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December 21, 2007

Those Who Major in the Minors

Wise_men Few things in life are more annoying than someone who thinks they know it all, lording it over others.

Enter Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Anglican Church. Here we are, a week before Christmas, and instead of using his position as an invited guest on certain media programs to advance the Christian faith, Williams wants to make sure everyone knows that he's a really informed guy, an iconoclast even!

On a recent radio program in Britain, Williams debunked the traditional view of the Nativity, saying that the three wise men may not have existed at all, despite the Gospel of Matthew's recording of there being wise men from the East who came to honor the Christ Child with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

While Williams is correct in saying that we don't know for sure of the number of the wise men (the three gifts is where we derive the idea of that number for the visitors from the East), his claim that they probably did not exist at all is more than a stretch. Since he no doubt felt that he was on quite an intellectual roll, Williams couldn't help himself and tried to debunk the Star of Bethlehem's standing still with the observation that "stars just don't behave like that."

Well, typically stars don't. But is there any room at the inn of Dr. Williams' philosophy for the miraculous--at all?

And I haven't even gotten into what he says about belief in the virgin birth not being necessary for Christians.

Moreover, is this the best the Archbishop of Canterbury has to offer the world at Christmastime? Even if some elements of the Nativity story are derived from tradition and not conclusively proven, aren't there more significant themes to discuss with the masses on a radio program like....the meaning of Christmas to every listener, as opposed to quibbling over whether it snowed or not that night in Bethlehem?

Dr. Rowan Williams chose to major in the minors rather than to share the larger truths of the Christian faith with this radio audience. Just another missed opportunity for the sake of the Kingdom.

Merry Christmas, Archbishop Williams. Or, rather, we should greet him with the safer "Happy Holidays."

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Regarding star of Bethlehem, I remember hearing that a possible astronomical explanation had been found. A quick googling brought up:

Not that hard evidence is needed to have faith in the event, but it's interesting when certain findings line up with biblical descriptions.


There are far too many experts out there ruining Christmas, childrens lives, and anything good we have ever had.

Jason Taylor

It is more then a little amusing given that I knew ages ago that the Bible didn't say there were three of them. I also knew that they were "Magi"-Zoroastrian clerics, not necessarily wise except insofar as they were following the star. Wise Man(Wizard),or Wise Woman was a common euphemism for shaman and presumably that was intended even though Zoroastrianism isn't quite the same as tribal paganisms.
Now that I think about it, it is a comfort. The Fate of the Unbelieving is one of the hardest conundrums in Christian theology as it can be interpreted as saying people are damned for mere intellectual error. But the "three wise men" are a reminder that those who are trying to find Him can be expected to somehow be led to the right place.
Jonah Goldberg once said regarding that, that he thought God was saying, "Don't worry pal, I've got you covered." And maybe there was a bit of wisdom in that.
Such speculations offer only temporary comfort to someone who has someone they worry about who is an unbeliever. But God obviously rescued the Magi.
Of course "unbeliever" isn't the right word. We don't know who really is an unbeliever until the Last Day. Perhaps a more hopeful way to put it is "prebeliever".

Jason Taylor

I don't think it ruins Christmas either. In a way it adds to it-it reminds us that even our mythology can be sanctified.


In my humble opinion, it's all about pride. Mr. Williams wants everyone to notice how smart he is (or thinks he is). Whoopee. Unfortunately, it is a pitfall to which we all succumb. I don't doubt everyone who posts or comments here desires to some degree to be noticed for their keen insight, as one of many complex and often conflicting motivators that drive us. Hopefully, most of us would rather be thought "fools for Christ's sake".

Re: the "mere intellectual error" of unbelief, there is an avalanche of research from the field of cognitive/social psychology indicating that our beliefs are heavily influenced by our emotions and wills, meaning that we see what we want to see and believe what we want to believe. I used to believe that most people came to their beliefs honestly, according to the light that was given them. I no longer think that, and the strongest refutation of that position comes not from the Bible but from science.

jason taylor

And before someone mentions it, no I did not make an endorsement of Pluralism. I came close to making an endorsement of Inclusiveism but didn't quite do that either. I didn't endorse any position lest I be guilty of accidental heresy. I made an endorsement of mercy. And of Hope.
And by a peculiar coincidence, "Hope" is Israel's song. Which is more then a little uncanny. So perhaps Jonah Goldberg really was right, in a way.

Jason Taylor

Steve, there are a number of motives besides pride. And even the "pride" is often of a nature that you or I would certainly be guilty of. I was not condemning God's justice, I was pointing out the appearance. Presumably if we saw we could understand, but we see through a glass darkly, now. I was also not referring to those who in the end reject Christ irrevocably but those who are working their way closer. Or being led closer. Which comes to the same thing.

I do know the classic answers of, "God can do anything He wants", and "It's all their fault anyway." The first is true as far as it goes, but emphasizing Sovereignity at the expense of Mercy, gives a harmful picture of God. The second may be true, but bringing it up is not really Fair Play. We are after all taught to be kind to the weak. And ultimatly who is weaker then a sinner?

We are also taught that the difference between us is not so great. It comes off rather like someone in a lifeboat mocking the drowning. I presume that was not your intent, but that is how it sounds.

And often enough you can find writings by not-yet-Christians which gives an "uncanny" feeling that somehow they are on the way. It is common enough that dismissing people is really simplistic.


By way of full disclosure I am fully committed to the Augustinian view of Luther and Calvin, viz. no one comes to God except that He calls them, and everyone He calls comes. Obviously this is not the place to debate or defend that position, but that is the missing bit of information behind my contention that no one comes to his beliefs honestly. Those of us who come to saving faith do so solely by His mercy; that very faith that saves us is a gift.

Therefore, there would be no Biblical grounds for imagining that because we made the right decision we are better than the unsaved. It concerns me I could have been interpreted as "mocking the drowning", because reformed theology eliminates any conceivable basis for feeling superior to the lost. (Likewise, I never thought you were condemning God's justice).

Absolutely we are all guilty of pride, I think far more than we realize. I still suspect that it is one of the primary motivators behind Mr. Williams's statements - but I cannot know that.

Jason Taylor

If all you referred to was Mr. Williams-that's more then I know. He was raining on other people's parade, but I do that sometimes.

As far as the other point goes, it is my impression that both the Calvinist and the Armenian position can give plenty of temptation to pride even if it seems illogical. In any case as I said, I did not say that was your intention, I said that was the result.

In any case what I said was not incompatible with either the Armenian or the Calvinist position and can stand as is is.

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