Independent Thoughts

Just now as I was perusing Greek professor Dr. David Alan Black’s unblog, I was struck by the following from his Friday, July 31 entry:

As I was riding along a thought had been forming in my subconscious mind and now I let it surface and examined it. One of the things I really want to emphasize in my classes this year is independent thinking. Tell me, do you have a mind of your own so that you reach your own mature, Christian convictions? Or are you like the persons described in Ephesians 4 who are tossed unsteadily about by the strange doctrines of others and whose opinion is always that of the last person they spoke to or the last book they read? You don’t know what you believe or why you believe what you do believe. I strongly believe that all of us need to develop a holy discontentment with the ecclesiastical status quo (bold added).

Amen! This idea was one of the thoughts undergirding yesterday’s Consider the Source post.

For Black’s thoughts on what a New Testament ‘church’ (ekklēsia) should look like, see his booklet Seven Marks of a New Testament Church: A Guide for Christians of All Ages.

Continuing Black’s words:

Most of us are too conservative, too complacent, too content to parrot what others are saying. We are content with our church practices and polities even when there is no scriptural support for them. The end result is a dull, mindless, conformity. But Paul teaches that the church should be constantly growing into maturity in Christ. I don’t know the way through to the other side on this one, folks, but I do know that I don’t want to be ruled by ravenous groupthink anymore. Full life is lived when we have a personal encounter with the living God through his word, and when the mind and heart work together to discover and practice the truth. Coming back to a tired old cliché, less is more. Less commentaries, more Bible. Less podcasts, more listening to the Holy Spirit. In my life, I’m a more kind of guy, and I struggle with making this transition. But if I don’t make it, how can I turn around and ask my students to do the same? It would be a dreadful thing to be deluded in this matter — to think that we are pleasing God with our minds when we are not. The only way to avoid this error is to find out what God wants by turning to his word, the Bible. This is what I will doing in my four classes this fall, and my five in the spring. Holy discontentment will be an emphasis in my teaching this year because I am concerned that much of our thinking about the church is confused and often unbiblical. Don’t take my word for it. Make up your own mind to study the Scriptures to see what God says about this important subject! (bold added for my emphasis)

It’s as if he took the thoughts right out of my head and filtered them through his own experiences!

I’ve long been frustrated with the way ‘church’ has become a “dull, mindless, conformity”. Where’s the true vibrancy of Christian fellowship? It’s too often a Sunday-only thing, with the rest of the week consumed by secular concerns. Bible study? That’s many times relegated to whatever time is left after all other ‘obligations’. And, of course, that typically means no time at all.

I differ a little bit, though, as I do enjoy reading commentaries for points of view I’d not considered. Or points of view that are not commonly promoted. In a post I’ve been working on for a while (taking MUCH longer than I’d anticipated!), after wrestling with the Greek text, I turned to a few commentaries for clarification on matters. Most, of course, parrot the same line; but, there were a few with some different lines of enquiry. Now, that gets me thinking! It doesn’t mean they are right, and there are times when I’ll reject a particular line of thought. But there are other times when the insights of the writer provide astute illumination to the text. In response, my heart and spirit overflow with joy: “Yes!” How wondrous is his word!

Yet, I constantly struggle with this thought: Am I reading/studying/thinking for my own intellectual curiosity, or is there a higher purpose? Am I pleasing God or myself—or both? I hope it’s both.

14 Responses to Independent Thoughts

  1. Jim says:

    Good points raised Craig. Like you, I can be dragged away for hours, days, weeks by intellectual curiosity and research to the detriment of ‘real living’ (my term not yours). I enjoy it but sometimes feel those not inclined to study become frustrated at a perceived lack of activity and I’m left battling a guilt of study in a busy world.

    One of the main problems I encounter with not being content with blue pill life is that in choosing the red pill we have to do some sometimes uncomfortable readjusting and then try and communicate and live that out in the everyday relationships of those around us who are quite happy popping blue pills. It can set up tension.

    I think church is predominantly and often intentionally blue and finds those in the red corner difficult, or rebellious, or non-conformist and therefore it’s very easy to give those enquirers the left foot of fellowship. It is so important to see another viewpoint with the humbleness that recognises words have only a limited means of communicating the rich depth and diverse expression of an idea as it interacts with another human mind. And therefore that should breed patience, but too many times it breeds distance at first and then division.

    Doctrinal fundamentals are so important, but we can land up like Job and his companions having God so wrapped up in our confined thinking, our presuppositions all neatly arranged and unchallengeable, and our judgement at the ready of anyone who dare question them, that relationships become so strained, even broken as a result; the very opposite of Christian living.

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  2. Craig says:

    Glad to hear you’re of a similar mind. And this intellectual curiosity for me means I have many abandoned projects due to initial hypotheses proven wrong. But I always learn something along the way. And I learn as I write many times.

    …that relationships become so strained, even broken as a result; the very opposite of Christian living.

    Yep, I can attest to this. It’s not me who will walk away; it’s the others. This induces self-reflection. Upon reflection, I find that I rarely if ever have received a valid response from the other, besides a feeling that I’ve somehow crossed too far over a (perceived) ‘orthodoxy’ bridge to nowhere, causing them to sever it on their side, leaving me nowhere to go . As I try to build a bridge towards understanding, they refuse to bridge the gap. The chasm remains.

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  3. Jim says:

    That last section is all too close to home sadly. Or two homes I should say. The chasm remains.

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  4. Craig says:

    And that includes socio-political views.

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  5. Craig says:

    Jim,

    [continuing]…It helped me hone my own theology and debate skills, especially with respect to Christology and the Trinity.

    But through it all, I learned more of the Jewish background of the NT, and it led me towards different views of the NT. The Jewish non-Christians complained the NT quotes the Tanakh (OT) out of context. Of course, NT writers mostly claim the NT understandings are the ‘fuller revelation’ of the Tanakh/OT; but, the problem is that this ‘fuller revelation’ would sometimes contradict the historical context of that from which it was taken. But what if the solution is both/and? That is, what if BOTH are true simultaneously, such that the new NT interpretation is meant to stand alongside the Tanakh without construing them as mutually exclusive? This is the essence of Jewish midrash writings. And I submit the NT writers employed a similar hermeneutic in appropriating the Tanakh.

    It was only in the midst of conversing on that blog that this thought occurred to me. Had anyone else already ventured down this path? I figured someone had. And I was right. Here’s an example:

    Click to access JETS%2051-2%20353-381%20Pickup.pdf

    I’m convinced this will go a LONG way towards untangling some tortured NT interpretations–and their corresponding OT distortions. But some will construe that this, in effect, denies the historicity of parts of the NT, which then supposedly demeans the integrity and inerrancy of Scripture. No, it doesn’t; but, many would not see it that way. It’s that ‘orthodoxy’ thing again. But this has freed me to better interpret the Gospel of John, as that has been the main focus of my studies. John’s Gospel is the masterpiece of Scripture as far as I’m concerned. So multi-layered!

    I started an article on this ‘midrashic exegesis’ over a year ago, centering on Galatians 3. Don’t know if I’ll ever finish it! I’d already read a bit about the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it was this reading coupled with everything mentioned above that got me to better see this as a possible hermeneutic. I also came up with a name I like much better: Pesheric exegesis. “Pesherim” is the term in Aramaic for the ‘midrashic’ hermeneutic I mention above. I think “Pesheric” is better, for that is the model the Qumran community used in the DSS: they took the Tanakh and refashioned texts through the filter of their “Righteous Teacher”, arriving at wholly different ‘fuller’ meanings for the original text in the Tanakh. The word “midrash” has some baggage, because there’s a body of work known as “Midrash”, which some would see as heresy from the Christian perspective. (Im writing all this kinda fast, so it may not convey my thoughts as coherently as I’d like–and it’s bedtime for me, too.)

    Question to ponder: how many years was Jesus’ earthly ministry?

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  6. Jim says:

    Right, thanks Craig. Yeah, that’s good. I’ve found this resource useful to get a better way of getting in to the mind of the writers and audience in the 1st century: http://www.hebrew-streams.org/frontstuff/madrikh.html . It doesn’t particularly favour a trinitarian construct of God, nor is it being specifically anti-trinitarian though.

    I have long wrestled with the notion that Paul and others seemingly cherry picked verses often out of their broader context to support doctrinal positions. At least, that how it appears, but quite probably their way of approaching the OT books was not the same as ours for exegetical purposes.

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  7. Craig says:

    The site looks useful, with some caveats. I checked out “Monotheism”, looking at this one in particular:

    http://www.hebrew-streams.org/works/ntstudies/john2028.html

    Positively, the writer looks outside the immediate verse and looks to broader contexts. But his conclusion is odd, with its referent in John 17:3 and not taking into account its immediate context to include 17:5. Nonetheless, it more obviously is one side of the frame with John 1:1, plus the intervening context.

    ADDED: At least he doesn’t try to deny it via grammar, which is irrefutable.

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  8. Jim says:

    John 17:5 – The world, as in created order, began on Day 2 though, so the glory the pre-incarnate Jesus/Logos enjoyed with the Father began at some point before the close of Day 1.

    I think the point the author of that article is making is that when it comes to a definition of who God is relative to Jesus, we’re better off taking Jesus’s own words in 17:3 rather than supporting a doctrinal position from Thomas’s exclamation in 20:28. At least, that what it seems to be reading.

    Kind of odd, but not really. I agree straining grammar and sentence structure, especially commas, is always awkward. For example, shifting the comma in Luke 23:43 to ‘Truly I say to you today,’ from, ‘Truly I say to you, today’ in order to explain away that Jesus and the thief would not be together in Paradise in a few hours time. The simple answer there is that Jesus was answering the question about when He will come in to his kingdom. We know that only happens when he returns to earth and then assumes Lordship and rule over all. At that point, Jesus declares, is when the thief will be with Jesus. This isn’t a proof text for an immediate immaterial afterlife but is used as such. Opposition tries to apply the comma shift when it’s actually not required.

    Anyway, that’s beside the point above, but thought it worth a mention 🙂 worms and can…..?

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  9. Craig says:

    That’s why I said “with caveats”. It’s always good to see another’s perspective on things

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  10. Craig says:

    And I recall our discussions on John 17:5, but I don’t wish to rehash here.

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  11. Jim says:

    ‘I don’t wish to rehash here’.

    Good call. Although there’s scope for some edited highlights perhaps. Ok, no let’s not! I actually think those super-threads should be collated and published. I don’t know how it works but I assume they’re your intellectual property Craig.

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  12. Craig says:

    I’m not want to stifle conversation, so If you want to go back over to the thread where we had that discussion, you can do so.

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  13. Craig says:

    But first you have to go over to my Misc tab and see the comment I just made there.

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