Archive | November, 2008

Zane Hodges (1933–2008)

I learned today that one of my former professors and colleagues, Zane Hodges, passed from this life to the next over the weekend. Zane was 75 years old when he died. He was at the center of some major debates within evangelical circles, namely, how salvation is to be defined and what constitutes the original text of the New Testament. He viewed salvation as that which was bestowed solely by faith in Christ, and that one does not necessarily have to persevere in faith to be saved. And by this perseverance, he meant that a saved individual did not have to have either good works or even continued faith to be saved. His view of the text of the New Testament was that the majority of manuscripts, regardless of age, were the surest pointer to the original text. He was responsible for resurrecting Dean Burgon’s views of the text within scholarly circles. Both of these views are quite controversial in evangelical circles.

Zane taught Greek and New Testament courses at Dallas Seminary from 1960 to 1987. I took him for more courses than from any other NT prof, and learned a great deal from him. His skills with the Greek text were breathtaking. I never knew a professor who could sight-read as well as Hodges (except for Johnson). And he thought through his positions well. I didn’t agree with him on everything; in fact, I would say that I disagreed with him on most of his positions. I was always a bit nervous coming into his class because I wasn’t sure what he would say that hour that might rock my world. But I enjoyed immensely how he structured the courses, how he argued his positions, and how charismatic he was in the classroom. He was a superb preacher and very persuasive. His electives always had the highest enrollment by far of any NT electives at DTS.

Zane never married. His lifelong celibacy influenced a number of others, including Art Farstad, with whom he co-edited The Greek New Testament according to the Majority Text.

He never earned a doctorate, and intentionally so: he thought that such a degree might make him proud. Continue Reading →

The Benefits of Christianese

Everyone should learn a 2nd language. In fact, I came across this site on-line touting the benefits of learning another language, identifying the following perks:

· Fosters intellectual growth

· Creates more flexibility in thinking

· Improves listening abilities

So as I pondered these benefits, I could not help but think of how applicable this would be for the Christ followers, aka Christians, as they typically begin learning a 2nd language beginning at their induction into Christianity. It is a language unique to this species that associates with a new set of verbiage that is chiefly identified with language from the Bible. I will call this Christianese. As the Christ follower is introduced to the rudimentary foundations of the faith, they begin to learn key Christianese vocabulary words such as such as “saved” and “redeemed” and “born again”. The Christ follower readily adopts this second language and swiftly expands the Christianese vocabulary to include words like “kingdom” and even whole phrases such as “blood of the Lamb” and “the glory of God”.

To be sure, the learning process is facilitated through association with fluent speakers of Christianese. There is clearly a direct correlation with the degree of immersion with fluent Christianese speakers with the degree of advancement in the language. Readers who are Christ followers and experiencing deficiencies in the art of Christianese need not despair. Groups of proficient Christianese speakers can be found at just about any church that teaches the Bible as the authoritative vehicle of divine communication, especially considering that the Christianese tongue is adopted from this very source.

Once the Christ follower begins to advance in the language, the speaker begins to form whole sentences. These advanced forms are typically related to Bible passages but can also include extraneous verbiage to express Christianese in very creative formats. Some of the verbiage may not be consistent with a holistic understanding of the Biblical source, but nonetheless bolters the aesthetics of the language.

Subsequently, translation does present some challenges with the typical speaker of Christianese when the fluency of the language is not compatible with an understanding of the terms. For due to prolific usage of the language, it is quite common to gain fluency in speech without an adequate understanding of intended meaning. In these instances, the language begins to experience a breakdown because the chief purpose of the vocabulary does not communicate the intended meaning to the Christianese speaker and thus becomes relegated to an empty form of verbiage. Christianese also presents numerous challenges relative to translation when the language is utilized to communicate truths about Christianity with non-Christianese speakers. Typically, these conversations are not privy to on-site interpretation, which will most likely leave the non-Christianese speaker in a state of confusion and inadequate understanding of the truths of what the Christianese speaker is intending to communicate.

So as I ponder the benefits of Christianese, there does seem to be a possible contradiction between the proposed benefits of learning a second language and the intended purposes of the Christianese language. It does strike me that adopting Christianese may in fact stunt intellectual growth, inhibit flexible thinking and destroy listening skills as the language becomes a form of jargon that espouses rhetoric rather than adequately communicate divine truths. For this Christ follower has discovered that God has used the language of 40 authors to communicate the truth about Himself, His purposes, His will and His plan towards humanity. It deserves better than the casual adoption of terms. It deserves an intensive investigation into their meaning. Perhaps the benefits of Christianese is realizing there are no benefits to adopting the language and maybe the preferred solution is to translate the language of the Bible through the lens of contemporary culture in order to adequately translate meaning and transmit truths into a format that can be understood. For clearly, language is designed to communicate. But it cannot do so if it is not expressed in understandable terms. Nor will we who are Christ followers honor the intended usage of the terms written in ancient times unless we can first translate them for ourselves.

Inerrancy is Too Much: An Alternate Proposal to Amend ETS Doctrinal Statement

Having just come from the annual Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) conference, I want to propose something for discussion concerning the doctrinal statement currently ascribed to by ETS. Whether you are familiar with ETS or not, this conversation will be beneficial to you, especially my students.

First, I want to make clear that I hold to inerrancy. I sign with good conscience the ETS doctrinal statement which is founded upon a confession of inerrancy. I have written on this issue here on this blog and defended what I call “reasoned inerrancy” as a hermeneutical motif for Christian hermeneutics. Therefore, this is not a post about any problem that I have with the doctrine itself.

Second, I want to make it clear that this is not a formal proposal of any sort. Although I am a voting member of ETS, I do not have any aspirations right now of taking this any further than this blog discussion.

Having been involved in ETS for the last eight years, I have come to appreciate what it is about. At least what I think its original and abiding intent is.

From the ETS website:

“Founded in 1949, the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) is a group of scholars, teachers, pastors, students, and others dedicated to the oral exchange and written expression of theological thought and research.”

“Oral exchange and written expression of theological though and research.” What this means is that ETS, while decidedly Evangelical, desires to provide a forum where Christian scholars can exchange research for peer review. ETS is not an official Evangelical magisterium in any sense, and it should never be seen as such. It is simply a place to “do” Evangelical scholarship. Continue Reading →

Why I Don't Teach Preterism

It looks like I am getting some flack from some passionate Preterists (full or hyper Preterist, not partial preterists) who say I don’t give them a fair shake in The Theology Program material. Saying that I don’t give people a fair shake disturbs me very much as our program prides itself all being “fair and balanced.”

But the truth is that I don’t give Preterism a fair shake in The Theology Program. In fact, I don’t give them a shake at all.

Why? Good question.

Preterism is a funny thing. It is something that causes quite a bit of passionate adherence, the degree to which shows great imbalance. The reason why we don’t cover it in TTP is because it is neither significant historically or contemporary. I know that this might seem like an arrogant statement to those who hold this position, but I feel I am qualified enough to make this assertion in good conscience.

Full- or hyper-preterism is the belief, in essence that Christ has already come, we are in the New Heaven and New Earth, and the resurrection has already happened. It is not taken seriously (at least full-preterism) in any academic circles. Continue Reading →

Why Calvinism is the Least Rational Option

One of the dozens of reasons I am a Calvinist has to do with the tension that is allowed within the Calvinistic system that is not allowed in other options. You see, the issues of Calvinism primarily center on one issue: predestination. While the sovereignty of God has its place, it does not ultimately determine where one lands. An Arminian can believe that God is sovereign to a similar degree as a Calvinist. But an Arminian cannot believe in predestination the same way as Calvinists.

Both Calvinists and Arminians believe in predestination. In other words, whether or not God predestines people is not the issue. All Bible believing Christians believe this doctrine. The issue has to do with the basis of this predestining.

The Calvinist says that God’s predestination has no founding in the predestined in any sense. God did not choose people based on any merit, intrinsic or foreseen. This is called unconditional predestination because there are no conditions in man that need to be met. It does not mean that God did not have any reason for choosing some and not others, but that the reason is not found in us. Continue Reading →

My Twenty Year Voyage into Theology

Rewind 20 years: 1988

Walking past the sign at John Marshall High in Oklahoma City which encouraged students to come to Bible study at 6:30 in room 208. Not me. No, not because I did not like the Bible, but because it would be filled with nerds whom I did not want to be associated with. I smirked as I thought that the only reason they were taking this path was because they could not be like me—cool like me. Sure I went to FCA, but all the cool kids did. One kid even approached me, Davey Peirce, and asked me about Christ. I remember his exact words. “Michael, I want you to tell me more about this Jesus Christ.” “Sure,” I responded, “I will get back to you.” I never did. He asked me because I seemed to know a lot about the Bible during that session. Indeed, relatively speaking, I knew more than most. But Christ was a hamper to my style. My indulgence would have to be put on hold if I walked that path right now. I told Christ that I would be back after high school. I was just too busy.

Fast-forward 5 years

With Smashing Pupkins and Blind Melon playing in the background, I lay on the carpet face down in Arizona on my best friends floor in his room. It had now been three years since I told Christ I would be back and here I was. Dropped out of school (although I took my fathers tuition money), drinking every night, playing Madden 93′, living part time with my girl friend, stoned and making jokes about how I would not live past 21. As I lay on the floor, I told the Lord I was sorry. I just did not know what to do. “Lord, forgive me. I don’t even want to be different and for this I am ashamed.” Continue Reading →