Thinking Out Loud

February 21, 2019

Peter Enns: A Fresh Lens for Approaching the Bible

Filed under: bible, Christianity, doctrine, reviews, theology — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:42 am

For most of us, hearing about a book which purports to teach us “How to” read the Bible usually presents two possibilities:

  • a basic introduction to the organization of the Christian scriptures, such as a Bible handbook; the type of thing we might give to a new believer; or
  • an introduction to the idea of Biblical interpretation, or what is called hermeneutics.

In How the Bible Actually Works: In Which I Explain How an Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom, Rather than Answers—and Why that’s Great News Peter Enns takes a rather different approach; showing us how the scriptures themselves have developed — a word preferred over evolved — different ideas which are commonplace in Christian thought, including the idea of an enemy (satan) or the idea of the resurrection of the physical body.

Or here’s another way of looking at the book: Many of you were aware of a controversy a few months ago when Andy Stanley said that the Church needs to jettison itself from the Old Testament. (It was that j-word that got him hot water.) I would suggest it’s not a stretch that Peter Enns would say that successive Old Testament writers were themselves trying to jettison themselves from earlier Old Testament writers; that this is a process which has been ongoing. (See Chapter 10, the section headed “Exhibit A.”) Follow this line of thinking, and you might find yourself believing that the Bible is a living book.

Or similarly, it’s as though one Gospel writer might bristle at the the way another writer has framed a particular episode in the life of Jesus. But of course, each is writing for a different audience. Peter Enns captures these anomalies, but sees them as part of his delight in reading scripture, not as a problem to be solved.

While his scholarship is evident, his approach in this book has a remarkably common touch. In one section makes it clear that “open theology” is above his pay grade. Furthermore, one can only take on so much in a more general treatment of Bible interpretation. The book doesn’t try to be all things for all people.

Some readers may be disturbed at Enns’ gratuitous use of writings from the Apocrypha to substantiate certain arguments. As an Evangelical, I accept the historical value of those books, but am often unaccustomed to seeing them quoted in the books I review. (Keep in mind however that this books is published by HarperOne, not the Zondervan or Nelson divisions of HarperCollins.)

Still others may have a knee-jerk reaction to the books subtitle, especially “…an Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book…” Ambiguous? Yes. For Enns, that’s part of the Bible’s basic equation; and that’s exactly where the “wisdom” in the other half of the extra-long subtitle comes into play.

Reading this following Stanley’s Irresistible made for an interesting pairing. In terms of our understanding of the book of books, something is clearly afoot, and Peter Enns doesn’t want you to miss it!

Thanks to Dave Knox at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for the opportunity to read How the Bible Actually Works. It went on sale on Tuesday in hardcover wherever you buy fine books.

Previously at Thinking Out Loud: A November, 2016 review of Peter Enns’ The Sin of Certainty, in which, coincidentally, Andy Stanley’s name also was mentioned!

Postscript: Books like this one, and Andy Stanley’s (mentioned above) and Rob Bell’s What is the Bible? are part of a fresh genre of books which, while not Bible handbooks in the traditional sense, serve much the same purpose. For a more conservative approach books like Gordon Fee’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth continues to fill the void between handbook and general guide to hermeneutics.

Advertisements

January 1, 2019

The Bible Verse of the Year for 2018

Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor, friend, and — compared with everyone else I interact with online — we’re practically next door neighbors. His writings appear every Thursday at our sister blog, Christianity 201, but this seemed like a great choice to start the new year. I figured he gave us permission for one part of our blogging network, so that included Thinking Out Loud as well, right? His writing appears at clarkedixon.wordpress.com or if you prefer, you can read his writing at C201.

by Clarke Dixon

What was the most popular Bible verse of 2018? According to the popular Bible app YouVersion, the verse of the year was not John 3:16 or Romans 8:28 as you might expect. It was Isaiah 41:10.

Unfortunately, this verse is an indicator of what was on the hearts and minds of people around the world in 2018; fear and discouragement. We had many reasons for fear in 2018, such as changes in society and changes in our world with movements toward nationalism and various kinds of fundamentalism. We saw changes in relationships between nations, thinking especially of renewed trade wars. Most of us saw changes in ourselves. I am one year closer to the big five-O. Perhaps you are one year further away from it. Aging can be a great cause for fear. Then there are the things that stay the same; wars and rumours of wars, continuing oppression, natural disasters. There were reasons for fear in Isaiah’s day as well. Israel was a small nation surround by strong nations. That can be cause for fear in any age, but certainly back in the days when empires were eaten up by bigger empires.

What do we humans do when we are afraid? Isaiah tells us:

The lands beyond the sea watch in fear.
Remote lands tremble and mobilize for war.
The idol makers encourage one another,
saying to each other, “Be strong!”
The carver encourages the goldsmith,
and the molder helps at the anvil.
“Good,” they say. “It’s coming along fine.”
Carefully they join the parts together,
then fasten the thing in place so it won’t fall over. – Isaiah 41:5-7

The New Living Translation makes clear what most other translations don’t. The artisans and goldsmiths are making idols. We have a tendency of turning to idolatry in the midst of fear. In Isaiah’s time people thought idols could control the future. Are we any different today? What do we think controls the future in our day? In answering this we tend to either run toward superstition, or away from it so far that we run from the supernatural altogether.

It amazes me when I check the news headlines using the Internet on my tablet as to how often the daily horoscope shows up among the headline news. Here we are as very sophisticated people with great technology in our hands, and yet people are still looking to the stars for their future.

Superstition can sneak into Christianity very easily. I have often used an app on my phone called IFTTT which means “if this, then that.” I program this app so that when I do the right “trigger,” it will automatically do the right action. So, for example, I can say “time to eat,” and text messages are sent to our boys that dinner is ready. People often treat God that way. If I do this, then God must do that. I can control the future by doing a certain “trigger” which will force God to do the right action. Problem is, God is not an app or a phone that he must operate according to our scripts. God is sovereign. I am reminded of a prominent Christian couple who walked away from Christianity in 2018. God had not responded to them as they thought He should have. People do not tend to walk away from Jesus. They do, however, walk away from superstitious expressions of Christianity. Unfortunately, people tend to walk towards superstitious expressions of Christianity in times of fear.

While some, in thinking of the future, rush headlong into superstition, others will go the opposite extreme and become anti-supernatural. Nothing controls the future, it just all unfolds according to mechanistic processes. Even the process of thinking is said to be just a matter of one thing causing another, like a line of dominoes falling. Anti-supernaturalism can be found in certain expression of Christianity where people appreciate the benefits of religion such as structure, morality, and community. However, they don’t really believe in a transcendent and immanent sovereign God. The world is what it is and the future will be what it will be.

According to Isaiah, neither superstition, nor anti-supernaturalism speaks to our future. Who really holds the future? We find out in Isaiah 41:8-10

“But as for you, Israel my servant,
Jacob my chosen one,
descended from Abraham my friend,
I have called you back from the ends of the earth,
saying, ‘You are my servant.’
For I have chosen you
and will not throw you away.
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. – Isaiah 41:8-10

God holds the future. Notice how Isaiah points to the past, present, and future. God’s people could look back and see a long standing relationship with God, “I have chosen you.” They have been his people for a long time. They can look to the present “I am with you, don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.” They can look to the future, “I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Nothing could provide hope and help in times of fear like God Himself. In thinking of the future we do well to leave behind our superstitions and our anti-supernaturalism and turn to God. He holds the future as surely as He has held the past and now holds the present.

The theme of “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you” will sound familiar to the Christian. We can think of the angels announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds:

They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  – Luke 2:9-11

That God had become present through Jesus was good news, and so “do not be afraid”! We are also reminded of the last words of Jesus to the disciples in the Gospel of Matthew:

And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:20

Like the people of Isaiah’s day, we can look to the past to see the relationship God has been pursuing with us. We can look to Christmas, we can look to Easter and the reconciliation that He has offered at the cross. We can also look to God’s presence in our lives now. We can look forward to God keeping His promises in the future.

2018 may have been a year marked by fear and discouragement for you. Perhaps Isaiah 41:10 is a verse you want to memorize for 2019.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. – Isaiah 41:10

May your New Year be blessed and happy!


Scripture references are taken from the NLT

December 17, 2018

Choosing a Bible for a Child

Filed under: bible, Christianity, parenting — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:08 am

With Christmas Eve a week away, I thought I’d look at this topic again; however, this is an new article written last week which was published elsewhere.

This hurriedly produced image shows the most popular Kids’ Bible in its two most popular translations, and a graphic Bible which we’ll discuss at the end of the article.

Unless you’re buying it as a family keepsake, very young children will be given a Bible storybook, which gives you three reading options, “Read to;” “Read with;” or “I Can Read.”

However, with an actual full Bible (New Testaments by themselves are hard to find) you’re assuming the child is going to be reading it on their own, if not now, in the very near future.

For the youngest kids, Simplified text versions like the NIrV (notice the little ‘r‘ slipped in there; it stands for New International Readers Version) offer a Grade 3.5 reading level with shorter sentences. (Can’t help you with place names or people names, though!) The International Children’s Bible or ICB is at a Grade 3.9 level. (It’s a cousin to the NCV, New Century Version.)

For kids who are now in Grade 3 or higher (or read well in Grade 2) they can handle a regular NIV, NLT; but with children I would avoid the ESV or NKJV unless there is a strong family/church preference

As the kids get older, there are specialty Bibles for girls and boys; and also the same options as we have for adults: Text-only, Study Bibles, or Devotional Bibles.

There are some great editions for teens, but for tweens, make sure any topical issues introduced in the supplementary readings aren’t too mature.

I’ve also pictured a comic book Bible in the picture above. The Action Bible (product line shown below) and The Picture Bible are better for kids aged 10 and higher. These, and graphic-novel styled Bibles are preferred by boys over girls; and should never be a substitute for a regular Bible.

If the child is going to be taking the Bible back and forth from church, you can also buy a Bible case.

The Action Bible product line will help kids engage with the text as never before, however, that being said, it’s never a substitute for a real, text Bible.

October 25, 2018

The Message Bible: Paraphrase or Translation?

The Message.Romans.12.1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

With the passing of Eugene Peterson this week, Michael Frost has written what I feel to be the best overall summary of The Message Bible. He quickly shows us both why it is needed, and what may have given Peterson the idea to creat it. A few short excerpts follow, but first some background personal background from me.

I’ve always resisted people who are dismissive of The Message because “it’s a paraphrase.” I usually point out that first of all, Peterson was a brilliant scholar who worked from original languages. He didn’t just pick up a previous English translation and restate it, as did Ken Taylor with The Living Bible (not to be confused with the NLT, which was the translation-status upgrade of Taylor’s work.)

Second, I will often point out that some linguists have told me they don’t really have the term paraphrase. Anytime you are taking something written for audience “A” and then re-presenting it for audience “B” you are, in fact, translating.

The problem is that for everyone, including me, it was an either/or proposition.

But Frost introduces a new phrase, “rendering the text” which I think really says it best.

…There are many criticisms of The Message, some of them justified. It’s not a reliable translation if that’s what you need. It’s a rendering of the text, an attempt to make the Bible accessible in the common vernacular. But as a doorway into serious Bible reading, it has been a gift to the church. At least that’s how my friend has found it.

In his book on Bible reading, Eat This Book, Eugene Peterson writes about his motivations in writing The Message. He goes so far as to say it’s a form of sacrilege to speak of God in language that is “inflated into balloons of abstraction or diffused into the insubstantiality of lacey gossamer.” …

…Knowing this helps me appreciate The Message for what it is. It’s a protest against arcane and impenetrable religious language. It’s an invitation for ordinary people to enter the Scriptures once again.

…In his 1997 book on spirituality, Leap Over a Wall, he opens by telling us how his mother used to recount Bible stories to him when he was a child. In quite a moving passage, he writes:

My mother was good with words; she was also good with tones. In her storytelling I not only saw whole worlds come into being, I felt them within me through the timbre of her voice.”

Sure, he admits, she took some liberties with the stories, adding extracanonical detail, but “she never violated or distorted the story itself.” …

Here we have our primary clue to reading The Message: it’s like sitting on Uncle Eugene Peterson’s knee and listening to him tell the Bible story…

A rendering of the text.

I need to remember that phrase. 

Again, click here to read Michael Frost’s article; and click here to listen to Skye Jethani interview Michael about his new book Keep Christianity Weird on Phil Vischer’s podcast. (Skip to the start of the interview at 30:39.)

…Here’s another phrase to keep in mind if you know someone who is a sharp critic of Peterson’s work: “It wasn’t written for us.” If they persist, just smile and say, “It wasn’t written for you.”


Image: Bible Gateway blog

October 4, 2018

A New Old Edition of Psalm 23

Filed under: bible, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:32 am

We had this article linked yesterday, but I wanted more of you to see it.

Alliterative 23rd Psalm

by Aaron Wilkinson

We tend to think narrowly about poetry. Open most anthologies of English poetry and you’ll find a ubiquitous feature – it rhymes. Specifically, it rhymes at the end of each line and in consecutive or alternating patterns (ie. AABB or ABAB.) You could also rhyme within the line, or rhyme the end of the line with the beginning of the next line, both of which I’ve seen done. But those don’t make it into the anthologies.

That is far from the only way to do poetry. You may have heard the simplified accounts of far-Eastern poetry being about syllable counts (eg. Haikus) and Hebrew poetry being about “rhyming ideas/images.” And you can do even more. Classical Greek and Latin poets seem to love their meter.

And, long ago, poets of old Germanic tongues mastered alliteration! I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with alliterative poetry, reading the Alliterative Morte Arthure and some of Tolkien’s modernizations of Middle English poetry. I’ve been trying to teach myself to write in this ancient English form and I figured I’d share one of my earliest attempts (I hope one of the first of many).

I’ll add a couple comments at the end, but first just one quick note. When reading conventional rhyming poetry, you anticipate the rhyme at the end of the line. So how does alliterative poetry work? What do we expect? What gives it its form? It’s quite simple.

You got two half-lines we call hemistichs (like Hemisphere and Stick). The first hemistich has two alliterating stressed syllables. They can be at the beginning, middle, or end of a word but they gotta be stressed. The second hemistich (separated by a little space called a caesura) gives you one more alliterating syllable to round it off. Once you know what to look for, it gives each line a nice sense of resolution. Like with rhyming poetry, the poet can then subvert those expectations for varying effects. So here’s what that looks like in action.

The Wool-Ward – by Aaron Wilkinson

He who all holds   in His hand is my herdsman.
I grasp not for gold,   my gullet to bloat with,
My needs are nothing,   I am never without.
I’ll want for no wealth,   never wish for more.

By freely flowing   waters refreshing,
And bath-worthy brooks,   bending rivers,
Clear courses bright,   falling through fields,
There I am found,   reclined by the banks.

I graze on green grasses,   enough on the ground,
In the Wool-Ward’s shade   through warmth of noon.
When my throat hisses   for thirst and hunger,
He finds where to feed   refreshing me fully.

When days grow dark   as though dawn was never
And hot sun is hid   by high mount peaks,
Down in the dark dale,   death’s dismal den,
I follow and fare well   knowing no fright.

My courage’s cause   is only your closeness.
I am rallied and righted   by your crook and rood.
In faces of foes   you fill up my table.
The froth of the mead   falls from my mug.

Fate has me followed   by favour and faith
All this loaned life   in the length of days.
The hall of the Holy   I will call home
And sit with the saints   in the seats of that hall.

A few end notes. Many will recognize this as the 23rd Psalm. Most of my experiments in alliterative poetry have been with biblical poems so far. It presents a series of interesting challenges and opportunities. What I’m trying to do is take a Hebrew text replete with Hebrew images and ideas and then describe it with language and images from the medieval English tradition. I’m not yet sure if the result is a funky fusion or a disharmonious mess.

In either case, what I think a new (or rather ‘forgotten’) genre of poetry allows us to do is innovate. Some of those innovations will be victories, others disasters.

A major occasion for such innovations is within the restrictions of the genre. You can’t just state something directly if the words don’t alliterate. I can’t use words like “Shepherd” or “Lord” if it doesn’t fit the context. So I have to invent new ways of describing things, sometimes speaking around or circumlocuting the subject of the line. This can give us all sorts of fun results like “Wool-Ward,” which is my favourite part of this little experiment.

And as a side note for those already in love with medieval English poetry, I do want to admit that I directly imported some language just for fun. Rood (a word related to “rod”) recalls The Dream of the Rood, the mead hall is a common setting especially in Beowulf, etc.

Okay, now go write your own. If you want a better feel for this love-lorn genre, read Tolkien’s modernization of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

September 27, 2018

A Worship Liturgy on Sin and Forgiveness

For the past few months, Ruth has increased her role as a contributor to Christianity 201. For last Sunday, she provided not only text, but two images and two song suggestions. After taking the time to format everything, I decided to share it here as well.

by Ruth Wilkinson

Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said,
“Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins…”
Matthew 26:27‭-‬28 HCSB

There are a number of words in the Bible that are translated to our English word “sin.”

Different words that paint different pictures of different behaviours, but that all have one thing in common — they describe things in our lives that come between us and the God who loves us.

Things like:

  • Missing the target (hamartano) – because sometimes we really do try our best, and still fail;
  • Wandering, going off the path (planay) – because sometimes we stop paying attention, and suddenly realize we’ve gone off course;
  • Defiance, Rebellion (parabaino) – because sometimes we just choose say no to God. Or to say yes to something that is not for our best.

As we take some time to pray through this prayer for forgiveness either out loud or silently,
listen for His still, small voice and what He might want you to see in yourself.

Then take a moment of silence and talk to Him about it.

Lord, forgive me.
For the things I’ve done impulsively, without thinking.
For the things I’ve done gradually, over time.
For the places I’ve gone that I had no business going.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the things I’ve held tightly that I should have dropped or given away,
For the things I’ve given away that I should have held sacred.
For the things I’ve let go that I should have fought to keep.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the things I’ve said or typed, the links I shouldn’t have clicked.
For the times I’ve kept silent or stood off to the side when I should have spoken up.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the ways I’ve used or put down other people, or held myself more highly than I ought.
For the things I’ve taken that were not mine to take.
Forgive me.
Forgive me.
Forgive me, Lord.

This leads to our second word…

There are a number of words in the Bible that are translated to our English word “forgive.”

Different words that paint different word pictures of how God responds when we ask what we have just asked.

Pictures like:

  • Drop, send away (aphiemi) – because He promises to send our sin to the bottom of the ocean, to the depths of the wilderness, never to be even remembered;
  • Cover, make peace (kaphar) – because He reaches his hand to shelter us from the justice we’ve earned and to reconcile us to himself;
  • Pick up and carry (nasa) – because he takes our burden, pays our debt and sets us free.

And says… “You are forgiven. Let’s start fresh.”

August 16, 2018

Differentiating The NIV Zondervan Study Bible from the other NIV Study Bible

I wouldn’t normally expect to repeat a book review, but this is an important product, and one having a name which, three years later, leaves people very confused. I was sent a beautiful bonded leather edition, but it was regular size print and with all the helpful notes and other materials it had to offer, I really wanted the larger print, so I traded it for the Large Print in hardcover. You can decided if that was wise, given that the first one was leather.

NIV Zondervan Study Bible open

Opening the pages of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, it occurred to me that in another era, this was the type of product that a family would order by mail, wait weeks for, and upon its arrival the family would gather around the dining room table to check out the different features. It deserves a party!

This is very much an encyclopedic Bible taking the existing NIV Study Bible — which will continue to remain in print — and combining it with ideas such as the supplementary articles seen in the ESV Study Bible and the use of charts seen in the Life Application Study Bible, and the use of full color, in-text pictures first used in the NIV Archaeological Study Bible (the latter being now officially out of print.)

As you would expect, there are detailed introductions for each book, but also to each section of Biblical literature. However, the bulk of the supplementary articles are placed at the back, and these are topical but also tied to elements of systematic theology, though I’ve noticed the publisher prefers the term Biblical theology. There are many maps at the back; I also noted a full-page map embedded in the middle as well. A variety of scholars contributed to the project which was headed by D. A. Carson. The print version also includes a free digital download.

At 2880 pages this is a Bible packed with features. As such, I wish the font chosen for the notes was a little clearer, but I might upgrade to the large print edition. This may not be your take-to-church Bible edition, but it offers some great helps for both the new Christian who wants background information, and the veteran Christ follower.

Below is the original article posted here in anticipation of this significant Bible release…


NIV Zondervan Study Bible

Opinions here are those of the author; this is not a sponsored post.

While the title may confuse some, you have to assume the publishers already sorted out that potential confusion and went ahead with the name anyway. The NIV Zondervan Study Bible is certain to get mixed up with the classic NIV Study Bible which has been with us for several decades. The latter isn’t going anywhere.

At a major online Christian retail site, we read:

The NIV Study Bible will remain in print. With over 10 million copies sold over 30 years, this bestselling study Bible will continue to help readers come to a deeper understanding of God’s Word.

And then it offers this chart which outlines the differences:

NIV Study Bibles compared

Looking closely at the author list above, methinks that that Zondervan is going after the same market as purchased the popular ESV Study Bible. Clearly, to some extent, the Reformed community is in view. However, by virtue of its weight, the ESV product attracted a broader audience containing features which had not heretofore seen in study Bibles. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but the ESV Study did contain elements worth emulating.

Zondervan is quick to point out that this new project was not adapted from the present study edition, but was “built from the ground up.”

Bonus: For those of you who’ve read this far, here’s a look at some of the extras in this Bible below which is a clue to where the advance peek treasure is buried:

NIV Zondervan Study Bible ArticlesClick the image above, and then click the “preview” tab to see the full table of contents and many of the introductory articles.

June 26, 2018

Who Says a Parable Can’t Contain a Commandment?

Filed under: bible, Christianity, Jesus — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:34 am

While most of the articles here are original, the ones at Christianity 201 come from “beg, borrow or steal” sources. I do however try to write one myself at least once a week. That was the case yesterday, prompted by a comment on a forum. (Apologies to those of you who subscribe to both blogs.)

Compelling People to Become Christians: Can a Parable Contain a Commandment?

NIV Luke 14:12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses…

…21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

In a very, very short comment on a Religion Forum, a writer opened not one, but two different cans of worms. First let’s read what they wrote:

Luke 14:23 reads: The master said: “go out to the highways and country lanes and force people to come in, to make sure my house is full”. This verse is not a command of Jesus, but, rather is at the end of the parable

“A man once gave a feast”. In the parable a man gave a feast and invited many guests. At the time for the feast he sent the servants out to tell those he had invited to come because everything was ready. None of those people came, they all had other things to do. The man sent the servants to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. Then the servants came to him and said there is still some room left in the banquet room. The man said go out and find people and force them to come so my house will be full.

This verse was used centuries ago by Catholics and Protestants in Europe to support forcing people to go to the one officially approved church in a nation. Today Christians generally don’t favor forcing people to go to church, so what do Christians do with this verse now? I can’t think of any way to get around it except to ignore it. How do Christians soft pedal this verse today?

Parables exist to either compare or contrast. When “foolish virgins” run out of oil for their midnight lamps, the message is a warning to be prepared. In other words, don’t do what you see happening in the story.

In this story, there’s room at the table. There are still empty seats. The host of the party desires a full house. In other words, you’re supposed to do what you see playing out in the story.

We’re expected to go out

  • i.e. “Go into all the world”
  • i.e. “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria;” etc.
  • i.e. Search for the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son; etc.

and invite people to the great banquet God is preparing.

In a devotional we posted in March 2017, we noted:

C. S. Lewis wrote, “The symbols under which heaven is presented to us are (a) a dinner party, (b) a wedding, (c) a city, and (d) a concert.”

The banquet in Luke 23 could be either the dinner party or the wedding reception. It’s pointing us to something for which God is preparing us.

But the writer of our opening comment correctly notes that this verse has been used to create forced conversions. Even J. B. Phillips, in his translation, says, “make them come.” The Message says, “drag them in.” “Compel” and “Constrain” are frequently used.

Other translations however offer, “Urge them,” “Persuade them,” etc. (This is considered more consistent with the original Greek, as a later response in the same article points out.) A respondent to the comment says, “This in Luke is, to me, the same as the wedding story in Matthew 22. There it states to “bid” them to come which is no more than to ask or invite them.”

So: Which is it?

The comment writer is correct in noting that this is a parable, and some aspects of the story may be very similar while the story is slightly different. Not everything in a parable has a perfect 1:1 mapping. This is because the major point is that God’s desire is for the banquet to be filled. “God is not willing that any should perish.” (John 3:17a.) In some schools of doctrine, this may grate a little since those who are chosen shouldn’t need to be ‘dragged in’ because of the irresistible grace presenting itself. (This is part of the larger question, ‘If unconditional election is a given, why evangelize?’)

I think the other can of worms is where the comment writer misses out.

The end of the parable is indeed a commandment; one that is consistent with the Great Commission, and all of (a), (b), and (c) above.

The parable represents the heart of God.

It’s a call to “come to the table” that in its broader context is being said in the home of a Pharisee and not strictly about who gets in but who is honored and given a place of prominence.

Make it your goal to invite others to the table.

PW

Come to the table
Come join the sinners
You have been redeemed
Take your place beside the Savior
Sit down and be set free
Come to the table.

June 15, 2018

How Many of These Scriptures Do You Have Memorized?

Of all the major religions in the world, Christians are least acquainted with their own scriptures.

A faith community that does not impart its sacred writings to its young people is one generation away from extinction.

Programs like the Navigators’ Topical Memory System and others like it have proved helpful to people wanting to memorize verses on their mass transit commute or during their lunch break. Today, we’re listing entire passages worth your focus.

We’ve been surveyed to death lately. Barna, Gallup, Pew and major media outlets have a sudden interest in Christians because they feel there’s a story here, and the story they think they’re seeing is that Christianity is sinking faster than the Titanic.

While the astute know that isn’t true — an Adam Ford graphic is helpful — I wonder what the comparative stats would look like in terms of our knowledge of and our ability to recite major passages from our faith’s sacred book.

The problem is that gathering data on this would make for some complicated metrics. What would you include? That’s where I want to take this today. Here are some passages I think everyone should know… by heart. I’m taking John 3:16 as a given and I’m more focused on passages than individual verses such as in this list or this list. I know some readers will want to add their own. How well do you fare against this list?

[ ] The Lord’s Prayer – Over a certain age and you probably had to recite it elementary school. And every Roman Catholic can tick this box, with or without “For Thine is the kingdom…”

[ ] Psalm 23 – Beloved for centuries and rich in imagery, I can do this one in two very different translations. If you think you know it, try right now.

[ ] The Ten Commandments – There actually are recent metrics for this one and I’m told some of us didn’t do very well.

[ ] John 14: 1-6 – “Let not your heart be troubled…” The promise of eternal life.

[ ] various “Romans Road” scriptures – Essential if you’ve ever taken a ‘soul-winning’ course, these would vary but must include 3:23 (“For all have sinned”) and 6:23 (“The wages of sin.”)

[ ] The Apostles/Nicene Creed – No, they are not in the Bible, but I toss it in here in case any of the above-named research people are actually reading this. Would be interesting to know the numbers.

[ ] The Fruit of the Spirit – People from previous generations would wonder, ‘How can you not know this.’ For me, compounded by the various translations, but I think I’ve got them all.

[ ] The Beatitudes – “Blessed are the meek…” In all honesty, this is one I might have trouble with.

[ ] “Think on These Things” – If you need a refresher, it’s probably on a wall at your grandmother’s house. Again, possible translation confusion, but easily memorized one way or another.

[ ] The Armor of God – I wouldn’t get this one and was told by my family it needs to be on the list. Is one of them The Laser Beam of Criticism?

[ ] Psalm 100 – Acting as stand-in for any Psalm which was ever set to music. (I’m thinking of the Maranatha classic Psalm 5; or any one of a gazillion songs based on Ps. 19.)

[ ] Psalm 1 – Wise advice.

[ ] The Philippians ‘Hymn’ – “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.” There are a number of clauses in this to remember.

[ ] Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart…” Only two verses; I shared this when I was baptized and the camp where we met is named IAWAH, In All Ways Acknowledge Him.

[ ] I Cor. 13 – “Love is patient, love is kind.” My wife mentioned this — maybe she was trying to tell me something — but I don’t see this one as strongly as the others.

[ ] I John 1: 1-4 – “That which we have heard and seen…” You knew John’s Gospel had a prologue but so does this epistle.

[ ] Deuteronomy 30 – “Choose life.” This a long passage, but if you’re committed to memorize some of it, you’d want to start at verse 15 and continue to the end of the chapter.

How would you do?

What would you add?


May 29, 2018

Biblical Contradictions – They Exist and I Love Them

by Aaron Wilkinson

This is a line of thought I’m still journeying through. You may find something helpful or not. It’s cool either way.

In high-school, a lot of my atheist classmates would talk about contradictions in the Bible. I didn’t really pay much attention. I figured they were probably wrong. My pastors and youth leaders never mentioned these supposed contradictions so I figured it wasn’t worth worrying about.

When I got into the habit of listening to debates, I began to hear atheists point to specific contradictions. In response, the Christian apologists would calmly explain them away.

“Take the sentences ‘Bob is rich’ and ‘Bob is poor’. You might assume that these are contradictions, but perhaps they refer to Bob at different times in his life. Perhaps Bob is poor in finances, but rich in terms of relationships and experiences. Perhaps there are two different people named Bob. We can’t assume and we have to know more.” This is, of course, a very good point and I found it very comforting.

But then in a university class a professor pointed my discussion group to a passage in Proverbs. We were supposed to interpret it and share our interpretation.

Proverbs 26:4,5

I read the first half thinking “Ah, reasonable.” Then the second verse completely froze me. “This is Proverbs. This is the book of rules to live by. I can’t do both of these things, so what do I do?” I tried to find ways to harmonize them – maybe you’re supposed to do it sometimes but not other times – but even then, am I not sitting there trying to fix the Bible? Am I not adding something to it?

Here’s another one. The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us one thing, Paul tells us another.

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities. All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” – Ecclesiastes 1:2,3
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.” – 1 Corinthians 15:58

Well, which is it? Do we get nothing but vanity for our toil under the sun, or is our labour not in vain? I could list dozens more but sadly I must be concise. Here’s another one in which Chronicles and Samuel are talking about the same story.

“Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.” – 1 Chronicles 19:15
“Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”” – 2 Samuel 24:1

Chronicles: Satan did X. Samuel: God did X. Conclusion: … What?

If you’re anything like me, you’re sitting there trying to harmonize, harmonize, harmonize all of these passages. There may be nothing wrong with that. It’s a good impulse, but I fear we might miss out on something if that’s all we do. What that something is I will tell you, after one more example. Or rather, six more.

Open up to Matthew 5 and you’ll hear Jesus saying he’s not coming to abolish the law or the prophets. Then he goes on to repeat the formula “You have heard it said (quotes the Bible) but I tell you (says something different.)” So here we have a double whammy of contradictions. Six times, we have Jesus speaking in contrast to (“Contra Dicting”) other Bible passages, and he frames this by saying that he isn’t going to take an iota away from other Bible passages.

Right now, you’re either fascinated or really offended. Or both. Or you’re thinking the obvious objection that I’m going to cover in one second.

If the Bible is supposed to be a book of rules, it has clearly failed. I can’t both answer a fool according to folly and not answer a fool according to folly. If the Bible is supposed to be a philosophical panegyric, it has clearly failed. Labour can’t be both vanity and not vanity. If the Bible is supposed to be a textbook on spiritual realities, it has clearly failed. Unless God and Satan are the same person, David’s census has some weird stuff going on.

So it seems we’re left with two options. Maybe the Bible is a failure, or maybe we need to rethink its genre.

When I was in therapy, I learned a word. A word I had never learned from any western education institution; perhaps the entire western world needs therapy. “Dialectic.” Think Dialogue. It’s a conversation. Dialectic thinking simultaneously holds two propositions that seem to be in contrast. In therapy, if I’m caught in the anxiety of thinking I’m absolutely terrible or totally perfect, I’m going to have problems. If I can learn to accept that I’m both good and bad, virtuous in many ways while also having weaknesses to work through, that frees me. Now I can grow more easily.

My virtues and my vices are contradictory, but if I can hold them both as true at the same time then I am empowered to grow. The aforementioned objection that I assume you’re thinking is “But you’re defining ‘contradiction’ incorrectly. Contradictions are not simply contrasting statements, but statements with mutually exclusive meanings. You have to consider the meanings of these verses in context.” A brilliant point which highlights two important things: first that the word ‘contradiction’ needs defining (which I rarely hear happen) and tends to be wrapped up in shades of association, and second that we must ask ourselves what the Bible intends.

In the famous (and occasionally infamous) story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, the Pharisees try to back Jesus into a corner by asking him whether the woman ought to be stoned or not. Jesus redirects the question towards something more important. He seems to do this quite often, and what he does in saying “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” is highlight the Pharisee’s need for forgiveness. Jesus contextualizes our questions and frames our understanding in humility. This, I think, is the intention of the whole Bible.

The Bible does not give us all the answers, it points us to a person. It’s a conversation anchored around a person.

Do I answer the fool according to his folly or not? I don’t know, but if I follow the love ethic of Jesus then I’m sure I’ll make the right choice.

Is our labor vanity or not? I can philosophize over this, but if I’m trusting Christ then I know I won’t need to worry about it.

What is the relationship between the will of God and the will of Satan? Does God incite evil against us? A very interesting question, but one that must consider how God shows his love by participating in our suffering himself in the life and crucifixion of the Son of Mary.

People sometimes describe the Bible as “living” and this is why. A plain set of instructions is static. It’s dead. It only goes so deep and then it’s exhausted. A dialectic work keeps you wondering, keeps you asking questions. It is popularly said that Rabbis answer questions with other questions. This isn’t just deflection. We’re supposed to think deeper and, more importantly, better realize how the answers must be found with Jesus.

I recently listened to a sermon in which Bruxy Cavey of the Meeting House interviewed a Zen Buddhist. The Buddhist compared Jesus’ style of teaching with the Koan, the saying or question that’s supposed to freeze your mind and expose your unhealthy patters of thinking. While I think it’s important to recognize that Buddha and Christ have very different goals, there is some true to this. The Bible Project also has a great series that explores some the dialectic aspects of biblical wisdom literature.

In our broken world, if we desire change and growth, we don’t need a static book of precepts. We need someone who is going to freeze our attention, expose our habits, and “make foolish the wisdom of the world.” We need change, not the status quo. We need a living dynamic person to walk with as we grow in life and this is the Christ of the Bible.

This isn’t intellectual foreclosure. It does mean applying our intellect to something more important rather than squabbling over facts and figures. It means finding ourselves in a story, in relation to Christ, and making that the grounds upon which we ask ourselves, and each other, the big questions.

Take us away, Book…


Aaron — who may or may not be related  — describes himself as a bibliophile, language enthusiast, religion enthusiast, aspiring performer, and above all, a writer. This article appeared yesterday at Vox Surrantis: The Voice of One Whispering. Used by permission. Feel free to comment here or at the original article.

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.