Monday, 4 April 2016

The Authorship of the New Testament Epistles

For the self-description of each epistle's author as 'I' to have any real-time truth value, the contents of the epistles must faithfully represent the thoughts of the stated author.

In epistles where personal messages to individuals appear, as in many of the Pauline letters, the distance between the letter's writing and the attributed author would have to be fairly close for those time-specific personal messages, and therefore the letter as a whole, to have real-time truth value.

For other letters, such as 2 Peter, where such personal messages are absent, it may well be that the letter faithfully represents the thoughts of a deceased author. In this case it is still from the 'I' it is attributed to, but at a greater remove whereby the voice of the author is represented somewhat imaginatively.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Church and State

The separation of Church and State was not a project begun in the twentieth century, but one whose seeds were sown in the Western Middle Ages - seeds subsequently encouraged to grow by the leaders of the Reformation (e.g. Luther and Calvin's 'Two Kingdoms,' differently understood). For, as long as the 'Church' and 'State' are seen as two separate and abstract jurisdictions - one of which speaks authoritatively to the other - the State is forever a non-Christian, secular, and essentially unredeemed part of reality, one which eventually chafed under the alien authority of the Church and rebelled to produce the anti-Christian secular politics and economics we live under today.

This is quite different from the Byzantine recognition that if state officials, including the Monarch, are believing members of the Church, then they carry out their state duties as part of the Church: the State is merely made up of individuals with particular roles and responsibilities that have been redeemed and transformed by being made part of the kingdom of Christ's body. Dangers and mistakes abounded, but a truly Christian government - in the strongest sense - could be achieved.

The inseparability of Church and State is demonstrated today, as a steady trickle of Christians are suspended or barred from public roles due to their orthodox beliefs. Since each Christian is part of the Church, some aspect of the State is necessarily united with the Church in their person. And if the State at large is vehemently against traditional Church teaching, the only way to separate Church and State will be to remove all orthodox believers from official roles - as we see happening ever more frequently.

Monday, 1 February 2016

What Hope for the West?

My recent series on aesthetics has cast fairly damning judgements on many aspects of modern Western life. The question may be asked as to what hope, if any, I see for the West becoming thoroughly Christian in Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, as it was much closer to being in centuries past. God will always save at least some Westerners, of course, but I only see two options for a complete Christian revival at every level - materially, politically, economically and spiritually:

1) Jesus will return and bring in His New Creation once and for all, casting out all that is false, wrong, and ugly. This is something that, in faith, I believe will certainly happen, and so there is much hope and optimism for the long term.

2) If the West is to become thoroughly Christian in this present age without costly and painful mass repentance, I can't see any alternative but for a cataclysmic destruction of Western society at every level, primarily through the complete destruction of modern industry and technology through increasing anarchy and resource depletion, leading to the end of unified nation-states and a return to an agrarian culture. This would bring much death and suffering, of course, but, if God wills, out of the rubble Westerners may return to the God who has judged them for turning their back on Him and embracing evil. A return to the Truth, Goodness and Beauty that our ancestors witnessed to may result, and a Christian nation once more emerge.

Falsehood, evil and ugliness are too ingrained into Western politics, economics, architecture and mass media for it to be reformed completely - nothing but complete destruction and a fresh start can bring a thoroughly Christian culture to the West once again.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Canonical Interpretation

If the Bible is trusted as highly as possible, each individual portion of it should be interpreted canonically. Even if two passages present conceptual antitheses, from the perspective of this faith, these should be melded into a synthesis. If the contradiction is at the level of real time fact - for instance, the differing numbers between Kings and Chronicles - it may be trusted that the truth the synthesis of traditions will communicate is not meant to be at the factual level, but rather the conceptual.

To do otherwise - to choose one passage's truth claims over another - is to make our trust in an authority external to the Bible higher than our trust in the Bible itself, and to therefore fail to place the highest trust in the Bible as a canonical collection that contextualizes and clarifies its own contents. 

Historical and Imaginative Truth in the Bible

What kinds of narratives does the Bible present us with? Are they factual, or are they fictional - or somewhere in between? And if there are fictional elements of some narratives, does this discount their truth value or authority?

It must not be assumed that a fictional event has not truly taken place, for it has - in the imagination. We are familiar with this concept through the use of metaphors, reading novels and hearing stories: we do not describe these as lies despite the absence of a disclaimer that declares them to be fictional, as we usually have good reason to believe they are imaginative truths (e.g. we can see that someone is not literally 'a snake'). And more than that, we consider works of the imagination to be 'true' insofar as they accurately reflect and comment upon reality. A fictional work that can't be related to reality in any way whatsoever is of little interest - except for negative criticism, perhaps.

By and large, the Bible does not specify whether its narratives take place in the real world or in an imagined one, and we have no basis in first-hand experience or unanimous tradition to decide either way. If the Bible is to be trusted to speak truth about reality, then its narratives must have some basis in historical experience. But the possibility of imaginative elements being present can't be discounted, as these are able to speak truth about reality as well.

For those seeking to trust the Bible as highly as possible, therefore, the most humble and faithful hypothesis is that many of the Bible's narratives contain a mixture of real-time truth and imaginative truth, the quantity of each varying from story to story and never precisely or even roughly measurable. The Bible can be trusted to be more specific when necessary, such as in the prologue of St. Luke's gospel, where the author is at pains to emphasize that the events reported 'from the beginning' - including the miracles and physical resurrection - should be read as eyewitness accounts whose reality we can be certain of. But believers need not be disconcerted by the idea that in much Biblical narrative, particularly in the Old Testament, imaginative truths may be present that help us to see ultimate truths about reality more clearly and powerfully than otherwise.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Reasons for Belief

Where comes the motivation to trust in the Bible and the God it portrays? To make a commitment of ultimate trust in them?

Not from the hope that this is what we should do, as it's possible to believe that there's nothing we 'should' do - so where comes the motivation for hoping there's something we 'should' do?

(Of course, the nihilist who decides there is nothing that a man 'should do' also lacks any rationale or justifiable motivation for his choice of belief.)

And not purely from the desire to find the truth, as there are a number of different and conflicting belief systems that claim to be true, with no way to ultimately judge between them.

The motivation to trust in the Bible and God, therefore, is a mystery at the level of the choice. It is only after the choice to trust has been taken that it can be trusted that God made the choice possible in the first place.

Monday, 18 January 2016

The Aesthetics of Providence

Those who seek to place ultimate trust in God will often end up trusting in His exhaustive providence - that He has fore-ordained all events to take place. The problem of God fore-ordaining evil and suffering is usually explained in terms of His two wills: His decretive will - what He wishes to take place, which will always happen - and His moral will - what He wishes to take place morally and doesn't always happen.

This bifurcation does seem to be reflected in Holy Scripture. But it is unsatisfying insofar as it fails to give any hint as to why God would fore-ordain evil actions or thoughts carried out by others in the first place. For obvious reasons, I distrust anyone who can reel out the idea of the two wills flatly without trembling or falling into solemn silence.

Some therefore go on to offer possible explanations. Some would suggest that God fore-ordaining evil and suffering is somehow necessary to a Christian's salvation - our suffering refines our faith, and our knowledge of the many who will be damned makes us swear allegiance to our Saviour more fervently.

I find this unconvincing. The effects of suffering and evil do indeed produce beneficial effects in believers, but it's hard to say they are necessary for the good of believers. God could, after all, have fore-ordained no fall and no evil, but instant obedience, maturity and bliss. We would not have felt that we'd 'missed out' on the chance to grow through suffering, if we were in an instantly perfect world.

Some would suggest the answer lies in terms of God's glory - that His punishment of evil brings Him more glory, so He has fore-ordained its existence for this purpose. But it is hard, logically, to see how this brings Him quantitatively(?) 'more' glory than if He'd ordained an evil-free world from the start.

The only comprehensible answer we can know, I think, is that God has ordained every detail of this world because it has a particular and unique aesthetic impact that an always-perfect world would not have. The salvation of the few, the damnation of the many - the horror of sin, the wonder of God's mercy - the agony of the cross and the glory of the resurrection: these contrasts hold a unique and awe-inspiring poetry and drama very different from that of a world absent of sin and suffering. God has fore-ordained these qualities precisely for this aesthetic impact, an activity He has the perfect right to carry out as the arbiter of all reality and values.

Still, it might be said - why would He choose this aesthetic over another? He would have to choose some aesthetic for a created world - but what would motivate Him to choose this one in particular?

It is here that, alongside Job, great mystery - perhaps forever impenetrable - must be acknowledged. But by considering the conundrum of providence in aesthetic terms, rather than logical or utilitarian categories, some sense - some reason - for God fore-ordaining a world of extreme beauty and extreme tragedy can be provided, without sacrificing the mystery at the heart of God's being.