14 July 2024

The wind over the waters REVISITED

Back in my first blog post I noted that my NRSV translation of Genesis 1:2 provides an alternative translation for "wind from God" which is, "spirit of God". I then went on to describe how this spirit in Genesis is the same spirit that comes upon Mary in Luke 1:35, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you...".

But recently I have been using "The CEB Study Bible", that is, the Common English Bible, an annotated translation. CEB states that the alternate translation for "God's wind" is "God's breath". Then, CEB's note on Gen 1:2 says the author of Genesis is not referring to "the third member of the Trinity."

Is CEB saying that that the spirit (or breath) that swept over the waters is something different than what came over Mary to enable her to conceive the child? I don't think so.

In John 20:22, NRSV and CEB both provide the translation that Jesus "breathed" on the disciples so they would receive the Holy Spirit. I still believe it's the same spirit in all three spots.

CEB's note on Gen 1:2 reminds us that the author of Genesis would not have had a notion of a triadic unity that is a monotheistic God in three persons. For now, I am sticking to my story that there is no contradiction between "wind", "spirit" and "breath".

19 June 2024

Educational settings, plus the hedgehog and the fox

In this article, I will adapt scholarly items from outside theological contexts.


My first item is adapted from adapted from "Exploring Questions and Answers in Computer Science Education" by Sally Fincher & Kathi Fisler, published in Communications of the ACM, July, 2022.

No matter where you worship, or what your role is, education is important; important not only in WHAT is taught, but also HOW it is taught and WHO is taught. For example, what is known about how different groups of people learn Christianity? How does learning in a house of worship differ from formal education settings? What techniques have been shown effective for teaching or probing learners' knowledge about Christianity? What traditional approaches fail for modern Americans? Depending on different contexts, these questions will have different answers. Investigating those answers requires us to think (as individuals and as a community) about the methods that are appropriate for studying educational questions and, crucially, what problems do we most need to think about so that our education and training keeps pace with developments in Christian practice?


Next, I will apply ideas from "The Hedgehog and the Fox" by Isaiah Berlin. This book expounds on the ancient Greek proverb, "A fox knows many things, but a hedgehog knows one big thing". The fox uses many tactics to catch the hedgehog, but the hedgehog finally escapes by using its simple, prickly defenses. That's not to say that a simple approach always wins, just that we should be prepared to utilize the right tactic at the right time.

Consider a talent show in which the contestants are songwriters. A person trying to predict the winner might listen to the songs and pick the song that "sounds the best". That person is the hedgehog; it all boils down to one variable, catchiness. But another person might do some research: is any songwriter of the same ethnicity of any of the judges? Has any songwriter competed before? Do bagpipe songs always lose?

In other words, the fox looks at a range of objective variables instead of one abstract variable.

With respect to Christianity, are you a hedgehog or a fox? Do you attend your church because it focuses on the Immaculate Conception, feeling like that's the most important thing? Or, do you enjoy trying to figure out how Jesus fulfills the parting of the sea while also typing the weekly bulletin and also repairing the church boiler?

Neither the hedgehog or fox is "right" or "wrong", at church. Your God given purpose is not the same as mine. My example is simplistic, so it's safe to suggest you hedgehogs should not be too focused. I at least feel that I should always be on the lookout for new ways to mature, spiritually.

08 June 2024

gocekBlogGary: In the footsteps of Paul in Corinth, Greece

gocekBlogGary: In the footsteps of Paul in Corinth, Greece: Thursday, June 6 - CORINTH!  Today provided me with a meaningful historical and spiritual experience. Susan and I visited Corinth, just west...

Please see my personal blog in which I recount a visit to ancient Corinth, where I stepped on the bema used by Roman tribunals. Paul came before the tribunal in Acts 18:12.

16 May 2024

My letter to the Wall Street Journal

My letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal was published today, 16 May 2024. This was in response to an opinion essay entitled, "Methodists Keep Up With the Times". In that essay, the author's opinion was that Protestant churches give too much credit to current cultural trends and not enough to Christian tradition. For copyright reasons, I cannot post the original essay, but here is a link:

May 10 essay about Methodist church policy changes

My letter disagreed with the essay, and was published with another letter that was in general agreement.

May 16 letters to the WSJ

Here is my letter as published. Since I wrote it, I am taking the liberty of reposting it here. The WSJ wrote the headline of the letters. I do not repost the other letter here, see the link above for that.


As published:

In “Methodists Keep Up With the Times” (Houses of Worship, May 10), Carl Trueman risks implying that theology is immutable and any deviation from tradition and orthodoxy is secular and wrong. He encourages us to “hold to a historic form of Christian faith that doesn’t affirm the predilections of the surrounding culture,” as if today’s Christians could somehow separate themselves from that culture.

Mr. Trueman suggests that “sacred” has no meaning outside traditional theology and fixates on the issue of nontraditional couples. My salvation, however, isn’t dependent on my national church’s budget, or what my church says about my gender identity or the sexual preferences of the couple in the pew behind me.


My original submission to the WSJ was slightly edited. Here is my original letter:

The op-ed "Methodists Keep Up With the Times" (May 10) implies that theology is immutable and that any deviation from tradition and orthodoxy is secular and wrong. The essay encourages us to "hold to a historic form of Christian faith that doesn't affirm the predilections of the surrounding culture," as if today's Christians could somehow separate themselves from that culture. The essay quotes a reference that groups non-traditional couples with criminals, and suggests "sacred" has no meaning outside traditional theology. However, the likelihood and quality of my salvation is not dependent on my national church's budget, or what my church says about my gender identity or the sexual preferences of the couple in the pew behind me.


My commentary:

There were some slight modifications by the Journal. My submission did not mention the essay's author's name, but the WSJ inserted that. The WSJ changed "implies" to "risks implying", which seems stupid; I used the passive "implies", and the WSJ made it even more passive. There is no doubt the essay states that the author's theology is the only correct theology; I could have been more insistent (see below). The essay equates same-sex couples with (criminal) pederasts, but I am OK with the modifications. The WSJ strengthened my comment about my salvation.

In my opinion now, the original essay and the Journal's headline in capital letters above are not part of a polite quarrel. The essay believes I need to get in line with Christian orthodoxy and tradition because the writer believes I will otherwise go to hell (whatever that is), and the Journal published the essay because the editor believes it is hell that we Christians argue about. It's a stupid, offensive argument, but I would not have had the letter published if I been that scathing.

Theology changes because we change. I could believe "God" (not defined here) does not change, but I change, and my relationship with God changes. My salvation is safe, and the essay's author is stuck in the 18th century. The author's salvation is up to the author and God, and the essay did not help anyone else.

Bottom line?

There is no hope for Christian unification between the Roman Catholic Church, Protestant denominations and Eastern (orthodox) denominations because the RC Church believes the others are not actually Christian. As far as the RCs are concerned, only RCs can call themselves Christian. Everyone else is not simply "non-Christian" (who might actually receive some mercy from God in the end), they (the non-RC Christians) are liars who must either repent (become RC) or be damned for eternity for committing the sin of falsely claiming to be Christian. Yes, that's what it's like when discussing Christianity with an RC.

As a result, an RC won't discuss Scripture with a Protestant because the Protestant is not Christian, which is the basis for how the original essay was written. The essay author wants everyone to accept traditional Christian theology because that would make us all RC.

14 May 2024

What does the Good News sound like?

What does the Good News sound like?

Luke 2 verses 13-14:
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 
"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"

But let us also listen to our hearts.

English philosopher R.G. Collingwood wrote, "Artists must prophesy not in the sense that they foretell things to come, but in the sense that they tell their audiences, at the risk of their displeasure, the secrets of their hearts."

Psalm 44 verses 20-21 have something to say about these secrets:
If we had forgotten the name of our God,
or spread out our hands to a strange god,
would not God discover this?
For he knows the secrets of the heart.

Jesus said to his disciples who would find themselves in the midst of wolves, Matthew 10 verse 26: "So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known."

Let us pray to the Lord then, that our faith and work may plant marvelous seeds in our hearts, at first secret! Then, we can pray that the glorious artwork that is God's creation will cause those secrets to burst forth into the world, because again, what does the Good News sound like? It is the sound of all hearts bursting forth together with love for God and each other.

25 April 2024

Interpret according to modern perspectives

Probers 5:3-5: "For the lips of a loose woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol."

If you're reading a theological blog post, you probably know that women are marginalized throughout the Hebrew Bible, aka the Old Testament. This quote refers to a loose woman, but rest assured there are no loose men in the Hebrew Bible. In other words, women can be loose, but men cannot. Men can be weak and be unable to resist those feminine wiles, but men are typically not held accountable. The great King David sent a soldier to his death so he could take Bathsheba, and David's infant child died for that, but David's horrific selfishness is ignored afterwards.

At worst, in the Hebrew Bible, men punish women for their tempting ways. Men who lose battles are insulted by being compared to women. Men inherit land, women do not (with a few exceptions that are notable because they are exceptions).

Before I go on, I must agree that the Hebrews valued the institution of marriage highly. The husband was in charge, but adultery was bad. Jesus was able to stop the crowd from stoning the adulterous woman because the men in the crowd were just as bad. Nevertheless, ancient Israeli society was patriarchal, sometimes to the point of misogyny.

In 2024, it is simply wrong to treat these verses as explicit wisdom for the ages. The Bible doesn't tell us that God wants men to rule over women even to the point of violence. Men seduce and men lie, as they always have, just like women and queers and every other homo sapiens. Act righteously, and justly toward other demographics.

11 April 2024

And we wonder why church attendance is lower...


The Atlantic reported in 2023 that church attendance in the US is declining because that's "just how American life works in the 21st century." It's true Americans like to be seen as individualists responsible for their own destinies, but that has always been the case. Contrast that with the belief that after WWII, we Americans came to be believe our system is exceptional and we owe the world our leadership, although that has been tempered by recent isolationism. Still, I don't think isolationism is what is impacting church attendance. Covid had a catastrophic effect on attendance, so we must keep trying to get back to where we were back in 2019.

We churchgoing Christians certainly need to look inwardly, as well. Just as Christmas has taken on a materialistic life of its own regardless of its religious origins, churches have allowed the commandment to love our neighbors to be eroded by the desire for secular accomplishment. The kids participate in multiple activities and the adults are in constant contact with their work lives. Partisan politics infects all levels of community involvement. IT's hard to make time for church.

Adults have failed to instill a sense of mature moderation in our kids. I believe I am supportive of diverse gender identities and lifestyles, but we should push back a little when a person's only objective seems to be to support a fluid sequence of lifestyle choices. OK, so let's say a person spends a couple years, 24/7, proving it's OK to be queer ... now what? The person still has gifts that can be used to meet meets needs the person discerns. No one can fix everything, but it's always possible to find something that can be fixed.

Some people don't feel accepted at church, and that's painful. Churches need to start from a position of inclusiveness and acceptance. There is little Scriptural support for the notion that Jesus taught we should hate trans people in 2024. Individual members of churches need to get on board with the communal starting point of inclusiveness, and there is Scriptural support for that.

Sometimes, an individual encounters, at church, political and social perspectives that can't be reconciled. Churches need to do the best they can to publicize their positions so frustrated Christians can find a new church home rather than to stop attending.

Christians need to evangelize, not by Bible-thumping, but by doing God's work in the world. If I hide in my pew and don't use my gifts to help others, then that makes for a pretty boring religion.

If my clergy and hierarchical leadership have acted sinfully but are accountable only to civil courts, then I need to push for more accountability. If my church supports excommunication and the invalidation of baptisms, then I need to vocalize the lack of Scriptural support. Certainly, some people commit evils that are hard to redeem in civilized society, but there is no commandment that says, "Love my neighbor unless I decide the neighbor doesn't deserve my love." If my church assigns a different value to a fetus, the mother and the father, I have to realize those value judgments will push people away.

Churches communities are a rare sort of environment in which the successful can sit next to the up-and-coming, and help each other out.

The wind over the waters REVISITED

Back in my first blog post I noted that my NRSV translation of Genesis 1:2 provides an alternative translation for  "wind from God&qu...