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Freedom: A Universal Human Right versus A Value within a Particular (i.e., Christian) Tradition

The purpose of this brief essay is to offer a different basis for freedom than that given in post-Enlightenment, free societies of the West.  The argument presented is that freedom understood as a universal human right ends up with various conflicting views and fails in a variety of ways.  Christians often seek to establish freedom for their faith on the grounds of universal rights, but the position taken here is that they need to articulate their view of freedom from within their own religious tradition.
The Present State of the Argument
The defense of freedom in free societies seems to require defending not only good things but also bad things.  We defend free speech, but to do so we end up defending the free speech rights of hateful groups or the purveyors of pornography.  Freedom of religion is defended in such a way as to defend all belief systems: to defend one, one must defend the right of all.  This only makes sense to those who do not enquire too deeply into the beliefs and …
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Twenty-Five Theses on Theological Education in North America and Beyond

In Martin Luther’s day, a list of proposed theses would be posted somewhere in public (like the church door) so that they could be read ahead of a debate.  Day in and day out, I am involved with discussions or debates about theological education—its curriculum, its costs, its goals, its modes of delivery, etc.  These theses, then, represent views I have come to ‘after the debate’.  And yet, most points below are highly controversial and, I expect, too challenging to implement given the present structures and commitments of educational institutions in North America.  My hope, then, is that my points offer alternatives for those developing theological training elsewhere in the world.  My appeal is: Please do not duplicate the model of theological education that dominates the scene in North America.  Yet, even in North America, I expect that these theses will someday become relevant due to the issues being faced—financial, pedagogical, technological, ecclesiastical, ministry and missiona…

A Missional Movement or an Institution? Understanding the Church and Its Mission in the Early Church and Today

Earlier New Testament scholarship—say, in the 1960s-1980s—was beholden to the idea that the early Church began as a ‘charismatic’ movement that developed into a ‘catholic’ institution by the beginning of the second century.  This ‘early Catholicism’ theory was defined in terms of one cause and two developments.  What allegedly precipitated this development was a supposed crisis: (1) the delay of the Parousia.  On the slightest evidence, scholars assumed that the early Christians believed Jesus was going to return in their lifetime.[1]  When the years rolled on and Jesus did not return, the Church had to rethink itself in terms of ecclesiastical structure, appointing deacons, elders, and bishops, and of orthodox doctrine.[2]The developments were: (1) a move from faith as an act of believing to faith as a system of belief, and (2) the church as a community with various ‘charisms’ or gifts to an institution with a hierarchy of leadership. 
To maintain this theory, a number of assumptio…

What Was Missing in the Senate Judicial Committee’s Kavanaugh Hearings?

The Senate Judicial Committee's hearings on the appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court were painful enough to watch.  Yet they captured social pressure points throughout society.  The elephant in the room was the Roe v. Wade decision that unborn children lack personhood and may be put to death at any time up to birth.  That dividing issue in the USA led to all the tricks and theatrics in the hearings.  Yet the presenting issue had to be something else since the ‘Ginsburg Rule’ says that candidates will not reveal how they would vote on particular issues.
What better way, then, to bring the candidate down in the #MeToo era than to make a claim of sexual abuse?  As a real Catholic, unlike lip-serving Catholics in high governmental positions who regularly advocate for abortion and homosexuality, Kavanaugh surely personally opposes abortion.  While we do not know how, as a judge, he would vote on the matter (for his role is to interpret laws, not make them), he would…

The Ethics of Tribal Victimhood versus Biblical Vulnerability

The Modernist, Western era has pursued, with considerable advantages at times, an approach to ethics through ‘rights.’  The USA added an addendum to the Constitution of ten amendments, called the ‘Bill of Rights.’  The United Nations’ charter was written in the language of certain ‘rights’.  This ‘rights’ approach is not entirely wrong in ethics, but it cannot adequately ground or ensure the morality that societies need.  Among its inadequacies is a tendency to see society in terms of groups, groups whose rights need to be identified and protected.  This has, in turn, led to a notion of victimhood, that is, that some groups as such are victim-groups.
Alongside this trajectory in Western society has been a progression from modernist to postmodernist to tribalist perspectives and practices (as I have been arguing for the past three years).[1]  Tribalism’s understanding of ‘rights’ is strongly coloured by an assumption of victimhood.  On this perspective, if society is broken up into vari…

False Testimony, Sexual Violence, and Speaking Out: Some Biblical Texts

The Judiciary Committee’s hearings around the appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh raise questions about what the Bible says about false testimony, sexual violence, and the responsibility of victims to speak out immediately.  The following quotations (from the English Standard Version) are offered for reflection.
False Testimony
Exodus 20:16  "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. [The 9th Commandment; so also Deuteronomy 5.20.  Cf. Jesus’ affirmation of this Commandment: Matthew 19.18; Mark 10.19; Luke 18.20.]
Exodus 23:1 "You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.
Deuteronomy 19:16-21 If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing,  17 then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days.  18 The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely,  19…

Tribal Victimhood and the 'New Justice': A Reflection on the Kavanaugh Hearings

Since the 1980s, Judicial Committee hearings for Supreme Court justices have provided a window into cultural changes in the United States.  The postmodern turn in Western culture involved moving from a modernist understanding of truth as objective to understanding truth as local and constructed.  In modernity’s period, justice presumed the accused to be innocent until proven guilty.  A good judge interpreted the law correctly: there was a belief in the facts of the case and in right readings of the written laws. 
Postmodernity removed the notion of right interpretation based on the meaning of the original authors.  Words could be bent to new purposes.  Laws were freed from the tyranny (!) of the original authors.  This created an overreach of the judicial system into the legislative system of governance, what people now called ‘legislating from the bench.’  What is ‘true’ became what is ‘true for us.’  Meaning would no longer be established by interpreting texts according to their int…