October was quite a month for me...jumbled with confusion, mind-numbing 'strangeness', and filled with challenges...
As I write this, I am at some 37,000 feet on my way back to Cincinnati from San Jose...my thoughts are a loose jumble, but my heart is relatively clear (unlike most of October!)...I have several non-connected topics to write about...
First of all, in October I had a member of my immediate family die, and another member check into a Neuro-Psychiatric Emergency Room. The death occurred close to where I grew up, so I flew back there and was confronted again with the transience of life, the alien character of death in God's universe, and the awesome and powerful destructiveness of the sin committed so long ago in the garden...
When the other family member checked into the psychiatric ER, I flew to LA to care for them. I was there for approximately a week--visiting, worrying, praying--and generally stumbling around in long walks. The feeling of helplessness was so tangible and the awareness of a bed-rock trust is the quiet involvement of my God was a constant component of my consciousness. As in many crisis situations (not those artificially constructed by our social character--e.g. office deadlines), our 'biology' seems to 'pause' when confronted with the 'deep things' of life and time. I stayed there a week--the time being divided between the officially-allowed visits and the long walks with my Lord.
He has been there for me, in ways and experiences that escape my ability to 'understand'. I don't pretend to understand how He mediates 'mystical' awareness of His presence and attention--but I do know that at special times like these He does so. His presence--quiet, stable, patient, understanding, accepting, also-grieving, comforting--was obvious to me. Perhaps it was that my cognitive side was in 'pause'; perhaps the emotional load made me more sensitive to the 'mystical', perhaps the constant expression of my radical dependence on Him brought His nurturing character into clearer focus to my heart.
I am always aware of His presence in my life--an invisible personality 'over against' me--and almost never have the sensation of loneliness that would be predicted for a loner/recluse such as myself. But the times of trouble and difficulty (like these) that have periodically invaded my life and tried to 'overwhelm me', have been generally accompanied by a heightened sense of His attention and commitment to me.
I actually ended up spending a week there, and only last week brought the family member home to stay at my place for a while. Their condition has improved considerably, and tremendous progress is being made in the areas of their life that contributed significantly to the dangerous thoughts and anxiety that provoked the visit to the ER.
The SECOND item is a purely 'theoretical' one, that deals with the issue of biblical inerrancy. I have pondered this subject for some time now (in the spirit of the biblical injunction to 'test all things' and in line with the biblical ethic of honesty and commitment to truth--cf. Jesus words "the truth shall set you free"), and have noticed a strange pattern in my life vis-à-vis this idea.
I have noticed that I have become an 'accidental inerrantist'. What I mean by this is that I do not see the 'need' for it, but find the data 'for it' to be persuasive to me. Let me explain.
From a philosophical point of view (esp. philosophy of language), I don't 'need' inerrancy. Language, in my way of understanding it currently, has SO MUCH redundancy in it that 'errors' are corrected in the process of communication. For example, people routinely make linguistic 'slips' in speech, yet we have no difficulty in getting the meaning of a sentence, for example. Linguists tell us that this success is due to the redundancy that occurs in normal language. There are enough multiple 'clues' scattered throughout a linguistic statement (written or oral) that allow us to 'construct' any missing piece or 're-construct' any erroneous piece. So, from the standpoint of linguistic communication, God could have allowed 'errors' in His bible (if He so chose), and still have built in so much redundancy so as to effect communication of all the truth we need to have a proper relationship to Himself, to other persons, and to the universe at large.
From a theological point of view, I don't 'need' inerrancy, either. The fact that some ambiguity in His communication SEEMS TO BE deliberate (as a device to filter out the true 'seekers' and open-minded--cf. the parables), means that theologically He could have allowed errors (if He so chose) in the bible to function as the minority 'counter-weight' to the OTHER clear, mainstream datapoints. This would simply look like discordant data within a scientific theory. The OTHER, majority data points would be properly weighted by the open-minded and truth-seekers, and the communication would occur.
From a biblical point of view, I cannot actually 'have' inerrancy to the degree needed by the typical proponent. The reason for this is the simple fact that biblical statements ABOUT the bible CANNOT be complete in their scope descriptions, and hence, any doctrine of inerrancy could at best apply to only PARTS of the bible.
This needs a bit of explanation. Some items, such as the extent of the canon, can never be settled by an appeal to scripture (at least as we have it). Although the undergirding teaching that supports and predicts a 'canon-occurrence' is VERY strong in my opinion, such teaching does not specify the contents of that 'beforehand'. Since the last book of the bible does NOT contain a definitive list of what books are in the canon, we are forced to deal with the issue historically--NOT biblically. [The same argument applies to many of the 'recursive' biblical statements. That is, the bible 'itself' cannot tell us which textual variants are the originals--no text can do that.]
So, even with the fact that the bible DOES confirm its own trustworthiness in matters of fact (e.g. Jesus view of the OT stories), there are no passages that identify exhaustively the NT list of books (for example) that fall into that category. Hence, the biblical teaching on inerrancy is important (and accurate) but is not comprehensive enough.
So, I arrive at the practical point that I sorta don't 'need' the teaching from a systematic standpoint. But at the same time I find that I DO BELIEVE IN INERRANCY.
The reason I do is simple--I have a partial doctrine of it from the NT, and every passage I have examined personally (that were HIGH candidates for being 'errors') somehow eludes that title. The historical errors all seem to get 'resolved', the contradictions all seem to have a 'strange' degree of ambiguity in one statement or the other, with the result that I really can't in good conscience say they 'contradict'--an honesty thing, not a religious thing!.
Conservative, evangelical scholars have long ago identified the passages that have known TEXTUAL problems in them (i.e. we don't know what the original actually 'said'), but these constitute 'missing data' not 'erroneous data'.
The result is simply that I cannot find a demonstrable error, and the consequence in terms of my worldview is that I believe the original OT and NT texts (most of which we seem to have, buried in the various textual traditions--a DIFFERENT issue altogether) were/are without errors in matters of fact. Ergo, I am an 'accidental inerrantist'. (I just purchased the Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy, or some such title. Although my first glance through it left me a bit disappointed in the 'quality' of the alleged errors, I will need to look at it more closely before I reply to it.)
The FINAL comment I want to make here is about my dependence on the event of the Cross.
I get a lot of kudos for my thinking and my writing (from believers and non-believers alike), with the result that I 'worry' sometimes that the radical importance of the work of Christ is not 'explicit enough' in my life to others. In more pietistic words, I am concerned that I often get the 'credit' for being 'smart' when more properly the 'credit' should go to the pervasive and consistent work of my Lord in my life.
This is somewhat difficult to word properly, but I attribute any sections of 'high caliber' thinking or of any particularly 'brilliant' work on my part, to the effects of Christ's work on the Cross (and its subsequent 'application' in my life). I honestly 'glory in the Cross' in the words of Paul.
The way I personally see this is as follows. One of the things that occurred on the Cross is "Jesus died for my sins". To see how I understand this, let me try to construct a series of paraphrases, each with additional levels of specificity.
So, the big issue that arises here is HOW the effects of that past event (the Crucifixion) can affect the present and future (my life).
There are at least three main ways it 'reaches into the future all the way to me'.
First, under the normal historical existence of people, the consequences of all personal acts follow 'semi-necessarily'. In other words, the influence/response/result model (the personal superset of 'cause/effect') should be consistently occurring. In the absence of 'invasive/suppressive' action from external forces, the evil we do should theoretically 'unravel' us, our relationships, and our universe MUCH FASTER than it currently seems to. Evil is pretty serious business, in my book. The devolution of the universe, the atrocities of history and the necessity of the incarnation/crucifixion of a God-man give ample witness to how big of an issue it must REALLY be--in spite of our rather dim and anesthetized estimates thereof. The fact that evil/sin does not often IMMEDIATELY PRODUCE AT TIME OF CHOICE its destructive work, leads me to believe that this 'gap' between the reaping and the sowing is a function of one or two (or both) factors:
Both of these notions have biblical support. The first, the notion that events require time to reach 'concreteness' can be seen in the temptation-sin-death 'reproduction' cycle of James 1...sin gives 'birth' to death...time and care is required for the independent consequence of evil-choice to 'materialize'. The second, that God has the option to 'soften/redirect/suspend' the influence-chain is manifest in His dealings with Pharaoh and Abimelech. In Pharaoh's case, He left Pharaoh's heart-status in charge of Pharaoh, with the result that as Pharaoh hardened his own heart, so God 'cemented' the act--the natural consequence of Pharaoh's choice against YAHWEH was allowed to have its full effect on his own heart--that of callousness (cf. Heb 3.13). And, in the case of Abimelech (Gen 20), God kept him from sinning because of his internal disposition of integrity. It is God's prerogative to judicially decide to mitigate the effects of evil in special cases (or in some cases to select between equivalent 'judgments'--cf. 2 Sam 24.12).
How this applies to me should be obvious. On the basis of the 'redirection' of the personal effects of my choices onto my Lord on the Cross, God stops my choices from destroying my psychological life. Without this constant process of decay going on inside me, my thoughts are clearer, my honesty more forceful on my thinking process, my humility wins over my arrogance more often (with the obvious benefits in tone and respect for others)--I come closer to realizing the potential I have.
Now, let me quickly add that the natural consequences of some of my actions DO MAKE THEIR way into history--but for the general purpose of teaching me to be 'more careful next time with my choices'! But this is not a judgment or 'law' type of thing--it is the patient but forceful instruction of my Father in helping me develop my abilities and reach my highest possible robustness of personality in time.
So the FIRST method was a 'braking' one--the negative effects of my negative choices are no longer decisive in the process of my development. I have 'relief' and 'deliverance' and 'salvation' from the normally-following destruction/fragmentation/dis-integration forces unleashed therein.
Even the 'flowering in time' of an event process works in my favor now. When I make an evil moral choice in my mind, the natural-historical-ontological effects of that start to ripple outward into history...my thought might become a spoken utterance, which might offend a friend, which might (if not dealt with) estrange that friend for a lifetime. This process happens all the time in life, but what is new for me is the awareness that I can 'nip that process in the bud' by a simple appeal to the Father, and reduce the impact of that ethical aberration on the world. If I 'catch' the event at the thought-life level, external history is not impacted much--and the internal consequences of dullness, insensitivity, and apathy do not occur. If I 'stop the process' by a quick apology AFTER the utterance, some external damage has been done, but it is often easily repairable. If the alienation occurs, the historical ripples get much more difficult to reverse. Paul talks about this cycle in his Roman 8:13--'put to death the misdeeds of the flesh'--stop them from living long enough to 'reproduce'.
[The same principle is involved in the injunction to 'not go to bed angry'. The anger 'spreads' through the subconscious overnight and we wake up slightly 'different' people.]
The SECOND method was that of a new way of God's 'working on me'. Biblically this is called the 'indwelling of the believer by the Holy Spirit'. After the satisfactory sacrificial death of Jesus, God the Father was free to change both the locus and the granularity of His transforming manifestations in history.
Prior to the advent of Christ, God manifested himself as an ACTIVE AGENT in the loci of the Angel of YAHWEH and in the Holy Spirit (often manifested in the Shekinah glory--at the exodus , the ark, and at the temple). Wherever the Angel or the Spirit were, was holy ground--meaning that 'history was different inside that area'. If evil invaded that space, it was suppressed or dealt with strongly, as opposed to evil on 'normal ground' (cf. I Sam 6); if a believer approached that space, healthy insights 'occurred' (Psalm 73), and joy and thanksgiving was a natural result. Wherever the Angel or the Spirit were, there men and women were confronted, empowered, challenged, communicated to, and changed by God (cf. the Spirit on the prophets of OT times, the Angel and Gideon, the 'change' in Saul--I Sam 10.6; the 'glowing face' of Moses, the 'in-skilling' of the tabernacle workers--Ex 31.3). The point is that God chose specific 'places' within history/geography FROM WHICH to 'order' historical events--sort of like concentric circles of influence. In other words, the closer one was to the center of that area, the more one was influenced (positively or negatively) by God. God's action upon one's character and relationships was considerably more pronounced and more rapid in those 'holy' areas.
The granularity of God's creative works in the OT was quite large. The presence of God in the camp of Israel constituted Israel as a covenant nation--a unit. From the twelve tribes (with their tribal loyalties very high) He created a higher level of organization--a nation. And within this nation, even as it tended to decay so rapidly, God consistently brought new life and new perspectives to the nation (largely through the religious roles in the culture--wise men/women, priests, prophets, kings). The transformation of individuals, however, was NOT the focus of the transforming presence of God--except where said individual was a national representative or agent (e.g. king, prophet). Transformation occurred by simply BEING IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD--it didn't take any real 'action' of God. When Moses simply was in the presence of God in the tent of meeting, his face was transformed. People are changed by simply 'being around God'.
This changed after, and because of, the death/resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus had promised that the Father would send the Holy Spirit after his successful crucifixion of 'reconciling the world'. This Spirit was WITH the apostles in the time of Jesus, but would be IN THEM in the future (John 14.17)--indicating a change in the locus of God's activity. This Spirit was the Spirit of Truth (John 15.26; 16.13), of which truth Jesus claimed that it would 'set them free'!
What I understand this to mean is that the Holy Spirit established a 'center or origin' of creative/liberating operations INSIDE the personalities of NT believers. Paul talks about the believer being a 'temple of the Holy Spirit' (I Cor 6.19), and that where this Spirit is 'there exists freedom' (2 Cor 3.17) and life (2 Cor 3.6). Likewise, God will act more intensely and rapidly the 'closer' one gets to this center (I Cor 3.17).
How then does the Spirit of God impact me--Glenn Miller? According to the pattern of the OT and the statements of the NT, the Spirit performs several things that impact my thinking and writing.
Now, I am aware that SOME of this progress may be attributable to the God-ordained maturation process, but the vast number of 'mature' individuals that I see around me living shallow, unfulfilled, 'numbed' lives convinces me that 'maturation' without a 'managing director' is not enough to account for what I see in my life.
So the FIRST and the SECOND results of my Lord's success upon the Cross produce 'LESS decay and disintegration' and MORE openness/creativity/sensitivity to truth, respectively. [Needless to say, it produces MUCH MORE THAN THESE, but these are prominent components of my activities in the ThinkTank.]
The THIRD major way in which it impacts me is through the operation of these FIRST and SECOND items in the lives of OTHER people--Christian scholars who have grown from the same means, Christian friends who might sense a moment of discouragement and go out of their way to encourage me, and the countless Christians who were influential in both my decision to ask God to 'salvage' what could easily have been a wasted and tepid life, and in my overall approaches to questions and truth.
[Let me hasten to add that God works in my life in many other ways--for example, the providential timing of certain questions in the Tank--but this should give a glimpse of how dependent I feel upon the Cross.]
Well, this has been too brief to even scratch the surface of the awesome work of Christ on the Cross for me, but hopefully it will give you an understanding of "what I mean" and "why I say" the generally-vague Christian slogans of "my strength comes from the Cross" or "there is power in the Blood" or "the glory belongs to Jesus" or the biblical statements "May I never boast, except in the Cross of Christ" or "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord". These awesome forces (quiet, but deeply powerful) flow freely from the loving activity of my God in my life--because the divine sacrifice on the Cross produced 'peace with God' for me (Romans 5).
Often a reader cannot compare "before and after" thoughts/writings of a person over time, and so any transformation of character or thought-life often remains undetected (except in the tone of the writings perhaps), but for an author--familiar over decades with the inside life of his heart and mind--the changes may be obvious and startling, and so may induce worship and a humility before his God..."Jesus paid it all; all to him I owe; sin had left a crimson stain; He washed it white as snow".
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