October 26, 2010

Killing the Postmodernism Boogeyman

John Armstrong has an excellent trio of posts [here and here and here] on the postmodernism issue and the inappropriate reaction from Christians that the word "postmodern" often triggers. He begins by responding to the common misconception that a postmodern Christian must be apostate or deluded, discarding the premise that such a Christian must "reject truth claims and moral absolutes and embrace relativism." The real misunderstanding, he continues, is that much of the American church has been co-opted by the modernist methodology for discovering and knowing truth:
Conservative Christians . . . reasoned that if you used the Bible correctly, studying the text of Holy Writ with a proper (scientific) method, then you would get the very mind of God about every thing that you could discover in this treasure house of divine (inerrant) revelation.
The problem with this approach to knowing the real truth that Christianity indeed does profess and testify to is that,
a Christian knowledge of God rests not on precise understanding or biblical equations but on personal knowing. We come to God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, based upon a personal relationship with the risen and reigning Christ. . . .
Modernity gave us confidence in our method. It told us that we could have precise understanding about every mystery that we encountered in the revelation of God. But the gospel calls us to place our total confidence in Christ, not in a system. . . . In modernity we figure something out and get hold of it. In the gospel someone gets hold of us and reveals himself to us.
Wrapping up the second post, Armstrong acknowledges the benefit that a postmodern stance can yield, and reiterates the key difference between the relationships with absolute truth that secular and Christian postmodernists can have:
The developing postmodern critique has helped more and more Christians become aware of a simple fact: God knows the truth in a way that we humans do not. The right use of postmodern suspicion is to employ it to combat the notion that we have easy access to the truth. When conservative pastors tell their people that solid exposition and Bible study will make them into mature disciples then they get very close to this danger! (This is not an attack on study and Bible exposition so read the statement carefully.)
A secular postmodernist deduces that there is no absolute truth. The reason for this is that the person has not yet met the one who is the truth in Jesus Christ. But no postmodern Christian, who knows the one who is the truth, will ever claim that there is no absolute truth since they have a personal relationship with the one who incarnates the absolute truth.
This difference is crucial. Knowing God is not the same thing as knowing about God. Our knowledge about an eternal, transcendent, and spiritual being is necessarily incomplete and likely flawed, particularly when much of it is obtained and limited by our human ability to read and interpret written text; but if this God adopts us into his family, we have access to an entirely different way of knowing him: relationship!

September 17, 2010

Cutting and Pasting the Gospel

I was at a wake recently and read through a plan of salvation tract that I found there. I was amazednot by the standard sin/hell/Jesus presentationbut by
  1. how broadly this tract's author had to reach within the scriptures to patch together this supposedly simple gospel, and 
  2. how little each passage contributed to the final product, sometimes as few as two words from a particular verse.  
Something like fifteen different books of the Bible were needed to craft this little 500-word tract, and the reader has to flip back and forth between the Old Testament and New Testament to follow it. Now, I guess that I could have felt reassured that the whole Bible points to the gospel message, or something like that, but what I found myself thinking was more troubling: If my students turned in a research paper that used source material the way this tract did, I would seriously doubt that they had gotten the correct sense or the intended context of the many, many quotation fragments they had stitched together.

Can we really not find the gospel presented succinctly in a single passage, by a single author? Isn't it odd that we can't find the typical salvation plan in the Bible without having to cut and paste it together ourselves? Peter's speech in Acts 2 is the closest thing I can think of, but I have never seen that used in salvation tracts, perhaps because it doesn't warn of hell. I'm not suggesting that Twitter and the gospel must go hand in hand. However, I would be more confident about my definition of gospel, my summary of the gospel, my interpretation of what the gospel really is if I could read it in a single passage, written by one author, and clearly in a context of summarizing the gospel. As opposed to the "I am the way" summary, which is Jesus's answer to a question NOT about what the gospel is or how the masses can be saved.

What do we imply about the scriptures and ourselves when we have to do so much cutting and pasting to create the gospel we want to share? That the gospels themselves aren't clear enough? That God needs our help with packaging his good news effectively? That we really don't think most people can "handle" the Bible itself? That we don't want to take the time to develop relationships with people and present the gospel in its full context? I know I'm generally prejudiced against a lot of the tracts I've encountered over the years, but would it really be so bad if, instead of a tract, we just handed someone the whole gospel of John. "Here. Read this and then let's discuss it together. I don't want to do the gospel a disservice by oversimplifying it," we might say. I suspect such caution might be warranted, and maybe even welcomed.

July 13, 2010

Joining the Perfect Church

This picture at the Jesus Creed blog reminded me of a joke I heard from a college roommate:

A man is stranded on a desert island for some time. When he is finally rescued, his rescuers tour the island and discover three small huts.

"This one is where I lived," the man replies when asked about the huts. "And that one is where I went to church."

"What about the third hut?" the rescuers ask.

"Oh," the man replies, shaking his head, "that's where I used to go to church."

April 29, 2010

Moving the Hand of God?

"Prayer moves the hand of God," I have often heard, but I wonder: "Really? Is that really how it works?" Now, maybe it is one thing to make this claim in the excitement of the moment while rejoicing at answered prayer, though I would hope that the tone is not self-congratulatory or even smug. It is quite another thing to seriously contemplate a cause-effect relationship between our prayers and God's actions given a view of God as all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving; and given a view of ourselves as none of the above.

What really happens when we pray? Do we think we can speed up the unfolding of God's will? Do we think we can change the cosmic calendar? If so, is his original will before we pray not quite as loving, or flawed in some other way? Or is his original timetable perfect, as befitting his character, but he lets us sway him from that plan to a less-perfect but more-accommodating oneperhaps because he is bound by the heavenly law about prayer moving his hand? Either way, it is disturbing to imagine that we are able to make God do what he wouldn't otherwise have done, perhaps even by means of prayers that aren't all that fervent, persevering, or even important to us. Really, if it boils down to God's judgment of what is best or my own, I'll vote for God, thank you very much.

What else might we infer about prayer, if it moves God to act? Does God wait to heal a sick child until someone prays for her? Or until a critical mass of prayers is finally reached? God forbid. What happens when equal numbers of people pray opposite prayersfor victory in sports or politics, for example? Do the prayers balance and cancel? Perhaps the prayers of some people carry more weight. Does God have his favorites? Children, maybe, or the clergy? If ten people pray, is an answer twice as likely as when only five people pray? Does God not know our needs, relying on us to fill him in on the situation down here? Does he pretend to wait until we "show him that we mean it" before answering us, like a rock band quickly filing off stage to trigger the big applause before returning immediately for their obligatory "encore."

When we frame the questions in these ways, some answers seem more clear:
  1. God doesn't or shouldn't show favoritism; 
  2. God will or should help people even if nobody, or nobody else, is praying for them; 
  3. God doesn't or shouldn't dole out mercy in proportion to the math; the same prayer prayed repeatedly or by more people shouldn't make God care about it more; 
  4. God already knows or should know what is best before anybody prays.
Despite such beliefs, however, both how we talk about prayer and how we pray are different stories: We ask for prayer. We take comfort in having multiple people praying for us. We thank people for their prayers, even claiming that we could really "feel" them. We make lists of prayer requests so we can pray repeatedly about the same thing, and so we don't lose track of these requests so trivial that they must be written down or else forgotten. We bring desperate prayers to God as though he hadn't been paying attention. We feel guilty if we forget to pray, assuming that our dropping the ball makes an answer nigh unto hopeless. We pray prayers of logical persuasion, as much to convince ourselves that God should want to answer them as to convince God to do so.

All of which suggest a theology of prayer as mechanical device, or magic box, or flowchart of proper if-then conditions. I'm not sure which is worst, but all of them share both an assumption that answered prayer is within our control and a requirement that we have to do the right thing for prayer to work: push the button, say the magic words, or jump through the hoops. If so, God does what we want; if not, it's our fault. Misinterpretation of favorite verses reinforces this error. There's the one about two or three gathering together to loose and bind in heaven and on earth, and the "blank check" classics about asking whatever we wish and  asking anything in his name. No wonder we are confused about how prayer really works and overestimate the extent of our power or influence to make God give us what we want.

In his brilliant essay, The Efficacy of Prayer, C.S. Lewis rejects such a causal relationship between who we are or what we do and God's response to our prayer. Reflecting on Jesus in the garden, where his request to his father was rejected, Lewis writes:
When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle.
 How then might we better understand prayer? Look for Part 2.

April 18, 2010

What Jesus Never Said about Hell

I grew up in the church tradition where "narrow is the way" to heaven and "few there be that find it." To put it more accurately, I grew up in church circles dominated by a view that the vast majority of human beings, perhaps more than 99% of the world, will wind up in hell for not "responding to the gospel." This view is presented as Biblical, seen as a significant part of any sermon about the gospel, and used as a key motivation for missions and evangelism. Though Jesus supposedly said more about hell than about heaven, most references to hell are contained in a rather meager handful of "red letter" verses from the mouth of Jesus himself. And despite what he does say about hell, there are some very interesting statements that he does not make—if hell was as important to Jesus as we make it out to be today.

Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, for example, has lots of useful information about how to pray, give to the needy, and fast, along with admonitions not to worry and not to store up treasure on earth. All of which is fascinating and good, but completely irrelevant if the audience is going to wind up in hell. However, he does not couch these useful tidbits with a preface like, "Most of y'all are going to hell, but until you do, here's some advice about your personal finances for your days here on earth," or, "We both know you're going to hell, but let's talk about something else today." If this passage is one of Jesus' most significant messages, as many people believe, then why does Jesus say nothing about eternal punishment for mostto the multitude sitting right there at his feet? Or was he only addressing the few who would wind up in heaven and ignoring the lost causes?

We have no record of Jesus warning the woman at the well about hell, despite her string of relationship misadventures. We have no record of Jesus souring his friendships with tax collectors and winebibbers at all those dinner parties by insisting on changing the topic to God's dissatisfaction with their sinful lives and their pending damnation. No warnings about hell to the other thief on the cross. No intimate pleading with Mary and Martha, or with his own family members, for that matter, about their need to wait until after his death and resurrection and then to be "washed in the blood," lest they burn in eternal fire. Sinners, friends, strangers, or family members; all appear to be spared hearing from the lips of the savior himself the gospel message of salvation from hell.

Now, arguments from silence are problematic. Perhaps Jesus constantly hammered people about hell but the gospel writers glossed over that fact, choosing instead to share with us Jesus' many parables of the kingdom and assorted comments on other topics. But it is curious that we find no Jesus theme of "Repent, ye sinners, or I'll throw ye into hell for rejecting me!" anywhere in the gospels. Very curious, indeed. In Matthew 4:17, we read that Jesus began preaching "Repent," but nothing about hell. In a few other verses, he does warn about hellor warn about two different words that in some translations of the Bible are sometimes translated "hell" but that maybe don't mean the "hell" that we assume today, to be more technically accurate. But these warnings are sometimes in parables, where literal, factual truth may be neither required nor assumed; mainly concern punishment for sins rather than for not being born again; and are primarily directed at religious leaders and others who thought they were already saved. The fact of the unwashed masses going to hell doesn't seem to matter so much, though God so loved the world.

 If hell is the overriding concern, and the reason he came to die on a cross, then why didn't Jesus say that? Why substitute temporal trivia, really, for crucial warnings about the paramount disaster of eternal damnation for billions of souls? Why so many, very inclusive "your father in heaven" statements to the crowds he addressed, as though the audience was already in the family of God? Was Jesus just sharing facts about a precious few other somebodies with the throngs of hell bound listeners, or did he mean that they were the blessed, and destined for heaven?

Now, maybe hell wasn't the point that the gospel writers wanted to stress in their portrayal of Jesus' message. That is possible. But maybe someone else created the "fear of hell" bandwagon, and Jesus never intended for anyone to ride on it. Maybe he never desired the gospel to be shrouded in "Turn or burn" rhetoric. Maybe, just maybe, he had other, more hopeful plans for the billions of people he came to die for, those who we preach are eternally trapped in the fires of hell.

More on this later.

April 14, 2010

Gracious Disagreement

Here's a lovely little video clip of Dr. Greg Boyd on historic diversity within the church on the "negotiables." This is one of several intriguing video tidbits from the BioLogos Foundation, a site well worth exploring for a scientific Christian perspective on science, the Bible, and Christianity.
"Having to wrestle with diverse opinions and perspectives is hardly a new thing in the church. Unfortunately, we've lost some of that: the ability to be gracious with disagreements, especially among conservative Protestants throughout the twentieth century."
I'm not convinced this is unique to 20th century Protestants, but I like the use of "gracious" in this context and agree that its absence makes us look "ugly." Can we disagree but remain gracious in our disagreements?

March 19, 2010

Loved by God, But No Billy Graham

I have no problem with opinions, as a concept. No surprise, coming from someone with the word "Soapbox" in the title of their blog, eh? I believe that those with a large following, those who influence many, or those whose followers lack, shall we say, sophistication and critical thinking should be particularly careful about what opinions they express publicly, however. If you watch this video, you'll probably agree with me that some of those in the crowd appear to be easily swayed by a fancy blue suit, a little background organ, a little choral repetition, and a little bravado when criticizing their brothers and sisters in Christ. I suspect that these are some of the little sheep, dear to Jesus, whose deception and abuse will lead to some serious judgment on the wolves among us.

Here are a couple quotes from this video that I found interesting and/or especially troubling:

1. Criticizing seeker-sensitive pastors, Hinn declares that, "The seeker-sensitive move in America is destroying America, people. [...] Those seeker-friendly churches are not of God." I wonder: Are these churches worse than, say, the real-and-of-God church in Corinth? The church in Sardis? How sure should one be about making a statement like this? I thought it was the devil's job to accuse the brethren.

2. Continuing with his attack, Hinn adds, "They worry more about crowds than getting souls into heaven." What I find interesting here is Hinn's likely assumption about these human pastors' ability to get souls into heaven. We can get souls into heaven? Really? More interesting, what if we mere mortals don't perform some work of evangelism, of preaching the true gospel? A gospel that Hinn actually articulates fairly well toward the end of this clip, by the way. Are we responsible for people who don't go to heaven? Is it our fault? More on this later.

3. "Any pastor who is ashamed to say 'Jesus' is because [sic] he is demon-possessed, that's why. [...] If you are afraid to say 'Jesus," there's a devil inside of you." Really? Hmmmm. Can anyone say, "filter"?

And is it just me, or does the blue suit remind anyone else of Captain Kangaroo?

Ah, Benny, my opinionated brother.... May you grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May we all.

March 1, 2010

Hearing and Teaching the Real Bible

Here's a great quote by Frederick Buechner, from the opening lines of "The Magnificent Defeat" in Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons:
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—and maybe you have to forget that it is the Bible being read and a minister who is reading it—there is no telling what you might hear.
What do we expect to hear in the Bible? Tales of moral heroes? Seven Keys to a successful spiritual life? Or passages that say only what we already think they say? More than that, I hope.

More troubling is the question of what to do when we can't make sense of the Bible, or when a "plain reading" of the text contradicts what we expected to find. Move on to something else? Ignore the differences? Harmonize everything into a nonsensical porridge? Run to the footnotes, as we would the solution to a crossword puzzle beyond our ability, and rest in the arms of whoever wrote the opinions commentary we find there?

Our experiences with the Bible from earliest childhood shape our response to both these questions. If Bible "training" in Sunday School consists of Quiz Bowl drills and fill-in-the-blank responses, then confusion when we try to read the Bible for ourselves should be a too-familiar occurrence, a sort of purgatory in which we must patiently wait until someone more spiritually gifted delivers the unintuitive-but-correct-somehow explanation; and a view of the Scriptures as an unappealing blend of Dick and Jane stories, fortune cookie wisdom, and esoteric riddles would be the natural result of our experience. And if Bible study for adults resembles the kiddie version.... No wonder we sound like the Israelites when they insisted they would much prefer God speak only to Moses. Why try to read the Bible when the pastor is so much better at it? Why bother raising your hand when you're probably wrong? Spiritual pablum goes down easier when it's all we've ever had.

At what age are children in most churches told that parts of the Bible are actually ambiguous, even to the "initiate," or that it doesn't provide satisfactory answers to some very serious questions, or that equally-saved Christians interpret some of the same passages in very different waysand what those differences are, and how this could happen if we all read the same Bible and have the same Spirit? At what age are they told that the Bible has any purpose beyond "right answers" and that they are allowed to question? I suspect that the age is somewhere between "after finishing Sunday School" and "never." 

But why? What do we gain by creating the illusion of a uniform and perfect interpretation for every verse in the Bible, and suggesting that only our people have it figured out, and ignoring the reality of normal and even healthy diversity within the church, and treating the Bible like a magical dictionary or cookbook to be consulted from time to time? Other than a convenient script and a Quiz Bowl answer key for the harried volunteer in the classroom, that is.

I know what we lose when we engage in this perhaps unintentional mythologizing, when the children figure out that their church is sending them off to college or the workplace "equipped" with a grab bag of Bible trivia, Chick tract theology, straw man scientific arguments, and prejudice against those who don't believe exactly as we do: credibility. We appear gullible and ignorant, if not dishonest and biased. We lose the right to be heard when they have real questions about faith, or when they discover the rest of the Body of Christ. And as a result, and even if we do manage to keep them until they finish high school, the church loses most of its next generation.

We need to do better. We need to be honest about the Bible, the church, and our faith. Messy and complex though they may be, that is what the Lord has given and left for us. Do we doubt that he knew what he was doing? Do we really think he needed us to tidy up his mess and package things better for the little ones? O we of little faith.... Suffer the children. Let them come!

February 17, 2010

Noah Webster & God

[Salvation #6] 
Having established that salvation may be knowable, even when we are unable to clearly define salvation or unable to agree upon such a definition, we turn to the question of why we have been left to write our own definition. If our own definition writing requires that we wade in the oft-murky waters of scripture interpretation, then why has God failed to clearly provide such crucial information? Why didn't God just give us a dictionary if he knew the mess we would make of this? Why did he give us the Bible, filled with poetry, riddles, proverbs, songs, correspondence, code, and lots and lots of stories and parables, instead? Understand that these are types of writing not normally used to dictate precise definitions, or genres from which we expect to extract them. And why use Hebrew of all languages for the majority of this, a language known for its ambiguity?

Maybe neat, theological definitions don't exist. Maybe God isn't at all eager to spoon-feed them to us if they do. Maybe they are as nonsensical as mathematical equations written to explain color. Maybe God is less interested in developing our knowledge than our character, our humility, or our relationship with him. Maybe God knows that definitions create the illusion of mastery, certainty, and control; and maybe he is less interested in being defined or understood than being known, obeyed, and loved. 

What definition of "God" do we find in Scripture, for that matter, and shouldn't that be even more important than understanding salvation? "God is love;" "God is spirit;" "God is a consuming fire;" "God is light." How's that for a single and clear definition of what God is? And what about Jesus? How eager was he to give key definitions? The gospels record his question, "What shall we say the kingdom of God is like?" and multiple different answersyeast, a farmer, a landlord, seeds, etc.but no instances of "What is the exact definition of God's kingdom?" Really, if he wanted to communicate definitions, he picked an odd way to do it.

The obvious answer is that God's purpose, both for his inspiration of the Scriptures and in his glorious performance on the stage of history, was not and has never been to give us definitions, or to satisfy our desire for propositional certainty. Or, as Karl Barth reportedly said, "Jesus does not give recipes that show the way to God. [...] He is Himself the way." His purpose is that we might come to know the guide himself, rather than a map. As a result, much of our theological definition writing distracts us from God's real message and intent. And, perhaps, is as misguided and inappropriate as reading love poems for a technical understanding of how the heart works. To put it another way, the point and priority of neither God nor the Scriptures is to give us a definition of salvation that we can memorize, recite, and stick on our bumpers. 

Noah Webster's contribution to the English-speaking world was a book of words and definitions. What God the Father has given to all of us instead is Jesus, the Word of God. He has spoken to us directly through his Son, that we might know him. And this is eternal life. This is salvation.

February 11, 2010

Ecumenical Catechism: DOA?

John Armstrong's comments on and quotations of conservative Catholic opposition to Cardinal Kasper's call for an ecumenical catechism should come as no surprise to anyone, and suggest a few questions for our exploration. And I had to use the same photo of Cardinal K with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew -- both to show off the patriarch's cool head covering and to work in the phrase, "Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew." Now there's a title worthy of a nameplate on the desk!

In celebration of the time-honored catechism format, then, let's begin with the first question:

Q.1: Why should nobody be surprised by opposition to Christian unity?
A: Because ecumenism is technically defined by many as, "a Satanic compromise with those who lack our spiritual correctness and perfection" or perhaps, "proof that the Antichrist has already begun his diabolical work in the church." And, as Armstrong notes,
Sadly, this spirit is not limited to Protestants or Catholics. Only the grace of God and the fresh breeze of the Holy Spirit will alter people who fear so deeply loving and respecting those who are not in our communion. 
Q.2: Why would it be so difficult to accept an ecumenical catechism? Is there really so little scriptural support for basic doctrines that all of Christiandom could agree on?
A: I believe that there is sufficient support, though the very question reveals my Protestant bias in favor of the written scriptures and ignores the reality of church tradition's role in all our denominations. However, such a project could quickly become a political wrangle in which questions of "What scriptures?" and "What doctrines?" reveal the root issues of "Who has the power to force this decision upon the rest of us?" and "By what authority do you do these things?" Questions of power and authority, while critical to all of us, are threatening to many.

Moreover, changes to or sacrifices from our own self-defining lists of beliefs, necessary for the creation of a shared catechism of essentials, could call into question the validity of our own "second tier" beliefs, and the validity of our self-definition, as a result. Leave out dispensationalism? Baptism by immersion only? Transubstantiation? Without that, there would be no difference between us and ... that church down the road! Better to draw our own lines in the sand and cherish the golden calves that pop out of the fire of our disobedience than do the hard work of love, of keeping the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace -- with our own brothers and sisters for whom Christ died, mind you.

As for me and mine, our local church uses no formal creed or catechism, so we have been working our way though the Westminster Shorter Catechism at home. All of us have gained from discussing the questions, the answers, and our disagreements with some of the answers. Perhaps even more importantly, we have had the opportunity to start the broader conversation with our kids about how we know anything, why we believe what we do, and what to do with the inevitable disagreements we have with those we love.

Q.3: Could an ecumenical catechism include questions about why faithful Christians disagree with each other on matters of doctrine, exactly how disappointed Jesus is with us about that, and whether our diversity heralds the arrival of the beast? And could such a catechism help us learn to live with one another in humility and obedience as the body of Christ?
A: Hmmmm.... Perhaps I'll write that catechism myself.

February 10, 2010

I Wish We'd All Been Ready

For those of you who missed it, the rapture has already taken place, and, according to the Lark News story, "took both people on the planet whose theology was exactly correct."

What I'm looking forward to is the scene at the pearly gates -- the one where, from time to time, we'll see the arrival of those from the one denomination that actually had all their doctrines correct. I can almost hear the hearty congratulations that Jesus will lavish upon them. As for the rest of us ... "saved, but only as one escaping through the flames," at least we'll finally know who gets the prize for being right. So, we'll have that satisfaction to soften the disappointment of our Lord.

How does that saying go, the one about wishing on their deathbed that they'd invested more time in their careers? How many of us will meet Jesus and wish we'd spent more time polishing our doctrinal idols?

February 5, 2010

Nanga Sadhu

I saw this photo today and was inspired to begin a new category of fascinating and thought-provoking content here on the Soapbox: Awesome Facial Hair! Click here for the full-sized image, part of a Big Picture series called Colorful India. Enjoy.

January 30, 2010

Is My Bible Scripture?

Someone dear to me once asked me whether I believe that the Bible I read is scripture. Thinking about this deliciously stimulating question, I realize the wide range of possible meanings these terms have, and the need to clarify and specify what is meant before I can say "Yes" or "No" and hope to be understood properly—and avoid being branded a heretic.  
  1. By "Bible" do we mean English translations of the Bible? We might, but not necessarily. As I have written elsewhere, I would prefer to call them so, rather than lump together all editions of all translations in all languages with the original Scriptures in their original languages, for
  2. Are translations of anything "the same as" the original? No. By definition, they are not. No scholar of French poetry, for example, would be content to study translations, and for good reason: There is no substitute for reading the actual words in the actual language with all of its nuance, connotation, historical context, rhythms, word play, and all else that makes language what it is.
  3. Does "Bible I read" mean "translations other than the one true translation," or "any translation"?
  4. And would I call my Bible(s) "scripture," meaning
    1. "sacred writings"? If I understood exactly what that phrase meant, I might say so.
    2. "the specific sacred writings that the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the Bible to pen"? No, since what is available to me is impressive but translated products of textual criticism, rather than the original thing.
    3. or "equal to those specific sacred writings"? Equal in some ways more than others, but perhaps.
    4. or "an equally inspired translation into a different language"? Definitely not. 
    5. or "written documents that transmit God's intended message to us"? In a sense, yes.
    6. or "written documents through which the Holy Spirit can speak his intended message"? Yes, I do believe this.
  5. And what does the original question presume about how reading works?
  6. And presume about how God can or does speak through text in any language or perhaps in one uniquely special language?
  7. And presume about what God intends the Bible's function to be—now or in various hypothetical dispensations?
  8. And are we presuming that there is a critical mass of "scripture" that we must have among the pages of what we hold for its function to be fulfilled? What would it be?
    1. 100%?
    2. 99%?
    3. 80%?
  9. And, if so, what do we presume about the result of reading less than that percentage of true scripture?
    1. Total error?
    2. Significant, life-changing error?
    3. Sin? 
    4. That we are now reading the words of Satan? 
    5. The failure of God's plans in the world? 
    6. The failure of God's intended purpose for the Bible?  
So, what do I believe about the Bible? 
  1. I believe that the English translations of the Bible that I read are significantly and even divinely different from all other books, even if I am not sure that, as translations, they are fully and equally "scripture" in the way that the original Bible is. 
  2. I believe that, at this point in history, I am blessed to have the luxury of comparing several good translations that merit not only my confidence in the text but also my awe at God's provision. 
  3. I believe that, like copies of any original document, there are some real differences among them, and also differences between them and "the original Bible" written down in days of yore. 
  4. I believe, however, that the differences, or any outright errors in the human words I read, are not sufficiently powerful to keep me from hearing the "'Yes!' of God in Christ" through these translations as the Holy Spirit aids my reading of them. 
  5. I believe that God is greater, and is able to overcome whatever I may lack.
I believe many other things about the Bible, too, but you can read my other posts to discover more of those.

January 29, 2010

New Improved "God Said It" T-Shirt

As well-meaning as people may be when they boldly proclaim it on their bumpers, the "God said it / I believe it / That settles it" triptych leaves much to be desired as far as guidance for actual Christian life. For a more honest and humble T-shirt slogan, look no farther!

I won't spoil the punchline here, but the middle section begins with "I interpreted it."
Buy yours today!