Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Spirituality in the Land of the Noble - A Book recommendation




Spirituality in the Land of the Noble, by Dr. Richard C. Foltz, is an excellent introduction into the incredibly rich history of religion and spirituality in the region now known as Iran.

When the book was first published back in 2004, Dr. Foltz was an Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Florida; he is currently Professor of Iranian Studies at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. His Ph.D is in Middle Eastern History, from Harvard University. As for his own personal faith, he states that he is an, "erstwhile Calvinist", but does not go into any detail beyond that. (p. xiii).

The Amazon book description follows:

This is the first book to tell the story of Iran's shaping and transmitting of the world's religions, starting with the Iranian merchants and missionaries who brought, not only Islam, but also Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism to China. (LINK)

The book contains the following chapters:

THE ORIGINS OF IRANIAN RELIGION - pp. 1-16

ZOROASTRIANISM - pp. 17-41

JUDIASM - pp. 43-60

BUDDHISM - pp. 61-75

CHRISTIANITY - pp. 77-95

GNOSTIC TRADITIONS - pp. 97-114

ISLAM - pp. 115-140

THE BABI MOVEMENT AND THE BAHA'I FAITH - pp. 141-155

RELIGIONS IN IRAN TODAY - pp. 157-173

A competent review is available HERE.

As for myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It is concise, very well written, and should appeal to a wide range of audiences. Dr. Foltz is one of those rare authors who is able to communicate a good deal of depth into a relatively short tome (204 pages).

Sincerely hope a few readers will take the time to read this contribution, and then share their thoughts with me.


Grace and peace,

David

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Alī's Qur'ān: was it substantially different from the Uthmānic compilation?


I finally was able to obtain a copy of a book that I have wanted for nearly a decade now:


When originally published back in 2006 as a hardback, the retail price for the book was $199.95—way too expensive for this retired beachbum. However, during some recent online research I noticed that used paperback editions of the book were now available for under $30.00 (see this link), a price even I could afford.

The first chapter of the book that I decided to read was Diana Steigerwald's, "Twelver Shī'ī Ta'wīl" (the 25th - pp. 373-385). I started with this chapter due to my ongoing interest in the differences between the Islamic sects. One very important development in my studies followed my reading of Wilferd Madelung's comprehensive book, The succession to Muhammad, which compelled me to  adopt the view that Alī was the legitimate successor to Muhammad, not Abū Bakr—this development is quite germane to Steigerwald's contribution.

Moving on, the focus of chapter 25 is summarized in the following selection:

The issues surrounding the Shī'ī Qur'ān are multiple; they cover much more than just the history of the text and its variations. Other major subjects include exegesis (ta'wīl) of the text, the distinction between exoteric (zāhir) and inner (bātin) meanings. In this chapter, I will show how the Twelver Shī'ites (Ithnā ashariyya) have interpreted the Qur'ān and developed their spiritual exegesis. This research provides a comprehensive account of the history while not pretending to be exhaustive. (Page 373)

A bit later, she writes:

The Qur'ān is a divine revelation, but its interpretation is human, hence there have been different interpretations. The differences in interpretation began shortly after the death of Muhammad. Different companions of the prophet began to differ from each other and with the passage of time these differences also deepened in their scope. Also, many groups came into existence in the early period of Islam and every group tried to justify its doctrine by interpreting the Qur'ān. (Page 377)

The section under the heading, "Early Debates on the Qur'ān" (pp. 378-3), is quite good, and prompted the title of this thread. Within that section, Steigerwald briefly relates the well known history of what became known as the Uthmānic Qur'ān, and then goes on to include some informative history on Alī's compilation of the Qur'ān; note the following:

According to many early transmitted reports,  Alī wrote his own compilation of the Qur'ān (Ibn Sa'd 190415: II, 338; al-Ya'qūbī 1960: II, 135; Ibn al-Nadīm 1971: 30; al-Suyūtī 1967: I, 204, 248; al-Kulaynī 19579: VIII, 18) and presented it to the companions; but they rejected it, so he took it back home (Sulaym n.d.: 72, 108; al-Kulaynī 19579: II, 633; al-Ya'qūbī 1960: II, 1356). These reports also pointed out that there were substantial differences between the various compilations of the Qur'ān. The only copy of the complete Qur'ān with verses proclaiming the exalted status of Alī and the future Ima'ms, was in Alī's possession. Alī, known for his vast knowledge of the Qur'ān (Ibn Sa'd 190415: I, 204), preserved this original copy and passed it on his successors. In his codex of the Qur'ān he had reportedly indicated the verses which were abrogated, and those which abrogated them (al-Suyūtī 1967: I, 204). (Page 378)

Now, back in April 2010, I published a thread which explored some of the issues touched on by Steigerwald:


Towards the end of the opening post I wrote:

Now, it seems that some individual Shi’ites take a contrary position; some have even forged both complete surahs and ayat, and then attempted to introduce them as corrections to the Qur’an. However, one should not confuse such feeble attempts with the official position of the Twelvers.

I based the above conclusion on the sources I quoted and/or linked to in the above thread. However, its seems that I need to adjust my thinking, for Steigerwald provides important information which complicates the issue concerning the possibility that Alī's Qur'ān had some substantial differences with the Uthmānic compilation of the Qur'ān. In addition to what I quoted above concerning Alī's Qur'ān, Steigerwald then relates a Shī'ī "practice" which significantly complicates any conclusion/s one may draw:

The Shī'ī  community learned early on that to express their beliefs openly was fruitless. This only caused their community to be persecuted. Hence they started to practice taqiyya (religious dissimulation), which allows a Shi’ite to deny his or her faith under dangerous conditions. (Page 378)

She also writes:

The Shi’ites of the first four Muslim centuries believed that Uthmān excised significant segments from the original Qur'ān and thus the fourth type of variant concerns some words that were omitted intentionally by Uthmān such as references to Alī and the imaāma... (Page 379)

And so, it seems that adjustments need to be made on my part concerning the issue of differences between Alī's Qur'ān and the Uthmānic compilation; but before doing so, much more study and reflection needs to be engaged in on my part.


Grace and peace,

David

Monday, December 19, 2016

Early Sources on Islam


While reading through some weekend posts from blogs that I follow, I came upon one that piqued my interest:


Like Allan, I too am quite "interested in the origins of Islam". Back on Dec. 2, 2011, I published a thread that listed a number of early works (632-900 A.D.) contained in the book: The Early Christian-Muslim Dialogue: A Collection of Documents from the First Three Islamic Centuries (632 - 900 A.D.): Translations with Commentary. [LINK TO THREAD.]

The document quoted by Allan, Doctrina Jacobi, was not included in the book. However, even though Allan did not provide the source of his quote, I immediately recognized that I had seen it before, and was pretty confident that it was in Robert G. Hoyland's massive, Seeing Islam As Others Saw It. I pulled the book off of the self, and sure enough, found the quote—word for word—on page 58.

Hoyland's book is a must read for those who are interested in the early history of Islam. I was going to provide a Google Books link to the book, but to my surprise, found out that a PDF version is available for free via the following link:


Enjoy !!!


Grace and peace,

David

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Muslim apologist, Paul Williams, does not understand the deep teachings of John's Gospel


In this recent thread, the Muslim apologist, Paul Williams, isolates two verses from John's Gospel in a failed attempt to support his misguided Unitarian conception of the Godhead.

Paul isolates John 3:16 and 17:3 from passages in John's Gospel which speak to the divinity of God's only begotten Son—e.g. John 1:1; 1:14, 18; 5:18; 5:26; 20:28.

Paul fails to grasp that the "only true God" of John's Gospel (17:3) has an only begotten Son (His eternal Word), who was with Him before the "beginning"—that He created "all things through him"—and that this Son/Word "was God" (see John 1:1,3, 14, 18, 20:28).

This "only true God", is the "one God" of the Nicene Creed (325 A.D.) who has begotten, "the one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God". This "Son of God", was begotten "from the essence/substance of the Father", and is "God from God, light from light, true God from true God". (Link to the Nicene Creed.)

Augustine has elaborated at length on the truths of the Bible that were promulgated in the Nicene Creed. The following are a few germane selections from his extensive works:

...we understand that the Son is not indeed less than, but equal to the Father, but yet that He is from Him, God of God, Light of light. For we call the Son God of God; but the Father, God only; not of God. (On the Trinity, II.2 - NPNF 3.38 - bold emphasis mine.)

For the Son is the Son of the Father, and the Father certainly is the Father of the Son; but the Son is called God of God, the Son is called Light of Light; the Father is called Light, but not, of Light, the Father is called God, but not, of God. (On the Gospel of John, XXXIX.1 - NPNF 3.38)

Partly then, I repeat, it is with a view to this administration that those things have been thus written which the heretics make the ground of their false allegations; and partly it was with a view to the consideration that the Son owes to the Father that which He is, thereby also certainly owing this in particular to the Father, to wit, that He is equal to the same Father, or that He is His Peer (eidem Patri æqualis aut par est), whereas the Father owes whatsoever He is to no one. (On Faith and the Creed, 9.18 -NPNF 3.328-329 - bold emphasis mine.)

Just as the Father has life in himself, so he has also granted the Son to have life in himself (Jn. 5:26). As he had, as he gave; what he had, he gave; he gave the same king he had; he gave as much as he had. All the things which the Father has are the Son's. Therefore, the Father gave to the Son nothing less than the Father has. The Father did not lose the life he gave to the Son. By living, he retains the life he gave by begetting. The Father himself is life, and the Son himself is life. Each of them has what he is, but the one is life from no one, while the other is life from life. (Answer to Maximinis the Arian, II.7 - The Works of Saint Augustine, vol. 1.18, Arianism and other Heresies, p. 284 - bold emphasis mine.)

Thus, then, the Son according to nature (naturalis filius) was born of the very substance of the Father, the only one so born, subsisting as that which the Father is, God of God, Light of Light. (On Faith and the Creed, 4.6 -NPNF 3.324 - bold emphasis mine.)

Only one natural Son, then, has been begotten of the very substance of the Father, and having the same nature as the father: God of God, Light of Light. (On Faith and the Creed, 4.6 - FC 27.323 - bold emphasis mine.)

Being Son by nature he was born uniquely of the substance of the Father, being what the Father is, God of God, Light of Light. (Faith and the Creed 4.6 - LCC, Augustine: Earlier Writings, p. 357 - bold emphasis mine.)

[See THIS THREAD for related quotes and reflections on this topic.]

And so I ask, which understanding of John's Gospel is the fuller, more accurate one: that of Paul Williams, or that of the Nicene Creed and Augustine?


Grace and peace,

David

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Jack Chick's earthly sojourn ends


I finally finished reading a good number of books that I have received over the last few weeks, allowing me to visit some internet sites that I like to check in on from time to time. Whilst browsing through the First Things blog, I noticed a post from 10-31-16 (link) that mentioned the recent death [10-23-16] of the controversial polemicist Jack Chick. [IMO, the entire post is worth reading.]

I first became aware of Jack Chick in the early 1980s when a good friend (who was also an employee of mine) gave me a couple of comics from Chick's Crusaders series (link). My friend was/is an ardent independent Baptist. The pastor of the church he was attending at that time was a huge fan of Chick's books, comics and tracts, and he encouraged his flock to distribute Chick's tracts to individuals they knew and would meet. (They would also leave the tracts at pretty much any establishment they would visit.)

Through the coaxing of my friend, I ended up attending a number of independent Baptist churches, and spent a good deal of time studying their history and theology. To this day, I remain a bit amazed at the widespread acceptance and  influence of Jack Chick's publications within the independent Baptist movement as a whole. The following are some good online articles on Jack Chick:


   
And just yesterday, First Things published another post on JC:


Would be interested in hearing from others who may have had some experience with Jack Chick's publications in their life.


Grace and peace,

David

Monday, October 31, 2016

"you will receive no other law for your belief than that interpretation of the Scripture which seems to you the best"




I am going to reserve comment on the quotation from the title of this thread until the end of this post, focusing instead, for now, on Alister McGrath's, Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution, which I recently finished reading (link to Google Books preview).

I had actually purchased this book—along with a number of others—a few months back, but did not get around to reading it until just a few days ago. Dr. McGrath is one of my favorite Protestant authors, especially his works on Christian history (both history proper, as well as historical theology), and this book did not disappoint. If one is looking for a polemical treatment on the subject he addresses, don't bother purchasing the book; but, if one is looking for concise, objective and balanced contribution, definitely get a hold of a copy.

His introduction sets the tone (of course) for the book, beginning with some reflections on the July 1998 Lambeth Conference. From the pen of Dr. McGrath we read:

In July 1998, the bishops of the Anglican Communion met in the historic English cathedral city of Canterbury for their traditional Lambeth Conference, held every ten  years. The intention was to address the many challenges and opportunities that Anglicanism faced worldwide...The bishops gathered every day for prayer and Bible study, a powerful affirmation of the role of the Bible in sustaining Christian unity, guiding the church in turbulent times, and nourishing personal spirituality.

But how was the Bible to be interpreted...

How, many Anglicans wondered, could the Bible be the basis for their identify and unity when there was such obvious disunity on how it was to be understood? How could a text-based movement have a coherent inner identify when there was such a clear and fundamental disagreement on how that text was to be interpreted and applied on an issue of critical importance?

The idea that lay at the heart of the sixteenth-century Reformation, which brought Anglicanism and the other Protestant churches into being, was that the Bible is capable of being understood by all Christian believers—and that they all have the right to interpret it and to insist upon their perspectives being taken seriously. Yet this powerful affirmation of spiritual democracy ended up unleashing forces that threatened to destabilize the church, eventually leading to fissure and formation of breakaway groups...

The dangerous new idea, firmly embodied at the heart of the Protestant revolution, was that all Christians have the right to interpret the Bible for themselves. However, it ultimately proved uncontrollable, spawning developments that few at the time could have envisaged or predicted. (Pages 1, 2)

On the next page, he raises two very important questions:

Who has the authority to define its faith? Who has the right to interpret its fundamental document, the Bible? (Page 3)

This is followed with:

The outbreak of the Peasant's War in 1525 brought home to Luther that his new approach was dangerous and ultimately uncontrollable. If every individual was able to interpret the Bible as he pleased, the outcome could only be anarchy and radical individualism. Too late, Luther tried to rein in the movement by emphasizing the importance of authorized leaders, such as himself, and institutions in the interpretation of the Bible. But who, his critics asked, "authorized" these so-called authorities? (Page 3 - bold emphasis mine.)

The above questions are repeated throughout the book. In addition to strict individualism, the issue of competing "authorities" creating fragmentation almost from the very beginning of the Protestant revolt/revolution are raised. Dr. McGrath states that, "There was no single Wittenberg reforming program, no single approach to biblical interpretation and application" (p. 65).

Is it any wonder that such problems were greatly magnified as the revolt/revolution spread from Wittenberg?

McGrath moves on from Wittenberg to Zurich and Zwingli, then to the Anabaptists; and in chapter 4, to John Calvin. Chapter 5 is devoted to England and the "Emergence of Anglicanism", which is followed by "European Protestantism in Crisis, 1560–1800" (ch. 6), and then "Protestantism in America" (ch. 7).

Questions concerning authority and interpretation continue. Chapter 10, "The Bible and Protestantism" is excellent, containing reflections on the issues of sola scriptura, translations, commentaries, lectionaries, theological works and the canon.

On page 209, he writes:

Since every Protestant has the right to interpret the Bible, a wide range of interpretations cannot be avoided. And since there is no centralized authority within Protestantism, this proliferation of options cannot be controlled. Who has the right to decide what is orthodox and what is heretical?

And just a bit later he states:

Over the years, each strand of Protestantism developed its own way of understanding and implementing the sola Scriptura principle.

Dr. McGrath has added confirmation to many important issues that have been raised here at AF. From almost the beginning of this blog, I have pointed out that the assessments of A.N.S. Lane in his important article, “Scripture, Tradition and Church: An Historical Survey” (LINK ), raise some serious, unanswered problems for the Protestant paradigm. The following quotation from Lane's work has been published at the bottom of the right side-bar of this blog for nearly a decade now:

The Reformers unequivocally rejected the teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church. This left open the question of who should interpret Scripture. The Reformation was not a struggle for the right of private judgement. The Reformers feared private judgement almost as much as did the Catholics and were not slow to attack it in its Anabaptist manifestation. The Reformation principle was not private judgement but the perspicuity of the Scriptures. Scripture was ‘sui ipsius interpres’ and the simple principle of interpreting individual passages by the whole was to lead to unanimity in understanding. This came close to creating anew the infallible church…It was this belief in the clarity of Scripture that made the early disputes between Protestants so fierce. This theory seemed plausible while the majority of Protestants held to Lutheran or Calvinist orthodoxy but the seventeenth century saw the beginning of the erosion of these monopolies. But even in 1530 Casper Schwenckfeld could cynically note that ‘the Papists damn the Lutherans; the Lutherans damn the Zwinglians; the Zwinglians damn the Anabaptists and the Anabaptists damn all others.’ By the end of the seventeenth century many others saw that it was not possible on the basis of Scripture alone to build up a detailed orthodoxy commanding general assent. (A.N.S. Lane, “Scripture, Tradition and Church: An Historical Survey”, Vox Evangelica, Volume IX – 1975, pp. 44, 45 – bold emphasis mine.)

And back in Nov. 2009, I posted the following from yet another Reformed author:

Unlike modern Evangelicalism, the classical Protestant Reformers held to a high view of the Church. When the Reformers confessed extra ecclesiam nulla salus, which means “there is no salvation outside the Church,” they were not referring to the invisible Church of all the elect. Such a statement would be tantamount to saying that outside of salvation there is no salvation. It would be a truism. The Reformers were referring to the visible Church…The Church is the pillar and ground, the interpreter, teacher, and proclaimer of God’s Word…The Church has authority because Christ gave the Church authority. The Christian who rejects the authority of the Church rejects the authority of the One who sent her (Luke 10:16). (Keith A. Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura, pp. 268, 269.)

Clearly, the questions of individual interpretation and authority outside the Bible itself raised by Dr. McGrath are/were also on the minds of Lane and Mathison.

And so, with all this in mind, I shall ask: how does one determine which interpretation of the Bible is the correct one? And further, is there an authority in place which/who has the approval from God himself to provide the correct interpretation of His Word?

Now, back to the opening quotation/title of this thread:

"you will receive no other law for your belief than that interpretation of the Scripture which seems to you the best"

This quotation is from Francis de Sales, The Catholic Controversy (page 3, of Mackey's English trans., third edition, 1909 - PDF version available online HERE).

For anyone who has ever pondered over the questions raised by Dr. McGrath, I sincerely think that you owe it to yourself to read de Sales thoughtful answers.


Grace and peace,

David 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Book Recommendation - Christopher Beeley's, The Unity of Christ - Continuity and Conflict in Patristic Tradition



This is the second book of Christopher Beeley's published works that I have now read. I first became aware of Dr. Beeley via a link provided by Iohannes in THIS COMMENT. [See also this Google Books Preview.]

I was thoroughly impressed by his, Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity and the Knowledge of God, so when I discovered The Unity of Christ during some recent online research, I knew I had to obtain it—I was not disappointed—this book has reinforced my opinion that Dr. Beeley is firmly establishing himself as one of the most gifted Patristic scholars of the early 21st century.

In The Unity of Christ, Dr. Beeley delves into the theology of the following Church Fathers: Origen of Alexandria, Eusebius of Caesarea, Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, Cyril of Alexandria, and Leo the Great, with an emphasis on development of doctrine and the formation of the early creeds produced by the councils of Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381) and Chalcedon (451).

Though all the chapters of the book are quite good, I particularly appreciated the one devoted to Eusebius of Caesarea (chapter 2, pp. 49-104). For a number of years now, I have felt that Eusebius' theological contributions have been either ignored or significantly under appreciated by most patristic scholars. Dr. Beeley is of the same opinion; he demonstrates that Eusebius offers much more than his valuable history of the Church, and that he was a major contributor concerning the issue of the monarchy of God the Father.

Anyway, I wanted to bring this excellent book to the attention of readers who have an interest in patristic studies. Selections from the book can be read online via this, Google Books Preview.

For those who make the decision to purchase the book, I would be very interested in hearing from you once you have had the opportunity to read it.


Grace and peace,

David