6]

Whereas traditional Reformed theology’s emphasis on unconditional election misplaces the centrality of Christ’s mediatorial role, new Arminian currents toward corporate election miss important themes that are scripturally related to individual piety. If election is corporate, then “election and predestination are abstract concepts that are not in themselves salvific… (but are rather) a vehicle through which God procures salvation for people.”[7]In this light, passages like Ephesians 1, which focuses on the benefits of individual believers as they are united to Christ against the backdrop of election and predestination, are wrested from a natural reading to become theological exposés rather than worshipful reflections on God’s redemption in the lives of individual believers.

We should be thankful for the balanced and pastoral approach that Pinson employs in this article. His approach to Scripture, like that of Arminius, is alive with a spirit of worship and awe of God’s grace. Too many evangelicals on both the Calvinist and the Arminian side of the election debate have abstracted the discussion without reference to the implications of the doctrine for individual piety. It is a mistake to subtract biblical terms and concepts from their biblical context. What then are some of these implications?

Implications

The doctrine of conditional, individual election allows us to trust in God as the author of our salvation. As we remain united to Christ through faith, we can rely on his enduring love. Belief in the gospel brings the seal of His promise and the “guarantee of our inheritance.”[8]

The doctrine of conditional, individual election assures us of both God’s redemptive desire for the salvation of all persons and His eternal affection for those whom He has foreknown. God’s eternal decrees manifest themselves in time in the context of real relationships with fallen human persons. God works to make these sinful, rebellious creatures like His Son.[9]

The doctrine of conditional, individual election should awaken our praise and worship. God lavishes us with the riches of His grace so that we might live “to the praise of his glory.”[10] May our theology be as rich as our inheritance in Him and may it drive us to our knees as it leads us to praise in the heavenly places.

Soli Deo Gloria.

__________________________

[1] Arminius, Works, 3:461, Examination of the Treatise of Perkins on the Order and Mode of Predestination. Bagnall edition. Quoted in Pinson, “Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election,” paper presented at the Theological Symposium of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Gallatin, TN. October 23-24, 2017. p. 3.

[2] Robert Shank, Elect in the Son: A Study of the Doctrine of Election (Springfield, Missouri: Westcott, 1970); see also Paul Marston and Roger Foster, God’s Strategy in Human History (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2001; reprint).

[3] Arminius, Works, 1:632, Declaration of Sentiments. Bagnall edition. Quoted in Pinson, “Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election,” paper presented at the Theological Symposium of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Gallatin, TN. October 23-24, 2017. p. 5.

[4] Arminius, Works, 1:653-4, Declaration of Sentiments. Quoted in Pinson, “Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election,” paper presented at the Theological Symposium of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Gallatin, TN. October 23-24, 2017. p. 6. Italics his.

[5] Pinson, “Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election,” paper presented at the Theological Symposium of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Gallatin, TN. October 23-24, 2017. p. 8.

[6] Quoted in Pinson, “Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election,” paper presented at the Theological Symposium of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Gallatin, TN. October 23-24, 2017. p. 9.

[7] Pinson, “Reflections on Arminius’s Doctrine of Individual Election,” paper presented at the Theological Symposium of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, Gallatin, TN. October 23-24, 2017. p. 10.

[8] See Ephesians 1:13-14.

[9] See Ephesians 1:4.

[10] See Ephesians 1:12.

 

Symposium Recap – Cultural Evolution and the Documentary Hypothesis

by W. Jackson Watts

Raven Tuttobene, a graduate student at Welch College, presented a paper entitled “I Love Lucy: Assumptions in Using Cultural Evolution as the Basis for the Documentary Hypothesis.” We’re always pleased to have first-time presenters on our program, especially ones who can further expose some of the errors in modern thought about Christian Scripture and doctrine.

Though “I Love Lucy” was a famous television program years ago, the Lucy referred to has in mind the common name of a collection of bone fossils discovered in 1974 in Africa. Lucy is thought to be something of a missing paleontological link between modern human beings and our ancient relatives. Tuttobene uses this play on words, it seems, to make a connection between the theory of cultural evolution and how this is the actual underpinning of a broader, beloved theory or hypothesis about how the biblical documents came to exist in their present form.

The Documentary Hypothesis (sometimes referred to as JEDP) is the dominant model used to explain the origin and composition of the Pentateuch. Made famous by the German scholar Julius Wellhausen in the nineteenth century, this perspective sees the first five books of the Bible not as a unified work from a single author (Moses, for example). Rather, it sees it as a series of sources collected over a long period of time by different editors or redactors. Thus, JEDP stands for Jahovist, Elohimist, Deuteronomist, Priestly.

Although this theory has undergone some revision, and some biblical scholars have jettisoned it in favor of other theories, it still is the basic theory underlying much of critical biblical scholarship. Anyone who has taken a basic Bible Survey course is at least familiar with this theory. For those who have made use of biblical commentaries, it is quite likely some of those commentators assume this paradigm.

Tuttobene’s paper isn’t interested in reexamining all the particulars of the theory. Instead, she wisely focuses on a deeper idea or assumption underlying the Documentary Hypothesis: cultural evolution.

By cultural evolution we essentially mean the notion of history as the inevitable progression and development of human reason, and the human race being further educated, moving toward deeper degrees of rationality. Religion recedes where complexity and rationality in society increases, and evolves into more complex religion.

The original basis for the Documentary Hypothesis was a Romanticist view of cultural evolution which saw early religion as free, simple, and innocent.  Yet in the context of the Enlightenment, evolutionary thought about culture and religion saw early religions as barbaric and violent (60). So which is it?

Tuttobene asserts that the very existence of cultural evolution is a problematic basis for religious interpretation. The developments described by the evolutionary model of religion have never been observed. Instead, what Wellhausen did was focus on “demonstrating the progressive nature of the Israelite religion and retroactively superimposed this standard on the whole Pentateuch.” (59). Yet therein lies some of the many problems with his approach.

There is a great degree of ambiguity in the theory and methods associated with historical criticism. How does one situate a text in its ancient context? Does the context help us understand the text, or the text the context? Is there a consistent textual standard? If not, by what means might one divide the JEDP documents? Why are other ancient near eastern texts treated as discrete, unified documents, but biblical texts are treated radically different?

Tuttobene attempts to put her fingers on the contradictions between a Romanticist view of cultural evolution, and the evolutionary model of religion of the Enlightenment. Moreover, she raises questions about how these contradictions give rise to other ambiguities in the actual application of biblical historical criticism.

Implications

I think the biggest takeaway from Miss Tuttobene’s presentation is two-fold. First, it is incredibly difficult to uproot widely accepted theories once they have taken hold. Therefore, one quite literally needs to focus on the roots of such theories, as well as the components of the theory’s application, in order to launch an effective critique on a bad theory.

Second, I don’t think we have given nearly enough consideration to how secular views of progress (whether they concern religion or society in general) undergird much of our contemporary life. When we think about how many ethical debates go, whether on human rights, capitalism, religious liberty, or other matters, we can always tease out some implicit view of progress that is supposedly what should direct where we land on these debates.

Instead of spending all of our time debating the particulars of policy proposals (and we should do this), we need to spend more time and energy targeting the problematic assumptions about cultural progress that underlie our debates. Tuttobene’s paper helps us think about this concerning biblical scholarship, but even in other areas also.

Raven Tuttobene: I Love Lucy: Assumptions in Using Cultural Evolution as the Basis for the Documentary Hypothesis

 

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