Posts for Sep, 2007.

9/23/2007 1:40:00 PM

Pictures of Jesus

Posted Sunday, September 23, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
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The Wheaton College Graduate School is housed in the Billy Graham Center. The bottom floor of this building contains a large museum dedicated to Graham and evangelism during the 20th century. Currently there is an exhibit of pictures of Jesus by Warner Sallman, pictures which I am sure at least some of you have seen before. As I was looking at them, I began to ponder whether these were legitimate pictures of Jesus. I came to the conclusion that they were and they were not.

They were not legitimate in the sense that they accurately portray what Jesus actually looked like. I hate to break this to you, but Jesus was not European! He looked very little like this pictures which were done by Sallman. A more likely portrait is the one done by Popular Mechanics several years ago.  

But on the other hand, it is legitimate. It helps people to identify with Jesus. It is other than us, but it is also close enough to us that we can identify with it. It is much easier to identify with the Sallman Jesus than the Popular Mechanics Jesus, in my opinion, precisely becuase it is closer to us. So I do not think it was morally wrong of Sallman to paint these pictures.

But this brings up interesting questions. Can we picture Jesus in any way we want? Is an African Jesus legitimate? How about an Arab Jesus? An Asian Jesus? I would have to say that these kind of pictures would be fine because they help people to identify with Jesus. After all, we do believe in the Incarnation, don't we? But to get a little more radical, how about a female Jesus? Would that be legitimate?  

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9/19/2007 4:38:00 PM

Upon the Altar of the Nation

Just war theory and the Civil War

Posted Wednesday, September 19, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Military Issues   Comments: 6
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Besides theology and biblical studies, the other major category of reading I do is military history. I am no expert in the topic, but it is a nice diversion from too much Hebrew. But since I am doing more thinking about just war theory and war in the Bible, I have been more interested in finding works that do a Christian military history, or a moral history. Upon the Altar of the  Nation by Harry Stout is the first work I have found in this genre and it is an excellent introduction. Stout looks at the Civil War from a moral perspective to see what he will find. He comes to two main conclusions in my reading of the book. The structure of the book follows the war throughout the time of actual fighting and looks at both the tactics as well as the attitudes of the soldiers, generals, the preachers back home and the newspapers.

1.      He spends most of his time looking at whether the Civil War was a justly fought war. He decides (strongly) that it was not fought in a just manner. There was little sense of proportion, for example, and by the end of the war civilians were almost being viewed as military personnel. But that is not what he is highly concerned. His major point is that it was an unjust war and NO ONE CARED. The papers on both sides as well as the preachers, of all denominations, ignored the unjust aspects of the war and simply supported their side. They did argue about the war was being conducted, but only on rare occasions was a concern raised about a moral issue.

2.      The reason that no moral issue was raised, according to Stout, is that a civil religion was being formed. A glue was needed to keep each side together, and a civil American religion became key for both sides, and especially the North. For example, generals were priests. The dead in battle became martyrs, and were spoken of dying as upon the altar of the nation. When the nation collective becomes the god, then no moral questions are needed to be asked, because all means can be taken for the service of God.

Implications for today? Two areas. First, we need to be more discerning and questioning about wars going on today and how they are being conducted. Second, we need to be aware of the American civil religion and not be deceived by a confusion of a civil religion with our following of God. It is a great book, and any of you interested in military history should read it.

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9/12/2007 7:03:00 PM

Gadamer and Understanding

Posted Wednesday, September 12, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Culture and Theology   Comments: None
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For our theological interpretation class we have been reading about Gadamer. I had never heard of Gadamer previous to this class, but he has some good things to say, along with many things about which I disagree. He was a German philosopher who published his most famous work, Truth and Method, in 1960. In a sense, he is halfway between modernism and postmodernism.

One of his key points, which evangelicals need to take to heart, is how situated each of us is in our historical and cultural context. It is not just that the answers we get are skewed because of our surroundings, but even the questions we ask are a product of our surroundings and culture. Deconstructionism takes this to the extreme and says that it is virtually impossible to know anything, but Gadamer attempts to rescue some kind of objective truth. His main thought is that agreement is knowledge. That is, if people agree in a Hegelian sort of way, then some kind of objective knowledge can be reached. Each person should have an interpretative humility, where they seek to learn from everyone, even if it is just to learn how to correctly reject their view. Gadamer also, somewhat inconsistently, takes a high view of tradition: since we are historically situated, then we do not know enough to be to critique, so we should simply and humbly accept it.

There are various ways to take this into a Christian context. The idea would be that we can know and believe as Christians because we are part of a believing community. We are not out to seek the truth as the Lone Ranger, but we seek it along with the community. There is much to commend this, but it also has problems. Which community do you follow, for example? What happens when communities disagree? How is someone like Luther explained who goes against his community?

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9/8/2007 9:33:00 AM

Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine

Posted Saturday, September 08, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Book Reviews   Comments: None
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Since I am an OT guy, most of my reading is in biblical studies and not theology, and the theology that I do read tends to be written by evangelicas. This book was an eye opener for me and not quite what I expected. Since the book covers Christianity in very broad strokes, I was expecting a not very helpful work with which I would disagree on every page. While there were some points that this was true, there was much good material in the book. I've included an extended review below, but here are a few of the essays.

Vanhoozer's chapter on human beings was my favorite in the book (Vanhoozer is quickly becoming one of my favorite theologians). He focuses upon humans as communicative beings, as a way to avoid being focuses too much upon either essence or action. This communication is based upon the Trinity.

Colin Gunton has an excellent chapter on creation. While I would not pick creation to be one of the top eight doctrines, he does a great job showing its importance. He makes the startling claim that the current ecological crisis is not the fault of Christianity, but of atheism, since they do not view the world as being created by God.

One chapter began arguing for the continuing relevance of the OT promises to the Jews, a conclusion with which I was very surprised. Did a dispenstationalist sneak in? Well, it turned out not to be the case, becuase the chapter ends with a call to stop evangelizing Jews becuase they are all saved anyway.  

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9/6/2007 5:21:00 PM

Wheaton PhD

Posted Thursday, September 06, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
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I have now completed my first week of studies in the PhD program at Wheaton College and I thought I would pass along what I am doing, either so that you can be jealous of my position or happy that you are not here.

1. Classes. We have four required PhD seminars for the program, which consist of reading a lot, arguing in class about the reading, and then writing a paper. The one I am taking right now is theological interpretation of Scripture, which I might write about at some point. I am also auditing some classes, which means I sit in on master's level classes and do the reading but no tests or papers. I am currenting taking Deuteronomy from Dan Block, historical theology of the ancient church from George Kalanzis and Haggai/Malachi from Andrew Hill.

2. Comprehensive reading. We each have a list of books to read by the time we gradaute. Mine is 12 pages long. 35 of the books I have to write 6-8 page reviews.

3. Dissertation. We have to present in the spring a detailed proposal to the PhD committee, so we need to be working on that project as well.

4. Langauges. I just found out I passed out the German test, but I need to continue working on being able to read it quickly. French is next summer's project.

5. I also work ten hours a week for one of the professors, Daniel Master. He is the dig director at Ashkelon. 

I seriously don't know how people do this if they working at the same time.



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9/4/2007 2:39:00 PM

Mind and Emotion

Posted Tuesday, September 04, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Culture and Theology   Comments: 2
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I heard a pastor say a statement recently that I have also said but that struck me as wrong when I heard it. The statement was that we need to make sure our mind tells our heart what to do, because the heart is the location of our sinful nature. The problem I had with this was two-fold. First, it was dualistic: it made a absolutely good mind and an evil heart. Secondly, it ignored total depravity: every aspect of our being is corrupted sin, including our mind. Therefore, a time might happen when we need to follow our heart and not our mind. This emphasis upon the mind refects our fascination with the Enlightenment, where the mind is given priority to understand anything, without prejudice. But there is no perfectly neutral obersver, we are all situated somewhere and we all have preconceived notions of some kind. We have been dramatically affected by our culture (modernism, in this case) and confused that with a biblical worldview. 

By the way, I do think the statement still  has some validity. For example, David talks to himself and I think we should do the same type of thing (O soul, why are you downcast?). We need to remind ourselves of truth and the proper way to feel and live. But sometimes our mind needs to be taught, too. 

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