Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Parable of the shrewd Manager

This morning I read in Luke's gospel this curious story.

Luke 16 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’
3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
 5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 “‘Nine hundred gallons[a] of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’
 7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels[b] of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

Over the decade in all of the Bible studies I've been in, when encountering this parable, we struggle with it. Is Jesus endorsing fraud? Is he endorsing bribery?

This morning I had other ideas. First I thought of the multitudes of money grubbing preachers, and they have been a part of the church for millenia. But if I were an exposed money grubbing preacher soon out of a job for my money grubbing ways I would apply this parable by changing my message, to one of exorbitant grace. "You owe God, but not nearly what you thought you did." A revised tune may draw a new crowd. Because when your message is love and grace, the ones attracted to that message will offer back love and grace.

But I'm not a money grubbing preacher. Then what do I do with this parable?

I lavished God's rich graces on myself and denied them to others, telling them they were in more debt than I. Specifically, I wrote about LGBT persons this way. I repent. I have stopped fearing God if I am too generous with the abundance of his grace and love.

Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Matthew 18:18 I join hands with those who want to loose on earth what must be loosed in heaven.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

blaming the victims at the #Baltimoreuprising

When poor minorities riot over unjust treatment, privileged majority observers speculate about the family breakdown that must be the cause of so much property damage.

But the privileged majority observers never seem to worry about what psychological conditions lead to the police officer mindset that justifies capital punishment for non-capital offenses. Running away from a police officer is not a capital offense. Wrestling with a police officer is not a capital offense. Carrying an air soft pistol is not a capitol offense. Stealing cigarillos is not a capital offense. Selling single cigarettes is not a capital offense. Resisting arrest is not a capital offense. Walking down a dark stairway is not a capital offense. Property damage is not a capital offense.

But the law disproportionately forgives or justifies the citizen wearing blue, allowing capital punishment... summary execution... murder.

When trials do happen, poor minorities are disproportionately incarcerated, breaking down family structures, depriving families of income, perpetuating the poverty cycle.

When NWA rapped "Fuck tha Police" they were screaming against the entire system, run by the privileged majority, of whom the Police are the boots on their ground. The issues they complain about in 1988 have not changed.


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.