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Why Believers’ Baptism is the Biblical Model

Several months ago I was provoked to developed an extended discussion on believers’ Baptism of Jesusbaptism as the model for the New Testament church.

In four points, I develop a case for Believers’ Baptism (why some might call credo-baptism) as the model of both the New Testament and the earliest Christianity:

1. The biblical case for baptism is of believers, by immersion, following their conversion.

2. The theological case for baptism only leads to baptism of believers, by immersion, following their conversion.

3. The historical case for baptism shows that the earliest Christians only utilized baptism for believers, by immersion, following their conversion.

4. The archeological case for baptism shows that for the earliest Christians their worship venues and structures provided for baptism of believers, by immersion, following their conversion.

Through these points of discussion I contend that the model of the earliest Christians, and as a result the New Testament, was baptism of believers by immersion following their conversion.

Since the baptism discussion will likely come up in any number of settings for the local church, it is helpful to present my position in advance of future discussions. Perhaps this will aid your own preparations. This paper was developed for use by both clergy and laity alike, and though it does not aim for scholarly acumen it perhaps might contribute in that era as well.

Here is the paper, hopefully you will find it edifying and strengthening.

Believers Baptism Paper – Garet Robinson

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Reviewing the Exodus Consultation at Lanier Theological Library

This past weekend, January 17-18, Lanier Theological Library hosted a conference titled “A Consultation on the Historicity and Authenticity of the Exodus and Wilderness Traditions in a Post Modern Age.”

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This conference featured scholars from the United States, Europe, and Asia who gave presentations on various aspects of the archeology and historicity of the Exodus narrative. As you can see from the list of presentations below, the topics presented did much to explore this area of research. Organized by James Hoffmeier, these presentations were also part of a weekend lecture that he presented at the library. Though I was only able to attend the Friday set of talks, there is some discussion worth having over the content covered.

Before all of that here is the list of presenters:

Friday, January 17

Richard S. Hess (Denver Seminary) – Onomastics of the Exodus Generation in the Book of Exodus

Steven Ortiz (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) – Pitfalls, Prospects, and Paradigm Shifts: The Archeology of the Exodus and Conquest

James K Hoffmeier (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) – Some Eygptian Details of the Exodus and Wilderness Traditions

Alan Millard (University of Liverpool) – Moses, Israel’s Tongue-Tied Singer

Charles Krahmalkov (University of Michigan) – The Real Moses: the Evidence

Joshua Berman (Bar Ilan University) – The Song of the Sea and the Kadesh Inscriptions of Ramses II

Gary Rendsburg (Rutgers University) – The Literary Unity of the Exodus Narrative

Richard Averbeck (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) – The Exodus and Slave Release Laws

Thomas W Davis (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) – Exodus on the Ground: the Elusive Signature of Nomads in Sinai

Jordan Cervera i Valls (Faculty of Theology of Catalonia, Barcelona) – The Copper Snake Episode (Num 21:4-9) in Exegetical, Topographical & Archeological Contexts

K Lawson Younger, Jr (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) – Recent Developments in Understanding the Origins of the Arameans: Possible Contributions and Implications to Understand Israelite Origins

Saturday, January 18

Jens Bruun Kofoed (Lutheran School of Theology, Copenhagen) – “Tell Your Children and Grandchildren!” The Exodus as Cultural Memory

J Andrew Dearman (Fuller Theological Seminary) – The Exodus and Wilderness Wandering Traditions in Amos and Micah

Jerry Hwang (Singapore Bible College) – “I am Yahweh your God from the land of Egypt” Hosea’s Use of the Exodus Traditions

W Mark Lanier (Lanier Theological Library) – A Lawyer Examines the Evidence for the Exodus

So, this was a rather busy conference and, as the pictures above indicate, done in a terrific venue. Though I am not an archeologist or an Old Testament researcher, a few thoughts did come to me as I listened to the presentations:

  • The quality of the research and depth of insight provided in these presentations surely reflects the kind of engagement which advances biblical scholarship.
  • It was difficult to qualify this conference as an archeological exploration, since there is no direct evidence for the exodus. However, as several presentations pointed out, there is quality data around the event that can lead to positive conclusions about the exodus event.
  • Perhaps by design, this consultation was an appreciative inquiry into key issues around the exodus narrative that still provided plenty of diversity in the viewpoints.
  • Being able to talk with leading scholars in a discipline is always worth the time. There is a lot of work continuing to be done about this, and many other topics, in biblical archeology.
  • Even though many leading voices in biblical archeology question the historicity of many Old Testament stories, it is refreshing to know (and hear) there are viewpoints countering these views from credible scholars.
  • It would have been good to have heard from some critical voices. What are the primary concerns and challenges in dating, placing, and evidencing the exodus narrative? Having someone(s) who could bring this perspective would have been helpful.
  • Lanier Theological Library continues to be a growing theological resource for Houston, Texas, and the larger international theological community. Not just because of the availability of Stone Chapel, but the library itself is a tremendous place to study in any number of specialized topics.

Overall, the consultation was done well and I will definitely look forward to future events at the library. Though it is a bit of a drive to get there, having world-class scholars presenting on vital topics in biblical studies is worth the time.

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Jan 2014
POSTED BY Garet
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Theology

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The Historical Santa and the Historical Jesus Pt 2 – The Jesus of History

As we take up the second part of this brief two-part series comparing the Historical Santa and the Historical Jesus we now turn to consider Jesus Christ. For many scholars doing work in the area of the Historical Jesus, the parallel between Santa Claus and Jesus Christ is indeed an apt metaphor. Our goal is to look at the development of both individuals, in this Christmas season, and see how they relate to this larger issue of the Historical Jesus.

You can read the previous post, The Santa of Faith, by clicking here.

Though the term “Historical Jesus” is often a dirty word in evangelical churches, we should admit that the three, or four, quests have at least produced this benefit: we have a better understanding of the Jewishness of Jesus in His Second Temple era than before. Because of the pushback from rigorous scholars who have questioned the inculturated Jesus of their day, we now have a better view of who Jesus actually is and was in His day. Though there have been excesses and, let’s be honest, completely ridiculous side trails by a few scholars, the various quests have produced some compelling scholarship.

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Just like our previous inquiry about the Historical Santa Claus, the Historical Jesus is indeed rooted in an actual individual who lived in antiquity. Of the few things scholars of all camps generally agree on, Jesus Christ was an actual person who lived in Palestine during the late Second Temple period, had followers/disciples, and was crucified by Pontius Pilate. Outside of these facts there is little agreement down the scholarly line. Of course, once we get to the evangelical side (where I do align myself) we see a broader acceptance of biblical reconstructions of Jesus’ life.

Not to get too waylaid by the scholarly discussion, one of the realities about the Historical Jesus is that when we look across the timeline of history to see how Jesus Christ is portrayed there is a different result than when we consider the evolution of Santa Claus. Granted, there are certainly some terrible representations of Jesus that exist even in our day (i.e. Talking Jesus Action Figure…I have this on my office shelf for funsies.) Yet, in orthodox Christianity (small “o”) over the centuries between the death of Jesus Christ and now, the representation of Him (not necessarily the artistic one) theologically and liturgically has remained steadied in Christianity.

Of course, this is not the primary concern of Historical Jesus quests. Instead, they have sought to uncover (not deconstruct) the actual historical figure from amid the tattered depictions in the primary source documents: the Gospels and New Testament.

Jesus Christ is unique from Santa Claus in that there is an established corpus of literature that still remains as the sources for understanding how He was received and understood by His first followers. While the latest developments in scholarship showing the early veneration of Jesus by these followers is not entirely relevant to this discussion, it does bear some influence on how we understand the Gospels depictions. The Santa of faith relies almost entirely on translated traditions and oral transmissions of his story across 16, or so, centuries with varying depictions. The Jesus of history relies on a set of documents written within a generation, or two, of His death by both eyewitnesses and devoted followers.

With the evolution, or translation, of Santa Claus, we see a figure who entirely loses the original image between his fourth century historical life and his present day depictions. Gone is any attachment with a Catholic Bishop from the Middle East. Only visible is the overweight, bearded Scandinavian bestower of gifts from atop a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer…and Rudolph. The present day image of Santa Claus bears no resemblance to the fourth century St Nicholas.

Yet the present day Jesus Christ, and the Jesus Christ of the Gospels, is very much in line with the Historical Jesus. He remains ensconced in His Second Temple era amid struggling Jewish socio-political identity. A prophet and rabbi who came into this world through miraculous means (even if this is disputed by present day scholars) and died on a Roman crucifixion stake, still is found to be as Jewish today as He was in the middle first century representations. Though some have attempted to understand Jesus in their present milieu or through a lens of theological liberation, the orthodox Jesus of History remains settled in the Gospel depictions of Himself.

Unlike Santa Claus, who is very much taken out of his original historical figure, the Historical Jesus that we know today looks very much like the first century Jewish messianic figure who is presented in the Gospel witnesses. As these Gospel authors are either eyewitnesses or relying on eye witnesses testimony, their unique purpose for writing and framing the actions of Jesus Christ still present a figure who is faithful to the historical figure that lived and died between sixty and forty years prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

The Jesus of history that we have been able to recover aligns closely with characteristics of the Jesus of faith that has been venerated and celebrated in the liturgies and worship celebrations of the Church and churches since the first generation of Jesus’ followers. Regardless of where we stand on other issues around Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the depiction of Jesus in the Gospels still stands as a historically faithful representation that has stood the test of time. Unlike the Santa Claus of faith, the Jesus of history remains attached to the historical, first century Palestinian Jew who lived among the tumultuous times of the late Second Temple period.

We can be thankful that instead of a benevolent saint who merrily grants wishes and bestows gifts to children, the Jesus of history is one who came into this world for a purpose and can be seen in the passages of Holy Christian Scripture as a savior who is given for the world for all days.

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The Historical Santa and the Historical Jesus Pt 1 – The Santa of Faith

As we approach the most joyous time of the year when we, goodly Christians, celebrate the birth of Jesus. During this annual celebration, our malls and much of popular culture also bring in Santa Claus among other secular icons. It is an opportunity to see two historical figures who have had their pasts differently developed.

When we think of our present day incarnation of Santa Claus, there is a historical figure who stands behind our current picture. Along the same lines, when we think of our present day evolution of Jesus Christ, there is also a historical figure who stands behind our current picture.

So how much of the historical Santa relates to he historical Jesus?

In considering the origins of Santa Claus we must go back the fourth century and a young bishop named Nicholas who, having inherited his parents’ estate after their death early in his life, became known for acts of mercy and charity in his parish of Myra. Following his death, many stories about his ministry became known throughout Christianity, to the point that Nicholas was venerated as a saint and given a feast day on December 6th. Nicholas became a famous sainted figure in Christianity and his name, acts, and feast carried across many cultures. For instance, when Columbus was exploring the New World, one of the first ports he discovered was promptly named St Nicholas. Nicholas’ story of giving and charity embodied the idea of Christianity (James 1:29) and his feast is a time for thoughtful reflection of these themes.

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Even in the massive whitewashing of relics and statuary during the Reformation, Nicholas remained a favorite figure in Christianity. His feast day was still merrily celebrated by Catholics and Protestants alike. From the medieval period through the early reformation time the stories and character of Nicholas transitioned from his Middle Eastern roots to a more Scandavian representation and the name Sinterklaas. Being fused with German paganism (through the celebration of Yule) also moved Nicholas out of the purely Christian arena and into the secular one as well. His attire and mode of transportation also shifted to reflect the cultures in which Nicholas was moved into and his story was told. He was given new names, Kris Kringle and Father Christmas. St. Nicholas remained part of the idea of Sinterklaas, but became almost unrecognizable in light of the growing mythos around this changing figure.

Yet Nicholas remained, mostly, in the representations as a charitable bishop of the Catholic Church. Only in the early 1800s, mostly through the works of Washington Irving, Sinterklaas was brought to America and given a new name: Santa Claus. Not long after this an anonymous poem, later attributed to Clement Clarke Moore, titled “A Visit from St Nicholas” (later retitled “The Night Before Christmas“) captured the cultural lore in America and propelled this version of Santa Claus forward. Soon, the patron saint of travelers and merchants became the saint of the poor and needy in America. Thomas Nast, a popular cartoonist with Harper’s Weekly, soon took Santa Claus and began giving him the form which we know today. His drawing of a pipe smoking saint of giving in 1881 gave Santa much of his present day form.

Once the 20th century came, Santa was firmly embedded into the America identity for the Winter Solstice festivals. The famed American artist, Norman Rockwell, added to the growing lore around Santa with his famous covers for The Saturday Evening Post. Santa identified in numerous publications and even appropriated for military interests. Santa suddenly had a wife, though oddly no children, and plenty of other parts of the story began to evolve. Yet nothing had quite the cultural ramifications of what happened in the post World-War II era when Coca-Cola crafted a version of Santa that has lasted until today. With the massive cultural exportation the followed, Santa became a worldwide phenomenon. Soon enough, Santa Claus became as much part of the Christmas celebrations as Jesus Christ’s infancy narratives.

Children await the arrival of the Christmas season and write notes of faith, strategically given to their parents, to Santa Claus about the hope they have in his impending arrival with gifts galore. These same children are made aware that Santa is a benevolent soul who monitors their faithfulness throughout the year. We take our kids to the mall to see Santa and tell him about their hopes and dreams. Indeed, for most under the age of 12, Santa is the reason for the season.

Yet this version of Santa is much different than the Historical Santa of the fourth century. Indeed, the origins of the present day Santa-myth, though rooted in a historical figure, are much different than the actual figure they represent. So much different is this present day Santa, that one must wonder if it matches up with the historical figure who began all of this, the Bishop Nicholas in the fourth century?

The present day, popular Santa (the Santa of faith) is indeed mightily different than the Santa of history. If for no other reason, the historical Santa (St. Nicholas) is Middle Eastern and the Santa of faith (Santa Claus) is Scandinavian. Other major issues abound.

In much the same way, scholars in the field of the historical Jesus often make statements that make the historical Jesus to be as far from the Christ of faith as we see in the Santa demonstration above.

So, does the historical Santa represent a parallel narrative to the historical Jesus? Are there sufficient parallels between St Nicholas’ story and Jesus’ story in our present day churches and broader cultural narratives?

Check in tomorrow for the second, and final, part of our inquiry.

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It Really is Hard to Reconstruct Aspects of the Biblical Times

Last evening, well early this morning, I was reading James Burtchaell’s From Synagogue to Church and came across his discussion about the challenge of reconstructing the underlying forms or pre-existing offices that would have informed the earliest Christian communities. He points out that there well could be a number of traditional patterns and social attitudes that are simply unrecoverable to present day historians. He then provides this excellent illustration:

Imagine the impossible task of any future scholar trying to reconstruct the internal political history of almost any institution in America in ignorance of Robert’s Rules of Order, the format by which virtually all meetings are conducted. The wardens of a Congregationalist church in Newport, a teamsters union in Chicago, a chapter of the Disabled American Veterans in Dubuque: all of the them run their meetings pretty much the same way, Robert’s way. The book is a traditional item of community organization, entirely familiar to the nation, and for that very reason it is so taken for granted that it is rarely mentioned. By the same token, any familiarity which we can gain with similarly familiar antecedents of the earliest Christians will help us to construe better the way that they were following – because they were the only ways they knew of forming a community. (pg 199)

He goes on to note how the earliest Christians would have certainly looked to their common heritage and cultural milieu, specifically the synagogue.

Now, this really does capture the challenge of reconstructing the picture of the first century environment. After numerous generations of critical historical inquiry the picture is becoming increasingly clear. However, it still is missing pieces and a haze of uncertainty persists.

The underlying cultural forms that helped craft and structure authority in the earliest Christian communities are better known today than one hundred years when Sohm and Harnack (et al) were discussing the nature of charism in these early communities. Leaders in the scholarly communities that have pushed away the heavy stones of history have cleared the path and drawn on our growing knowledge of archeology and ancient understanding. Of course, the path is still clouded.

treaty-westSo to frame the continued challenge we think of the historical scholar in 1,000 years that looks back at the United States of America (or whatever country you might think of) and is attempting to work through a pile of yellowed manuscripts of official documents (since out data architecture long vanished because of its delicate state) from the wide ranging organizations as listed above. Perhaps she even has some official files from Congress. Yet Robert’s Rules does not exist in any written form. Imagine the frustration and limited horizons. If any of us could leap into her time we might be able to explain (once we learned the languages) these things better, yet we know we cannot do this.

This same problem vexes historians and biblical scholars.

We have a good picture of these times of antiquity and, perhaps more than any other people of the turn of the age (from BCE to CE) we understand Christians well. The development of the earliest Christianity wasn’t a static venture, but certainly an organic one that has many warts and scars. Yet here the Church still stands in this day (rather different I suggest) and still proclaims a Gospel so similar to the earliest Christian creed “Jesus Christ is Lord.”

The picture of these earliest believers might not be in full color or complete, but it is there and increasingly made clear through the efforts of legitimate, critical scholarship. For those of us looking to add to that picture, or at least learn how to add, a robust and competent historiography (historical method) is necessary for moving forward. It isn’t something that is easily spoken of in small groups or sermons, but it is absolutely necessary for helping finish the picture to which so many have already contributed. And yet, in 500 years, the painting might be just as unfinished.

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Snark and Theological Discourse

One  of the great characteristics of the Millennial generation (which is certainly not limited to them) is a kind of deep flowing angst which manifests itself in copious servings of irony, sarcasm, and nearly perpetual satire that becomes central to much of their communication. Being fluent is sarcasm is not a vice, but, for some, perhaps a virtue. It seems that for so many, good feelings and happy-go-lucky sentimentality only perpetuate a false front for reality which is uncovered through, for lack of a better term, snark.

One example of this came out last evening while I ventured through my RSS feeds to find a post over at Near Emmaus written by Kate Hanch titled “The Mark Driscoll Scholarship for Women Pastors: A Good Idea?

Hanch is responding to a Facebook post by Shane Claiborne where talks about a group, Epiphaneia, who have sponsored a conference which hoped to support a charity titled “Mark Driscoll Scholarship Fund for Women in Ministry.” Clearly this is a theological jab directed at promoting an egalitarian position on women in ministry over and against a patriarchal view such at Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church.

What struck me about this is how it has been sort of a fitting capstone to a series of developing conversations between the complementarian and egalitarian views of gender and ministry roles. Having been involved in some of these conversations for awhile, there has been a growing animus between the sides over the past several years that has been increasingly less charitable. For full disclosure, I am a complementarian (which Pastor Driscoll also claims to be) but of a different stripe than some.

What worries me about attempts (by any of the sides…because there aren’t just two) to make a point at the expense of someone else is that you ultimately a) devalue your point and b) undermine your credibility. 

It seems that as we continue these conversations (and particularly on these issues) there is less accommodation for those who might disagree and more of an antagonism between the sides. During my time in having these conversations I’ve been called all kinds of names (misogynist, hater, bigot, etc) by others in opposite camp in the midst of trying to clarify and discuss these issues. Now, granted, the more sane voices in these conversations don’t resort to such measures, but for too many of their followers this is fair game.

This kind of hurtful discourse also occurs in other theological discussions, most obviously between the Reformed and not campus. Why is it that we feel that the use of snark and sarcasm will bolster our points as opposed to not extending an olive branch of humility and contrition?

One truth is that someone might be able to gain a louder voice in these conversations and end up with many followers by using these tactics and tone. However, as we’ve seen so many times in history, this kind of a voice ends up being stuck in its own generation and does not have a lasting use.

So, more directly to this latest issue: why would anyone feel the need to support an organization that openly detracts from the conversation by impugning another believer’s testimony and character?

For all his strengths and weaknesses, one thing we can know about Pastor Driscoll is that he would not support this kind of movement. Those who are mockingly supporting this kind of scholarship are missing an entire group of leaders who do support the training of women in ministry who might be better leveraged to gain both credibility and real support.

Of course, this isn’t the goal of such declarations. Their goal is to jab us in the eye and sock us in the gut to attempt to gain our attention. Well certainly this has worked, but at what cost? This isn’t to say we can’t have a light and fun conversation. We can. Yet examples like these above clearly intend to go over the line of what is appropriate and easy camp out in the area of what is offensive and unnecessary.

I’m reminded of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:29-32  29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Perhaps too many of us believe that filling our books, articles, papers, and blogposts with snark will make up for a lack of substantive engagement with each other and the real issues. However, I believe it only limits your voice and confines it generationally. The cause of Christ should echo through the generations.

If you disagree with Pastor Driscoll, tell us why is a reasoned and appropriate way. There are aspects of his theology, and specifically here anthropology and ecclesiology, that I disagree with, but also many aspects that I mutually affirm. Perhaps you are a woman who is called into ministry, go! and get trained at a great seminary. Find a church and be ordained to fulfill your calling. There is so much more that we agree on than we disagree, let’s not let these things stand in the way of the Gospel and its proclamation among those who need to hear.

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