- C.S. Lewis
As long as we’re talking about brutal things, can I mention Mars Hill Global here w/o breaking the “no Driscoll” rule? (Brian alerted me to this one, so if there’s blame we can blame him, eh?)
Throckmorton has a MH internal memo on his site today wherein they pretty blatantly document a cost/benefit analysis:
The Global Fund could be beneficial in a number of ways, besides the obvious gain of increased funding:
• For a relatively low cost (e.g. $10K/month), supporting a few missionaries and benevolence projects would serve to deflect criticism, increase goodwill, and create opportunities to influence and learn from other ministries.
• Many small churches who may consider joining Mars Hill hesitate because they do not believe we support “missions.” While we need to continue to challenge the assumptions underlying a claim, the Global Fund would serve as a simple, easy way to deflate such criticism and help lead change in these congregations.
• The ability to communicate and interact with supporters of Mars Hill Global provides an avenue for promoting events, recruiting leaders, and developing Mars Hill core groups in strategic cities.
So, for $120k/year “cost”, they can pitch this fund to their donors as supporting missions, meanwhile taking the vast bulk of it for their own domestic purposes. Folks gave > $2M to that fund in 2013.
It gets harder and harder for me to feel sympathy for these guys, and it seems more and more apparent that the place was/is rotten to the core. Sickening. I do a little comparison and think about how a missions fund would be pitched at most of the churches I’ve attended. It’d probably be something along the lines of “extend our reach through the world to show God’s love via support of missionaries in other countries”. Even at the leadership level, that’s how we’d think about it.
But what do they have here? Just look at the words. “Obvious gain of increased funding.” “Deflect criticism.” “Increase goodwill.” “Create opportunities to influence… other ministries.” “Deflate criticism.” “Lead change in [other] organizations.” “Promote events.” “Develop Mars Hill… in strategic cities.”
Pride. Self-righteousness. Power. Control. God have mercy.
That Naked Pastor thread is brutal, but one of the very rare cases where it’s worth it to read the comments. One of the things that kept me from going too deep with the emergent crowd was a sense of something being off that I couldn’t pin down. I loved (and still love) the idea of questioning everything and breaking down the assumptions and cultural crud that has built up on the church. But, the same defects of humanity that make fundamentalists what they are is as powerfully present among those who have embraced more progressive streams. Still, if half the stuff brought out by Julie (Tony’s ex wife) is true, then there’s some serious ‘splainin that needs to happen.
Chris is right. It’s about pride vs. humility.
Tributes to D.G. Myers from Friends & Colleagues
John Wilson wrote, "Like Samuel Johnson, David Myers was not a clubbable man, but he was the best of friends. Our friendship took place almost entirely under the umbrella of Twitter (where Doctor Johnson also would have flourished), yet in a lifetime blessed with friendship his was among the most precious to me."
I went to a seminary that emphasized the inductive method for Bible study and exegesis so I was profoundly happy to read my very first professor’s account of his journey in the inductive method (PDF warning).
Yeah, that comment thread re: Tony Jones was brutal. Pride, man, it gets you. Humility and accountability are so hard but so necessary.
I kinda like the idea of posting random stuff. I’ll try to remember to do so myself.
And speaking of Tony Jones, I stopped reading the comments to this Naked Pastor post a week ago because I couldn’t keep up but it looks like some of the old TR whipping boys, Mars Hill, etc. don’t have a corner on narcissism and abuse. I’ll leave it to you to read. I’ve never ever liked anything about Tony Jones and I’m having to pray mightily against schadenfreude. God help me.
Nominations open today for the Cybils, the book awards for children’s and young adult literature that are administered, judged, and awarded by kid lit bloggers. For Cybils purposes, “Middle grade fiction encompasses a wide range of stories that do not have magical elements and are geared toward the 8 to 12 year old age group. These stories could be mysteries, histories, humor, sports, adventure and other tales set in the real world.”
I’ve read a lot of Middle Grade Fiction this year. Here are a few suggestions if you’re looking for a book to nominate in this category:
A Month of Sundays by Ruth White.
Somebody on This Bus is Going to Be Famous by Janie B. Cheaney.
Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff.
A Hitch at the Fairmont by Jim Averbeck.
Uncertain Glory by Lea Wait.
Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana.
Ollie and the Science of Treasure Hunting by Erin Dionne.
The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander.
The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz.
The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill by Megan Frazer Blakemore.
Hope Is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera.
Another Day As Emily by Eileen Spinelli.
PK Pinkerton and the Pistol-Packing Widows by Caroline Lawrence.
Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai.
Bird by Crystal Chan.
Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald.
I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora.
The Battle of Darcy Lane by Tara Altebrando.
Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick.
Rain Reign by Ann Martin. Review coming soon.
Links are to my reviews. Certainly, if you’ve read one of the above titles or any other children’s or YA title published between October 16, 2013 and October 15, 2014, you should nominate your favorite(s) for the Cybils. Nominations are open through October 15th.
From today’s reading of Matthew 16, Mark 8, and Luke 9:18-27
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” – Mark 8:34-38 (ESV)
It’s hard to know what to do with this. I would follow after Jesus. I am following after Jesus, and pursuing him, but this fights against every fiber of my flesh and my pursuit has many zig-zags, stoppings, trippings, and side-streets.
For a long time I thought of faith in terms of believing in certain facts, like believing in the theory of relativity or that the country of China exists. In other words, believing in something based on the available evidence but where I didn’t have the tools at hand, necessarily, to fully verify what I believe in. So faith in Jesus was believing that he is, and that he came to earth as a man, lived a perfect life, paid for my sins on the cross, died, was buried, was risen to life and is coming again.
It is very good to believe in those things. And it touches upon faith to believe in them. But that belief is not exactly, or completely, faith.
Faith is leaping off a cliff and trusting in the one who has promised to catch you to do what he said. Faith lived out is, from a fleshly point of view, self-destructive and dangerous. I think in the past I have read Jesus’ words above wrongly. I have seen them as transactional, and – hear me out here – threatening. What I have heard him saying is “if you don’t give me everything, I’m going to leave you and eventually kill you.” Again, be patient with me and bear with my foolishness here.
I believe I had that wrong. I think what Jesus is saying is that he is life, and there is ultimately no life to be found anywhere else. What will I chase? What will I pursue? To whom will I go? He alone has the words of eternal life. If I don’t deny myself, I am indulging myself. I am feeding the idol of Self, and there is no life there. I’m going to die and lose everything if I go that way. Our world is rife with examples of people who have done just that. Jesus is not making a deal with me with his words. He is just speaking the truth about who he is and who I am, and what I am without him.
Jesus calls me to self-abandoned devotion to and single-minded focus on him, because he desires to give me life. This is so important, because it gets at the core of the call of God, calling me toward life in a way that will seem like death to my befuddled and sinful soul. I hear him calling me to carry a cross and deny myself – which is true – but he says that is the way leading to life for all who would follow him.
The words he says are not necessarily easier to integrate or live out knowing this. Jesus doesn’t call me to easy. But he does call me out of idolatry, out of shame, out of needless pursuits and into himself, into love, into purpose, into life. And those are things worth running hard after.
He is completely worth it.
Lord, convince my divided heart and doubled mind to run hard, and with self-abandon, after you.
I liked a lot of things about this book. Circa Monroe was a spunky protagonist; she reminded me of my youngest Z-baby. In fact, Circa’s father reminded me of Engineer Husband, a nurturing and very responsible presence for Circa and for her mom. I can imagine life around the Semicolon household being much like Circa’s life after dad if Engineer Husband were to exit this earth prematurely. I am not dealing with clinical depression, but Engineer Husband definitely helps me hold it together in so many ways.
I also liked that the only place that Circa’s mom feels safe and nurtured outside of her home is the church. If they don’t go anywhere else, Circa and her mom go to church, and there they feel loved and respected and supported. Church and churchiness aren’t at all the focus of the story; the church scenes are a very minor part of the novel. And I liked that aspect, too. The church is Circa’s family’s natural community, and it’s treated as a normal part of life.
Another insignificant (but significant to me) part of the novel was that Circa’s best friend, Nattie Boone, is black—or at least she has “braided hair” and “dark skin.” I liked that race was never mentioned and that the Boone family go to church with the Monroes and take care of them with sandwiches and hospitality and peanut butter pie. If the friendship between Circa and Nattie is at all unusual for small town south Georgia, there’s no indication of that barrier in the book. I really like that.
Then there’s Circa’s “disability” or abnormality: she was born without a pinkie finger on one hand. That, too, is a minor part of the plot, and it’s written very matter-of-fact, even though Circa does get teased by some boys, called “circus girl”. Circa is a competent, independent young lady who wouldn’t give a missing finger a second thought if a few bad apples didn’t bring it to her attention with their taunting.
The plot of Circa Now focuses on something else entirely, not Circa’s missing finger, not her mom’s depression, not church. The story is really about Circa’s attempts to work through her grief and loneliness after her father’s accident by continuing his work with photo restoration. Circa keeps making the “shopt” photo projects that her dad did just for fun, as a joke between the two of them. And she wants to continue working on the Wall of Memories that she and her dad were making for the nursing home of Alzheimer’s patients near their home. However, when Circa’s mom doesn’t want her to try to finish the nursing home photo restorations and when a strange boy who might be a magical result of the shopt photos shows up at their house, Circa doesn’t know what to do.
I’m sure you all remember the most notorious watchbloggers from our piss and vinegar days. I learned from Tony Jones’ blog that none other than Apprising’s Ken Silva has died. Being one of those who came through a stint in the emerging movement, I would often join the outrage at his commentary. Still, I don’t wish pain and death on fellow humans, so like Tony said, I wish him more peace than he appeared to have in life.
I guess they had to know they’d get fired. Trouble brewing at an Episcopal seminary and it’s not even theological in nature (on the surface).
Note from CM: Today we welcome our friend, Fr. Ernesto Obregon, to whom we turn regularly with questions about Orthodox Christianity. In this post he gives an overview of the Orthodox view of Scripture.
• • •
I was asked to write on the Eastern Orthodox view of the Bible. Let me quote from one of our scholars here in America. Dr. Jeannie Constantinou said in an interview:
First of all, the Church does not rely on the Bible for its doctrine. We don’t rely on the Bible, because the Church came first. First of all, we’re talking about Christian texts. We’re talking about the New Testament. That came after the existence of the Church, so the Church does not need to find justification for its beliefs within the Bible. The Bible is the written form of apostolic tradition, and before it was written down, it was passed along orally. It was passed along orally. What we know about Christ we know—initially, the Church knew from the oral tradition. …
Okay, well, we would say the reason why I’m saying that is because if we were to say that our Christian doctrine comes from the New Testament, for example, then what that means is that the Church existed and they had to wait around until those books were written to find out what they believed, and that’s ridiculous. The Church knew what it believed about Christ before the books of the New Testament were written.
So, the short way to phrase this is that the Orthodox Church looks at the New Testament as the record of what the Church already believed about Jesus Christ and about dogmatics. The Gospels are of supreme importance because they record the memory of the Church regarding what Our Lord did while here on Earth. The Bible is authoritative in that it records what the Church had received from the Apostles and the apostolic bands that were around them. The Bible did not form the Church, the Church formed the Bible, and the Apostles formed the Church, Christ Jesus being the cornerstone.
Having said that, there is little doubt that the Church received the writings as being true and authoritative. But, they are true and authoritative under two conditions. One condition is that they are so because they agree with what the Church had already been teaching. Second, they are so provided they are interpreted in the way in which the Church historically interpreted them. The writings record what the Church received, but they are an accurate record insofar as they also are received with the interpretation in which the Apostolic and sub-Apostolic Church had.
Finally, the Bible does not record all that the Church believed and taught, for two reasons. One, any reasonable reading of the development of the Apostolic and sub-Apostolic Church either shows that the Church immediately forgot what they were taught, or they were taught additional teachings that were not reflected in the written Scriptures. This latter idea is reflected in the Bible when Saint Paul states that, “So then, brothers, stand firm, and cling to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter,” (2 Thes. 2:15).
The relationship between the Church and the Bible is complex and not simple. It is complex in that the Church received oral tradition, not written texts. What written tradition it received was mainly from the Septuagint. Many New Testament quotations from the Old Testament are quotations from the Septuagint translation of Scripture, not from the much later Masoretic Hebrew text. What it received from the Apostles was a set of oral traditions about Jesus which were not set down in writing until several decades after the death of Jesus. By that time, Saint Paul had already written some of the New Testament epistles. He based the doctrine in those epistles not on a written record but on the verbal teaching which he received and on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who guided him into doctrinal truth. The Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 is a test of whether the doctrine preached by Saint Paul (and other members of his apostolic team) is fully in accord with the received Tradition and Teachings of Jesus.
Thus the Orthodox Church is a bit looser on verbal inerrancy in that the Bible does not form the final source of authority for the Church. But, it is tight on infallibility, provided that the Scripture is interpreted in the way in which the Early Church believed. Because the Orthodox do not rely on the Bible to be the end all and be all of the Church, verbal inerrancy is not quite as necessary a doctrine as it is for the Evangelicals. But, because the Orthodox Church believes that the Bible is indeed the accurate record of what the Church believed, it is indeed infallible, provided it is interpreted per the Early Church.
Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church does not believe that there is ongoing revelation of doctrine. At Pentecost, we received Truth. That Truth is expressed in different words for different generations in order to make it understandable, but there is one Truth. That Truth may be explained in different ways in different cultures, but that is merely to aid in understanding. Truth is Truth. It is beyond development, but not beyond changing ways to explain it to changing cultures.
The Bible is True. The Bible is Authoritative. But, the Bible is not such unless it is interpreted in such a way that it reflects the teachings of the Apostolic and sub-Apostolic Church.
• • •
For further insights, Fr. Ernesto suggests that IM readers might want to check out the following article/podcast: The Eastern Orthodox Approach to the Bible, with Dr Jeannie Constantinou at Ancient Faith Radio.
Fr. Ernesto blogs at OrthoCuban.
About the first book in this fantasy series by N.D. Wilson, I wrote: The Dragon’s Tooth by N.D. Wilson. Too much action and it moved way too fast for me. I think there was a sub-text that I just didn’t get, and I think Mr. Wilson is too smart for my Very Little Brain.
About the second book, The Drowned Vault, I wrote: I really should just wait until all of the (three?) books in the Ashtown Burials series are out and then I could read them all together. I’m pretty sure my little brain would thank me.
I should have taken my own advice. There are just too many characters and too much history and too much stuff for me to follow the story and really get it. And this book doesn’t provide a satisfying ending to the entire story, so I’m fairly sure there are more books in this series to come. I really, really need to quit now and come back when the series is complete. (Or maybe it is complete? If so, I really don’t get it.)
If you would like to read more about Empire of Bones, from the point of view of someone who read it, understood it, and loved it, here’s one glowing review at Pages Unbound.
I want to love these books, but I still like N.D. Wilson’s first book for children, Leepike Ridge, the best. It was just right for my Baby Bear/Goldilocks brain.
First posted in 2010.
Okay, so let’s get real about the Bible.
A lot of folks have a mistaken and inadequate understanding of what the Bible is like and what it contains.
I agree with author Frederick Buechner, who says:
When a minister reads out of the Bible, I am sure that at least nine times out of ten the people who happen to be listening at all hear not what is really being said but only what they expect to hear read. And I think that what most people expect to hear read from the Bible is an edifying story, an uplifting thought, a moral lesson — something elevating, obvious, and boring. So that is exactly what very often they do hear. Only that is too bad because if you really listen, there is no telling what you might hear.
He’s exactly right. Most of us have the idea that the Bible is a nice book for nice people about nice folks who said and did nice things, where everything leads to a nice and happy ending.
Take the first book in the Bible, the book of Genesis, for example. It’s likely that many people have Sunday School images in their minds when they think of Genesis — they picture God creating the world, Adam and Eve frolicking in the Garden of Eden, Noah gathering cute little animals onto the ark and God putting a beautiful rainbow in the sky, Abraham and Sarah having a baby in their old age, and Joseph wearing his coat of many colors. Nice.
But here’s what’s in the real, unedited version:
- A man and woman stand in nakedness and shame, blaming each other for what they did wrong.
- An angry and envious man, lures his brother into a field, brutally murders him, and then tries to cover it up.
- The world becomes so corrupt and violent that God decides to virtually wipe out the human population and start over.
- Noah gets drunk, and one of his son dishonors him by committing an immoral act in his father’s bedroom.
- Abraham twice tries to pass his wife off to another man to save his own skin. Later, his son Isaac does the same thing.
- Abraham sleeps with one of the household servants so he can have an heir. This was his wife’s idea, but she becomes so jealous after it happens, that she angrily throws the woman and her son out of house to live in poverty and shame.
- Abraham’s nephew Lot offers to let a violent mob gang rape his daughters. Lot’s daughters later get their own father drunk and sleep with him so that they can have children.
- Jacob, Isaac’s son, is a deceitful mama’s boy who tricks his father and brother out of important family legal rights. He has to run away from home so his brother won’t kill him.
- He goes to work for his ruthless uncle, who keeps him in virtual slavery for decades. Jacob escapes by tricking him and running away.
- Jacob’s wives live in constant jealousy and competition, continually tricking Jacob and each other in an ongoing battle for supremacy in the family.
- Jacob’s sons loathe one of their brothers, sell him into slavery, then lie to their father and tell him he died.
- Jacob’s daughter Dinah is raped. Her brothers exact revenge by deceiving and then murdering the perpetrator, destroying and looting his city, and taking all his family members captive.
- Judah refuses to find a husband for his widowed daughter-in-law, Tamar. So she disguises herself as a prostitute, tricks her father-in-law into sleeping with her, and becomes pregnant.
And that’s just the first book in the Bible. Nothin’ but a cast of dirty, rotten scoundrels.
I had a pastor friend who once told me he was planning to do a family teaching series from Genesis. I’m afraid I wasn’t very kind. In fact, I laughed out loud and said, “What are you going to talk about, how to be a complete bum and still have God bless your family?”
He didn’t think it was funny. He had a overly pious view of the Bible that didn’t allow for the ugly stuff. However, that is what Genesis (and the rest of the Bible) is like! It should be rated “R” — raw, realistic, and in some instances, even repulsive. It couldn’t be further from “nice.”
However, there is this too: the Bible insists that, even in the midst of all the muck of human sin, brokenness, ugliness and strife, a God of grace is present and working to fulfill a plan and ultimately make something new and good. The Bible is also rated “R” because its main theme is “redemption,” a story of grace that reaches into the miry pit and pulls muddy sinners out, kicking and screaming.
In one of his lesser known plays, Eugene O’Neill wrote:
“This is Daddy’s bedtime secret for today: Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue!
I encourage you to read the Bible for what it really is and says. It’s not very nice, but it’s real. And through it, God puts broken things back together.
It’s definitely a book for dirty, rotten scoundrels. Like me.
I’ll get off the Methodist horse at some point, but this guy wrote a pretty good post on What is a Methodist? based on notes taken at a conference he and I attended a couple of weeks ago.
Robert George believes we are at a tipping point with many opinion-makers. "Christians, and those rejecting the me-generation liberal dogma of 'if it feels good do it,' are no longer tolerable by the intellectual and cultural elite," he says. The individualism of modern liberalism has become like a national religion for these elite, so our views on personhood, community, God, and everything else are heretical at best. They are in a position to punish us for holding these views, as George explains in two videos.
Micah Mattix says D.G. Myers was one of our best critics. Last Friday, Myers died of the cancer he endured for the past few years. Patrick Kurp is organizing a Festschrift for him to be hosted by Gregory Wolfe. Terry Teachout described him in an essay only a few days ago.
Kurp has written a few posts on Myers. Here he remembers a story of a dying man by Henry James. Here he passes on information from the family.
In a talk Myers' gave at Congregation Torat Emet on July 17. 2014, he said:
Several years ago terminal cancer called to me and I answered Hineni, "Here I am." The religious language may seem blasphemous, as if I were claimÂing to be a prophet, but that's not what I mean at all. What I mean is Hashem places you in your circumstances, and even the most ordinary of persons can discover his unique role in life, his calling-he can help to complete creation-if he recognizes and accepts where he has been placed.
From today’s reading of Matthew 15 and Mark 7
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. – Matthew 15:21-28 (ESV)
I have always found this passage to be a little hard to read. It seems out of character for Jesus, doesn’t it? At least up until that last verse.
But there are clues here into the heart of Jesus and the heart of his mission. A question one might ask: what was Jesus doing in the district of Tyre and Sidon anyway? According to commentaries I’ve consulted, there aren’t any other records of his acts in Tyre and Sidon except for this one act of blessing on behalf of this Gentile woman.
Have you ever noticed how many examples of the prayer of desperation in the Gospels come from the lips of parents interceding for their children? This woman comes to Jesus desperate, with no resources in herself to deal with the oppression and suffering a demon has wreaked upon her daughter.
I don’t know all the nuances behind the term “dogs” to refer to Gentiles, although I know that was a common epithet used by the Jews of that time. I don’t know if Jesus smiled at her when he said it, as an encouragement to her to continue to press into him for this blessing, although that is how I imagine the scene playing out.
Here’s what I do know: the needs of women in the culture of the time were not considered important, and it was hard to get lower in the eyes of a Jewish man than to be a Gentile woman. The disciples seemed to consider her a nuisance, and wanted her sent away. As Jesus said himself, she wasn’t even in the people-group that he had been sent to minister to. But in all the district of Tyre and Sidon, she is the only one who’s blessing at the hands of Jesus made the record of the Gospels.
“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
This woman of great faith and courage entreats the Lord for just a crumb of his grace and mercy. She, a parent with a desperately oppressed child seeks healing from the one our heavenly Father has sent to redeem his wayward, oppressed, and desperately lost children. And for her audacious, humble courage in approaching the Lord she receives not only instant healing for her daughter but honor throughout the ages from the Lord himself:
“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.”
Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of Israel, but I like to think, and believe that the evidence supports, that he went all the way to the region of Tyre and Sidon just to minister to this woman of Gentile race. He did this to show that there really are no “dogs” under the table; all are welcome to come and feast at the table of his grace.
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 (ESV)
Maps, maps, and more maps. If your fascinations veer toward the cartological, especially if there’s an intersection with the fantastical, then this debut novel by “historian and world traveler” S.E. Grove will be just the ticket.
Since the disappearance of her parents when she was a small child, Sophia Tims lives in Boston with her uncle, Shadrack, a famous cartologist and former adventurer. However, this Boston is not the Boston we all know. Almost a century before, The Great Disruption shook the entire earth and threw different parts of the globe into different “ages” or time periods, remaking and disrupting time itself. Boston is now part of the New Occident, beginning after the Great Disruption in the late eighteenth century. Explorers and pirates are the only ones who dare to travel from one age to another, across boundaries that delineate more than just governing authorities or time zones—they also demarcate eras and the cultures associated with those eras.
Accurate, trustworthy maps are very important in such a world, and Shadrack is the most famous and reliable mapmaker in Boston, perhaps in the world. He is teaching Sophia all he knows, but when kidnappers and changes in the weather patterns interrupt their lessons, Sophia must set out on her own with only a runaway from the Baldlands, Theo, to help her escape from her pursuers and find the answers to what is happening to her, to Uncle Shadrack, and to the New World. And she’s not even sure she can trust Theo.
The world-building in this 489 page novel was exquisite. The story was well-plotted, and the characters were engaging, especially Sophia and Theo and Calixta the Pirate Captain. (I like that name, Calixta. If I had another child . . .) The only complaint I have, and it’s really a small complaint, I suppose, is that I never felt I knew what the story was about or what the underlying themes were. It seems to be partly about trust and lies, but the messages about whether those things are good or bad or indifferent are mixed. It’s also about time and maps and fate, but I’m not sure what the novel is saying about those things either. (Maps are good? We can live outside the constraints of time if we try? You can’t escape your fate, so don’t try?) Not every novel has to have a deep theme, but if it runs to almost 500 pages, I would expect it to say something about something.
Maybe I just didn’t get the something.
If you want a little more to go on before you commit, check out Charlotte’s review at Charlotte’s Library or Becky’s at Becky’s Book Reviews. It is a good book —especially for map-lovers and fantasy world dwellers.
Note from CM: This is part two of Michael Spencer’s most comprehensive essay on the Bible (read PART ONE here). For a couple of weeks here we are focusing our attention on posts related to the Bible, its nature and purpose. This has been a hot-button issue in our generation, especially in American evangelicalism, which took a stand in the late 1970’s with The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Michael critiqued that statement, calling it “inefficient, unnecessary, and divisive.” In a roundtable discussion published in Modern Reformation magazine, he said:
I oppose the concept of inerrancy because the word itself moves the argument, intentionally or not, into the arena of a philosophical system foreign to the apostles, Fathers, and Reformers. In short, if we are going to use the word, we will need to submit ourselves to the system from which it arose. On these terms, inerrancy is indefensible.
In today’s portion, Michael discusses what it means to say that the Bible, with all its apparent humanness, is inspired.
• • •
Let’s pause and take stock. I’ve said the Bible is a thoroughly human book in which human beings, involved in an experience they identify as God, select a “canon” of literature that contains a conversation about this experience of God. It is important, however, that I put forward some idea of inspiration, since orthodox Christianity requires some way to understand how God speaks in the Bible.
The original Great Books essays stated that the conversation occurs without any set dogma or point of view. The student of the Great Books is free to listen to the conversation and come to any number of conclusions about God, government, reality or human nature.
The Biblical conversation is different. While the reader is free to draw conclusions, the conversation itself is compelling in its conclusions. Because this conversation continues to a point of hearing a unique Word from God, there are limits to what we may legitimately say is being said. The proper understanding of language, culture, history and text is part of this limitation. The Biblical conversation allows great freedom, but there is also agreement that when this conversation is heard honestly, it has a common stream and focus at its center. A stream and focus that reveals a particular God, his ways, his character, his message and ultimately, his Son.
Of course, we should have modest expectations of agreement on this kind of unity in the Bible, and any community of believers that claims to hear a detailed scheme of belief in the Bible is probably listening to some parts of the conversation differently than other communities. Still, even with the diversity of conclusions we will find in listening, the Christian communities that lay hold of this conversation as “their own,” have considerable broad agreement in what the conversation communicates. On the focus of that conversation, there is no contention.
At this point I want to separate myself from any kind of Christianity that sees the Bible as teaching a highly sectarian view of Christianity at the exclusion of other views. I am not shocked that Catholics and Lutherans find the words “This is my body” to mean something different than Baptists do. I am distraught that any of these parties would fail to see that we are all listening to the same texts, and disagreement isn’t because some of us are all that much smarter or better listeners. It’s because we listen to different parts of the conversation, in different ways, and we are allowed to do so.
I love confessionalism. But I despise confessionalism that doesn’t understand and respect what other confessional communities are doing in listening to the conversation. This is why, for instance, I am not personally torn up by the infant baptism debate. Listening to the Biblical conversation, there appear to be two completely plausible conclusions on the subject. I have convictions on which is right, but I have no conviction that the other fellow is so wrong that I can treat him as if he isn’t approaching the same text as I am, with the same amount of worthy respect and reverence.
Scripture is inspired if God has, on some level and in some way, directed its production so that it says what he wants it to say. Human beings may conclude that the Bible is inspired if it demonstrates, in its content and its results, a unity of message that cannot be explained by merely human factors. Despite its humanity, despite its diversity, the Bible speaks to us a message that claims to be from God, and is coherent and clear in its claims. Such a view of the Bible grows as the Bible itself becomes aware of the conversation, and aware of the presence of God in the experience of the writers and their communities. But we should never claim that inspiration is a provable proposition. It is an assertion of faith, and that faith comes because of the presence of Jesus as the final Word of the inspired Conversation.
What I will write next is so important, that I cannot assert loudly enough the importance of understanding what I am claiming. The primary reason I believe the Bible is inspired is its presentation of Jesus. Only the activity of God in bringing a final Word into history and into the conversation can cause this conversation to have divine implications totally beyond the human realm of origin and explanation.
Jesus is all the proof I need. Either he came from God, or we somehow cooked him up on our own. Is that a hard choice?
Jesus is not the product of human speculation. The Cross and the Gospel of the Cross are outrageous. Offensive. Unthinkable. Absurd. Yet the Bible tells us that the comprehensive point of the entire activity of God in history is revealing a crucified and risen Jesus as the Lord of the Universe and the source of salvation to all who believe in him. Imagine if someone read the Great Books and said the key to all truth and reality is a crucified criminal who lived two millennia ago. Such a conclusion would be demented. Foolishness of the highest order.
Yet this is exactly what the Bible says. It offers us Jesus as the meaning of all of history, the meaning of our lives, and importantly for this essay, the final Word, the conclusive Word in the Biblical conversation.
Listen to Jesus in Luke 24, quoted above. He tells the disciples that the scriptures are inspired….because they speak of Him. Without Jesus, the scriptures make no sense. They will have no message other than the question of how this God can possibly have a relationship with people who are unfit to know him and unwilling to embrace him? Without Jesus, God is a mystery. Contradictory. Without Jesus, the Bible is not inspired. It is an unfinished symphony. A tragedy without resolution. A romance whose lovers are never united.
The book of Revelation proclaims that Jesus is the one who is worthy to open the scroll of all human history and give it meaning: Himself. It is no accident that Revelation is a library of Biblical references and historical, mythic symbolism. It is a sampling of the Biblical conversation. Jesus is the crowning Word of ALL conversations. Biblical, spiritual, economic, political, governmental. Scripture is INSPIRED BY the PRESENCE OF CHRIST throughout the conversation.
It’s evident that this approach to inspiration is not particularly interested in terms like inerrancy. I believe the search for a way to compliment the Bible enough to make every word true is one of the most colossal wastes of time ever engaged in by Christian minds. Further, the logical torture that produces approaches to scripture like young earth creationism makes me profoundly sad, because it misses the point, and misleads anyone who hears it into believing that a book whose final Word is “I am the Truth,” is really about whether there ever was a water canopy over the earth or dinosaurs on the ark.
The Bible is about Jesus. The inspiration of the Bible is the presence of Jesus in the conversation. The authority of scripture is the authority of Jesus. The “inerrancy” of scripture is that, rightly understood, it takes us to Jesus. The Law came through Moses, but grace and TRUTH came through Jesus Christ. The TRUTH of the Bible was not there without Jesus. Any discussion of inspiration that is not- eventually- about the relationship of Jesus to that part of the conversation, is useless. The distance of any part of the conversation from Jesus is the distance of that part of the Bible from what Christians mean by “inspiration.”
The very definition of straining at gnats and swallowing camels is debating the inspiration of Judges without seeing how Judges relates to Christ. When Christians feel the field of battle for inspiration is some battle in the Old Testament, they are demonstrating they are lost in the field where the treasure is buried. They are going down roads that lead nowhere if they are discussing questions ultimately unrelated to Christ and Gospel.
Christ is not a character in the Bible. He is not chapter 23-25 in a 30 chapter novel. He is the story. He is the novel. He is the only character we need to know. The entire book is about introducing him to us in pictures and language we can understand.
I want to be clear that I am not invalidating the content of scripture, particularly the Old Testament. It is the Old Testament Jesus says is about himself. Read it, he tells the Jews. It is about him. It is the Old Testament where he apparently appears on every page. But if we start seeing content in that Old Testament removed and separated from Christ, we are looking at texts apart from anything that will save us. They may inform or motivate, but they will not save. And this conversation is about the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
My entire Christian experience, I’ve been reading attempts to defend the inspiration of the Bible logically, and apologetically. Christians fear the question “How do you know the Bible is inspired by God?” more than almost any question. I do not fear that question anymore, because I have a simple answer.
“I don’t know what you mean by inspired. If you mean, how do I know it’s right and true in everything it says, then I don’t believe in that kind of inspiration. But if you mean how do I know that the Bible is God’s true communication to me, it’s simple. The Bible shows me Jesus. The reason I believe the Bible is inspired is that it shows me who Jesus is and what Jesus means. That’s the answer to all the questions that matter to me.”
If Chesterton's Father Brown had been a Protestant, and in better shape, and a man of action, he might have been something like Pastor Jonah Borden, hero of three enjoyable novels (to date) by Tom Hilpert.
Pastor Borden serves the parish of Harbor Lutheran Church in Grand Lake (a stand-in, I assume, for Grand Marais), Minnesota, on the North Shore of Lake Superior. He is a widower, a gourmet cook, a coffee addict, and a martial artist. He once killed a man in self-defense. He holds court a couple evenings a week at a local tavern, where he listens to people's problems while sipping soft drinks.
In the first book in the series, Superior Justice, one of Jonah's parishioners is arrested for the murder of the child molester who killed his daughter. Under the seal of the confessional, the accused man gives Jonah a rock-solid alibi, but it's an alibi he wants to keep secret. In order to clear him, Jonah has to identify the real killer. Along the way he begins a romance with Leyla Bennett, a beautiful TV news reporter.
In the second novel, Superior Storm, Jonah and Leyla go on a sailing cruise on Lake Superior. The idea is to do counseling with two other couples. Only it turns into a hostage situation, and if that's not bad enough, an unexpected storm blows up - a Great Lakes phenomenon even more dangerous than criminals with guns.
Finally, the third novel, Superior Secrets, has Jonah and Leyla planning their wedding. Only she's got one job she wants to do first - infiltrate a secretive religious cult in the forest. When the time is up and Jonah goes to the compound to bring her home, Leyla refuses to leave. But Jonah can't believe she's stopped loving him. And there's also the matter of the dead man Jonah found on the cult's property the other day, whose body disappeared before the police could collect it.
Tom Hilpert's Lake Superior mysteries are a lot of fun, and much, much better than I expected them to be. Jonah is an engaging narrator (though with an irritating tendency to throw "had I but known" lines into the narrative, which kind of irritates me). He has a goofy sense of humor and a self-deprecating style. He also has a deep love for the North Shore area, expressed in some very beautiful descriptive passages. I think you'll enjoy these books. I did, very much. The action sections often surpass credibility, but that's a congenital problem in thrillers (and these books are really more thrillers than mysteries). From time to time Pastor Jonah talks to people about God, and such scenes are hard to write. I'd say Hilpert does them as well as I do. OK, better. The spiritual content is impeccable.
I'm still trying to figure out what brand of Lutheran Jonah Borden is. He never names his denomination; it could be most any Lutheran body. Only the fact that most of his parishioners are Norwegians suggests the ELCA or one of my own church body's cousin groups, like the Lutheran Brethren. Author Hilpert's Wikipedia entry says he studied at "the American Lutheran Church Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota," but there's never been a seminary of that name to my knowledge. They probably mean Luther Seminary, which was the seminary of the American Lutheran Church back in the day. That would probably make Jonah an ELCA pastor, but I just can't believe that. He says things no ELCA pastor is likely to say, for instance that people ought to wait for marriage before having sex. And he speaks of reparative therapy for homosexuals without contempt. I think you could get thrown out of the ELCA for that.
In any case, read the books. They're great entertainment, and theologically sound.
I am my mother’s daughter
In all the ways that matter
Not the eyes and the mouth
But all the history
In the demons that have fought her
And the angels in her laughter
In the rains that headed south
Through all her misery
Well, they are mine and locked away inside my chest of hope
Tied together with a coil of exhausted rope
In the morning I will open all my drawers to find the keys
To break this chain of sorrow from me
She’s been beaten like a boxer
By the folks who said they loved her
Not by will or intent
But by passivity
In the ruins of her father
And the settling of her mother
All her joy has been spent
By her infinity
It’s a prodigal and potent way to slowly learn to breathe
While you’re drowning in a life that will not let you grieve
In the evening I will lie awake in wooliness and wonder
What could break that chain of sorrow from her
And pride is a difficult habit to break
But in the end it’ll only just take
All the life right out of life
All the hope right out of sorrow
And happiness is a hard memory to make
When your love is nothing but hypothesis and dream
I am a shattered mirror
I am an iron hammer
I crack with the weight
Of what I cannot fix
And caught in all the furor
Of my self-righteous manner
My city’s open gate
Turned into broken bricks
And a city on a hill can be full of lonely ghosts
So I turn my bleeding ears to listen for the Lord of hosts
In the darkest depths of night will I find someone to trust
Who could break this chain of sorrow from us
As an aid to understanding the Scriptures, which he translated into the language of the German people, Martin Luther thought it important to provide prefaces to the various books in the Bible. You may recall that it was during the reading of one of these prefaces, years later, that John Wesley’s heart was “strangely warmed” as he experienced the assurance of his salvation.
Today, of course, we have a plethora of study Bibles, most of which provide similar prefaces. But I would like to recommend a little book to you today that (if you can still find it), will encourage you in your study of Scripture. If I were a pastor, this book would be part of any catechetical instruction or disciple-making curriculum. It was written by Eugene Peterson, who translated The Message version, and it consists of introductions to the major parts of the Bible and each individual book. It’s called, The Invitation: A Simple Guide to the Bible. This brief resource will provide many occasions for your heart to be “strangely warmed.”
Peterson, of course, is one of our mentors here at Internet Monk, primarily for his works on being a pastor. But we have also recommended his books on theology and biblical studies. He brings a scholar’s depth and a pastor’s wisdom and love to this small introduction.
To give you a sense of the insights he contributes that help us wrap our minds around the big story of Scripture and the simple, yet profound way he communicates, I will share a portion (edited for length) from his introduction to “The Books of Moses: Stories and Signposts.”
. . . The Books of Moses are made up mostly of stories and signposts. The stories show us God working with and speaking to men and women in a rich variety of circumstances. God is presented to us not in ideas and arguments but in events and actions that involve each of us personally. The signposts provide immediate and practical directions to guide us into the behavior that is appropriate to our humanity and honoring to God.
The simplicity of the storytelling and signposting in these books makes what is written as accessible to children as to adults. But the simplicity (as in so many simple things) is also profound, inviting us into a lifetime of growing participation in God’s saving ways with us.
An image of human growth suggests a reason for the powerful pull of these stories and signposts on so many millions of men, women, and children to live as God’s people. The sketch shows the five books as five stages of growth in which God creates first a cosmos and then a people for his glory.
Genesis is Conception. After establishing the basic elements by which God will do his work of creation and salvation and judgment in the midst of human sin and rebellion (chapters 1-11), God conceives a People to whom he will reveal himself as a God of salvation and through them, over time, to everyone on earth. . . .
[Peterson then describes the period of the patriarchs as the time of gestation. Much is unclear, but one thing is certain: there is life.]
Exodus is Birth and Infancy. The gestation of the people of God lasts a long time, but finally the birth pangs start. Egyptian slavery gives the first intimations of the contractions to come. When Moses arrives on the scene to preside over the birth itself, ten fierce plagues on Egypt accompany the contractions that bring the travail to completion: at the Red Sea the waters break, the People of God tumble out of the womb onto dry ground, and their life as a free People of God begins. Moses leads them crawling and toddling to Sinai. . . .
Leviticus is Schooling. As infancy develops into childhood, formal schooling takes place. There’s a lot to know; they need some structure and arrangement to keep things straight: reading, writing, arithmetic. But for the People of God the basic curriculum has to do with God and their relationship with God. Leviticus is the McGuffey’s Reader of the People of God. . . .
Numbers is Adolescence. The years of adolescence are critical to understanding who we are. We are advanced enough physically to be able, for the most part, to take care of ourselves. We are developed enough mentally, with some obvious limitations, to think for ourselves. We discover that we are not simply extensions of our parents; and we are not just mirror images of our culture. But who are we? Especially, who are we as a People of God? The People of God in Numbers are new at these emerging independent operations of behaving and thinking and so inevitably make a lot of mistakes. Rebellion is one of the more conspicuous mistakes. . . .
Deuteronomy is Adulthood. The mature life is a complex operation. Growing up is a long process. And growing up in God takes the longest time. During their forty years spent in the wilderness, the People of God developed from that full-term embryo brought to birth on the far shore of the Red Sea, are carried and led, nourished and protected under Moses to the place of God’s Revelation at Sinai, taught and trained, disciplined and blessed. Now they are ready to live as a free people, formed by God, as a holy people, transformed by God. They still have a long way to go (as do we all), but all the conditions for maturity are there. . . .
The Books of Moses are foundational to the sixty-one books that follow in our Bibles. A foundation, though, is not a complete building but the anticipation of one. An elaborate moral infrastructure is provided here for what is yet to come. Each book that follows, in one way or another, picks up and develops some aspect of the messianic salvation involved in becoming the People of God, but it is always on this foundation. . . .
Setting: Wintertime, almost Christmas, in an old four-story smugglers’ inn at the top of Whilforber Hill near the village of Nagspeake. Each floor of the inn has a beautiful stained glass window, and the guest rooms also have greenglass windows and old-fashioned, but comfortable furniture. There’s an attic full of treasures and junk, and the inn has outbuildings and a garage to explore, too. Plenty of room for mystery, treasure-hunting, and clues.
Characters: Milo Pine, the innkeepers’ adopted son, Mr. and Mrs. Pine, Milo’s parents, and several mysterious, unexpected guests.
Plot: Milo and his friend Meddy attempt to solve the mystery of Greenglass House and its history by taking on roles as players in a role-playing game. Milo is a blackjack, and Meddy is his scholiast.
Almost every review I read of this little gem of a book compared it either to The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin’s Newbery winner and mystery classic, or to Agatha Christie. And without having read those reviews beforehand, I also thought of The Westing Game and of Christie’s The Mousetrap or other books where the cast is snowed in or otherwise isolated (And Then There Were None). Greenglass House is not your typical children’s mystery story. In fact, you can read about three unspoken rules that author Kate Milford breaks in her novel, to the betterment of the story IMHO, in Betsy Bird’s insightful review at A Fuse #8 Production
I noticed, and enjoyed, the loving and involved adoptive parents. Mr. and Mrs. Pine are very busy with their inn and their unexpected guests, but not too busy to check on Milo and to do things with him and for him to make his Christmas special. I also liked the fact the the story is set at Christmastime. And it feels like an old-fashioned Christmas with a Christmas tree, a Christmas Eve gift for Milo, father/son sledding, hot chocolate by the fire, and story-telling. The setting is indeterminate, sort of Victorian with no cell phones or computers in evidence, but also modern with an electric generator for back-up electricity and up-to-date speech patterns and behavior. So that gives Christmas at Greenglass House a timeless feel.
Milo is a great protagonist, too. He’s very conscientious; he does all of his homework on the first day of vacation so that he can have the rest of the holidays to play. He’s resistant to change, but also intelligent and adventurous. He and Meddy make a good team since she inspires and encourages him to step out and use his imagination to solve the mysteries that the two of them encounter.
Greenglass House would be a lovely Christmas read-aloud book for a class or a family in the holiday mystery mood. I recommend it.
It’s a beautiful fall Saturday in the Midwest, and I am rambling around Chicago this weekend, reuniting with friends and classmates from my junior high and high school days. I graduated from high school in 1974. That was in Baltimore — I moved at the beginning of my senior year. But I have always considered the kids from Downers Grove South High School as my “graduating class.” And it’s actually my 8th grade class friends that I have stayed closest to. We have reunions annually, reflecting a time in our lives when we were going through the wilderness of adolescence together in the bewildering days of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
Today, when you comment, please state the year you graduated from high school and the school from which you graduated.
Just as it should be. From MLB.com:
There was so much discussion about how to best script the perfect moment, the ideal way for Derek Jeter to bid farewell to the Bronx in the only pinstriped uniform he ever wanted to wear. And in the end, the only way to properly handle someone who fought so hard never to come out of the lineup was to just let him play the game.
Manager Joe Girardi never moved from his spot in the dugout during the top of the ninth inning. It was Jeter’s game to play, and it was his game to end, slashing a walk-off single to right field in the bottom of the ninth inning that lifted the Yankees to a 6-5 victory over the Orioles on Thursday at Yankee Stadium.
Here’s the complete MLB postseason playoff picture (a couple of spots will be finalized this weekend). Wild card playoff games will be held on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. OK, iMonk baseball fans, who are you pulling for?
From the sublime to the ridiculous: The pastor of “America’s manliest church” has stepped down after being charged with DWI last week for driving home drunk from a bar. Heath Mooneyham relinquished control of Ignite Church in Joplin, MO during last Sunday’s service.
Mooneyham was the subject of an article at Vocativ called, “Sex, Guns and Jesus: Inside America’s Manliest Church,” in which the foul-mouthed macho “pastor” described his church like this: “We’re just a bunch of dudes with beards and beer guts and hot wives. We love our God. We love our country. We love our trucks. And we love our guns.”
Only in the good ol’ US of A.
Does your church have choirs? An article by Cathy Lynn Grossman discusses why many congregations have moved away from choirs and choral music. But at a site on worship that is fast becoming one of my favorites, Jonathan Aigner gives 9 reasons to keep the church choir alive.
I’ve sung in choirs most of my adult life. I have directed choirs. My wife has been an accompanist and/or choir director as well, and is currently directing a choir in a small Presbyterian church. I think Jonathan has good things to say here.
Here’s a company policy you’ve gotta like. Virgin Group founder Richard Branson has introduced a new company policy that lets his personal staff take as much vacation time as they like, whenever they like.
However, some people think this might not work so well, especially in corporate environments like those in the U.S. (one of the countries where the new policy will apply). As Alexander C. Kaufman writes in the Huff Post:
Americans are infamously averse to vacations as it is. About 40 percent of U.S. workers don’t plan to use all their paid vacation time this year, according to a recent survey by the U.S. Travel Association and GfK, a market research firm. In a Daily Telegraph article that Branson cited in his blog post, Daniel H. Pink described the British perspective on vacations, which applies just as well to Americans: “[W]e view them as minor betrayals — of our obligations to customers and clients, of our responsibilities to the colleagues left behind, even of the values we hold most dear.”
Minor betrayal or not, I’m ready for another vacation, how about you? Why do Americans in particular seem so averse to taking time off?
“Maybe this is why we read, and why in moments of darkness we return to books: to find words for what we already know.” ~Alberto Manguel
Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.
Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.
After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.
Alan Noble says that Springs Charter School story may be an overreaction. In fact, the school says, "We can and do provide educational books with religious perspectives, including Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place."
The school statement continues: "However, like every other public school in the State of California, we cannot legally maintain religious textbooks on our warehouse shelves for distribution to our families. Donated items are made available to our families at no cost. Any and all donated items are not incorporated onto the shelves of our Curriculum Warehouse. The only materials we maintain on the shelves of our Curriculum Warehouse are items we have purchased ourselves in accordance with the laws of our State."
Noble asks, "Did the Superintendent make this clear in the letter she sent to PJI? That much is not clear, since PJI didn't actually post her letter online." But the Super does appear to be a practicing catholic, not a opponent of faith.
If the government-sponsored drought doesn't drive people out of California, the education system should. One California English professor (that's a professor of California English, not just one who lives in the state) argues in his book that students should be exposed to liberalism in college. Johnathan Marks reviews Donald Lazere's Why Higher Education Should Have a Leftist Bias.
Here's the idea: "Neither mainstream liberals nor mainstream conservatives question the 'unmarked norm' of capitalism, and consequently students don't question it either. 'Isn't there something to be said,' then, 'for ... preserving in the human imagination ... socialist ideals,' and 'mightn't college liberal arts teachers ... be indulged in this role, like the monks who preserved the manuscripts of classical humanists?'"
Marks goes on to destroy Lazere's arguments with facts, which I won't repeat here. "Lazere's great narrowing of the aim of higher education encompasses more than his wish that it occupy itself with preserving the thought of the left. Because Lazere thinks that not only 'unmarked norms' but also the deliberate efforts of a 'conservative attack machine' have prejudiced students against the left, exposing that machine becomes an important aim of 'general education.'" (via Prufrock)
Joel Miller explains "What banning this book says about the future of our society," talking about the Springs Charter Schools removing Christian books from their circulation. That book is Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place.
Rod Dreher describes a bit of how it changed him. "Reading The Hiding Place as a kid dramatically affected me. The moral heroism of the ten Booms sensitized me to the effects of anti-Semitism, and taught me what Christians must do if ever we are in a situation where persecuted people rely on us for protection."
Miller writes, "Given this Christian impulse to identify with the oppressed and save those in danger, to remove The Hiding Place from library shelves betrays a sort of societal self-defeat, and similar examples multiply as our culture fumbles toward a more rigorously enforced secularity. We're like the cannibal committing suicide one nibble at a time." (via Prufrock)
From last week’s message on Acts 8:26-40
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” – Acts 8:26-30 (ESV)
I love this episode from the early days of the church. Everything is new, the church is young, full of energy, just figuring things out, doing things and experiencing things she never would have dreamed up on her own. The church is realizing just how big the Good News is and just how inclusive the invitation is, and is just trying to keep up with the Holy Spirit. The church is going through hard times but is full of joy.
Philip has been preaching the gospel in Samaria, another one of those formerly untouchable lands populated by what the Jewish people would consider an unsavory people group. Signs and wonders begin happening, conversions, former magic-workers coming to faith, baptisms, receivings of the Holy Spirit, corrections, repentance. Read it, it’s all there in Acts 8.
In the midst of this an angel of the Lord tells Philip to go basically nowhere, otherwise known as the desert place to the south on the way to Gaza. Philip goes – I love the immediacy of obedience in the phrase “he rose and went” – and is confronted with probably the most “other” of all the others he has yet dealt with: a wealthy eunuch from Ethiopia, a worshiper returning from Jerusalem, in a chariot, no doubt surrounded by an armed entourage.
One quick prompting from the Spirit, and Philip runs to this man. Don’t you just love that? When he arrives at the chariot he hears the familiar words of Isaiah 53, Isaiah’s moving description of God’s Suffering Servant, Jesus. The rest is history; a conversation over the open Word, the good news of Jesus proclaimed, a heart reborn, water, baptism, joy. And then – boom – Philip is carried away to Azotus, a distance of probably thirty miles or so.
Lord, I want to be like Philip. He is quick, energetic and fearless in obedience. He lets the scripture breathe, and can explain the good news of Jesus from it.
He never sees an “Other”, he only sees one invited, just like he has been, into the wonders of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
September by Helen Hunt Jackson 1830-1885
The golden-rod is yellow;
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bending down.
The gentian’s bluest fringes
Are curling in the sun;
In dusty pods the milkweed
Its hidden silk has spun.
The sedges flaunt their harvest,
In every meadow nook;
And asters by the brook-side
Make asters in the brook,
From dewy lanes at morning
The grapes’ sweet odors rise;
At noon the roads all flutter
With yellow butterflies.
By all these lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer’s best of weather,
And autumn’s best of cheer.
But none of all this beauty
Which floods the earth and air
Is unto me the secret
Which makes September fair.
‘Tis a thing which I remember;
To name it thrills me yet:
One day of one September
I never can forget.
I am beyond fond of September–and October and November. Several special days and celebrations in September make it a significant month for our family: three birthdays, Hobbit Day, the beginning of autumn, International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and National Punctuation Day. I do hope you’ve had a lovely September, with a day or a few days that you can never forget because you’ve made such thrilling memories with the ones you love.
Note from CM: Our usual Friday contributor Mike Bell ran into some other responsibilities and asked me to post something for today. So I thought I’d repeat this 2011 summary of my view of the Bible. I didn’t take time to thoroughly review and edit it, so I might state some minor details differently today, but overall I think it continues to capture my perspective well.
• • •
Today, I would like to present, for your consideration and discussion, a ten-point summary of my perspective on Scripture (at this point in my understanding).
- The Bible is from God. It is one of the means by which God has made himself known to human beings. The various books of the Bible were composed and edited and put together under the mysterious method of “inspiration,” by which God worked mostly through normal human processes to communicate his message.
- The Bible is incarnational. That is, it comes to us in fully human form, taking the words of people written in their own times, from within their own cultures, according to the genres and literary conventions common to their day, and within the confines of their own limited perspectives, to communicate God’s message.
- The Bible involves a complex conversation of faith over time. The Bible contains multiple voices, a diversity of narrative and theological perspectives, and a development of thought over time. For example, Joshua and Judges present two sides of the conquest of Canaan. Ecclesiastes and Job protest the wisdom tradition represented by a book like Proverbs, which even in its own pages presents several points of view. The “history” of Chronicles presents a different scenario of the same events than we see in the books of Kings. This diversity is only a problem if we expect the Bible to be something it is not—a timeless and perfectly consistent, always harmonizable record that is precise in every detail according to modern standards of accuracy.
- The Bible came to us through the community of faith. Recognizing that there were human processes involved in the final editing and canonization of the Bible also highlights how God used people to bring the Bible as a final product to the world. The Hebrew Bible was put together mostly during and after the Babylonian exile. The church took nearly four centuries to complete the canonization process for the New Testament. Our understanding of the nature, authority, and message of Scripture must take these human processes into account as well.
- The Bible is the church’s primary authority (Prima Scriptura). The fact that the church functioned for the first four centuries of its life without a complete Bible means that it cannot have sole authority apart from the church, the Holy Spirit, and the apostolic traditions (the “rule of faith”). For Protestants, at the very least this means we must make a fresh commitment to learning church history, the creeds, and the early Church Fathers for a fuller understanding and practice of the faith.
- The Bible is true. “True” is a better way of describing the Bible than “inerrant” or “infallible” or any such words that grow out of modern categories. After all, what is an “inerrant” poem? An “infallible” story? The Bible is true because it tells the truth about God, the state of the world, human life and death, sin and salvation, wisdom and foolishness. But most of all because it tells the truth about the Truth himself and leads its readers to him.
- The Bible is God’s story. Any individual passage or part of the Bible should be read and interpreted in the light of its big picture, its overall pattern and message. The final form of the Bible tells a “Christotelic” story. From “in the beginning” to “in the end of days” the story constantly develops and moves forward to its culmination in Christ and the new creation. This story must always determine our emphases when interpreting its message.
- The Bible’s central focus is Jesus. The apostles testify that Jesus taught them to see that the purpose of the Torah, Prophets, and Writings is to point to him and his good news, which restores God’s blessing to all creation. The New Testament, of course, tells Jesus’ story and accounts of the apostolic community that experienced and spread his good news. The Bible is not God’s final word, but is rather a primary witness to Jesus, God’s final Word.
- The Bible does not contain every detail of God’s will for his people’s lives. In the Bible, God gives adequate instructions to guide his people to practice lives of love for God and neighbor. On the other hand, God expects that many implications of the Gospel will be worked out only over the course of time, in and through (and despite!) his people, until the consummation of the age. The Bible is not a “handbook” for living, with detailed instructions for every aspect of life. The Bible is not “sufficient” to answer all of life’s questions. It was not designed to do that, and we risk becoming pharisaical if we try to maintain that opinion.
- The Bible doesn’t need me or anyone else to defend it. Christians do not need to prove that the Bible is a perfect book, free from “error” (as we define it today) in every way in order to have a secure faith or to present a case for Christ to the world. We need a credible, reliable witness that is self-attesting in its divine truthfulness, beauty, and power. This we have in the Bible.
"In the wonderful world of Walker Percy, old fashioned Southern gentility saunters in seersucker into sub human behavior and sips bourbon while planning a congenial genocide.
Their shabby chic sophistication makes the nefarious activities of the characters in The Thanatos Syndrome even more chilling."
Truth triumphs over sentimentality in this story. Dwight Longenecker explores it for us.
I've heard people use the term "price point," and I'm pretty sure they only meant "price," but thought "price point" sounded professional or something.
I'm sure there's a proper way to use "price point," but I'm not sure what it is.
In any case, the price point for my self-published novels has been adjusted to $2.99. This does not affect the price points for my Baen or Nordskog novels.
Try Death's Doors, here.
“[G]entleness is essential to Christian living. It is not an add-on. It is . . . one of the few indisputable evidences of the Holy Spirit alive and well within someone. Gentleness is not just for some Christians, those wired in a certain way. It cannot merely be an inherent character trait, a result of personality or genetic predisposition, because it is listed as part of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Looked at another way, nowhere in the New Testament’s lists of spiritual gifts is gentleness identified as one such gift. It is not a gift of the Spirit for a few. It is the fruit of the Spirit for all. To be gentle is to become who we were meant to be; that is, to return to who we once were, in Eden.”
– Dane C. Ortlund, Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God (Crossway), 91.
Melissa Wiley: “Blog first. Blog freehand. Write it down today, while the thought is fresh.” I grok this post from Here in the Bonny Glen.
Cara at Little Did She Know:
“I would like to meet and marry someone lovely, but truly, I am seeking a companion with which to do life, someone to whom I can recount everything I ate during my day, my excitement over an email, and my concerns about road construction. I am looking for someone who will contact me first when you can turn on your phone after the airplane lands.”
So beautiful and vulnerable. I’m praying for Cara and for all those best friends who haven’t found each other yet.
100 Actual Titles of Real Eighteenth Century Novels. I found this list by way of Maureen at By Singing Light. Thanks, Maureen.
The Affecting History Of Two Young Gentlewomen, Who Were Ruined By Their Excessive Attachment To The Amusements Of The Town. To Which Are Added, Many Practical Notes, By Dr. Typo.
Socrates Out of His Senses.
The Three Perils of Man. Or, War, Women, and Witchcraft.
Rod Dreher writes about what he’s been learning lately from Dante’s Divine Comedy.
“All the damned dwell in eternal punishment because they let their passions overrule their reason and were unrepentant. For Dante, all sin results from disordered desire: either loving the wrong things or loving the right things in the wrong way.”
Mr. Dreher is working on a book titled How Dante Can Save Your Life.
Melody at Life in the Mommy Lane has a post about homeschooling, Why Homeschool?. I think she has a great perspective on the education of Christian children.
“I’m not too concerned with whether my son can read or multiply or if he ever goes to college; I am concerned with his soul and his character. Don’t worry, I do want him to learn to read, but it’s a secondary priority to the desire that he passionately and humbly pursue his Creator, that he lead courageously with mercy, defending what is true and just.”
As part of my study during these weeks when we are discussing the nature and purpose of the Bible, I have been reading N.T. Wright’s illuminating book, Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today.
I particularly like his point that there is need to clarify what we mean when we speak about the Bible’s “authority.” Affirming that authority rightly belongs to God in the context of his Kingdom rule, Wright says we must have a more dynamic understanding of the term: the Bible only has authority in the sense that God exercises his sovereign rule through it.
Thus, Wright says, Scripture’s authority does not lie in its status as a “court of final appeal” or as a compendium of doctrine, as rules for living or a devotional manual. Rather, the “authority of Scripture” must be understood within the context of God’s Kingdom and God’s mission to the world. Scripture is a primary means by which God acts in and through his people to bring healing and redemption to all creation. Note this emphasis in Jesus’ so-called “great commission” —
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
While Jesus doesn’t specifically mention “Scripture” here, (1) he locates authority in himself, and (2) that authority is exercised through the church as they “make disciples” all over the world and “teach” those disciples to obey the words of Jesus. These disciple-making and teaching practices infer words (some of which are the words of Jesus himself) that are recognized as teachings representing Jesus’ authority, which is transmitted in the process of fulfilling the mission.
Christians properly apply this definition of authority when we allow Scripture to (1) lead us into worship of the God who speaks to us, (2) reorder our lives so that we take our part as his Spirit-empowered people in mission to the world.
• • •
In that context, N.T. Wright suggests that the first and most important place the church hears Scripture is in worship.
Below, Wright speaks about how “a liturgically-grounded reading of Scripture” is a key practice in having God exercise his authority in and through the church for the sake of the world.
The primary place where the church hears scripture is during corporate worship. (I shall come to individual reading presently, but I believe corporate worship to be primary.) This is itself a practice in direct descent from the public reading of the law by Ezra, Jesus’ own reading of Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth, the reading of Paul’s letters in the assembled church, and so on. However different we may be personally, contextually, culturally, and so on, when we read scripture we do so in communion with other Christians across space and time. This means, for instance, that we must work at making sure we read scripture properly in public, with appropriate systems for choosing what to read and appropriate training to make sure those who read do so to best effect. If scripture is to be a dynamic force within the church, it is vital that the public reading of scripture does not degenerate into what might be called “aural wallpaper,” a pleasing and somewhat religious noise which murmurs along in the background while the mind is occupied elsewhere.
It also means that in our public worship, in whatever tradition, we need to make sure the reading of scripture takes a central place. In my own tradition, that of the Anglican Communion, the regular offices of Morning and Evening Prayer are, in all kinds of ways, “showcases for scripture.” That is, they do with scripture (by means of prayer, music, and response) what a well-organized exhibition does with a great work of art: they prepare us for it, they enable us to appreciate it fully, and they give us an opportunity to meditate further on it. The public reading of scripture is not designed merely to teach the people its content, though that should be a welcome spin-off. . . .
More, in public worship where the reading of scripture is given its proper place, the authority of God places a direct challenge to the authority of the powers that be, not least those who use the media, in shaping the mind and life of the community. But the primary purpose of the readings is to be itself an act of worship, celebrating God’s story, power, and wisdom and, above all, God’s son. That is the kind of worship through which the church is renewed in God’s image, and so transformed and directed in its mission. Scripture is the key means through which the living God directs and strengthens his people in and for that work. That, I have argued throughout this book, is what the shorthand phrase “the authority of scripture” is really all about.
N.T. Wright goes on to urge that the practice should involve readings that tell the entire story of the Old and New Testaments and not truncate the readings. Nor should the length of the readings be pruned so that contexts are eliminated. The sermon should be closely tied to the readings, drawing out fresh insights that arise from comparing the various texts and pointing out connections that reinforce the big story of Scripture. Finally, he notes that the biblical words spoken during the Eucharist continually bring us back to the gospel, forming us as individuals and faith communities in the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
I used to affirm biblical inerrancy. I’m not sure I understood it very well, even though I went through Bible college and seminary. I know I hadn’t read or studied the Bible enough to have a true “belief” about it.
I trusted the Bible. That, in a nutshell, was my position. The Bible is true. I can count on the Bible to tell me the truth. The Bible communicates God’s mind and heart to me. The Bible is a reliable witness to God’s character and works in history, culminating in Jesus Christ. God speaks through the Bible. It is filled with lively words that point to the Living Word.
While I was growing in my understanding of the Bible in the 1970’s and 80’s, a much more detailed and precise definition of “inerrancy” was emerging in American evangelicalism.
In her book, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism, Molly Worthen sketches a brief outline of the doctrine of “inerrancy” as we know it today.
She notes that inerrancy is a peculiarly Protestant doctrine (inerrantists dispute this). She traces it from the generations following the Reformation, when Protestant scholastics developed their doctrine of Scripture using Greek philosophical and rationalistic principles, to the days when the doctrine “blossomed” under the tutelage of Hodge and Warfield at Princeton Theological Seminary, who taught in the wake of Darwin and modern biblical higher criticism.
Then it was on to the fundamentalist vs. modernist battles of the early twentieth century and the development of neo-evangelicalism in response to fundamentalist sectarianism and obscurantism. Though both chose different ways of relating to the world of reason, culture, and education, both held to an inerrant Bible.
In the midst of the Cold War, the social upheavals of the 1960’s and early 70’s, and a sense of growing secularism and godlessness, in the infant days of the “Christian Right” more than 200 evangelical leaders came together at a conference sponsored by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), held in Chicago (1978). These leaders included Robert Preus, James Montgomery Boice, Carl F. H. Henry, Kenneth Kantzer, J. I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, R. C. Sproul and John MacArthur. They produced The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, a thorough conservative evangelical statement attributing inerrancy to the Bible’s original autographs.
Read the complete Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.
These next couple of weeks, as we discuss the Bible, its nature and purpose, we will be throwing ideas about “inerrancy” back and forth. It is important that we understand the modern concept of inerrancy as the ones who promote it define it. So, below, for your meditation today, is the summary statement from the Chicago Statement, followed by an excerpt of an article by Al Mohler, one of the doctrine’s foremost public defenders.
I’d like our discussion to focus on responding to inerrancy as its adherents define it. The full Chicago Statement is linked above, and there are links for further reading below in case you want more detail.
CSBI SUMMARY STATEMENT
1. God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God’s witness to Himself.
2. Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: It is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms; obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises.
3. The Holy Spirit, Scripture’s divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.
4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.
5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited of disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.
• • •
I do not believe that evangelicalism can survive without the explicit and complete assertion of biblical inerrancy. Given the pressures of late modernity, growing ever more hostile to theological truth claims, there is little basis for any hope that evangelicals will remain distinctively evangelical without the principled and explicit commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible.
Beyond this, inerrancy must be understood as necessary and integral to the life of the church, the authority of preaching, and the integrity of the Christian life. Without a total commitment to the trustworthiness and truthfulness of the Bible, the church is left without its defining authority, lacking confidence in its ability to hear God’s voice. Preachers will lack confidence in the authority and truthfulness of the very Word they are commissioned to preach and teach. This is not an issue of homiletical theory but a life-and-death question of whether the preacher has a distinctive and authoritative Word to preach to people desperately in need of direction and guidance. Individual Christians will be left without either the confidence to trust the Bible or the ability to understand the Bible as something less than totally true.
. . . The affirmation of biblical inerrancy is necessary for the health of the church and for our obedience to the Scriptures. Though necessary, it is not sufficient, taken by itself, to constitute an evangelical doctrine of Scripture. Evangelicals must embrace a comprehensive affirmation of the Bible as the Word of God written. In the end, inspiration requires inerrancy, and inerrancy affirms the Bible’s plenary authority. The Bible is not inerrant, and thus the Word of God; it is the Word of God, and thus inerrant.
• • •
Other Articles Defending Inerrancy:
- A Roundtable Discussion on Inerrancy, at Modern Reformation (featuring Michael Spencer)
After the shameful way Abram comes off in Genesis 12 — going into self-protection mode, trying to control the situation, putting his wife in danger by passing her off as his sister — he certainly comes off brilliantly in Genesis 13. Perhaps newly chastened, he is ready in this moment to trust in God’s sovereignty.
Something has been going on between Abram and his nephew Lot. They’ve both got lots of land but apparently it’s not big enough for the both of them. Some kind of conflict has arisen in the mix of their parallel prosperity. But Abram seeks the better way; he’s realized what is happening. Their “stuff” is coming between them and he does something remarkable:
Abram says to Lot: “Hey, take your pick. Whatever you want, you can have. Take whatever looks good to you, and I’ll take the rest, whatever’s leftover. If you want east, I’ll take west. If you want west, I’ll take east. No big whoop.”
What’s Abram doing? He’s giving Lot first choice, but really he’s giving God first choice. He’s abandoning himself to God’s sovereignty. “God, take me wherever you want. I’ve tried doing this my own way; I’ve tried controlling things. I’ve tried manipulating the situation; I’ve tried getting everything. And I know this is an offense against you.” So he goes back to the first altar, reaffirms his commitment, cries out to God and says, “Take me where you will.”
This means giving Lot first dibs and taking the scraps. And then look at what God does:
The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.”
Abram gave up and God gave him everything!
He said “I’ll take east, or I’ll take west. Whichever.” And God says, “How about — ALL OF IT?”
This is another dynamic we see throughout all of Scripture.
Mark 10:31 “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Matthew 23:12 “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
1 Peter 5:6 “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,”
And probably the two most applicable to this passage:
Matthew 6:33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Matt. 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Abram meekly said “Whatever you want,” and God gave him the earth. It’s like, he gave up his seat on the bus, and God gave him the keys.
When we’re going around stuffing ourselves with every pleasure and desire we can get our hands on, it’s because ultimately we’re looking for God. And so none of it satisfies. But when we finally turn our gaze to God and say “I only want you” — we get him.
But isn’t this where we run into trouble? Because we can’t quite get ourselves empty, can we? I mean, can you pray for five minutes without thinking of that funny thing you saw on Facebook? Can you read your Bible for very long without getting distracted about that deadline at work?
Abram looks great right here. But we’re only three chapters away from his trying to manipulate the situation and control the covenant with his own scheming all over again!
It’s impossible for us to empty ourselves because we’re constantly so full of ourselves.
None of us can give up everything. Before Christ, we are sinners — dead and full of utter need. But even after Christ has justified us, until he comes back to vanquish sin finally and fully, we still wrestle with our sin. We are sinner-saints. So some days we’re the Abram of Genesis 13 but most days we’re the Abram of Genesis 12.
If we’re looking at this principle that to give up everything gains everything and emptying is the way to exalting, we are on the right track but we can never arrive in and of ourselves. In ourselves, we never quite give up everything. In ourselves, we will never truly become empty.
And now we see just how much we need Jesus. We need the Jesus who loves us in our Genesis 13 moments and our Genesis 12 moments. We need the Jesus whose favor rests on us purely by the grace of his Father and the power of his Spirit – not because of anything we’ve done or not done – purely by his sovereign pleasure. We need the Jesus who can sort through our mixed motives, who can heal our deepest wounds, who can free us from our strongest prisons, who can rescue us from our deepest graves, the ones we dig ourselves.
Only Jesus has truly given up everything in order to gain everything. Only Jesus has truly emptied himself (Phil. 2:6-11). And in his emptying, comes his exalting. In his emptying and exalting, comes our own.
So there was a time that Jesus was in the midst of the wilderness, and he was hungry and weary and the devil took him by the shoulder and showed him the vast multitudes of glorious cities in the valley below and said to him, “Look, Jesus, there doesn’t need to be conflict between us. There’s plenty for everyone. Look east and west. Look at all the beautiful riches out there just waiting for you. Why don’t you take your pick? You can have it all.”
And where Abram said to Lot, “there’s plenty of room for both of us,” Jesus instead turns to Satan and says, “You know, there’s not enough room in this world for both of us. So you’re going to have to leave.”
And I picture Satan beginning to tremble. Suddenly that vast desert didn’t seem so big. Suddenly he felt invisible walls closing in around him. Suddenly he realized the tables had turned. Jesus was not his prey; he was Jesus’!
No, the Son of God says to that ancient enemy and to sin itself, “The cosmos is not big enough for both of us, because I am filling all things. I am the omnipotent God, and my glory will cover the earth like the waters cover the sea. So evil’s days are numbered.”
So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord
— Genesis 13:18
Over the past year or so, Facebook has become a place of wide-ranging theological discussion for me. Of course, as a medium for serious, in-depth discussion, it has its disadvantages and limitations; but thanks to others of like mind, I’ve found it to be predominantly a source of life and stimulation.
Being active in theological debate on Facebook has taught me a lot, especially about things like taking time to think before speaking, giving others the benefit of the doubt and working hard to communicate clearly and unambiguously. It’s also brought to my attention certain recurring arguments that many Christians regularly trot out in defence of whatever position they’re pushing, one of which I’d like to briefly highlight today. And hopefully demolish.
If I had a pound for every time in the last year that I’ve heard or seen someone say “But the Bible clearly says…”, I’d be well on the way to funding a more generous pension for my later years.
I have a number of issues with arguments beginning “The Bible clearly says…”.
First, it is not borne out by two thousand years of history. If the Bible clearly said anything much at all, surely the world would not now have something like forty thousand Christian denominations, many of which claim to have the correct interpretation of scripture. Similarly, if the Bible was anything like as clear as this statement claims, there would have been no need for the academic study of theology and the accompanying theological debate that has persisted through twenty centuries and shows little sign of abating even today. This alone ought to be enough to kick “The Bible clearly says…” into touch as a credible argument for anything.
Second, as Brian Zahnd quipped in the recent much-discussed “Monster God” debate, you can make the Bible stand up and dance a jig if you want to. In other words, the Bible contains enough seemingly contradictory statements that you can pluck out a verse here and there and use it to support pretty much any position you want to. For example, there’s no shortage of passages in the Old Testament that could be used to support the argument, “The Bible clearly says that ethnic cleansing is perfectly acceptable”. Need I say more?
Third, and perhaps most important, no text says anything without some degree of ambiguity. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we all interpret every single thing we read. Let me try to explain.
Suppose you open up a learn-to-read book for children, and read the first sentence: “The cat sat on the mat”. Simple enough at first reading, right? Not too much ambiguity here, is there?
What we can say with certainty after reading this sentence is that a cat sat on a mat. To conclude anything more than that requires interpretation. For example, we are told nothing about the colour, gender, age or size of the cat. Similarly, the size, type, material and placement of the mat are left to our imagination. And did the cat just sit on the mat once, and if so, for how long? Or was it in the habit of doing so? Why did it sit there? And when did all of this feline mat occupation occur?
To answer any of these questions requires us to interpret the text. I’m sure most people would be able to grasp this without much difficulty. What’s harder to see is that we interpret all the time without even being aware that we’re doing it.
When you read the sentence “The cat sat on the mat”, chances are that you immediately form a mental image of a cat sat on a mat. The cat you imagine will be of a certain size, age, gender, colour and disposition, and the mat will be in a certain more or less specific location. A number of factors determine how you imagine the scene, including but not limited to your personal experience with and attitude toward cats; other books, pictures or TV shows in which you have seen cats sitting on mats; your favourite or least favourite types of cats and mats…; and even the mood you happen to be in at the time.
You may feel that a cat on a mat is rather a facile example to use, but hopefully you can see the point I’m trying to make.
When we read any text, be it a novel, a newspaper, a blog post or the Bible, there’s a very small amount of information that is known and understood with absolute certainty. On the other hand, there’s a very large amount of information that is open to interpretation. It follows that our understanding of a text is based largely on our personal interpretation of that text.
As I’ve hinted already with my admittedly rather silly feline example, our interpretation of any given biblical text is shaped by many factors. These include, but are not limited to, age, socio-economic background, race, educational level, church background, personality type, personal experience, peer group influences and current life circumstances. All of these forces and more work together to form and guide our personal interpretation in ways that we are largely unaware of.
So when, in defence of your favourite theological hobby horse, you exclaim “But the Bible clearly says…!”, what you’re really saying is “But my interpretation of the Bible clearly says…!”. To put it another way, it would be better to say, “For someone with my specific and exact personal, socio-economic, political, emotional and religious history, and with the exact same personality type, memories and value system as me, the Bible clearly says…”
By now you hopefully realise that the only person who ticks all those boxes is you. Your interpretation of the Bible is unique to you. It may coincide with the interpretation of lesser or greater numbers of other people, but ultimately it’s yours, shaped by your own unique set of formative influences.
It follows from all this – and my experience tends to bear this out – that people who routinely base their arguments on what the Bible “clearly” says often feel that they have a direct line to the Holy Spirit and have been given the one and only valid interpretation of Holy Scripture. To which my answer is, what about all the other good and holy men and women down the centuries – many of whom have studied, meditated and sacrificed much more than you or I in their quest to know God and understand the Bible – who have “received” an inspired interpretation that differs from yours?
In closing, then, let me issue a plea: if, in defending your particular theological understanding, you wish to draw on the Bible, please don’t preface your argument with “The Bible clearly says”. If you do, what you’re really saying is “I’m right and you’re wrong”. Instead, do me the courtesy of saying what you think the Bible means by what it says, and why you think what it says should be interpreted in that particular fashion. Perhaps then we can have a healthy conversation from which we might both learn something.
* * *
Rob blogs at Faith Meets World.
I’ve been quoting this, and since it’s now PAGES back, I want it posted here so I can find it quickly:
To the Progressive Socialist Totalitarian Left, Christianity is a threat to the primacy of the State. The Totalitarian Left believes the Authority of the State must be absolute, because the left can control all the apparatuses of the State and impose their moral beliefs on the population. For example, the belief that unborn children can be sacrificed in the name of personal convenience and the sick and elderly can be sacrificed to save the State money. Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that there is a Higher Moral Authority than the State; and that the conscience of the individual… not the Collective Will as embodied in the State and its organs.
It isn’t necessarily because of Gay Marriage, per se, but Gay Marriage is a cudgel that the left can use against Christianity; forcing Christians to bow to the State (e.g. being forced to participate in gay weddings as bakers, photographers, and florists). The ultimate goal is to eradicate Christianity and its tenet that each individual has a conscience and a moral imperative.
Win a T-shirt and book from 20 Schemes:
There is one thing that the churches experiencing historic revival have in common: they seemed overrun with the sense of the glory of God. They preached the gospel and the response was, as some describe, that “glory came down.”
Now that’s not something you can schedule. You can’t advertise it on the church signboard: “Every Sunday: Glory comes down.” But it is something we can aim for, yearn for, cast a vision for, desire, crave, proclaim. You can’t program the glory, but you can plead for it.
See, nobody ever said, “We changed our music style and revival broke out.”
Nobody ever said, “We moved from Sunday School classes to small groups and the glory of God came down.”
Nobody ever said, “You would not believe the repenting unto holiness that happened when our pastor started preaching shorter sermons.”
(I’m just sayin’.)
No, all those things and more can be good things. Done for the right reasons, those can be very good moves to make, but the glory of God is best heard in the proclaimed gospel of Jesus Christ. So that’s where the glory-aimed church is going to camp out.
We all talk a big game about the glory of God, but it is a rare church that takes God’s glory seriously as the purpose of everything.
I preached on the servant-hearted harmony and burden-bearing of Romans 15 to my church last Sunday, and one point I stressed is that we aren’t to strive for these things in order to become an impressive church. The exhortations of Paul in Romans 15:1-5 are there so “that together,” verse 6 reads, “you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I cast the vision over to Ephesians 1. Why has he blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places? Why has he chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him? Why has he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will? Ephesians 1:6: “For the praise of his glorious grace.”
I took them to 1 Peter 2:9. Why did he make us a chosen race? Why did he make us a royal priesthood? Why did he makes us a holy nation? Why did he call us a people for his own possession? “That we may proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Over and over again, from Old Testament through New, we learn the foundational truth echoed by the Westminster divines, that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” We make realized the 5th of the Reformational solas: Soli Deo Gloria, “to God alone be the glory.”
A gospel-centered church makes that not just a spiritual slogan but her spiritual blood. A gospel-centered church is not aiming to be the nicest church in town. That’d be nice. A gospel-centered church is not aiming to be the most popular church in town. That’d be cool. A gospel-centered church is not aiming to be the smartest church in town. That’d be okay.
No, a gospel-centered church doesn’t aim to be the anything-est church in town because it’s not comparing itself to other churches, but to the holiness of God, which will shrink the church down to size in its own estimation and make her hunger for the holiness that only comes from the riches of Christ in the gospel. A gospel-centered church aims to be a gospel-proclaiming church in town. Because that would be glorious.
A gospel-centered church is okay with its own decreasing — in reputation, in acclaim, in legacy, even in (gasp) numbers, but especially in self-regard — so long as it serves the increasing of the sense of the glory of God.
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
— Romans 15:7
No, Victoria Osteen is not exactly right when she says we ought to do good for ourselves instead of for God, but neither is she totally wrong. She’s derailed and in the ditch, but the right track is in eyesight.
Osteen is not totally wrong, because walking with God is a — let the reader understand — happy thing. It’s a different kind of happy, to be sure. But it’s a happy thing nonetheless. Not happy-go-lucky. Not happy in moments or gifts. But happy in the Sovereign, in the Giver. George Whitefield preaches:
“As it is an honorable, so it is a pleasing thing, to walk with God. The wisest of men has told us, that ‘wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths peace’. And I remember pious Mr. Henry, when he was about to expire, said to a friend, ‘You have heard many men’s dying words, and these are mine: A life spent in communion with God, is the pleasantest life in the world’. I am sure I can set to my seal that this is true. Indeed, I have been listed under Jesus’ banner only for a few years; but I have enjoyed more solid pleasure in one moment’s communion with my god, than I should or could have enjoyed in the ways of sin, though I had continued to have gone on in them for thousands of years. And may I not appeal to all you that fear and walk with God, for the truth of this? Has not one day in the Lord’s courts been better to you than a thousand? In keeping God’s commandments, have you not found a present, and very great reward? Has not his word been sweeter to you than the honey or the honeycomb? O what have you felt, when, Jacob-like, you have been wrestling with your God? Has not Jesus often met you when meditating in the fields, and been made known to you over and over again in breaking of bread? Has not the Holy Ghost frequently shed the divine love abroad in your hearts abundantly, and filled you with joy unspeakable, even joy that is full of glory? I know you will answer all these questions in the affirmative, and freely acknowledge the yoke of Christ to be easy, and his burden light; or (to use the words of one of our collects), ‘His service is perfect freedom’. And what need we then any further motive to excite us to walk with God?” (Whitefield, Walking with God)
The gospel cannot puff us up. It cannot make us prideful. It cannot make us selfish. It cannot make us arrogant. It cannot make us rude. It cannot make us gossipy. It cannot make us accusers. So the more we press into the gospel, the more the gospel takes over our hearts and the spaces we bring our hearts to, and it stands to reason, the less we would see those things antithetical to it.
You cannot grow in holiness and holier-than-thou-ness at the same time. So a church that makes its main thing the gospel, and when faced with sin in its ranks doesn’t simply crack the whip of the law but says “remember the gospel,” should gradually be seeing grace coming to bear.
It works out this way individually. The most gracious people you and I know are people who have had an experience of grace and fixate on grace. The least gracious people we know are people who may know about grace academically, “theologically,” but don’t seem the least bit changed by it and really have a fixation on the law. They have an inordinate fixation on who did what wrong and what they deserve.
The same dynamic takes place in churches. Where grace and law are taught academically but law is “felt” as the operating system of the church, you will likely have a stifling, gossipy, burdensome environment. Where grace and law are taught theologically but grace is felt as the operating system of the church, you will see people begin to flourish, breathe. (You’ll also attract more sinners, which is where religious people start getting a little antsy.)
But the message of grace made preeminent will generate an atmosphere of grace.
This is why the harmony with each other of Romans 15:5 is “in accord with Jesus Christ.” It’s not predicated on having a bunch of stuff in common. It’s not predicated on common race or social class. It’s not predicated on a common special interest or political cause. It’s not predicated on all being theology nerds, liking the same authors, being Reformed or Arminian or somewhere in between. It’s not predicated on all being Republicans or Democrats. It’s not predicated on all being for social justice. It’s not predicated on all being homeschoolers or public schoolers. It’s not predicated on music styles or preaching styles or anything like that. All of that sort of commonality produces a very fragile harmony.
It is instead predicated on our common Savior, Jesus Christ, compared to whom we are all sinners who fall short of God’s glory, and from whom we have all received grace upon grace. It’s impossible to bask in the glorious grace of Jesus Christ and at the same time toot your own horn. So the more that we together focus on the gospel of Jesus, the more together we will walk in accordance with him and therefore in harmony with one another. “Gospel doctrine,” our friend Ray Ortlund says, “creates a gospel culture.”
“I really do have love to give! I just don’t know where to put it!” –Quiz Kid Donnie Smith, played by William H. Macy, Magnolia
I used to think that I was
An empty jar
With my face turned upward
To wait for the sweetest wine
To fill me up and quench my thirst
But now I know
That I have been filled up
With water and carried to the desert
To give life to thirsty travelers
On their way to another country
And they will pour me out
Into cups and troughs
But they will keep dipping me
Into the coolest wells
They will wrap me up
So I will not break
And little did I know
That these were wandering princes
And high-born ladies
That this poor clay jar
Has the privilege to love
(This is a response to and a ruminating upon this article. I recommend it highly.)
It's not a coincidence that a fall-off in posting here has coincided with my wife and my youngest son's going off to college. This month, for the first time in 28 years, we don't have at least one son living at home with us. We're happy for our sons, of course, but getting used to an empty nest takes some mental and emotional adjustment. Apparently that means I don't have a lot of energy left over for blogging.
It's possible that my once again slacking off on blogging may disappoint both my regular readers, but I do plan to be back at it soon. Thanks again to both of you for visiting.
Royce Ogle reflects on the wrong way to pray:
Often we pray for God to change our circumstances. I have done it and you have too.
Meanwhile, God might have orchestrated your circumstances so he can change you. So, instead of asking for things to change so we can be happy, maybe we should ask, "Lord help me to see how I need to change in my present circumstances."Indeed. I recommend Royce's whole article.
I am not a big fan of using the blog to raise money for stuff, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t let you know about an important missional opportunity in this New England region so many of my readers care deeply about.
I would like to introduce you to Redemption Church and invite you to partner with my church in Middletown Springs, Vermont as we seek to plant worship of our Savior in the burgeoning mission field of Rutland, Vermont.
Since my family’s arrival here in 2009, our church has seen a steady increase in mission-minded believers with a heart to plant a gospel-centered church in the downtown area of Rutland, Vermont, the largest town nearest us and the second largest town in the state.
Our church has more than doubled in the last 4 years, and we have already established a solid, mature, multi-generational core team in the city of Rutland that has already begun the work of community groups and evangelism. Our plan now, Lord willing, is to move from twice-monthly prayer gatherings to weekly “simple church” gatherings with the goal of launching public worship services for Redemption Church on Easter Sunday, 2015.
You are likely aware of the spiritual climate in New England generally and Vermont specifically, but to give you some perspective about the mission field in our area:
o The state of Vermont is regularly charted as the least-churched, least-religious state in our nation. There is roughly 1 church for every 5,000 people, and those churches are all over the map theologically.
o There are roughly 16,000 people in the city of Rutland proper and only 2% attend any church.
o There are approximately 5 evangelical churches not in decline in the greater Rutland area and there are none directly in downtown.
o There is a growing epidemic of poverty, physical and sexual abuse, and drug addiction in the city. $2 million in drugs is imported to VT daily. (The New York Times recently highlighted Rutland’s growing heroin problem.)
o While there are a few evangelical churches doing good work in our region, the need for gospel-centered missional churches is great.
Middletown Springs Church has been praying and planning toward our role in serving God’s work in this important mission field for years now, and we believe God would have us move forward now, sending our own Rutlanders out into their own community and launching an extension of our church, a “satellite campus” of sorts with its own elders, ministries, and vision. Until we have identified a lead planter to take over the work, I will be providing the primary preaching and leading.
Here’s where you come in: We need you to pray for this work. I am sending this to you because I know you have a heart for God’s mission in the world, including in the hardest regions of our own nation. Rutland fits the bill. Please pray for us. But you should also know that Middletown Church is still a small, rural congregation made up of folks with average resources employing a modest budget.
Our church has dedicated approximately 9% of our projected annual operating budget to fund this specific work. We are seeking to raise the remaining need to further God’s mission in the city. Can you help?
If your church or organization would feel led to serve our mission this way – either with regular financial support or in a one-time gift — you can contribute by making your contributions out to Middletown Springs Community Church, writing “Redemption Church Plant” in the MEMO portion* and sending them to:
Middletown Springs Community Church
PO Box 1213
Middletown Springs, VT 05757
We would be incredibly grateful if you could help in this way. Whether you are able to make this commitment or not, I’d be grateful if you would share this need with any family or church you think might be interested in partnering with us.
There is lots to share with you about our efforts here. If you’d like to know more about the church plant or mission in the region in general, please don’t hesitate to message me at jared AT gospeldrivenchurch DOT com. We will also send regular updates on the work to all of our prayer and financial partners.
I hope you will understand I hate asking for money, and while God doesn’t need it, his servants in New England certainly do!
* (Alternatively, if you prefer electronic giving, you may use our church PayPal account email: mscchurch AT gmail DOT com. Please make sure to designate to Redemption Church Plant in the note section.)
Thanks for reading.
Nakedness is still considered (mostly) immodest today and people with good sense don’t let anybody but their spouse or their doctor see what they normally cover up, but in the biblical times, nakedness was considered extremely shameful. To see someone in their nakedness was an extreme violation, an act of disrespect, of dishonor.
Whether Ham sees his father on purpose or not, we can’t rightly say, but in any event he appears to find Noah’s shame amusing and he goes and tells his brothers, probably joking about it. He has an opportunity to cover his dad’s shame and instead he exposes him further.
What’s interesting about this event in the context of this passage is that Ham’s sin is treated as more serious than Noah’s. Noah has drunken himself into passing out — we’re not talking “getting buzzed” here, we’re talking about getting blacked-out drunk — but the emphasis of wrongdoing in the passage is on Ham for laughing about it.
This doesn’t mean that drunken exposure is not a sin. But it does seem to mean that denying a sinner grace is a bigger one. Couldn’t we say that Jesus certainly had harsher words for the outwardly tidy religious leaders of his day than the drunks? He told them all to “sin no more,” but he seemed to regard intentionally squandered opportunities to cover shame as somehow more heinous than (so-called) “sins of the flesh.”
We commit the sin of Ham whenever we hear of someone’s struggle, of sin, of failure, and instead of figuring out how to bring grace to them, we “run and tell.” We gossip. We pile on.
We should note that in all the Bible’s words about reproof and rebuke and discipline, the Bible never says to “confess one another’s sins.”
And Ham has capitalized on his father’s great vulnerability by heaping more shame on his shame.
But his brothers had more grace.
Genesis 9:23 reads, “Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.”
Some translations read “the garment,” indicating that this garment is the one Noah had with him in the tent, suggesting that Ham even further exposed Noah by taking it fully off and out of the tent with him. Almost as if Ham wanted his father’s shame exposed in order to enjoy it. (I wonder if there’s a lesson there for our tabloid culture and the spiritualized schadenfreude evident on Christian social media about those falling away.)
In any event, Shem and Japheth with the utmost care and reverence, go to cover their father. They do not treat his sin casually. But they do treat it with mercy.
It is possible Peter has this image in mind in 1 Peter 4:8 when he writes, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
This is what Christians do when confronted with the sins of others; they do what they would want done for them — not shaming, not ridiculing, not lording over — a demonstration of grace.
This doesn’t mean not mentioning someone’s sin or never confronting or rebuking or preaching against sin — it just means doing so with reverence for God and with grace, not to demean or squash or humiliate, but to provide the shelter of God’s love.