Monday, 23 January 2017

Response to Unblievable! debate this week on mystery religions

On this week's show of Unbelievable, Justin Brierley held a difficult debate between Richard Carrier vs David Marshall. Quite frankly, I don't think Brierley will be uniting these two again. Here was my response:

Having just finished listening to this episode, I have to agree with Carrier's summary of the apologist vs scholar. The flying sparks were quite frankly off-putting to the actual arguments being made (I am still unclear as to what the grounds are for peripheral or central features of mystery religions, although why not follow up Carrier's invitation to check out his book?)

I agree with Carrier that Marshall - from what I could make out in this debate - does not seem to have properly engaged and his personal history with Carrier seemed to favour what quite frankly seemed like embarrassing blunders (e.g. fables of Aesop). Remember, his book his based on Carrier's, he should know it really, really well. He really doesn't seem to. Sorry Marshall, you didn't sell it to me and I am in theory on your side. But presenting one side of the debate with too much emotion and not enough research I found embarrassing.

Thanks Justin for the usual excellent hosting in a difficult interview.

UPDATE: Got a reply from David Marshall!
How can you make such a claim about a 300 page book chock full of evidence, by listening to a few minutes of Carrier's on-air attacks? Sorry, but you are being gullible. Carrier simply fails to understand my argument, or what it is based upon. And I tried to be polite, but his notion of scholarship is badly defective. See point 6, in particular:

Back to me: I am not going to get drawn into a debate with David Marshall on this, he's way too loose with his tongue and life is too short.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Article 200!

Wow, it certainly has been quite a journey since I began this blog in 2014. Thanks to those who have shown some interest and dropped by - the most prestigious to date is probably Science Mike!

I feel this has been a very broad platform on which to explore theological questions while hopefully remaining faithful to the relationship of faith to scripture (and scripture to faith).

It took me a long while to realise where my key focus lay. I began with some deep questions about what Christianity means when it says Christ is God when the New Testament is so loaded with Christ and God statements. For a time I was also most perplexed by the question of modalism, and declared myself something of an antimodalist, especially with regard to worship, which I have discovered to be the time of deepest spiritual formation.

At some point I became quite fascinated by the question of Greek articles - realising that they were much more significant than I had previously imagined. The kickstarter for that was to see how different the Greek looked in John 1:1 to the English (except perhaps the NET version). Reading a blog post by Larry Hurtado set me on an altogether new quest, to investigate the relevance of the article preceding kyrios, the Greek word for Lord specifically when translating the Hebrew tetragrammaton, a.k.a. Yahweh. I still feel excitement about the future relevance of this research for New Testament translations, especially to passages like 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 ("the Lord is the Spirit").

Plus a whole bunch more besides!

While I am happy with how it's gone (sorry it's not always been ultra-polished), I now recognise the need to reduce my output a bit and focus on completing the book I mentioned on the previous post.

Thanks so much for your interest, and I promise to increase output soon as the book nears completion.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Book update: Mutated Faith and the Triune Hub

Happy New Year!
May it bring more bowing of the knee to Christ to the glory of God the Father, in the power and revelation of the indwelling Spirit.

Please take a look at the following picture - it presents a pictorial representation of the proposal I will be making in my book (hopefully 2017 will see it completed):

This is a very amateurish sketch, and there is absolutely no significance about the planets being the planets of our own tiny solar system, or of Venus being circled! That said - this is the kind of idea I would like to convey on the cover. My working title keeps evolving, but I hope it won't move too far from "Trinitarian Interpretations: Mutated Faith and the Triune Hub". Cryptic, huh?

While it represents a long, sometimes painful and unfinished journey for me, it might be a slightly upsetting book for some. In fact - for those who have theological commitments, my historical analysis of first century Christianity is likely to displease most, and seems to fit into no common categories that I am currently aware of. That said, I still need to interact more with Samuel Clarke who I suspect had an early version of the Triune Hub model included in this book.

Trinitarians want to assert that - because Christianity is birthed out of monotheistic Judaism - God himself is the hub around which everything else is in orbit. He is the centre. And then the Son and the Spirit into the mix, ushering a whole host of attempted explanations frequently failing to satisfy. Me? Not just me - even within the Triune-God camp, because they all seem to disagree with one another (that's the second chapter of the book). Another group, also not monolithic, is the Unitarians. They assert strongly that Christ cannot be God, because only the Father is God, and they will also frequently assert that the Spirit is not really something that is separate from the Father. Another group of Unitarians exist - albeit only implicitly, and covers some biblically distant and popular charismatic expressions, whom Richard Rohr describes as Jesusism movements. In these you frequently see the Father and Spirit as just shadows of the One that really matters, Jesus. Believe it or not, that too is Unitarianism - it just doesn't know it.

So what does the first century have to say theologically, with respect to the Old Testament heritage? A lot. A later chapter in the book is going to outline the different contours of the "mutations" of the Jewish faith that permitted early Christianity to still be Jewish, leaning especially on doctors NT Wright and Larry Hurtado. Baptism into the "name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" is a first century diaspora Jewish historical fact. The mutation that I am basically offering is that the Trinity makes a lot more sense when we understand it as a Trinity of design and not a Trinity of essence. If we understand that it is first century Christian faith that is now articulated in Trinitarian language rather than the being of God himself, then suddenly the apparently chaotic chopping and changing between most of the Unitarian and Trinitarian readings of the texts suddenly become still and at peace with one another.

So why did that model get ditched in the fourth century, in favour of a Triune God model? This is quite a complex question. My proposal is not to replace other explanations offered, but to add another angle. Ousia (Greek) and substantia (Latin) afforded the institutionalising Greek-empire-based church the language it needed to ensure that none of the Trinity were dissociated on the most fundamental level possible, which is precisely what some of the intervening heresies would have promoted (or at least allowed for). Although the result is becoming problematic in my view, this enterprise is commendable and has stood the faith very well for centuries. It is most certainly not what Anthony Buzzard describes as "Christianity's Self-Inflicted Wound".

Instead of "consubstantial", which I see as distinctly secondary in light of this research, I therefore propose "co-central". I am also very fond of the orthodox term "co-essential", although again, with reference to the faith. There is so much more to say, and some of which will indeed be said in the book, but I thought it might interest blog readers where this key chapter will go. In light of that, let's just notice something from the picture that I think could really appeal to the Triune-God advocates - the planets orbiting these Three, have a single orbit, experience one main gravitational pull, have a single centre comprising three Stars. I can only hope this contribution will lead to fruitful discussion in the ongoing Trinitarian conversation and not fresh Star Wars ;)