Theological Generalisations

One of the things that has made maths and science so successful in explaining the world and finding useful applications of that knowledge is the ability to simplify complex problems. One such approach is generalisation. Instead of trying to solve for each particular instance or aspect of a complex phenomenon to make sense of the entire thing, you simplify things by extrapolating from special or limited cases to create a useful approximation of what the general case will be like. So with generalisations there are always exceptions however their strength is that for most circumstances they do work.

For Christians recognising generalisations is important because a similar approach is sometimes used by New Testament authors in addressing certain complex issues. The trouble is generalisations can be confused with absolute statements, which significantly affects how we understand scripture. This is often because they make authoritative statements about how things generally are. However, the difference with absolute statements is there can be no exceptions. With generalisations there are exceptions but they are often implicitly assumed which is why they can be wrongly assumed to be absolute. The more you understand scripture you recognise the importance of such nuances. They often have major theological implications. Continue reading “Theological Generalisations”

David the Patriarch

There is a curious little phrase in Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2:14-40.

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.  – Acts 2:29

What makes the phrase “the patriarch David” so strange is King David is ostensibly not a Jewish patriarch. Continue reading “David the Patriarch”

Rethinking Testimony

Testimony is a word that has acquired a religious meaning. According to the Oxford dictionary, one of the meanings of testimony is “A public recounting of a religious conversion or experience.” However, not many realise that there is a difference between religious terminology and biblical terminology. Sometimes they overlap and compliment one another but other times they do not. Often the popular religious meaning of a word is not the biblical meaning of the word. This is the case when it comes to the word “testimony”. Continue reading “Rethinking Testimony”

The Dominating Influence of Exodus 34:5-7 in the Old Testament

The Strange Triumph of the Lamb

I pieced together this handout for a Bible study that I’m teaching on the Minor Prophets at Harvard for students who are around for the summer.  At a few critical junctures within this so-called Book of the Twelve the various individual prophets allude to Exodus 34:5-7, clearly holding it up as the core revelation of who God is in relation to His redeemed people and to the world He has created.  This character description functions as an explanation for why the God of Israel acts in history the way that He does. 

This canonical act of remembrance recurs in many other Old Testament writings which likewise lean heavily upon God’s primal manifestation of His name to Moses in Exodus 34:5-7.   As I mention in a footnote below, I have especially found the works by Lane and Hamilton to be rich sources for insight upon this scriptural pattern.  Note: in the many passages that (arguably) allude to the foundational depiction of God’s nature in Exodus 34:5-7, the several connecting “echoes”–whether verbal or…

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Cognitive Bias and Theology

We are more accustomed to thinking of syncretism as an errant imposition on the biblical text from culture. The point often overlooked is that even church and denominational subcultures are shaped by various dynamics in their surrounding culture(s). Who possibly knows the all the ways Christian organizations reflect the values and priorities of the numerous cultures in which we belong?

Furthermore, the inertia of tradition moves us along. We filter out certain texts and theological conclusions; or perhaps, we will overemphasize ideas beyond what is found in Scripture. In effect, our traditions and “Christian” subcultures create biases and impose significance or meaning into a passage.

Continue reading “Cognitive Bias and Theology”