BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 196
Copyright © 2007 Biblical Horizons
We could write on and on about how theology is done nowadays, but we won’t. At the same time, there are some important issues that we need to think about as we examine this matter, and so we’ll stay with it for a bit longer. Here are the themes of this essay:
1. Theology today is done in the academy, by academics. The Reformed churches are pastored by academically-trained men, more than a few of whom wish they were seminary professors.
2. Almost none of these men has ever seen any military service.
Now, let us consider the men who wrote the Bible and the context in which the Bible was written. The Bible was written by warriors and by men engaged in warfare. It was not written by academics. The academy is not the right context for understanding the Bible.
I am not saying that academics are unable to put themselves into the shoes of warriors. Quite the contrary, in fact. Human beings have the marvellous ability to put themselves into the shoes of others by means of imagination. The Spirit enables this in a fulsome way. What I am saying is that academics must endeavor to do this or they will misread the Bible.
Abram? A warrior who led 318 fighting men, part of his sheikhdom’s army, to rescue Lot.
Moses? Clearly a trained warrior, son of Pharaoh, who led his people in conflict after conflict.
Joshua? A warrior.
The Judges? Warriors.
David? A warrior, and the psalms of David are all about warfare, especially the warfare of slander and “troublemaking” (mistranslated often as “iniquity”).
Solomon? Ah, not a warrior in the physical sense, but a man whose wrestling is revealed to us in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and if he wrote it, Job.
The priests? Dressed as warriors. The Nazirites when under their vow were the same as priests, which is why David and his men, when under the vow, were given priestly food (1 Samuel 21:5-6). Priests killed animals that represented people. The activities at the Temple were the activities of Holy War.
The prophets? Warriors of the tongue. Read them and see how tough they were!
Paul? Twice took the Nazirite Holy War vow (Acts 18:18; 21:24).
Now, this warfare context is very much different from the academic context, and rightly so. Paul did indeed come apart for three years before entering into his ministry (Acts 9:22-26; Galatians 1:18). At the same time, academic training for the Christian ministry should be training in holy war. Boot camp. By the time they graduate from seminary, men should pretty much know all 150 psalms by heart and be able to chant them. If they cannot do so, their teachers have grievously failed them.
Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy was very insightful on the limitations of the academy. He said that the academy is of necessity a “Greek” institution, because it is cut off from life. The academy, he said, is a place where people learn to compare and contrast, but not a place where people learn to transform. He insisted that his students go into the military and serve for a few years before returning for any graduate study.
The academy is a place of a sort of perpetual adolescence, in essence. As Dorothy Sayers put it, the young child starts in the Parrot stage, delighting in memorizing. Then he/she moves to the Pert stage, delighting in challenging and contrasting. Rosenstock-Huessy points out that boys and girls become different at this stage of life, and that this difference has to be overcome. (Larry Niven’s novel A World Out of Time projects a far future when science has made it possible for Boys and Girls to stay preadolescent and live for thousands of years, becoming smarter and smarter but never wooing. The result is a million year on and off war between the Boys and the Girls.) Hence, going back to Sayers, we move to the Poet stage, where men (and women) learn the arts in order to woo and overcome the differences. (This is, by the say, what Paul is about in Romans: The maturity of humanity means that Jew and Gentile can woo one another back into one body.) [For more, see Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, “Liturgical Thinking,” reprinted by Biblical Horizons as Views and Reviews No. 22.]
The academy, however, is a place of learning data and differences, not a place of learning how to transform. Because of “academic freedom” it is not a place of learning to guard, and guarding is the first phase of transforming. The warrior guards that which is non-negotiable — and that which is non-negotiable is his daughter, mother, sister, or bride — and this has to precede any negotiation and attempted transformation. If David does not guard as warrior, Solomon cannot transform.
Oddly enough, the inability of the Academy to understand war is reflected in the fact that it is a place of perpetual warfare. If all one can do is compare and contrast, and never woo and transform, then war is the result. Homer wisely shows us that the Greeks are no different from the Trojans: In both societies the powerful go around grabbing pretty women and causing trouble. But Homer cannot provide any resolution. Peace can happen for a night, and men can eat together, but then the war starts again. Greek thought, the realm of making distinctions, cannot escape conflict. Plutarch’s Lives, a series of contrasts and comparisons, is as far as Greek thought can get. Justice is a blind woman balancing scales; in the Bible justice is the transformation of the situation into a new situation.
We see this all around us today in how the Federal Vision Conversion is regarded by academics. A conversation is a process of wooing that takes place among adults. The adolescents of the Academy cannot go to this place (or are unwilling to do so) and hence are able only to attack the conversation. All differences, however minor and unimportant, are made into life-and-death matters that must be condemned.
The fact is that real warriors and soldiers hate war. They’ve seen it. They know about it.
But academics love war. Savaging people who disagree with them over the slightest detail is a hobby for such people. Not all, of course; but far too many.
This is the first problem with the academy: It is hard for the sexless academy to be a place of guarding, let alone of transformation. If anything, conservative academies like conservative theological seminaries guard and conserve ideas, but are incapable to transformation. Guarding means hoarding the past, generally a mythic past (since in point of fact it is not easy for any person to think in the way earlier people thought). And it is not a woman that is protected, but ideas. Which leads us directly to the second problem:
The second problem is that since the academy is separated from the world, it is inevitably a gnostic institution. It is a place of ideas, not of life. For that reason it tends to become a haven for homosexuals (as it was in Greece, as Rosenstock-Huessy again points out in his lectures on Greek Philosophy). But apart from that problem, the separation of the academy from life means that the fundamental issues are seen as intellectual, which they in truth and fact are not. Clearly, conservative theological seminaries are not havens for homosexuals. But when what is protected is ideas and not women, then something is not right. Do academistic theologians protect the Bride of Christ, or do they protect a set of pet notions?
Consider: A man might say that when the Bible says that the waters of the “Red Sea” stood as walls and that the Israelites passed through, this is an exaggeration. What really happened is that a wind dried up an area of the “Swamp of Reeds” and the Israelites passed through. Now, this is a typical gnostic academistic way of approaching the text. The physical aspect of the situation is discounted. What is important is the theological idea of passing between waters. Human beings, for the academic gnostic, are not affected and changed by physical forces sent by God, but are changed by notions and ideas only.
The Bible shows us God changing human beings, bringing Adam forward toward maturity, very often by means of striking physical actions, such as floods, plagues, overwhelming sounds, and also warfare. It’s not just a matter of theology, or of “redemptive history” as a series of notions.
Now, some modern academics have indeed devoted themselves to social and economic history, and have seen that human beings are changed by physical forces that are brought upon them (though without saying that the Triune God brings these things upon them). This outlook, however, has not as yet had much impact on the theological academy.
The fact is that God smacks us around and that’s what changes history. Ideas sometimes smack us around, true enough. But the problem of the academy is that it is (rightly) separated from the world of smackings. From the academistic viewpoint, the actions of God in the Bible, His smacking around of Israel to bring them to maturity, are just not terribly important. What matters are the ideas.
This means the chronology is not important, and the events as described can be questioned. Did God really do those plagues in Egypt, smacking around the human race to bring the race forward in maturity? Maybe not. Maybe the stories in Exodus are “mythic enhancements” of what really happened. It’s the stories that matter, not the events. Maybe the Nile became red with algae, not really turned to blood. The blood idea is to remind us of all the Hebrew babies thrown into the Nile eighty years before.
Think about this. For the academistic, it is the idea that is important. Human beings are changed by ideas. And ideas only. Of course, it should be obvious that turning all the water in Egypt to blood (not just the Nile, Exodus 7:19) is a way of bringing back the murder of the Hebrew infants and of calling up the Avenger of Blood, the Angel of Death, because blood cries for vengeance. They had to dig up new water (Ex. 7:24) because all the old water was dead and bloody. An event like this changes people. The theological ideas are important. But the shock and awe of having all the water of the nation turn to blood is also important. It forces people to change.
The Calvinistic churches are virtual extensions of the academy, a matter we shall address next.