Thursday, October 28, 2004


All right, I have to admit, I'm usually not too much of an Eminem fan. And I've tried lately not to be too partisan on the blog. But I think this Eminem video is worth watching. Good stuff.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Baptist Freedom

The more I think about it, I wonder whether it doesn't have something to do with the Baptist idea of freedom. As much as it may not be the way that Baptists are perceived now, there is still the notion of the Four Fragile Freedoms: Bible freedom, soul freedom, church freedom and religious freedom. At the heart of this is the idea that one has to make up there own mind about the meaning of the Bible and about the religious path. Because of this assumed freedom, even controversial issues can be discussed without the assumption that everyone has to agree. I am told that issues such as homosexuality and abortion have in fact been addressed from the pulpit in the past, with the pastor putting forth a Biblical argument (that tends to lead toward progressivism) but without expressly stating a personal opinion, rather leaving the final decision up to the individual. I've seen a similar approach be effective at my home church as well (I'm thinking of Pastor Steve). This method seems to allow people to think critically (and change their mind) about divisive issues without making them over divisive. Does it go far enough in creating change? I don't know. Is it in fact more effective in creating change because it keeps people in the fold and listening and thinking critically without alienating them? I don't know. I do know that my ears turn off as soon as someone tells me that I'm completely wrong and assumes that there is nothing right in what I believe. I can much better listen to someone who gives a good argument (even if I don't agree with where it's heading) without bringing down judgement. Is it reasonable to assume that this same aversion to judgement but receptiveness to honest sharing and discussion holds true with others, even those who don't agree with me on an issue? Is it better to have a church full of people who all agree with each and who will leave as soon as they don't agree or to have a church that doesn't agree and is still struggling with all of the issues and yet still stays together?

Friday, October 22, 2004

Out of the fog, into the fog

I've been away for a while. Well, actually I've been in the middle of midterms. Just finished that last one yesterday -- Hebrew -- and it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I guess I should probably suspend judgment on that until the grade comes back. No it's all about the long (or sometimes all too short) journey to finals.

So, I've been following the election news, the polls, etc. This morning it hit me as I opened my news pages and my new favorite electoral college tracker just how divided this country is. Right now, they're a 264-264 electoral vote, and according to the current polls, Kerry is carrying the Pacific coast, the northeast, and New Mexico, while Bush is carrying the south and the rural west. I realized (I'm not sure why this was the first time) that no matter what the result is, the country is still going to be just as bitterly divided.

It got me to thinking about the church, and how it too seems to be divided, often on the same lines. My friend Brian over at The Faithful Skeptic has talked a little about this lately. I work at an American Baptist church right now, though I come from a United Methodist tradition. What is particularly interesting about this church is that, at least as far as I can tell, they seem to celebrate their diversity -- even their theological diversity. It kind of blows me away. The church has people who are both theologically conservative and theologically liberal. Some people have described themselves to me as fundamentalists. Then there is a church school class that has no problem studying the Dalai Lama. What's even stranger is that people from both sides have told me how glad they are to be in a church with such theological diversity -- how glad they are for each other.

In my experience, this is unusual. Conservatives tend to not be very concerned with diversity and liberals usually want nothing to do with theological diversity. No, we all much rather duke it out for who is right. Or perhaps we'd rather just pretend that others don't exist. Now, I'll admit, I really do not understand the position of most conservatives. I used to be one, but for some reason, I don't seem to be able to understand the arguments that I once made. And often, I'd prefer it if people would just see it my way.

But I can't help but notice the power that is in this theologically diverse community. What a great model for church -- "as grain once scatter upon the hillside is in the broken bread made one" (United Methodist Hymnal 563). Isn't that ironic -- made whole in the brokenness. I don't know how or why this seems to work, but I can't help but be impressed.

Now, I know that the danger is that we might simply abandon those reforms that need to be made in the name of unity. I know that there is important work to do that is still controversial. I don't want to let it be. Is there, however, a way to approach that work that is less alienating and divisive to our communities? Is there a way to celebrate even our theological diversity without giving up the prophetic voice? Perhaps it is impossible. But I am reminded that what is impossible for mortals is still possible with God (Luke 18:27).

PS -- Be sure to check out this amusing political cartoon from JibJab.

Friday, October 08, 2004

This War

Sting is one of my favorite singers, songwriters, theologians, and political commentators. For some reason, I'm just getting around to listening to his 2003 album, Sacred Love and the song, "This War," which was written during the build-up to the Iraq war:

You've got the mouth of a she wolf
Inside the mask of an innocent lamb
You say your heart is all compassion
But there's just a flat line on your cardiogram

Yet you always made a profit baby
If it was a famine or a feast

Yes, I’m the soul of indiscretion,
I was cursed with x-ray vision,
I could see right through all the lies you told,
When you smiled for the television

And you can see the coming battle
And you pray the drums will never cease
And you may win this war that's coming
But would you tolerate the peace?

Investing in munitions
And those little cotton flags
Invest in wooden caskets
In guns and body bags, guns and body bags

Your daddy was a businessman
It always made good sense
You know the war can make you rich my friend
In dollars, pounds and cents

In the temple that was Mammon's
You were ordained the parish priest
Yes you may win this coming battle
But could you tolerate the peace?

Invest in deadly weapons
And those little cotton flags
Invest in wooden caskets
In guns and body bags
You're investing in oppression
Investing in corruption
Invest in every tyranny
And the whole world's destruction

I imagine there's a future
When all the earthly wars are over
You may find yourself just standing there
On the white cliffs of Dover

You may ask, what does it profit a man
To gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?
Is that your body you see on the rocks below
As the tide begins to roll?

And you invested in this prison
From which you never got released
And you may have won this war we're fighting
But would you tolerate the peace?

There's a war on our democracy
A war on our dissent
There's a war inside religion
And what Jesus might have meant

There's a war on Mother Nature
There's a war upon the seas
There's a war upon the forests
On the birds and the bees

There's a war on education
There's a war on information
There's a war between the sexes
And every nation

There's a war on our compassion
There's a war on understanding
There's a war on love and life itself
And it's war that they're demanding

Make it easy on yourself
And don't do nothing

I really like how this song points out the problems of war profiteering and the religious issues that go into war. What might Jesus have meant? And does this war bring about democracy or curtail it?

You've probably all heard this tune already, but it's worth a listen, as is the whole album.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Maternal Wisdom

Well, I finally fessed up and told my parents that I have a blog. So my mom read it and came back with some maternal advise about my ordination/adoption woes. (See Adoption and God's Will and Candidacy and Adoption). She said: 1) take time to enjoy where you are because every place is different and you won't be in the same place forever, and 2) just hang in there. Sage wisdom. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Biblical Inerrancy and the Continuance of Revelation

My good friend Brian wrote a post recently on Biblical Inerrancy. I wanted to make a few comments on that now, based in part on a class I had today: History of Christianity from the Reformation to the Enlightenment with Professor Edward Antonio.

Dr. Antonio was making a point about the nature of the canon (the books that are agreed upon to be in the Bible) and revelation. Firstly, we have to accept that the books of the Bible are at least to some degree a human creation. They didn't fall from the sky. Angels didn't write them and drop them off somewhere for us to find. Someone actually wrote them, presumably under divine inspiration. So let's accept that the scriptures are in fact a human creation (at least to some degree). Let's also accept that the scriptures are to one degree or another inspired by God and are the Word of God.

So, how can that be? How do we know that the scriptures are the Word of God if they are also a human creation? The individual don't claim to have a particularly special status, at least not for the most part. Someone came along later and decided which books would be included. As we know, the canon was still unstable for at least the first few hundred years of Christianity. I'm not going to take the time to look up the date right now, but to my memory, it was between 200 and 400 CE that it was finally decided.

So if we're going to assume that the canon itself is revelation from God, we have to also assume that those who formed the canon were also part of some kind of revelation. Those people who decide what revelation is must have access to some kind of revelation in order to decide what is revelation and what isn't. That means that by definition, there has to be revelation after the last of the books of the Bible were actually written.

But, what I told you before wasn't exactly the truth. You see, someone came along much later (the seventeenth century) and changed the canon. The Protestant reformers cut out the books that they called the Apocrypha. These texts had been accepted as the divine Word of God for over a thousand years, and suddenly they were thrown out. If we agree with the reformers that these texts are not the Word of God, then we must concede that the reformers had access to some form of revelation that told them that these books were not in fact the Word of God.

Finally, let's go to 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

As Brian points out, this is the great proof text for saying that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. But let's ask ourselves what "all scripture" would have meant to the writer of Timothy. Well, it wouldn't have included the New Testament because that hadn't been formed or canonized yet. So, we're dealing with the Old Testament here. But, not the Hebrew Bible. No, the Christians and Jews of the time were not reading the Hebrew texts. They were reading the Septuagint, a translation in Greek of the of the Hebrew Scriptures done by 70 scholars, hence its name: Septuagint or LXX. So, "all scripture" would have meant the Septuagint.

Now, I just happen to have a copy of the Septuagint in front of me. Let's look at the Table of Contents. Hmm... Genesis, Exodus, Leuiticus (by the way, the table of contents is in Latin... handy, huh?). Those are normal. Let's skip down... Iudith, Tobit, Machabaeorum I-IV, Sophonias. Yeah, you won't find those in your Zondervan NIV. It's Judith, Tobit, 1-4 Maccabees, and The Wisdom of Solomon, in English, by the way.

Now, the writer of 2 Timothy has just told us that "all scripture is inspired by God..." etc., and we know that "all scripture" meant the Septuagint.... and the Septuagint includes these books that we don't read anymore....... yeah, we kind of have a problem here. The main Biblical source that tells us that the scripture is inspired by God has to tell us that Tobit is inspired by God (and doesn't say anything about the inspiration of the New Testament) but we don't believe that.

We just cannot make that argument. We can't say that our current canon is inspired by God because scripture says it is, because that isn't what scripture says. We also can't limit revelation to the Bible, because the people defined and set the limits of the Bible came after the Bible.

I know that doesn't give any answers, but it does at least knock some of the inaccuracies in the debate.

Monday, October 04, 2004

The Syro-Phoenician Woman and the Imperfectability of Jesus

I'll make a few quick comments on the previous post. First, no, there is no way that I can explain the use of an ethnic slur in this passage. I can try to explain Jesus' initial refusal to heal the woman's daughter, but I really can't explain his us of an ethnic slur. It's there.

However, I think it is important to note that Jesus does not directly apply the ethnic slur to the woman. (Wouldn't it be nice if we had a name for her... but alas, that is another discussion altogether) He doesn't say, "you are a dog" or "your people are dogs." What he does do is use the illustration of children and dogs and explain why his message is coming to the Jews before it comes to the Gentiles. (That's also interesting, because is argument isn't that Gentiles are unworthy, but that the Jews must be first) It's still pretty upsetting as far as I'm concerned. But, what I guess I'm saying, is that it could have been worse. The use of the ethnic slur here is at least somewhat tempered, though still problematic.

Second, as to the imperfectability of Jesus, according to Mark at least, it seems that he is imperfect. In fact, Jesus is just about to head on a downward spiral of imperfectness and loss of power. In the very next section (7:32-35), Jesus has to resort to magical techniques in order to heal the deaf man, whereas previously, his word had always been sufficient. In 8:22-26, Jesus' first attempt to heal a blind man (also by magical means) fails, and he has to try again. Later, at 11:12-14 & 20, Jesus becomes angry with a fig tree that doesn't have any figs on it (even though figs weren't in season at the time) and curses it, withering it. (That's also about the time of his temper tantrum in the temple 11:15-18.) In the end, Jesus ends up completely forsaken by all of his disciples and followers, and even, apparently by God: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (15:34) But my favorite example of Jesus' imperfection is way back at Mark 5:24-34 when the hemorrhaging woman is healed. She comes up and touches his robe and she is healed. But he's surprised. He can't tell who was healed. We'd never find this kind of oh-so-human stuff in the other Gospels (especially not John). But it's all there in Mark. Mark gives us a very warty Jesus.

I know that doesn't really help with a dealing with a passage like this one. It's just a difficult and disturbing passage. It probably always will be. Maybe it's supposed to be. If it weren't so difficult, we certainly wouldn't be spending as much time working with it.