Monday, February 24, 2014

FAQs on Christian approach to public engagement

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6c/1_Singapore_skyline.jpg
The National Council of Churches (NCCS) and the Roman Catholic Church in Singapore have since released their respective statements on the Health Promotion Board's (HPB) Frequently-Asked-Questions controversy. Both are constructive in character and instructive to local Christians on how to understand the HPB issue. In part, these statements are released in response to the recent debate over the role of religion on social issues. Some wonder why are certain religious groups so caught up with the issue? Others chided them for their seemingly fanaticism to impose on the society, disrupting its pluralistic character with religious values. In the spirit of constructive reflection, building on the two statements, here are my thoughts.

I am not here reflecting on the HPB issue per se, but exploring a Christian approach to public matters. So there is no pretension of neutrality here. Neither is there a naive assumption that discussion over the HPB issue is value-free, nor any group's engagement with it is absent of interest. (Think about it, isn't it precisely because the HPB issue is heavily value-laden that it has incited various responses from interested factions of the society? Isn't it a fact that the more value-laden the issue, the more controversial it is, and hence the more newsworthy it becomes?)

For a start, as stated in the statement by NCCS, Christians "do not condone homosexual practice" and "should not despise or discriminate against homosexuals." This notion is affirmed alongside Christians who experience same-sex attraction such as Christopher Yuan, Wesley Hill, Vaughan Roberts, and those involved in ministries like Living Out. So this is not a position held only by Christians who do not have same-sex attraction, but also those who have.

Therefore this Christian understanding of what is sexually acceptable or not goes beyond the hetero-versus-homo polarity towards the theological notion of God's glorious intention for the broken creation, of which fallen humanity is part of, to flourish and sustain itself. This is the value that grounds our view on the issue.

Following that, any Christian deliberation over the HPB's controversy needs to be framed by 2 theological underpinnings: (1) Christian engagement on public issue in a pluralistic society; and (2) Christian approach to public discourse. Perhaps it is best to elaborate them in a FAQ style.

FAQ 1
Should Christians bear the responsibility to engage public issue in a pluralistic society? If yes, how should Christians understand this responsibility?

The simple answer is "Yes, as commanded by scripture and tradition, Christians have responsibility to engage public issue."

The Christian scripture contains exhortation to "seek the shalom of the city" in Jeremiah 29:7. The word shalom is generally understood as peace though it could be more accurately referred to as wholesomeness or well-being. The New International Version translates it as "peace and prosperity", while the English Standard Version "welfare". Nicholas Wolterstorff, Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology at Yale University, understands shalom at its highest as the enjoyment of living harmoniously with God, fellow humans, creation, and with one's self.[1] In the New Testament, shalom is translated with the Greek word eirene.

Jesus Christ declared the blessed state of those who promote eirene. Matthew 5:9 can be translated as, "Blessed are those who bring about the highest enjoyment of life with God, fellow humans, creation and one's self." Eirenopoioi literally means people of eirene. Throughout his ministry, Jesus healed the sick and the blind, cast out demons, calmed storms, critiqued the corrupted temple system and religious elites, and founded a community to continue his ministry to inaugurate the divine wholesomeness into the world.

Yet the eirene that Jesus introduced is not one that the world would immediately recognize (Luke 12:51-53). What he brought about is the divine well-being as defined by God, not by man. When he sent out seventy-two disciples, he instructed them to proclaim eirene around the region (Luke 10:5). When he appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem, Jesus proclaimed eirene to them (Luke 24:36). The gospel is also known as the good news of eirene (Ephesians 6:15). As I have written elsewhere,
"When taken together the passages related to euanggelion from the Old and New Testaments, we get the idea that the gospel or good news is essentially about the fact that God, in exercising His cosmic authority, has established His peaceful order in this world through what Jesus has done and taught."[2]
In continuing Jesus' ministry of eirene, Apostle Peter cited Psalm 34:14 to instruct his readers that, "They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek shalom/eirene and pursue it" (1 Peter 3:11).

Moreover, Apostle Paul encouraged the Christian community in Galatia, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people..." (Galatians 6:10, emphasis added). The basis for this command to do good to everyone is because "we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10). Therefore we can conclude that the responsibility to seek the well-being of all people is also rooted in the theology that we are created for good deeds. If engaging public issues is part of bringing wholesomeness and doing good to everyone, then Christians have the responsibility to participate in it.

For this reason, Christians have been actively engaging in various public issues. Many of these engagements such as providing education to those in the lower social class, abolishing slavery, infant exposure, cannibalism, and widow-burning are now accepted by many as commendable, yet none of them were perceived so initially. Nonetheless, Christians' public engagement has been persisting regardless of popular opinion since the time of the early church. As Robert Solomon, the retired Methodist Bishop of Singapore, reckons,
"Christians have a rich heritage of praying and working for the peace, prosperity, and well-being of the cities that we live in, the nations to which we belong, and indeed, of the earth which is our common home."[3]
Furthermore, the impact of modern Christian public engagement in society is seen in the ground-breaking historical and statistical analysis conducted by Robert Woodberry, Associate Professor of Political Science at National University of Singapore. He detailed the extensive influence of Christian missionaries in bringing about stable democracy around the world:
"[In] trying to spread their faith, CPs [i.e. conversionary Protestants] expanded religious liberty, overcame resistance to mass education and printing, fostered civil society, moderated colonial abuses, and dissipated elite power. These conditions laid a foundation for democracy and long-term economic growth. Once CPs catalyzed these transformations and others copied them, CPs’ unique role diminished. Eventually other traditions justified religious liberty, mass literacy, and the like and began promoting conditions that foster democracy on their own."[4]
Christian engagement in Singapore's society ranges from pioneering education (Raffles Institution, Methodist Girls' School, Anglo-Chinese School, etc), youth empowerment, providing care for the sick and infirm, and etc. Many of these contributions are documented in National Council of Churches of Singapore's publication Many Faces, One Faith (Singapore: National Council of Churches of Singapore, 2004).

From Christian scripture and history, there is a consistent commitment to serve the pluralistic society. This active participation in public life is not Christians' attempt to impose onto the society. Rather, it is the Christians' answer to the calling of our God to serve the society. However, the nature of a pluralistic society means that not everyone shares the same value. We can agree on most aspect of the common life, and disagree on some. It is worth quoting at length the explanation provided by Roland Chia, Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College:
"[The] Church’s engagement in the political and social sphere is connected with her task of summoning the whole world to submit to the dominion of Christ. Her engagement is part of her calling to call sin by its name, to warn humankind against sin, and to point humankind to the ‘more excellent way’ (1 Cor 13). If the Church fails to do this, she would incur part of the guilt for the blood of the wicked (Ezek 3:17ff). Here again, the proper perspective must be emphatically stressed, lest we lose sight of it. The intention of the Church in warning the world of sin is not to improve the world, but to ‘summon it to belief in Jesus Christ and to bear witness to the reconciliation which has been accomplished through him and to his dominion’. This means that the Church has no Christian agenda in the world of politics: she only proclaims her hope for the world. Yet, this hope inadvertently ‘includes a number of causes for which we are bound to contend in the world of politics, because of what we believe we know about man through the revelation of God in Christ’. This dialectic brings out clearly the Church’s connection with and separation from the world (and the State) and the resulting tension. How can the Church engage in the public sphere without compromising the purity of her office and her mission in the polis?... In her proclamation, the Church is simply asking the world to consider the possibility of its redemption. The Church must continue to do this, even though the world does not always respond positively to her proposal, and even though the world may sometimes be hostile towards her, as is evident in the martyrologies of the Christian tradition."[5]
To reiterate, Christian engagement on public matter is not due to political interest: "The Church has no political ambitions. It has no political agenda for the world. The Church only has the Gospel of Christ to proclaim and a hope to point to."[6] Therefore, Christian public engagement is not an ad hoc responsibility. It is part of Christian religiosity. Again, in the words of Roland Chia, "Social and political involvement and engagement is part of Christian discipleship."[7]. At times, this piety coheres with the wider society's aspiration. At other times, it does not. When it does not, Ngoei Foong Nghian, the Principal of Trinity Theological College, reminds us not to "be tempted to aggressively influence society and decision makers," which "will result in poor witness in the public eye."[8] Nevertheless, it is clear that the Christian faith is intrinsically intertwined with the common life. As Christian ethicist Daniel Koh elaborates:
"The call to live a just life and for the people to advocate justice in the wider society is a reminder that spirituality and ethics cannot be separated, and that personal holiness should express itself in the social dimension of life. Spiritual life is vacuous, no matter how regularly one attends worship services or how vibrant a worship service may seem to be, if the worshipers neglect issues of justice in the wider world on those days when they are not gathered in the house of the Lord."[9] 
FAQ 2
How should Christians engage in public discourse? 

The simple answer is "Try our best to explain intelligibly and embody authentically Christian truth in humility, gentleness, and continued activism in conversation with others and of doing good to everyone, including those who do not share our values."

Dealing with differences is not foreign to the Church's experience. The Apostles had to handle internal disagreement and external challenges faced by their churches. In one occasion, Apostle Peter instructed his congregation to "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander" (1 Peter 3:15-16). 

In similar vein, the Apostle Paul wrote, "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:3-5. Emphasis added).

The Apostles are not telling us of what we should or should not say, but how we communicate. Daniel Koh gives his reading of such character with three 'F': 
  • Faithfulness: Engage with theological integrity that is faithful to the Christian teaching.
  • Fairness: Engage with a bias in favour of the deprived and disadvantaged.
  • Feasibility: Engage with moderation that prevents us from overly theoretical so that our options can be reasonably obtained and applied.[10] 

This form of engagement preserves theological integrity and at the same time emphasizes on inclusiveness, practicality and intelligibility. On one hand, it is often a temptation for Christians to adopt elements foreign to Christian teaching due to sociopolitical pressures and campaign, and so resulted in theological corruption. Thus, it is important to preserve the theological integrity of the Church. In fact, precisely because the Church's position is distinct from the world that it has ground to engage the world. Here is how Simon Chan, Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Theological College, phrases it:
"Theological politics stresses the necessity of theological norms in giving the church its distinctive identity and basis for action in the world. The church is defined by a distinctive story that cannot be reduced to general moral principles..."[11]
On the other hand, there is the risk of being too insular in the preservation of theological integrity to the extent of ending dialogue with others, and thus depriving theology of practicality and relevance. This deprivation eliminates from the Church its credibility before the pluralistic society. Without credibility, the Christian plea would simply fall on deaf ears. As cautioned by Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury,
"[If] the Church asks of society the respect that will allow it to be itself, it does so not because it is anxious about its survival, but because it asks the freedom to remind the society or societies in which it lives of their own vulnerability and their need to stay close to some fundamental questions about the nature of the humanity they seek to nourish. Such a request from Church to society will be heard and responded to, of course, only if the Church genuinely looks as though it were speaking for more than a self-protecting set of 'religious' concerns; if it appears as concerned for something more than self-defence."[12]
Theologian Ng Kam Weng sympathizes, "[It] could be claimed that theology must take seriously the social phenomenon if christological social practice is to succeed in relating itself to concrete social realities."[13] So is Roland Chia, "[The] Church can no longer exist in cloistered seclusion from what is happening around it," and, "Christians must be sensitive to the fact that there are many disparate voices in the public square that yearns to be heard and acknowledged."[14]

Hence, instead of denying dialogue with others, the impulse to preserve theological integrity should demand the inclusion of various dialogue partners across different groups. Only thus can Christians contribute to the formation of the most appropriate position or policy, which would not satisfy everyone yet ensures that everyone's interest is taken into account. This would foster a hospitable atmosphere in the public space that facilitates the receptivity of theological as well as secular reasoning from various interest groups. If ever there is any agreement among the different groups, it would be a "tense consensus". As described by Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford, 
"[The nature of ethical agreement between Christians and others] is not whole and stable, but partial and provisional... insofar as Christians agree with non-Christians, they should regard it as an imperfect compromise, subject to criticism and yearning for perfection. So, yes, consensus---but tense."[15]
Lastly, Christian public engagement must be grounded on God's restorative judgement. Leow Theng Huat, Lecturer of Church History and Theology at Trinity Theological College, retrieves this neglected theme of judgement from Peter T. Forsyth's works as a guide for engaging society. He reminds us that divine judgement befalls both the Christians and non-Christians. Therefore, Christians' public engagement must begin with self-examination and constantly be subjected to evaluation that leads to repentance. This points back to Apostle Peter's instruction for Christians to engage with gentleness and respect, while keeping a clear conscience.
"The realisation that God is far greater than any human cause, and that he is no respecter of persons, seeking to root sin out wherever he finds it. Therefore, when we try to interpret this or that event as God's judgement, the starting point must be to ask whether it is meant as judgement for me and my group.... [We] should studiously avoid any form of triumphalism, and ask if we ourselves are not guilty of the sins we ascribe to others, and then inquire fearfully if greater judgement is not being stored up for us..."[16]
This awareness of judgement reminds us to be humble, to recognize not only our human limitation in public engagement but also the fallen nature of humanity that distorts our discourse. In the words of the late Jean Bethke Elshtain, Professor of Social and Political Ethics at University of Chicago,
"[The] consequences of sin are such that we should be rather humble about our political philosophies and what we can hope to accomplish through them. Such humility would befit our natures as fallen creatures who are nevertheless called to hope and to possibility."[17]
Conclusion
I hope that this would give some guidelines for others to articulate their response to the HPB controversy. Many are puzzled over the fact that the Christians are so attentive to this matter. As I have tried to demonstrate above, Christians' interest on this issue is partly due to the sense of responsibility that they have for the world. Although it may be mistakenly interpreted as homophobic, it bears reminding that it is this very sense of responsibility that has established schools, abolished slavery, infant exposure, cannibalism, widow-burning, and inaugurated liberal democracy to most part of the world. This is not a call for theocracy. It is an approach to negotiate for peaceful coexistence and society's flourishing in a democratic and pluralistic setting.[18]

In terms of participating in the public discourse of a pluralistic society, Christians need to consider the manner of their engagement. Necessary attempt should be made to explain intelligibly our theological conviction to others. Along with it, we must also embody Christian truth in humility, gentleness, and continued activism in conversation with others and of doing good to everyone.

Endnotes
[1] Nicholas Wolterstorff, Until Justice and Peace Embrace (USA: Eerdmans, 1983), 70.

[2] Joshua Woo Sze Zeng, The Gospel, Sociopolity, and Malaysian Society (Singapore: Graceworks, ebook, 2014), 8. Emphasis edited.

[3] Robert Solomon, 'Foreword,' in Pilgrims and Citizens: Christian Social Engagement in East Asia Today, ed., Michael Nai-Chiu Poon (Australia: Australasian Theological Forum, 2006), ix.

[4] Robert Woodberry, 'The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy,' in American Political Science Review, vol. 106, no.2, May (2012):268.

[5] Roland Chia, 'Rendering to Caesar: A Theology of Church-State Relations,' in Church & Society, vol. 7, no.2 (2004):56. Emphasis added.

[6] Roland Chia, 'Religion and Politics in Singapore: A Christian Reflection,' in Church & Society in Asia Today, vol.16, no.1 (2013):17.

[7] Ibid., 21.

[8] Ngoei Foong Nghian, 'Our Pledge: Let Hope and Charity Flourish in this Land,' in Engaging Society: The Christian in Tomorrow's Singapore, ed., Michael Nai-Chiu Poon (Singapore: Trinity Theological College, 2013), 156.

[9] Daniel Koh, 'Justice: A Christian Social Ethical Perspective,' in Issues of Law and Justice in Singapore: Some Christian Reflections, eds., Daniel K. S. Koh and Kiem-Kiok Kwa (Singapore: Trinity Theological College, 2009), 7. Emphasis added.

[10] Daniel Koh, 'Middle Axioms and Social Engagement in a Plural Society,' in Engaging Society: The Christian in Tomorrow's Singapore, ed., Michael Nai-Chiu Poon (Singapore: Trinity Theological College, 2013), 119-120.

[11] Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life (USA: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 187.

[12] Rowan Williams, Faith in the Public Square (UK: Bloomsbury, 2012), 307.

[13] Ng Kam Weng, From Christ to Social Practice: Christological Foundations for Social Practice in the Theologies of Albrecht Ritschl, Karl Barth and Jürgen Moltmann (Hong Kong: Alliance Bible Seminary, 1996), 197.

[14] Roland Chia, 'Christian Witness in the Public Square: Retrospection and Prospection,' in Engaging Society: The Christian in Tomorrow's Singapore, ed., Michael Nai-Chiu Poon (Singapore: Trinity Theological College, 2013), 143, 144-145.

[15] Nigel Biggar, Behaving in Public: How to do Christian Ethics (USA: Eerdmans, 2011), 43.

[16] Leow Theng Huat, 'The Church in Singapore and the Judgement of God,' in Engaging Society: The Christian in Tomorrow's Singapore, ed., Michael Nai-Chiu Poon (Singapore: Trinity Theological College, 2013), 110. Emphasis edited.

[17] Jean Bethke Elshtain, 'Afterword: A Friendly Outsider's Reflections,' in Evangelicals in the Public Square: Four Formative Voices on Political Thought and Action, ed., J. Budziszewski (USA: Baker Academic, 2006), 207.

[18] See the discussion in Raymond Plant, 'Citizenship, Religion, and Political Liberalism,' in Religious Voices in Public Places, eds., Nigel Biggar and Linda Hogan (USA: Oxford University Press, 2009), 37-57.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Abraham's camels: Archaeological discovery and unwarranted conclusion

http://www.yoyowall.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Camels-Desert.jpg
Many have been circulating the recent news on how the latest carbon dating of camel bones in south Levant has shown that the story of Abraham contains anachronism. Abraham's history is commonly dated to about 3,500 to 4,000 years ago (1,500 to 2,000 B.C.), but the carbon dating report concludes that camels were only being domesticated about 3000 years ago (1,000 B.C.):
Current data from copper smelting sites of the Aravah Valley enable us to pinpoint the introduction of domestic camels to the southern Levant more precisely based on stratigraphic contexts associated with an extensive suite of radiocarbon dates. The data indicate that this event occurred not earlier than the last third of the 10th century BCE and most probably during this time.
(Lidar Sapir-Hen and Erez Ben-Yosef, "The Introduction of Domestic Camels to the Southern Levant: Evidence from the Aravah Valley," Tel Aviv, vol. 40 [2013]: 282.)
This conclusion prompted readers to raise question about the camels in the story of Abraham and his family (Genesis 12:16, 24:10-64, 30:43, 31:17, 32:7, 15). Many celebrate this report as another evidence that confirms their belief that the first book in the Bible is not entirely historical. Andrew Brown wrote on his Guardian column:
Whoever put the camels into the story of Abraham and Isaac might as well have improved the story of Little Red Riding Hood by having her ride up to Granny's in an SUV.
The New York Times states in a as-a-matter-of-fact tone,
These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history.
The National Geographic reports:
While there are conflicting theories about when the Bible was composed, the recent research suggests it was written much later than the events it describes. This supports earlier studies that have challenged the Bible's veracity as a historic document.
The Times interviewed a few scholars for their view. Carol Meyer, the Mary Grace Wilson Professor in Religion at Duke University, said:
The biblical authors, composers, writers used their creative imaginations to shape their stories, and they were not interested in what actually happened, they were interested in what you could learn from telling about the past.
Choon-Leong Seow, Professor of Old Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, commented (paraphrase),
The Bible has also never been a history book or a scientific textbook…. Interpreting the Bible is a little like studying Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper…. Modern viewers do not consider the Christ figure in da Vinci’s painting an accurate portrait because we know it was painted centuries after the supper happened, but that does not take away from the artist’s spiritual message about Jesus’ last night with his disciples.
Joel Baden, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Yale University, trivializes the anachronism in Abraham's story, making it more palatable for those who are troubled by such conclusion:
It has been suggested that this anachronism in the biblical text is akin to importing semitrailers into the medieval period. But this is a level of ridiculousness too far.

I would suggest that it is more similar to describing a medieval Italian as enjoying pasta with tomato sauce. How many people, even today, know that tomatoes only came to Italy from South America in the 16th century?

The camels in Genesis may be “wrong,” but they are not a “mistake.” We all imagine the past to the best of our knowledge, the biblical authors included.
After reading about the archaeological report, a Singaporean church leader endorses on Facebook that such anachronism is not a problem for Christians except those who believe in the doctrine of inerrancy. The person then asserts that the scripture is saturated with anachronisms.

Reading the comments and conclusions by these journalists, scholars, and church leader, I wonder if they know what the report is really about, and the historical issues involved? 

First, the carbon dating in the report was conducted on dromedary camels' remains. We don't know if the camels mentioned in Abraham's story were dromedary (those with one hump) or bactrian (those with two humps). As K. Martin Heide, Associate Professor for Semitic Languages at Philipps-Universitat Marburg, has pointed out:
It is usually assumed that camels in the book of Genesis are dromedaries. The Semitic root gml, however, occurring once in a Hebrew inscription recently found and dated to the 7th–6th centuries BCE…, and several times in the Hebrew Bible, as gāmāl, does not betray to us what species (Bactrian/Arabian) the animal belongs to.
('The Domestication of the Camel: Biological, Archaeological and Inscriptional Evidence from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel and Arabia, and Literary Evidence from the Hebrew Bible,' in Ugarit-Forschungen: Internationales Jahrbuch fur die Altertumskunde Syrien-Palastinas, eds. Herausgegeben von Manfried Dietrich and Oswald Loretx [Germany: Hubert & Co, 2011], 362.)
So it is very interesting to see those journalist, scholar, and church leader so readily assume that the camels mentioned in Abraham's story are dromedary, and then conclude that the biblical data is anachronistic. I wonder why?

Second, the bactrian camels were already being domesticated during Abraham's time (3,500 to 4,000 years ago):
The earliest known Mesopotamian lexical evidence of the camel is provided by an animal list from Fara of the early Dynastic Period (ca. 2600–2500 BCE), where the Sumerian term am.si.ḫar.an [Bactrian camel] occurs again... In his list, am.si.ḫar.an is found in the proximity of terms for wild animals, such as the elephant, the water buffalo, the bear and the wolf. This looks as if the Bactrian camel was regarded as domesticated in part only in the 3rd millennium BCE [5000 years ago]... But its name element ḫar.an "road/caravan" makes no sense if it would have been assigned to an animal which does not go on the road or in a camel-caravan and Mesopotamia was far away from the natural habitat of the wild Bactrian camel... it can be concluded that the people of Mesopotamia gained some acquaintance with the Bactrian camel in the Old Babylonian period, at the end of the 3rd/ beginning of the 2nd millennium [4000 to 5000 years ago].
(Ibid., 358. Italic added.)
As Heide's concludes:
To sum up the early evidence, it is certain that based on archaeological evidence the domesticated two-humped camel appeared in Southern Turkmenistan not later than the middle of the 3rd millennium BCE. From there or from adjacent regions, the domesticated Bactrian camel must have reached Mesopotamia via the Zagros Mountains. In Mesopotamia, the earliest knowledge of the camel points to the middle of the 3rd millennium, where it seems to have been regarded as a very exotic animal. The horse and the Bactrian camel may have been engaged in sea-borne and overland global trading networks spanning much of the ancient world from the third millennium BCE onwards.
(Ibid., 359. Emphasis added.)
From lexical and archaeological evidence, it could probably be that Abraham had bactrian camels. As Alan Millard, Emeritus Rankin Professor of Hebrew and Ancient Semitic Languages of University of Liverpool, commented on The Telegraph:
Rare references in Babylonian texts and representations from other parts of the Near East show that camels were known in the Age of the Patriarchs, about 2000-1500 BC. Such discoveries are rare because the camel was not at home in urban societies, but useful for long journeys across the steppe and desert.

There is no good reason to suppose the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob cannot reflect events long before the deaths of those camels, whose bones were left south of the Dead Sea in about 900 BC.
Third, even if there is anachronism in Genesis, this does not mean that the whole Bible is not without history. Let's be clear that the Book of Genesis is not the Bible. The Bible is a collection of more than 60 ancient documents of various genre. So if one data found in one of the books is not historically correct, that does not mean other data in the book is wrong, nor does it mean other books are not historically reliable. Say, if we found one data being reported wrongly in an edited volume of academic essays, that does not by itself mean that every other data in the book is wrong. Yes, it raises skepticism, yet to conclude that therefore everything else between the covers is wrong is a leap in logic.

Fourth, disagreement with discovery that can be interpreted to challenge the historical reliability of the Bible is not necessarily motivated by the desire to defend the Christian faith or the doctrine of inerrancy, or both. I find it puzzling that those who think that the Bible is full of anachronism assume that there is no other reason why people would disagree with them except for piety's sake. People, with or without religious commitment, can and do disagree for the sake of historical research and intellectual integrity. I disagree with the conclusion drawn from the report mentioned above not because I believe the Bible cannot have anachronism in it. Rather, it's because I don't find their conclusion historically valid.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Upcoming Lecture: 'The Unholy Notion of Holy War' by Murray Rae


Upcoming lecture on theology of pacifism: The Unholy Notion of Holy War.

Prof. Murray Rae will first present and then offer a critique of the arguments in favour of 'just war' tradition offered by Karl Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr and Oliver O'Donovan.

Date: Tuesday 18 Feb 2014.
Venue: Trinity Theological College, Singapore.
Time: 11:30am-1pm.

Prof. Murray Rae is Head of the Theology Department at University of Otago. He was trained first as an architect, then studied theology and philosophy at Otago. He completed his PhD at King's College, London, on the incarnation in the thought of Søren Kierkegaard. Prof. Rae is the chair of an International Colloquium on Theology and the Built Environment and has continuing research interests in the work of Søren Kierkegaard, Biblical Hermeneutics, Christian Doctrine, and the development of Christian faith amongst Maori.