Thinking Out Loud

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.

October 17, 2014

Verse Numbering Shifts Emphasis, Misses Contexts

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.

October 4, 2014

Who Says Youth Groups Won’t Sing?

…and How Running The Internet Rabbit Trails Led Me to New Discoveries

…and The Theology of Acapella Worship

Rural Hill Church Camp

So it all started on Monday night when I was wrapping up the link list. A visit to The Christian Chronicle, a news page of the Churches of Christ revealed that they had started a new feature, Voices Only Wednesday on September 17th. Kicking it off was what appeared to be an eight-minute camp music video from Rural Hill Church of Christ. It reminded me of a couple of Young Life Clubs I attended at another high school many years ago.

There’s a moment in this video near the end (about 6:18) where they go into a James Cleveland song, Get Right Church. (You want to play this loud.) There’s a lot going on in this song. A lot of fun. A lot of energy. A lot of passion. But also a lot of musical complexity. Who says you can’t get youth groups to sing? They call this part of the facility The Singing Porch (see photo above). I’ll bet a lot of audio memories are made there. (You really want to click the link, okay?)

I fired off the link to people I know who work with choirs, with camps, and with youth groups. But found myself wanting to look a little closer. So I checked out the Facebook page for the church. Many more videos from summer camp were waiting. But by this point, I wanted to learn more. 

The church website is visitor-friendly. Remarkably so. On the About Us page there is a notation:

We  do not use instruments in worship. We simply use our voices and our hearts. If  you have never experienced this type of worship, you may be surprised at how  heartfelt and uplifting it can be! We sing a mixture of traditional and  contemporary songs – reflective of the diverse age range and preferences in our  congregation.

So that’s where the kids get this. This musical paradigm is caught at an early age. It’s part of the worship style they’ve grown up with. Yes, there’s Power Point and microphones, but no keyboards, no drums, no guitars.

Days later I checked out the denomination’s description at Wikipedia and learned more:

The Churches of Christ generally combine the lack of any historical evidence that the early church used musical instruments in worship and the belief that there is no scriptural support for using instruments in the church’s worship service to decide that instruments should not be used today in worship. Churches of Christ have historically practiced a cappella music in worship services.

The use of musical instruments in worship was a divisive topic within the Stone-Campbell Movement from its earliest years, when some adherents opposed the practice on scriptural grounds, while others may have relied on a cappella simply because they lacked access to musical instruments. Alexander Campbell opposed the use of instruments in worship. As early as 1855, some Restoration Movement churches were using organs or pianos, ultimately leading the Churches of Christ to separate from the groups that condoned instrumental music.

(See the link for footnotes.)

Finally I went to YouTube in search of more songs. You can search under Church of Christ acapella, or Church of Christ singing. I used Church of Christ music and ended up listening to a 30-minute teaching from Mountain Creek Church of Christ on why they don’t use ‘mechanical instruments.’ The pastor takes a very easy-going approach on this, and while I would disagree with his hermeneutics, or even the logic by which the conclusion is reached, there’s no denying his hardline conviction. I just don’t think you should take a minority reading of a passage and then argue it quiet so dogmatically.

As an aside, several years ago I met with the lay-leader of a small congregation in our neighborhood, that I knew used only the King James Version. I asked him if there was a theological underpinning for this, and he quickly cut in and said, “No it’s a preference and only a preference. Our people can read anything they want, and many do.” That was refreshing. Rather than preach about the doctrine of acapella music, I would love it if this person simply talked about the rich musical heritage of the capital ‘C’ church — Christianity is a singing faith — and said the acapella thing is just a preference, just the way they do things.

Bottom line? I didn’t find anything on YouTube that grabbed me the way Get Right Church did that first day, but if I were ever in Antioch, Tennessee, I would definitely want to experience what Rural Hill offers first-hand. It would beat spending the Sunday at just another generic megachurch. And I wouldn’t let the reasons they may have for their music stop me from enjoying the rest of the worship service, especially when the music would be the reason I was there at all!


Photo: Ironically, the video from which this was taken (click the image to link) has background music which included a full instrumental background.

 

April 16, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Pet Blessing Service

I’m writing this assuming everyone survived the prophetic implications of the blood moon, but maybe the April 15 income tax deadline is a form of judgment. 

As we do each Wednesday, clicking anything below will take you to PARSE where the links are live.

Paul Wilkinson writes the rest of the week at Thinking Out Loud, and edits the daily devotional Christianity 201 page.

Lettuce Pray from _ChristianHumor Twitter

March 19, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Abandoned Church

This long de-commissioned church photo appeared back in October at the Twitter feed of AbandonedPics.

There’s something here for people at every age and every stage, including links to stories of interest to lay people and clergy, liturgists and charismatics. Or at least that’s the theory. 

The link list is now owned and operated by PARSE the blog of Leadership Journal, a division of Christianity Today.  Anything you click below will take you first to them, then you can click the item again.

All I know about this comic below is that I found it on the floor of my office, apparently photocopied from a 2002 book of Christian cartoons by Doug Hall. (Does anyone know the book title?) The sentiment expressed here is still alive and well a dozen years later.

Criticize the Pastor

January 8, 2014

Wednesday List Link

Amish Vampires in Space

Lloyd the Llink Llist Llama Crashes the Party Exactly One Year After His First Visit Here

Lloyd the Llink Llist Llama makes his annual January visit

The list is back, though there was a link list on Saturday, December 28th at both Out of Ur and Thinking Out Loud you can scroll back to. If you caught that one, then you’re ready to kick off another year of link love. First, about the picture, it’s one of the “winners” — if you can call them that — of the Worst Christian Book Covers for 2013. (Click the link, then work your way to number one.) I don’t know where they found these — though this might help — but the list for 2012 did contain some you might recognize.  The rest of the links here will switch over once Out of Ur goes live with the list.

Christian Artist Pop Cans

November 24, 2013

Rob Bell on Jonah and the Great Big Fish

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:58 am

Rob Bell has started a series on his blog robbell.com titled “What Is the Bible?” (Not to be confused with Phil Vischer’s excellent DVD series for kids, “What’s In The Bible?”)  As I write this, Rob has 14 chapters posted, and I do admit to having no idea where he’s going and what he’s going to say next. Are we getting a preview of a future book manuscript? If so, I’m saving the chapters just in case.

In parts 3 and 4, he looks at the Jonah story. Here’s a brief excerpt from part four:

Rob Bell 5…What do I think? I don’t think it matters what you believe about a man being swallowed by a fish.

If you don’t believe it literally happened, that’s fine. Lots of people of faith over the years have read this story as a parable about national forgiveness. They point to many aspects of the surreal nature of the story as simply great storytelling because the author has a larger point, one about the Israelites and the Assyrians and God’s call to be a light to everyone, especially your enemies.

Right on. Well said.
Just one problem. Some deny the swallowed-by-a-fish part not from a literary perspective, but on the basis of those things just don’t happen. Which raises a number of questions: What’s the criteria for the denial? Do we only affirm things that can be proven in a lab? Do we only believe things we have empirical evidence for? Do we believe or not believe something happened based on…whether we believe that things like that happen or not? (That was an awkward sentence. Intentionally.) Can we only affirm things that make sense to us? Are we closed to everything that we can’t explain?

If we reject all miraculous elements of all stories because we have made up our mind ahead of time that such things simply aren’t possible, we run the risk of shrinking the world down to what we can comprehend. And what fun is that?

That said, there are others who say, Of course he was swallowed a fish, that’s what the story says happened!

Fine.
Just one problem. It’s possible to affirm the literal fact of a man being swallowed by a fish, making that the crux of the story in such a way that you defend that, believe that, argue about that-and in spending your energies on the defend-the-fish-part miss the point of the story, the point about allowing God’s redeeming love to flow through us with such power and grace that we are able to love and bless even our worst enemies…

…continue reading here

November 13, 2013

Wednesday Link List

How to Make Thomas Kinkade Paintings Totally Awesome Very few people know this, but the Wednesday Link List is named after Art Linkletter.  The links below will all take you to Out of Ur, where the list officially resides.

The Wednesday Link Letter (see introduction) was written by Paul Wilkinson and recorded before a live audience (Paul’s wife). Read more of his work at his Anglican baptism website, Sprinkling Out Loud, or at Devotional Plagiarism 201, where only the best get borrowed.

November 11, 2013

Christ Before the Manger

The title of today’s article is the title of a book I always wanted to get my hands on. There have been numerous books written on the pre-incarnate Christ and I have always gravitated to this particular topic, wanting to know more about the second Person of the Trinity and His activity and role before (and after) a particular window in time that we know from the gospels.

So I wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to read about the revelation of Jesus in Old Testament scripture, a topic which is similar but different.

Jesus on Every Page - Davd MurrayJesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament by David Murray (Thomas Nelson, 2013) is in some respects an adult version of a Children’s Bible that came out a couple of years ago, The Jesus Storybook Bible. I thought it rather odd that so many Christian bloggers and book reviewers chose to review a product for kids, but many were drawn to the way each of that book’s stories ended with a paragraph or two noting how the stories prefigured the coming of Jesus.

But David Murray’s book is more than a grown up storybook. He explains that he was actually looking for something that would be displayed in the academic/reference section, until the publishers suggested something more pedestrian. You would never know that it started out more highbrow; to the contrary I would have been more than happy if the book were double its 200-odd page length. It was easy to follow and left me wanting more.

Jesus on Every Page begins with how the Old Testament is reflected in the words of Jesus, Peter, John and Paul. But then the action really kicks in, looking at the hidden, and not-so-hidden pictures of the coming Messiah that are found in the law, the covenants, the trajectory of Israel’s history, the typology and so on to the poetry and proverbs. “The book of Proverbs;” Murray says, “is the Old Testament’s Twitter.”

David Murray seems to love to import illustrations from our modern world. This is very much today’s study on this topic.

It’s as if gospel was spelled in a 12-point font in the Old Testament and in a 1200-point in the New Testament. Or we might say that it was pictured in the Old using thumbnails but blown up to poster size in the New. (p. 149)

I finished the book a few days ago, but found myself re-reading entire sections. Any one of the ten featured chapters could be its own book, and taken together, the book is an excellent primer on Old Testament interpretation.

Clearly written, well-researched, next-generation friendly, and immensely practical; Jesus on Every Page earns my highest recommendation, but with one caveat: The challenge here will be to whet people’s appetite for this topic and then get the book into their hands. Perhaps someone struggling with the Old Testament, or unconvinced of the connection between the Old and the New will already have a hunger for what this offers.

David Murray pastored in Scotland for twelve years before going to the U.S. in 2007 where he is now Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and Pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church. Besides the book, his primary web presence is with HeadHeartHand.org self-described as a media organization providing creative and production services for Christian ministries.

…To return to my review title, in many respects this is about the pre-incarnate Christ. If I’m reading Jesus on Every Page accurately, Christ is not only foreshadowed in the First Testament, but is very much present and active.

Sometimes when I’ve finished a review, I click around to see what others thought. After reading a dozen such, I thought you would especially enjoy this one. And this one, too.

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