Re: St. Basil's 400AD view of the Days of proclamation

George Murphy (
Sun, 29 Aug 1999 07:39:58 -0400 wrote:
> At 06:09 PM 08/28/1999 -0400, George Murphy wrote:
> > We agree on "centrality of the gospel story" but our whole disagreement
> concerns
> >just what is meant by "veracity of the documents." I do't agree with your
> final
> >sentence here & just don't see how your position can be sustained. Here
> we come to what
> >I said when I jumped ahead too quickly a couple of exchanges ago. Whether
> or now Jonah
> >or the Good Samaritan happened, their theological messages are quite
> clear.
> That just seems to be poor justification for saying a third story isn't
> historical. The 'fact' that the Good Samaritan isn't a real tale in no way
> implies that the flood, the fall, the Exodus or the resurrection is thus
> non-historical.

I'm not saying that the non-historical character of the GS or the Bk of Jonah
show that other texts aren't historical! Genres of biblical lit have to be assessed
text by text, not wholesale. Conversely, what you're presenting sounds like a variant
on the old "If we don't believe Jonah was swallowed by a fish, our children won't
believe the resurrection." & there's no end to that - as some fundamentalists will
argue, if you doubt the historical accuracy of even the tiniest detail, the whole truth
of scripture falls apart.

> What you are using is a non-sequitur. One could equally
> claim that whether or not the resurrection occurred, the theological
> message is clear--God loves his people and is willing to sacrifice for
> them. This type of claim can be universally applied and there is no limit
> to its application. All it takes is belief--not evidence. And protesting
> that this isn't the way the resurrection should be treated is not IMO a
> good argument.

No because the heart of the theological message IS the Word made flesh,
crucified & risen, not just "God loves us."

> > There is good reason why the Mormons don't have crosses on their
> buildings.
> >When I asked a Mormon missionary about this he said, "If someone killed
> your brother,
> >you wouldn't put the gun he used to do it on your living room wall would
> you?" They
> >don't agree with orthodox Christianity on what it means.
> >
> >> And by theologically true, I assume they mean the very same thing you mean.
> >> It is a true theological statement about the metaphysical reality of God's
> >> cosmos.
> >
> > But we don't agree on what that "metaphysical reality is" - which
> includes a
> >Trinity & justification & the fact that we can't & don't need to become
> "gods" by our
> >own efforts.
> You are missing my point. I agree that we and the Mormons don't agree on
> what metaphysical reality is. That is totally different from what is
> theologically correct (true) within their system. They work from their
> assumptions and we work from ours. Since assumptions can't be proven our
> lack of agreement with the Mormons on these issues is merely evidence that
> we differ in our assumptions. What you are missing is that we can't simply
> proclaim our assumptions are correct and then go home. That is like what
> was suggested in Vietnam--declare victory and go home.
> > Sure, & if they're unwilling to at least try looking at things from a
> Christian
> >standpoint then they'll never see the truth of it. We aren't talking here
> _simply_
> >about abstract presuppositions of philosophical theology but about matters
> which have to
> >do with basic existential questions - guilt, mortality, meaning, &c. Do
> you [the
> >Mormon] really believe, when you're lying awake at 4 a.m., that you can
> become a god?
> Since I am playing the role of the mormon here, I would say yes. I think
> they really do believe this. Why shouldn't they? They have been taught it
> since birth. YECs believe the nonsense they believe, even at four in the
> morning lying awake. Romans beleived in the kinds of Gods they believed
> in. I don't see a problem with a Mormon believing what he says he
> believes. You believe what you say you believe don't you? I do to.
> >Take a look at Ezekiel 28. It's that kind of thing that a genuine
> theology of the cross
> >(grounded in the belief that the true God really died on the cross in
> human history)
> >gets at.
> Fine, but once again, you are using your assumptions. Assumptions define
> the mental/philosophical/religious playing ground. What you are doing is
> like applying the rules of Monopoly to the game of RISK. It simply doesn't
> work. Mormons believe that latter day revelation supplants earlier
> revelation. So do the Muslims. and so do the Christians because we added
> the NT to the OT. Thus applying Ezek. 28 to them might not have the effect
> you intend because their assumption is different.
> > I don't say "You don't accept my set of assumptions and therefore you're
> wrong."
> >I explain my beliefs, inclus=ding the historical grounding for them, and
> say why I think
> >they address issues of the human condition that other assumptions don't.
> I invite them
> >to at least a willing suspension of disbelief, to look tentatively at
> their life & the
> >world from that standpoint.

Of course I realize that Mormons will present their arguments as well.
At the very least, by trying to focus on Christian fundamentals we may be on grounds
where something positive, as distinguished from the merely negative work of showing that
the Bk of M is wrong, MAY be done: The best defence is a good offence. In the same
way, I try as quickly as possible to get Jehovah's Witnesses off speculations about the
end times & onto the question of who Christ is.
But note that I say "May": I make no claim at all to be presenting an
infallible method of apologetics. Certainly Mormons are deeply committed to
their beliefs & I have no illusion that just telling them they're wrong will change
that. But if (as Christians believe) there is some fundamental discord between false
faith commitment & genuine human existence then trying to get at things at that level
seems to offer some promise. Whether or not my or your approach "works" is ultimately up
to the Holy Spirit.

> and when I had 6 weeks of momon missionary visits, they invited me to do
> the same thing--look tentatively at my life from their standpoint. They
> encouraged me to pray and seek the truth in these matters.
> What you are missing is that without concordism what we have with regard to
> evidence is a mirror image of what the other religions have. Anything you
> can say, they can say too. This is why concordism must be made to work if
> it can be.

This is a little like saying that relativity is a mirror image of Newtonian
physics. It may be as far as logical structure goes, but not content.

> > Certainly it may be appropriate to talk about the lack of historical &c
> evidence
> >for the Book of Mormon. I think what's most effective has to be decided
> on a case by
> >case basis.
> I find more effect with this. Why? Because we share the same assumption
> that there should be evidence for what actually happened in the past. And
> we share the same assumption that lack of evidence, while not proof of the
> negative, does raise questions about whether or not something actually
> happened. Once again, this is where concordism has it all over the
> theologically true but non-historical views. We (mormons, muslims and us)
> don't share the same view of what is theologically true

Perhaps - but as I note above, as long as you're doing this you're arguing on
Mormon territory. I don't see much in Acts, e.g., of _detailed_ argument against
paganism in the missionary preaching. Paul's messaage to the pagans is, "There's a much
better way."

> >> No, you told me your theological assumptions were the correct assumptions.
> >> If I don't accept your assumptions, I am not bound by your conclusions. You
> >> didn't tell me any reason why your assumptions are correct. No data, no
> >> chain of reasoning that would grab a person whose assumptions are different
> >> than yours. Sure, if the Mormon suddenly decides to accept your assumption
> >> then he will say "AH I see you are correct George". The problem is that he
> >> doesn't accept what you assume. He doesn't accept that polytheism is wrong,
> >> he doesn't accept that works is a bad way to be saved. This is what I find
> >> so frustrating about theologians (and my middle son is starting semitary, I
> >> mean seminary). They tend to assume that their theological assumptions are
> >> somehow unassailable and thus expect that everyone should accept what they
> >> derive from their assumptions. That just isn't the way the world works.
> >
> > I don't know what seminaries or theologians you're familiar with but this
> would
> >be a complete misrepresentation of ones in my branch of the church.
> George, I would respectfully submit that what you are doing in this
> argument is precisely that.

Of course our fundamental beliefs aren't things we can change every couple of
days. Serious Christian theologians have serious faith commitments, & that's true of
Muslims, Mormons, &c. But theologians I deal with (& I hope I as well) don't just say,
"Take it or leave it." In fact, if a student enters an ELCA seminary with a simplistic
& unreflective attitude toward the faith, theologians & biblical scholars will force him
or her to examine those assumptions & beliefs critically all the way down to the most
basic level. Of course that raises doubts &c - it isn't a risk-free process. But, as
one of my fellow students put it, "When you become a Christian, you don't have to blow
your brains out."

>YOu have assumed that orthodox christianity is
> truth. I also assume that. But then you argue that the morman is wrong
> based upon the implications of orthodox christianity. When discussing
> things with someone outside of our faith, it is useless to expect them to
> agree that orthodox christianity is true prior to them becoming believers.
> They really don't accept the fundamentals of the orthodox christian faith.
> > Again I refer to my paper from the ASA meeting.
> I will re-read it after I get my furniture out of storage next week.
> Just as in science, one can't
> >evaluate theological presuppositions by whether or not they have some a
> priori
> >plausibility. You have to work out there consequences & see if they
> correspond with
> >experience. In the case of theology, that means considering how well they
> address both
> >personal existential concerns and knowledge of the physical world,
> history, &c.
> How well they address the physical world and history, I can understand.
> How well they address personal existential concerns is much more nebulous.
> When I was in China, I found that their view of existence was much
> different than ours. And I didn't find their view better or worse, I just
> found it different. Such cultural differences may play a role in how one
> judges the efficacy of a view addressing personal existential concerns.
> If
> >you're not willing to get into the system far enough to see what the
> consequences of the
> >basic presuppositions are, of course you'll never believe them. If you
> refuse even to
> >consider the possibility that the speed of light is the same for everyone
> then you'll be
> >a Newtonian all your life.
> True, but at least with SR and GR, I can show observational data that
> doesn't fit Newtonian mechanics. What do I show to someone to convince
> them that existential concerns are better handled in the western system of
> thought vs. the eastern or even the muslim view? Since they view their
> place in the cosmos totally different than most westerners do, it is hard
> to even communicate much less get them to acknowledge the superiority of
> western thought (which isn't superior).

Yes, but remember that Christianity was not originally a "western" religion.
& to some extent getting rid of Greek presuppositions can get us closer to the kinds of
things I think need to be said about Christ & God.

> > Here the matter is somewhat different because Muslims don't believe that
> Jesus
> >died on the cross. & that isn't because of historical study but because
> Islam, like
> >the Judaism of Paul's time, could not imagine a crucified Messiah who
> "died in
> >weakness."
> They also don't believe that God had a son. Jesus was merely a prophet.

Not "merely": While Jesus isn't Son of God in Islam he is the virgin-born
Messiah who will preside at the Last Judgment. In fact, Muslims have a higher
christology than some (N.B.) liberal Christians! So in talking about Jesus with Muslims
we're to some extent on common ground.
> In fact, a great deal of what passes for Christianity would just as soon
> >get past the cross as quickly as possible and move on to Easter. Muslims
> have a way of
> >avoiding the cross entirely. & the problem isn't so much with willingness
> to apply
> >historical criticism to the gospels - they're quite happy to do that - but
> with the fact
> >that they're completely unwilling to apply it to the Quran.
> I would take it from this that the Muslims should historically analyze
> their book, realize it is non-historical and then reject the Koran. But I
> know lots of atheists who tell me that christians should historically
> analyze their book, realize that it is non-historical and then reject the
> Bible. And indeed you reject historicity

NO, NO, NO! I do _not_ "reject historicity". I do not think that all
the Bible is historical narrative.

but fail to conclude that the
> Bible is wrong. You say parts of it are non-historical but theologically
> true. If you can do this for the Bible, why can't a Muslim or Morman do it
> for their book?
> Why can't they say their book is historically inaccruate
> but theologically true?

I'm not committed to thinking that _everything_ in the Quran or the Book of
Mormon is false. Sooner or later we have to get to the theological discussion - I want
to do it sooner & you later. It may be that you'll convince some Muslims that their
book is historically wrong & they'll then say, "OK, I surrender. Now tell me the
truth." Fine. If you then tell them the real gospel & they believe it, great. If you
simply left it (as I know you wouldn't!) with convincing them that the New Testament is
historically accurate then they would have asked for a bread & you would have given them
a stone.

> The fact that it contradicts historical and
> orthodox christianity seems an insufficient reason to me. It seems to me
> that you are holding two standards one for christians and one for others.
I confess to believing Christianity true & working on that basis. OTOH, your
presupposition that _all_ theologically true statements must be historically accurate
(at least approximately!) seems to me
a. not deep enough to get at the real issues, &
b. simply wrong.
(I realize that you yourself have a deeper commitment than that to the truth of
Christianity. I refer here to formal presuppositions used in discussion.)

George L. Murphy