Thinking Out Loud

April 14, 2018

When Religion Capitulates to the Broader Culture

We often encounter discussions under the general category, “Women in Ministry” and even the most staunch complementarians have to agree that in Christianity as a whole, changes are certainly afoot. While I lean more egalitarian, I do believe there are God-ordained differences between the sexes which could manifest themself in differing church leadership roles depending on the dynamics of the local church.

So it was with great interest this week that I came upon two different articles revealing that similar changes are happening in other faiths.

The first one was in our Wednesday collection of news stories. Mayim Bialik, an actress who played the lead in Blossom and also acts on The Big Bang Theory, is Jewish. She asks the question, “Ever heard of an Orthodox woman who holds a clergy position?” She then proceeds to profile “B’nai David-Judea, the only Orthodox synagogue in Southern California which employs a female clergyperson.” She speaks of “Using our evolving sense of obligation to modernity to find ways to let in more voices.”

Read that last sentence again. You don’t need to be Jewish to see the parallels between that perspective and what’s taking place in Mainline Protestantism and Evangelicalism. You can watch Mayim’s video at this link.

The second one was at Religion News Service, Jana Riess reporting on the Latter Day Saints (Mormon) Annual General Conference.  Among the takeaways she noted, “Sister Bonnie Oscarson, the outgoing Young Women president, gave a heartfelt plea for the Young Women to have important responsibilities in church and to feel that their contributions are valued;” and “Women spoke in three of four sessions…In the April 2017 conference, which featured thirty total speakers over four general sessions, only one woman—Primary president Joy Jones—spoke. One LDS viewer suggested on Twitter on Saturday that it would be great to hear from one woman during each general session, bringing the ratio of male to female speakers to something more like six or seven to one. For this modest entreaty she received significant hateful pushback from some on Twitter as well as support from others.”

The rest of Jana’s article is at this link.

…So returning to Protestants and Evangelicals, inasmuch as we see a broader trend taking place, we have to ask ourselves if we move with those trends simply because we are caving into societal pressure.

For Evangelicals, the bottom line is always, “What does the Bible teach?” But with, for example, the Apostle Paul’s statements on women, some will easily prefer to choose the interpretive analysis as the reason for opting out of traditional teaching. ‘Yes;’ we will say, ‘This is what the church has commonly understood this passage to mean, but we now understand the Greek word [insert Greek word here!] actually meant something in that time closer to [insert different meaning here!].’

This same reasoning is used with the very same apostle when it comes to homosexuality. Without taking sides on this, presently it’s clear that many contextual studies and word studies are brought forward which suggest that Paul was speaking to something other than that which is usually assumed and, Voila! We suddenly find ourselves in a different paradigm.

But that doesn’t mean everyone buys in. These issues can be quite divisive.

In the Roman Catholic Church, change is more stringently created and applied. The Pope merely needs to publish an encyclical redefining the role of women (or other such issue) and the new guidelines would be in effect overnight, but basically there would also be an appeal to a newer, higher understanding of the original Greek or Hebrew texts. He cannot just change the rules out of nothing — out of thin air — there would need to have been significant study.

So again, it’s interpretive.

But how does the book on which we base everything so important and so vital to our faith lend itself to so much interpretation? When absolutes are crumbling? Is this what Jesus means by “knowing in part and understanding in part;” or what Paul himself means by “seeing through a glass darkly;” the still-used KJV rendering of a metaphor in 1 Corinthians which has a variety of expressions.

Are we capitulating to the culture? Or is the culture a catalyst for an awakening of sorts?

The related question: While the deity of Christ and his death and resurrection are absolutes, are there other things which are negotiable?

 

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December 16, 2017

Crossword Puzzles and Sermons

I’m told that doing crosswords keeps the mind sharp. That’s certainly a valid goal. I try to do a couple of smaller ones (where I know I can finish) each week, but will also help my wife as she wrestles through the  New York Times level of difficulty.

When we first married, I would criticize her for this indulgence, as I saw them as a bit of a time-waster. “You’re not actually learning anything;” was the thrust of my argument. And it’s true. Unless you doing research to get the answers, or something reveals itself by interpolation with the letters you’ve already written, there is not much in the way of new information.

You’re using your brain to be sure. It beats watching a 2-hour marathon of The Simpsons. You’re bringing to mind things you’ve heard before and then buried deep in the recesses of your memory waiting for this particular moment to unearth them. In those terms, it’s a nice refresher. But again, it’s only when you’ve completed all the across letters in a down clue that you might say, ‘Okay, apparently the seven-letter word meaning _______ is _______.’ Or, ‘So that’s the author who wrote _______.’

Sermons are like this in many churches.

We are often reviewing and being re-presented with information with which we are already quite familiar. Maybe it’s being said in a fresh way and we can then take that particular tact when explaining something to a friend. Perhaps it’s something that needs reinforcing because we do live at the intersection of this world and the world to come and there is a constant inner war raging between our human nature and the nature that was made for higher things.

Generally, this is a good thing. The Eucharist itself is the best example of this. It doesn’t change much from week to week. But we eat, we drink, we remember, we leave differently than we entered. The hymns or worship choruses are not necessarily new; we have sung them on other occasions.

However, there is something to be said for a sermon which imparts new information. One that informs us of things we simply did not know before. Where we say, ‘I’ve never heard that explained;’ or ‘I never knew the context of that particular story;’ or my favorite, ‘How did I grow up in church and never hear that taught?’

Second best are those who help you fill in the blanks. Like the crossword puzzle where you’ve filled in all the letters but didn’t know the word before, the speaker leads you to the moment of, ‘Okay…so if all these things are true then from that we realize that…’  I would rank sermons that contain deduction a close runner up to those providing fresh information.

Personally I gravitate to teachers giving me more background (context, word study, related passages) than I had when I arrived. It doesn’t matter if the sermon is exegetical (expository) or topical, as long as there is some depth and something I can learn that helps me better understand the ways and mind of God, and then apply this to everyday life.

December 11, 2017

Pope Francis Shakes Up The Lord’s Prayer

Today’s article is presented jointly at Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201.

Matthew 6:13a

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (KJV)
And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (HCSB)
And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one (NLT)
Keep us clear of temptation, and save us from evil. (J. B. Phillips)
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. (The Message)
And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one (NRSV)
Do not put us in temptation, but deliver us from evil, (Spanish RV1975, Google translated)
Do not expose us to temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. (Spanish Dios Habla Hoy, Google translated)

Last week Pope Francis raised a theological point which wasn’t exactly new, but made headlines. The New York Times article explains:

…In a new television interview, Pope Francis said the common rendering of one line in [The Lord’s Prayer] — “lead us not into temptation” — was “not a good translation” from ancient texts. “Do not let us fall into temptation,” he suggested, might be better because God does not lead people into temptation; Satan does.

“A father doesn’t do that,” the pope said. “He helps you get up right away. What induces into temptation is Satan.”

In essence, the pope said, the prayer, from the Book of Matthew, is asking God, “When Satan leads us into temptation, You please, give me a hand.”

French Catholics adopted such a linguistic change this week, and the pope suggested that Italian Catholics might want to follow suit…

Then followed some reactions, including Southern Baptist Rev. Al. Mohler, who not surprisingly was horrified. Then the article continued.

…A commentary on the website of TV2000, the ecclesiastical television station in Rome that interviewed the pope, acknowledged that the pope’s words had stirred controversy. But it said, “it is worth recalling that this question is not new.”

“This is not a mere whim for Francis,” it added.

The basic question, the commentary said, is whether God brings humans into temptation or whether “it is human weakness to surrender to the blandishments of the evil one.”

Francis recently took the controversial step of changing church law to give local bishops’ conferences more authority over translations of the liturgy. He was responding, in part, to widespread discontent with English translations that were literally correct but awkward and unfamiliar for worshipers.

On Sunday, French churches began using a version of the Lord’s Prayer in which the line “Ne nous soumets pas à la tentation” (roughly, “do not expose us to temptation”) was replaced with “Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation” (“do not let us give in to temptation”)…

Saturday morning, Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk — who prefers the type of rendering in the NRSV above — offers a different type of response from New Testament scholar Andrew Perriman:

The Catholic Church is unhappy with the line “lead us not into temptation” (mē eisenenkēs hēmas eis peirasmon) in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:13; Lk. 11:4). The problem is that it appears to attribute responsibility for a person falling into temptation to God. Pope Francis has said: “It’s not a good translation…. I am the one who falls. It’s not him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen. A father doesn’t do that, a father helps you to get up immediately.” If anyone leads us into temptation, he suggests, it is Satan. So an alternative translation is being considered, something along the lines of “Do not let us enter into temptation”.

What Jesus has in view is not general moral failure (the modern theological assumption) but the “testing” of the faith of his followers by persecution. The word peirasmos in this context refers to an “evil” or painful situation that tests the validity of a person’s faith.

The Lord’s prayer is not a piece of routine liturgical supplication. It is an urgent missional prayer, best illustrated by the parable of the widow who prayed for justice against her adversary. Jesus concludes: “ And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk. 18:7–8).

The petition not to be led into a time of testing has a very specific eschatological purpose—to keep suffering to a minimum. When it came, as it inevitably would, testing was the work of the devil, aided and abetted by sinful desires. But even then it had a positive value: it proved the genuineness of their faith, and if they passed the test, they would gain the crown of life, which is a reference to martyrdom and vindication at the parousia.


 

November 13, 2017

Sermons that Communicate

Filed under: Christianity, Church, ministry — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:13 am

I had the privilege of working as a Worship Director under four different pastors, but only one of these let me in on his sermon crafting process. It began with a mostly blank form with a line for the date and space in the top 1/6th of the page to answer the question, “Where do you want to take them today?”

It thereby highly focused his attention on what it was that would fill the rest of the page. More detailed notes followed later on other pieces of paper.

Much of public speaking is modeled for us. The job of preacher is similar to the job of school teacher. These occupations are self-perpetuating. That’s why it’s easy for kids to “play school” in the summertime, and Christian kids can equally “play church.” We’ve seen the job played out for us on a regular basis and can  emulate the key moves.

The problem is that just because you are a good speaker, doesn’t mean you are a good communicator. Furthermore, I would argue that being highly skilled or highly polished at the former can actually work against the latter; it can stand in the way of being an effective communicator.

Another of the pastors I worked with and still get to hear on a regular basis is a very gifted in the art of sermon crafting. But at several junctures in the sermon, he will allow himself to deviate from his notes, or what I call going “off road.” Whether or not you call it Holy Spirit inspired — and I would contend that most definitely is the case — he either thinks of something that could still be added to the notes, or you could phrase it that he is still crafting the sermon to perfection even as he stands in the pulpit. There are no PowerPoint graphics that align with what he’s saying, but these are often the sermon highlights.

I also am a fan of conversational delivery; where the pastor is working from very rough, point-form outlines and then delivers the message in a style that suggests he’s talking to me, not simply reading his notes.

Don’t get me wrong. I want there to be sermon preparation. I want to know context; I want to hear related texts mentioned; I want to know he or she did the necessary word study.

But what do I do with it all? How does it impact the week I’m facing? How do leave the building changed and inspired?

To repeat, so much of what we call good preaching is too smooth; it’s too slick; it’s too polished. It’s so rhetorical minded that it’s no relational good.  It’s possible to be a great speaker but actually be a terrible communicator.

 


If you didn’t catch it last week, be sure to read Thursday’s article on the related art of concision, the gift of being able to keep things short.

November 5, 2017

When Science and the Bible Contradict

The one where the astronauts come back from the International Space Station and tell you that they didn’t see the floodgates of heaven…

So I was flipping through the pages of an old Bible I haven’t used in at least a couple of decades and I found the above photocopied sheet sitting between two of the pages. I remember it clearly, but have no idea as to the source. From a scientific perspective, most of what’s in this image is just plain wrong. Did people once believe this? Is this someone’s concept of what they might have believed if they had owned King James Version Bibles? (Kinda like that drawing — see below — where someone takes the description of the ideal woman in Song of Solomon and shows what it would like literally?)

But what if you’re a kid in some previous era’s version of high school and based on the Bible, this is your model of what the world looks like, and modern science is trying to tell you it’s not true?  Or what if your Bible talks about “the rising of the sun” and suddenly you’re being told that the sun doesn’t arise at all but in fact the earth is revolving?

Surely that’s the end of Christianity then and there, right?
Apparently not. Christianity survived the destruction of such misplaced beliefs. And certain verses weren’t excised from the text, either.

The life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is bigger than science. It’s bigger than all the objections that people can raise.


Above: Some portions of scripture should not be taken literally. This was drawn in 1978 by artist Den Hart and appeared at The Wittenburg Door, a Christian satire magazine.

 

October 7, 2017

Bible Verse Numbers: Blessing or Curse?

Go to bible verses

1From Paul, a blogger at Thinking Out Loud, to the church online;
2Greetings and welcome to today’s topic.

3Can you imagine if I were to write a book and give a number to every one or two sentences?
4It would break up the reading for sure,
5And people would consider it somewhat pompous.
6While it might be helpful in an historical account, it would surely break up the flow in a romance story or a parable.
7And poetry would be rather awkward.

8Yet this is what happens when we read the Bible.
9Because we have such easy, pinpoint access to particular phrases, we are able to focus on those.
10And we often miss the context in which they are being said,
11Or worse, we over emphasize them to the exclusion of other truths.

12So one reader believes he “can do all things,” but can he fly an airplane?
13Another believes God has “plans to prosper” him, but what if he doesn’t see material blessing?
14Yet one more thinks that the parenting she has done assures her children “will not depart from it,” but is that an automatic guarantee or just a statement of principle?

15Churches teach that “all these things shall be added unto you,” but the context is the basic necessities of life, not everything we desire.
16Or that, “all things work together for good,” which is simply a bad translation of the verb.
17Or that, “not allow you to be tempted beyond that which you are able,” means that God will never give you more than you can handle.

18God is good, and God can be trusted, but if we are to take him at his word, we need to read it properly and in full context.
19Sometimes the verse numbers mitigate against that.
20So we need to be more careful, and more studious in our reading.
21And perhaps we need to be more aware and more embracing of those recent publications which present the Bible as a single story,
22And those translations which relegate the verse numbers to a place of lesser prominence.

23The grace of our Lord be with you all; Amen.

April 28, 2017

Misconstruing Biblical Passages

Book Review: The Most Misused Stories in the Bible
by Eric. J. Bargerhuff

I get very passionate about books which have application both to veterans — those well seasoned Christians who grew up in the church — and to newcomers and seekers alike. The Most Misused Stories in the Bible: Surprising Ways Popular Bible Stories are Misunderstood is one such title. Randomly remove just one of the fourteen chapters here and you’ve got the basis for an excellent Sunday adult elective for one quarter. Or a mid-week small group. Convene that group within a reasonable driving distance of my house, and I’d want you to call me; these are discussions in which I would love to participate.

I would argue however that the book is title-challenged. Actually it’s a sequel to The Most Misused Verses in the Bible which I have neither seen or read and I do recognize the value of a brand. Still, I think misapplied or misunderstood would be good here, and by stories I found that sometimes a particular Bible narrative served as a springboard for what was really a discussion of a Bible concept or imagery. Also the title implies a tension that appears in various degrees of intensity between the chapters.

Everyone has their tribe, and Dr. Bargerhuff, who teaches at Trinity College of Florida leans in a Reformed direction. So that means sources cited include Carson, MacArthur, Grudem, Challies, the Gospel Coalition website and quotations from the ESV. So in a chapter on Judas, we find a full apologetic for eternal security, though the next chapter, on the baptism of the Holy Spirit, starts out slightly more charitable toward those who teach or experience a post-conversion filling or blessing. (I especially like the title of that one, “The Samaritan Pentecost” as opposed to the Acts 2 Pentecost.)

For those who have experienced much Bible teaching, there are sections of this you will have heard before. In fact, two chapters in I found myself being dismissive of the book as perhaps a bit simplistic. However, pressing in again, I realized I had misjudged. The book does have a sermon-like homiletic quality — Bargerhuff was in pastoral ministry for 20 years — and preachers out there who find they must ‘borrow’ their sermons would  find fourteen high quality manuscripts therein.

But I also struck gold when I discovered the notes. I’m not an academic, but I like to go deeper and really wish these had been footnotes instead of endnotes, however I understand that a cleaner page is more user-friendly to the aforementioned newcomers and seekers; many of whom have been dealing with some of the misconceptions of scripture even if they weren’t part of the church.

Example of many pauses for thought: I never considered it before, but when Jesus first said, “This is my body…” he said it in a room of people who could see quite clearly before him that his physical body and the pieces of bread he was holding were distinct. A key to seeing the bread being symbolic and not literally the body of Christ. (While I tend to think that spiritual authority and the veneration of Mary are the big Roman Catholic distinctives, a local priest recently told my son he gets the most push-back on transubstantiation.)

Having recently read Gary Burge’s alternative reading on Zacchaeus in his Encounters with Jesus, I read that chapter as the third one, and was delighted to see it confronted in this book. And I loved the idea that when Mark tells us that Jesus could not do miracles in his hometown it was not because their unbelief was “some kind of cosmic kryptonite that weakened Jesus’ abilities to perform miracles as the Messiah.” But with respect to Jonah — the longest and best chapter — some of you will be disappointed to learn that with modern maritime knowledge it probably was a whale after all.

There was also more gold to be found in the epilogue on how to avoid mistakes in reading the Bible. I want you to get the book so rather than quote these, I’ll provide a concise, edited and paraphrased version of some:

  • Context matters
  • Don’t miss the main point
  • Avoid modern-day biases
  • Avoid modern cultural influences
  • Don’t miss important cross-references
  • Don’t redefine terms
  • God, not man should be central
  • Watch for poetic imagery
  • Don’t let tradition trump the text
  • …and a couple more.

I hope this helps you get past the title and get a better insight into what the book is about. As I type this, I’ve already read some chapters twice. From me, that’s a high recommendation. So when does that small group start up?

Bethany House, paperback, 171 pages, $12.99 US


There are some similarities here to what’s going on in The Bible Story Handbook, a large (and pricey) 350-page paperback by John Walton and Kim Walton (2010, Crossway) that also looks at the way Bible narratives are often misapplied. That work is broader in the sense that it covers 175 different passages, though obviously not in the same detail.


A copy of The Most Misused Stories was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

 

February 7, 2017

I’ll Have Some Expository with a Side of Topical

Expository versus Topical

From Todd Rhoades who sourced it at Sacred Sandwich.

Expository preaching consists of working through a passage on a verse-by-verse basis. For many of you, it’s the sermon style you grew up with; for a few it might be the only Bible teaching form you know.

Topical preaching seeks to look at selected scriptures and build a picture of the Bible’s wider teaching on a particular subject or issue. It grew in popularity when the seeker-sensitive church movement started, and is therefore often associated with that paradigm.

preacherExpository preaching is a necessary skill for pastors. If you can’t exegete a passage, you don’t pass homiletics or hermeneutics in Bible college or seminary.

Topical preaching is sometimes mistakenly thought of as “sermon lite.” It’s been — dare I say it? — demonized because of its association with things traditionalists don’t care for: contemporary music, casual dress, modern Bible translations, seeker-targeted services, etc.

A good speaker should be able to do both approaches, and should know when to do both.

But every once in awhile I run across an online article that is waving the flag for the expository style, and therefore reiterating an implied disdain for the alternative, topical preaching.

On many aspects of the debate I agree that there is an engagement at a different level with the expository style. But the rhetoric of these articles is usually completely over-the-top; indeed there is almost a venom in the words chosen to state what is, at the end of the day, the author’s preference. The following, archived here, is a good example:

Topical preaching is more like a steady diet of fast food. It takes great but is not good for you. McDonald’s will make you happy and it does taste good but a steady flow of McDonald’s is not good for you. You need healthy substance to survive. Fast food makes one fat and lazy… A steady diet of fast food Christianity that tastes good but is not producing healthy disciples. Fast food Christianity produces shallow, self-focused people who want their felt needs met and view God as an end to their own problems. Lost is the holiness of God, the hatred for sin, the passion for God in prayer, the hunger for the Word of God, a zeal for evangelism, a passion to have a biblical worldview and to be as godly as one can be in a sinful world.

You can’t teach the holiness of God in a topical sermon? A steady diet of theme-based teaching fails to produce healthy disciples? By what metrics? Where is the research on this?

Then the writer felt the need to add one more paragraph, just in case you missed it:

So why do most churches avoid expository preaching? I would answer that by saying that 1) many churches want to entertain to draw crowds which equals money and success in their view and 2) the preacher is simply spiritually lazy and will not take time to study the Word of God to teach the Word as it should be honored and taught. In turn, topical preaching doesn’t teach the Word of God but is simply the preacher picking what he wants to say, makes his points, and then proof texts his points. That is not teaching the Bible. That is your teaching backed up by proof texts from the Bible.

Did you catch that second last sentence? Topical preaching “is not teaching the Bible.” Wow! That’s a rather heavy accusation to level. Caught up in the genuine emotion and passion about this subject, the writer kept keyboarding too long. (It reminds me of the writer describing an upcoming conference whose favorite speakers were noted as “friends of the gospel;” as if the others were not.) This is spiritual pride, plain and simple. A religious superiority complex.

Still, in the spirit of conciliation and peace-making, I decided to wade into this blog post’s swamp and try to post something redemptive; borrowing an idea from the music wars that have plagued many a church:

In February, 2013 I responded to their article:

This may not be popular here, but I want to offer a third way.

Many years ago, as churches agonized over the “hymns versus choruses” debate, the late Robert Weber introduced the term “blended worship;” a mixture of classic and modern compositions.

I believe there is some merit in bringing that mindset to this topic. I don’t necessarily lean to either the topical or expository style of preaching, as I believe there is only good preaching and bad preaching. The problem with topical preaching is that sometimes you never get deep enough into the context of the passage to learn anything new; it tends to have a guilty-by-association link with weak or entry-level teaching. The problem with expository preaching is that you miss the beauty and majesty of how the whole of scripture fits together, how the Bible speaks to various themes, and how seemingly contrasting verses hold a particular issue in tension.

So a blended approach would involve the use of related passages, but with a particular key passage more fully exegeted. None of this approach negates any of the nine points above, but it avoids the mindset that I’ve seen exist among some who are steeped in the expository approach and seem to have a phobia about introducing cross-references or parallel passages.

Now, at risk of being guilty of the very thing that I abhor about the approach taken in the article, let me add something else: It is far too easy for someone to get up, open their Bible to a single passage and basically ‘wing it.’ Drawing on your familiarity with the text, it is extremely easy to simply start reading verse by verse and improvise or amplify what is on the page without providing any added value.

In other words, while it’s possible for either type of preacher to get up unprepared, the topical sermon must have involved, at the very least, some gathering of related or parallel texts through commentaries or word studies.

So I’ll take my sermon topically, please, with a slice of exposition; and hold the personal opinions.

The most powerful thing a pastor can say in his sermon is, “Take your Bibles and look with me please to the book of …” And anywhere Bible pages are being turned or text is appearing onscreen, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing.

October 19, 2015

The Bible as Literature

I remember cringing the first time I saw the course offered at my ‘secular’ university: The Bible as Literature. This was a book which had changed my life and which was so highly treasured among the people of my faith tribe, that to reduce it to simply ‘literature’ seemed disgraceful. Part of this was the context; after all, what could this godless college possibly have to offer that would affirm the tenets of my Evangelical upbringing?

In some ways, today I still see the Bible as so much more and yet I am also now a strong advocate for the one story type of approach to sacred scripture, impressing on any and all who will listen the idea of a single overarching story. I’m also increasingly convinced that the ways and purposes of God have been revealed through narrative. This is, after all, the way our children learn the first principles of our faith system, through Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, Daniel, Jonah, Jesus, Peter and Paul.

Texts of TerrorLast week a long-time acquaintance loaned me a copy of a 1984 book she had just purchased: Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narrative by Phyllis Trible (Fortress Press). The four stories are truly among the most horrific the Old Testament has to offer: Hagar, Tamar, Jephthah’s daughter, and the unnamed mistress in what is probably the worst of them all, the story commencing in Judges 19.

Why are these stories even in the Bible? It’s a fair question, and it doesn’t diminish my respect if you feel like asking it.

I couldn’t help but thinking these four stories would make a great Halloween month preaching series, sorta like a friend of ours did a few years back. (We referred to him in this 2010 blog post.)

I was also a little nervous about the idea of this being a particularly “feminist” reading of the text, but it didn’t really play out that way. True, it’s centered on female characters and would fit well into a Women’s Studies core curriculum, but I think the commentary was fair and balanced, and certainly delved into a lot more detail on these particular stories than you might find in a broader commentary title on Genesis, 2 Samuel or Judges.

But the reading the Bible through the lens of literary criticism is both fascinating and disturbing at the same time. The reference to “chiasmus” (I know these as chiasms) which are stories containing a built-in symmetry (often following the form, A, B, C, D, C’, B’, A’ or something similar*) was interesting but I don’t know that every story has to have this feature. I can see how it makes for great literature but again, I think you’re forcing the literary agenda on texts that, as beautiful as they are, weren’t written to win a prize for non-fiction.

To that end, the author had a penchant for invoking Messianic phrases from Isaiah. Some of them were obvious I suppose, you could see them coming, but I’m not sure how this advances understanding of these texts. I just didn’t see the typology; placing these women as types of Christ, though there were some similarities in the storyline. The payoff on some of those comparisons really was found in the word-study application to similar uses of the same Hebrew word in passages with which we are familiar.

I did love the contrast between the text in Judges, “Every man did what was right in his own eyes” to the author’s commentary that while that may have been the case when “there was no King in Israel,” when there was a king, “Royalty did the right in its own yes.” Good observation. There was another section — one the person who loaned me the book didn’t underline — I meant to come back to, but now I can’t find it. 

Texts of Terror is a 1984 print-on-demand paperback ($20 US, 128 pages) with a forward by Walter Brueggemann, that is part of the Overtures to Biblical Theology series.


We ran this picture just a few days ago — it’s from a different source — but it’s appropriate to repeat here:

Exodus as a reversal of Genesis

 

October 6, 2015

Thus Sayeth the Blogger

At the start of each new month, I give myself permission to look back at previous material that might be worthy of recycling. It can be from any year, but has to be from the same month. As it turns out, this one ran only a year ago, but it touched on a theme that I was going to find recurring over and over and over again: The problems inherent in Bible verse numbering. So many truths meant to be read in a context are instead seen in isolation. It’s great for locating texts, and I am in no way opposed to Bible memorization, but it can create interpretive problems for the average parishioner…

1From Paul, a blogger at Thinking Out Loud, to the church online;
2Greetings and welcome to today’s topic.

3Can you imagine if I were to write a book and give a number to every one or two sentences?
4It would break up the reading for sure,
5And people would consider it somewhat pompous.
6While it might be helpful in an historical account, it would surely break up the flow in a romance story or a parable
7And poetry would be rather awkward.

8Yet this is what happens when we read the Bible.
9Because we have such easy, pinpoint access to particular phrases, we are able to focus on those.
10And we often miss the context in which they are being said,
11Or worse, we over emphasize them to the exclusion of other truths.

12So one reader believes he “can do all things,” but can he fly an airplane?
13Another believes God has “plans to prosper” him, but what if he doesn’t see material blessing?
14Yet one more thinks that the parenting she has done assures her children “will not depart from it,” but is that an automatic guarantee or just a statement of principle?

15Churches teach that “all these things shall be added unto you,” but the context is the basic necessities of life, not everything we desire.
16Or that, “all things work together for good,” which is simply a bad translation of the verb.
17Or that, “not allow you to be tempted beyond that which you are able,” means that God will never give you more than you can handle.

18God is good, and God can be trusted, but if we are to take him at his word, we need to read it properly and in full context.
19Sometimes the verse numbers mitigate against that.
20So we need to be more careful, and more studious in our reading.
21And perhaps we need to be more aware and more embracing of those recent publications which present the Bible as a single story,
22And those translations which relegate the verse numbers to a place of lesser prominence.

23The grace of our Lord be with you all; Amen.

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