Who is the better reader? PoserorProphet … not

PoserorProphet, liberation theologian, Christian anarchist and frequent blogger, regularly chokes the internet with his false teaching.  When I accuse him of misreading the Bible or other sources, he comes back and says that I blatantly misread him.  So yesterday, for example, I suggested that his view that Jesus’ advocated violence against property was going to get him killed, and that already during a protest he had had his hand on the firearm of a law enforcement officer, he wrote:

“Near” not “on” (and only because I was pushed off balance from behind). No need to charge me with crimes I have not committed. Although, let’s be honest, that’s one of the difficulties of speaking with you — you continually engage in such blatantly false misreadings of the texts (whether my own writing or Jewett’s comments on insulae in Rome or whatever else) that it’s hard to not conclude that you are engaging in false misreadings deliberately (after all, you do have a fair amount of exegetical training… [sic] you should know better). Still, despite all the rhetoric, I want to love you, buddy.

My fault in the case of his hand on or near a gun was one of memory, not reading, since I was referring by memory to blog that he’d posted a few months ago.  Now I have asked Poser for clarification regarding my blatantly false misreading of Jewett, because I am genuinely mystified by what he could mean.  I will write more on that later.  But here he accuses me of doing something that he himself does quite regularly: blatantly false misreadings of texts.  We could take for example his blatantly false misreadings of the biblical text as a beginning.  But this discussion reminded me of something I wrote earlier at City of God.  In a blog by the Brooks, discussing a book by Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, Brooks (in the comments) demonstrates that Poser had misread Klein’s book.  I wrote to congratulate Brooks with these words:

Brooks:

You have defended the accuracy of your original post very well and have managed also to show Poser as the one who can’t seem to read his sources accurately (surprise, surprise).

You have to be careful not to accept Poser’s take on a source as right, because while he reads widely, he doesn’t appear to be a careful reader–at least this example confirms my own experience of going back to his secondary source and finding that he seriously misconstrued and misrepresented what that author was trying to say. If you ever watched Home Improvements, it is like when Tim Taylor repeats to his wife Jill what Wilson, his philosopher neighbor, recently told him; only in the case of Taylor the essence of what Wilson says usually survives–in the case of Poser, the essence of his source may be turned on its head.

I wonder if it is symptomatic also of the manner in which Poser treats the Scripture. He is deeply influenced by liberation theology and their interpretative methods. If you get used to interpreting the Scriptures to say the opposite of what they are saying, how much more likely are you to read modern, secondary sources with the same imprecision and lack of attention to detail? Take the article that Brandon cited in Andrew’s recent post. Ched Myers and Eric Debode turn Matthew’s Parable of the Talents into a parable of the world instead of a parable of the Kindgom in direct violation of the context. The good guy is the whistle-blower who calls the master hard. The bad guy is the master who lends the talents and expects exorbitant returns on his investment, profiting from the labor of others. This turns the parable on its head. Once you get used to these kinds of interpretations, your sources can say just about anything that you want them to say; and then you can turn around and tell others how much smarter you are than they are because you read so widely–but while they may read slower, at least they are trying to come to an authentic understanding of what their sources are really saying. … [snip]

Poser gives reasons to doubt the accuracy of the reviewers of Klein. Keith, you’ve shown that he is dead wrong on that count. So now we have sufficient reason to doubt Poser’s accuracy, whenever and where ever he cites or interprets a resource. Breadth in a scholar is indeed a virtue. But if breadth is not combined with insight and precision, the scholar remains mediocre at best.

This is one of the reasons for reading narrowly. If you decide, hey life is short, and that you don’t have that much time, why not choose to read only the best scholars who have breadth, insight and precision? Otherwise, you are likely to pick up bad habits from the books that you read.

Poser has blocked me from commenting on his blog.  His refutations of my criticisms are very insubstantial and reactionary.  For example, I wrote a long post concluding that he commits several of interpretive errors which James Sire explains in his books Scripture Twisting: 20 ways that cults misread the Bible.  His only response was to ask me if I’d read the French philosopher’s Foucault, whom he insists is necessary for understanding Paul’s view of sexuality.  Thus, he usually lashes out rather than dealing with the substance of my criticisms. Telling his opponents that they can’t understand the Bible unless they’ve had his experiences or read the books that he’s read is both arrogant and fallacious.  So I don’t blame him for blocking me.  Yet it would suggest that he does view me as a nemesis, since otherwise he would have no fear of what I might write in the comments.

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Theological Education Bubble I : exegesis

As a visiting professor in an African school that taught to the Master’s level I was once confronted with student who plagiarized a paper and failed the class as a result.  The academic dean pleaded with me to give him a third chance after the student failed the mandatory remedial session with me.  Thus, I permitted the student to take an oral examination, but he gave the most absurd answers to the most rudimentary questions of biblical history, such as he could not tell me the order of the empires, Persians, Greeks and Romans.  Later, I was told that this student was a womanizer who spent as much time in the local neighborhood chasing skirt as he spent in class.  It was hardly any surprise that he couldn’t pass his course with me.  But to my chagrin, this student went on to defend his master’s thesis and graduated, while the course he had with me was pre-requisite to entering the final year at the master’s level–a course he never passed.  Now this man is apparently a Bible professor in the capital city of his country.

I present this anecdote only to say that sometimes the diploma from a school is a meaningless paper, inflated like so much fiat money that is printed endlessly to the point of being worth nothing.  Perhaps this story is a no-brainer.  What should we do with an incompetent womanizer?   Fail him of course.  He has no business having a theological degree.

But what if it is the case of an extremely brilliant but wrong-headed student?  I have become somewhat of a nemesis to PoserorProphet, a self-stylized biblical scholar who is finishing his Master’s degree at Regent College.  And yet he has serious problems in biblical interpretation.  But he is able to defend his point, albeit with subtle and specious arguments, with such brilliance that he could easily pass any academic program at a secular university.  So now it puts theological educators in an awkward position:  are we to serve the church and the Kingdom of God, or are we to serve secular academic standards?  If the student can put together a specious heretical argument for a position, does that mean he deserves to pass so that he can then serve his heresy to the world, but now bearing the recognition of a theological degree from a once reputable institution?  Or should the school risk legal sanction for failing a student who is brilliant, academically gifted and yet theological off-the-wall?  There is a great deal at stake here.  I don’t see that there is simple answer.  But as a teacher of exegesis and biblical interpretation I have some serious problems with what I see.

We have had lengthy discussions with this student, PoserorProphet, who though attending an evangelical school has openly advocated full equal rights to practicing homosexuals in the church; the acrobatics that it takes to get around the biblical prohibition against homosexuality is already reason to have grave concerns.  But this student, in his embrace of liberation theology, has also taken passages like “Thou shalt not steal” to mean something like, “Thou shalt not not share”, thus twisting the plain sense of the text.  But then he also has recently advocated vandalism, such as done by anarchist demonstrators, through the texts recounting Jesus’ cleansing the temple, Jesus’ allowing the demons called “Legion” to enter into and kill a herd of swines and Jesus’ tacit approval of the the digging up of the roof to lower the paralytic, thus doing property damage to the house.  The main difficulty is that the Bible isn’t teaching that it is ok for us to go out and vandalize to support a higher cause, i.e., the poor and marginalized.  It has another agenda about which PoserorProphet seems quite unconcerned.  Through his exegesis, the Bible serves his liberation agenda.  In a discussion over at the City of God, I said that his “exegesis” is like that of the Marxist in the Fiddler on the Roof:  He recounts how Laban cheated Jacob, causing him to marry Leah while the original contract gave Jacob the right to marry Rachel.  Now, Laban required Jacob to work another seven years to pay for Rachel.  The Marxist’s conclusion:  The Bible teaches us that you can never trust an employer!  See the clip at 1:07:

Even the milkman’s daughter can see through this Marxist interpretation.  It is a moment of light humor.  But PoserorProphet is not joking.  He’s serious.  And yet his interpretations are hardly less ridiculous.

As an undergraduate in Dr. Pecota’s Principles of Interpretation course, I was required to read James Sire’s Scripture Twisting: 20 ways cults misread the Bible (see this summary). Part of the art of biblical interpretation is knowing how not to do it.  So Sire’s book is a lesson in good interpretation by avoiding pitfalls.  PoserorProphet actually commits a fair number of these 20 ways of twisting Scripture:  I would mention: 11. Selective citing; 12. Inadequate evidence; 14. Ignoring alternate explanations; 18. Supplementing biblical authority (with such writers as Michel Foucault!); 19. Rejecting biblical authority; and 20. World-view confusion (confusing his anarchist views with the Bible).  Thus, a basic undergraduate course in theology already would provide the ability to see how PoserorProphet is twisting the Bible, and yet today, it is apparently ok for him to defend a Master’s thesis in biblical studies.  There is no questioning his brilliance.  It is his judgment that I challenge.  But is it the task of theological education to produce brilliant heretics?  Or are we rather to produce graduates who will serve the church and the Kingdom of God.  If we knowingly pass even one such student, does that not call into question the whole enterprise?

The recognition that a theological diploma establishes should not be considered lightly.  Since the early church, Christian heretics have sought recognition from authorities who stood in apostolic succession.  For example, according to Irenaeus, Marcion once approached Polycarp and made a request:  “Recognize me.”  Polycarp responded in a manner which I think was appropriate, “I recognize you; I recognize the first-born of Satan.”  Polycarp was following the example that Paul laid down (Tit. 3.10-11):

As for a man who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is perverted and sinful; he is self-condemned.

A lawsuit? No way!

At the last Regent breakfast at the New Orleans SBL, I had the opportunity to share with some friends that I had become an investor.  After finishing my PhD in 1996, I was an adjunct for a year and a half, and after that I began to teach pro bono in Africa for period of eight years between 1998-2006.  During that period, my wife and I started the Barnabas Venture, so that we could raise funding for scholarships to make up for the lack of qualified African professors in French-speaking Africa.  Then, with some spare time on my hands between trips to Africa, I began to dream about how we could make more money so that we would be able to give even more than ever before.  That is when I began to take some serious risks in our personal and registered DIY trading accounts.

When I shared this with Prof. Rikk Watts who presided the Regent breakfast he was extraordinarily positive.  I particularly appreciated his encouragement to “thrive”.  I spent some time one evening with a number of Regent alumni, both men and women (Prof. Watts was there too), and I appreciated their joie de vivre, as we had a time of sharing in the apartment of an alumnus, and then we went to listen to live jazz music in New Orleans.  I took my leave after listening to some spirited trombone solos.  It was a great time.

Recently someone asked me in the comments section if I was going to sue Prof. Stackhouse.  I pretty much hold that as Christians we can be wronged because Christ forgives us.  This person then said that he/she was planning to sue Regent because of being forced to accept Intelligent Design. I find that unacceptable.  I am not interested in winning a battle in the courts.  The courts are predominantly leftist institutions and I am a conservative.  I hate it when those who can’t get their way through legislation force their agenda through court-made law.  This is an usurpation of democracy.  I would hope to be able instead to make cogent arguments for my views and hopefully win in the court of public opinion.

I am now told by a member of the Regent staff that my blog is being read with “great interest and passion”.  This surprises and daunts me.  And I feared that my blogs would be misinterpreted as the rantings of malcontent. But I admit that my recent postings are based upon a narrow experience with just a few from the Regent community: debates with the student PoserorProphet, interactions with full-time Prof. Stackhouse on his blog, and my recent reading of some writings of a summer-school professor, Dr. Diewert.  But this is an admittedly small sample of what Regent College has to offer and I am by no means writing off the school.   So I asked a few people what they thought, including a full-time professor at a theological school with years of experience in administration.  For the most part, they have encouraged me not to back down.  Indeed, I had the impression that as someone outside of academics, I am able to say certain things insiders might wish to say, but for various reasons are not permitted.  E.g., I can openly argue that the diversity created by affirmative action has seriously lowered quality–a position usually only maintained by retired professors who no longer fear repercussions for expressing unpopular opinions.  I can also see why students would be reluctant to criticize the administration or a faculty member, or why fellow professors would hesitate to criticize their colleagues.

I am an alumnus and an historical supporter of Regent College and no lawsuit has entered my head.  I am appalled by the person who suggests taking a lawsuit against Regent.   But I’ve questioned the wisdom of allowing certain anti-capitalist and anarchist tendencies to find a home at Regent because I am wondering aloud in the blogosphere how those who are making the money which supports theological education, through risk taking and hard work, should react when that education evidently promotes views which if implemented would undermine their ability to “thrive”–and this doesn’t apply to Regent College only.  Obviously Regent is a wonderfully diverse place and there must be some differences of opinions, at least I hope that there is.  And one could question why I would chose the public space called “the internet” to try to initiate a discussion.  Well the answer to that is quite simple:  It seems entirely appropriate to me to express the disagreements that I have with the views of Prof. Stackhouse, PoserorProphet or Dr. Dave Diewert, here in the blogosphere, because that is where I became acquainted with their views.

On PoserorProphet’s advice

PoserorProphet challenged me yesterday:

It ain’t easy, eh, Peter? You might discover a new and more joyful life if you sold everything you have and gave the money to the poor (not something I usually suggest but it seems appropriate to what I’ve seen of you). Just a thought.

This challenge is evidently based upon the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10.17-30 and parallels). I suppose that PoserorProphet is right, and I would be happier and certainly more care-free if I sold everything and gave it to the poor:

Nah, there ain’t nobody in this whole wide world
Gonna tell me how to spend my time
I’m just a good-lovin’ ramblin’ man
Say, buddy, can ya spare me a dime?

Yeah, I don’t care when the sun goes down
Where I lay my weary head
Green, green valley or rocky road
It’s there I’m gonna make my bed

(Barry McGuire and Randy Sparks, “Green, Green”)

I just have a couple questions about the application of this advice to my life:

(1) After selling everything I have, may I just leech off my wife?  I am more than happy to do that.  Or must she also sell everything she has too?  If that’s the case then:

(2) If we both sell everything we have and give it to the poor, what are we supposed to live on  here in Canada? Do you want us to go on welfare? Should we live in government housing. You see as an investor and my wife as a business woman, selling everything we would mean unemployment. Or after selling her third of the business, should my wife return to her brothers and beg for her job back and work a salaried position? Why would that make her more joyful? Tell me what shall life be like after selling everything and giving it to the poor?

(3) Who is going to support our church, our priest and his family, when our contribution to the church is lacking. Surely some others will rise up, but wouldn’t you (Poser) require that they also sell everything they have?

(4) What of the numerous Christian ministries in theological education, evangelism, and benevolence that we have supported over the years? We will have to end our continued support for such ministries. That’s ok, as long as others step up, but then wouldn’t you tell those people too that they must sell everything they have and give it to the poor.

(5) Just exactly which poor are we supposed to give it to? The homeless? The almost homeless? The working poor? The poor in Spirit? The poor in Africa?

(6) Will the poor use the money in a responsible fashion? Let’s say I just go to downtown Toronto and hand some poor homeless person a $100,000 cheque? How would that change his life? Would it help him or would the money just be squandered within a matter of days or months? Would he just go buy blow and blow his brains away? Or would it actually change him so that he could become like I am now so that you would have to tell him too to sell all he has and give it to the poor? Then wouldn’t it just be better if I keep the money rather than putting him into the situation of you having to tell him to sell everything?

(7) What should I tell my employees? I suppose the 25 employees Cathy has would carry on after she sold her business to her brothers. But what if Cathy’s contribution to work is what holds the thing together and the business ends up bankrupt without her sound fiscal management. What will happen to those 25 employees, their wives, children and their other dependents? What of the Wycliffe student I promised a year long job too? What about my housekeeper? What are they supposed to do? I suppose they are certainly industrious and could find other employers, but wouldn’t you tell those employers too to sell everything they have and give it to the poor?  And once there are no rich people left, who is going to employ the people looking for work? Sean Hannity has a refrain:  “No poor person ever gave me a job.”

(8) What about the other people that depend on me? If we sold everything we have, there would be another family besides us that would be homeless, and then what should I tell them? Sorry, PoserorProphet called me to sell everything I have and you can come with me and live on the streets of Toronto too or in some homeless shelter (where ever it is that you are calling us to live).

(9) What about the volunteer work that we do for our church?  We use our home as the base of operations. So we should just tell the church, sorry we can’t do that work anymore because we don’t have computers and the other equipment that we need to do those ministries?  But we are more than happy to come and eat your food.  Can you please pick us up from the shelter and give us a ride?

Craig Carter wrote this just two days ago:

Liberal Christians seem awfully confident that you can be half socialist and not go too far and lose all liberty. Maybe they depend on conservatives to keep them from going all the way – sort of like teenagers depending on parents to say no when they want something harmful. Instead of thinking for themselves they just rely on parents doing the agonizing and deciding where to draw the line.

I urge you to grow up a little bit and think about this flippant advice. Your current crop of professors don’t seem willing to give you this admonition (correct me if I’m wrong); either that or you’re not listening to them.  Your counsel lacks wisdom.  I know that you aren’t really open to taking me seriously because you think that I am hilarious.  But what would be the personal ramifications to each “rich” person, their families, and their other dependents?  What would be the effects upon their churches and the other ministries that they support, if they followed your advice?  What would be the economic consequences on a macro scale if all the rich people in the world took your ill-conceived and juvenile advice?  What if every responsible person took your advice?  What would happen to all those who depend on them to be responsible and to work hard?  “And the last state of that man is worse than the first.”

I know it was what Jesus commanded the rich young ruler.  But Jesus was a prophet, not a poser, and he knew that man and the ramifications of his selling everything.  Unlike this new generation of socialist and radical Christians, Jesus did not give this same advice to every rich person he encountered.  And how do you know that it wasn’t just a test, like the requirement that Abraham sacrifice Isaac?  Is it not enough for God to know that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son?  So had the rich young ruler showed his willingness, maybe Jesus would have said that he’d passed the test and would have permitted him to remain rich provided that he live for the advancement of the Kingdom of God instead of for his own personal kingdom.  The vast majority of rich Christians in the early church were not required to sell everything but admonished to remain generous and supportive of the mission of the church, to be hospitable and to provide for widows and orphans.  I.e., not too much different from what my wife and I endeavor to do, with the little money that the governments permit us to keep after taxes.  And actually, we could retire now and go live well in some tropical country.  But we still feel called to work so as to have something to give (Eph. 4.28).

O Anarchist, Where is your faith?

Christian anarchists, communists, and socialists seem to view the economic world as a pie.  You can only cut it up so many ways.  So if a rich person has a lot of money, then he has a larger portion of the pie.  For them, economics is a zero-sum game.  A poker game is a zero sum game:  at the end of the game there is only as much money as what the players originally brought to table–it’s redistributed differently, but its the same amount of money.  Thus, in the view of these people, if wealthy Christians have money, they have defrauded the poor.  That is why perhaps they support political systems that would force the wealthy to relinquish their riches; but in the end, where ever such a system is tried, everyone ends up living in dire poverty; communism shrinks the pie.  We’ve seen it in dozens of countries.  In my view, these Christians do not understand economics nor do they have sufficient faith in God:  “And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11.6).

My goal as a wanna-be righteous investor is to increase the size of the pie.  Christian ministries don’t usually generate wealth themselves but depend upon Christian men and women who work jobs or who have successful businesses or other investments.  Those ministries like Streams of Justice which aim toward political advocacy requiring more funding for the poor will have a negative impact on the bottom line of these Christians and decrease their ability to give.  If we are smart, Christians donors must begin to resist the politics of envy and so-called Christians ministries which have lost faith in a big God and instead turned to big government for solutions.

I found an example of envy and of lack of vision on PoserorProphet’s blog, where he, in his typically jaundiced and imbalanced fashion, criticizes a large Vancouver church for mistreatment of the poor. The sycophants of his blog–I call them that because I’ve learned that if like me you are highly critical of Poser, he will not even allow you to comment on his blog–some of the sycophants of his blog believe that Broadway Church has defrauded the poor with the buildings which are “a country club” for its members.  The Pastor of Broadway, Darin Latham came online and defended the ministries of his church, saying that they do devote considerable resources to helping the poor:

You failed to mention, however, that hundreds of thousands of those dollars we raise feed over 150 homeless every Sunday morning of every week of the year, plus we supply groceries to 120 families every week, free of charge. We also run a free clothing depot… Not to mention a few geared to income housing complexes we operate throughout the city.

But despite his efforts, some of Poser’s readers were unimpressed:

Subversivechurch writes (sic):

Notice Darin does not touch on the topic of the operating expenses (salaries, ultilities, upkeep, etc.). And the chances are pretty high that he won’t either because when people start looking at the revenue… I mean income… I mean tithes of a church and where they go, you start to see why I refer to the IC [institutional church] as a country club. The amount of money that stays within the IC for the benefit of the members is vastly greater than the money that is used outside of the building. [snip]

Would a congregation realize that if they hadn’t built such a large structure, they could have helped a mother avoid depression by feeding and clothing her child, or a father not decend into violence because he can’t find work and feed his family?

Pastor Darin rightly defended his church as having the building to do all kinds of ministry: Christian education, counseling and worship.  For the subversives, the only thing they know is envy which sees economics as a zero sum game and God as so puny that he cannot provide all of our needs according to his riches in glory.  So they begrudge the church’s use of an expensive PA system:  Envy.  So why not have big mega-church?  Personally, I don’t like mega-churches and I think they come with their own challenges.  But if God called the founders of Broadway Church to build a mega church, then that is up to God, isn’t it?  I will testify, however, that the one time that I suffered from want I was helped by Frank Merriwether, who was at the time a College & Career Pastor at Broadway.  So I owe a debt of gratitude to that church.  Why is it that these arrogant anarchists believe that their agenda is the only one that Christians should concern themselves with.  They insist:  become like the poor, become homeless, identify with poor homeless, have solidarity with the poor–the whole world revolves around the poor.  Yet the homeless in Vancouver number about 3000.   I hate to tell you this, but there is over 600,000 people in that city and they all have spiritual needs, every single precious one of them.  It is not just about the poor.  It is about reaching out to the grandmother whose grandchild was killed in an accident and she can’t pray anymore.  It is about the parents who live in an upscale neighborhood whose daughter can’t be found.  It is about that depressed computer programmer who wants to swallow a bottle of pills.  It is about the widower who lies awake at night wondering if God is there. It’s about teaching kids about God in Sunday school; it’s about helping young people find their vocation in the Lord; it’s about helping the working poor and the working well-off, because we have spiritual needs too.  God cares for the poor, but he also cares for every single one of the rest of us too.  And it is about that guy at Regent College who was lonely and ran out of money while waiting for his student loan cheque.  John 3.16 says that God so loved the poor, right?  No, God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son …  And what about these passages:

The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3.9)

This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2.3-4)

For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. (1 Tim 4.10)

But why can’t a church like Broadway, if some have a vision, have strategic ministries for the poor (which they do) and keep their building?  Is God so weak that he can’t provide both everything the church needs to pay for that wonderful facility and staff in addition to ministries for the poor?  Where is your faith?  These people have a puny view of economics and they have a puny god.

What happened to the Pauline concept of the body of Christ?  Isn’t it possible to have some people care for the poor and others who care for the elderly?  Some to care for the teens and others who dedicate their time to missions?  Why should the toe or eye say I don’t need you?  Why should the belly button say if you aren’t a belly button and do exactly what I do, you are not a member of the body, and you are not doing what you should be doing for the Kingdom.  Poppycock!

The Christian God, the one and only God, is big, and he has the resources of glory at his disposal.  He can provide Broadway Church both with resources to maintain their church building and to provide for the poor, as he calls the congregation to movement.  It is just simply silly to suggest that God would insist that they use that facility for the homeless or as a warehouse for feeding the poor, etc., when it is used by the congregation for worship, Christian education, and all the other ministries.  Beware, these anarchists are trying to sow seeds of dissension and envy, and the rest of us, the evil institutional church people, don’t have to put up with it.