Sunday, November 25, 2007

O is for Observation (this is tedious but gives you an idea of the kinds of observations noted for further study)

Actually, this project and these observations represent a fraction of the readings and observations I normally make. Other projects have involved observations in of Genesis 1-13; Exodus 19-24/Deuteronomy 4,5 and 28-32/Leviticus 26 (this one slew of observations was 31 pages long, if that gives you an idea); and Luke 1-15. The Psalm project was considerably easier than all of the above.

Kid Christmas


Professor Tremper

12 November 2007

IBP # 3: Psalm Project – Psalm 118

I. Observations

A. Theme – God’s love endures forever (1)

B. Key Words – faithful, love, endures, forever, refuge, surrounded, thanks (1)

C. Laws of Composition – figurative language – metaphor, simile, repetition, rhyme of thought, personification, pleonasm, apostrophe, enveloping, refrain (2)

D. Type of Psalm – Thanksgiving [for victory] (2)

E. Observations of Psalm 118

1. Verses 1-4

a. Repeats the same refrain “His faithful love endures forever,” yet calls for this refrain from Israel, house of Aaron, and those who fear the Lord (2)

1) What is it about God’s “faithful love” that is forever enduring?

2) How does this endure forever?

3) Why is this a key characteristic of God in this Psalm?

4) Who is the speaker?

5) Why does the speaker ask for a repetition of the refrain from Israel, house of Aaron, and those who fear the Lord?

6) What does “those who fear the Lord” mean? – synecdoche?

b. The repetition makes a bold statement of rejoicing(2)

c. Forms part of the “envelope” for the entire Psalm with the refrain (2)

d. This stanza states the purpose of the psalm – to give thanks (4)

2. Verses 5-7

a. Recounts the moment of distress (2)

b. Uses a rhetorical question – “What can man do to me?” (2)

c. Uses “a spacious place” as a figure – what does this mean? And is it like a circumlocution? (3)

d. Repeats “I” like a pleonasm (3)

e. Why is God equated to a “helper”? (4)

3. Verses 8, 9

a. These verses use antithetic parallelism by making a statement about trusting God and then comparing God to men/nobles (3)

b. Lays out a spiritual principal about the blessing of trusting God (3)

c. Repeats “It is better” and “take refuge in the Lord” as a kind of emphatic repetition (epanadiplosis or epizeuxis) (3)

d. Why would someone trust nobles and man? (4)

4. Verses 10-14

a. What are “the nations”? – metonymy – why so many enemies? (3)

b. What is “the name of the Lord”? – metonymy (3)

c. Uses simile (like bees, fire) – how does this language affect the image of the enemy? – why use fire and bees? (3)

d. Uses metaphorical language to describe God – strength, song, salvation – how does this work? – what do these qualities confirm about God’s character? – why are these qualities important for victory in battle? (3)

e. Repeats the same phraseology (“in the name of the Lord,” “they surrounded me”) for emphasis – epanadiplosis – why is there such repetition of phrases? – Is this a refrain technique? (3)

f. Action verbs repeated (destroyed, extinguished, surrounded, pushed, helped) – what does this do to the tension of the stanza? (3)

g. Who is “You” in verse 13? – “You pushed me hard to make me fall” (3)

h. Why is the “name of the Lord” required alongside victorious action? (3)

i. This is a description of a battle, but it never says “battle” explicitly – Why? (3)

j. Is God working with, alongside, in, through, or for the speaker? – why would God work against the speaker’s enemies? (4)

5. Verses 15-18

a. “Tents of the righteous” – who are “the righteous”? – Is this a synecdoche? (2)

b. Personification of God – “The Lord’s right hand” – also repeats this description three times exuberantly (3)

c. Why the “right hand” and not the left? (3)

d. Why the “hand” and not the foot? (3)

e. “The Lord’s right hand strikes with power!” frames “The Lord’s right hand is raised!” – these three lines form a refrain or an epanadiplosis within the stanza (3)

f. Verse 17 repeats “I” and uses “but” to show contrast between the first “I” and the second “I” (3)

g. Why does this stanza seem to infer that the speaker was close to death as a result of disobedience (that he/she needed disciplining)? (3)

h. Why would God want to kill the speaker? Is this hyperbole? (3)

i. Why does the speaker want to “proclaim what the Lord has done”? – does this contradict what others might do in the same situation? (4)

6. Verses 19-24

a. To who is “open” a command in verse 19? (3)

b. What/where are the “gates of righteousness”? – circumlocution – why should the speaker enter through them? – is this necessary to give thanks to God? (3)

c. Repeats “You” – pleonasm – why the emphasis of You rather than a name for God? (3)

d. Why is the speaker giving thanks? (3)

e. Uses metaphorical language to describe God (“become my salvation”) (3)

f. Who is the “stone” and “cornerstone”? – metaphor – why is this language being used? (3)

g. In verse 23, what is “This” and “it” that came from the Lord and is wonderful? (3)

h. What does “This is the day that the Lord has made” mean? – what is the day for? – is it different from other days? (synecdoche) (3)

i. Who are the people included in “us” in verse 24? (3)

j. Why do “the righteous” enter the “gates of righteousness”? – why does the gate belong to “the Lord”? – what does God owning the gate indicate about His nature? (4)

k. What was the speaker’s question or call that the Lord would have “answered”? (5)

l. Does the stone and cornerstone allude to Christ? (5)

m. Why were the gates closed? (5)

7. Verses 25-29

a. Who are the “us” in verse 25? (3)

b. What are they being saved from? – does this refer back to the second stanza? (3)

c. Why is the one blessed “who comes in the name of the Lord”? (3)

d. Why do the “we” from verse 26 bless people from “the house of the Lord”? – what is “the house of the Lord”? (3)

e. Why has God given “light”? (3)

f. Why is there a sacrifice being offered? (3)

g. Verse 28 contains a synonymous parallelism – why is the phrase “You are my God” emphasized? – what does using the possessive “my” do to the tone of the phrase? – what does this phrase demonstrate about God’s personal qualities? (3)

h. The psalm ends how it begins with “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever,” completing the envelope (frame) begun in the first lines of the psalm – why does the speaker frame the psalm this way? – what does it emphasize? (3)

i. What kind of “success” is being asked for? (5)

j. What are “the horns of the altar”? (5)

k. Does the speaker represent more than just him/herself at times, like representing the people as a whole? (synecdoche) (5)

F. Basic Outline – Psalm 118

1. The purpose of the Psalm (1-4)

a. Give thanks

b. People give thanks

2. The situation that invokes thankfulness (5-7)

a. A call of distress

b. The rescue

3. A principle of trust (8, 9)

a. God is trustworthy

b. Humans are not trustworthy

4. A description of the battle (10-14)

a. The overwhelming position of the enemy

b. The victory of partnership between God and speaker

5. A declaration of God’s justice (15-18)

a. God’s right hand is praised by those in the tents of righteousness

b. The speaker is thankful for God’s mercy

6. Entering into a place of righteousness and praise (19-24)

a. The speaker enters a good place (in life)

b. The speaker describes the blessing of a secure position

7. Final requests of and blessings to God (25-29)

a. A request for continued success

b. A sacrifice of praise

I is for Interpretation of Genre

I. Formal Essay

The Nature of Biblical Poetry: the Challenges Created by the Ancient Poet

Poetry is a literary form dating as far back as any other kind of literature, if not the farthest, because of the way in which poetic verses are easily called to memory. Ancient Biblical poetry presents a number of difficulties to modern readers because the original poets had a specific goal in mind that was couched within their particular historical situation. How does Biblical poetry challenge the modern reader? In general, Biblical poetry uses figures of speech and other language structures that were specific to its time and context and that are not often obvious in the present day. Specifically, as is the focus of this essay, the Psalms present further poetic challenges through their many purposes and forms. The original goal, the several different types, and the language of the Psalms are the three main barriers to understanding the vast and wonderful content of the Psalms.

The original goal of the Psalms is buried beneath years of history, presenting a challenge to modern readers when they try to understand the purpose of these ancient song-poems. Psalms were originally meant to be heard in the context of a worshipful conversation with God, and each psalm “served the crucial function of making connection between the worshiper and God” (Fee 210). Biblical Psalms were usually “sung in worship at the temple” and were highly valued by the Israelites as well as other ruling nations (Klein 354). As such, the Psalms, like most poetry, are individual and independent from each other; each psalm is “its own literary context” (Klein 358). This means that each psalm does not depend upon any other psalm for the meaning of its context, but this does not separate the psalm from a certain sense of historical context (358). Again, this historical context would normally place the psalm as an element of temple worship. The historical context being such, the modern reader of psalms can use the psalms as “a guide to worship,” a demonstration of honest dialogue with God, and a reminder of the positive benefit of “reflection and meditation on things that God has done for us” (Fee 223). However, the modern reader is also challenged not to “overexegete” the psalms (207). The psalms are “addressed to the mind through the heart” (207), so the interpretation of a psalm should lead to an emotional effect rather than a purely mental effect. Using the Psalms as a tool to allow emotions to flow to God is perhaps the best way to understand the original goal of the psalmist.

Another challenge to readers is the challenge of understanding the original purpose behind each psalm. The historical function of the biblical Psalms was to make a connection between people as they express their emotions to God as He listens. However, as much as there is a wide array of emotion to be expressed, so too are there many genre of psalms found within the Biblical collection. Understanding the genre of a psalm better aids the reader in understanding the emotional and worshipful goal of the original author. There are several different types of Psalms: lament, thanksgiving, hymns of praise, salvation-history, celebration, affirmation, wisdom, songs of trust, and imprecatory (Fee 212-214, 220). Identifying what type of psalm is being read then allows the reader to read the poetic language of the poem in light of its specific function. For example, a lament expresses deep sorrow and distress regarding the true-to-life experience of the author. Knowing that a psalm is a lament will aid the reader in understanding the type of emotional poetic language being used.

The Psalms employ figurative language from an ancient time where useful analogies and other relationships between words may be lost to modern readers. Common to all psalms is a use of metaphor and simile. Both figures of speech make comparisons between two essentially different things in order to add color or to infer a new meaning based upon the juxtaposed relationship. When interpreting ancient metaphors and similes, the savvy interpreter should try to “listen” for the original “intent” of the language (Fee 208). Likewise, when hyperbole, asyndeton, synecdoche, repetition, or personification confront the reader, identifying the genre of each individual psalm as well as the original goal of the poet will help flesh out the possible meanings of figurative language (Tremper 34-36). Having a firm understanding of figurative language is essential to understanding the Psalms since poetic language is not usually literal in any way.

Many challenges face both the casual reader and the experienced Bible scholar when interpreting psalms. The distance of time between the ancient days and modern days makes understanding Biblical psalms difficult for three reasons: the original goal, the genre, and the figurative language all stand as barriers to proper hermeneutics. The way to overcome these challenges is to carefully reconstruct the original intent of the psalm as well as the social environment in which it was read. With this understanding, describing the psalm in terms of its genre helps the informed reader gain valuable insight into the many figures of speech found therein. The Psalms are challenging but not impossible. The most important thing to remember about interpreting the Psalms is to focus upon the emotional impact of the psalm and to not use the psalm in a setting much different than its original setting of worshipful connection with God.

I is for Interpretation

III. Poetical Analysis of Psalm 118

Psalm 118: If the Shoe Fits, Wear It

Genre provides several key pieces of information for biblical psalms. Genre helps to narrow the function of the psalm down from a more general function in a worshipful setting to a specific function that addresses the needs of a specific worship event. Worship, that act of connecting people to God through expressive songs, serves several purposes, and the many purposes of worship help define common psalm genres. When dealing with a specific psalm, the first step towards interpretation is picking which function of worship is most appropriate. What are the various genres of the Psalms? The genre types for the Psalms include the lament, thanksgiving, hymns of praise, salvation history, celebration/affirmation, wisdom, and songs of trust. Analyzing Psalm 118, for example, through the lens of genre will demonstrate the usefulness and necessity of using genre to create a deeper understanding of the original historical event that inspired the psalm.

The reader can often identify the genre of a psalm by reading through the first couple of lines. The intent of the psalm is often placed right at the beginning. Psalm 118 begins with “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good” (HCSB), and from this explicit beginning, the psalm speak immediately about thanksgiving. Fee and Stuart identify a general form that all thanksgiving psalms follow; the form has five parts: introduction, distress, appeal, deliverance, and testimony (218). The form progresses from general praise of God to the specific details of how God moved in mercy back to a general praise for God’s steadfast character. The beginning refrain of Psalm 118 that helps identify it as a thanksgiving psalm also serves as part of the introduction, where the audience learns a “testimony” (218) of God. The thanksgiving within the psalm is based upon the theme that God’s “faithful loves endures forever.” God’s faithfulness is then demonstrated by the account of distress, appeal, and deliverance that follow. Psalm 118:5 explains how the speaker “called to the Lord in distress,” and this marks the beginning of the account of distress all the way through verse nine. Following the distress call, the speaker describes the type of battle s/he fought in. The enemies of the speaker are said to have “surrounded” (vv 10-12) and “pushed” (13), and this language helps to identify these verses as an opportunity for appeal. The speaker makes a poetic appeal “in the name of the Lord” (vv 10-12). This appeal is meant to move the Lord to action in favor of the speaker. The appeal flows naturally into an account of deliverance. The speaker in the poem hears “shouts of joy and victory” as the Lord’s “right hand strikes with power!” (v 15). The Lord mercifully disciplines the speaker but ultimately saves the speaker, and the s/he declares, “I will not die, but I will live and proclaim what the Lord has done” (v 17). The next stanza is a proclamation of deliverance where the speaker is brought into a safe place, “gates of righteousness” (v 19), and once inside, the speaker says, “I will give thanks to You/ because You have answered me/ and have become my salvation” (v 21). The deliverance is so complete that the psalmist calls God “my salvation,” and the use of the possessive pronoun shows how personally the writer views God. Psalm 118 ends appropriately with a renewal of the original testimony offered in the first lines of the psalm: “Give thanks to the Lord,/ for He is good;/ His faithful love endures forever” (v 29).

Identifying the genre of a psalm has several implications. The genre type distinguishes the form of the psalm from other types of psalms, preserving the idea that psalms are individually independent and can stand alone as statements of worship that address a specific need. The specific need expressed in Psalm 118 is one of thanksgiving. As a thanksgiving psalm, Psalm 118 ascribes to a typical thanksgiving form in five parts. Once all five parts of the thanksgiving psalm are identified, the next step for interpretation is to take a closer look at the types of figurative language being used. The figurative language in use should be linked somehow to the idea of thanksgiving, and most specifically, the five parts of the thanksgiving psalm help the reader understand the use of repeated phrases and words throughout single sections of the entire psalm.

C is for Correlation

IV. Theme and Expected Emotional Response to Psalm 118

I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart Tuesday!

On the surface, Psalm 118 stands out as a thanksgiving hymn wherein the speaker is saved from great danger and brought to a place of peace inside the gates of God. The thanksgiving within the psalm is certainly the driving force behind the genre of the psalm as well as much of the content, but the true theme of the psalm reflects God’s nature instead of the act of giving thanks to God. Psalms function to remind readers and singers and musicians about God’s character in such a way that invokes a deeply felt inward emotion that then brings about the outward response of praise and thanksgiving. The theme of Psalm 118 then focuses on the quality of God’s love for His people. The theme of Psalm 118 is shown in the repeated refrain “His faithful love endures forever,” and the emotional response this divine characteristic summons is a feeling of joy that then bursts forth in praise and thanks to God.

The refrain “His faithful love endures forever” envelopes the psalm, opening and closing the lyrics. The refrain identifies the main theme that is developed through the recounting of how God saves the speaker of the psalm in the middle section of the psalm. The “Lord” places the speaker in a “spacious place” (v 5), which intones a place of safety and refreshing. The Lord then is compared to a “helper” (v 7) and to the idea of “refuge” (vv 8, 9). As such, the Lord becomes the speaker’s strength, song, and salvation (v 14) from the nations that surrounded him/her (v 10). The idea that the speaker’s enemy was “the nations” also implies that though the speaker in the psalm is predominately singular, the speaker more than likely represents his/her family, tribe, or the nation of Israel. This may help explain why the speaker switches from first person to third person pronouns in verses 23 through 27; the speaker begins to say things like “let us rejoice and be glad in it” and “The Lord is good and has given us light” (vv 24, 27 italics mine). Further, there is a chorus of “shouts of joy and victory in the tents of the righteous” (v 15), which reinforces the corporate aspect of Psalm 118. The words “rejoice” and “glad” and the phrase “shouts of joy and victory” indicate the kind of emotion involved in singing/reading this psalm aloud; the readers/singers of this psalm are to be filled with an overwhelming sense of joy. The content of the psalm suggests that it functions to aid a number of worshippers in thanking and praising God for His “faithful love.” All of the praising and thanking emphasizes the theme that God’s people should give thanks to God as their reaction to His “faithful love [enduring] forever.”

One of our modern thanksgiving hymns, written by Chris Tomlin, takes its theme from Psalm 118. Chris Tomlin’s song has been pumped through Christian radio and featured by worship leaders across the world. The opening lyrics are, “Give thanks to the Lord, our God and King, His love endures forever.” Driven by an upbeat bass line and intense percussion crescendos, Chris Tomlin’s song serves the function of uplifting the spirits of modern day worshippers by reminding them that God’s goodness is “above all things” and that this eternal quality is available to God’s people in their time of need. It is no surprise then that the psalm from which Tomlin derived his modern hymn of thanksgiving functioned to create the same uplifting effect thousands of years ago to Israelites worshipping in the temple of God. Seeing how Chris Tomlin’s refrains are used in the church today serves to underscore the original purpose, function, theme, and emotional response engendered originally by Psalm 118. The theme is God’s “love endures forever.” The expected emotional response is to be uplifted by emotions of joy into such a state as to posit the human heart in a posture of external thanksgiving and praise.

A is for Application

V. Original Psalm

Psalm 151: A Lament for Rest

I call to the Lord in a time of brokenness;

In a time of inner-sickness I cry out.

My body fails me in light of the mountain I climb;

The rocks of the mountain tumble down against my spirit.

My eyes are filled with the heights above;

My body trembles for the steep hills below.

But in the dawn of each new day

Breaks forth, to my great joy, a strong light.

The Lord comes each morning to care for me.

In the dawn of each new day,

The Lord is constantly beside me,

Preparing the path ahead and placing each of my steps.

The way of the Lord is firm and always leads to rest

The breath I breathe comes easily on the path that leads to my salvation.

The hard work of the day cuts the strength of my spirit;

In the name of the Lord, I find strength to stand.

Food that should nourish my body saps my strength,

Thirst is never quenched by the wells of man’s hand,

And crowds dampen my mind with their sorrows;

The name of the Lord is my strong tower and my hiding place.

The fortress of peace stands strong against cares and troubles;

The name of the Lord is my rest.

My soul cries out:

“The Lord is my shield and my buckler!”

“The Lord fights for those He calls His own!”

“The Lord is my shield and my buckler!”

Even though I have wandered into danger,

Foolishly saying “yes” and “no” without wisdom,

The Lord makes plans to preserve His child.

In great mercy the Lord spares my life.

I call for wisdom;

I cry out for wisdom.

Continually place me within the boundary of Your goodness,

And heal the sickness of my body

That I may serve You in fullness of health until forever.

Be with me in the morning, the day, and the nighttime.

Do not let your servant be overcome by mountains high and valleys low;

Hear my cry from within the avalanche.

I wrote the psalm above to address my current circumstances. I have struggled for most of my life with health problems that impinge upon every moment of every day. I am often exhausted and have forgotten what it feels like to be rested and alert. My health worsens with stress and lack of sleep, yet I find it difficult to take better care of myself. Even though I am a college student with a full plate, I still make choices about how I use my time. I have never seen a successful model of the balanced life I know I need to live, so I find it difficult to not over-extend myself. I think to myself, “I have already said ‘no’ so many times that this one time of saying ‘yes’ to an activity or person won’t hurt,” but every ‘yes’ has the potential to derail a night’s sleep or a moments peace.

Through this all, I keep turning to God, asking Him to show me what it means to live in His peace. I am trying to listen to His voice. I depend so literally upon Him for everything else, but I still find it difficult to listen as He is continually available to direct each step and ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in my life. I think sometimes the “manual car,” the thing I need to know how to do better than anyone else is to learn how to rest. If I do not learn how to rest better, I will lose my place as an effective instrument of the Lord, and I desperately do not want that.

We Learn as We Go

Kid Christmas

Professor Hetzendorfer


10 October 2007

Response #2: Death

A person told me that “God did not design us to die, and that’s why we as fallen humanity have no innate ability to understand death.” Death is a topic about which no one, including the Church, can offer a succinct/final answer. Often the first question the person experiencing the loss of a loved one will ask is “Why?” The obvious answers (sickness, old age, accident, suicide, murder) do not sufficiently explain death. Death is not merely a tangible cause and effect situation. When a person dies, the person takes with them his/her spirit, mind, will, and emotion out of this world to – Christians say heaven – whatever comes next. People deal with death on more than a purely physical level; death causes people to begin asking questions about God, about eternity, about goodness, about justice, and about the nature of existence. This paper is a reflection upon my recent experiences with death. In particular, I will explore my pain and anguish over the death of a close friend, a young friend.

A year ago I received word that something had happened with my good friend Landon. I have known Landon since high school. After high school, Landon left Grand Junction and came to Orange County, CA to attend Vanguard University. He would come home every now and then to visit for holidays. The last time I saw him was his 21st birthday, but a year ago, Landon sent a suicide letter in the mail to a college friend. The letter arrived three days after Landon committed suicide somewhere in the Big Bear National Forest. Only, for the last year, many of us from Colorado still believed he was still alive because the original search and rescue teams found his abandoned car but not his body. Last month I found out that a hiker found what has been be identified as Landon’s remains. My friend is dead. My friend was dead that whole year. I will never see him again in this life. I will never hear his laugh or hear him sing or squeeze his arm or hug him. I feel like I have been through every stage of grief. I feel sad. I have felt angry that such a young and talented man had been stolen from this earth by depression and identity crisis. I have asked why. I do not really understand how it is that he is gone. I believed so strongly for a whole year that he was still alive. I miss him. I want to retroactively comfort him; I wish I could have been there for him more. I regret not calling him more often. In the end, I feel futile because I can not do anything about what is already done. I have no say, and that feels unjust.

Death is unreasonable to the human mind, but the Bible does offer a doctrine of comfort for those who mourn. Matthew 5:4 says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Also, Job 5:11 says that “Those who mourn will be lifted to safety.” The Bible promises comfort and safety to me. Jesus, the ultimate peace-giver, experienced mourning for a close friend’s death when Lazarus died. The scripture says that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). I find comfort in knowing that Jesus knows exactly how I feel. Through this painful experience, I have made it my goal to pray for the salvation of Landon’s family whenever I think of the loss of his life. I also remain open with my friends. It helps to discuss such a difficult issue with others who will simply listen to me. I decided to get out pictures of Landon and to focus on remembering his amazing qualities rather than being critical of his decision to commit suicide. I hope that God will show me how Landon’s death can glorify His name. I may never understand Landon’s death, but I know that I receive comfort when I allow God to guide my emotions through this time.

Throw a Rock at God

Kid Christmas

Professor Salmeier

Theology I

19 November 2007

Case Study 3 – Experiencing God

The stairs were only another fifteen feet away, and I knew that if I could reach the top of the stairs I would be home free. The quick walk from my car to the quiet of my office on the second floor of the academic building involved the game of dodge-student. Not that I minded speaking with students who came up to ask me this or that odd question about their homework assignment. It was more that I liked so much starting my day quietly and simply. I walked faster. A new student of mine stepped out of the school café. I glanced at her and knew that my quick pace would not outdo the look of hope that was in her face. She turned and walked my way, intercepting my path to the stairs. She wore a blue-hooded sweatshirt with blue pajama pants and looked tired and disheveled.

“Professor Salmeier?” she said, “Hey, so you know Case Study 3? And do you remember how I didn’t turn it in on Monday?”


“Well, funny thing. I wrote it and intended to stick it under your door on Friday afternoon, but just as I was almost finished, I had to leave my room. So I saved the document again and x’d out of the Word window. Then I realized I never hit “save as…” When I x’d out of the Word window, the file got erased.”

“I am sorry to hear that about your paper.” I smiled at her, but she looked like she had more to say. My game of dodge-student was over, so I motioned her to stand to my left. “Would you like to follow me to my office,” I asked and finished, “I just arrived, and I have a class in an hour, but we can talk about this until then if you would like.”

“Thanks Professor Salmeier. That would be great.”

The two of us climbed the stairs and entered the little hallway that lead to my office. Between the bottom of the stairs and the top of the stairs, she explained how her paper was erased again. Her voice sounded high pitched and tense. She called the event of her paper being erased an “academic trauma” from which she would not soon recover. I chuckled at that. She assured me that the paper had been excellent and creative. We reached my office door. The wad of keys the school gave to me contained at least a dozen similar-looking brass keys. The key to my office door was subtly etched with an ‘A-217’ and was, as usual, the last key I looked at after having looked at all the others. I unlocked the door, but left the sickly fluorescent lights off. It was better to open the window blinds than to shock myself with the annoying buzz of the light bulbs and the slight flickering common to all fluorescent lighting. The chair in front of the desk was pushed in, so I pulled it on its wheels across the plastic desk mat that hides the carpet and motioned her to sit down.

“So, Noelle, when you wrote your paper the first time, how did it go?”

“It was so great. It was the first time I tried to write a paper for Theology as a philosophical conversation rather than a step by step academic paper. I felt I was capturing the concerns of ‘Samantha’ and her annoying friend, I named him ‘Joe,’ as well as a representation of a real-life conversation.” She stared out the window while she spoke with a savory look in her eyes like she could still see the lost essay in her periphery.

“Well tell me about your dialogue,” I said. I hoped that by talking about it she could regain the confidence to write the paper again. She took a deep breath and paused a moment. She looked at her hands and wiggled her fingers like she was typing something. Then, she opened her mouth and began talking. The tone of her voice sounded more relaxed as she began to explain her lost paper to me.

“Ok. I set the scene in the coffee shop. Samantha and Joe asked their questions, and I invited them to sit down at my table with me. In the dialogue, I had just finished a one-pump mocha, one-pump almond, soy caffĂ© misto with cinnamon powder on top. I wrote that Samantha knocked my empty cup over, so I picked it up and weighed it in my hand. I started the conversation by saying, ‘I wonder if I could build a cup too heavy for me to lift. I think your friend’s questions are very interesting and worth answering. I think we should discuss each question (the rock, the shutting of one’s mouth, and the way we experience God’s power) because each question is tied directly to the others.” She had moved her hand to simulate the picking up of an empty cup. Her description of the scene was filled with warmth and I could tell she regarded her characters, Samantha and Joe, as seriously as she would real people. I did not interrupt her but waved my hand for more.

“Then, we all talked about how it was possible for each of us to build a cup too heavy to lift. We talked about how there are certain limitations to being human. Then I asked Samantha to tell me what God must be like in comparison to human beings. I assumed that her character would have said something like, ‘God is the most perfect, perfect being imaginable because he is everything I am not.’ I thought that was a great way to introduce the concept that God, being infinite, is essentially different from his finite creations. I remember discussing that in class last Monday. So from there, I wrote more about how God’s infiniteness is different that human finiteness. I thought that the idea of the ‘cup too heavy to lift’ was like the idea of the ‘rock too heavy to lift,’ so from there I explained how the question was perhaps an appropriate test of human power and ability but that the question was self-contradictory when applied to God because the question requires an illogical and impossible combination of ‘things’ (Mavrodes 280). I understood Mavrodes argument about the square-circle as a smaller model for the impossible reconciliation of God’s infinity with a finite rock. Either God would become less immaterial and omnipotent in order to not lift the rock, which is impossible since he is essentially infinite in power and divinity, or the rock would become less material and finite in order for it to outweigh God’s omnipotent power to lift, which is impossible since the rock is essentially material and finite. This led to a discussion of what it meant for God to have omnipotent power. I pointed out, again because of Mavrodes and our discussion in class, that omnipotent power is equivalent at all times, meaning that certain expressions of God’s power are proportionate to others. I explained how God’s power to lift is not greater or less than his power to create since to be omnipotent is to be simultaneously and equally powerful in all ways (281).

“In the dialogue, Samantha seemed ready to accept this explanation of omnipotence, but Joe still wanted to push the topic further with his ‘shutting-mouth’ test for God’s omnipotence. So I conflated the topic of Joe’s ‘shutting-mouth’ mouth question with the underlying and most important question of them all, being ‘Does God express his power in ways that humans can experience and understand and so have belief in God?’” Noelle’s voice had risen excitedly at this point and she paused to look directly at me.

I said, “Yes, that does seem to be the key question of the case study. It’s important that you noted that people desire to experience and understand how God expresses his power because this lays a foundation for all further beliefs about who God is.”

“Yeah!” she said. “That’s what I was going for because it seems like ‘Joe’ and ‘Samantha’s’ questions were merely screening a deep-seated desire to know and understand God but they were afraid and rightfully concerned if they couldn’t see a tangible proof-by-experience of God expressing his power. Then they would necessarily be able to conclude that God is not omnipotent and further, that God might not even be God in that perfect and infinite sense.

“So I gave them biblical examples from Acts 7 and 9 about the stories of Stephen and Saul, explaining that the former displayed a case where it looked like God should have acted but didn’t and the latter displayed a case where God should have acted and did. If I were Stephen, I would have hoped that God would save me, but instead, God does not ‘show up to save the day,’ so to speak. Even so, Stephen expresses his belief in God’s power to act to his last breath, saying, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ (7:60). The narrative denotes that a man named Saul is standing by while Stephen is martyred, looking approvingly upon the scene. Stephen’s dying request of God is for God to show his mercy to those that sinned by participating in his murder. It’s not that Stephen exercised any control over God, affecting what would happen next, but the case seems to be that while God did not rescue Stephen, God chose to express his power in another way. Chapter 9 of the Acts of the Apostles returns to Saul’s narrative and provides a case where God expresses his power and mercy by stopping Saul as he journeyed in search of more Christians to persecute. The narrative says that a ‘light from heaven flashed around him…and he fell to the ground and heard a voice’ (9:3,4). The voice identifies itself as ‘Jesus whom you [Saul] are persecuting’ and tells Saul to enter Damascus and wait for further instruction. Blinded and overcome by the experience, Saul’s men take him into the city where he waits for three days. At some point in those three days, God summons a disciple named Ananias to pray for Saul. The result is that Saul regains his sight and is radically changed from a persecutor to disciple. Saul’s life was spared and Stephen’s was not. This may seem overwhelmingly unfair from a human perspective, especially since we are predisposed to like Stephen and vilify Saul, but neither the lack nor the presence of God’s intervention indicates that God is more or less powerful. God’s infinite perspective does not conform to the finite perspective of humanity. God chooses to act how he will, and his actions do not depend upon the situational needs of people. I explained this in my dialogue with ‘Samantha’ and ‘Joe’ to show Joe that his desire or lack of desire for God’s omnipotent intervention was not sufficient or necessary to preclude an experience of God’s power,” she paused and looked up, “Sorry, that was quite the mouthful.”

“That’s ok. I think you used the biblical examples well, but while you were writing did you begin to think about the implications of the difference between the human and divine perspectives? The human perspective of interaction is usually this: when I don’t interact with people I am usually ignorant of their existence, apathetic towards their existence, or purposely ignoring the fact of their existence. When I choose to interact with people it’s usually because I value their existence as being pertinent to my current needs. For example, if Sally walks into a room, I can choose to greet her or not. My decision to greet Sally depends upon whether or not I achieve an end to some means by greeting her. Perhaps that’s why God’s interactions with humans can leave you and characters like ‘Samantha’ and ‘Joe’ feeling unsettled. Did you come across this as you wrote your paper?”

“Yes, except that when I thought about it further, it’s not simply a question about how God chooses to interact with people. I think it’s actually a question of whether God has the power to interact with his creation at all,” she hesitated then said, “right?”

“Yes, right. The focus needs to stay on God’s power.”

“But I do believe that God has the power to interact with his creations in an experiential way. And that’s why in my paper I started to describe the accounts of experiencing God’s power that I discovered when I interviewed my three people.”

“Oh, who did you interview?” I said.

“I interviewed my quad-mate Melissa Crowe, Ginny Drews, and Professor Cassandra.”

“And what did you decide about God’s power to interact with his creation?”

“Well, it’s not like God’s interactions are predictable in content or context, but they do conform to some kind of thematic pattern.”

“What kind of theme did you find?”

“Well it seems like no matter what kind of experience my sources had, their experiences pointed to God’s omnipotence being active in their lives and that his omnipotent actions specifically addressed the needs of each person, even if the way in which each person’s needs were addressed was unexpected. I also discerned certain levels of interaction, from implicit spiritual feelings to explicit demonstrations of God’s power. For example, when Cynthia Cassandra was a little girl, and before she was saved, she would often go and sit in a Catholic parish during lunchtime. She was young and should have been afraid of the darkness of the room and the mysteriousness of all the images of saints and Mary and Jesus, but she felt an overwhelming sense of peace. My friend Melissa felt intense emotion when she committed her life to Christ. She remembers feeling so empty and lost and sad, but when she accepted Jesus as her Savior, she was overcome by an inexplicable sense of love that surrounded her and filled her emptiness inside. Both experiences of God’s power present two distinct cases: a case where God’s power was felt by a non-Christian and a case where God’s power was felt in the conversion from unbelief to new belief as a Christian. Ginny Drews experienced God’s power more on the explicit level of interaction. Sometime after becoming a Christian, Ginny wanted to go on a mission trip to France, but she did not have enough money to go. She prayed for God to provide all of the money, and within two weeks she had a number of people walk up to her a give her money. In this tangible way, God displayed his tangible power to Ginny by meeting her practical need.

“I had the idea that ‘Joe’ would then help bring my paper to a close by becoming frustrated that he had never experienced God’s power like my three friends in his life before,” she stopped and let out a deep breath.

I waited for a few seconds, then asked, “Did you develop a compassionate response to ‘Joe’s’ dilemma?”

“Well, I guess I did. I wrote that God’s seeming lack of power in ‘Joe’s’ life did not reflect an imperfection in God’s omnipotence. I addressed this to ‘Samantha’ as well since she was thinking that a lack of experiencing God’s power makes a belief in God less true. People often miss God’s displays of power. Again, I returned to ideas about God’s perfection, infinite essence, and omnipotent ability to create. The dialogue in the paper here turned into a consideration of further evidence of God’s creative power. ‘Joe’ and ‘Samantha’ had agreed with me that an infinite and divine conception of God includes his omnipotent power to create. I gently asked, or wrote how I asked, ‘Joe’ if he had ever admired a sunrise or enjoyed the stars at night. ‘Joe’ answered yes in the paper. Then I gently explained, ‘Joe,’ that means you have experienced God’s creative power, but there is so much more to God than his power to create and maintain the universe and everything in it.’ He asked me how he was supposed to experience more, and I wrote, ‘You need to have a personal relationship with him. You need to invite him to have more power in and through and over your life.’ I left the dialogue at that. I guess I wanted to imply that ‘Joe’ and ‘Samantha’ could either begin to consider the idea of a relationship with God or decide to reject the idea.”

“Well do you think you can rewrite that for me, by say, next Monday?”

“Yes, but I just wish you could have read the first one,” she said as she got up to leave.

The Best Catch Up

I know that my updating of this blog is scant at best, so in an effort to make up for the last few months of silence, I would like you all to have an idea of what I have been doing at Bible College all this time. So, the papers may be really academic and boring on the surface, but each paper discusses key issues I believe mature Christians should consider. I hope you enjoy. I will be home in Grand Junction for Christmas Break as soon as December 20th. I look forward to this break so much!

The First Installment of Bible College Papers

Kid Christmas

Professor Salmeier

Theology I

Case Study – Inerrancy

1 October 2007

Bees in Our Theological Bonnets: A Case Study of the Christian Doctrine of Inerrancy

A young lady named Sheryl has a problem. She finds herself in an academic environment with information flying about like bees in the springtime. Recently, Sheryl has been stung by a bee, and her bee has come in the form of a sticky theological conundrum. One of Sheryl’s professors has been teaching her that the Bible contains errors, yet this professor also claims that the Bible is authoritative, the final word, for daily Christian living. Christians find that many of their foundational beliefs rest within the pages of their holy Bible. Since the Bible is so foundational for Christian belief systems, the Bible is under close scrutiny by many interested individuals and groups. A key debate rages surrounding the doctrine of inerrancy. The Orthodox view of this doctrine claims that the Bible is the plenary, authoritative, and inspired word of God, being the perfect words of a perfect God. Sheryl does not understand how her professor reconciles his belief in errancy with his belief in the authority of the Bible as God’s words to people. Sheryl is not alone in her dilemma, and her situation makes way for a detailed discussion of both sides of the argument. A closer look at the arguments against inerrancy and the rationale supporting inerrancy will help to create an informed view for Sheryl and others who struggle to correlate conflicting messages from errantists and inerrantists.

Errantists claim that the Bible “contains internal contradictions and discrepancies” (Williams 53) that necessarily show the flaws behind the doctrinal position of inerrancy. This claim about the lack of internal coherency in the Bible assumes that the rational belief in inerrancy requires the absolute corroboration of scientific, mathematic, literary, and historical evidence within the Bible itself. Then, the errantist position assumes that if the Bible is internally self-contradictory that the argument for inerrancy becomes null and void. The general layout of an errantist argument then is to highlight the internal conflicts contained within the Bible by making examples of specific passages that demonstrate error. The conclusion then, indeed a persuasive conclusion, is that the doctrine of inerrancy is an a priori construct wherein a man-made idea is forced upon a divine document (71). This would mean that theologians constructed the doctrine of inerrancy before finding sufficient internal scriptural evidence. The errantist position then pushes for a more open view, a redefinition, of the tenets of viewing the Bible as the inspired, plenary, and authoritative words of God. The final claim creates a new “platform for admitting a very human Bible,” meaning a Bible that contains internal errors and contradictions, that is still “authoritative as a witness to God’s revelation in Christ” (73).

However convincing the errantist’s position is, the position argues against two specific views of inerrancy. Specifically, the above errancy argument casts a shadow of doubt upon the extreme fundamentalist’s view of inerrancy. The extreme fundamentalist’s view of the doctrine of inerrancy requires a kind of hyper-defensive stance, necessitating a “harmonizing hermeneutic” (Williams 67) that goes to the extreme of explaining errors using seemingly sub-rational methods. Additionally, the errantist argues that the conservative inerrantist position of “suspended judgment” is equally irrational (Moreland 77). While sub-rational methods might be used in some cases of harmonizing hermeneutics, the position of inerrancy, whether harmonizing or suspended, remains defensible from a rational standpoint.

If a rational position that supports inerrancy in the least accommodates suspended judgment, then belief in inerrancy would be rational. A basis for validating inerrancy is based upon a discussion of the nature of rationality. If a standard that sets the criteria for rationality is established then a person can use that standard to prove the rationality of inerrancy. J.P. Moreland discusses this approach in “The Rationality of Belief in Inerrancy.” His system of rationality is based upon the idea that a person can know a priori a case as more certain than other cases as a reflection of the innate and rational ability humans have to perform the function of knowing. Since humans must be able to know certain things, Moreland uses two technical phrases to explain the rationality of believing. These two phrases are the “presumption of favor” (79) and the “noetic structure” (82). Moreland argues that holding a rational belief requires at least a minimal presumption of favor, or obvious benefit to belief, than no presumption of favor. This idea is tied closely to the paradigm of the noetic structure. The noetic structure is a conceptual model for a belief system wherein a set of beliefs are interconnected like a spider web. The web of beliefs expresses a hierarchy since certain beliefs have a more structurally important role than others in holding the web together. The more “ingressed,” or critically important, a belief is, the more presumed favor that belief retains since changing a key belief would entail restructuring the entire web. The belief in inerrancy is deeply ingressed in several key Christian doctrines. Therefore, according to current noetic structures for most Orthodox Christians, the inerrancy of scripture is a rational belief.

The debate comes to a head when, like Sheryl’s professor, many hold to errancy as well as the authority of Biblical scripture. Authoritative errantists are a seemingly self-contradictory anomaly. However, one may employ the rational strategy of the inerrantist to reconcile such a view. The noetic structure of this view has a different core structure than a strict inerrantist. Authoritative errantists redefine the core issue at stake. Whereas a strict inerrantist holds that the inerrancy of the Bible reflects a perfect God, an authoritative errantist holds that errors in the Bible have no bearing upon the perfection of God. For the authoritative errantists, the key issue is not God’s character, since they believe that the Bible authoritatively reveals God’s character as the standard of righteousness and love and Christ as the ultimate revelation of God’s character (Williams 73). The key issue lies in the idea that the Bible was passed through erring human hands and cannot possibly be technically perfect; however, this idea is supported by the belief that the Bible Christians have today is exactly the Bible God meant them to have, “warts and all” (72), for even if Christians had a perfect collection of God’s words to people, the flawed nature of humanity would prevent correct interpretation just as it does today.

The debate over inerrancy involves a wide spectrum of issues that really seem to be heart issues more than rational issues in the end. From every angle, the debate reflects the problems of human character as revealed by the problems readers of Biblical scripture have discerning God’s character. The extreme inerrantist approaches the doctrine as the lifeboat for the rest of her/his beliefs about God, for God’s perfect character must be taught by a perfect text. This view supports a fearful heart attitude since one must work so anxiously and depend upon inerrancy so much that one does not depend enough upon God. However, the other end of the spectrum holds to the belief that the Bible contains internal as well as external errors. This can lead to a boastful attitude wherein the advocates of that position may begin to think of themselves as there own authority. The authoritative errantist seems to strike a balance between what a person rationally knows as well as the limits of human perspective, but this group too may fall victim to an attitude of apathy since epistemically since they seem to have stepped outside of the debate by redirecting the focus of errance/inerrance from the perfection of scripture to the acceptability of flaws and the authority God has to reveal Himself however He wants. For students like Sheryl, knowledge of the different types of arguments for each viewpoint as well as what is theologically and emotionally at stake hopefully creates an opportunity for Sheryl to talk again with he professor. Knowing that inerrancy is rational may support her in her journey towards finding the answer for herself as well maintaining unity in the Body of Christ by maintaining a peaceful and understanding relationship between her and her professor.