Weekly Meanderings 10 May 2014

But did they really discover Herod’s tomb?

After Herod died in 4 B.C., he was buried at Herodium—but where? A few years ago, it seemed that the question was solved. Eminent Herodium archaeologist Ehud Netzer declared that he had found Herod’s impressive mausoleum. (Netzer passed away in 2010, and all of his BAR articles—including his posthumously published article on the discovery of Herod’s Tomb—are available here for free).

The Israel Museum put together the exhibit Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey around the 25-mile procession from the throne room in Jericho to the tomb Netzer discovered in Herodium. This extremely popular exhibit guided visitors around the modest tomb of the megalomaniac ruler. This discrepancy gave some scholars pause; would one of history’s most renowned builders (and, let’s not forget, largest egos) really have been interred in a simple tomb?

Hebrew University scholars Joseph Patrich and Benjamin Arubas are just as confident that this was not Herod’s tomb as Netzer was sure that it was. In “Was Herod’s Tomb Really Found?” in the May/June 2014 issue ofBiblical Archaeology Review, editor Hershel Shanks examines the evidence and weighs in as the hunt for Herod’s tomb continues.

Shanks writes, “Netzer did find an impressive mausoleum at Herodium. It contained three remarkable sarcophagi. It is located, however, on the slope of the dramatic man-made mountain that marks the site from afar.” Patrich and Arubas compare Herod’s tomb at Herodium with contemporary royal tombs of the period, and Herod’s pales in light of the others’ monumentality.

Diane Leclerc:

If we define human holiness as being sinless, we have defined it merely by an absence. But holiness is never a passive condition of having abstained from certain wrongs. It requires the purposeful desire to walk rightly. The best definition of holiness, then, is love—an active, engaged, embodied love for God, each other, and the world.

In the context of the church, holiness means living out this call of love in relation to one another. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul outlines how a holy church should function.

First, the church’s purpose is to represent Christ on earth. We become the body of Christ in his bodily absence. We are to go where Christ would go and do the ministry Christ would do. We are to minister to the poor, the outcast, the stranger, and the vulnerable. We are to feed them, invite them in, heal them, and show them hospitality. Our hearts are cleansed by God; this impels us, as the church, to get our feet dirty in the world’s messiness. If the church is to be holy, it must fulfill its ultimate purpose as Christ’s body, with outstretched hands.

Second, the church is meant to fulfill its purpose by living with each other in a vital,interdependent way. There is no individualism in the body, no such thing as a solitary Christian. The ear or eye cannot say of another part, “I don’t need you.” Rather, every part of the body needs every other part if the body is to fulfill its purpose on earth. Although we are called to love the whole world, there is a particular love we owe to each other. When one part mourns, all mourn. When one part rejoices, all rejoice. We depend on each other when life becomes difficult. We depend on each other to lift our praises to God. If the church is to be holy, it must be characterized by relationships of mutual love and care.

Third, the body of Christ is called to value all of its parts in equal measure. This would have been surprising to Paul’s audience. “Equality” was not a concept in Greco-Roman society. Everyone had a particular part to play, but it was very clear who had value—who had power and authority—and who didn’t. Paul dares to proclaim that in God’s economy, the less presentable parts have equal value. The “disabled” parts are treated with special honor. If the church is to be holy, it must affirm that every part—every person—is highly valued, equally needed, and deeply loved.

And, of course, 1 Corinthians 12 is followed by chapter 13, the grand “love chapter.” Paul implies that all the problems he has addressed up to this point would work themselves out if only love reigned as it ought. Love is at the very center of holiness. Love is how holiness expresses itself. We could even venture to say that holiness itself is love.

Chicago Muslims call for more efforts:

A Chicago Islamic organization is joining the global outcry, calling on President Barack Obama and other world leaders to do more to help rescue more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian girls and stop attacks in the country attributed to militant group Boko Haram.

“They’re having a field day that we as members of the world community should not let them have,” said Aminah McCloud, a professor of religious studies and director of the Islamic World Studies program at DePaul University.

In a sometimes emotional press conference Thursday at the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago office downtown, Muslim leaders and educators condemned what they call barbaric and horrific mass kidnappings and other deadly attacks in Nigeria attributed to Boko Haram.

Obama’s administration announced Tuesday it would send an American team of experts to Nigeria to support the response to the April 14 kidnapping of the girls. The militant group’s leader has threatened to sell the girls “on the market,” prompting a warning from the United Nations that this would make the perpetrators liable for war crimes….

The Muslim leaders also sought to differentiate Islam from the acts of the militant group. Boko Haram’s five-year insurgency is aimed at reviving a medieval Islamic caliphate in modern Nigeria. The group has claimed responsibility for deadly bomb blasts in recent weeks.

But there is no interpretation of Islam that would explain or justify these acts, said  Dr. Mohammed Kaiseruddin, chair and co-founder of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.

Brian McLaren responds with grace and not a little challenge, all in classic McLaren fashion:

So if my only option were to be a Christian in the way you are, I simply could not be a Christian. My conscience wouldn’t allow it. My understanding of the Bible wouldn’t allow it. My devotion to Christ wouldn’t allow it. If you want to define me as a false teacher, not a true Christian, etc., etc., you are certainly free to do that, and I don’t hold it against you. I honor you for speaking your mind, and for doing so with far more decency and kindness than some of your colleagues. You are a good man with a good heart, trying to do the right thing.

When I started on this path, I knew it would not be an easy road. I expected to lose almost all my friends, lose my ministry, lose everything. But I felt, as Paul did, that it would be worth it to risk and lose everything in order to honestly and truly seize hold of what I believed God was calling me toward.

Yes, I did lose some friends. In fact, there have been many losses. But to my surprise, there were other blessings that came. People started approaching me, often in tears, saying, “If I hadn’t found your books, I would have left the faith entirely.” Not just one or two people, but many. Many pastors have even told me the same thing. This has continued for over 15 years now, and if anything, the intensity and frequency of these responses only seems to be increasing.

I know you hope and pray that this won’t happen, and I realize this is pretty unlikely … but when your kids or grandkids are older, one or two of them may come to you and say, “Dad (or Grandpa), I’m sorry, but I just can’t believe the version of Christianity you taught me. I love you, and I don’t want to displease you, but I took this course in college, and we learned ….”

If that happens, I’m sure you’ll do your best to turn them back to the straight path as you understand it. But if that doesn’t work, if they simply can not in good conscience follow your path, I hope you’ll consider slipping them one of my books or something by the kinds of post-conservative/post-liberal writers I mentioned earlier. It will not be what you would have wished. It will not motivate them to believe in verbal plenary inspiration, absolute inerrancy, TULIP, women’s subordination, the unacceptability of gay people as gay people, or eternal conscious torment in hell. But it will encourage them to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. There are worse things they could live by than that.

Latin Americans in the USA and their shifting faith:

Hispanic religion is in a huge period of flux in the United States, a new survey finds, with the share of Latinos who call themselves Catholic dropping sharply — by 12 percentage points — in just the past four years as many are drawn to both spirit-filled Pentecostalism and to disaffiliation.

Experts say the future of U.S. Catholicism depends on adjusting to Latino needs….

But Cary Funk, a senior researcher with Pew, said the movement away from Catholicism in the U.S. was “striking” even with all the spiritual browsing that Americans are doing. The survey found one in four Latinos is a former Catholic.

Fifty-five percent are Catholic, down from 67 percent in 2010. Twenty-two percent are Protestant, 18 percent unaffiliated.

“Broadly, it’s a similar level of religious switching. But the size of the change and the speed is unusually large,” she said. “What we’re seeing is a greater religious pluralism among Latinos.”

Many experts feel the U.S. church hasn’t been fast enough at responding to the growth in Latinos, and a Boston College study also released this week found only one in four parishes has an organized ministry to Latinos, even though 33 percent of all Catholics are Hispanic.

Jackson Wu and the gospel:

One should not confuse the gospel and the response. If we do, we run into a logical problem, which could either be called a “vicious circle” or an “infinite regression” (depending on how you frame the problem). Let me illustrate.

Greg Gilbert and Kevin DeYoung, in What is the Mission of the Church? make this critical mistake. When discussing Mark 1:15, they write,

 “It is wrong to say that the gospel is the declaration that the kingdom of God has come. The gospel of the kingdom is the declaration of the kingdom of God together with the means of entering it. Remember, Jesus did not preach ‘the kingdom of God is at hand.’ He preached, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand; therefore repent and believe!’ ” (110–11).

They misquote the end of the verse. It should say, “. . . repent and believe the gospel.”

Why does their misquote matter?

In short, they would have disproven their own point if they had quoted the passage correctly. Observe how the grammar proves the distinction between the gospel and our response.

In other words, the content of the gospel and the response to the gospel are separate ideas and should not be collapsed into one.

Gilbert and DeYoung assert the gospel itself includes the way we are saved, i.e. if we respond with faith and repentance, we are saved. However, if this is Jesus’ meaning, what actually is Jesus saying? We can do some simple substitution of terms.

“believe the gospel = believe [that by repenting & believing the gospel, we are saved].“

But now we run into a problem. The thing we are supposed to believe (i.e. the gospel), includes the need to believe the gospel! Accordingly, if Gilbert and DeYoung are correct, then Jesus commands something like this:

“. . . repent and believe that you can repent and believe the truth that you can repent and believe . . . .” (and so the cycle goes on).

I know that last sentence makes little to no sense. That’s the point.

(I tried to make clear what I think their misquote makes unclear by italicizing the word “that” in the quotation. I do this to signify the content that one is supposed to believe. In Mark 1:15, Jesus inserts “the gospel.” However, if the gospel is a “how-to” message, then I could simply plug in a conditional if-then statement in its place.)

What results? If we must believe the gospel is a conditional statement wherein we are saved if we believe the gospel, then we end up with a vicious cycle. We wind up with an infinite loop.

The “gospel” (as the Bible uses the word) is not a “how-to” concept expressed in the form of a conditional sentence (i.e. “If . . . then . . .”).

Instead, it is a declaration that implies a command.

The gospel is a declaration of Jesus’ kingship, implying a summons to allegiance.

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