Monthly Archives: March 2011
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6 (NRSV)
One of the things that have been stuck in my mind lately has been very disturbing. It is an idea I would like to throw out and see what people think. Reading the Bible is insanely difficult. But it is very difficult for most Americans. It is not difficult for most Americans because of a lack of education. It is not difficult because of a lack of biblical literacy. It is most certainly not difficult for want of trying. It is difficult for most Americans to read the Bible because they (myself included) are most Americans.
In a parable Peter Rollins tells, he explains my point better than I could explain it myself. He paints a picture of Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount from the perspective of two normal, well-off-but-not-rich onlookers. The text of the Sermon is heard, but then Jesus turns to the onlookers. Rollins writes:
When he had finished, he turned toward the west, where we were sitting, we who have the power, who have the authority, and who have a voice. For a time he just stared at us, then he approached and addressed us directly: “Do not be mistaken, these words are not for you.”
As an avid reader of the Sermon and persistent student of its teachings, this statement sent a chill down my spine. It still does to this day because I think there is some truth to it, some truth that speaks to how Americans read the entire Bible not just the passage above or even the whole Sermon.
The Bible was written (rather consistently) to an oppressed people. The Bible was rarely written for a majority. The stories of the Israelites leaving Egypt spoke of a people escaping empire only to find themselves in a region (according to the archaeology) that would remain under Egyptian control for a number of years. The nation of Israel enjoys a brief stint in some sort of power position in Jerusalem before being conquered again. They become the oppressed under either Assyria and Babylon. It is in this context that most of the Protestant Old Testament is written. The New Testament was written for small communities of Christians who were decidedly in the minority wherever they were.
What does that matter? Read the rest of this entry
“Idolatry: An effort to make God visible or refusal to recognize God’s invisibility. We attempt to make God visible in statues, icons, pictures, authoritarian religious leaders, salvation as self-realization, the promotion of church growth to the neglect of soul growth. Idolatry, then is investing the penultimate with the quality of the ultimate, the finite with the status of the infinite. It is excessive devotion to property and power.”
Henlee Barnette, Homely Joys: Prayers, Poems, and Barbs
Obviously things have been very, very bad in Libya for a long time now. However, with President Obama’s announcement yesterday and the international military operation taking place in Libya’s skies at this very moment, we have reached a critical juncture. We find ourselves staring death, violence, and destruction in the face. There is no good solution for the nations, forced to go to war. With images of explosions and planes falling from the sky rolling in, do not be desensitized from the violence.
Moammar Gadhafi and others like him have committed unspeakable evils and it seems like violence is the only way the nations can stop him. While it is difficult for the Church to speak in this situation, one thing we can say is this: Do not glorify this violence. The worst thing we can do in this situation is see what the United States, France, and Britain are doing as good. Even from the perspective of the State, it must be seen as a necessary evil, never as a good. When we condone violence as a good, all is lost. Sometimes the State sees violence as necessary to prevent greater violence, and on its terms it is correct. However, that does not make violence good, only a necessary evil.
What is the Church to do? Read the rest of this entry
Maybe you have heard about it or maybe you haven’t, but there’s an update to the widely-used New International Version of the Bible coming out this year. Don’t tune me out, because I know that sounds boring if you’re not somebody like me. I live off these kind of things. But, there are some issues at stake here that every Christian needs to be aware of.
First, some history. The NIV was first released in 1978 (it would behoove you to pull up my post on Baptist history during this period) to acclaim and widespread adoption through the years. It was revised in 1984 for the firs time, but in 2005, the same Committee on Bible Translation that released it in 1984, released Today’s New International Version, which was not much different from the NIV. The single most glaring difference in the TNIV was the use of gender-neutral language (when appropriate). This had become common practice among the leading translations of the time. However, there was significant backlash from organizations like the Southern Baptist Convention and stores like LifeWay Christian Resources refused to carry it. The SBC still prints the 1984 NIV. Now, in 2011, the NIV is in for a more conservative update. I’ll admit, I was nervous when I first heard that there was going to be a new one given the Baptist reaction to the TNIV. However, the 2011 NIV is not all that different again, but is updated with current translation scholarship and the usage of gender-neutral language. Let the controversy begin. Read the rest of this entry
[[This is a long one again, just letting you know. Sit in for the long haul.]]
Jumping right on in … Read the rest of this entry
[[This is a long one, just letting you know. Sit in for the long haul.]]
Well, I made it. It has been quite the sojourn getting here, but I made it. I obtained Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins, today. Let me tell you, getting a hold of this thing was the real trial. I had ordered the hardback on Amazon days ago, but woke up to a notification this morning that it was no longer coming on March 17th as expected, but that it was not going to ship until maybe the 20th if I was lucky. Downer. I was going to be off of spring break soon, so I needed to read it now. We also wouldn’t want to let the topic go stale, would we? So, I cancelled the order and got to looking around town. My local Barnes and Noble had only ordered four copies on release day and had sold out within the hour. No more expected soon. Our local Borders is going out of business, so no new shipments there. And, of course, LifeWay hadn’t gone anywhere near the text. They still had Jesus Wants to Save Christians, though, which is a phenomenal little book in its own right. After going by every place that still sold books (apparently the local mall here doesn’t, by the way), I finally consented to ordering a digital copy. This is one of those books I really wanted to write in … but, alas, it was not to be. So, I cracked open the digitized text and began to read.
Before you go any further, there will be spoilers here. I haven’t read most of the reviews yet because this was kind of like a Harry Potter of theology for me. I’ve shied away from the message boards and blogs so nobody would spoil the ending. However, I won’t be talking about the book in vague terms, so if you want to read it for yourself, don’t read this. I suggest getting a digital copy if you don’t have a hard copy already. No one is going to have a hard copy until the end of the month. Just download the Kindle Reader app for your desktop or mobile device (both free) and read it there. It’s on sale for like $11 on Amazon, which is a superb price for a new book.
So we begin.
Whether you are here for the first time or have been a regular reader, welcome. This little corner of the Internet used to be called “Theophilusian Fragments,” but now it goes by a different name. Why the change? Several reasons. First, I think “The Reluctant Baptist” better embodies what I am now attempting to do with the blog. Whereas “Theophilusian Fragments” fit the hodgepodge of fiction, philosophy, theology, and ecclesiology that characterized the blog from its inception, now I write much more heavily on a different side of things. You will still see stories from time to time as I find it appropriate. Mostly what you will see here, however, has to do with ecclesiology and Baptist life. So, the name change. It was born out of the series of posts I wrote on why I am a Baptist, which (judging by statistics) was read by more of you than any other posts. Other reasons for the name change? I won’t burden you with all of them, but in short I would rather spend money registering http://www.reluctantbaptist.com than http://www.theophilusianfragments.com. One is easier to type. Also, “Theophilusian Fragments” was beginning to sound a bit too pretentious. Overall, you will find very much the same sort of thing you have always found here just with a new layout and a new name.
Grace and peace,
It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God. The Bible read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to him. When it becomes really necessary (i.e., for our spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity) to know whether a particular passage is rightly translated or is Myth that (but of course Myth specially chosen by God from among countless Myths to carry a spiritual truth) or history, we shall no doubt be guided to the right answer. But we must not use the Bible (our fathers too often did) as a sort of Encyclopedia out of which texts (isolated from their context and not read without attention to the whole nature & purpose of the books in which they occur) can be taken for use as weapons.
Clive Staples Lewis from a letter to Mrs. Johnson, November 8, 1952
There is a remarkable amount of truth in this little bit from Lewis.
“It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God.” Karl Barth similarly makes a distinction, but determines that it is the threefold Word of God. For Barth, there is the Word of God proclaimed, in Scripture, and in revelation — “Nor should we ever try to understand the three forms of God’s Word in isolation.” However, the most important understanding of the Word of God is in all cases this: Christ. As it says in John 1: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (v. 14, NRSV).
“When it becomes really necessary … to know whether a particular passage is rightly translated or is Myth that (but of course Myth specially chosen by God from among countless Myths to carry a spiritual truth) or history, we shall no doubt be guided to the right answer.” Lewis is keen to point out that when it is of absolute necessity, we must consult appropriate guidance to determine what it meant by a passage. And he explains clearly that these passages may be what he calls “Myths,” but he is careful with the term. Myth is something very significant, poignant, and – most importantly – true. He says that the Myths of Bible “carry a spiritual truth.” Sometimes that phrase is taken to mean that they say something pithy and insignificant. For shame! A spiritual truth is not some lesser form of truth than empirical reality! The Creation stories do not somehow carry less significance because they are not empirically true, dear Christian. How long ago did you fall into the shameful trap of the Enlightenment? When did empiricism gain a monopoly of your mind? The story of creation, adoration, love, loss, pain, suffering, and estrangement in Genesis 1-3 is not belittled by the fact that it is not Enlightenment fact. Read within “their context and … attention to the whole nature & purpose of the books in which they occur,” they have great significance! They speak of the story of every man and woman on the face of the earth as we make choices that estrange ourselves from God – moving ever East of Eden. They describe a very, very accurate picture of reality. But you fail to see that, dear Christian, because the only reality you see is that framed by the Enlightenment, which said that only reason gets to tell you anything at all. Take Lewis’ words to heart and read those stories again and see the profound truth in them.
“We must not use the Bible … as a sort of Encyclopedia out of which texts … can be taken for use as weapons.” If you can hear anything from this, hear this. Be careful how you use the Bible. The Bible was put together as a liturgical text for use in the context of the Church. When you take it in your hands and into your home, you are holding a very powerful text. Do not read it out of context – read it in the context of the Church. Do not read it as if it is your book. That Bible on your nightstand is not yours. It is not mine. It is not your pastor’s. It is not your priest’s. That books belongs to the whole of the Church. Don’t you dare take that lightly. Dear Christian, read your Bible with reverence and caution and never use it as a weapon. Do not use it to oppress. Do not use it to condemn unjustly. Be careful with it – it’s a dangerous book. It is good, but it is not safe.
Go in grace and peace and enjoy the Lord’s Day tomorrow.