Monday, April 20, 2015

the sinner caught sinning

Twice in Matthew's gospel Jesus references Hosea.

The first time is after he calls Matthew the tax collector to join him. Matt ends up hosting a party for Jesus and invites all his sinful friends to come meet Jesus, his new boss. The religious dudes can't believe Jesus is associating with the losers. Jesus says to them, 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matt. 9

The second time Jesus and the crew are walking through a field and helping themselves to ripe heads of grain. The religious dudes have a problem with this, not because it's theft, this was an accepted practice, but because they were doing it on the Sabbath. Jesus responds, 7 "If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent." Matt. 12

Without referencing Hosea, this principle is applied in John 8.
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
Here is what Moses had to say. Leviticus 20:10 If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.

Here is what Isaiah has to say about mercy. Isaiah 26:10 But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord.

Here is what Hosea says in context. 
Hosea 6
4 “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.
5 Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth— then my judgments go forth like the sun.
6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. 7 As at Adam, they have broken the covenant; they were unfaithful to me there.
Jesus overrules Moses, does the opposite of Isaiah, and ignores the context of Hosea to prioritize and clarify what God is really about - mercy.

The religious dudes were ready to kill her on the spot, in the temple even. They wanted to kill him to, but he, as a man, had more rights than her, she was simply property. They needed Roman approval to kill Jesus. In their dialog with Pilate they say as much, John 20:31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected.

Jesus opposes religiously devout dudes and aligns himself with outcasts, sinful women, cheating men, shepherds and lepers. He does it in his life, he does it in his death, between two criminals. His resurrection does not change any of that.

Jesus is the minority report in the Bible. There is a trail of crumbs in the Old Testament that leads to Jesus. He appears in negative relief in the OT. Can you see him? He looks like the outcasts.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Podcasts on my ipod update Spring 2015

I keep finding more and more podcasts to listen to and I have less and less time to listen to them all. I do not have time for some of ones I noted last December anymore.

Science and Faith - Ask Science Mike , Twitter @ mikemchargue
"People call me Science Mike. Christian turned atheist turned Jesus follower. Spiritual and skeptical."
Faith and Doubt and Worship - The Liturgists, Twitter @ TheLiturgists, with Michael Gungor
"A collective of artists seeking to make thoughtful, progressive, beautiful, and evocative liturgical work."
Faith and sexual minorities - At the end of the day by Kevin O'Brien, filmmaker and his co-host, a Baptist pastor
"I'm not trying to reach the #LGBT community. I'm trying to reach hetero-Xians w/ doubts & questions but no safe place to ask them."
Humor and a little faith - You made it weird with Pete Holmes
"Everybody has secret weirdness, Pete Holmes gets comedians to share theirs."

Update...I forgot one. Deep thoughts and a smile - The Robcast by Rob Bell.

Enjoy. Be challenged. Cogitate. Repeat.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

When I was arrested, forgiven, and freed

I was arrested when I was 12 years old, a week after 6th grade had ended. It did not bode well for the summer before moving up to the junior high school. I was not alone though. My best friend Mike and I were leaving the school bus yard, which was across the street from my small apartment complex, when a policeman turned on his siren right behind us and momentarily terrorized us. Not thinking we were in trouble he called us over to his car and asked us if we had been around any of the older buses parked in the far back end of the lot. Again, not thinking we were in trouble we told him we had. He told us to get in the back of his car.

I really had no idea that I was in trouble. In fact, I thought there must be someone dangerous back there that the cop wanted us to be protected from. But, no, we were the ones that he thought needed to be stopped. Not only were we trespassing, but windows had been broken out of those old buses, and we were the primary suspects. Mike and I had not broken windows though. We had played in those old buses though. They were forts and space ships and science labs and castles, all the things our creative imaginations came up with. We were not the only ones who had discovered this pre-adolescent playground though. Some other kids we knew also played on the buses, but they supplemented their imaginations with actual damage to their castles, forts, submarines. They assisted their imaginations with cinder blocks and baseball bats and broken glass. They were not caught trespassing. We were.

I assume the cop believed us when we told him we had not broken any windows due to our complete naivety throughout our interaction. Eventually, instead of bringing us to the police station, he drove us back to our homes and explained to our parents the situation. We ended up having the charges dropped later on in the summer because the bus company did not have any "No Trespassing" signs. Before that resolution though, my parents were very upset with me. I was grounded for the rest of the summer and not allowed to leave the yard of our complex, not even to go half a mile away to Mike's house.

However, in the second week of the grounding, a friend across town called up and invited me to come over. My parents could drive me over, or end my grounding and let me bicycle over. I asked them if I could go. I can still remember being outside where they were sitting in lawn chairs drinking lemonades and asking them for an exception to the grounding. My dad thought about it a minute and told me to go ahead. Without saying it explicitly, my summer grounding had ended a week later. I left our property free to roam as far as a biking 12 year old in suburban Connecticut could pedal as long as I was home before dark as long as I stayed out of trouble.

I remembered this anecdote this morning as I meditated, using the mantra "Father loves me." As I disentangle myself from unloving understandings of God, calling him "Father" and declaring he loves me is an effort to combat and overwrite what has been wrong and unhealthy in my inner world. Thinking on what characterizes a loving father, this memory from my childhood came back to me, because this is what a loving father does, forgives.

Theology in the Orthodox church starts from "God is love." Yes, he is holy and righteous and all those other things, but they are not equal to this foundational understanding.In chapter 4 of his book, The Bible Tells Me So, Dr. Pete Enns talks about the humanity of God who changes his mind. He threatened Adam and Eve with death if they ate the fruit, they did, but he didn't. God was bummed with the humanity project and wanted to start all over again, but Noah. In a later recapitulation, God was bummed with the liberated children of Israel project and wanted to start all over again with Moses, but Moses pleaded on their behalf. An angel of death was on its way to Jerusalem, but David stood between it and the city. Manasseh was an especially wicked king of Judah, but he repented and the judgment against him and the nation was stalled. If you haven't already, please read the ancient, apocryphal short book, the Prayer of Manasseh. No Canaanites were to live in Jericho, but Rahab got an exemption. One of the things that can be reliably said about God in the Old Testament is his mercy when asked. No matter what the Old Testament gets wrong about God, it gets his mercy right.

One of the Christian parenting techniques we learned involved severity, not mercy. Because if our child would not obey us the first time, as inculcated by our strict discipline, then how could we keep her from crossing the road into traffic if she slipped out of grasp? Isn't that how God treated the children of Israel? But Jesus invites us to trust him rather than fear him. I have friends who are raising their kids to trust them instead of fear them. The results are slower, but I think they may be more effective over the long run. Which is how it is with God and the children of Israel. It took them millenia to give up idolatry. It also took them millenia to conclude that God doesn't punish to the third and fourth generation, as Moses says, but only to punish one for their own sins, as Jeremiah says. Haggai blames drought and poor crops on not finishing a temple, but jesus says God sends sun and rain on the good and evil equally. Moses says God is compassionate, but John says God is love and Paul says the greatest thing is love.

I have written about this before, and it still is shocking to me. In the Lord's prayer that Jesus teaches, which millions, if not a billion or more, around the world recite together every Sunday, we say "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." That pronoun "us" is an inclusive word. We are asking for God's forgiveness for all of us, humanity. A father who loves his children is merciful even to those who get arrested.

P.S. I am reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo for the first time and I'm certain his portrait of Bishop Myriel is having an effect on me.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Greg Boyd's perspective on Flood's Disarming Scripture

Greg Boyd has started his own book response to Flood's book with the title, Must We Deny Biblical Infallibility to “Disarm” Scripture? A Review of Derek Flood’s Disarming Scripture: Part 1. Boyd is not comfortable with the loss of infallibility in Flood's book. However, Boyd's understanding of infallibility may be more limited than others.' In a footnote he writes,
To be clear, I will defend the view that the Bible is infallible in accomplishing all that God intends it to accomplish, which, as shall become clear later on, is ultimately to point us toward, and bring us into a relationship with, the God revealed in the crucified Christ. This concept of biblical infallibility has nothing to do with whether or not there are scientific or historical errors or internal contradictions in the Bible, which is why I prefer “infallibility” over “inerrancy.”
Nevertheless, I am looking forward to the other parts of Boyd's response. My own long form book responses, chapter by chapter are here: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.

update April 20, 2015
Boyd finished his four part review and Flood is beginning his response.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

ch. 7 a long form book response to The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns

Until last autumn, I had not read any of Dr. Peter Enns' books although I am a regular reader of his blog at Patheos, "rethinking biblical christianity..." I did write a brief review in November and after writing the long form book response to Flood's book Disarming Scripture, I thought it would benefit me to reflect more on this book as well. It is an excellent book and written in a more accessible style than Flood's. There are only seven chapters with numerous sub-headings in each chapter.

The 7th chapter is titled, The Bible, just as it is, which is also the final chapter. Enns keeps the summary brief, although there is much to summarize. There are about a dozen points, but a couple jump out to me, such as, "The Bible is not, never has been, and never will be the center of the Christian faith." (p. 237) The Christian faith is centered on Christ. It is so obvious, yet easily forgotten in my experience. What is the relationship of the Bible to the Christian faith? "...the Bible, in various and complex ways, 'bears witness' to Christ...The Bible doesn't say, 'Look at me!' It says, 'Look through me.'" (p. 237) The freedom this realization brings also can bring fear in some of us. This is another one of Enns points.

"Let go of fear." (p. 239) Where does this fear come from? "...mainly the fear of being wrong about the Bible, which is often equated with being wrong about God." (p. 239) Derek Flood noted a similar concern in the last chapter of his book. The diversity of biblical interpretation in the church throughout history shows that we have seen the same passages and understand them very differently. The great church conclaves in its early centuries produced creeds to settle who Jesus is, fully God and fully man. Other than that, most everything else has been up for interpretation. This leads to another important point of Enns.

"Branch out." (p. 240) We need to realize that our churches are branches off a great trunk that has been growing for 2000 years across all continents and people groups. "In the long history of the Christian church, so many different, even conflicting, points of view have been embraced as true and valuable. Even today, at this very moment, literally thousands of recognized, established, Christian denominations dot the world, where members worship God and understand his ways differently from each other." (p. 240) It takes humility to acknowledge that other groups can be right, and our group might be wrong. But if we hold onto our position humbly, we can hearken* to each other's perspectives.

By letting the Bible be a human book we don't ask more of it than it can give.
A well-behaved Bible is one that rises above the messy and inconvenient ups and downs of life. A Bible like that is an alien among its surroundings, a brittle scroll kept under glass, safe and sound from the rough handling of the outside world.
Such a Bible is nothing like Jesus. It also doesn't exist. (p. 244)
The Bible is messy because humans are messy. Jewish people wrote about God in their culture and time. Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh, proved by his resurrection, and revealed what parts they got right and what parts were inadequate and what parts were wrong. Jesus does the same thing for his follwers today. Jesus changed everything.

*"hearken" is a good KJV word that indicates more than listening but paying attention.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

ch. 6 a long form book response to The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns

Until last autumn, I had not read any of Dr. Peter Enns' books although I am a regular reader of his blog at Patheos, "rethinking biblical christianity..." I did write a brief review in November and after writing the long form book response to Flood's book Disarming Scripture, I thought it would benefit me to reflect more on this book as well. It is an excellent book and written in a more accessible style than Flood's. There are only seven chapters with numerous sub-headings in each chapter.

The 6th chapter is titled, "No one saw this coming." There are so many good quotes here. It will be tough to select a few. The situation is the Old Testament provides the setting for Jesus, but Jesus changes everything, which means everything before him needs to be read in light of the Jesus Event. His followers had a text to work from, but it had to be reworked and understood afresh.
To talk about Jesus they had to adapt and transform the old language for a new task.
Watching the New Testament writers at work yields a valuable lesson for Christian readers today: explaining Jesus drove the early Christian writers to read their Bible in new, sometimes radically different, ways.
The Bible was nonnegotiable as God's word, but it wasn't God's final word. Jesus was. (p. 195)
As the beloved apostle says at the beginning of the fourth gospel, the Word of God is Jesus.

In Luke's gospel, after Jesus returns from the dead, he meets his apostles and tells them, Luke 24:45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

The problem for us Bible students is "you won't find anything about a future messiah dying and rising from the dead on the third day, the very thing Jesus says you will find there." (p. 202)

But as Luke says, "he opened their minds." Thus Matthew can take Hosea's writing about Israel coming up out of Egypt and apply it to Jesus whose parents had taken him to there to flee Herod. When Isaiah spoke of a young woman bearing a child, Matthew used the Greek translation to turn into the miracle of the virgin birth.

Paul, a devout Jew, converted to Christianity after the resurrection also had to undo all of his religious training. Enns lays out one of Paul's dilemmas. "If this Jesus is God's answer, what is the question?" (p. 216) "If Jesus dying and walking out of a tomb is God's solution, maybe the problem - the deeper problem - God has in his sights is ...death." (p. 217) And if death is the problem, then it's not just a Jewish problem, it's a problem for all ethnic groups. Enlarging God's care to all people, regardless of ethnicity, was new to Paul as well as the early church. Paul had to argue for the freedom of Gentile believers to not be kosher, to not get circumcised, and to be a people united by baptism and communion and belief.

If that's true then Torah obedience was no longer defining for God's people. "But Paul isn't reading the Old Testament on its own terms. Paul rereads his Bible through the lens of Jesus, God's final word." (p. 220) Jesus disrupts everything and his followers continue his trail breaking. "For Christians, then, the question is not 'Who gets the Bile right?' The question is and has always been, 'Who gets Jesus right?'" (p. 227)

For me, getting Jesus right involves loving him demonstrated by loving my neighbors.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

ch. 5 a long form book response to The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns

Until last autumn, I had not read any of Dr. Peter Enns' books although I am a regular reader of his blog at Patheos, "rethinking biblical christianity..." I did write a brief review in November and after writing the long form book response to Flood's book Disarming Scripture, I thought it would benefit me to reflect more on this book as well. It is an excellent book and written in a more accessible style than Flood's. There are only seven chapters with numerous sub-headings in each chapter.

The 5th chapter is provocatively titled "Jesus is bigger than the Bible." Enns asserts that Jesus was a regular rabbi of his time, who debated the meanings of the Old Testament for their current time, the same struggle we have today. Enns shares an example from our culture of Constitutional debates. Our American society has very divided ideas of how to apply the 2nd amendment right to bear arms. For one thing, "arms" meant something differnt, flint lock muskets, than arms today. Our courts have to walk a fine line preserving a right while compensating for different circumstances. In the same way, the rabbis in Jesus' time were doing the same thing with the Torah.

 Jesus does this when he uses God's appearance to Moses in the burning bush by saying "I am the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." Jesus focused on the present tense of God's statement to apply to the afterlife of the patriarchs. This is not what the context intended, but Jesus was applauded by his clever retort to his Sadducee opponents. Another example when Jesus does this is his use of Psalm 110 to imply the descendant of David will be his Lord, which is not at all the context of the Psalm. Again he was celebrated by his audience but hated by his Pharisee opponents for implying his candidacy for Messiah. I think Enns's summary of this encounter is very important.
1. The way Jesus used the Bible, as unusual as it is for us, was understood and accepted back then. The large crowd that heard Jesus  talk about Psalm 110 listened "with delight" as Mark tells us. Jesus's creative handling of this psalm was at home in frist-century Judaism.
2. Jesus tended to focus his interpretation of the Bible on himself personally or what he was teaching. Drawing attention to himself as David's "Lord" was not at home in first-century Judaism.
Christian readers today, who expect Jesus to read the Bible the way they do, have a lot of trouble getting on board with number one. But number two is what got him into trouble with some influential Jewish authorities of his day. (p. 177)
Enns points to Jesus' use of Psalm 82 as another example of his creative understanding of it and applying it to his own situation in John 10. Jesus does this in a more intensive way with his handling of the Torah in Matthew. In the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus is presented by Matthew as the new and better Moses, he says the Torah is not something he is abolishing but fulfilling. As Flood writes in his chapter 2 of his book, Disarming Scripture, "fulfilling" can mean "completing." Enns says Jesus' seriousness about the Torah does not mean he is bound by it, because he has the greater authority than Moses. He can intensify it and relax it. Jesus is especially provocative when it comes to his relaxing of  the Sabbath rules

Enns shows Jesus as a rabbi who is typical for his time for his creative application of the Old Testament but atypical on using it as his foil to direct attention to himself as the Messiah. Enns writes, "one word sums up what I see about Jesus as a whole: counterintuitive." (p. 189) In this way Enns prepares us for his next chapter on how because of Jesus rabbi Saul/ Apostle Paul re-read the Old Testament in view of Jesus.

Monday, April 06, 2015

ch. 4 a long form book response to The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns

Until last autumn, I had not read any of Dr. Peter Enns' books although I am a regular reader of his blog at Patheos, "rethinking biblical christianity..." I did write a brief review in November and after writing the long form book response to Flood's book Disarming Scripture, I thought it would benefit me to reflect more on this book as well. It is an excellent book and written in a more accessible style than Flood's. There are only seven chapters with numerous sub-headings in each chapter.

The 4th chapter ends with this thought, which makes the issues covered here seem less heretical, "getting the Bible right and getting Jesus right are not the same thing." p. 164 This chapter is titled, "Why doesn't God make up his mind?"

If we see the Bible's writers as people on different stages of their journeys in their relationship with God, we will be much less frustrated with it's contradictory rules and views of God, "different parts of the Bible appeal to us at different times and on different points in our walk with God. It's all good, but not as a quick and ready answer key to life..." (p. 135) Enns thinks we lose much more than we gain when we try to "squish the Bible's diverse voices into one voice" (p. 136).

When we let the Bible have many voices instead of one, we will not be upset with the contradictory statements in the Proverbs. For example some Proverbs says wealth is good, others say riches wither. As we zoom out to Proverbs poetic neighbors, we see disagreements between them.  Proverbs values wisdom, Ecclesiastes says wisdom doesn't change the fact that we all die and ignorance can be more blissful. Proverbs says the righteous live good lives blessed by God and Job tells the story of a righteous guy whose life falls apart. His friends recite to him wisdom in the same vein as Proverbs to get him to confess his sin and God finally intervenes and tells the friends they have misrepresented Him and Job needs to pray for them. In Enns's helpful perspective, these books are examples of "portraits of God and the life of faith, and both are in the Bible. And both are valid." (p. 145)

Some places in the Old Testament portray other gods in the heavenly realm.  In the beginning of the book of Job we see "a heavenly meeting, a gathering of the lesser gods come to present themselves before Yahweh in what looks like a weekly staff meeting." (p. 151) Psalm 82 has a similar scene where gods are responsible for certain kings. In Old Testament studies this is known as the divine council. For in depth research on this topic, Dr. Michael Heiser's research is a good place to start. If we read the Bible as mono-vocal instead of multi-vocal and uncorrected by Jesus we would have to believe God sits atop a pantheon of lower gods, but if we let Jesus correct what needs to be corrected we don't have to live in such unnecessary tension. We can say the Psalmist got it wrong. We can say the author of Job got it wrong.

Repeatedly in the Bible God is presented as a flip-flopper. God looks at Noah's world and is sorry for creating mankind. God stops Abraham from killing his son after he realizes Abe's intensity of devotion. God looks at the children of Israel shortly after the Exodus and tells Moses he's going to only save him, like Noah, and kill the rest, but Moses persuades him otherwise. Jesus also tries to persuade God the night before his crucifixion to not be killed.  "A God like us is not a problem. The New Testament, where God becomes one of us, calls this Good News." (p. 159)

Can you have sex with your wife during her menses? Yes according to Leviticus 15, no five chapters later. Did God change his mind on this topic? Did the human author forget what he wrote? Or were multiple traditions consolidated centuries later during the exile? There a multitude of examples like this and Enns lists several more. (I talk about this as well back in September.)  The Bible's editors did not remove these contradictions. "The Bible they were happy to produce is complicated, challenging, and messy - and if you believe God had some say in producing hte Bible, you have to conclude that God was apparently quite happy to let them do it." (p. 163)

Over and over again Enns sees these issues not as things to be solved but stories to be listened to and adjudicated by us the readers, in light of the full revelation of God in Jesus, and appreciated by us depending on our own life stages and spiritual journeys.

ch. 3 a long form book response to The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns

Until last autumn, I had not read any of Dr. Peter Enns' books although I am a regular reader of his blog at Patheos, "rethinking biblical christianity..." I did write a brief review in November and after writing the long form book response to Flood's book Disarming Scripture, I thought it would benefit me to reflect more on this book as well. It is an excellent book and written in a more accessible style than Flood's. There are only seven chapters with numerous sub-headings in each chapter.

In the 3rd chapter, "God likes stories," Enns develops his thesis, the writers of the Bible are not news reporters but writers with agendas who use history and also supplement with ahistorical details to make their points. Nowadays, such writers would accused of lying, but these writers are not hiding their agendas, nor do they seem concerned about contradictions between their stories.

As an aside, even though I am breaking this down by chapter, it will be hard to keep this from running out of control in length. This chapter has an abundance of Biblical examples and possibilities.

Here is Enns non-controversial thesis, all storytellers, biblical storytellers invented and augmented dialogue, characters, and scenes to turn past moments into a flowing story - not because they were lazy or sneaky, but because that's what ll storytellers need to do to create a narrative. They shifted and arranged the past, or wove together discrete moments, all for the purpose of telling their story for their audience. p. 76
This is obvious from any extensive reading of the Bible. It is full of multiple historical perspectives: four gospels, two Israelite histories, three Pauline conversions, all for us to see and join the journey to understand God as these writers did.

Jesus' birth narratives only appear in Matthew and Luke with significant differences, but important and appropriate for the audiences they are writing for. Matthew writes for Jewish Christians and presents Jesus as Moses' successor. Like Moses he was delivered from a baby killing tyrant. Like Moses he comes out of Egypt. Later on, like Moses, Jesus announces from a mountain a new ethic, beatitudes replace ten commandments. Matthew's geneaology goes back to Abraham, the father of the Jews.

Luke writes for Gentile Christians, using language reserved for Caesar for Jesus. An angelic choir proclaims his arrival. Mary's song is based on Hannah's song to celebrate Samuel's birth who later anoints King David. Luke's geneaology goes back to Adam, the father of all humanity.

As the beginning of Jesus' story is different in the gospels so is the end. Depending on which gospel you heard this past Easter, you may not be aware of the different endings. One thing they all agree on is the body is not there! Mark's shorter ending stops there. Rather than seeing the disagreements as proof of falsehood or as a puzzle to force together, we could recognize that devoted humans wrote these and their faltering efforts have not hindered the growth of church in 20 centuries.

 In the Old Testament, the history of Israel's kings in Samuel and Kings, in which hardly any of them get a thumbs up, is markedly different from the history presented in the Chronicles. One notorious example regards who motivated King David to take a census, Satan or God. (See my review of chapter five Derek Flood's book to go further into this topic.) The examples are abundant but Enns highlights a few to look at agendas. In 2 Samuel 7 the prophet Nathan tells David God promises a never ending dynasty. In 1 Chronicles 17 God tells Nathan David will be part of God's dynasty forever. When there was still a dynasty to speak of, the earlier prophecy made sense, but after it faded, as the post-exilic Israelites remained a vassal state without a king, the Chronicler's version made more sense.

The transition from David's kingdom to Solomon's was very messy in the earlier history, but is seamless in the Chronicler's.  The earlier history tries to explain why Israel ends up in exile, bad behavior from the highest to the lowest. The Chronicler hopes to inspire the small post-exilic nation to think what they could become again. One history seeks to use the stories of the past to explain the present exile, the other history seeks to use the best of the past to provide a "blueprint for the future." p. 97

The histories do correspond to archaeological records but there are pre-histories as well. These earlier stories, myths, are shaped  by the story tellers to pre-figure the later historical stories. "As you read Israel's origins stories, especially in Genesis, you'll notice embedded into them previews of coming attractions, a deliberate setup for what is to come in Israel's life later on in the Promised Land." p. 105

Hence, the rotten Canaanite show up soon after Noah's ark makes landfall. The Babylonians cause a mess when they try to build a ziggurat that reaches heaven. Israel's enemies the Moabites and Ammonites come from Lot's drunken incestuous relations with his daughters. The enemy Edomites are descendants of foolish Esau, the brother of Jacob, later re-named Israel.

God calls Abraham from Babylon to the promised land, just as the exiles would do. Abraham would leave the promised land for Egypt due to famine and bring trouble on the Egyptians, as the Israelite nation would do.

Even further back in Israel's mythic history, Adam is placed by God in a garden on the one simple condition that he obey God, "obey and you stay; disobey and be exiled." p. 114 "The Adam story, then, is not simply about the past. It's about Israel's present brought into the past." p. 115

Unlike the later histories which name the enemy kings who fight Israel, the Egyptian pharaoh who enslaves the Israelites is unnamed. This fact may indicate myth and why there is no evidence or written record outside of the Torah of the liberation of two million people marching out of Egypt in the Sinai peninsula for forty years. No matter the nuggets of truth buried in the grand story, one purpose of the story is to show that Israel's God is greater the Egypt's gods, especially as he manifests his power in the ten plagues, specifically insulting an Egyptian god each time. When God divides the sea, the writer uses the same language of the creation week. When Moses is saved by an ark on the river, the writer uses the same word for the ark that saved Noah and his family. Over and over again, God is superior to the chaos of the water.

Enns speculates that God lets his children tell his story with stories, instead of histories, because stories work. Jesus certainly thought so. In each of the gospels he communicates theology often through stories, parables, metaphors and similes. They have lasting power because of their broad appeal. Only a few of us enjoyed history class, but all cultures seem to love their stories.

Friday, April 03, 2015

This Friday is good because of love

I wish I could post all of this Eastern Orthodox perspective on love as the driver for all theology. However, it's not mine and I don't have permission, so I will share the introduction to entice my dear readers to click over and read the rest.

It may surprise you to hear that the original Gospel—the Good News preached by Jesus Christ and His disciples—is quite different from what is prominently presented today by the vast majority of Christians in America. For many Christians, hearing this original Gospel will involve a major paradigm shift—a radical change in assumptions about God and about salvation, which is at the core of the Gospel.
The original Christian Gospel begins with—love.
John 3:16, 17 says: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Furthermore, the Apostle John says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8).


Thursday, April 02, 2015

ch. 2 a long form book response to The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns

Until last autumn, I had not read any of Dr. Peter Enns' books although I am a regular reader of his blog at Patheos, "rethinking biblical christianity..." I did write a brief review in November and after writing the long form book response to Flood's book Disarming Scripture, I thought it would benefit me to reflect more on this book as well. It is an excellent book and written in a more accessible style than Flood's. There are only seven chapters with numerous sub-headings in each chapter.

In the 2nd chapter, Enns gets right to the most sensitive spot in the Bible, the topic atheists love to talk about, Old Testament genocide, as ordered or enacted by God. After surveying plenty examples of God killing people he observes, "[killing is] the go-to punishment for disobedience. To put a fine point on it, this God is flat-out terrifying..." p. 31 In particular, the Canaanites are singled out since Noah's condemnation of his own grandson, Canaan, son of Ham.

Enns notes the contrast of the OT approach to the Canaanites and the single New Testament approach, in Matthew's gospel. Jesus is bugged by a non-Jewish woman to heal her daughter, and it is Matthew who calls her a Canaanite. "The only time a Canaanite make it into the New Testament, and she becomes a model of faithful persistence: her faith in Jesus led to her daughter's healing." p. 44

There are plenty of examples of wickedness both among the Israelites as well as non-Israelites, but only the Canaanites are singled out for extermination. If wickedness is not the reason for their divine sentence, what is? Their location. The invading Israelites need a clean slate to start their new country, so the Canaanites need to go. This made sense to invading English, Spaniards, Belgians, Americans, etc. who found Biblical justification in the OT to thrust out their native populations, through war, slaughter, starvation, and mass migration.

How does this square with Jesus' call to love our enemies and to pray for them and to bless them?

Enns' proposal is mind blowing for a fundamentalist, "God never told the Israelites to kill the Canaanites. The Israelites believed that God told them to kill the Canaanites." p. 54 When I read this sentence I was shocked that the book was not struck by lightning. Since it was not, I kept reading and listened to his reasoning.

Archaeology is important to understanding Israel's context. A stone monument from 9th century BC Moab, contemporary with Israel, speaks of their god, Kemosh, was angry at Moab and let Israel take some of their territory. But then Kemosh relented in his anger and ordered the Moabites to take back their territory and put all the Israelites, men, women, and children, to death as an act of worship. It sounds just like the Old Testament with the names changed.

The other challenge from archaeologists is the lack of evidence that the Israelite invasion actually happened. Even Jericho's walls didn't fall in any near time frame to when the Bible says they arrived.

If the Old Testament story does not align with Jesus nor with archaeology, why did God let the writers misrepresent Him? I appreciate his observation and completely agree with him, "I'm a lot less bothered by a Bible that tells ancient stories than I am by the thought of God exterminating a population and giving their land to others." p. 61 He offers a sensible explanation, "The Bible looks the way it does because 'God lets his children tell the story...'" p. 63 It is the same privilege we have. We tell stories about our experiences with God that might change with distance and maturity. Some things are definitely right and some are projections of our complex psychology.
Christians - as well as Jews- over the centuries have had to come to terms with this tribal portrait of God and have moved on; the ancient tribal description of God is not the last word... for Christians, Jesus, not the Bible, has the final word. p. 65
What else are we to expect from ancient writers but primitive concepts, like war booty brides, nocturnal emission laws, talking animals, weird earth science, etc.? But we share our humanity, fears, hopes, ambition and failure. Who has not gotten God wrong? Who is the only person who gets God right, every time? Jesus, he changed everything.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

ch. 1 a long form book response to The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns

Until last autumn, I had not read any of Dr. Peter Enns' books although I am a regular reader of his blog at Patheos, "rethinking biblical christianity..." I did write a brief review in November and after writing the long form book response to Flood's book Disarming Scripture, I thought it would benefit me to reflect more on this book as well. It is an excellent book and written in a more accessible style than Flood's. There are only seven chapters with numerous sub-headings in each chapter.

When the Old Testament is read literally and not as literature, as is typical in my background and for most American evangelicals, God does not come across as good. "Other parts of the Bible are shocking to read, even barbaric, and hard to defend as the Word of God in civil adult conversation. God either orders a lot of killing or does it himself - and even comes across as a bit touchy...If we read this anywhere else, we would call it genocide." p. 5-6

Maybe we have not learned to read the Bible well. "The problem is not the Bible. The problem is coming to the Bible with expectations it's not set up to bear." p. 8 Maybe we have something to learn from how the early church interpreted the Bible. Take the Apostle Paul for example. Until I read this book I never stopped at this verse of Paul's and considered how weird it is.
1 Corinthians 10:1 Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.
I never wondered before about the stalking Rock. In the story about Moses and the Israelites who wandered the desert for 40 years, Moses strikes a rock which miraculously gushes water twice, once at the beginning of the journey and once at the end. Some Jewish commentators figured Moses had struck the same rock, as it had been providing water for the four decades, and must have followed them the entire time. It would not have gathered any moss. (;-p) Paul apparently uses this interesting interpretative speculation to make a point about Jesus. When Enns encountered this Pauline hermeneutic in graduate school he freaked out a little bit. He survived and moved forward by distinguishing God from the Bible. "I needed to learn ... that trusting God is not the same thing as trusting the Bible." p. 21 This realization was liberating for Enns.
I gained a Bible - and a God - I was free to converse with, complain to, talk back to, interrogate, and disagree with, not as an act of rebellion, but as an act of faith and trust, rather than needing to tiptoe around lest a grumpy God lash out with plague, famine, and sword if I get the Bible wrong - like an abusive, drunken father you don't want to wake from his nap. p. 21

Enns invites us to be like Jacob who wrestled with God through the night, and God changed his name to "wrestles with God" aka, Israel. Enns writes instead of viewing the Bible as an owner's manual, legal contract, or assembly instructions, realize, "we are eavesdropping on an ancient spiritual journey." p. 23 In fact, we are reading multiple journeys as the writers encounter God and mature in their relationship with God. Like our lives with God, theirs are messy, have some u-turns, and still God works through them to draw others as well into a relationship.

I know this proposal is threatening to some readers, as it was for me, but I had no satisfaction with what I grew up with approaching the Bible either. Turns out, there are ways the church has been approaching the Bible that is more satisfying and has been around since it's beginning.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Farting in church

Guilty. Sometimes the pressure builds and I have this incredibly optimistic belief that it won't stink. And 85% of the time it doesn't. But that 15% will peel paint off the walls. The best part about farting in public is people will suffer through it in silence, since the culprit, me, is not identifiable, unless my shoulders are shaking as I try to hold in my giggles (yes, I failed to advance out of that Freudian stage of my life).

The good thing about farts is eventually they dissipate. The distraction they cause is short lived. Babies, however, have no inhibitions when it comes to movements of the bowel. They do not care what is coming out, nor how loud it is, nor the likelihood of its pending stinkiness. They do not care how much of a mess they make.  They do not care how big of a smile they make when they do blow the tanks. Their product's essence will linger until their parents remove them from the room, change their diaper, maybe their onesies, and wipe down their baby seat.

Sometimes the church acts like me, sometimes it acts like me before I was potty trained. Sometimes they are spreading the aroma of Christ and simultaneously processing a big bowl of beans. Nicholas Kristof wrote a glowing opinion piece in the New York Times this weekend about the work of a Christian missionary doctor in Angola, who has stayed when no one else has, through that nation's violent in-fighting. Kristof's conclusion speaks of the aroma of Christ,
...I must say that a disproportionate share of the aid workers I’ve met in the wildest places over the years, long after anyone sensible had evacuated, have been evangelicals, nuns or priests. Likewise, religious Americans donate more of their incomes to charity, and volunteer more hours, than the nonreligious, according to polls.
Yet, Kristof is not alone in wondering why devout Christians are also known for their opposition to government intervention for the poor or preserving equal constitutional rights for minorities (especially in our current context for gays and lesbians). This is the stink. The church has always been a perfumed farter through her history. From her beginning, some wanted to keep her membership exclusively to Jews and treated non-Jewish believers with disdain, while others wanted to invite all takers in. Later on, as non-Jews became the majority, great leaders, like Martin Luther, turned against Jews. While some Christians sold themselves into slavery so they could bring the good news to slaves, other Christians were torturing and killing fellow citizens for not believing correctly. While some Christians fled their homeland for religious freedom, they were also killing some women for practicing, or being accused of practicing another religion freely, witchcraft. While some Christians were conquering nations and enslaving native populations, other Christians were seeking to end the atrocities. While some Christians tried to end slavery, others were trying to preserve it. While some Christians were trying to bring aid to Uganda, other Christians were encouraging the Ugandan government to impose Old Testament laws not only outlawing homosexuality but punishing it with long prison terms or the death penalty. While some Christians are trying to love their neighbors as they love themselves, other Christians are seeking to legalize discrimination against some of those neighbors for religious reasons.

For all those lovely flowers of aromatic delight and visual beauty, they sure seem to grow on top of a lot of manure. The stuff stinks. It doesn't stop stinking for a long time. By the time it decomposes, providing a rich bed for new flowery growth, fresh piles have accumulated elsewhere. Like a herd of diaper-less babies crawling around in each other's crap, the church spreads around the world. The people who fart in church are usually the lonely prophets. No one wants to sit around them. They don't make permanent stinks, but they are seriously impolite. They emit noxious ideas inside the church like "stop hating Jews" or "stop enslaving Africans" or "stop killing natives and stealing their land" or "stop ostracizing sexual minorities" or "stop raping children" or "stop abusing wives" or "stop aligning with politics" or "do justice, love mercy, walk humbly" or "don't judge" etc. The farting prophets don't hate the church, but bombs like this do not make them popular with the church,"The Church is a whore, but she's my mother." -Augustine

When the church loves well, it loves better and with greater impact than any other group, and because of that, when it takes a crap on others, it's especially traumatizing. When prophets pass gas by pointing out the disconnect, churches get uncomfortable. It is not polite to point out her faults when so much good is happening at the same time. That's like saying it's not polite to potty train such a cute child. The cuteness can be missed when covered in shit.

"Resist the devil, and often with but a fart I chase him away." Martin Luther

Saturday, March 28, 2015

What is the most important part of the Bible for the Christian?

For 2000 years, as Christians have spread around the world they have spread the Good News. The first great missionary, St. Paul, writes to the church in Corinth in the mid-50's AD that the good news boils down to three things, 1 Cor. 15:3 For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received—that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures...

One of the earliest New Testament writings preserved to this day, written before the letter to Corinth, is Paul's letter to the church in Thessalonica. He commends this church for you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath. 1 Thess. 1.

This creedal formula shows up several times in the New Testament, outside of the gospels, and not just in Paul's writings. Peter's sermons in the Acts of the Apostles also focus on this as the fulcrum of his messages.

As the good news spreads, 2nd and 3rd generation re-tellers find themselves wishing they had an eyewitness, especially an apostle, to answer some questions. But the apostles are starting to get killed. Also, some re-tellers are disagreeing with each other, filling in the gaps with their imagination. According to tradition, before Peter is executed, he tells his story of life with Jesus to Mark who writes it with a Roman audience in mind. Matthew uses Mark's work as well as his own experience and tailors it to a Jewish audience. Luke also uses Mark's work and tailors it to an upper class audience. His Greek is of the well educated. Finally, John, the beloved apostle, writes his own gospel, arranged thematically, unlike the other three, using simple Greek and simple metaphors to provoke deep philosophical reflection. In John's gospel Jesus is the Word of God, a spring of water, a vine, bread, a lamb, a shepherd, a gate, a path, life and light.

All four gospels include his death and resurrection.

When missionary translators arrive in a new culture that wants to avoid the problems of the re-tellers of the good news they usually start with John's gospel. Those images of Jesus are usually cross-cultural and provide a rich theological feast for a new church. Although sometimes Mark may be first because of its intense brevity.

As a church ages and grows it will seek the context in which Jesus arose, the Old Testament, as well as how the good news has affected communities like theirs, as seen in the rest of the New Testament. Some of the ancient churches believe the inter-Testamental literature is essential reading for Jesus' context and includes them in their Bibles. Some ancient churches also believe there are New Testament era writings that are essential for context as well. The Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas are two examples. Even some books included in the New Testament today were sometimes not recognized as such, including the Revelation of John. Some books are outright rejected because they contradict the good news and perpetuate bad re-telling.

The early church historian Eusebius (c. 324) writes, "Let there be placed among the spurious works the Acts of Paul, the so-called Shepherd and the Apocalypse of Peter, and besides these the Epistle of Barnabas, and what are called the Teachings of the Apostles [Didache], and also the Apocalypse of John [Revelation], if this be thought proper; for as I wrote before, some reject it, and others place it in the canon."

Paul thought it important to his churches to know the good news happened "according to the scriptures." Thus the Old Testament provides context for the good news. It is not unlike an artist's application of shading makes a 2 dimensional drawing seem 3 dimensional. Without shading I can draw a circle. With shading I can draw a sphere. Without the OT, the Jesus story is still good news. With the OT, it is the climax of a grand story. In the same way, without the rest of the NT, the story is a climax without a denouement, "the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved". John's revelation is one attempt at this. Yet the church has not agreed what it does, even after they agreed to allow it into the canon. As summarized by Wikipedia
The obscure and extravagant imagery has led to a wide variety of interpretations: historicist interpretations see in Revelation a broad view of history; preterist interpretations treat Revelation as mostly referring to the events of the apostolic era (1st century), or, at the latest, the fall of the Roman Empire; futurists believe that Revelation describes future events; and idealist or symbolic interpretations consider that Revelation does not refer to actual people or events, but is an allegory of the spiritual path and the ongoing struggle between good and evil. 
John's imagery, just like his gospel provide a rich banquet of theological reflection. Like all of the NT, it's best understood in relief with the OT which is John's source for so much of his imagery.

The circle of canon necessarily encloses the simple message of the good news of Jesus. As the annual celebration of his death and resurrection in the church calendar draws near we are reminded that the church has always remembered this story to make sure we know, both the teachers and the taught, how simple this good news is, yet how pivotal it is as well.

Jesus changes everything.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

am I a still a Christian?

John 6:29 Jesus replied, “This is the deed God requires—to believe in the one whom he sent...40 For this is the will of my Father—for everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him to have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 

I do look to Jesus.

I am not sure I have ever seen him clearly.

I can agree with the creed that he is fully God and fully man, that he died and that he rose again.

But I do doubt.

Sometimes I don't believe.

In most traditions and tribes of Christianity this does not make me ineligible for a heavenly afterlife. It's seen as normal covered by the grace of God.

I definitely struggle with the view of God portrayed in the Bible as well. Breaking free from the mindset that every part holds equal authority to every other part, a flat reading, has definitely helped me. The disconnect between some portrayals of God in the OT and Jesus in the NT are not as paralyzing for me when I prioritize Jesus' revelation of God over any other.

John 5:19 So Jesus answered them, “I tell you the solemn truth, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise... 22 Furthermore, the Father does not judge anyone, but has assigned all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all people will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.

If Jesus overrides some portrayal of God as bully in the OT, who am I to not honor his teaching.

It may feel to some people as it used to feel to me that I am dishonoring the word of God. It has taken me a long time to learn that I am only dishonoring the Bible when I dishonor the Word of God in the flesh. Dishonoring flat, literal readings of the Bible is not equivalent to dishonoring Jesus.

I think, for today anyway, this all means I am still a Christian in need of more grace than I have given, trying to let that overflow of God's grace towards me spill out to others.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

god of the bullies

I have more experience with bullying than I wish I had. I grew up with a bully. I was bullied at school. I found safety in joining the bullies as well. I suffered from and contributed to the sickness of the world.

  • In elementary school I defend a kid getting bullied for his afro. In high school I'm making jokes using racist epithets.
  • In junior high school a bully sits next to me on the bus ride home and punches me hard in the leg over and over again. When I get home I get into full contact fights with my younger brother.
  • I sing songs of love to Jesus, then post on Facebook the most obnoxious verse about God I read that morning.

I need to explain that last one a little more.
Those commands to kill every man, woman and child? I'd make that my status for the day, but not ironically. A verse that portrayed God in an ugly way, I posted. Why? I wanted my friends to see how mighty my God was. How he could do whatever he wants. Including being a bully.

In the 1990's I started attending a Vineyard church which emphasized the father heart of God. This was an incredibly healing time for me. But then that emphasis went away. One of the topics that remained, not in the forefront, but there, is that God killed Jesus, which is kind of the father heart of God you don't want since that God is an abusive bully.

Then I started learning that Jesus, who is very likable, is the exact representation of God. I was freed from trying to reconcile nice Jesus in the New Testament from bully God in the Old Testament. I learned that Jesus selectively quoted the OT, so did his disciples. Those bully verses from the Old Testament, since they don't agree with the gospels, are incorrect/false/uninspired/wrong.

God is love. Jesus is God. Jesus is love.

God is not a bully. I will not worship the god of the bullies. I will worship the God who is love as revealed in the flesh of Jesus.

Good Friday comes soon, the annual recollection of Jesus getting killed by religion, government, and the military. He stood up to those people in power, the bullies, he scared them, and the bullies killed him. He forgave those bullies. He loves the bullies. He even saves the bullies. People like me. He is God of the bullies, but not by being the bully god.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Gestational themes in the Bible and me

It takes about 40 weeks to prepare a human in the womb for the world. Forty weeks or 280 days takes about 9 full moons.

  • Noah sat on his boat for a little over nine moons. It rained on his boat for forty days.
  • Moses lived in exile for 40 years.
  • The children of Israel were liberated by Moses after 400 years of Egyptian slavery.
  • Moses went up on the mountain to talk with God for 40 days.
  • The Israelite spies visited the Promised Land for 40 days.
  • Moses prayed for Israel for 40 days.
  • The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.
  • The prophet Elijah fasted for 40 days.
  • David began the liberation of Israel after 40 years of Philistine oppression.
  • Jonah gave Nineveh 40 days to repent.
  • Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days before he began his ministry.
  • Jesus appeared after his resurrection for 40 days.
  • The Lenten season lasts for 40 days.

Forty is about new birth, a difficult period of growth in preparation for transition.

I remember first asking Jesus into my heart when I was five years old. I have a funny memory of that experience. I went to church every week as soon as I could be dropped off in the nursery. My church was committed to instructing us as early as possible on our need to get saved by asking Jesus in our hearts. I was a serious little dude. I had to think this one through. I don't know if it was a Sunday night or mid-week, but I lay in my bed after the lights were turned off and considered this prayer. I decided to pull the trigger and asked Jesus to come into my heart. I was pretty excited so I jumped out of bed to tell my mom about the big decision, figuring she'd be happy I wasn't going to hell anymore. I might have developed a pattern of not staying in bad, I don't remember, but she was polite about my good news but preferred I share it with her in the morning and sent me back to bed.

It's been forty years for me since that night. I feel like something died in me last year religiously and has been replaced with something more optimistic and hopeful. In the midst of it, I really despaired. But at this very close perspective, I don't think something died but something was born out of great pain. I read the beginning of Genesis again this morning and identify with Eve's consequence, Gen. 3:16 “I’ll multiply your pains in childbirth; you’ll give birth to your babies in pain. You’ll want to please your husband, but he’ll lord it over you.” My metaphorical "husband" was my fundamentalist understanding of God, the Bible, and Jesus. I could never satisfy that "husband." It didn't serve me, but weighed me down. That road to God, for me dead ended in a wilderness. I wandered around theologically, never quite letting the end of that road out of my sight. I read about older paths to Jesus. I heard about people today, like me, who found that fundamentalist road did not lead far enough. I used to fear those roads. I was taught to fear those roads. I used to tell other people to fear those roads. It was painful. After 40 years of gestation, I might be onto something new to me, though something very old in itself.

I will see what the next 40 years will bring. Moses was not called by God until he was 80.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

ch. 10, a long form book response to Disarming Scripture by Derek Flood

Derek Flood has written an excellent book explaining the issues I covered in my blog series this past autumn. My series is titled "Not everything Biblical is Christian." His book is titled Disarming Scripture. Cherry-picking liberals, violence-loving conservatives, and why we all need to learn to read the Bible like Jesus did. It is certainly a mouthful, but his examples are better than mine and deserve a thorough treatment here. Flood's book is ten chapters long and I intend to speak about each chapter in separate blog posts. I heartily recommend this book for the thinking Christian.

Chapter 10 is titled, "Re-thinking biblical authority." Flood introduces this chapter with a serious question. "If there are things endorsed in the Bible like genocide and slavery which we can and must clearly recognize as wrong, then in what sense can we say the Bible is inspired, let along infallible or inerrant?" p. 229 Even before we can ascertain what the Bible is we have to recognize the fallibility of its readers and interpreters. If we weren't fallible, if we did not bring to the Bible our psychological wounds, nor social privileges, nor our cultural blind spots, perhaps we could even begin to discuss the Bible how fallible or not the Bible is. Yet it was written by people who wrote with those same limitations. And we have seen shown by Flood how Jesus and Paul have used parts of scripture differently than they were intended. In summary, the point is moot, because we don't agree on much of anything. If we did, Zondervan would not be constantly publishing it's Four Views series on different biblical topics.

Flood notes, even with Jesus, Peter, and Paul, life experience affected their understanding of scripture. "...Paul had, in fact read Scripture and arrived at a very different conclusion - aligning himself with a toxic narrative of violent zeal for purity. In other words, Paul had read the Bible extensively and gotten God completely wrong." p. 238 But when he encountered Jesus, he saw everything in scripture completely differently. In the same way, Peter, as a faithful Jew, who had already ministered with Jesus, still needed a dream and an observation of God's Spirit working in non-Jews to change his understanding of who God's people actually include.

So what is the role of scripture? Flood asserts, "Scripture is therefore not an end in itself, but points us to that life-giving relationship, leading us into a life of Christ-like love." p.255 We need to distinguish between the Word of God, Jesus, and the book which contains words from God that point to the Word of God. "Martin Luther thus describes the Bible as the manger in which Christ is found. Without the manger you will not find Christ, but you dare not confuse Christ with the manger." p. 255 As I noted in my series, Not everything Biblical is Christian, all the lead up to Jesus provides the problems and symbols and clues that Jesus solves when he arrives. Jesus is the climax of the story. A story that only has a climax is a comic strip.

My conservative evangelical tribe already practices faithful questioning in safe areas. Those texts that were challenged a long time ago and already won, e.g. slavery. There are other places still not safe to challenge and be seen as faithful when done, women leadership, violence, and LGBTQ inclusion, among others. We can join those brave heroes of the faith in the past if we take the great risks they did.

This is the last chapter in Flood's book and last part of my long book response to it. This has been fruitful for me so I will do this again with another book I read recently.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

ch. 9, a long form book response to Disarming Scripture by Derek Flood

Derek Flood has written an excellent book explaining the issues I covered in my blog series this past autumn. My series is titled "Not everything Biblical is Christian." His book is titled Disarming Scripture. Cherry-picking liberals, violence-loving conservatives, and why we all need to learn to read the Bible like Jesus did. It is certainly a mouthful, but his examples are better than mine and deserve a thorough treatment here. Flood's book is ten chapters long and I intend to speak about each chapter in separate blog posts. I heartily recommend this book for the thinking Christian.

Chapter 9 is titled, "Undoing judgement." Flood shows in the chapter how even in the gospels Jesus subverts his culture's contemporary violent images with his teaching. First, he starts with a section from Jesus' sermon on the mount.
Matthew  5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
To our ears today, Jesus' statement in verse 45 is a tautology, a statement that is true by necessity or by virtue of its logical form. Of course rain falls on righteous and unrighteous farmers. Yet Jesus is overriding the conditional theology of Moses from Deuteronomy 11:13 So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul— 14 then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil. For the Christian, not everything Biblical is Christian because Jesus, as the full revelation of God, gets to overwrite anything Biblical that is inconsistent with who he is. Flood writes, "Jesus in contrast, is saying that God does not repay evil for evil and good for good, but instead that God shows unconditional benevolence." p. 201 Whose vision of God is right, Jesus' or Moses'? If one follows Christ, not Moses, then I assume Christ's vision prevails.

The parable of the unmerciful servant in Matt. 18 is provoked by Peter's question regarding how often he should forgive someone. Jesus takes his suggestion of seven times and amplifies it with Lamech's threat of vengeance in Genesis 4, "seventy seven times." Just as Lamech intends his vengeance to be extravagant, but not actuarial, in the same way Jesus wants his followers to be known for their extravagant generosity in forgiveness. Then Jesus tells a story about a guy who owed his boss millions and begged for release from his debt. The boss granted it, then the guy went and shook down a fellow worker who hadn't paid him back for lunch money a few weeks ago. When the boss heard it, he went apoplectic, 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. It is completely over the top. But it's an over the top story as a whole. The weird part is the conclusion. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Is this how God is? Didn't Jesus just tell Peter he needs to forgive extravagantly, over and over again? Are we supposed to be more forgiving than God, who only gives you one shot after you have been forgiven?

Early in the church's history, a practice formed and remained popular for a couple centuries of delaying baptism until one's death bed. The church fathers who did this feared of sinning after their baptism resulting in their losing their ticket to heaven. Perhaps they read this parable this way. Today, however, even in conservative evangelicalism we don't hear of threats about losing salvation for one sin. If one refusal to forgive is all it takes to get one out of heaven and to hell, then why does Jesus instruct us to pray daily, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us"? We understand that last line of Jesus' parable to be an overstatement, hyperbole, to impress on us the importance of forgiveness.

Flood discusses a couple other examples, especially from Matthew, when Jesus subverts his listeners' culture with familiar examples but couched paradoxically. This forces those who have "ears to hear," or those willing to faithfully question with Jesus, to ponder the new kingdom's culture.

Friday, March 20, 2015

ch. 8, a long form book response to Disarming Scripture by Derek Flood

Derek Flood has written an excellent book explaining the issues I covered in my blog series this past autumn. My series is titled "Not everything Biblical is Christian." His book is titled Disarming Scripture. Cherry-picking liberals, violence-loving conservatives, and why we all need to learn to read the Bible like Jesus did. It is certainly a mouthful, but his examples are better than mine and deserve a thorough treatment here. Flood's book is ten chapters long and I intend to speak about each chapter in separate blog posts. I heartily recommend this book for the thinking Christian.

Chapter 8 is titled, "A practical guide to enemy love." In it Flood defends the Anabaptist vision for peace, but seeks to clarify that pacifism is not a commitment to inaction but action to end suffering. Those who think inaction is always the way to respond are victims of their own unquestioning obedience. Those who go down this route cannot find in themselves a way to counsel women to leave abusive marriages. There is another way. "Jesus cares for us and is not calling us to passivity or irresponsibility. Enemy love is about ending suffering, not validating it." p. 177 The challenge Flood sees as a follower of Jesus is how to do this without violence.  Part of this reorientation involves "renewing our minds" and preparing ourselves with understanding, not just of doctrine but of biology.

Here is a paragraph of golden doctrine.
Jesus begins with the call to "love our neighbor as we love ourselves," and then pushes us to expand our definition of "neighbor" to encompass those we would normally reject and shut out. Love of enemies challenges us to enlarge the border of inclusion beyond its normal boundaries of family, tribe, and nation to include those we would regard as unworthy and enemies. In the relational perspective of Jesus, there is no "them," there is only "us." p. 180
I think this is just one of many ways to arrive at this conclusion. I came to a similar place as I meditated on the forgiveness section of the Lord's prayer. Jesus' model prayer says "Forgive us our sins..." Those plural nouns can change our perspective, similar to Flood's. There is no "I" or "me" in that prayer, just us and our and your. When I pray the Lord's prayer, when I ask God to forgive us our sins, I am asking God to forgive my sins, my kids' sins, my literal neighbor's sins, my fellow church members' sins, my co-workers' sins, my nation's sins, and my enemy's sins. When I pray that prayer, I ask for God's mercy for all of us. There is no them, only us.

The doctrinal stance I love. The science part intrigues me but I am always suspect of Christian authors using current science to support theology. I am not disagreeing with it, but as a scientist myself, I know research constantly shifts theories, especially in the extremely complex area of neuroscience. He presents the research on the amygdala, the primitive section of the brain, takes over the prefrontal cortex, the advanced/social section when we feel threatened. "When we feel threatened or triggered, the compassionate and social part of our brain literally gets shut down." p. 182 Thus the necessary "renewing of our minds" which will enable us to respond in love when we are threatened is a retraining to overcome our instincts.

He points to the success of a program in the San Francisco Sheriff's Department called Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP) as an example of how rewiring can work. This is from their home page.
The mission of the San Francisco Sheriffs Department's Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP) is to bring together all those harmed by crime, including victims, communities, and offenders. RSVP is driven by victim restoration, offender accountability, and community involvement.
Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP) recognizes that violence hurts victims, communities, and offenders and creates an obligation to make things right. Based on a restorative justice model, the program aims to accomplish the following:
  1. Centralize victims' needs, giving survivors primacy in the development of RSVP, while empowering victims to restore themselves, their families, and their communities as they make the transition from being victims to becoming survivors and advocates.
  2. Hold offenders accountable for their violence, focusing on redefining and restructuring their male-role belief system and on repairing the harm caused to their victims and communities.
  3. Mobilize community involvement to support victim restoration, reduce offender recidivism, create opportunities for restoration, and prevent further violence.
Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP) has proven successful in reducing violent crime and has resulted in a reduction in recidivism of up to 80% in San Francisco, CA. RSVP has been recognized with numerous honors and is a winner of the 2004 Innovations in American Government Award.
Imagine if our culture chose to prioritize restoring criminals and their victims instead of punishment, which does not work based on recidivism rates.

As an aside, the practice of meditation/mindfulness, even of the secular variety also can help the brain strengthen its social section, improving tolerance, and reducing irritability/ social reactivity. I listened to a fascinating discussion on that topic by a couple Christians on the Liturgists podcast, Episode 14. I have been using mindfulness practices since the beginning of the year and have found them helpful. I have also found the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises a helpful supplement as well.

Flood provides several examples of how non-violent means like RSVP have been successful in the wild. Usually they are longer and more complex than the response of violence, but usually the issues that come up are complex and have long histories as well.