Dorothy Meets Alice

Becky and I took in the matinee performance of "Dorothy Meets Alice" by the Live Arts Theater. It was a "youth show" in that the majority of actors were in their teens. The girl who played Alice had a very capable voice and the young man who played the Mad Hatter chewed up the stage. The theater meets in what used to be the Belk's store at Gwinnett Place Mall and the play runs through February 8. Recommended.

Empty Nest

Rachel left home today, heading for Texas.

A Rereading of Romans, Part 2

Part 1 is here.

I found the biographical insight into Augustus on pages 54-55 fascinating and worth its own blog post, especially when compared with the video lesson
God Heard Their Cry by Ray Vander Laan. I bought this video on iTunes late last year but now they aren't available?!? DVDs are available here.

The information about Augustus is used by Stowers to further bolster his thesis that one of the least emphasized concepts in understanding Romans is the idea of self-mastery. But Stowers contradicts himself on this point. On the one hand, he says:

The works of Philo and Josephus and other Jewish writings from the period of the second temple, but especially the sources from the early empire, provide vital evidence for Jews who wanted to attract Gentiles into a sympathetic relation with Jewish communities by advertising Judaism as a superior school for self mastery. —pg. 65

On the other hand, he downplays the role of self-mastery in Romans:

Although certainly not the most important theme in Romans, self-mastery may be the theme most poorly understood and underemphasized in modern interpretation. ... Again, understanding the law as a means to self-mastery uncovers in the central piece of the puzzle that unites ethics, theology, and a historically plausible explanation of Jewish and Gentile motivations. —pg. 66.

Chapter 5 thus deemphasizes the ethic of self-mastery and denies that any of the virtues can be had through the performing of works from the law. Paul does not deny a place to self-control, but he does not, as his competitors were likely to have, center his ethic on self-mastery. --pg 73.

Furthermore, the Greek word for "self-mastery" or "self-control" (from Galatians 5:22-23) is nowhere found in Romans.

So why the emphasis on "self-mastery"?

One clue is Stower's claim that Jews are not intended as the audience of Romans, even though Paul says the gospel is "to the Jew first". Another clue is on page 69, where Stowers says the following about Romans 6:14-15:

One could read this in a traditional way: The opponents have not accepted the idea that Christianity has replaced Judaism as the way to God. But concepts associated with self-mastery make better sense of the passage.

Yet another clue is on page 72:

Earlier, Paul had assured his readers: Christ did redeem them from the curse incumbent upon those who only partially observe the law, "So that the blessings of Abraham might come upon the gentiles in Christ…

I find the phrase "who only partially observe the law" curious, as one of Paul's main ideas is that no one, Jew or Gentile, fully keeps the law (except, of course, for Jesus).

These hints lead me to believe that Stowers wants to keep certain aspects of Judaism in the presence of Christ. But where he actually goes with this remains to be seen.

A Rereading of Romans, Part 1

At the recommendation of a friend, I started reading A Rereading of Romans, by Stanley K. Stowers, after it arrived in the mail today. After fifty-four pages, out of a total of 329 (not including notes and index), I'm not sure what to make of it.

The prefatory material on what it means to read a document in context is very well done. As an example, Romans was written in Koine Greek with no punctuation or chapter and verse divisions. It was one long block of text written on a scroll. When we read Romans in our Bibles, we have the added interpretation of the editors who parsed the text into chunks to supposedly make it easier for us to understand the text.

On the other hand, Stowers claims:

A thorough rereading of Romans is timely and vital because the traditional model for understanding Paul's letter has begun to disintegrate under the weight of its own contradictions. —pg. 5

It remains to be seen what these contradictions might be. Stowers cites Sanders, who wrote:

Paul's case for universal sinfulness, as it is stated in Rom. 1:18 – 2:29 is not convincing: It is internally inconsistent and rests on the gross exaggeration. —pg. 5

Whether or not something convinces a reader isn't always due to the text. Sometimes it is dependent on the receptiveness of the reader to accept the thesis of the writer. I find Romans 1:18-2:29, consistent, convincing, and congruent with man's nature. But even if, for the sake of argument, Sanders is correct, one still has to deal with the inescapable observation that everyone dies.

Moving on, in the first chapter, Stowers seems to very much want to make the case that the letter was intended for a purely gentile audience. Why he wants to disassociate Jews as being part of the intended readers is not yet clear. On page 30 he writes:

If Christianity is by definition a universal answer to a single universal predicament manifest in every individual, and the church constitutes all those who have been saved from this predicament, the church must consist of all, both Jews and gentiles. Dogmatic rather than historical assumption still dominate the reading of the letter.

I'm puzzled by this passage, because Christianity is a universal answer to single universal predicament. Romans 5:12 -18 is summarized by 1 Cor 15:22: "for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ." There is no conflict between dogma and historical assumption.

So even if Jewish readers are not explicitly a part of Paul's target audience, they would still be implicitly included. Certainly, Romans is just as profitable to a Jewish reader as it is to a Gentile reader. After all, the author was Jewish, and in Romans 1:16 he specifically says: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."

The historical background to this epistle is fascinating; all the more so since the tendency in modern American churches is to read the Bible in isolation from all other texts, be they historic, political, or scientific. The opening chapters of Genesis, for example, take a completely different turn when one realizes that the cosmology therein is Egyptian.

Chapter 2 begins with the theme of self-mastery in Romans. This was an immediate turn off. First, Stowers doesn't define what "self" is in Christian theology. Paul certainly doesn't help matters when, in Galatians, he writes: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me." Perhaps that doesn't fit into the prevailing notions of self-mastery in the Greco-Roman world, but one has to give Paul the room to say something totally new to his readers. Second, I find an implied ordering in "self-mastery" that suggests that it is the individual that masters the self when, in actual fact, it is the Lord Jesus Christ who masters the individual. Perhaps if he had used "mastery of self" I wouldn't find this portion so exasperating. It will be interesting to see how, or even if, he ties this portion of this thesis in with Romans 9.

Nevertheless, on pages 36-41, Stowers gives an overview of what he thinks Romans says. I find no fault with it. But, as it is said, the devil is in the details.

The first fifty-four pages have been both maddening and delightful. This looks to be an interesting journey.

Next part…

Dialog With An Atheist #2

John Loftus wrote:
wrf3, I've been reading your comments with some interest. You represent the kind of person who intrigues me.

Thank you?

Since I never know what spark can be ignited that will eventually start a fire of knowledge and understanding free of brainwashing, here goes.

I just love it how you automatically poison the well by using emotive terms like "brainwashing." We poor dumb biased Christians have been brainwashed, while you objective rational clear-thinking atheists have broken free. Just pathetic.

Does is bother you that you come across as having the whole truth and nothing but the truth--that you have all the answers? It should.

It doesn't, for the simple reason that "how I come across" is based more on your incomplete perception of me, rather than how I actually am. We all know that, in these politically correct times, offense can be taken where none was either intended, or given. In the same way, I suspect you're reading more into my responses than what I've actually written.

For the more a person knows the less s/he claims to know. Tell us what you don't know pertaining to religious truth, if you want to prove me wrong.

That would fill a book. Shall I write another book about what I don't know about mathematics, even though I have a degree in math? How about a book about what I don't know about science, even though my math degree is from an engineering school, so I've had to take physics, chemistry, biology, thermodynamics, circuits and devices, astronomy, materials science, …?

I'll be curious to learn if you admit ignorance about several important basic details of your particular religious worldview, while at the same time claiming certainty about the whole worldview itself. That would be odd wouldn't you think, if you admit ignorant of the foundational details but certain of the whole?

First, you tell me what the "foundational details" you think I'm ignorant of. Because we may disagree on what is foundational and what is derived.

Second, by your criteria, I should throw out the American Constitution and Quantum Mechanics. I should throw out the American Constitution because there is no universal agreement on what the 2nd amendment means. Even the Supreme Court was divided, 5-4, on whether or not the 2nd Amendment guarantees the right of individuals to own firearms.

And we should throw out Quantum Mechanics, because while most everyone agrees on Schrödinger's equation, there is widespread disagreement on how to interpret it. Copenhagen, Many-worlds, De Broglie-Bohm, ... You might enjoy the articles Lubos Motl posts about idiot scientists who say idiotic things about science. This one is a recent one about a paper published in Nature. And this one about proponents of the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics…

Let me link to a few items for your reflection on this question. ... Christians debate many doctrinal and foundational specifics, as seen in these books. Are you claiming to know the answers for every issue?

Of course not. Ask me which eschatological view I hold. On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays I prefer amillennialism. On Thursdays I like postmillennialism. On Fridays I reflect on partial preterism. On Saturdays, I consider historic dispensationalism.

So there are ambiguities. So what? That's true of anything, whether it is interpretation of Christian doctrine, interpretation of the American Constitution, or interpretation of nature.

It's how our neural nets work.

Shall we declare science wrong because scientists can't agree on how to interpret nature via quantum mechanics?

In one of these above books, on apologetics, several authors argue against presuppositionalism. I suppose you are certain they are wrong too, correct?

If by "presuppositionalism" you mean "Christian presuppositionalism" then, yes, they are wrong.

Go back and re-read what I wrote. As a mathematician, I will say that we cannot escape our axioms. What we believe controls how we evaluate evidence. Then I said that I think that atheism is a consistent, complete worldview. I also said that Christianity is a consistent, complete worldview.

That doesn't mean that there aren't inconsistent Christians, or inconsistent Atheists. im-skeptical is an inconsistent atheist. He could be a consistent atheist, but whether or not he has that eureka moment only time will tell.

See a trend here? You are correct. Every other Christian is wrong. Seriously?

Only in your imagination.

The historical trend is also telling, ...

Are you saying that truth is determined by numbers? Really? And 100, or 200, or 1,000 years from now, when the trend has changed, will your great-great-great grandchildren try to use the same argument?

There are several former believers who no longer believe. ... Have you read these works?

Some of them. On the other hand, there are former atheists who now believe. Me, for one. C. S. Lewis, for another.

So what? If I have to weigh intellect against intellect, I'd certainly put C. S. Lewis ahead of John Loftus, or Bart Ehrman.

But what you don't understand is that I'm not playing that game. Atheism vs. Christianity isn't about evidence. It never has been. It's about how brains process evidence.

Let's say that it's possible you are wrong.

I'm a software engineer. I'm also married. I'm wrong a thousand times a day.

Wouldn't you want to know? No, seriously, wouldn't you want to know, yes or no?

Of course I would.

How about you?

You have Christians debunking themselves, where the trend is from conservatism to atheism, with several former intellectual believers several rejecting your faith and writing about it.

Truth has never, ever been about numbers. That you even try this argument means that you don't know how epistemology works. You're exhibiting the "r" side of r/K selection traits (i.e. where group consensus is more important than anything else).

And that you commit the fallacy of "selective citing" only shows how bankrupt your argument is. Note that this doesn't prove that Christianity is right and atheism is wrong. It just proves that you are an ignorant atheist, as opposed to an intelligent atheist.

Wouldn't you want to know why this is the case? Satan is too easily an answer. You would not accept that as an answer if someone said YOUR theology was of Satan, would you?

Why don't you let me provide my own answers? Otherwise, you can just have a conversation with yourself and whatever straw-men you want to talk to.

My claim is that doubt should be the position of everyone until such time as the evidence shows otherwise.

A self-defeating philosophy if ever there was one because, if you really believed it, you would doubt it and enter into a vicious circle.

And, for the last time, you're trying to argue evidence with someone who says that it isn't about the evidence. After all, if both Christianity and atheism are complete consistent systems, there isn't any evidence that can possibly exist to settle the argument one way or another.