Thinking Out Loud

August 9, 2018

Reflections on Bible Reading is Truly Inspired

A Review of Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson)

Sometimes you find a term online which helps you describe something for which you didn’t know there was a word. In this case, the word is memoirist. A quick check this morning revealed that I’ve actually read all of Rachel Held Evans’ output, and I can’t help but notice in this personal, subjective approach to the Bible there is a striking similarity to the writing of Philip Yancey. If you know how I feel about Yancey, you know this is high praise indeed.

Inspired is, at least ostensibly, a look at the different genres in our scriptures. Anyone familiar with The Bible Project videos is aware that we need to read each of these genres differently and interpret them — both in terms of original meaning and present-day application — in terms of the rules for that type of literature.

Or maybe not. In Inspired, Rachel Held Evans suggests that they are all narrative, even to the point of labeling the poetic books as “wisdom stories,” existing alongside “war stories,” “deliverance stories,” “gospel stories,” “origin stories,” and yes, in a category by themselves, “fish stories.”

A gifted writer who grew up in church and researches well, she doesn’t begin to annotate all the background material which went into each chapter. If you did grow up in church, as with her other works, there is a sense in which her story is your story. I found that many of her own experiences resonated with my own.

But there’s also a sense in which this book is aimed at potentially new Bible readers; seekers and recent converts alike who are trying to find the common threads which knit the 66 books in the Protestant canon into a unified, single story. A strength of her classification methodology is that it allows her to blend First Testament and Second Testament material seamlessly.

In between chapters there are some almost whimsical narratives of her own. One places Job in a modern context with his ‘friends’ discussing his recent hardships in a cafeteria. This one deserves becoming a short film.

Rachel Held Evans is viewed as a progressive, and there are certainly some indications of this at a few junctures in her book, but for the most part, it’s about her conservative roots and the reading perspective on the Bible those roots handed her.

I invite you to see for yourself, there are excerpts from the book here (resistance stories, including their similarity to American’s Civil Rights Movement) and here (war stories, including the so-called ‘texts of terror.’)

 

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December 19, 2014

Defining Your Terms

When you say you’re a Bible & Science ministry, does that mean

  • you believe in a literal six-day creation and a young earth?
  • you believe in an old earth; that Genesis is allegorical, that evolution is probable?
  • you focus on intelligent design and try to skip the subjects above ?

When you say you have a prophetic gift, does that mean

  • you speak forth with a prophetic voice concerning issues facing the church and/or the world in general?
  • your ministry almost exclusively revolves around end-time predictions?
  • you counsel people and help them find where they are to live, what should be their vocation, who they should marry, etc. ?

When you say your church is charismatic, do you mean

  • the music is loud and lively, and people clap and rejoice during worship?
  • your church emphasizes belief in the limitless power of God and has an active desire for a manifestation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit ?

When you say you’re a ministry to Christians struggling with homosexuality, does that mean

  • you try to assist gay Christians out of that lifestyle through prayer and/or reparative therapy?
  • you try to support gays who are struggling with faith issues and/or acceptance by the church ?

When you say you’re an apostolic ministry does that mean

  • you work with church-planters and missional communities to encourage people who have the gift of apostle?
  • you are frequently addressed as “Apostle _______” as you see yourself as part of a line of apostolic succession and/or feel there is a special anointing on your ministry?

When you say you have a ministry to worship leaders, does that mean

  • you assist worship leaders in the personal spiritual development and in building the tools they need to build their teams?
  • you help worship leaders navigate areas such as song selection, instrumentation, arrangements, sound systems, etc.?
  • you exist to advance an agenda of a specific sub-genre of worship: hymns, modern hymns, ‘soaking’ music, prophetic worship, etc. ?

When you say you’re a ministry to the Jewish community do you mean

  • you stand in the Messianic tradition and want to keep as much of the Jewish ethnic and cultural flavor, while recognizing Jesus as the promised Messiah?
  • you stand in the Hebrew Christian tradition which involves assimilating Jewish believers into western evangelical culture?
  • your ministry is more concerned with both the political and prophetic ramifications of the state of Israel ?

When you say you are a ‘progressive’ Christian do you mean

  • you prefer contemporary churches which don’t make a major issue out of some of the traditions and taboos which defined Christianity in the mid-20th-century?
  • you have a more liberal position on Christian doctrine and theology and Biblical inerrancy ?

When the bottom of your church sign reads, “Everyone welcome,” do you mean

  • you regularly interact with people from the wider community and while it may be a foreign environment in some respects, they would feel relaxed attending services and sense you’re genuinely glad they came?
  • people are welcome as long as they dress like you, believe the same doctrines, read the same Bible translation, vote for the same party, and conform to the church’s position on social issues ?

???

Any other positions out there that bring confusion?

March 1, 2013

March Madness, Blog Style

I don’t do repeats here until the piece is a year old.  So a new month always offers new items from the previous year that you may have missed… (Apologies to email subscribers…this is long!)


A Letter to the Nominating Committee

Dear Nominating Committee;

Visiting your church for the first time last Sunday, I noticed an announcement in the bulletin concerning the need for board members and elders for the 2012-2013 year. I am herewith offering my services.

While I realize that the fact I don’t actually attend your church may seem like a drawback at first, I believe that it actually lends itself to something that would be of great benefit to you right now: A fresh perspective.

Think about it — I don’t know any one of you by name, don’t know the history of the church and have no idea what previous issues you’ve wrestled with as a congregation. Furthermore, because I won’t be there on Sundays, I won’t have the bias of being directly impacted by anything I decide to vote for or against. I offer you pure objectivity.

Plus, as I will only be one of ten people voting on major issues, there’s no way I can do anything drastic single-handedly. But at the discussion phase of each agenda item, I can offer my wisdom and experience based on a lifetime of church attendance in a variety of denominations.

Churches need to periodically have some new voices at the table. I am sure that when your people see a completely unrecognizable name on the ballot, they will agree that introducing new faces at the leadership level can’t hurt.

I promise never to miss a board or committee meeting, even if I’m not always around for anything else.

I hope you will give this as much prayerful consideration as I have.

Most sincerely,


This Song Should Be the Anthem of Churches Everywhere

I was scrolling through the CCLI top 200 worship songs, and it occurred to me there is a song that really needs to be there; in fact it really needs to be part of the repertoire of every church using modern worship.

Eddie Kirkland is a worship leader at Atlanta’s North Point Community Church, where, just to warn ya, the worship set may seem to some of you more like a rock concert than a Sunday service. But I hope you’ll see past that and enjoy the song.

We want to be a church where freedom reigns
We want to be a people full of grace
We want to be a shelter where the broken find their place
We want to be refuge for the weak
We want to be a light for the world to see
We want to be a love the breaks the walls and fill the streets…

All are welcome here
As we are, as we are
For our God is near every heart

If those sentiments are not the goal of where you attend on Sundays, frankly, I think you’re doing it wrong.

Here’s another version of the song that was used as part of North Point’s Be Rich campaign, where each year, instead of reinventing the charity wheel, NPCC members flood secular social service organizations with money and volunteer hours.

Watch the song a few times, and then forward the link to today’s blog post — http://wp.me/pfdhA-3en — to the worship leader at your church.

If a church of any size desires to live up to what this song expresses, there’s nothing stopping that church from changing the world.


Qualifying “It Gets Better”

One of the Church’s biggest failures of the past decade has been our reaction, and over-reaction to the LGBT community, especially to those who — absent the treatment they see their peers receiving — hold on to a faith in the Messiah-ship of Jesus Christ.

On the one hand, there are the usual conservative voices who insist that any gay sympathies constitute an automatic ticket to hell. Frankly, I am curious to see who shows up to picket at their funerals.

On the other hand, there are among the more progressive progressives, certain Christian bloggers who in their compassion have thrown out a lot of the core of the Bible’s ideal for family, procreation and partnership.

And now, to add to our confusion, we discover that Psalm 139, the scripture used as a major element in the argument against abortion, is used as a rallying cry for gay and lesbian Christians. Regardless of which translation is employed.

Anyway, I’ve already blogged my personal place of balance on this issue, but in thinking about it this week, I’ve realized that my particular choice of words has a bearing on another commonly heard phrase particularly among teenagers who either come out of the closet by choice or who are outed by their classmates.

The phrase is, “It gets better.”

For the bullied, the confused and the lonely, I certainly hope it does. Soon.

But I have to say this, and maybe this can be your response as well, “It gets better, but it doesn’t necessarily get best.”

In other words; I’m there for you.

I understand.

I’m not someone looking at this from the detachment of an outsider; I’ve read your blogs, I’ve looked in to your online discussions. I do get it.

But with all the love in my heart, I just think that ultimately, God has something else in mind which, because He made it, is perfect.

So yes, it gets better, thought it doesn’t necessarily get best.


A Powerful Story Echoes Three Decades Later

This was recorded nearly 30 years ago at a Christian music festival somewhere in Canada. Nancyjo Mann was lead singer in the band Barnabas. I always knew that I had this in my possession — on VHS, no less — and have always felt that more people need to see it. For those of you who knew me back in the days of the Searchlight Video Roadshow, you’ll remember that I often closed each night with this particular testimony.

December 14, 2012

I Need To Know Where You’re Coming From

When you say you’re a Bible & Science ministry, does that mean

  • you believe in a literal six-day creation and a young earth?
  • you believe in an old earth; that Genesis is allegorical, that evolution is probable
  • you focus on intelligent design and try to skip the subjects above ?

When you say you have a prophetic gift, does that mean

  • you speak forth with a prophetic voice concerning issues facing the church and/or the world in general
  • your ministry almost exclusively revolves around end-time predictions
  • you counsel people and help them find where they are to live, what should be their vocation, who they should marry, etc. ?

When you say your church is charismatic, do you mean

  • the music is loud and lively, and people clap and rejoice during worship
  • your church emphasizes belief in the limitless power of God and has an active desire for a manifestation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit ?

When you say you’re a ministry to Christians struggling with homosexuality, does that mean

  • you try to assist gay Christians out of that lifestyle through prayer and/or reparative therapy
  • you try to support gays who are struggling with faith issues and/or acceptance by the church ?

When you say you’re an apostolic ministry does that mean

  • you work with church-planters and missional communities to encourage people who have the gift of apostle
  • you are frequently addressed as “Apostle _______” as you see yourself as part of a line of apostolic succession and/or feel there is a special anointing on your ministry ?

When you say you have a ministry to worship leaders, does that mean

  • you assist worship leaders in the personal spiritual development and in building the tools they need to build their teams
  • you help worship leaders navigate areas such as song selection, instrumentation, arrangements, sound systems, etc.
  • you exist to advance an agenda of a specific sub-genre of worship: hymns, modern hymns, ‘soaking’ music, prophetic worship, etc. ?

When you say you’re a ministry to the Jewish community do you mean

  • you stand in the Messianic tradition and want to keep as much of the Jewish ethnic and cultural flavor, while recognizing Jesus as the promised Messiah
  • you stand in the Hebrew Christian tradition which involves assimilating Jewish believers into western evangelical culture
  • your ministry is more concerned with both the political and prophetic ramifications of the state of Israel ?

When you say you are a ‘progressive’ Christian do you mean

  • you prefer contemporary churches which don’t make a major issue out of some of the traditions and taboos which defined Christianity in the mid-20th-century
  • you have a more liberal position on Christian doctrine and theology and Biblical inerrancy ?

When the bottom of your church sign reads, “Everyone welcome,” do you mean

  • you regularly interact with people from the wider community and while it may be a foreign environment in some respects, they would feel relaxed attending services and sense you’re genuinely glad they came
  • people are welcome as long as they dress like you, believe the same doctrines, read the same Bible translation, vote for the same party, and conform to the church’s position on social issues ?

???

Any other positions out there that bring confusion?

October 5, 2012

If You’re Gay But Not Happy

It’s been a year since I ran the letter which appears below, a letter occasioned by the suicide of a young gay teen. It’s not a perfect letter, but I felt it needed to appear again. What follows is something that really matters.

I’ve written other comments here about how I interpret the present social climate, and I don’t believe the issue is black and white, therefore I avoid words like right and wrong. That may disturb some of my more conservative readers, but their perspective might be different if the issue had literally come home.

This was also written in response to a couple of blogs by gay Christian teens that I was following a year ago when I wrote it. It expresses my heartfelt hope for their future and my desire to see their faith grow.

Dear __________,

Somehow I found your blog today. I’m from a different part of the world, and a different generation, but I want you to know that there is no mistaking your pain, and I could feel that pain in your writing and I care very deeply for you.

High School can be a terrible environment. People commit verbal and physical abuse easily, and even the kid with the greatest degree of conformity can unwittingly become the target of the week. The bullies act out on their own insecurities, perhaps even insecurities as to their own sexual identity, though you don’t dare suggest that out loud.Your life is a story that’s being written page-by-page, day-by-day. Only you get to choose the ending. I know you’re going through a period of depression, but your story doesn’t have to have a tragic ending. It doesn’t have to go the way you think it does. Your story can have an ending where you conquer, where you rise above the circumstances and perhaps even get to change some of the circumstances. You can write new chapters where things move in a different direction, where you can look back and say, ‘It didn’t get better overnight, but here’s a scene that was the beginning of where it got better.’

You should also know there are now alternative high schools where people are more accepting of your present sexual orientation. You might want to seriously look into that. Your parents would have probably helped you with college and university costs, they just need to be convinced that in your case you need that help sooner. But you might be able to find something closer to home if you live in a larger city. There are many ways to get that high school diploma.

I said present sexual orientation, not because I want to get into that discussion, but because you’re still fairly young, and like I said, there are always new chapters being written. On the one hand, I recognize that you know your feelings better than anyone, so the people who say, ‘This is just a phase he’s going through,’ aren’t being honest about how things are. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t want you to believe the lie that says, ‘This is who I am.’ Your sexual identity isn’t 100% of who you are, what you can accomplish and the person you can become. If you write on a piece of paper, ‘I am gay;’ write it in pencil, not in pen. You might actually some day need the eraser. I say that not because I’m doubting the reality of who you are now, but simply because, as a young teen, you are still a work in progress.

I should probably end by telling you that part of the reason I’m taking the time to write this is because I believe in a God that loves all people and therefore doesn’t hate anyone. I’ve seen other blogs written by young teens who are gay but have a deep faith, and are trying to follow Jesus in every aspect of their life. They pray, they read the Bible, and they try to find ways to serve others in Christ’s name. They are making a difference in their world. I have no doubt about that, but of course, also being gay, they remain a bit of a mystery to some of my friends and even me at times. I think God’s capable of sorting that, and I invite you to reach out to him in prayer, because I believe that He alone is the only source capable of helping you through the pain. I believe if you take one step toward him, he will come running to you.

Paul.


*see comments

March 29, 2012

Compassion Tempered With Concern

One of the Church’s biggest failures of the past decade has been our reaction, and over-reaction to the LGBT community, especially to those who — absent the treatment they see their peers receiving — hold on to a faith in the Messiah-ship of Jesus Christ.

On the one hand, there are the usual conservative voices who insist that any gay sympathies constitute an automatic ticket to hell. Frankly, I am curious to see who shows up to picket at their funerals.

On the other hand, there are among the more progressive progressives, certain Christian bloggers who in their compassion have thrown out a lot of the core of the Bible’s ideal for family, procreation and partnership.

And now, to add to our confusion, we discover that Psalm 139,  the scripture used as a major element in the argument against abortion, is used as a rallying cry for gay and lesbian Christians. Regardless of which translation is employed.

Anyway, I’ve already blogged my personal place of balance on this issue, but in thinking about it this week, I’ve realized that my particular choice of words has a bearing on another commonly heard phrase particularly among teenagers who either come out of the closet by choice or who are outed by their classmates.

The phrase is, “It gets better.”

For the bullied, the confused and the lonely, I certainly hope it does. Soon.

But I have to say this, and maybe this can be your response as well, “It gets better, but it doesn’t necessarily get best.”

In other words; I’m there for you.

I understand.

I’m not someone looking at this from the detachment of an outsider; I’ve read your blogs, I’ve looked in to your online discussions. I do get it.

But with all the love in my heart, I just think that ultimately, God has something else in mind which, because He made it, is perfect. 

So yes, it gets better, thought it doesn’t necessarily get best.

March 27, 2012

Mark Driscoll Can Be Blunt, Rachel Held Evans Can’t

Warning: Today’s post uses a word that is that a heart of this week’s major Evangelical controversy.

So anyway, there’s my wife, sitting in church a couple of weeks ago, and the speaker is doing a two-week series on Song of Solomon and he explains that a particular phrase is referring to “her lady bits.”

I was attending another church, where the pastor was pursuing a much safer study of Matthew 5, a particular teaching of Jesus which doesn’t contain any need to use the phrase, “her lady bits;” nor the V-word which my wife informs me showed up in the sermon also.

“I’m so glad I was not there for that;” I told my wife.

“Are you kidding;” she replied; “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world!”

I guess you had to be there. Or maybe not.

The V-word, which, we might as well be clear, is ‘vagina,’ also comes up in the manuscript for Rachel Held Evans new book, My Year of Biblical Womanhood; to be published, in theory anyway, by Thomas Nelson.

It actually appears twice in the text, and I’ve read both occurrences from a fringe website that claimed to be authoritative on this matter.

The publisher, Thomas Nelson, still intoxicated by the success of recent hits like Jesus Calling and Heaven is For Real, is now enjoying some additional press from this, and is hedging on the direction that Rachel should go. She can leave the words in, but have that adversely affect sales, or she can take out the offending (but not exactly slang) terms.

Earlier in the month she wrote:

They won’t let me use the word “vagina” in my book because we have to sell it to Christian bookstores, which apparently have a thing against vaginas. I make a big scene about it and say that if Christian bookstores stuck to their own ridiculous standards, they wouldn’t be able carry the freaking Bible. I tell everyone that I’m going to fight it out of principle, but I cave within a few days because I want Christian bookstores to carry the sanitized version of my book because I want to make a lot of money, because we’ve needed a new roof on our house for four years now, and because I really want a Mac so I can fit in at the mega-churches. I feel like such a fraud.

Then, last week, this:

I want to make it clear that it is not my editors at Thomas Nelson who are insisting that I take out the word “vagina.” I can stick to my guns, keep “vagina” in, and I suspect Thomas Nelson will still publish the book. The problem, as I understand it, is that Christian bookstores probably won’t carry it, and Thomas Nelson sells a lot of books to Christian bookstores.

So, as sad as it is, we have a business decision to make. Do we risk losing a bunch of potential sales in order to keep the word “vagina” in this context? Or do we decide to choose our battles and let it go?  And do I risk alienating myself from the Thomas Nelson team—which has been great so far—because I refuse to cooperate with Christian retailing, their area of expertise?

Blogger Tony Jones weighed in:

The problems with this are too numerous to enumerate. Among them:

  1. Many Christian (read, conservative evangelical) bookstores won’t stock her book anyway, because they’ll consider it “feminist.”
  2. Even if they do, they won’t sell many copies.
  3. Wait, there are still Christian bookstores?
  4. Wait, there are still bookstores?

Ha ha! Tony! Funny guy! But I agree with point #1, RHE is probably already too edgy for the conservative stores at issue.

But as I wrote at Christian Book Shop Talk, I’m not sure that its right for Thomas Nelson or Rachel or anyone else to presume on what bookstores are or are not going to carry.

…[I]t’s nice to think that the brick-and-mortar retail side of Christian book distribution still carries some weight. Guess we’re not dead yet.

But I also think they’ve been extremely presumptuous as to how prudish we really are.

Because the truth of the matter, is that this isn’t about you and me, the owners of independent bookstores and small chains; this is about LifeWay, because it’s LifeWay — or perhaps even more accurately, Baptists — who are going to raise the roof over this word.

Again, I’m not sure that this is about “Christian bookstores” as opposed to “a Christian bookstore chain.”

And as Rachel herself pointed out, this isn’t the first time:

In Ian Cron’s fantastic book, Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me, which was also published by Thomas Nelson, he writes this: “Did I mention that it’s cold? You have no idea how far a man’s testicles can recede into his body until you have jumped into the Dorset Qarry…My testicles were very, very angry.”

And in To Own a Dragon, the ever-talented Donald Miller writes, “I felt as though all the men in the world secretly met in some warehouse late at night to talk about man things, to have secret handshakes, to discuss how great it was to have a penis and what an easy thing it was to operate…”

Which brings us to Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk, who really puts this in perspective reminding us of that other rather blunt book which came out just a few weeks ago, Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll.

Why is this an issue, especially with all the triumphalistic chest-thumping lately in the Christian industrial complex about how courageous Mark and Grace Driscoll were to answer questions about various sexual practices with graphic detail in their book?

Oh sorry, I forgot. Mark is a man’s man, and the LEADER™ of a megachurch. He and his church are controversial. He swears for effect because he’s CUTTING EDGE™ and trying to reach hard core unbelievers. Driscoll is ANOINTED™. He’s MISSIONAL™ and he’s got satellite campuses and he goes on shows like The View and stands up for THE FAITH™ by saying that homosexuals need to REPENT™ and that sex is only for married heterosexuals and that wives should SUBMIT™ to their husband’s leadership in the bedroom and every other area of life.

Mark Driscoll is the Christian bookseller’s dream… There’s not an ounce of thoughtfulness, nuance, or mystery about him. It’s either blackest black or whitest white, expressed in monosyllabic, in your face, turn or burn PREACHIN’™. He can say vagina or penis or oral sex or anal sex or any word or phrase he likes because he is a Reformission Rev in pagan freakin’ Seattle and he is REACHING THE LOST™.

But Rachel, well, she has a vagina and it would be shameful for her to talk about it or even use the word in public. She’s not a pastor or LEADER™ (God forbid!).

140 people have signed a petition at Am*zon to have the word put back into the manuscript.  

Karen Spears Zacharias writes:

I suppose when they signed contract with Rachel it never occurred to the publisher that she would have the balls to talk about her vagina in a book about womanhood, heh? But then I suppose Thomas Nelson wouldn’t use the word balls either, heh?…

…And theologians argue over why people today don’t find the Church relevant to their lives. Perhaps the answer to that question could be found in the books Christians refuse to print, sell, buy and read.

Sometimes it seems that all Christians publishers really want us “good Christian” women to write about are Amish Vampires.

Suzannah at the blog So Much Shouting writes:

Yes, this is a ridiculous conversation to be having in 2012.  But I believe that it is symptomatic of a fear within the church of bodies and sexuality–especially female sexuality.

Are we not a people who worship an Incarnate God and believe that our own bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made?

Blogger Allison Buzard writes:

The big question I’m getting at is this: Church, are we willing to redeem our culture’s view on sex and sexuality?

It’s possible, but we have to get over our own awkwardness.  And it’s critical that we do because here’s the reality: There are lots of folks sitting in our church pews every week who are having sex.  Some of them attend your junior high youth group.  Some of them are in your college ministry.  Some of them are in your senior ministry.  Some of them are married.  Some of them are single.  But trust you me, sex is happening amongst your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and we out to be talking about it.

And then — if you haven’t had your fill of this already — there’s the Nazarene discussion forum, Naznet, which, if you really want to consider this further, has a number of comments which reflect the variety of views on this subject.  (Note to self: Visit this site again sometime soon.) 

Conclusion:

We live in a time when battle lines are being drawn between conservative Christians and progressive Christians.  I usually find myself standing somewhere in between, trying to build a bridge between both groups; trying to maintain doctrinal orthodoxy while at the same time recognizing that this ain’t 1949 or 1953 or 1961. It’s 2012 already.The world changed in-between; the world changed last year; the world changed last week.

We need to be mindful of the duality as we interact with the broader culture; as we live between two worlds; as we exist as aliens and strangers, having citizenship in another country; but having to live, eat, breathe, work and play in a world that’s not our permanent home. (See graphic below.)

To that end, we need authors and publishers who will translate our message into the vernacular of the day, or even the hour. We need books and book distribution networks that will illustrate Christian worldview in a way that people can understand. 

In the end, the books we create should, at times, make us uncomfortable.

UPDATE: MAY 10, 2012:

Another author, Karen Spears Zacharias faced similar resistance to explicit content and released her true story highlighting the impact of child abuse, A Silence of Mockingbirds through MacAdam Cage Publishing — in hardcover at US$ 25 — your local store can order it through Ingram using 9781596923751

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