May 25, 2013
Following are some thoughts I posted on a discussion board at Gordon-Conwell for a course I’m taking: Theology of the Pentateuch with Dr. Gordon Hugenberger.
The initial question was as follows:
Kersey Graves is a 19th century religious critic who had particular penchant for lambasting Christianity (and religions in general). His book, The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors, depicts Christ as a non-historical, mythical figure, and has a conspiracy theory approach to interpreting Christian text. In essence, self-styled scholars like Kersey Graves suggest that either the bible is a complete fabrication, or that it’s major themes and concepts have been plagiarized from more ancient religions.
Here is an excerpt from The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors:
” ‘And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed. It shall bruise thy head, and thou shall bruise his heel.’ (Genesis 3:15)
How do we respond to the dissenters that contend that the Old Testament plagiarized myths from the ANE (i.e. Creation account, Flood of Noah, Messianic prophecies, Ten commandments etc…)?
I love this question because it points out a theme that keeps recurring in my studies… namely, that different people can be looking at the same information, the same “evidence,” and come to completely different conclusions. How is this?
In some sense, people are going to see what they ‘want’ to see and believe what they ‘want’ to believe. If we come to that information with our minds already made up, whatever our conclusion may be, then we’ve simply allowed the information to serve as a support to our presuppositions. My first response to these “dissenters” is to probe into what is in it for them to hold this view. Usually in my experience it has nothing to do with being convinced of the formal reasoning and research of a Kersey Graves or a Bart Ehrman. The “dissenters” I’ve conversed with are usually looking for a reason NOT to trust the Scripture. If in fact that is the case then it hardly matters how I respond to their views on whether or not the Scripture plagiarized ANE literature. Usually this simply means they’re looking for an argument to get in so that they can feel more at ease ensconced in their own position.
This seems to be the approach that Robert Puckett is taking:
Gilgamesh hardly wants deconstructing because he does not tell you “Don’t sleep with your girlfriend or boyfriend.” Unlike Noah Gilgamesh is not a preacher of righteousness who makes demands on your life. He does not say, “God’s going to destroy the whole world with a flood because of your sinfulness.” Since regarding the Bible so much is at stake, we have to be aware of our bias, that we have a benefit in deciding against it, of charging it with being a false authority.
Do the Scriptures say “not to sleep with your boyfriend or girlfriend?” I digress. The issue is the same in that will we allow ourselves the liberty of coming under the authority and guidance of sacred Scripture or will we simply be enslaved to our own devices. That is not a fun mirror for us to look into at times and we shouldn’t be shocked when others choose to look somewhere a little more palatable.
This is not to say that people can’t in good faith question and explore these issues. Indeed they should. Faith is not believing what we know to be false. Rather it is a gift to see what is real.
While I like the place that Robert English lands I don’t care an awful lot for how he arrived:
“In the end what they say is more reasonable. But no matter how convincing their reason, I still believe. I think it comes down to which tree’s fruit tastes better to you. If you have a taste for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil reason is the way to go. You can be like God and come up with your own explanations. If you like the Tree of Life, you get to believe what God says and trust that he is right.”
This seems to be a little too reliant on personal preference. Not that it’s wrong per se but I don’t agree that what the “scholars say is more reasonable.” Which scholars? Some are. Some aren’t. Some have convincing theories on certain subjects and then lose their rationality on others. If we simply boil it down to a choice between two trees then we have no rationale to say that one is “better” or “healthier” than the other. This only lends itself to the above position that I’m going to see and believe what I want to in the end.
Another approach might be to actually listen in the moment to what the human behind the dissenting is really saying. Could we as “Evangelical Christians” (a term that has really outlived its usefulness) actually humble ourselves enough to trust that the power of the Risen King is actively engaged in our conversation and in our listening. Do we really hear people? Do we see them and feel their pain? Can we model for them what the suffering Savior has done to reconcile them to himself?
January 29, 2013
My family and I have entered into a new season and like most transitions there is
discomfort opportunity for growth. After my serving as an elder in our church for two years we’ve taken a step back due to several intersecting experiences: moving to a new city, new job, new focus in my studies, and new relationships to name a few. I’ll come back to some of these relationships in a bit.
I’ve always believed in the importance of knowing the history of the faith tradition to which we belong. By having a grasp on the story of our faith communities we are better able to appreciate their beauty, and to question their presuppositions. When we’re able to step out of our particular ecclesiastical stream and survey the full landscape we are much more likely to have a gracious demeanor towards those who swim in other streams. This has a way of challenging our own judgmental moods and prejudices while simultaneously stirring our hearts towards humble gratitude for the people in which God has providentially placed us.
Since this season has presented itself I’ve implemented something I’ve wanted to do for some time and that is to interact with and visit various churches outside of my own ecclesiastical stream. My aim is to visit and network with churches of different stripes in order to experience what the Spirit is doing here as well as explore some questions I have on the ecumenical movement… is unity in the Body simply a pipe dream or can it take on a visible manifestation to the world and to this city?
One of the great people I’ve had the privilege of meeting this past year is author, professor and minister John H. Armstrong. His recent book “Your Church is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission is Vital to the Future of the Church” has been a great catalyst for me to test what he calls “ecumenical mission.” The vision towards unity in the Body will require pew fillers from all traditions to get out, engage in conversation and pursue friendship. (Thanks for the strong nudge John!)
Lesslie Newbigin said that “The business of the church is to tell and embody a story.” How are we doing at telling and embodying this story? Is there any overcoming our constant fragmenting over various titles and subplots? I hope to meet more characters in this story and to rediscover my own place in the messy and diverse family we call the Body.
(I began this post the week after the shooting in Newtown)
Eighth graders can be very perceptive. Not that they always are mind you, but they “can be.” Or, at least the ones I teach. We spoke this week rather candidly regarding the tragedy that occurred last
week month in Newtown and I was pleasantly surprised by they way some of them are thinking through the matter.
Since we happen to have school in a…. well, school, we spoke about our own vulnerability to acts of violence. This is a scary subject for anyone but like most fears this one seemed to dissipate somewhat by having an open and honest dialogue. It is when our fears are brushed under the rug and we attempt to ignore them that they fester and morph into full on paranoia.
The truth is that what happened at Newtown could happen at any given school, or any other location where people gather, any given day. So what are our options? This is where a student showed his more perceptive side and replied, “we can choose to trust people rather than being afraid and looking at everyone as a threat. We can’t live our life being afraid of everyone.” Well said my young Jedi.
The act of violence that claimed the lives of 27 people in Newtown, like most national tragedies, has brought out the best and the worst in people. While some of my friends disagree with me on this, I do think that to use this as a means to push a political agenda, whether for or against gun control, is to add abuse to the ones who are already suffering unimaginable grief. To politicize their pain in order to manipulate the emotions of the electorate is unconscionable .
Of course this applies to the Christian divas of the world who care more that they have a relevant answer of certainty to this act of evil than they do for the people suffering. After all, we have to have someone to blame. Right? If we don’t have someone to blame this tragedy on then we might actually get uncomfortable with the real laments and grief of real people. God forbid that our hands and hearts should have to feel such weighty things!
We want easy answers. There aren’t any. We want security. There isn’t any. At least not the kind of answers and security we’re looking for. One thing that came from our discussions was ‘what can we do now?’ What happened in Newtown could happen in any town. There is a story about a baby born in a cold, smelly barn and this baby was born to peasants in an unimaginably hostile time. To reflect on that story and all of its implications for this life is to grasp the only secure hope we have for a more peaceful future. 8th graders get it. I don’t know why politicians cant.
December 20, 2012
I’m no SEO expert but I’m quite sure that by the mere title of this blog post I’ll get some viewers that I wouldn’t normally attract… my up-front apologies.
Not that they asked, but the folks over at The Good Men Project are doing a lot of things right by my estimation. For the most part I like what they stand for and a lot of what they have to offer the world. A recent post of theirs entitled “Cleavage or Soul” does a great job in pointing out the difference between what the media portrays as attractive to men and what most men actually want in a woman they can love on more than a physical level.
The mere fact that this well-written post even needs writing shows that there are indeed those men who are lost in their own shallowness and view both women and themselves in a one dimensional category that precludes any sense of personal complexity. Most men realize this because at one time or another we have all been that shallow, and most recognize their own capacity for said shallowness. Thankfully, as the writer noted, “good men love women. But we love women in all their complexity, for the things they do, for their intelligence, their wit, their athleticism, their creativity, their power, their force of personality.” Very well stated.
However, it is the author’s very next sentence really encourages me: “We seem to have forgotten that along the way, and our brain-numbing intoxication by pornography in all its forms threatens to end us—not because it is morally wrong but just because it distracts us from the truth and scatters our power. It’s one big acid trip fantasy with no connection to improving our lives, being good fathers and husbands, and advancing our careers”. At first reading this I thought he was saying that it wasn’t morally wrong but only that it distracts and scatters (bad imagery). But he says quite plainly that “it is morally wrong.” This is a very bold statement considering the world we live in! Porn is morally wrong precisely because it does “distract from the truth…scatters our power” and more. It dishonors the God who made people in his Image, and it then destroys the very lives of the people who are made in that Image. I hope this boldness is a reflection of an inner quality that defines what (in my humble opinion) all “Good Men” possess … courage.
November 2, 2012
I recently read a rather old book entitled The Book of the Pastoral Rule by St. Gregory the Great. Written in the 6th century, the depth and breadth of his grasp on the human condition is quite remarkable. I would even go so far as to say that he was ahead of our time in many respects. Certainly there are where I would depart from Gregory’s theology but one (there were several) passage that stood out to me as truly astounding is on p.108 (if you read the translation by Demacopoulos). Here Gregory is contrasting the “well disposed and the envious,” and how the spiritual director is to advise them differently.
“The envious should be advised that they consider how great is their blindness if they are disappointed by another’s progress or are consumed with another’s rejoicing. How great is the unhappiness of those who become worse because of the betterment of their neighbors? … What is more unfortunate than those who are made even more wicked by the sight of happiness? And yet the good deeds of others, which they do not possess, they could acquire if they loved them.”
Now Gregory grounds this thought in a beautiful and profound understanding of the union believers share in their faith and through the Church.
“For indeed, all are bound together in faith, just as many members constitute a single body… Thus it is the case that the foot sees by the eyes, and through the foot the eyes move…Therefore we observe in the inner working of the body how we should behave.”
Brilliant! He continues…
“In fact, it is disgraceful that we are not able to imitate what we are. Those good qualities that we love in others, which we do not seem to be able to imitate, are, in fact, ours also. And whatever is loved in us becomes the possession of those who love them. Therefore, let the envious consider how great is the virtue of charity, which makes the labor of others our own without any work on our part.”
I find this staggering! So for Gregory the antidote for a heart issue such as jealousy is to provide something of far greater worth and beauty. So by love we obtain the things that we would have otherwise envied. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this but my initial thought is that we American Protestants are (what are we protesting anymore?) so far removed from a holistic understanding of what the Church is at its essence that to make such connections from our union with each other to practical living is simply foreign. This deflates the power of envy and jealousy at it’s root because we are so united to one another that we really do “possess” that which we would have envied. This seems to push one towards a radical heart change (what we normally refer to as repentance) that is kingdom focused rather than the hyper-individualism we experience in most of our churches. I’d love to hear some more thoughts on this…
September 19, 2012
The only thing I really know about gardening is that to do it well takes a lot of hard work and dedication. I’ve never had a green thumb but have known a few people who do. Those who are really good at gardening are able to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of their labors, and those who are great cultivate gardens so lush and plentiful that others are able to find nourishment as well. To be a gardener is to give life.
Gardner is a good name. The name Gardner is an ancient derivative of the German Gartner which was the occupational name for, you guessed it, gardeners. This week my Aunt and Uncle, Bill and Sandy Gardner, will celebrate something all to rare in our world. They have been married 50 years!
The amazing thing about this is not just the longevity of a marriage that has taken place in a culture of celebrity-worship — where the very concept of marriage is mocked and politicized into all sorts of unholy nonsense. No, the truly amazing thing about my Aunt and Uncle’s marriage is that if you spend more than 5 minutes around them you get the obvious impression that they actually love one another deeply and enjoy each others company.
The Gardner’s have 2 children, Ron and Deanna, who both have marriages and children of their own. This garden has given life.
What my Aunt and Uncle are probably less aware of however is the sustained impact they have had on the rest of us. As part of their extended family I for one can confess having received from them a life-long witness to the hard work and rewards of cultivating love and faithfulness. This garden has given light and reflected a beauty larger than itself.
Anyone who has been married longer than a week knows that there are difficult seasons. Seasons that require tilling the ground and waiting patiently to see signs of life. There are storms that have to be weathered. Weeds require getting the gardener’s hands dirty and brow sweaty. Blood, sweat and tears are sown into the earth. Those who endure are able to see, smell and taste the fruit of their long labor.
I remember fondly our families getting together over the holidays and Bill and Sandy inviting us to their place at the lake during the summer months. To them it was simply an assumed generosity with which they lived their lives. But to an observant child it was an invitation to learn by experience what it meant to love vulnerably in the context of a faithful marriage.
Uncle Bill and Aunt Sandy, “thank you” seems so insufficient. Know that the seeds you have sown have scattered far. There is a Master Gardener reflected well in the life you have so generously shared. I’m grateful to have stood in the warm shadows of your garden and I admire still your devotion to one another. May the Lord of the garden grant you many more years of faithful marriage.
And you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
September 8, 2012
The past few weeks I’ve been harping on my students about the importance of seeing the context of the larger Story of God in the Scriptures while looking for his work in their own lives. There are patterns and themes in the Scriptures that reflect the same ones in our own lives and vice versa. When one of them gets past the blank stares and glassed-over quietness they open up and share honestly their struggles and questions… this is really the part of the job I love! Someone steps into the fray long enough to vulnerably share a chapter or two of their own story.
Last year I read a fascinating book titled Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising connections between neuroscience and spiritual practices that can transform your life and relationships. by Curt Thompson, M.D. Here is a snippet that I have found very useful:
“…we can be changed by allowing God’s story to intersect with our 0wn. When we tell our stories or listen to another person’s story, our left and right modes of processing integrate. This is why simply reading the Ten Commandments as a list of dos and don’ts has so little efficacy. The same can be said for Jesus’ admonitions during the Sermon on the Mount or the apostle Paul’s instructions to the early church communities. Isolating commands for right living apart from their storied context is at best neurologically nonintegrating and, at worst, disintegrating. This is why telling our stories is so vitally important.
But narratives are not the only instruments within Scripture that can help us integrate our minds and lives. Poetry is a another powerful literary tool. It has several distinct features:
- By activating our sense of rhythm, poetry accesses our right-mode operations and systems.
- Reading poetry has the effect of catching us off guard. Our imaginations are invigorated when our usual linear expectations of prose (that one word will follow obediently behind another on the way to a predictable end) don’t apply. This can stimulate buried emotional states and layers of memory.
- Finally, poetry not only appeals to right-mode processing, but to left mode as well, given its use of language. This makes it a powerful integrative tool.”
It’s no wonder then that poetry, as a literary genre, is so commonplace throughout the Scriptures. Our lives are being written, our stories are being told, and we make much better sense of our these stories as we know the Grand One of redemption. Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus and said “we are his workmanship,” the “poema” in the Greek… we are the “poema” or poem of God.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.