Friday, September 12, 2008
Reimagining Church-- A Frank Response Part Two
I am very pleased to have these two responses to the posts I have done to Frank Viola's important and well-written new book. Among other things, what we are modeling here is civil discourse (I hope), even at points where we strongly disagree. And it is too rare a thing not to note it and appreciate the fact.
Both Frank and I admit that of course we could be wrong about even things we feel passionate about. As Mr. Wesley once said this is not a 'smack-down' venture, but rather we are saying "where your heart is as my heart, give me your hand and help", and where we disagree, then we agree to disagree and still treat one another as brothers in Christ. Enjoy these two responses from Frank. I still wish he had pitched better for my Red Sox all those years ago, but you can't have everything. I have to settle for watching his fastball go by in these two posts. :) BW3
Frank Viola’s Response: Part Two
My first thought after reading Part Three was: “Wow, Ben actually complimented my book on a few occasions. And he actually said that some of it “edified” and “helped” him. (I was pinching myself as I was thinking those thoughts to make sure I was awake.)
My first thought after reading Part Four was: “Take a deep breath, Ben. Everything’s gonna be okay.”
Albeit, he did say at least one kind word when he wrote: “More ministers in my tradition need to read this chapter.” (Frank gives Ben a high-five.)
This post will come under 7,000 words.
MY RESPONSE TO PART THREE
1) Ben’s caution about people who have been abused and their inability to show or receive affection is correct. And we should be aware of it. At the same time, our goal is to bring healing to such people that eventually reopens their traumatized heart to others. So it seems to me anyway.
2) Ben’s belief in a functional, unilateral subordinationism comes into view again. The problem with this is that it lacks the mutuality of the Trinity. Subordination is mutual in the Godhead. The Father totally gives Himself in His fullness to the Son. That’s why the Son is the Logos, because He contains the Father in His fullness. The Son’s very essence is that of a gift from the Father. How, then, can that not imply some moment of mutual subordination in the Trinitarian dance of love? The Father isn’t saying to the Son, “Hey, I’m here to run your life.” That’s not the giving of a gift. The Father’s relationship to the Son is an act of love, and act of self-giving, of dispossessing Himself for the sake of the Son, who in turn, dispossesses Himself back toward the Father and surrenders Himself to the same Father who in effect surrendered Himself to Him. So there’s a mutual surrender involved. Ben’s rejection of this is at the heart of his view of the Trinity. Functional subordination, then, occurs among all the members of the Trinity, not just of the Son to the Father. It happens in a distinctive way in each case, nonetheless it really happens. The Spirit also subordinates Himself in that He comes to glorify Christ.
3) In the chapter on church unity, I root the origin of sectarianism and division to the clergy/laity divide. Ben’s opinion is that this is wrong because 1) there wasn’t a clergy/laity division in the early church, and 2) denominationalism began with the Protestant Reformation. We’re talking apples and oranges here. I was speaking of the third century when the clergy/laity *did* begin. One can trace the disputes and divisions between churches at that time and afterwards. Also, sects within the Christian church predate the Reformation by many years.
4) In the book, I make a statement that implies that in most institutional churches, the pastor does not share his pulpit on a continual basis with laymen who have no theological training. Ben asserts that this is “simply false.” (Ben loves the word, “false”. He used it around 20 times in his review.) I have to scratch my head and say, “really?” For those of you who are part of institutional churches and don’t have any theological training at all, here’s a test: Tell your pastor or priest next Sunday that you wish to mount the pulpit once every month to preach to the congregation. Please email me if your pastor or priest says “yea, sure” and you actually do it. My email is FViola3891@aol.com. I look forward to hearing from you. We can keep a tally going.
5) Ben gives a conventional defense of denominationalism. But he also gives the impression that I’m urging and expecting all denominations to fold and be abolished. I’m not. My chapter on church unity makes two main points. The first is to examine God’s will with respect to denominationalism and sectarianism and where it weighs in on the issue of unity. My thesis is that modern denominationalism has made division in the body of Christ acceptable. I then discuss the implications and ramifications for those who gather in non-denominational, non-institutional churches or who are embarking on that journey. No practical solutions or instructions are given. A quote from the book: “Perhaps you are wondering if I believe that the denominational system will one day disappear, and Christians everywhere will begin to practically express their oneness in Christ. Unfortunately, I don’t see a day like that coming in my lifetime. But I do hope that those of you who read this book will apply its message to your own life and act accordingly.”
6) I don’t see the various meetings that Paul makes reference to in a particular city as being “hostile” to each other and functioning as different denominational churches. I would argue that there’s precious little evidence of this in the text themselves. Surely there was tension between Jews and Gentiles in some of the Pauline churches, but it doesn’t follow to argue that they denominated themselves into separate churches. Sounds to me like a justification for modern denominationalism.
7) Ben’s modern hermeneutic emerges again which says that authorial intention is the meaning of the text. For this reason, he cannot accept my discussion of Adam and Eve as being a picture of Christ and the church and adds some extremely odd concepts to it that I’ve never stated nor do I believe. I address the hermeneutical issue behind this in my first response. While my discussion of Gen. 1 and 2 is “bad exegesis” according to Ben’s limited hermeneutic, it’s perfectly legitimate exegesis according to canonical criticism and other methods of biblical interpretation. Some of which were routinely employed before modernism emerged.
8) Ben rejects my notion that the church expresses Christ as the second member of the Trinity. He says instead that the church expresses the image of Christ specifically. My response is, Can the image of Christ specifically be separated from Christ being the Logos, and can Christ being the Logos be separated from the Trinity? In other words, Ben builds a wall between Christology and the biblical teaching of the Trinity. And he seems to assume that the one has nothing to do with the other. Jesus Christ Himself cannot be separated from the second member of the Trinity.
9) Ben goes on further to argue that what we see in the church has to do with Christ’s death on the cross and has nothing to do with the interrelationships of the Trinity. The problem with this is that it overlooks the intimate connection between the cross and the nature of God Himself in the Trinity. The principle of the cross reaches back before Calvary. It’s rooted in the inner life of the Triune God. Each member of the Trinity dispossesses and gives of themselves to each other. Therein lies the headwaters of the cross. It’s part of God’s eternal nature and at the fore of Christ’s gift of Himself at the cross. Here again Ben builds another wall in his theology, setting the Trinitarian nature over against the cross.
10) I agree with Ben that the church was born on the day of Pentecost. However, Pentecost isn’t an event that happens in isolation of the resurrection. If there had been no resurrection there would have been no Pentecost. Pentecost, in a sense, is the church’s receipt of the fruits of the resurrection. Ben again builds an unnecessary wall in his theology.
11) Ben also has the view that since the church is the bride of Christ, it’s related exclusively to Christ, and it has nothing to do with the Trinity. Christ is the Eternal Son of the Father, this doesn’t stop when He becomes the bridegroom. Christ doesn’t cease from being the second Person of the Trinity to become the bridegroom. Repeat: at the heart of many of our differences is Ben’s disconnection between the doctrine of the Trinity and Christology.
12) Ben says the purpose of the church is embodied in the Westminster Catechism. I would argue that God’s eternal purpose goes beyond this and is far more glorious. I’d recommend DeVern Fromke’s book “Ultimate Intention” as an introduction on this point.
13) I don’t recall saying that God has a “need” like we humans do, nor do I believe that God is incomplete without us.
14) I don’t disagree with Ben’s emphasis on the church having a missional purpose that goes beyond itself. I both strongly believe this and make mention of it in the book and elsewhere.
15) Again, Ben makes the mistake of assuming that because some are gifted as teachers in the body (which I completely affirm), that this naturally means that there is a hierarchy in the church. This does not follow. I also agree with him that different members of the body are gifted for specific tasks and functions. This is major point of my book. But again, diversity of gifting doesn’t imply hierarchy. I also spend a lot of time in the book showing how apostles, prophets, teachers, etc. are not officers, but functions in the body.
16) Ben believes that because some are called to ministry and receive power from on high, this means that they are part of a hierarchy. Again, this is a non sequitur; it doesn’t follow. I also disagree with Ben’s statement that “the kingdom of God is indeed a hierarchical notion.” Hmmm. Jesus made quite clear on many occasions that it wasn’t. “Don’t be like the Gentiles who operate by top-down leadership. For it shall now be so among you.” “Don’t call any man Father, Master, etc. for you one is your Master (Christ) and you are all are brethren,” etc.
17) Ben says that “the concept of the priesthood of all believers implies a notion in which all Christians can assume all leadership functions at one time or another.” Not sure where he got that idea, but I don’t agree with it and don’t know anyone who does.
18) Ben fails to recognize that I’m not talking about “pastors” who led in a wrong way, but instead, I’m talking about the clergy *system* and the *structure* of leadership in that system. He spends a lot of time on this, but it didn’t resonate because he’s addressing a point I never made.
MY RESPONSE TO PART FOUR
Ben’s Part Four exceeded 10,000 words – ‘twas a mini-book, indeed. “A stream of consciousness” on steroids with some emotion peppered in for good measure. But sadly, for most of it, Ben got a bit carried away, I feel. A few people who read the book told me that they were shocked at some of the misrepresentations that were included in this part of his review. In addition, he -- in a very cavalier way – dismissed many of the main points in the book, a large number of which answered the very objections he wrote in his diatribe. I don’t believe this was intentional, but merely a facet of the particular manner in which Ben read the book.
1) Ben doesn’t mention the fact that in every area where he disagrees with me, there are top-drawer scholars, theologians, and teachers who are in agreement with my positions. In the book, I both cite and quote most of them as I make various points. Some of them are John Howard Yoder, Karl Barth, Robert Banks, Howard Snyder, F.F. Bruce, Stanley Grenz, Deitrich Boenhoefer, James D.G. Dunn, Leonard Sweet, Roland Allen, Watchman Nee, T. Austin-Sparks, et al.
2) Ben asserts that Christian elders were essentially the same as the Jewish elders of the synagogue. This is an assumption. Most of the arguments for this view are based on the idea that the Talmud accurately reflects second temple Judaism. And then the assumption is made that synagogue elders *had to* influence Christian elders. Robert Banks and Jacob Newsner (one of the best Talmudic Jewish scholars out there today) strongly disagree with him. Both of them point out that we have very, very little contemporaneous documentation for the practices of second temple Judaism. According to Newsner and Banks, the Talmud (the major source for second temple Judaism) takes the practices of Judaism of its day and projects it back – retrojecting it – into the second temple period. In so doing, it attributes to the second temple period things that were not really true. Hence in their view, the Talmud is unreliable as a source for second temple Judaism. In their research, Newsner and Banks demonstrate that elders at the time of second temple Judaism were not synagogue officials. They were in effect civic officials in the local Jewish civic community. And they didn’t receive ordination. All of these were later developments. More can be said, but I’ll leave it there.
3) As I state in the book, “elder” (since it’s not an office) is a relative description. It doesn’t, therefore, reflect an *absolute* age threshold. It’s more of a relative description of spiritual maturity within a spiritual community rather than an indication of a set physical age. Spiritual maturity and wisdom often come with age. But not necessarily.
4) Ben again incorrectly assumes that I don’t recognize distinctions in function. What I disagree with him on is whether these distinct functions have some sort of official status. I demonstrate in the book that I don’t believe they do and why.
5) Ben says that elders were expected to do their teaching in the church meetings. My question is, where’s the evidence for this? I don’t doubt that those elders who had the gift of teaching did some teaching in the church meetings, but the rest of the body was also free to participate in those meetings also (1 Cor. 14:26ff.; Heb. 10:24-25, etc.). There’s no evidence in the NT where we see an elder dominating a “church meeting” with a sermon of sorts.
6) A related point: Ben doesn’t seem to grasp my distinction between church meetings, apostolic meetings, decision-making meetings, and evangelistic meetings – all of which I define in the book. To Ben’s mind, everything is a church meeting. This creates monumental confusion in our discussion.
7) In order to justify “sola pastora,” Ben goes out of his way to dismiss the fact that elders were plural in the churches of the first century. He incorrectly states that I “insist that elders were always appointed in every church.” I don’t believe that all churches had elders and state so in the book. Some churches don’t appear to have elders. Antioch (of Syria) and Corinth are examples. We can’t be sure if they did or not.
8) Ben argues that every mention of elders has in view various churches in a region, so there’s no way to tell if a particular church had plural elders or one elder per church. But then his argument shifts to stating with confidence that there was a single pastor for each church, yet he gives no clear evidence for this. But does the Bible support Ben’s idea – that elders (plural) were appointed in churches (plural), so each church had one elder/pastor “over” it? Or does it support my thesis that in those churches where elders did exist, they were plural in each church? Let’s look at some texts to answer this question: Galatians 14:23 – and they appointed ELDERS (plural) in every CHURCH (singular). In Acts 20, we are told that Paul called for the ELDERS (plural) of the CHURCH (singular). James 5:14 – call for the ELDERS (plural) of the CHURCH (singular). In short, Ben cannot demonstrate the notion of one elder per one church. More can be said about this, but I’ll stop there.
9) “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” the Lord said. Sometimes this happens with the keyboard too. Listen to Ben’s words. “On the contrary it is an ongoing role that the leader needs to perform, because sheep can’t lead themselves anywhere, and need constant guidance and supervision.” I believe this statement is at the root of Ben’s entire ecclesiology. Note his words: “THE leader” … “sheep CAN’T … “sheep NEED CONSTANT.” Ben seems to think that Christians are incapable of taking care of one another so they need the help of a human pastor to care for them and tell them what to do. Here he presses the shepherd metaphor very hard. But I object: Christians aren’t the property of a pastor like sheep are to a shepherd. Neither is it okay for a pastor to exploit them for his own benefit as a shepherd does his sheep. Every metaphor has its limits. If you press the shepherd metaphor too hard, the results are very unpleasant. As I say in the book, “If we push the shepherd-sheep metaphor beyond its intended meaning, we’ll readily see its foolishness. Shepherds are incapable of breeding sheep. They also steal their wool and eat them for dinner!” Ben essentially makes the pastor out to be a clergyman over a laity. To my mind, these remarks from Ben reveal a very low view of the Holy Spirit’s work in and through God’s people. It would seem that Ben envisions the church spiraling into chaos if it doesn’t have one local human shepherd. But I completely disagree. See my next point.
10) I have known scores of churches where 1) there was no need for a clergyman, a.k.a., single pastor, 2) the body was equipped to take care of one another just as Paul encourages the church to do in 1 Thess. 5:14, Romans 15:14, and in so many other places, 3) shepherding occurred organically and it manifested itself in the plural. And most of it was done behind the scenes, and 4) those “poor dumb” sheep were knowing Jesus Christ together, experiencing His riches together, expressing those riches together, and taking care of one another by the grace and power of His indwelling life. Without a professional minister present. They were also impacting people’s lives, displaying our glorious Christ to a broken world. None were perfect. All had problems. Mistakes were made. Lessons were learned. But God did wonderful things in and through them all. A main point of “Reimagining” is to show that such churches are 1) rooted in Scripture and 2) possible in our day. Right or wrong, I believe that Jesus Christ, “the Great Shepherd of the sheep,” is alive enough to be head and pastor over His own sheep. And I have witnessed it dozens of times in dozens of places.
11) Ben then talks about Paul’s authority. He seems to have missed my entire discussion on the difference between organic (or moral) authority vs. official authority. These are two very different things. Paul often exercised moral authority, but not official authority. One of the things that Jon Zens, another NT scholar, observed and pointed out to Ben was his penchant for reading back into the NT our contemporary church practices. (This was not an accusation of intention by the way; it happens quite unconsciously.) As I read Part Four, I couldn’t help but agree with Zens’ observation. In response to what Ben had to say in defense of Paul’s use of “official authority,” the official authority of elders, justifications for top/down leadership and chain of command hierarchy in the church, I’d encourage readers to take a look at Robert Banks’ article, “Church Order and Government” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993. It’s very powerful. Also see his book “Paul’s Idea of Community,” Chapters 15-17. There Banks gives a ground-breaking look at Paul’s view of authority.
12) Yes, Paul corrected two women in Philippi, but that was clearly a case of moral/spiritual authority, not one of official authority. Paul wasn’t asserting that he had the power to regulate personal relationships between two individuals. As such, this is clearly a case of moral authority. (I devote two chapters to this subject in the book.)
13) In this connection, one of the interesting things about Rob Banks is that he’s watched the spiritual and practical dynamics of organic church life firsthand for years. He’s also witnessed the way that institutional churches operate. So have I. When one gets this sort of experience on both ends, the NT begins to open up differently. The clerical, institutional glasses fall off. And so much of it makes sense. No longer do we have to resort to exegetical gymnastics to try and support a clergy system. We also understand elders, not from an institutional standpoint, but from an organic one. Why? Because we’ve watched them emerge organically in the context of Christian community. The headship of Jesus Christ ceases to be an abstract, positional doctrine. It instead becomes a breathing reality. Consequently, when someone tells us “there must be a leader in a church as well as a liturgy. If not, the gathering will turn into chaos,” we look at them with mild amusement. We’ve been in hundreds of meetings that operated without leader or liturgy, and many of them were drop-dead glorious. We’ve been in countless meetings where decisions were made by consensus with elders and apostolic workers present. And they look identical to what we read in Acts 15. There’s no chain-of-command or hierarchy in place. And no one, including the elders and workers, are barking out orders to the church or telling her what to do. Yet some declare the sense of the meeting. We’ve also endorsed elders in churches, but as Marjorie Warkentin discusses in her seminal book on ordination, it’s not a matter of setting someone into a sociological slot of human convention (an “office”). As Rob Banks points out in his many lectures, our institutional ideas are “read back into the NT.” We put 21st century clerical glasses on and filter everything in the NT through them. In short, Ben and I are living in two different ecclesiastical worlds. It’s not a matter of one being bad and the other being good. They are just very different. And this is one reason why his interpretation of certain texts differs so drastically from mine, Robert Banks, Jon Zens, Watchman Nee’s and others who have lived in organic church life. (Add to the list my good friends Tony Dale, Felicity Dale, John White, Hal Miller, and many more.). D. Bonheoffer also got a taste of it and wrote about it in his book “Life Together” and so did Emil Brunner (see his book “The Misunderstanding of the Church”).
14) Yes, Paul and the churches knew who the elders were. But this doesn’t mean that they held an office, or that they led the meetings, or that they preached weekly sermons. It simply means that everyone in the community knew who the most mature Christians among them were. And from what we can see in the NT, elders emerged sometime after the church was planted, not immediately following.
15) Ben cites the Didache in his argument. As Jon Zens already pointed out, the Didache doesn’t reflect primitive church practice. Look at Jon’s argument at http://www.paganchristianity.org/zensresponds1.htm It’s quite compelling.
16) I have already answered many of Ben’s points about leadership and clergy salaries at http://www.ptmin.org/answers.htm Sources are cited there as well. That page also includes a discussion regarding honorariums, and I answer personal questions on that point.
17) I don’t deny that “honor” could involve giving money to elders as a gift at times. I state this in the book in fact, saying that it could include “freewill offerings as a token of blessing from time to time” citing Gal 6:6. What I’m objecting to is a professional clergy salary. I’m sorry, but even after reading Ben’s lengthy discussion in support of clergy salaries, I remain unconvinced that such a thing can be sustained by the NT. The statement that elders were not to be money-grubbers is not a defacto proof that elders were going to receive a salary. No more than the statement that they were not to be drunkards meant that the church was going to be giving them wine on a regular basis, or that the elders were required to drink wine. That the elders were known in the community (no doubt through work) is shown in the little phrase, “they must have a good reputation among outsiders.” Point: Loving money is a character defect according to Paul regardless of what form of employment one may have. People who love money are open to bribes, etc. This in no way proves that elders were paid a professional salary.
18) Ordination of elders was simply the public recognition of something that was already true. People should respect them and put weight in their words. Ordination did not give a person new powers that they had not had beforehand. I develop this thought in the book and cite other scholars who agree.
19) Ben says with absolute confidence that “the call for all Christians to exhort one another is never specifically linked to the worship or teaching service.” This is misleading. First, I can’t find a “worship service” in the NT. Second, the call to mutual exhortation is indeed tied to the corporate meetings of the church where the ekklesia assembles together. Just read 1 Cor. 14:26ff. and Hebrews 10:24-25. The plain reading of these texts refutes Ben’s statement. Incidentally, for those who assume that 1 Cor. 14:26 is descriptive only and not prescriptive, or that it’s a rebuke of some sort, consider Gordon Fee’s comment: … "the first sentence, which offers a description of what *should be happening* at their gatherings, echoes the concerns of chap. 12, that each one has opportunity to participate in the corporate ministry of the body. The second sentence, the exhortation that all of the various expressions of ministry described in the first sentence be for edification, echoes the basic concern of chap. 14—as well as of chap. 13." Fee’s interpretation is echoed by many other scholars.
20) Ben is confused on my view of spiritual gifts and ministries. Not all Christians are prophets or teachers or apostles. But again, I don’t see these functions as titles that carry official authority with the power of command. Ben seems to assume that because I deny “offices,” I’m somehow denying that there are prophets and teachers and apostles. Also: those who are gifted to teach and preach aren’t necessarily leaders in overseeing churches. While all overseers can teach, not all teachers are overseers (1 Tim. 5). It seems to me that Ben thinks that ministers of the Word are part of an ecclesiastical chain of command. I disagree. The ascension gifts are no such thing. I address this in the book as well as in my article, “Rethinking the Five-Fold Ministry” – http://www.ptmin.org/fivefold.htm
21) If the churches in the first century had a single pastor or offici-elders in the way that our modern churches do (as Ben asserts), then why, pray tell, do we never find a NT epistle that’s written to a church addressed to the pastor of that church? Or even to the elders? Without exception, every letter in the NT that is written to a church is addressed *to the community* itself. It’s not addressed to a pastor or offici-elders. Even in the letter to the Philippians, Paul addresses the whole church and off-handedly mentions the “overseers,” but only after he greets the church.
22) Ben agrees that we don’t see elders commanding the church to do things in the epistles. (Paul never blows the whistle for the elders to rise up and start taking care of problems. No doubt, he should have in Corinth and Galatia. Unless … elders were a different creature than what we’ve made them out to be.) Ben faults this as an “argument from silence” and hence he feels it’s weak. I do not. If the church in Century One operated like Ben claims it did, we would expect these things to be reflected in the epistles. (Paul would be writing to the elders. Or at least, he’d be telling them to straighten the mess out.) When they do not, the silence becomes deafening. Ben then says that there may be proof of elders barking out orders to churches in *private letters* that we don’t have. My response: An argument based on hypothetical, undiscovered, possibly non-existent letters is *beyond* weak. I’m arguing from what we actually have. Ben argues from what may have never existed. I affirm that arguing from thoroughly hypothetical documents is not compelling at all.
23) Ben tries to challenge my thesis that in the first century, a pastor wasn’t imported from one church to be “the pastor” of another church in a different city. (Like the common practice.) He then invokes the language of absolute certainty again saying “this is false.” An example he cites is Apollos. But where does it say that Apollos was a pastor? Or even an elder? Apollos, clearly, was a traveling teacher (1 Cor. 3). He wasn’t sent to Corinth to be their pastor. He, like Barnabas and Peter, visited Corinth to minister to the church temporarily, as traveling workers do. Years later, Paul urges him to visit again. Thus to use Apollos as an example of an imported pastor is a perfect example of reading the NT with clerical glasses. So it seems to me anyway. (The same could be said about Phoebe. I don’t see any evidence that she was a pastor being sent to take over another church.)
24) Again, being itinerant doesn’t exclude temporary residence. Temporary residence is *temporary*. Paul is most often on the move.
25) Also, this business that Paul really writes his letters to the leaders of the churches when he says “you” doesn’t hold water. (I’m not speaking of Titus, Timothy, or Philemon, but of the epistles to the churches.) When Paul or the other apostles want to address an individual in a particular church, they name those individuals. And when they want to speak to the elders, they call them out clearly (see 1 Peter 5 for instance). I think what we have here yet another example of trying to stretch the NT to make it fit the modern clergy system. Right or wrong, that’s how I see it.
26) While Ben denies a clergy/laity dichotomy, he affirms it in all of his rhetoric and arguments. I fail to understand why he feels he needs to deny it. I see no difference in his thinking from those who hold to a clergy/laity system. The arguments are identical.
27) Ben expresses dismay that I would find worthwhile insights in someone like Leonardo Boff, and he implies I’m being influenced by Marxism because of that. (?) Leonardo Boff believed in the Trinity. I believe in the Trinity. Does that make me a liberation theologian? One may agree with pieces of Ben Witherington’s exegesis without adopting Ben Witherington’s Arminianism. By the same token, one may agree with points made by Leonardo Boff without sharing his attitudes towards Marxism. The charge that Boff’s theology is based in toto on Marxism cannot be sustained. This is flatly untrue; it’s a libel that some conservative evangelicals have made against certain liberation theologians. But more importantly, Boff’s “Trinity and Society,” which I cite in the book, draws on the Catholic and Orthodox history of doctrine. It doesn’t draw from Marx at all. As such, Boff’s key points are in line with Grenz, Bilezikian, Giles, etc. in their understanding of how the Trinity and the church are related. I trust Ben doesn’t think they’re Marxists.
28) Also, I wouldn’t consider myself in the terms that Ben has. I’m not a charismatic; I’m post-charismatic – http://frankviola.wordpress.com/2008/08/06/stripping-down-to-christ-alone-rethinking-the-gifts-of-the-spirit/. And I don’t consider myself to be an evangelical, but rather a post-evangelical. But who’s paying attention? (smile)
29) I don’t get Ben’s argument about Jesus having a differing will from the Father. The point about consensual-decision making is that the body seeks the will of God and then acts once it gets the mind of God together. The church struggles to find God’s will, agrees on it, and then acts. It doesn’t take a vote nor does it take orders from a few special members. That’s the point of my chapter on decision-making. Jesus Christ is Head of His church. Decisions that are made independent of the Head constitute conspiracy.
30) Ben’s argument that Paul and Barnabas separated without a consensus of *the church* fails to recognize that Paul and Barnabas (a) aren’t a congregation, and (b) were involved in “the work.” And (c) the matter that they disagreed on had to do with “the work” and not a local church. No time to develop this, but see Robert Banks’ discussion on the difference between “the church” and “the work” in “Paul’s Idea.” Watchman Nee discusses it also in “The Normal Christian Church Life.” This is a very important distinction.
31) Ben misrepresents my views on accountability. He says that I deny accountability. He characterizes my belief to be one of saying that Christians should be accountable to no one on earth, and it’s okay if they disconnect themselves from the body. My entire thesis in Part Two makes the exact opposite point. And I condemn this sort of thinking in the book as well as in my own life. We are mutually subject to one another in the place where we fellowship. We are mutually subject to those Christians who God puts in our lives and bonds us with spiritually. Accountability/subjection are only safe in Christian community. On the other hand, the idea that says you are “covered” by being in a church where the people hardly know one another, let alone the pastor, is a sham. There’s a kind of accountability that’s real and living; and there’s a kind that’s artificial and nominal. “Reimagining” champions the former.
32) Ben didn’t like my Appendix. After reading Parts Three and Four of his review, I can understand why. For those of you who haven’t read the book yet, the appendix lists virtually every text in the OT and NT that people use to justify the clergy system, hierarchical leadership, authoritarian practices, “covering,” officers in the church, etc. “Touch not my anointed and do my prophets no harm” is even included. In many of my answers to those objections, I go to the Greek and cite reputable sources like F.F. Bruce, Robert Banks, Gordon Fee, Bauer, et al. Even so, the Appendix answers about 75% of Ben’s objections to the book.
33) When I read Ben’s sober words about loving one’s vision more than the Word of God which challenges all of our inadequate notions of ministry, the thought that went through my head and heart was: “Every servant of God should heed this, including Ben.” We who have spent time in Babylon ought to beware that we do not adopt the ways of Babylon nor seek to defend it. For if we do, its scent will not leave our garments and God’s people will not fail to smell it eventually.
34) Ben references Paul’s remark about the household of Stephanus, but he assumes that Paul means that the household of Stephanus can give the Corinthians orders. I disagree. Paul was urging respect and recognition of spiritual maturity here. Not the authority to dictate orders. I handle this text in the book.
35) Ben says that the church sometimes fails to recognize ministry so you can’t rely on the church for this. (Of course, Ben is speaking of the churches that he knows, which are traditional/institutional). My response: Is Ben claiming that denominational authorities never fail to recognize ministry? This, to my mind, is a straw man. It would be foolish for either of us to argue infallibility on either end.
36) Ben says that it’s the Holy Spirit who works through the church, not Christ. Look at Acts 1 and 2. The Holy Spirit is poured out by the ascended Christ. Look at John 14-17 where Jesus clearly says that He will come to us in the Holy Spirit. And that the Holy Spirit reveals Him. I recommend Andrew Murray’s book “The Spirit of Christ.” Murray was not simply a devotional writer. In this book, his insights and exegesis are superb. Ben also tries to argue that God doesn’t act through the congregation (church). My question then becomes: So does that mean that God cannot act through denominational authorities too? If God’s actions and human actions are two totally separate things always, then it follows that God cannot act through denominational authorities either (=pastors, clergy, even seminary professors … Yikes!).
37) Ben again uses the rhetoric of absolute certainty asserting that my statement that the churches in the first century were not autonomous and fraternally related. He then attempts to prove this by trying to make an argument that the Jerusalem church “required” a collection of Paul. I’ll just say that F.F. Bruce and Oscar Cullman disagree with Ben on this, along with many others. The fact is: autonomy and fraternal relationship do not exclude one another. Churches may be autonomous and fraternally related at the same time. I have an adult sister who is younger than me. I have no authority to command her to do anything. She may still respect me, however. (And on some days she actually does! (smile)) So churches may be both fraternally related and autonomous. Autonomy isn’t the same thing as isolation. And fraternal relationship isn’t the equivalent of command-styled relationship.
38) Ben argues that John had authority over the seven churches in Asia Minor. My question: what sort of authority was John exercising/using? Again, this goes back to official vs. organic/moral authority. Ben seems to assume officialdom constantly.
39) Ben argues on the lexicon questions about the meaning of the words for leadership in the NT. In the book, I cite F.F. Bruce, R. Banks, W.E. Vine, Bauer, Gingrich, Danker, etc., on what those words mean. In a number of places, they differ with Ben’s opinion. I hope I can be excused for agreeing with them instead of him. (smile)
40) NT scholar Jon Zens did an outstanding job responding to an earlier review by Ben at http://www.paganchristianity.org/zensresponds1.htm Many of the same points Ben makes in his review are beautifully addressed in JZ’s response. So instead of taking up any more bandwidth, I refer you to that piece. It’s formidable.
THOUGHTS IN CLOSING
I trust that my response to Ben was charitable and gracious; for this is what was in my heart. I ask for forgiveness if I said anything contrary to the spirit of Jesus Christ. This certainly wasn’t my intent. I personally loathe engaging in academic debate, for I feel that in *most* cases, such dialogues swell the cranium and grieve the spirit. May it not be so in this case.
I shall end this post with a kind word about BW3. I have found his work of digging up the historical and social background to certain texts in the NT to be very helpful. For that reason, I relied a good bit on his socio-rhetorical commentaries in the research for my book The Untold Story of the New Testament Church. (By the way, contrary to rumor, I haven’t burned my BW3 library just yet.(smile)) To my mind, this kind of “NT background” work is Ben’s forte. And he’s good at it. I also appreciate how accessible he is to his readers. Even more, I appreciate that he has a sense of humor. (I wasn’t sure that he did until I “tested the waters” so to speak and teased him a few times privately. He took it well, returned some himself, and that’s when the friendly banter began.)
And probably most important, I’m grateful for his gracious invitation to have me respond on his blog. This speaks volumes about him – all good. (Again: I reserve the right to retract that sentence upon seeing his response. (smile))
Alrighty then, I think I’ve taken up enough bandwidth on Ben’s blog today.
I’m through (exuberant applause of relief).
Ben now has 500 words to reply ;-)
Your brother in His unfailing grace,
Posted by Ben Witherington at 9:17 AM
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Note to readers: unfortunately, all the emoticons I created (smile), (grin), etc. after sentences that I made in jest or humor have been deleted by the blog software during the upload to Ben's blog. I've alerted Ben about this just now (4pm EST on Friday)so hopefully it will be fixed shortly. The printed word, especially on the Net, is such a stale medium. A statement made in humor without a (smile) after it can be read to have the opposite meaning. I hope this will be fixed soon. Until then, please read with this in mind.
This was really good and really helpful. Thanks so much. I am on the same page in more ways than I can count (and smiled when I saw you reference T. Austin Sparks. Now there's a name I rarely here, but a little book of his that I read maybe...11-12 years ago(?), something like, "The Great Transition From One Humanity to Another" changed the way I saw everything from there on out..).
I appreciate Frank's able response and Ben's willingness to allow Frank to respond. Thank you, gentlemen.
I'm overjoyed to know, according to Ben, that elders who serve in a local congregation are to have their oinos supplied by that congregation. I intend to pass this information on to the ekklesia of which I'm a member. ;o)
I'm also indebted to Frank for pointing out that "worship service" is never mentioned in the NT...I'll take that as justification for never again having to sit through another long sermon or warbling songfest ;o)
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