Monday, January 30, 2012

σωζω as "spiritual profit" in James 2:14

Many words in our modern English language are loaded with cultural baggage. There are catch phrases, cliches, swear words and one liners from movies and commercials which carry more meaning and cultural punch than would first appear on the surface. Perhaps this can be said with any language and cultural context. The Christian cultural environment is no different in its use of cliches, and catch phrases. Though innocent enough on the surface, statements like, salvation, sanctification, works, grace, faith, and judgment are packed full of meaning and loaded with significance to most any Christian conversant in the rudiments of theology. This is simply a characteristic of how language works. If we did not know and understand the basic meanings connected with phrases, words and sentences, we would not be able to communicate with each other at all. But this basic tenant of language can have its drawbacks as well. As an experiment, walk into a Church and ask a dozen people or so what the word "salvation" means to them. I am sure there wοuld be many varied responses, but most likely all the answers would have a basic meaning stitching them all together, this is referred to as a word's "semantic range." Due to this fact of language, it is very common for us as readers, to bring meaning into a context that was not intended by the writer. The same can be true even during a conversation, and is often the cause of arguments and disagreements, especially between married couples. This is why it is necessary to become a good listener and pay careful attention to the context of what is being said or written. The same is true when reading and interpreting the Bible, except the difficulties compound due to the age of the writings, and the fact that it was written in another language and culture.

Salvation [σωτηρια]

To illustrate this point, I would like to look at a Greek word used in the New Testament to refer to "salvation;" σωτηρια. When hearing this word, I think of verses like John 4:22, "You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation [σωτηρια] is from the Jews" (ESV), or Romans 1:16, " For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation [σωτηρια] to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (ESV). But σωτηρια has a far broader semantic range than merely salvation from hell or salvation from some type of danger. It can also take the simple meaning of "doing well," or, "to be healthy." Luke, the author of Acts, used σωτηρια in this way when describing Paul's shipwreck. Paul spoke to his fellow passengers; "Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength [σωτηρια], for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you” (Acts 17:34, ESV). Many used σωτηρια to refer to ones health in a general fashion in Roman antiquity. The papyri, which are original documents preserved on papyri, give a picture of how language was used in antiquity, within the context of every day life. So, the papyri can shed valuable light on the language of the New Testament. Consider this personal letter, dating to the second century, concerning a Roman soldier stationed in Italy, corresponding with his father living in the Fayum in Egypt;
Apion to Epimachus his father and lord heartiest greetings. First of all I pray that you are in health and continually prosper and fare well with my sister and her daughter and my brother. I thank the lord Serapis that when I was in danger at sea he saved [σωζω] me. Straightway when I entered Misenum I received my traveling money from Caesar, three gold pieces. And I am well. I beg you therefore, my lord father, write me a few lines, first regarding your health [σωτηρια], secondly regarding that of my brother and sister, thirdly that I may kiss your hand, because you have brought me up well, and on this account I hope to be quickly promoted, if the gods will. Give many greetings to Capito, and to my brother and sister, and to Serenilla, and my friends. I send you a little portrait of myself at the hands of Euctemon. And my (military) name is Antonius Maximus, I pray for your good health. (Milligan, 90-92)
It can be clearly seen from this letter that σωτηρια was meant to convey the meaning of health. Or perhaps Apion was inquiring more generally to his fathers well being. Either way, the Christian theological term "salvation" and all of its baggage does not factor into the author's use of the word here. The same can be said concerning Paul's use of σωτηρια, to refer to his passengers well being in Acts 27:34 above.

To be Saved [σωζω]  

Closely tied to the word σωτηρια in meaning and usage is its verbal counterpart σωζω. This verb is used many times in the New Testament to refer to "being saved" from sin and hell. I think of John 3:17, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved [σωζω] through him" (ESV). Another verse which conveys the same meaning is Ephesians 2:8-9, "For by grace you have been saved [σωζω] through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (ESV). But just like its noun counter part, σωζω also carries the meaning of "health" or "well being." Consider the woman with an ulcer whom Jesus healed,
And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well [σωζω].” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well [σωζω]. (Matthew 9:20-22, ESV). 
Also consider this curious usage by John, when referring to Lazarus waking from sleep, "The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover [σωζω]” (John 11:12, ESV). Once again, just as in the examples given above for σωτηρια, the verb σωζω can also carry the general meaning of health, well being or, as in the case of Lazarus, even wakeful normality.

σωζω as "spiritual profit" in James 2:14

How does one know which meaning was intended by the author? The context is the driving factor, it narrows the semantic range down to the specific idea which the author wished to convey. The importance of understanding context can clearly be seen in the theologically loaded second chapter of the letter of James. Much of the reason James chapter two is so controversial is the connection between faith and works in 2:14, "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save [σωζω] him?" (ESV). At first glance, the Christian tendency is to read the phrase "Can that faith save him" as giving a quality to the faith involved within salvation (Zuck, 425-427). In other words, a faith that does not have works does not save (Zuck, 427). Many theologians over the centuries have viewed this verse as very problematic, when compared to verses like Ephesians 2:8-9 which strictly separate faith and works in their involvement in salvation. Because of this tension Martin Luther referred to James as "a right strawy epistle" (MacDonald, 2215). However, this meaning only comes into view in James 2:14 because of the theological loaded word "saved" [σωζω] used in connection with faith. But is this James' intended meaning here? I do not think so. A quick comparison with the previous phrase in the same verse gives a clue as to what I think is going on here. James begins the verse "what good is it?" I think he is talking about the "usefulness" of having a faith that does nothing. A look at the whole of chapter two reveals that practical outpouring of works is what is in view here, not eternal salvation from hell. James uses this same phrase "what good is it?" in 2:16, "and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?" (emphasis mine, ESV). The other meaning of "health" or "well being" for σωζω, could be James' intended use of the word in this context. If this is the case then James 2:14 would read something like this; ""What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith spiritually profit him?" I do not mean spiritual profit in the way of salvation from hell, but in the way of practical out pouring of works. This meaning fits well with the context of works and faith in James chapter two and falls within the semantic range of the verb σωζω. Of course this would remove any tension between faith and works in salvation, and the qualification of faith with works. Perhaps Martin Luther would have looked at this letter differently?

Bauer, Walter, Fredrick William Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

MacDonald, William. Believer's Bible Commentary. Edited by Art Farstad. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995.

Milligan, George. Selections from the Greek Papyri. Cambridge: University Press, 1912.

Zuck, Roy B. A Biblical Theology of the New Testament. electronic ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1994.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Book Review: The Everychurch Guide to Growth.

This book review is one which I submitted as part of a church growth class for my masters degree. It was the first time I had ever been exposed to church growth concepts. I found it very interesting because I could see where many churches in my area had moved in this direction and had resulted in large numerical growth. However, are these principles really biblical, or simply business models adapted for the church? Personally I am not sure yet. I also wanted to post this review because of the comments that I made about church leadership towards the end of the review. I am not really sure where I was going with these comments and I am not sure where I stand now, because I no longer attend the elder lead church I discuss below. I would love to hear of experiences others may have had with church growth principles as set forth in books like these.

Towns, Elmer, C. Peter Wagner and Thom S. Rainer. The Everychurch Guide to Growth: How Any Plateaued Church Can Grow. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998.

I grew up attending smaller churches of less than 100 people and numerical growth was a subject that came up often, though mostly at Church meetings where finances were being voted upon. Money issues definitely plagued the smaller churches I attended, they struggled to pay the often times very low salary of their over worked pastor. Not to mention the overhead and maintenance costs of aging church buildings and facilities. But money problems are usually only a surface symptom of a deeper issue that is inhibiting spiritual and numerical growth. This book, The Everychurch Guide to Growth, attempts to give solutions and practical advice to possible growth problems.

The first motivator for a reader to pick this book off of the shelf is the fact that all three authors have the experience and credentials to speak authoritatively on the subject of church growth. Elmer Towns is a prolific author and seminary professor, as well as a lecturer and a respected scholar on church growth. C. Peter Wagner is a writer and noted authority on the church growth movement, and is a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. Thom S. Rainer is a noted author and scholar on evangelism and church growth and is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville.
Though this work is short, only 188 pages of text, it covers a lot of ground in the area of church growth and practical direction. The book is divided into three sections discussing barriers to growth in small (200 people), medium (400 people) and large (1,000 people) churches. Each of these sections are taken up by a different author, Wagner deals with the small church, Rainer with the medium, and Towns with the larger churches. 

Some of the most immediately practical advice can be found in the introductory discussion at the beginning of the book. It is here that several factors, which could inhibit growth, are given under the heading of “A Sick Body Will Not Grow”1 which lists five “diseases” that could be the cause of stagnated development.
These five diseases are; “ethnikitis,” which is “an allegiance of the church to one ethnic group;”2 “ghost town disease,”3 meaning a church that does not grow because of a local depleting population; “people blindness,”4 referring to an inability to see needs within the body or in the community; “koinonitis,”5 this is an over emphasis on internal church fellowship; “sociological strangulation,”6 which refers to the building facilities not being large enough for numerical growth; “arrested spiritual development,”7 which is a lack of internal spiritual growth; and “hypopneumia,” a “subnormal level of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.”8 This introduction is definitely the strong point of the book. If one were only able to read a few pages, due to time constraints, much of the benefits would be gleaned from reading only the first 20 pages.
If a reader had a few extra minutes to glean more from the book, flipping to chapter eight would be the next best thing. Here one could read about a very interesting discussion on the “cell” church in part three. Despite the discussion being in the context of breaking the “1,000” person barrier, it appears that the concept of the church being several “cells” is applicable even to those churches that would be labeled small. This is exactly what Towns does in his description of the cell;

A small single cell church probably has an average attendance of 87 worshipers (87 is a statistical average of a wide variety of churches representing different denominations, theological convictions, worship styles, and regional areas of the United States). The single cell church resembles a large, overgrown family. As a matter of fact, the single cell church is often called the family church or the typical American church.9

This idea of the church being a “cell” in the fashion of a living organism, is a very practical understanding of the church. It is here that universal application of some general techniques of growth can be readily understood and applied. Several bulleted lists and tables are given, filled with ways in which programs or activities can be undertaken to immediately move a church in the direction of growth. These are very practical and down to earth and can be summed up in Towns' own words;

Just as a human body grows by the division of cells (and remains healthy by the addition of cells), in the same way the local church body will grow by adding cells. Don't think of adding people to a church of 100 – think of adding new ministries, new classes, and new programs of outreach.10

The introduction and chapter eight together total around 40 pages of text, these appear to be the strongest and most practical areas of the book. The rest is not as promising and there are several points of critique which can be brought to light.
The repetitive nature of the content can be a detraction from those who want a more detailed discussion and overview. As was mentioned above, much of part one and two repeats the introductory comments on “diseases” of church growth. Though, some readers may find that repeating the material helps them retain the information for later use. 

Most of the directions and tips concerning the type and quality of leadership can better be learned and understood in other more in-depth books dealing specifically with the subject of biblical leadership. the information which given on the topic of leadership is itself very repetitive in nature, which appears to be the designed approach of the book. Though each section touches on the challenges of leadership in some form, the only chapter that focuses specifically on Godly leadership is chapter nine, and this in the context of breaking the 1,000 person barrier. This really should be more of an in depth study, considering that the authors consistently point to the pastor and leadership as the main problem of failing to break church growth barriers.

The final, and arguably the most detracting characteristic of the book, is the emphasis on the pastor-teacher style of leadership. This is by no means the only way a congregation can be lead. There are many successful churches which are shepherded by an unpaid, non professional group of elders. Many of these churches are very large and have exceeded the 300 and even 400 person mark. I personally attended a church such as this, which fluctuated every Sunday from 200 to 250 people and was lead by a group of elders and deacons. Each of the elders shared the position of leadership and none had the “final word” on the direction or vision of the church. Consider this statement at the beginning of chapter nine;

The one key ingredient to breaking the 1,000 barrier is the pastor-leader. The pastor must be an executive leader with skills not evident or required to break the tow previous barriers (emphasis mine).11

This statement shows the bias that is presented towards the pastor-teacher style of leadership which is prevalent in churches today. If the methods of church growth given in The Everychurch Guide to Growth only work with a pastor-teacher style of leadership, then one must question the biblical soundness of the methods given.

In conclusion, this book has many things going for it, especially if one wishes to have an introduction to the topic of growth. But the book is so repetitive that the information could easily be condensed to a booklet of 80 pages or so. Also, better books are out there that deal with the subject of biblical leadership which could be consulted. Perhaps a better approach would be to give more real life examples of these methods implemented in actual churches and discuss how they have worked. Overall, this is a good introduction to church growth and is a great book to keep in ones library for quick and easy reference on the topic of growth.

1. Elmer Towns, C. Peter Wagner and Thom S. Rainer, The Everychurch Guide to Growth (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 10.
2. Ibid., 11.
3. Ibid., 12.
4. Ibid., 13.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid., 14.
7. Ibid., 15.
8. Ibid., 17.
9. Towns, 151-152.
10. Ibid., 153
11. Towns, 169.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Smoothing The Ride!

Working on an airplane is not so different from working on a car. Just like any other machine, there are a vast array of moving parts and systems which work together to perform a specified goal. In some ways, though, aircraft are much simpler than a comparable sized car. Thus an airplane can be easier for the aircraft mechanic to work on, when compared with the complex systems of the modern passenger vehicle that the car mechanic is required to deal with during maintenance. Much of this difference in complexity is due to differences in purpose. The purpose of a car is to provide transportation in a comfortable and economic way (though economy is not a factor with some types of cars). An aircraft on the other hand, needs to be, above all else, as light as possible. Thus the simple comfort and luxury in most passenger cars is found stripped out of an airplane due to weight needs. Though basic items, such as cushioned seats and insulation can be found in even the simplest of aircraft, the comfort of a flight mostly depends on how well the aircraft flies through the air. And for a helicopter, (which is the particular type of airplane I work on) this can become quite an involved task.
AS350 B2
I work on a smaller sized, French made Eurocopter AS350 B2 and B3 helicopter, which is used by rescue, police, military and many other commercial, government and civilian organizations, all over the world. For those of you who might be a little unfamiliar with helicopters, let me explain briefly, how this model of helicopter basically works. The AS350 uses a three bladed main rotor head system with a two bladed tail rotor. A small turbine engine turns a drive shaft which is connected to both the main rotor and the tail rotor through two separate transmission systems. As the engine turns it spins the main rotor head, with the three blades, which are like three small wings. As the rotor system spins faster, the blades create more lift and the helicopter can then raise off the ground. The pilot uses the control sticks in the cockpit to input small changes in the angles of the blades as they are turning (referred to as "angle of attack"). This allows the pilot to control forward, up and down and even backward and side to side movements...its almost like riding on a flying carpet! So what does the tail rotor do, you might ask? Well the the tail rotor blades are also like little wings that create lift. Except they push and pull on the tail boom of the helicopter in a lateral side to side motion. This enables pilots, through foot pedal inputs, to point the nose of the helicopter in any direction required. The tail rotor blade also keeps the helicopter from spinning in a circle when it leaves contact with the ground, it counteracts the twisting torque of the main rotor blades spinning overhead...remember Newton's third law.

A Balancing Act!

Add plate weights to balance the main rotor head
This spinning mass of metal and composites creates quite the wind storm. The rotor head resembles a giant wheel spinning on its side right on top of the helicopter and requires balancing, just like the wheels on a car. This balancing is accomplished by adding, or removing, small weighted plates to the inside bottom of each blade. But balancing is not the only adjustments that need to be made by the mechanic for the rotor head to operate efficiently. The main rotor blades also have to be "told" where to fly. Yes, I did say the pilot controls this from the cockpit, but it is a little more complicated than that. Remember that time your mini-van pulled hard to the right and seemed to have a mind of its own? The only way to fix the problem was to take it in for an alignment. Because the wheel alignment drifted due to hitting pot holes and and other types of wear, it made for an uncomfortable, and sometimes uncontrollable, ride. These small variations in wheel alignment caused the wheels to move out of the intended path which the driver inputted through the steering wheel.The same is true of the main rotor blades. Each one is like a small wing that has to be set a certain way for it to fly correctly. Even the smallest variation in blade flight path can cause a very uncomfortable (and damaging) vertical vibration. Very similar to the way in which an out of balance wheel can make for a rough ride. This vibration can be corrected by making small adjustments to the angle of the blades as they sit on the rotor head. While the helicopter is in the hanger before it makes its first flight, the initial blade angle is set at 7 degrees using a standard rigging tool. This is adjust by the pitch control links, which are metal rods that connect the swashplate to each individual blade. No a swashplate is not some kind of weird dinner plate, it is a simple system which connects the spinning rotor head with the stationary controls that are inside the helicopter, which allow the pilot to control the aircraft. Once this initial blade angle set up is done, then its flying time!

Pitch Control Links and side view of the swashplate
So Whats The Angle?

Now that the helicopter is flying, this is where things get a little touchy! Even though the blades have an angle set on the ground, before even leaving the hanger, the blades can take on a mind of their own when the helicopter starts flying forward. Each of these blades are hand made out of composite materials, fiberglass, resin, metal, and graphite. Because each blade is hand made and completely original, they each fly in their own unique ways. This individuality reveals itself pretty quickly after reaching cruising speed (around 100-120 knots), this is when it starts to get bumpy. The only way to get these unruly blades to fly right is to adjust their individual tabs on the trailing edge of each blade. These tabs are like tiny ailerons which control the particular angle ("angle of attack") that each blade flies. Using a special tool the mechanic can make small bends to these tabs. If the tab is bent up, the blade flies higher, if the tab is bent down the blade flies lower. The closer the blades fly to each other, the smoother the ride. The best way to explain this phenomenon is to imagine having a three legged race with someone who has a shorter leg. This would cause for a bumpy race each time the shorter leg is stepped on and used to propel the racers forward. The same is true of a blade that is not flying in the same circular path as the other blades. Thus, the closer the blades fly to each other, the smoother the ride. Simple right! Not so fast. There is one more problem the mechanic has to deal with, turbulence. Remember when you last went fishing on the lake, and those pesky motor boats kept speeding by and made such a large wake that you left in disgust? As the boat raced through the water, it created waves that reached out behind the boat as it traveled forward in the water. Well the same is true for each of these blades. As the blade passes through the air (remember it is a fluid) it creates its own wake in the air that disturbs the smooth ride of the blade right behind it in the rotor path. So you have to be careful not let the blades fly too close or the ride will get bumpy again. This final act of adjustment can be quite the feat and is a combination of art and science. After you master this, you got it! The helicopter is flying smooth and efficient!
Blade tab adjustment tool
The small aileron like blade tabs. But only bend the two inboard ones, the other four are set at the factory.
Bend the tab up, the blade flies higher. Bend the tab down, the blade flies lower.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Plato: Philosopher, Christian and a Gnostic!(?)

An ancient bust of Plato
located in the Vatican
If there is any figure in history that immediately invokes the images of libraries, scribes hunched over parchment, or bearded scholars intensely debating over points of logic, it is Plato. For many years my knowledge of this genius of philosophy was limited to what marble busts with features glaring blankly into space could reveal about him, which was only that he had a cool beard and looked smart. During high school readings on history his name would surface even amongst the lightest of descriptions of ancient Greek culture and its impact on history. My first real encounter with Plato and his ideas was after I had found a copy of his Apologia and Crito in Greek in a local used bookstore. Though I did not know enough Greek at the time to read this book in the original language, the introduction was very informative, setting forth the Socratic method of διαλεκτική, or dialectic. I was able to work through an english translation of Crito, a classic example of this style of dialogue between Socrates and his friend Crito. I could not help but be fascinated by the simplicity and rigor of this method of inquiry. Wanting to read more, Plato's Republic was next on the reading list (I don't really have a reading list). While jotting down notes in the margins, the dialogue quickly pulled me into the world of ancient Greece. Discussions about God were particularly enjoyable for me. One in particular, between Socrates and Adeimantus I found to be intriguing. They are discussing the ideal utopian State, in which Socrates argues that poets should only be allowed to write tales of virtue about God for the children to follow in example. Here is a small slice of this dialogue, Socrates is narrating; 
Very true, he said, but what are these forms of theology which you mean? Something of this kind, I replied: God is always to be represented as he truly is, whatever be the sort of poetry, epic, lyric, or tragic, in which the representation is given.
And is he not truly good? and must he not be represented as such? [Socrates is referring to God here]
And no good thing is hurtful?
No, indeed.
And that which is not hurtful hurts not?
Certainly not.
And that which hurts not does no evil?
And can that which does no evil be a cause of evil?
And the good is advantageous?
And therefore the cause of well being?
It follows therefore that the good is not the cause of all things, but of the good only?
Then God, if he be good, is not the author of all things, as the many assert, but he is the cause of a few things only, and not of most things that occur to men. For few are the goods of human life, and many are the evils, and the good is to be attributed to God alone; of the evils the causes are to be sought elsewhere and not in him. (Plato, Republic, Book II)
I know this was a lengthy quote, but it is an interesting one to show how Socrates uses the questions and responses in order to build up to a conclusion. His conclusions about God are interesting here, especially when compared with Christian theology. Compare Socrates' last paragraph above with James 1:17 "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow" (NASB), some striking similarities there. But wait there's more! A little further on in the Republic, Plato attributes to Socrates this conclusion about God, "Then it is impossible that God should ever be willing to change being, as is supposed, the fairest and best that is conceivable, every God remains absolutely and forever in his own form" (Book II). So here, in a roundabout way Plato (through the voice of Socrates) is saying that God is only good and that he doesn't change. Wow, definitely some common ground with Christian theology. But apparently I am not the only one to think so. The early second century Church apologist, Justin Martyr (died ca. 165 AD), thought the same thing. Before his conversion to Christianity, Justin was a wandering philosopher sage, until he met a Christian who witnessed to him and taught him the way of salvation. Justin, having extensive schooling in philosophy, understood and saw the many striking similarities between some of Plato and Socrates' understanding about God, and the immortality of the soul, (as well as other things) with Christian theology. It was with these similarities in mind that Justin responded to the Roman societies' dislike, and critic of Christianity. He argued in a round about way that Plato and Socrates had received this truth from Christ, the "logos," who is the giver of all truth, and thus in way, they were...Christians(!). A little strange for our 21st century ears, but it made sense to Justin, and it inevitably made sense to many of the ancient Church Fathers who were influenced heavily by various Platonist ideas....can someone say Origen!
But there were others in the ancient world who took a dislike to philosophy and Christianity touching shoulders so closely. It was just such a reaction that Tertullian (a Church figure from Carthage in north Africa, ca. 160-225 AD) expressed when he penned the now famous quote; "What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem? What does the Academy have to do with the Church?" (Prescriptions Against Heresies, 1.7). In this quote, Tertullian is showing how influential Plato really was in his day. Plato was from the Greek city of Athens, and the Academy was founded by Plato in Athens to teach his brand of philosophy.
The Nag Hammadi Gnostic Writings
Christian theologians were not the only religious thinkers to take a liking to Plato. A group, or religious sect that gained many converts during the Roman period and even a little after was Gnosticism. What it was (or is) exactly is hard to describe, and many scholars debate this fact. But essentially it was a melding of Platonic thinking and Christianity, and in some places, with Judaism. The Gnostics usually followed the notion that a person was "saved" by leaving the material world through some secret knowledge; γνῶσις means knowledge in Greek and is were the term Gnostic is derived. One aspect of Gnosticism was that there were many different lesser demigods which were responsible for creating all the evil in the world, which was essentially all material things. If you think back to the quote from the Republic above, you can see where this idea of demigods could spring board off of Plato's ideas about God. Strangely enough, in the mid 1940s a large hoard of buried Gnostic writings were found preserved in an ancient jar dating from the 3rd or 4th century AD. Amongst this collection of writings was a fragmented portion of Plato's Republic! The fact that Plato's Republic was included amongst other important Gnostic writings reveals just how influential Plato was on Gnostic thinking.
What can we learn from this example of Plato? Whether we like it or not, we are deeply indebted to past thinkers, much of what we know is based on, or built on the discoveries and knowledge of the past. This can be a blessing, and a curse. It can be a blessing, because we only have a short time in this world, and we cannot know everything, we have to work together. It can be a curse because it can set a precedent of thinking, a cultural paradigm in which we find ourselves and do not even realize we are being influenced by the past. Tertullian saw this danger, and the wide range of Gnostic melding of philosophy and Christianity shows how far this can go.
I have this example of Plato in the back of my mind each time I sit down and read my Bible, "How much of what I think about God is influenced in a negative way by some outside source, mindset or paradigm?" I want to make sure that my theology is taken from the word of God, and thus accurate. Philosophy can be a tool to better understand God, but I should be very careful not to force the Bible into a philosophical system.

I meant to reference my sources, I will add that here;

Gonzales, Justo L.. The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day. 2 Vols. Peabody: Prince Press, 2006, 1:53-56.

Plato. The Apology and Crito. Edited by Isaac Flagg. American Book Company, 1907.

____. Plato, Six Great Dialogues: Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Phaedrus, Symposium, and the Republic. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2007.

Robinson, James M., ed. The Nag Hammadi Library in English. Revised edition. New York: HarperCollins Paperback, 1990.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Rise And Fall of Power

Persian Short Sword, Bronze ca. 800 B.C.
I like history, reading about history, yes, but seeing the left over pieces of history that have managed to survive the ravages of time which sit behind glass cases in museums, this is fun for me. I have been able to purchase a couple of interesting pieces of history for myself over the years. One such item is a bronze Persian dagger sized sword covered in a thick green layer of oxidation, the certificate of authentication sporting a date of around 800 B.C. During the time at which this dagger was forged and used, the Assyrian Empire ruled in what is now Iraq and Iran. What became of this powerful empire you might ask? Well, after several centuries of various rulers from Babylonia and Assyria, the Empire was eventually conquered by that Macedonian General Alexander the Great. The Empire Alexander had fought for several years to build crumbled when he died at a young age and his conquests were split between his four generals. Though the Greek cultural revolution changed life in the known world for centuries to come, the various empires which Alexander's generals and their descendants ruled were also eventually conquered by the infamous Roman Empire. Can anyone see a trend here? I do, very much, the rise and fall of power, armies, nations, cultures, they all come and go. I am reminded of this each time that I look upon this corroded hunk of forged metal nestled on it's display stand. I can't help but think upon the situation of the United States of America. There is a foreboding sense of gloom that can be felt in the air. Sometimes it is so thick, it is nearly palpable. The slow spiraling decline in power, influence, stability, everything seems to be on the brink of collapse. Is there a good ending to this little story? Yes, a fisherman wrote several centuries ago "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever" (1 Peter 1:24-25). The word of the Lord will always endure, what he says will come to pass, and I can always place my trust in this.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Not Another Blog!

From my 2009 trip to France, the Bayeux Cathedral
I was reading that there are some 150 million or more blogs out there in the internet world. How could another blog add to this growing ethereal community? I have been asking myself this question for some time now, while considering content, focus and direction for a possible blog of my own. I clicked and dragged over many an article sporting the title "blogging tips for beginners" or "50 tips for starting a blog." My perusal also included web searches for other blogs with content and focus in my fields of interest. It seems that Solomon was correct when he wrote "there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9), imagine that! Thus I decided that even though I may not contribute in a meaningful or significantly impactful way to the blogosphere, I can at least share some of my thoughts, and the thoughts of others. The blog title Argumentum Ad Nauseam appears strange as a description of blog content, and perhaps better describes my condition after a long and turbulent airline flight. Argumentum Ad Nauseam is a technical term used to describe a logical fallacy in which an argument (right or wrong) is repeated over and over again until hopefully it is accepted by the hearers as true. I thought this an appropriate phrase to describe the content of this blog. It may not have anything particularly new, groundbreaking, fundamental, cutting-edge or even newly interesting. But it will reveal my thoughts on an eclectic selection of topics which I often think and read. Though most of what I may say has already been said before (thus the title). So, what to expect from this?
  • Light discussions on philosophy and history
  • Reviews of books I am reading, including text books
  • Reflections on Greek and Hebrew languages
  • Biblical topics, Christian life and History
  • Aviation, mostly from the perspective of helicopter maintenance
Most of this will be filtered through my own Christian paradigm and will often relate to my faith in some way. I originally wanted to title the blog Fides Quaerens Intellectum, (faith seeking understanding) a term from the medieval theologian and philosopher Anselm (ca. 11th century) but this was a popular blog title (understandably). This Latin phrase best describes the motivation behind my life, reading and world view. Hopefully this will spark some engaging conversations.

[EDIT: I have changed the blog name (obviously) to The Textual Mechanic as it appears to me to be a much catchier name than my previous title. It also describes better my circumstances as my career as a Helicopter Mechanic intersects with my passion for textual criticism of the New Testament, canonical studies, and Biblical Studies in general.]