Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Holy: Understanding it Better Through Spelling Things Out

We often assume that our cultural principles are equally valued by everyone.  We speak of the "American Revolution" or of Thomas Kuhn's "Scientific Revolutions".  We also hear calls for "freedom" or calls for "change".  We also hear the words of another Thomas, Thomas Paine, kicked around in pop culture.  We hear the never-ending call for "Common Sense".  But does the church have an organized way to understand its connections to others in the larger society of the church?  And how does this apply to how we understand the meaning of holy?  Our principles for how we connect to others can also determine what definition of holy we are willing to support.  That is why I want to talk about these cultural matters here.   

One of the most brilliant things that I learned as an undergrad was the basic principles of culture and revolution.  People speak often of freedom and revolution, but often without an organized picture of how culture comes or holds together as well as breaks apart into separate communities.  One of the keys to understanding any human society or individual is to understand their principles spelled out in five areas.   The church as a community is also effected by the principles of culture:

1) continuity and change - the amount of these must each be spelled out for people to feel affection for the culture of a society or person

2) bond and barrier - the relationship of these must each be spelled out for people to relate to the culture of a society or person

3) culture and revolution - the whole of these must each be spelled out for people to become part of the culture of a society or person  (these are the overall whole umbrella terms for relations)

4) rule and freedom - the action of rule and freedom must be spelled out for people to get involved with the culture of a society or person

5) sense and nonsense - the thing of sense and nonsense must be spelled out for people to understand the culture of society or person.

NOT one of these can be left out when people are trying to consider how they fit into a culture or how well they fit with another person.   Likewise they can effect how what responds to my comments on the definition or meaing of holy. 

I wish right now I had the time to complete some of my earlier entries, but they require fairly large chunks of uninterrupted time.  This entry is meant to help people see a little better where I am coming from culturally as a part of the larger Christian church and as an individual Christian. It is looking at my work on the meaning of holy from a relational point of view, but also broken into the different dimensions of a relationship. 

Each one of the five combinations above are for me relational or cultural.  A church has a culture as a society and the individual carries with them their cutural principles.  I value all five of the pairs above.  So how then do I see my relationships within the larger church? 

Let's begin with continuity and change. For me, I am concerned about both the lack of continuity and the lack of change in the church.  Recently, I received an email from a major Evangelical writer and he downplayed the place for a list of past heroes of the faith.  I think that individual is in danger of losing their continuity with the past.  My first inkling for the meaning of holy meaning being something other than "set apart" was in the context of the translation of the KJV.  If it were not for a commitment to continuity with past believers, I may have overlooked or under valued the past.  But I also cringe at how many are not able to change their hearts from the current consensus on what holy means as "set apart".  Why is it not possible to change one's position?  Are there not places and times to value change over continuity?   I think there are! 

Next, bond and barrier.  This really gets to the naked simplicity of what culture is all about.  It is about the bonds within a society and the bonds that society members have formed with each other. 

[under construction - please see earlier complete entries]


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Holy: Understanding Better the Value of Education

In Peter F. Drucker's (arguably the best management writer of the 20th entury) writings, you may find that one of his predictions for the future, based on what is already a known fact (a change) and then also what is the pattern of past history (how long it takes before the change takes effect or people recognize it as valid)  is that "we are clearly in the middle of this transformation (from the Knowledge Age), indeed, if history is any guide, it will not be completed until 2010 to 2020".  I find this quote telling, because it shows that though a shift may be present, it may take a long time in coming.  That is important, because we then cannot be simply satisfied with the current majority view in a controversy or in the face of uncertainty.  We must dig deeper into issues to see if the only issue is that the time has not yet arrived in human understanding for what is already acknowledged by others including a minority.

Drucker was referring to the transformation in society that is coming from the G.I. Bill which resulted in a national shift in the level of education beginning with the WWII generation who returned from war and then enrolled in higher education at previously unknown levels.  He seems to think that the effect of this education combined with other lesser events of the time set up the time of transformation or change to begin around 1960.

I am writing about this, because it is also interesting that in the scholarship of determing the meaning of holy, there were also four major names who made major statements about biblical understanding during the '60s.  This might be only coincidence or it could be that the increase in education began a slow movement toward us discovering things that had previously been lost. 

First, there was the biblical scholar, James Barr, who created a major change in biblical exegesis that still has not ceased in its effect.  He introduced biblical scholarship to modern linguistics and its insights into language.  He especially took aim at some exegetical fallicies committed in biblical scholarship.  This is hard for some of the more traditional minds to accept.  Its culmination is still in front of us and part of the reason for the delay in time might also be due to some of Barr's own excesses. 

Second, there was a very important anthropologist, Mary Douglas, who tried to better understand biblical laws when it came to things like dietary laws.  She expressed the idea that the laws must somehow be explained better than it had been previously.   She suggested that the underlying concept could be that of being whole as opposed to somehow having a blemish or a shortcoming.  In her initial idea, the idea was that certain animals were less than whole according to a comparison with the animals considered kosher.  She then suggested that holy might mean whole also based on the whole stones used for an altar.  Many biblical scholars will admit, if they are honest, that any writing on Leviticus must now at least take into consideration her view.  Jacob Milgrom, who wrote a major commentary on Leviticus, for one interacted with her though he never seems to quite accept her view entirely.  Yet he understood well Mary's challenge to take these ancient laws seriously and not just write them off as primitive in the same way older schools of anthropology and archaeology tended to do. 

Third, there was a systematic theologian, R. A. Finlayson, who seems to have discovered in Andrew Murray that the so-called conservatives of the 1960s were in fact not conservative or fundamentalist theologians.  Rather they were the innovators when it came to the meaning of holy, based on the writings of Andrew Murray.  Murray wrote during the changes occuring both in the late 1800s and in the early 1900s.  Murray had compiled in his volume Holy in Christ, a very simple history of interpreting holy's meaning up until his own day and pointed out that our popular defintion of holy as separate did not fit with the views of theologians like Jonathan Edwards.  R. A. Finlayson tried to also ground Edwards' and Murray's position in his discussions of the holy's Hebrew etymology.  For a while his ideas caught on in scholarly literature like biblical dictionaries, but then later faded. 

Fourth, a pastor on the West Coast and living in California, recognized that our English word holy, as used by the older translators, had the idea of wholeness behind it when it was selected as the word best qualified to translate the Hebrew word qadosh.  He may have relied on some of the popular etymological insights into English, using an older volume by Sweate.  Whatever he did, he without hesitation made this known to his flock.  As a pastor, he thought that the word holy had been turned into a negative term from the beautiful term it was according to biblical writers.  His commentary on Leviticus, The Way of Wholeness, points out in its title the meaning of holy as whole. 

Each of these people were making an impact in the 60s.  The most problematic impact is that of Barr, because his view in some people's minds dismisses the meaning of holy as whole, simply because  he said so himself, but also because etymology is a tool that must be used with utmost care and he was not sure it was used carefully in the case of defining holy.  Here he seems to differ with the other three.  Yet this is where my own work takes off.  I am trying to take a hard look at the  meaning of holy through his insights primarily.  That may mean learning from his cautions while disagreeing with some of his conclusions.  That might in part in explain the slowness in gaining insight from his ideas.  He was after all a little hyper-critical at times. 

Let me summarize the gains from each of these four people. From Barr and semantics and linguists, we can learn to be more careful with the method of etymology. From Douglas, we can learn to be more careful in judging the past as primitive or nonsensical, instead it is our job to make sense in their terms. From Finlayson, we can learn to not judge a book by its cover. Just saying you are a conservative, does not make you a conservative (or a fundamentalist). From Stedman, we can learn that preacher have a responsibility to preach or herald a concept, even while others might be scornful of the idea. Some may have scorned his idea (including Barr!), but that does not mean he was not correct at the level he was operating at as a pastor (and as a mentor to Chuck Swindoll) in talking to the masses who entered his door. Remember many of us never learned of the remotest possibility that holy in the Bible could mean whole (I learned it in my forties). Isn't that a sad thing, not to at least be aware of the option?  Didn't Stedman do people a great favor by at least giving them another option to look for in the biblical text?  Didn't he in fact enrich their lives more?  Isn't it sad that in many places there was only one option to chose from because the other was an unknown due to higher than mighty attitude?  

So we are now left in the wake of a coming transformation with the task of sorting out this legacy that we have been handed from the 1960s.  I wish I had more time to write about this on-line, but the need for making a living will not allow it.  But given the time the bigger question is this: "Will we benefit from the efforts of these people or will we in stubborn resistance to the past squander a wonderful opportunity?" 

That is yet to be answered.  But somewhere in the world, I expect Drucker's words may prove prophetic though he never claimed to be a prophet.  He just looked at what had already changed and then looked to past history to see how long it took for an idea to become a transformation. 

I personally did not directly benefit from the G.I Bill.  I'm not part of that generation.  But I have stuck with the huge investment in education as a way to move forward in our own time through fresh discoveries (including that of the past).  I have learned a great deal from my studies at the university level, the graduate school level and now at the post-graduate level.  They have all taught  me things I did not know existed before. 

So look out, you might be surprised or excited during the decade we are in and following.  And the meaning of holy may turn out to be the key to all of it.  Please feel free to respond to any of my posts.  I try to be generous in publishing them.  I have only one that I still need to understand before I publish it.  I want more than anything for my blog to be more of a dialogue and less of a monologue.  Take care.