Thursday, February 26, 2009

Scariest Thing I have Read in a Long time

"The largest Asian central banks have gone on record that they are curbing their purchases of US debt. And they are also diversifying their huge reserves, steadily moving away from the dollar. The risks have simply become too many and too serious."
—W. Joseph StroupeEditor, Global Events

ht The Big Picture

Hubris Watch II

Bankers should have noted that very small changes in their underlying assumptions could result in very large changes in the correlation number.

Felix Salmon - Wired magizine
Isn't this the technical definition of Chaos - assumptions being the butterfly and correlation numbers being the hurricanes?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Quality of Christian Scholarship

Reviews of the book, The God I Don't Understand, by Christopher Wright have been making the rounds in the blogosphere. It is an intriguing title. More intriguing is the promise of new insight into the conquest of the Canaanites and God's justice.

Let me set the scene: God has issued the following order:

Deuteronomy 20:16-17(NIV)
16 However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the LORD your God has commanded you

Is this genocide or not? Is this God's barbarity on display? Naturally, Christians are not too comfortable with suggestions that God is a murderous crank and the author admits his own discomfort.

If the reviews are to be taken seriously (I have no intention of spending time or treasure reading every apologetic book that comes along - I have kids!) , Mr. Wright's "frameworks" for addressing these questions are as follows:

(from BloodBought)
The Framework of The Old Testament Story:

There is a culture and a rhetoric of warfare for the Israelites that we are not famaliar with today. The conquest of Canaan did not include a complete removal of them from the land, but only a subduing of them so that Israel can take the land. Something else important to consider is that this is a unique and historical event, not something to be a model for a way of life.

So if God only orders genocide on occasion, it's okay. "I'm not a monster. I only only eat the occasional baby."

The Framework of God’s Sovereign Justice

“The conquest was not human genocide. It was divine judgment” This is seen by the fact that it wasn’t an unconditional wiping out of all Canaanites. For Canaanites who repented and followed Yahweh, like Rahab, they were spared. This does not imply that Israel is more righteous, we even see God imposing the same judgment on them.

Ahem. Look at the passage above. In verse 10, God offers to spare any city that allows the Israelites to seize them as slaves. Short of "repentance" God demands the destruction of all male inhabitants but still allows the women and children to be kept as slaves. Unfortunately this treatment is reserved for cities "on the way" to the promised land. Sparing even women and children is specifically forbidden with regards to the peoples listed in verse 17. So an argument that the repentant Canaanite would be spared doesn't fit the text. Perhaps Rahab's story was a case of special consideration or was just made up to make a good read. In any case, the above defense only makes sense if we are making up the things we want to believe or not take the Bible as accurate.

The Framework of God’s Whole Plan of Salvation:

The conquest of Canaan, is not the ultimate end, it is part of God’s plan of having Israel being His special and chosen people from which the Messiah will come. The mission of Israel is to be a nation from which peace to God is made available and all nations comes to praise Him. The conquest of Canaan might seem contradictory to this but, Wright states “The overall thrust of the Old Testament is not Israel against the nations, but Israel for the sake of the nations…What we need to see is that the Bible feels no contradiction between the ultimate goal of universal blessing and historical acts of particular judgment.”

Ah yes. Defend every word when you agree and appeal to the "overall thrust" when you get in trouble. Anyway, as long as it leads to the Resurrection, it's okay. God can't be expected to make an omelet without breaking some eggs. It's not like He is omnipotent or anything. I'm sure the young Canaanite mother with her baby clutched to her breast who was cut down by Joshuas soldiers was comforted in her last moments that this would all lead to the salvation of people hundreds of years in the future. After all, she and her child are guilty of all the sins of the Canaanite nation, right?

Essentially what we have here is the common Christian attempt to wish away the parts of their holy book that conflict with what they want to believe. Even their most highly regarded thinkers fall into this trap. All they can offer is obfuscation and reassurance. I wish this were a rare example of such shoddy "scholarship" but I have read N T Wright.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sunday School Lesson

I am doing a Sunday School lesson on the Synoptic Problem. The class is a mix of the studious and casual but I would like to provide an introduction and overview.

If anyone is out there, can you suggest materials for such a class - I have about three weeks to prepare.

Thanks in advance

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

And They Laugh About It Afterward...

Human hair found in prehistoric hyena poop
P.S.: Or should the title have been: "Does this clown taste funny to you?" ;)

Grace for the Goose is Grace for the Gander

I sometimes hear Christians say that observant Jews cannot be saved by the law of Moses because it is humanly impossible to keep all the laws. On the other hand we have widespread acceptance of Total Depravity, the believe that no human has the capacity to save himself or even the capacity to turn to God for assistance. Arminians, like the United Methodists, teach that God provides prevenient grace ahead of time to allow us to be saved and even move toward perfection. The good ol' Calvinists tell us that God will save whom he pleases and nothing you do can change it one wayt or the other.

Now, if a person can not even accept Christ and salvation without God's direct intervention, why do these people assume that the Law fails because it is humanly impossible to obey it strictly? Why isn't it assumed that God can intervene and give a Jew the power to live in the Law? (I assume some Jewish theologians assume this aid is available.) The Almighty is universal in His grace, in the Arminian view, but incapable of it with regards to his chosen people?

Let's think before we make these kinds of arguments.

This has been an public service announcement on behalf of the International Brotherhood of Theologians, Local 777

Friday, February 6, 2009

American Tragedy

A co-worker delights in sharing the plot lines of a show called "The Intervention" in which families and friends attempt to intervene in the lives of people caught in horrible addictions and situations. The latest episode seems to involve a childhood rape survivor who will not swallow any food (or saliva!) and is feed only through some sort of feeding tube. My observation was that the show will have to resort to more and more bizarre scenarios in order to keep its audience. I suspect the reason someone would watch this would be to achieve some sort of catharsis. I feel the same thing about "Super Nanny", that wife swapping show, etc ...

The sense that the culture is degrading feels more urgent with every new "reality" TV show. But, if people are benefiting from these gross shows, we shouldn't complain, right? After all, the Greeks did this all the time. Read Oedipus Rex.

What if all those Greek tragedies (and Shakespearean one's? or am I being unfair?) became popular during times when their own contemporary cultures were in periods of "cultural decline?" If western civilization experiences four generation cycles, do these "coarsening" events occur in the same phase of the cycle?