Archive for February, 2012

Stop Sugarcoating the Bible!

February 27, 2012

This essay makes a good point. The Bible isn’t meant to make us feel comfortable, and there are times it might make us squirm. It reminds me of a wonderful quote from Burton Visotsky’s The Genesis of Ethics:

Read simply, in fact, Genesis is an ugly little soap opera about a dysfunctional family. Four generations of that family dynasty are charted, their foibles exposed and all the dirty laundry, as it were, hung out in public for millions to see. It is a story about rape, incest, murder, deception, brute force, sex, and blood lust. The plotlines and characterizations of Genesis are … crude … like soap opera itself, it is the unattractive component of Genesis that causes us to have such a strong identification with it in the first place. When we read of the dysfunctional family with strong lust and murderous intentions, we recognize that it is our family—although we may be reluctant to admit this revelation out loud.

…it’s the gut-wrenching quiddity of the narrative that draws us in year after year. Genesis is all those dirty little secrets that we know about one another strung into a “family” narrative. This family is so “nuclear” it’s fissile. Genesis is R, it’s NC-17. Genesis is what spouses hide from the neighbors, hide from the children, hide from each other. The narratives of Genesis are roiling in repressions we refuse to tell our therapists. It’s not pretty, it’s not nice, it’s not for polite company—and it’s canonical Scripture for hundreds of millions…

Doctrine of Creation

February 27, 2012

Here are some thoughts from Fred Sanders on the doctrine of creation. I think most of them are useful and at least a number reflect things I think most serious theologians think about. But in the interest of furthering the conversation, here’s a few thoughts that crossed my mind as I read a few of them (I’ve given the title from each relevant point to situate my comments; I don’t have anything to add, interesting or otherwise to the other points!):

1. Work backwards. The observation here deals with the theological canon and the need to make sure the entire theological canon is reflected in the doctrine. I think this is true enough. Perhaps another way to make the point is to observe that the traditional theological canon is not the only (or inspired) order of topics. There are some alternatives floating out there (e.g., start with eschatology or christology). To be sure, most of us (myself included) are comfortable enough with the traditional order, but I try to make sure I consider alternatives to make sure I take into account some of these issues. Thus, a good reminder.

2. The purpose of creation. I’m a bit confused by the seeming too quick dismissal of deification. I don’t understand deification to speak of the purpose of creation, but of the means by which we are able to accomplish the communion Sanders describes. Maybe I’m overreading his point, but I’m sensitive to the Western tendency to ignore or downplay deification.

6. Most general revelation isn’t revelation. The discussion about general revelation is interesting. Sanders is trying to distinguish between the word of nature (which speaks about God) and the word of God (where God speaks directly). There are a couple of different issues here. First, it seems to me the distinction between general and special revelation is somewhat fuzzier than we sometimes admit (I think it was Gerald McDermott who first tipped me off to this). And in classic texts like Ps 19, I’m not sure the text entirely bears the distinction Sanders is making (i.e., the heavens are telling, the law is speaking). Second, the word of God is mediated through natural artifacts of some sort (sounds, symbols, codexes, etc.) – so I’m not sure this distinction entirely works. And finally, inasmuch as there is always an interpretive aspect to the reception of revelation of whatever category, a privileging of the word of God (in any of its threefold forms, as per Barth) without a discussion of that element seems to me incomplete – though such a discussion probably goes beyond the point and space available in his post. I doubt I have all this sorted out perfectly, but I’d enjoy a discussion on this.

10. The created world is a means of grace. Admitting this basic point, Sanders objects to the use of the word sacramental to describe this as confusing. In a sense this is part of the larger discussion of how we talk about grace and sacraments. Being from a more free church tradition, perhaps I’m less troubled by the semantics of this. I use sacrament a bit more loosely (or am willing to use it for things I don’t technically regard as sacramental in the same way other traditions do), so perhaps this is a semantic thing. But there certainly is something distinctive about ecclesial practices (e.g., baptism and the Lord’s Supper), which is perhaps the point he is trying to make – and with which I concur. I’m not quite sure how to square this one out.

An overly long post, but it’s helpful for me to think through some of these things. I’d recommend the overall post. Helpful to me, anyway.

The Renewed Psalter

February 27, 2012

A post about some new initiatives relating to the Psalter (new translations and setting for the modern age) from Ben Witherington. A positive development. Take a peek!

Personal Pronouns and Discipleship

February 27, 2012

What do pronouns say about us? The Secret Life of Pronouns by James Pennebaker raises some of those questions. Do they say something about discipleship as well? Perhaps. Here’s one suggestion:

Scholars say the first-person pronoun in the Psalms may have reflected a collective sense of self or a way to connect private emotion to public worship. Maybe now there’s one more answer, not from a Biblical scholar but a psychologist: all those “I” words in the Psalms reflect honesty and vulnerability, voiced by a poet and a people learning to shrink their own importance and open themselves to God and to the world.

Reading Mark

February 27, 2012

A quick introduction to the Gospel of Mark from N. T. Wright, with a Lenten twist.

10 Commandments for Technology

February 27, 2012

Some good things to think about in how to live with technology.

Cessationism Debate

February 25, 2012

For those interested in thinking about those issues (and especially Wayne Grudem’s somewhat idiosyncratic view [my judgment] which has influence in some circles), here is a useful opportunity to hear some of the debate. I’m more on the cessationist side of the debate, but there are a few things further I would say:

1) The categories are problematic in this debate. I’ve come to describe my view as gift cessationism but not supernatural cessationism. In part, I’m trying to point out the lack of normativity for all the spiritual gifts in the life of the church (that’s what we see for most of church history and in a large percentage of the church today). A full continuationist view cannot help but view cessationism as a defective and incomplete Christianity (the same with most historical Christianity); which I find difficult to accept.*

2) At the same time, I am trying to affirm most of what Grudem introduces at the beginning. We do believe that we have fellowship with God, we sense God’s leading, etc. It’s hard not to describe some of that as God speaking to believers today; and theologically the category for that is special revelation. The problem of course is in interpreting, applying and deciding the authority of such impressions. It is interesting that the the practical differences between the two debaters seem relatively minor in this area at least at times (except for the struggle over what to call it). In the pastoral implications, I would find church life might frequently be similar to what Grudem is describing – but with perhaps, at least in my opinion, better categories.

3) Which gets me to the core issue – I think in one respect Grudem is making a valid point (and I’ve experienced fairly dramatic and problematic cessationism in my life – so I appreciate what he is reacting against), but I think he leads us astray by calling what he describes prophecy. My judgment is that this confuses more than sheds light (and I’m sure Grudem thinks otherwise). The way God speaks and guides personally is perhaps better called something else.

4) I wonder if Grudem misses something in his explanation of 1 Cor 12:30 (“But earnestly desire the higher gifts”). There are a couple of observations I would make: a) the context is not the individual pursuit of gifts, but the corporate life of the church, b) Paul has just noted that the gifts are given sovereignly by the Spirit (12:11), so prayer to receive a specific gift [or a different one] just seems odd in this context, and c) the plural form of the verb in 12:30 makes more sense in being directed at the corporate desire of the church (i.e., instead of praying that I might speak prophecy, we as a church should value the more valuable gifts (e.g., prophecy) rather than the flashy, superficial [non-edifying] gifts that were captivating the Corinthian church.

5) I currently attend a church which agrees more with Grudem than do I, and they have prophecy in his sense. For the most part, I find the prophecy provided in our services tends to be very similar to testimonies we had in my home, cessationist church. I’m not sure calling it prophecy is helpful (and I do fear the potential for abuse – though I’ve not experienced or seen any personally). I should note as well that in my limited experience in a church that follows more of Grudem’s approach, prophecy seems not to be as universal as Grudem hints it might be (universal priesthood parallels universal prophethood). If it is near universal, it doesn’t seem to function that way in many cases; if a gift (distributed variously and sovereignly), then our more universal experience of God’s leading must be something else.

These are complex and difficult issues, of course. And people of good will, and people I deeply respect, reach different conclusions here. The kind of forum available here is a helpful tool in enabling us to further think through these issues. Glad it’s available.

*To be fair, cessationists probably generally feel that full continuationists are off base in some respects, too. There are ways, I think to lessen those concerns from my perspective, so I hope I have avoided that error, at least substantially.

Further Note: Here’s another critique, and while I find myself agreeing with much of it, it lacks a positive explanation of things like divine guidance and God’s leading [note especially his concern #2] – that I think is something cessationists need to be more explicit about. To say prophecy is the wrong term is fine, but there seems to be another category out there that is often ignored.

On Theological Interpretation

February 25, 2012

Here’s Don Carson’s take on the movement. A critical introduction to the approach. I do appreciate having access to this type of material online, even when being published elsewhere.

The Cult of Amazon Prime

February 25, 2012

Having been enrolled in this cult for a while, I found this an interesting analysis.

A Contrary Take on Lent

February 25, 2012

I grew up in an extremely anti-liturgical tradition (I use liturgy in the more ordinary sense, here). I have found lessons to learn in other traditions, and have thought that perhaps some practices (like Lent) might have merit. In fact, I am sure they can. But I did run into this somewhat contrary take, so I found myself provoked a bit.