What Does It Mean to Believe?

-point to ponder-

When you accept something as true (Is that what you mean by ‘belief’?) you may or may not have considered whether it is rational, whether you understand what you believe, why you are believing it, or to what extent you are being reasonable about your belief.

by  Edward W. H. Vick

Philosophy coverThe question is: What does it mean to believe?

 The following sentences express some themes of the thirteen chapters of the book.

Ask yourself these questions:
What do I believe?
Is it the same as what I say I believe, or think I believe?
Is my belief reasonable?
Is it justifiable?
Is it true?
Are these three different questions?
Have I accepted what I believe without thinking about it?
Can I believe something I do not understand?

 You will agree that some beliefs are rational and some are not.

When you accept something as true (Is that what you mean by ‘belief’?) you may or may not have considered whether it is rational, whether you understand what you believe, why you are believing it, or to what extent you are being reasonable about your belief.

Before continuing to read, you might like to take a specific example or two, preferable of a topic discussed in the book and ask some of the above questions about it, for example, miracles, self deception, identity, personal Identity, survival.

Now you have had an opportunity to ask yourself serious questions about belief and believing. If you have already given yourself answers to questions about what and why you believe you are on the verge of or have already been doing philosophy. So if you are interested you can be even more serious by looking at specific topics and by examining them at greater length. Be warned that you will need to master the vocabulary appropriate to the topic in view, and should not always be content with simple answers.

Philosophy for Believers addresses various issues in thirteen chapters, each one dealing with a particular subject of belief. What we shall now do is to take one of these topics for consideration.

Here is a representative statement of belief: I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.

Certain considerations immediately arise. To consider whether our dealing with them will be reasonable, we must ask the following questions:

What assumptions am I making?
How do I understand the key terms I am using?
Is the language I am using, understood in the way I understand it, adequate for the explanation I am trying to achieve?
Are the steps in my reasoning logical, i e., is the reasoning valid?
In particular: Does the conclusion I draw follow from my reasoning?

To return to our statement of belief: we notice at once that it is very short and because it is so concise it invites various interpretations. The ordinary believer says and remains content with the simplicity of the confession and holds to the restatement:

I believe we shall be given new life and that life will be never ending.

The questions that arise from this simple creedal statement give rise to a multitude of philosophical problems. Our task is to specify which of the interpretations we can reasonably consider.

Start with your initial assumptions, among them possibly answers to the following questions:

How shall we conceive the idea of resurrection?
What evidence do we have that resurrection is possible?
What do I have to believe to accept that it is possible?
What sort of life is eternal life and how is it related to my present life?
Will I be the same person in the hereafter as I am now?
Same person? So what constitutes identity, personal identity?

Now let’s take examples of a process by which you reach your conclusion.

You will note that some terms are in italics. These are the basic terms that require detailed consideration and definition. Only then will constructive and consistent argument be forthcoming and leading to a reasonable conclusion.

Example 1: I believe in the immortality of the soul

bodies do not survive,
souls may survive,
the soul constitutes the person
God is active in the process.

the constituent of the self
the soul is inherently immortal
connect the idea of immortality with the idea of the self

The life everlasting is the life of the immortal soul. The soul survives eternally.

Explanations required:
Concerning the source of the assumptions, and how they are to be justified
How to justify speaking of the soul as the constituent entity of the self
How to conceive of the soul as immortal
How to conceive of the possibility of retaining identity in the after life
How to think rationally about eternity

We now consider an example of a different interpretation of the same initial creedal statement.

Example 2: I believe in the resurrection of the body.

The idea of the soul is misconceived
It is not needed to give an account of what constitutes a person
It is therefore not needed to account for personal survival
Speak of the body to conceive the survival of the person, i.e. of resurrection
Search for a rational way of conceiving the identity of the surviving person with the original person
God is active in the process

[A hidden assumption (and all that it implies) may well be that the idea of bodily resurrection is what is taught in Christian Scripture and so should be the proper subject of rational explanation. However the philosophical treatment must stand on its own rational feet.]

The idea of survival is to be connected with the concept of the body
The concept of bodily survival can be conceived rationally
This is achieved by introducing the idea of personal identity, continuing after death though resurrection
The concept of replication achieves the desired result
Resurrection of the body to eternal life is a reasonable belief

You will note that some terms are in italics. These are the basic terms that require detailed consideration and definition. Only then will constructive and consistent argument be forthcoming and lead to a reasonable conclusion.

Explanations required:
Assumptions should not be taken for granted. Since we are engaged in a philosophical exercise, even if a primary source of a key assumption is that it represents the teaching of Christian Scripture, the argument will rest on the validity of the reasoning involved, i.e., the validity of the logic by which the conclusion is reached.

We have taken the theme of chapter 11 as our subject. There are thirteen chapters altogether, each one dealing with an interesting theme of both general interest and also of interest to Christians. These chapters are supplemented with tutorials and Work Sheets. This makes the book suitable for use in the classroom, as well as for individual study.

Having considered the above explanation I propose you attempt an answer to the following question:

How does philosophical discussion affect the understanding of your belief?


  1. make some general statement(s).
  2. take a single belief that is important for you and examine it.

How is the Bible authoritative?

-Point to Ponder

Dr. Vick challenges us to look deeper into the question of inspiration of the Bible. Why do we give it special value? Are our claims for the Bible as coming from God credible, and how do we know?
[EDN Editor]

by Edward W. H. Vick

 9781893729100sThe question is:

  How to explain that the Bible has authority?

That the Bible is unique is not the question. But why is it unique? Ask different people and you will get different answers, for different people read the Bible for different reasons, approaching it in different ways according to their particular contexts and their particular interests, subject to different influences. Are there, among the many and various answers given to the question, correct ways of addressing it?

Most Christians would say that the Bible has unique authority. Some simply accept this proposition and think no further about it. They would not be thinking in terms of authority at all. They turn to it for comfort in sorrow, for help in day to day life, for devotional purposes. When is it appropriate then to speak of the Bible as having authority? Others, in accepting biblical authority, seek to give an account of why it has that authority. One account has a long history within different contexts and is held by many conservative Christians today. These claim that the Bible is inspired, that the inspiration is from God, and so the Bible has divine authority. This belief is elaborated in many different ways. This book indicates that these many ways make the concept of inspiration a most ambiguous idea, and one not suited for the purpose of establishing biblical authority. Since this is the case we must ask why and then pursue the quest for an alternative answer. Bur first we must answer the question, What sort of authority are we attributing to the Bible? or Is it a unique authority quite different from others, scientific, historical, moral and independent of them?

The Bible tells vast numbers of stories. It speaks in many different kinds of symbolic language,

A common designation for the Bible is that it is the ‘Word of God’. What is sometimes said to follow from this is that it is his communication, however he made it, to us human creatures through intermediaries whom he chose and with whom he worked in special and often unusual ways. The frequent model for the explanation of inspiration is that of the prophet. The details of the process are explained in different ways. Some downplay the human element in the process by which the human agents came to produce the writing.

This explanation claims that Scripture has authority on account of the origin and the process of its inspiration. Not all explanations express the extreme view that the very words were provided to the passive but receptive agents who then wrote down those words in their language.

But however the words got into the mind of the prophet and later onto the scroll or page, the process was inspired. Our language was not one of the original ones. So the process of translation was also inspired.

This book provides evidence for the confusing ambiguity that results when this line of thinking is proposed. A traditional belief about the Bible can be expressed in three propositions:

(1) It discloses truths about God and the world not available elsewhere.
(2) It is authoritative, equally and in all its parts.
(3) It is exempt from error.

When we ask ‘How is the Bible used?’ if ‘used’ is the proper word, we find that very different answers are given. The words and sentences of Scripture get interpreted in many ways. Can we find right and wrong ways of answering this question?

Give your answer to this question. Think of what it implies

The simple believer seeks consolation, guidance, assurance in Scripture. The church seeks doctrine and derives it by interpreting selected writings of Scripture to frame a set of teachings, which are then often seen to share the authority of Scripture. Scholars have their own interests and methods in approaching Scripture. For example, they may be seeking the solution of historical issues. Other examples include researching  context and dating of particular writings, analysing how the text has been transmitted, searching for evidence for historical events referred to in Scripture, exploring how an accurate text is to be constructed from the evidence, finding and presenting the historical and cultural background of the writings and of oral traditions that ended up as components of the ‘books’.

Some approach the Bible with no interest in the historical or contextual background of the texts being read. Others have a scheme of interpretation already in mind as passages of Scripture are read and pieced together with other texts and used as ‘proof texts’ to create doctrines.

The claim that Scripture has unique authority is universally believed by the Christian. But there are right and wrong ways of defining and then accounting for that authority. This book examines that issue in some depth, as well as addressing itself to the other issues raised above, as it examines carefully the idea of inspiration. For conservative sections of the church assert that the Bible has authority because it is inspired. This claim calls for careful examination. It must take account of the fact that the concept of inspiration is a highly ambiguous term. So it must be carefully articulated. For it lends itself to a series of category mistakes. The book examines these by setting out the meaning of authority in this context. An inspired writing has no authority unless its ideas are transmitted to a receptive subject, society, or circle. It has authority only as it is read and interpreted. And it can be interpreted in different ways.

The answers to the question about inspiration are multiple and complex, and very ambitious, like the concept of authority it seeks to underwrite.

Why is the doctrine of inspiration constructed and what is it then employed to achieve?

  1. to identify the source of Scripture. God inspires the prophet or other functionary,
  2. to identify the process of communication: God speaks,
  3. to account for the condition of the ‘writer’ in the process: the subject ‘hears’ and responds,
  4. to account for the composition of the original: how the various texts were put together.
  5. to account for the unique status of the original product: these texts are set apart from all others
  6. to account for the unique status of the writing that results: it has divine authority
  7. to claim the authority of writings translated from the original documents.
  8. to underwrite the authority of those who interpret the writings.
  9. to support the obligation that both the doctrines and those who teach them be believed.

When the church, for example, interprets Scripture and produces a set of doctrines, it often claims that those teachings share the authority of the Scripture itself. Then the idea of ‘inspiration’ may be employed to underwrite the obligation to accept the teachings of Scripture as interpreted. So arises a tradition of interpretation.

Two sources of authoritative doctrine (= teaching) thus emerge, Scripture and tradition, often associated respectively with Protestant and Catholic. Whether this division is proper and how it might be made is given attention in this book, which insists that to understand the issue you must seriously consider the procedure of the hermeneutic involved. Any appeal to Scripture for doctrinal purposes must recognize that how you interpret will determine the outcome of the doctrine invoked. So you must ask what assumptions have been invoked in the process.

It is because Scripture is interpreted according to different principles taken as normative that differing teachings emerge. Scripture is claimed as foundation for many divergent hermeneutics and for the doctrines they produce. Scripture has authority for those who so interpret it and for those who accept the proffered interpretations. The authority of Scripture is conditioned by the acceptance and employment of particular methods of interpretation. So both Protestants (of many different stripes) and Catholics agree. The results of interpretation of Scripture that each provides become normative, and the term ‘tradition’ is quite appropriately used of the results. Protestants appeal to tradition in appealing to the authority of their teaching, Catholics have made appeal to tradition an essential part of their outlook. Both are concerned that theirs is the correct way of interpreting Scripture. To speak of understanding the Bible is to attempt to find a profitable way of interpreting Scripture. Recognize that Scripture contains a great variety of writing, a multitude of stories and symbols, indeed a lot of non-literal writing and it becomes impossible to claim that everything is to be interpreted literally.

Is Jesus coming “soon”?

-point to ponder-

Since the ‘end’ is in God’s hands, in the present there may be contentment, courage and hope born of patience. Eschatology touches the life of the believer in all aspects of life.
The believer may live in hope that in the end goodness may prevail over evil. God will act in his wisdom and in his own time. But that time is never disclosed to humans.

by Edward W. H. Vick

Eschatology coverHere is the question for you:

What do you make of the following sentences taken with the qualification, ‘But we cannot tell you when’?

The end of the world is nigh.
Jesus is coming again soon?
God is about to judge the world and bring in his kingdom.


I am going to tell you a story soon, a parable really! But first some explanations.

Eschatology has to do with the end. The Greek word eschaton means ‘end’. In Scripture and in Christian theology that means we shall talk about the future of the human species. But while so talking we involve ourselves in the present. Sometimes that present brings very trying times, the desolation, suffering and despair hardly expressible. Indeed Scripture expressed recognition of this and provided encouragement in striking and disturbing symbols. Some whole ‘books’ employ apocalyptic language, their purpose being to offer the hope that God is in ultimate control. For that reason, even if the present has to be lived under galling, violent and destructive conditions, it can be a hopeful present but one calling for continuous courage and patient endurance.

Since the ‘end’ is in God’s hands, in the present there may be contentment, courage and hope born of patience. Eschatology touches the life of the believer in all aspects of life.

The believer may live in hope that in the end goodness may prevail over evil. God will act in his wisdom and in his own time. But that time is never disclosed to humans. No one knows the day nor the hour of the final dénouement. There can nevertheless be an incentive in the here and now for constructive efforts, for endurance when persecuted. Such hope for divine intervention when final justice will prevail provides incentive for constructive, courageous and ethical activity in the here and now.

Some, taking their cue from apocalyptic passages, feel that they have authentic knowledge of the nearness of the Advent, the parousia, the Last judgment. These believers even attempt to calculate from numbers in the apocalyptic writings when the final events will occur. When the event did not take place on the date or dates predicted, they experienced bitter disappointment. There are those today, retaining some of the original fervour, who say that they are living in the ‘time of the end’, a phrase often left undefined, but still serving as a basis for expectation.

Among the many themes discussed in the book, I now select one for our consideration. For those who take their primary interpretations from the apocalyptic portions of Scripture the issue is about the end of the world and the introduction of the new age. Many believers are ready to say that it will be ‘soon’ but insist that neither they nor anyone can know when the event will take place. They cannot say how long it will be for the waiting to end. While they say they cannot specify a date for the Second Advent, they persist in saying, even with urgency, that it will be ‘soon’. They use various synonyms when asked what ‘soon’ means: ‘imminent’, ‘in the very near future’, ‘without delay’, ‘nigh’, ‘almost upon us’. Such emphatic denial that specific times can be given would seem to make the claim empty, or even not a claim at all. Look a little closer.

There are some sentences that cannot be false because they cannot be true either. Why not? What kind of sentence could that be? Does it depend on what the words mean or what even a single word in the sentence means, or on how the sentence is put together?

Finally, here is the parable.

There was a farmer who had three sons. Each one of them said, ‘Father, I shall come to help you soon.’

The first one, Bob, said ‘I shall come to the farm soon, this Wednesday in fact.’

The second one, Tom, said ‘I shall come to the farm soon, within the next ten days.’

The third one, Hank, said, ‘I shall come soon, but I do not know when and cannot say when. Nor can I give you a set limit for when it will be.’

Father was well pleased, and went to bed content that evening.

The sons got together afterwards and fell into conversation. Hank said, ‘Father seems very pleased and is looking forward to my help, even if I did not commit myself in any way. I did not give a particular date, and I did not set a time limit either’.

‘So, what do you mean then? That is not a proper way to use the term “soon” is it? It amounts to an empty promise doesn’t it?’ asked Tom.

‘I mean just what I said, I don’t know when.’ responded Hank.

Bob broke in, ‘If you don’t know when, then you cannot say ‘soon’ can you? Or if you do, it can’t mean anything. We know what we mean. We know what we intend. Father knows exactly what to expect of us. But as far as you are concerned, you might as well not be coming to help at all. You have given father hope by saying you will come soon. You have taken away all meaning by saying that “soon” does not mean what the rest of us take it to mean. It is an empty term.’

‘So be it’ said Hank.

‘But look here,’ exclaimed Tom. ‘You have raised hopes in father but his hopes are not at all well founded.’

‘Look!’ said Hank, ‘what is important is that dad is happy. I do not see myself in the near future being able to spare the time. But if Dad thinks and hopes that I shall be helping, that is what is important. Hank smiled and continued, ‘Every time he asks why I have not yet come and when I will be coming I can always go on saying that I am coming soon to help. My “soon” is a kind of elastic ‘soon.’ It is an extensible ‘soon.’ So as long as Dad hopes and I go on saying I will come “soon”, we are both happy. He is happy because he thinks I shall be not long in coming. I am happy not to have to fulfill a definite promise. My “soon” is a different “soon” from your “soon”. ’

‘Promise!’ shouted Will. ‘You can’t call that a promise when no-one can possibly know what it means in terms of real time. It can’t be false and it can’t be true. It’s an empty sentence and such sentences can’t be false or true.’

Bob said, ‘We have given definite information about when he can expect us. You have not said anything at all. You could go on saying your ‘soon’ as long as you live!

So it was. Hank is still saying his ‘soon’ and Dad is still waiting expectantly.

Consider hortatory meaning.

Let’s now look at another example of a sentence that looks at first sight to be stating simple facts but whose primary meaning is something else and ask what that is.

It’s six thirty and the shops shut at seven.

If you ask, ‘What is the function of this sentence?’ the answer might very well be that it is suggesting, urging, reminding you that you should be getting off to the shops. It is not just giving you information. It is saying, ‘Let’s go. We’re hungry!

It is to be taken as a command, a call for response. Commands are neither true nor false. They are not cognitive. So the primary function of a sentence that makes a statement may not be to assert something, to inform you of a state of affairs, even if you take it to be doing that, but rather to arouse you to do something. Its primary function is hortatory. It may state a fact. But the statement of the fact is not the primary intended meaning of the sentence. Its primary meaning is non-cognitive. The essential function of such a sentence is not to state a fact, but by stating a fact to urge you to action: ‘Go and buy some bread while you can! Don’t you know we’re hungry?’ The function of the whole sentence is to provide encouragement, to exhort, to suggest (sometimes urgent) action. That’s what ‘hortatory’ means.

It has its hortatory function when two conditions are fulfilled. First, that what the sentence states is both true and is understood, and second that the hearer accepts that it states a fact. In our case, the temporal reference (i. e. within half an hour, or at seven o’clock) can be checked and only, if true, can it provide the ground for the incentive to act appropriately. Note that the temporal reference may consist in reference to a specific time, date or to a limit, a stretch of time as in the above case: ‘at seven o’clock’, ‘within half an hour’.


What we have here discussed represents one topic expounded in the book Eschatology. Others include:

New Testament Eschatology
Prophecy and Apocalyptic
Different kinds of eschatology
Words and Meanings
Jesus of the Gospels, the Eschatological Jesus
After the End

Another book by the author discussing these themes is available from Energion Publications: Edward W. H. Vick, The Adventists’ Dilemma


-point to ponder-

Christian FUNDAMENTALISM and its partner BIBLICAL LITERALISM continue to be real problems within the Christian community. Through their assertions, those espousing the fundamentalist, literalist approach to the Bible render dialogue difficult within the Christian community and the opportunity for healthy interfaith relationships essentially nil.

by Rev. Dr. Robert R. LaRochelle

CrossingTo be honest with you, my original intent in writing this article was to do a followup look at the visit of Pope Francis to the United States. I was planning to look at Catholicism and Protestantism in relation to one another at this point nearly 500 years after the onset of the Reformation. As many readers of this page know, I have written extensively about Protestant- Catholic relations in three different books published by Energion: my autobiographically based Crossing the Street, as well as the Topical Line Drives titles What Roman Catholics Need to know about Protestants and What Protestants Need to know about Roman Catholics.

As part of this post, I intended to reflect upon the lingering anti-Catholicism that exists within some pockets of Protestant Christianity. Yet, upon further reflection and based upon my reading of several posts and discussions in this space over the last couple of months, I have concluded that there is something even more problematic within the Christian church.

Christian FUNDAMENTALISM and its partner BIBLICAL LITERALISM continue to be real problems within the Christian community. Through their assertions, those espousing the fundamentalist, literalist approach to the Bible render dialogue difficult within the Christian community and the opportunity for healthy interfaith relationships essentially nil.

Fundamentalism is marked by the age old conviction that, in reading the Bible, we should be governed by the principle that, in effect, God said it, we believe it and that’s final! Now, while it might be nice if religious faith were as simple as that, we know that it is not. We understand that the Bible often contradicts itself in both facts and theology, i.e., there are different views of God and God’s activity within the Bible. Also there are moral issues which are problematic, e.g., some passages which are used to defend slavery, segregation and the subjugation of women. Then there is the assertion that there is absolute moral authority found in the Bible as applicable to each and every contemporary social issue we face, most recently evidenced in debates about gay rights.

Literally interpreted Biblical Christianity points us in the direction of espousing a God who is too small, a God in whose eternal presence we will bask ONLY if we assert faith in Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior. Extreme Fundamentalism renders the faith of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus inadequate in terms of the attainment of salvation. It renders the path to everlasting life as lacking depth or substance. In my book A Home United, also published by Energion, I affirm the importance of love in the relationships/marriages of those from different perspectives, a love grounded in God’s love for us. Biblical Fundamentalists would disparage that claim- and I think that is a problem. It is the transcendent love of a God who transcends all that has both created and sustained humanity, the world and this universe in which we all reside. It is this love which is the true ground of our very being!

Fundamentalists have defended some of the most abhorrent practices in the life of our nation- and they continue to do so. They have made serious ecumenical and interfaith dialogue less possible than it ought to be.

As a starting point for discussion, I suggest a serious reading of John Shelby Spong’s book Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism. If you read it or have read it, I would welcome your comments here as well as anything you have to say about this post.

THANKS for giving this topic some thought!!………………


What is a proper response to the Paris attacks?

-point to ponder-

War is hell. It crucifies people and nations. We should do everything in our power to avoid it. And, if we are a Christian nation, or a nation whose sense of morality was forged in Christianity even if we have moved on from that belief, we should consider very seriously the injunction to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

by Chris Eyre
(Reprinted from his website: http://eyrelines.energion.net/?p=884)

The attacks in Paris last night are horrifying in their death toll, the number of those injured and that fact that there was no conceivable offense which the victims had committed, apart, that is, from living in France. My prayers go with the families of those killed and injured, and with the people of Paris and of France who are coming to terms with the shock.

There are already a lot of idiot statements going around the web, and no doubt there will be many more in the future, but before I get to those, I find I am shocked not to have heard anything from the media about the bombings in Beirut and Baghdad before yesterday, and I suspect I might never have heard about them had it not been for the Paris attacks. Our media has failed us in this; lives do not matter less because they are in the Middle East than in Europe, or because they are those of people with a different religion or a different skin color. Nor do they matter less because Beirut and Baghdad are far less shocked than is Paris, as they are more used to such atrocities – indeed, we should perhaps consider that Beirut and (in particular) Baghdad deserve special sympathy because there, the violence is more frequent and therefore more damaging to morale.

Some of those idiot statements have come from the French President, François Hollande, in various statements. He talks about severe measures, and about a war on terror, and did that even before anyone had claimed responsibility for the attacks. I can understand that a politician will feel the need to capture the mood of his country, and that that mood is one of wishing to have vengeance for the damage. A statesman, however (and I would have hoped that the president of a major European nation might have managed to achieve that status) would seek to guide the people rather than ride the wave of their anger, and precipitate action is one of the things which terrorists most hope to cause. He would acknowledge the anger, state that he shares it and talk about prevention of a future atrocity and taking measured steps against those ultimately responsible.

Let me start with “war on terror”. This is a ridiculous concept, almost as much so as a war on drugs (do I go out and shoot a few aspirin?). Wars are between sovereign nations, and the vast majority of terrorist groups are not acting on behalf of a sovereign state (though the military of many nations may be guilty of terror attacks themselves). Curiously, these attacks are possibly an exception, in that credit has been claimed by IS, who are de-facto a sovereign state, holding a large swathe of territory in Iraq and Syria. I think he would have been justified in principle in declaring war on Islamic State – I am even inclined to think that this meets the criteria necessary for starting a just war under Augustine’s and Aquinas’ principles (jus ad bellum). Of course, no-one wants to recognize IS as a state….

This topic, in fact, came up in last night’s Global Christian Perspectives webcast, in which Allan Bevere went into some detail about just war, and rightly pointed out that it is not just the issue of whether you go to war which is subject to moral principles (originally specifically Christian, but now in theory accepted as good argument in international law), but also whether the war is waged justly (jus in bello). If you cannot wage war justly, even if it is just to start a war, you have no moral alternative but to sue for peace or surrender, according to Augustine and Aquinas. Major principles are that there must be a reasonable prospect of success, and that you must not kill innocents.

There, I think we have huge difficulties, firstly in safeguarding innocents. Certainly, efforts to date in the “war on terror” have resulted in very large numbers of innocent casualties – many more innocents than terrorists, in fact. Unless we change our way of dealing with this (and there is really no alternative to “boots on the ground” given the lamentable accuracy of targeting from the air – this piece of idiocy from Allen West is actually right on point; I might think that he was a liberal speaking satirically if I didn’t know better), we will not possess “jus in bello” and cannot reasonably wage war even against IS.

Secondly, what remote possibility is there of ever declaring success? In particular, what possibility is there of success when we are not prepared to occupy (for an indefinite but no doubt very long period) even the states which we have held accountable for past terrorism? It is, of course, very widely appreciated that where you kill innocents in significant numbers, you actually create new terrorists in greater numbers than the reduction you tend to achieve, and certainly create more sympathy for the terrorists’ cause; certainly the terrorists understand this, and the overreaction is one of the outcomes they most desire. What possibility is there of success when prosecuting the “war” actually makes more new terrorists than it kills, and where significant numbers of them are living in states which have no responsibility for their actions, sometimes our own nations?

I recently linked again from Facebook to my 2013 meditation on Remembrance Day, and the sentiments there are still entirely valid. If anything, though, the more I read the gospels, the less I think that Jesus would have approved any of the Just War concepts which Augustine came up with; he would not approve war at all. I am not quite at the point of being able to say that I would never support my country going to war in any circumstances (though I thoroughly approve Jeremy Corbyn’s undertaking that if he became Prime Minister, he would never order the use of nuclear weapons, and hope that the right wing and the media are wrong that this makes him unelectable), but at the least, can we try to adhere to Just War principles?

I now realize that I missed something in my 2013 account. Although I rightly, I think, determined that no war my country had fought in the last 100 years or more had been just with the exception of World War II, I missed the fact that the way Britain fought the war emphatically did not meet just war standards, as we deliberately targeted civilian populations (first with the excuse that the Germans had first bombed London, which it proves was in error when a raid overshot industrial targets). I think I can therefore now say that we have not fought a completely just war at any time in history which I can think of.

I realize that in saying that, I am going completely against a lot of public mood, particularly at present in France. I will also probably make myself unpopular in many circles if I point out that the fact that my country, France and Spain have been targeted by Islamic terrorists follows our own actions in bombing and invading Islamic countries, and killing large numbers of innocent Muslims. It is, no doubt, difficult for someone whose home is bombed and whose family members are killed or maimed to appreciate that we were not waging war on them and that the correct action is not to come and bomb us.

I do not think that I would be inclined to accept the excuse of someone who killed my wife that she was “collateral damage”, for instance, though I would hope that my Christian principles would win out over my natural urge to do them at least as much damage in return, and if not them personally, then their families, their friends or those associated with them, or in paroxysms of grief, those who looked a bit like them or shared their politics or religion – it is scary what the frustration of powerlessness in the face of loss can do to human morality, what depths otherwise civilized people are prepared to sink to. I could here point out Rene Girard’s work on the futility of redemptive violence and his identification of the Crucifixion as the “last scapegoat”, after which we need not look to violence to redeem anything.

War is hell. It crucifies people and nations. We should do everything in our power to avoid it. And, if we are a Christian nation, or a nation whose sense of morality was forged in Christianity even if we have moved on from that belief, we should consider very seriously the injunction to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

France, however, is not feeling much like that at the moment (and who can blame them?). Feelings, however, do not have to become actions, and a statesman might point that out. On the back of that, there are some other stupid statements. “It’s because of all the refugees” is one obvious one. Well, despite the fact that I now hear that a Syrian man who is known to have come via Lesbos may be implicated (and I’m afraid I find that all too convenient to those arguing against the refugees), in general the refugees are trying to get away from the people who do these things. Christianity inherited from Judaism an obligation of hospitality towards the stranger, which Europe is not doing a very good job of upholding so far, and it would be a tragedy if the borders now closed completely, which is certainly what not a few people are suggesting. You might argue that Europe is post-Christian, but it has emerged out of Christianity and in theory still holds to largely Christian principles. It could be that the basic European principle of free movement of people within Europe (to which my country does not wholly subscribe) may be ending here, and that would be a tragedy for Europe and a victory for the terrorists. If you’re in the States, contemplate what the imposition of full border controls between the individual states would do to, for instance, the commute from New Jersey to New York….

Equally damaging is the suggestion that the attacks must be because of security failures, and therefore we should massively increase security measures. One of the things which makes Europe a great place to live, work and holiday in is that it is relatively free.  We are not a set of police states, a set of nations obsessed with looking over our shoulders. If we lose that as a reaction to these attacks, again the terrorists have won. We also value free speech, and that would vanish under such a regime – in point of fact that has already been horribly eroded due to previous attacks (such as those on Charlie Hebdo, in central London, and on trains in Madrid).

A statesman would say that there is a value in being European, a value created from our common beliefs in justice and mercy, tolerance, freedom of movement, freedom of speech and freedom of belief. He would suggest that if we react in such a way as to reduce those values, the terrorists have destroyed us. Eight men with guns and some explosives will have caused the destruction of the dream of a multi-national union of some 750 million people, and we will largely have done it to ourselves.

A Christian statesman might remind us that Jesus said “what you do to the least of these, you do to me”.

Getting Along with the Exes

-point to ponder-

Not every Methodist is the same, nor is every Baptist, nor every Presbyterian, nor every Seventh-day Adventist, nor every Catholic. Not even every Buddhist, Hindu, Jew, or—wait for it!—Muslim is the same as every other.
What each of us need is a bit of reorientation.

by Henry Neufeld, Publisher

No, no, no! Not the ex-spouses. The ex-faiths!

You see, while Jody and I were both members of a United Methodist congregation when we got married, we had both come to that place by leaving other churches. Jody was ex-Catholic, and I was ex-Seventh-day Adventist.

These are both groups that have a bit of trouble with someone being ex. Ex-SDAs are viewed by more traditional Adventists as apostates. Having learned the important doctrines of the Sabbath, and understood the apostasy of fallen Protestantism, evidenced by their disobedience of the Sabbath command, and having once seemed to be a part of God’s true remnant people, the apostate has chosen, instead, to become God’s enemy and deny the true faith.

There are those who don’t believe one can even be ex-Catholic. For a completely different set of reasons, an ex-Catholic is often seen as apostate, having left the one true, holy, and apostolic church for some sect. Their one hope, of course, is that they can be brought back into the fold in some way.

Besides often having a hard time dealing with ex-members, there is another problem with an ex-Catholic/ex-SDA combination. SDAs are a step past protestants. They not only protest Roman Catholic doctrine. They protest the protestants who aren’t far enough away from Catholicism. If you talk to SDAs now, you will find that many have shed this prejudice and have admitted that the Catholic church of today is not the same as the church of the 15th and 16th centuries. History moves on and so do people. But there are still SDAs who think that distributing Ellen White’s book, The Great Controversy, is a good way to recruit new members. Evangelism, they would call it, as in evangelizing Christians who don’t have their doctrine right. The Great Controversy is a book that paints the Roman Catholic church in a very bad light with the Pope as the Antichrist. Indeed, demonize would be quite literally true of this description of Catholic life.

Catholics, in turn, can hardly be happy about a group that sees them as heathen in need of evangelization. One of my professors, from whom I took both some French and also Patristic Latin, was an ex-Catholic priest. His conversion was considered such a coup that there was a story book for young people about his experiences and how he had moved from the false religion of Catholicism to become part of God’s remnant people. (Note: I have written in some detail about SDA doctrines on my blog Threads from Henry’s Web. Just put SDA in the search box.)

I’ve painted a stark picture of the separation between our previous faiths for a reason. Neither of these descriptions is accurate for all members and even for all officials of these two churches.

I recall two interesting encounters I’ve had. The first was with a Catholic priest at a local church. I had taken a very good friend to Mass there, always mildly uncomfortable for me as I must stay seated as the Eucharist is offered, while people struggle to get around me. I seem to never find a good place to be both there, and out of traffic, especially when I’m accompanying someone who is participating. When I was leaving the church, the priest was shaking hands and, being a rather friendly fellow (and I must confess an excellent preacher), he cornered me, welcomed me, and shook my hands. Regarding my home church I said with a smile, “I’m from the heretics down the road.” He laughed, slapped me on the back and said, “Please! Separated brethren! You’re a separated brother now!”

The second was while taking one of my authors to a book signing and speaking engagement at a Seventh-day Adventist Church. (Energion Publications has several Seventh-day Adventist writers on its author list.) As the author signed books, I was accosted by a young man who said he worked at the conference office. He wondered how it was possible that one could have doctrinal problems with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and was determined to ask me about it. He was somewhat less determined to hear the answer.

The pastor of that church, his wife, and a few of the leaders in the congregation took us to dinner following the event and apologized profusely for having let this happen to me. They didn’t think of me as an apostate and were quite happy to be in fellowship and ministry with me.

I can certainly balance any incident of unkindness or discourtesy from either of our former faiths with incidents of kindness, dialogue, and Christian fellowship. I don’t want these positive aspects to be forgotten. But I want to focus on the negatives and how we can work through those negatives to a more positive result.

Not every Methodist is the same, nor is every Baptist, nor every Presbyterian, nor every Seventh-day Adventist, nor every Catholic. Not even every Buddhist, Hindu, Jew, or—wait for it!—Muslim is the same as every other.

What each of us need is a bit of reorientation.

First, we need to reorient ourselves and find a new perspective on groups. Think for a minute about what I’ve said about these two groups. You should see a very clear similarity between them. Yes, there it is. Both groups tend to think of themselves as the true church and so see those who leave as departing from the truth and descending into falsehood.

You should have caught a phrase I just used that’s off-kilter. If you didn’t, work on that reorientation. I said “both groups tend to think.” But really people, individuals, in both groups tend to think in this way. And that suggests a different way of carrying out relationships. Multiply the friendships and avoid cases of enmity.

But, you may think, the authorities within the group encourage such negative thinking.

But, you should think instead, the friendships and good relationships remain possible.

As long as we define another group solely by its negatives, it will remain negative. In fact, by treating the group as a negative, we will tend to reinforce the negative attitude we, and they, already have.

So while Jody’s family and mine questioned our respective backgrounds, Jody and I just went ahead and looked for the positives. What was it that we both knew because of our background that would help us as we moved ahead? And in fact we both have found positive elements from our upbringing, many of them common elements. We can both point to family members whose strong faith has been an encouragement to us. There is a depth to our understanding of who we are now that comes, in part, from our experience of where we have been.

Neither of us are inclined to go back to our former denominations. But we can appreciate things about them.

Respecting people, learning from them, finding positive elements of their belief systems, and making friendships does not mean that one has to approve of everything or accept everything. One can still recognize the negative. I find, for example, that the more authoritarian elements of both the Catholic and SDA systems are not conducive to spiritual growth. That’s one of many reasons I’m not going back. But that disapproval doesn’t mean that I can’t be friends.

When Jody and I got married it was in a church that, at the time, was divided between an 11:00 am crowd and an 8:30 am crowd. The 8:30 crowd was contemporary and more spontaneous in worship style. It was also charismatic in theology as a general rule. The 11:00 crowd was traditional about its worship forms and generally Methodist mainstream in its theological positions. I had been, for some time, considered a member of the 11:00 crowd, but I had started attending both services. I did so because, as a teacher in the church, I felt it was my duty to be aware of “both” sides. (Note for further discussion: There are rarely just two sides to any two-sided issue.)

So when Jody and I chose to get married and scheduled the service for right after church, people from both services came together, many for the first time in years. Our wedding music included contemporary praise and traditional organ music. We expressed, as we joined our lives together, our hope that all could come to appreciate the value of the contribution of others.

It wasn’t just the exes that needed to be reconciled. It was the present. But the method was the same. It was by looking at and learning to appreciate what we could that we could bring together the best of streams of tradition within a single congregation, just as it is by learning to appreciate, building relationships, and bringing the best of our past faith communities together that we can build greater value from them.

This is not toleration but celebration. It is not compromise, but growth. I believe it is also not being overcome by evil, but overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:21).

Going Deeper in Bible Study

-point to ponder-

God is no longer, for me, the distant person that I search for at the end of a long process....God is, for me, the one who is in and through everything, who spoke and yet speaks, who is obscured in the tales of old, and often equally obscured in ours, who may be clearly seen in some events in the past, but may also be clearly seen in my own home.

by Henry Neufeld, Publisher

Learning coverRecently I was listening to an explanation of a Bible passage by a writer who shall remain nameless. In the course of this explanation it became clear that the writer had an overriding agenda, and by that I mean an agenda that overrode the story told in the text. It became his story as he repeatedly informed his readers of what other, less enlightened people believed the passage meant and then strongly affirmed that if we studied the passage “more deeply” we would discover that his conclusion was the correct one.

The problem was that at no point in his explanation did he explain what there was “deeper” in the passage that would support his particular interpretation. He simply affirmed and reaffirmed that if we would just look deeper we would see that his conclusion was inevitable.

I should note that my own understanding of the passage clashed vigorously with his. It could be that I’m biased. But I never heard him point to any particular element of the passage in question that would suggest his understanding over what he was describing as the dominant one for the passage, one that he thought was very wrong and even dangerous. I actually think both his and the traditional understandings leave something to be desired. But that passage is not my subject.

Similarly, I have heard many proclaim that if one just looks at a passage in context, one will discover that it means something quite different than it appears to mean on the surface. Much less frequently the person speaking will explain just what context is in view (historical, grammatical, structural, literary, etc.) and just how that context changes the surface meaning.

Don’t get me wrong here. The most obvious surface meaning of a scripture is very frequently not what the original author intended. If seen in proper historical, cultural, and literary context it may well mean something different. But these elements of context are something that a serious student needs to discover and then express. And there’s another important context: The context of our own experience and biases.

I do not intend in this essay to propose methods of Bible study. I’ve written two books that are relevant to this process: Learning and Living Scripture (with Dr. Geoffrey Lentz) and When People Speak for God. What I’m suggesting here is that if we go deeper we have to ask “in what way”? If we study the context we need to outline the connections that we make and how those questions impact our understanding. If we are trying to see things from a broader perspective, what is that perspective?

When I was in college taking a major in Biblical Languages, I encountered the historical-critical method. I also immediately encountered the controversy that there is around this. One was surrendering the notion that God had inspired the Bible if one used the historical-critical method. On the other hand, one was denying the intellect and going against science if one avoided it.

I at first embraced this method for a simple reason: It was pursuing what I had thought was the goal of Bible study. Let’s get closer to the sources and thus get at the real truth. Form criticism could take me back to original forms of a saying so that I could hear it more like it was when it was first spoken. Redaction criticism let me look at the process of producing a book in the form in which it appeared in scripture. Source criticism let me look at documents that preceded the ones I actually had in front of me.

I was digging back into history. I was getting closer to the source. I had never framed it in this way, but God was at the source, and if I could just get right back there I would know precisely what God had to say to me without any doubt.

But then inadequacies began to show up in my new-found methods. Source criticism might explain how there were two creation stories and how they might differ, but if source criticism was the explanation for the differences, what explained the fact that they had been combined into one document? If they were too different to have been written by the same person, why could the documents written by two persons be combined, successfully, into one by yet another person. Was this latter person too stupid to see the differences? Did he just not care?

Enter canonical criticism. Let’s look at the text as we have it in its canonical form, the form accepted by the community of faith over time. In this case, I look at the text as it is and ask what I can learn from the current form. This is all very nice, but I had to ask myself if the current form is the important thing, then why does it have such a tangled past? If the current form is so good, were those who lived with its predecessors spiritually crippled?

While I could certainly pick holes in just about any critical theory, I could also see the ways they picked holes in some of the traditional views of how we got biblical books. There was plenty of room to critique the details of the sources of the Pentateuch, such as dating and the exact boundaries between them, but at the same time sources could explain the reason why many things were there that otherwise made no sense.

It was at this point in my thinking that I started to refer to “critical methodologies” rather than “historical-critical method.” No, that’s not original with me, but I don’t even remember when I first encountered it. It just seemed to fit the need.

Early in my studies I had some difficulty with the criticisms of one methodology by practitioners of another. Then I began to note that people tended to grab hold of one particular approach and stick with it. To a person with a hammer everything is a nail. To a form critic, everything was orally transmitted. To the redaction critic, there must have been a process of editing. To the source critic, all books have sources. And to the advocate of canonical criticism, it was obvious that the canonical form of the text, accepted by the church as Holy Scripture, was the one to study.

So I went back to sources. Not document sources. Not historical first sources. Philosophical sources. Where do I start in my exploration of the Bible? My starting point is this: I believe God is active in history. I’m going to again bypass all the issues of why I believe this and in what way I believe God is active. I will simply note on the latter point that I prefer to say both that God can intervene, but that this intervention is more an internal process that we might ever imagine. (On this point, see Edward W. H. Vick, History and Christian Faith, though I had not read his book when I first took up this approach.)

If God is active in history, why would I believe that God was more active in one piece of history than another? More precisely, why would I believe that God was more active at one point in the history of the text than at another?

And thus I got a new definition of “going deeper.” I now consider it important to go deeper into the history of the text, not as I did when a college student trying to get closer to the mouth of God, but rather to see God in action in the production of the text. Form criticism, to the extent it works, takes me to a point where I can see, through a glass darkly, early people telling stories of their God around a camp fire. Sources let me see communities that contributed to my community bringing God’s stories together. Redaction criticism let me look at those communities trying to bring their variant stories of God’s activity into one stream.

In turn, once there was a text to be transmitted in writing, the variants in the text told me the story of transmission and preservation. I can certainly use text-critical principles to get a text closest to the original, but in those variants I can also see God’s people struggle with the meaning of that text. Instead of becoming concerned about errors—and there are many errors in transmission—I started to see each document as somebody’s Bible, or a portion of it. However much I might treat it as a source of data, textual variants, for someone, the manuscript in front of me was God’s Word.

As people then create translations and editions, instead of seeing some corruption of an early source, I see God’s people both passing on and shaping the story of God’s action while at the same time shaping it for generations to come.

This is just one strand of the way we read and tell the story of God’s people. God is no longer, for me, the distant person that I search for at the end of a long process, whether the historical-critical process I learned in academic work, or the historical-grammatical study I learned when I was younger. God is, for me, the one who is in and through everything, who spoke and yet speaks, who is obscured in the tales of old, and often equally obscured in ours, who may be clearly seen in some events in the past, but may also be clearly seen in my own home.

And then as I tell that story and shape that story, I know that God will still be active.

Bible study, in this sense, is not a spectator sport. It’s a participatory sport. Don’t get upset that I’m calling it sport. It’s often one of the greatest sports that there is. To use examples from baseball, as we interpret, we can throw balls and strikes. We can hit a ball in a way that looks hopeless, but due to someone else’s error nonetheless it results in a run. Or we can do everything perfectly in terms of technique and still get nowhere.

And because God is with our study every bit as much as he was with the most ancient source, we don’t have to worry. We can go ahead and play at whatever skill level. Just remember that none of us play the game to perfection.

How do we treat testimony and the witness?

-point to ponder-

[Editor's note] Murdoch challenges the church with this question: Do we, too often, treat one's testimony like the Pharisees do in John 9?

by Doris Horton Murdoch

Testify coverJohn 9:24-25, NASB: So a second time they (Pharisees) called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man [Jesus] is a sinner.” He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know that though I was blind, now I see.”

John 1:46. NASB: Nathaniel said to him, “Can any good come out of Nazareth?” Phillip said to him, “Come and see.”

Jealousy and fear led to the accusation of Jesus being a sinner and not of God. Does unbelief and worldly desires cause division? What must the “believing body” be very careful of? Does the church question change in a person’s life when a testimony is shared? Does the body truly forgive others and find joy in one’s redemption? Does the body encourage and nurture the new believer to live out the shared testimony? What is our response to John 1:46?

Check out Part I of the book, Testify: By the Blood of the Lamb and the Word of our Testimony.

Order Testify: By the Blood of the Lamb and the Word of Our Testimony here: https://energiondirect.com/christian-living/testify

The risks of testifying in one’s own congreation

-point to ponder-

The new believer may be marginalized by the congregation due to economics, education, disabilities, racism, misjudgment or misunderstandings. Persecution may come to the person who chooses to testify to the Truth of Jesus Christ.

by Doris Horton Murdoch

Testify coverJohn 8:31-32, NASB: So Jesus was saying to these Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”

Is it culturally risky to share one’s testimony? Is it more difficult to share with church family than the unbelieving world? How does the church body respond to testimonials?

When one has made a drastic change in life and shares a personal testimony, it may be difficult to share the testimony with long-term believers. One may be living in an environment that is not approved of by the congregation or may be in a job that requires Sunday obligations. The new believer may be marginalized by the congregation due to economics, education, disabilities, racism, misjudgment or misunderstandings. Persecution may come to the person who chooses to testify to the Truth of Jesus Christ. John 8:31-32 speaks of spiritual freedom through the Truth, Jesus Christ.

Has the congregation that persecutes or segregates truly found freedom through the Truth? Does God expect us to damage our worldly reputation to become reputable witnesses for His Kingdom?

Order Testify: By the Blood of the Lamb and the Word of Our Testimony here: https://energiondirect.com/christian-living/testify


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