Thinking Out Loud

January 3, 2012

Why I Wouldn’t Quit The Episcopal Church Over Gay Marriage

In the past several years, there has been much division in the Episcopal Church in the U.S., the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Worldwide Anglican Communion over the issues of ordination of gay clergy and marriage of gay couples. 

I can honestly say that if were a member of such a church, I don’t honestly believe that either of these two issues would surface as a deal-breaker for me, for one simple reason:

I would have been gone long before that.

For me, the “gender issues” and “sexual orientation issues” are really secondary.  They are symptoms, but there is a deeper cause, and that cause is the rejection of the ultimate authority of scripture.  And that in turn stems from a stronger desire to nitpick over Biblical text and engage in the academic sophistication of  “higher criticism” than a desire to respond to God’s offer of genuine relationship and thereby to understand the ways of the Lord.

At least with a title like "Jesus Never Existed" by Kenneth Humphreys, you know where you stand. With other authors, the theological implications can be more insidious.

So a church which reveres Bishop Shelby Spong — or his sometime partner in crime, Marcus Borg — is of much deeper concern to me than a church which is wrestling with the gay issue, which I believe that all churches are wrestling with to different degrees.

Here’s a sample of Spong’s latest proclamation on the CNNBelief page:

…Jesus of Nazareth, according to our best research, lived between the years 4 B.C. and A.D. 30. Yet all of the gospels were written between the years 70 to 100 A.D., or 40 to 70 years after his crucifixion, and they were written in Greek, a language that neither Jesus nor any of his disciples spoke or were able to write.

Are the gospels then capable of being effective guides to history? If we line up the gospels in the time sequence in which they were written – that is, with Mark first, followed by Matthew, then by Luke and ending with John – we can see exactly how the story expanded between the years 70 and 100.

For example, miracles do not get attached to the memory of Jesus story until the eighth decade. The miraculous birth of Jesus is a ninth-decade addition; the story of Jesus ascending into heaven is a 10th-decade narrative.

In the first gospel, Mark, the risen Christ appears physically to no one, but by the time we come to the last gospel, John, Thomas is invited to feel the nail prints in Christ’s hands and feet and the spear wound in his side.

Perhaps the most telling witness against the claim of accurate history for the Bible comes when we read the earliest narrative of the crucifixion found in Mark’s gospel and discover that it is not based on eyewitness testimony at all…

This is Spong’s opinion, and he is entitled to it, and should count himself blessed to live in a country where people can write this sort of drivel and not be burned at the stake as a heretic.  Living elsewhere, or in other times, might not have proved as beneficial.

Mark’s gospel is not based on eyewitness testimony?  That should come as a surprise to those who have looked closely at Mark 14:51-52 and concluded that this sentence is completely superfluous — and even unnecessarily comic — unless Mark’s clear intent is to position himself directly in the middle of the story.

Spong’s obsession with undermining the Biblical text — a rather odd preoccupation for a clergyman, don’t you think? — also makes a liar out of Luke where he attests in Luke 1: 3-4 to the veracity of the Christ story as it has been told to his correspondent Theophilis.

And the concept of the miracles of Jesus being “attached” to the story in the eighth century is simply baffling.  There were many rabbis, many itinerant teachers, and we only have the names of a handful around the time of the gospels.  True, Jesus taught in ways that no one had before; his following went from a dozen young men to crowds in the thousands; but absent the supernatural miracles, there might be no particular reason why he would be remembered.  In fact, scholars tell us that the Pharisees — perhaps Spong denies they existed as well — were looking for very particular and unique miracles as signs of the Messiah:

  1. The casting out of a spirit from someone who was mute.  The customary approach was that the spirits would first name themselves before being cast out.
  2. The healing of an individual who was born blind. 
  3. The healing of leprosy.
  4. The raising from the dead someone who had been dead more than three days.  (Other such resurrections were to be discounted because of a belief that the spirit ‘lingered’ around the body for three days afterward.)

The Pharisees had an interest in knowing if Jesus was indeed the Messiah that goes beyond the adversarial relationship we normally associate them with.  These miracles proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus met all their criteria, though they remained blinded to the possibility of crossing the line of faith themselves. 

Suddenly, in the late 20th Century, the Jesus Seminar experts decide that every phrase and sentence in the gospels is suddenly open to debate.  Spong takes the ball and runs with it, and expresses his twelve main thesis as outlined below; I’ve highlighted certain words from the Wikipedia article:

  1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
  2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
  3. The Biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
  4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ’s divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
  5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
  6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
  7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
  8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.
  9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard written in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
  10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
  11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
  12. All human beings bear God’s image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one’s being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.

Actually, as I said at the outset, the twelfth item is really the least of my concerns with Spong in particular or Anglicans in general.  But the other eleven points represent a complete undermining of the Christian message as the early Church fathers understood it.

So what do we do with all this?

Marcus Borg and Sheldon Spong occupy an inexplicable amount of space in the “religion” section of general bookstores.  Pastors, priests and rectors of liberal denominations encourage the reading their books. For many such parishioners, authors of this ilk represent the only “Christian” books they will purchase in a given year.

I don’t.  Despite a sweetheart relationship with publisher HarperCollins, I have never ordered a book by either author for a customer, in fact, I have been rather outspoken that I do not wish to make it easy or convenient for someone to access their materials.

While I have strong feelings about the gay clergy and gay marriage issues that are found elsewhere on this blog, for me, the major issue is the authority of the Bible. Sola scriptura is not a hardline absolute for me, but as a guideline to understanding the major doctrines and ethics that form Christianity, it is reliable in 99% of all test cases and issues that arise.

The buck has to stop somewhere and for me it stops with the canon of scripture, not with a radical theologian from North Carolina who makes a living undermining the history and centuries-old practices of the faith that today, ironically, pays his salary.


December 27, 2011

So How Would You Respond?

First, someone who subscribes to some faith-focused view of things decided that this was an appropriate response to atheism:

But then, as often happens in these situations, someone subscribing to atheism decided to fire back across the bow with this:

At this, the majority of Christ-following blog readers here are expected to be offended.  However, for some reason, I’m not.  I rather like the rather quaint way of putting the story because it highlights that this is indeed a story of “foolish things that confound the wise.”

Cosmic?  Yes, in the sense of ‘out of this world.’  In fact, I would think it very important to begin the story with the premise that the intersection of God and mankind is very much the intersection of different dimensions.

Jewish?  Yes.  Christianity is birthed out of and is very much the fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham, even the promise given to Adam.

Zombie?  Well, that’s a little extreme, but it fits.  Personally, I always viewed Zombie-ism as a kinda a lifestyle thing, so for me it could describe both Jesus and John the Baptist in their respective wilderness days.

Live forever?  Indeed!  Eternal life starts now.

Eat his flesh?  No self-respecting Christian I know has ever denied that this is a “Top 5” entry in the category, “Hard Sayings of the Gospel.”   But non-Catholics would say the language is figurative inasmuch as we partake of his sufferings on the cross; Catholics would claim a more literal experience of actually eating his flesh.

Telepathically tell him you accept him?  I’d say the person who wrote this has a better understanding of the gospel than the average church-attender, because at least he/she grasps that the centrality of crossing the line of faith has more to do with an act of believing faith than it does with trying to earn acceptance on the basis of helping little old ladies across the street.  Apologies to elderly females reading this.

…As your master?  Again, bullseye!  There are references in the New Testament to Jesus as Savior, but they outnumbered by references to Jesus as Lord by a ratio of 215:1.  Besides, if you’ve bought in to this point — if you’ve gotten past flesh-eating and zombies and telepathy — you probably feel you’re on to something that you’re going to dedicate yourself to, right?  In for a penny, in for a pound.

So he can remove an evil force?  Sorta.  The Apostle Paul acknowledged the ongoing presence of sin and temptation in the life of the Christ-follower.  I’d refine that one to read, “So he can give you the power to conquer an evil force” on the basis of the conviction that he already conquered it.

A rib woman was convinced by a talking snake…?  God created beings with totally free will including the ability to both reject his authority and to reject his love and desire for community with mankind.  But that had to both be tested out, and also be demonstrated for the man and woman to see for themselves.  There might be dozens of ways to do this, but if you’re looking for a good story, you really can’t make this stuff up. In the first chapter of The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey quotes Walter Wink as saying, “If Jesus had never lived, we never would have been able to invent him.”  That’s how I feel about this.

Makes perfect sense?  Depends to whom you’re speaking.  “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” II Cor. 4:4 (NIV) On the other hand, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. ”  John 1:12 (NLT)

Thanks for reading today.  If you’ll excuse me now, I’ve got to spend some time in telepathic communication, and then me and the rib-woman are gonna have some breakfast.

November 4, 2011

Those Pesky Bible Contradictions

I really enjoy the beginning of a new month because I get to mine the archives of a past series of posts here at T. O. L.  You see, I won’t repeat anything that isn’t at least a year old and a lot of work went into this one, originally published 11/11 last year…

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Ever seen this picture before?

It’s hard to miss it if you were to look recently at atheist or agnostic blogs or websites. It’s a graph of alleged Bible contradictions. It originates with and can be seen in detail by clicking this link, and then enlarging the magnification in your .pdf viewer.

But as a commenter at Fight the Faith points out, some of them are a bit of a stretch:

Want to point out that some of these don’t make much sense. For instance:

#359. Is all scripture inspired by God? 2tim 3:16 ≠ 1cor 7:12, 7:25

2 Timothy 3:16 is, indeed, about scripture being inspired by god. 1 Corinthians 7:12 and 7:25, however, are about when it’s OK to divorce your spouse.

Which is what we expect is the case with many others in the list.

Often, people will say, “The Bible is full of contradictions;” but then when you ask them to name one, they can’t. Of course, others take a more scholarly approach, which is why we were excited to find the website, Contradicting Bible Contradictions. Pay a visit and click on the numbered, item-by-item look at these textual conflicts listed in the links on the right side of the page in groups of ten.

On another website, Bible Answers Today, we read:

Yes, I know that people had stated that they have found contradictions in the Bible. However, if you look at the Bible as a whole, and the context in which these “contradictions” occur, you will find that these so called contradictions are not contradictions at all.

Sometimes it is interesting to see how atheists and Christians alike deal with the seeming imperfections of an inerrant book. On the Christian side, we tend to consign difficulties to the realm of “mystery” or “the deeper things of God.” We remind each other that “we see through a glass darkly.”

Those answers, when spoken by someone who views the world through the eyes of faith are quite satisfying. But they don’t sit well with the broader population. This comment at Science Blogs – Pharyngula is interesting:

Hey, wait a minute, I have a book here by someone called Norman Geisler who assures us that god’s word is perfect. He has a ready answer for every “seeming” contradiction found throughout the Bible… I can’t help thinking that maybe if the Lord had been more careful in writing his word, apologists like Geisler, William Lane Craig, etc. wouldn’t be necessary (they’d be out of a job). But as the Lord, whose ways are indeed mysterious, has seen fit to write a book that is, among other things, full of contradictions, apologists are an absolute necessity…So an infallible and omniscient god evidently needs the help of fallible apologists… Interesting.

Of course it’s actually true in a sense. God does, in fact, choose to work hand-in-hand with his created beings. He creates a variety of animals, but asks Adam to name them. An interesting partnership, don’t you think?

Here’s something from the blog Best Dog Health Center (seriously…the things you find on Google Blog Search!) where I’ve added some emphasis:

There is a classic example of “contradiction” in Proverbs 26; 4 -5: ” vs. 4: Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. vs. 5: Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” What’s the answer then to this glaring contradiction? It is found in Ecclesiastes 3;7 “…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…”. The thing we have to remember is that while there may be many “contradictions” in the Bible there are no untruths. The contradiction is actually in our minds in our understanding of the Bible and not in the Bible itself.

Dave at the blog The Bible: Contradicition or Confirmation has this written on the masthead which appears on every blog page:

Taking a look at the would be contradictions some say are in the Bible There are well over 200 so called contradictions in the Bible. I have had the chance over the years to take a close look at many of them. I must say, thus far I have found that none of them hold water.

L.J. Kim at City Fellowship Community Church in downtown New York has a good attitude toward all this:

Not-having contradictions doesn’t actually “prove” that it’s true…does it? I don’t believe in the Book of Mormon, and I don’t agree with Marx’s communist manifesto, but I have no problem with the claim that they do not contradict themselves… It would be silly to try to disprove communism by looking for contradictions…

Some people seem bent on finding Bible contradictions so that they can say that God isn’t real… But if I were to forge a make-believe history, it would be easy enough to make sure there were no self-contradictions. ”Star Wars” is a made-up story without contradictions…

But what about ________ ? Isn’t that a contradiction you ask? The Bible has two kinds of apparent contradictions…

Real accounts of historical events, even when they’re accurate can have “apparent” contradictions. One person said he came home from LA, another person said he drove home from the airport, yet another says he took a cab. Contradictions? Not necessarily… They’re all describing the same event. So if you’re into crime drama’s, one eyewitness account of a homicide might say that the person’s brains were blown out, another says he was shot, and the coroner’s report says he died of asphyxiation… These can all be accurate accounts of the same event…

The other kind of apparent contradiction is the kind that asks us to look more closely, to think more deeply… In order to save your life you must first lose it. In order to really live, one must take up the Cross…

Sometimes the only approach is to sit down with someone and deal with each individual objection, one by one, as in this post at Frances and Friends:

For instance, there are several seemingly contradictory Passages about what happens when men gaze upon the Face of God, etc. St. John 1:18 says, “No man has seen God at any time” and Exodus 33:20 says, “And God said, You cannot see My Face: for there shall no man see Me, and live.” Yet, in Genesis 32:30 it says, “And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face.” Further, Exodus 33:11 says, “And the LORD spoke unto Moses face to face, as a man speaks unto his friend.” Which is correct?

What most of us fail to realize is that the word “seen” or “see” also means “to comprehend” or “to understand.” So, the Verse in St. John does not contradict the Verses in Genesis and Exodus at all. What John was saying was that no man has ever comprehended or understood everything about God – not at any time. We use the same kind of terminology in our conversations today. For instance, we will explain something to someone and then say, “Do you see?” But we don’t really mean “see,” as to look with the natural eye. We simply mean, “Do you understand? Do you comprehend?” So there is clearly no contradiction here.

I post that, knowing it was written by Jimmy Swaggart, a man whose life was at times one giant contradiction. (Yes, I could have left that author information out, but chose not to.) It’s a valid answer to the particular question, and a valid response to how we can deal with these things if we’re provided the necessary context.

I’ve heard it said that of all the alleged contradictions in the Bible, most are about numbers, measurements, the location of cities etc.; and only two have a bearing on doctrine, theology, or anything that actually matters to the study of Christianity.

How far do you go if you’re determined to write off the Bible? In Psalms it uses the phrase, “From the sun’s rising…” and we could argue that the sun doesn’t actually rise, but the earth rotates. But is the phrase invalid if we still continue to use it in the year 2011?

I’m told my grandmother’s contemporaries used a rather strange phrase, “looking for the hair in the egg.” It means approaching the situation determined that there are difficulties and problems beforehand. It’s not about whether or not there is actually a “hair in the egg;” whatever that means, but about the attitude with which people approach certain aspects of life.

I don’t think any chart of “Bible contradictions” is sufficient to sway me from a book which is like no other. The Jewish approach to scripture was to consider it a jewel, like a large, rare diamond that refracted the light differently each time it was examined. That’s the kind of book it is.

I like to think of the scriptures in terms of those 3D pictures they often sold at shopping mall kiosks before Christmas. You would stare and stare, and then suddenly another image would come into view. Only with the Bible there are multiplied images waiting to be discovered.

I’m sorry if that defies logic and reasoning, but you can’t un-convince me of the reality of my faith.

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time changeHere in North America, Daylight Saving Time 2011 ends Saturday night, or more correctly, Sunday morning, November 6th at 2 AM. You were going to get up then anyway, right?  To get a drink of water.  Or something. If you’re reading this on Sunday morning,  you might still make it to church!

October 21, 2011

Friday Fun: The Likeable Bible

What if every time you were reading your Bible you could click “like” next to verses that were especially meaningful?  Or especially likeable?  Apparently someone has been clicking something, because lo and behold, we have the website, The Likeable Bible.

At his blog, Big Ear Creations, Dave Carrol decided to have some fun doing analysis on the top ten:  (It’s considered proper to link at this point, but some of you don’t, so…)

There’s a fascinating site called “The Likeable Bible” that breaks the Bible down verse by verse, and asks people to ‘like’ the individual verses they like the most.

Let’s look at the current Top Ten and see if we can cast vast non-contextual, overblown, sarcastic generalizations and semi-baseless assumptions about what it says about people.
#1 and #2 (The boozy verses)

Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Proverbs 31:6

Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.
Proverbs 31:7

What it says: Well… people like their drinkin clearly. I actually love these verses too. They make the conservative squirmy. Of course it does say right before that it’s not for Kings and rulers to crave it… so maybe all those sad sack country songs about friends in low places drinkin whiskey resonate with the facebooking masses.

#3 (The Beginning)

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Genesis 1:1

What it says: It means that people wound rather get in arguments about dinosaurs, gardens and strategically placed fig leaves than the publicly espouse the deity of Christ. Ooooo…

#4 (The Commandments)

Thou shalt not kill. Exodus 20:13

What is says: It means that people are still trying to avoid thinking about those whole coveting the neighbor and pesky Sabbath ones.

#5 #8 #10 – (The Novelty Verses)

And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. 2 Kings 2:24

Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore; lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness. Leviticus 19:29

But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence 1 Timothy 2:12

What is says: Bear maulings, whores and silencing women. Gotta love the Bible. It says that there are lots of former Sunday School boys who amused themselves by trying to make their friends laugh by passing the funny scriptures around while a lady in a Hawaiian shirt put on a puppet/felt board combo show… on Facebook. I’m personally very disappointed that Ezekiel 23:20 is not there though. That’s what I “Liked”

There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.

Best… verse… ever
#6 (Anger at the rich)

And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. Matthew 19:24

What it says: People love this one. Mostly because 70% of our culture has no liquid money and are drowning in debt and revel in seeing a rich guy is get burned. Schadenfreude. Yep. That’s why people like it so much. Of course they often forget the poor widow that Jesus lauded gave MOST of her earthly possession and wealth so… easy treading there plankeye.

#7 (The Slam Dunk)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16

What is says: It says that people only really know a couple of Bible verses… and this is one of them.
#9 (The Tats)

Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:28

What it says: It says that the namesake “Mothers” whose son’s chose to honor with ink on their upper arm… didn’t find it quite so touching.

BONUS #11 (Fruity Sex)

Strengthen me with raisins,refresh me with apples,for I am faint with love. Song of Solomon 2:5

What it says: I don’t know why fruit was such a big part of Bible sex… but it looks like I’m not the only who curious about it. Where do you put the raisins?

~Dave Carrol

October 19, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Not the most focused list this week — certainly nothing like the one two weeks ago — this one is rather random.  But it will take you to places you might not otherwise have visited…

  • Jeff Fischer guests at Near Emmaus and suggests that Adam — as in Book of Genesis Adam — is actually a metaphor.
  • Tom wants to ban the use of the word ‘church’ in North America for five years.
  • The ever provocative Mark Driscoll apparently preached a sermon titled God Hates You, so Sarah wants him to know that, despite this, God loves him.
  • It’s bad enough getting hate-filled comments at your blog, but even worse when you trace the IP address back to what is almost surely someone from your former church.
  • Bible aficionado J. Mark Bertrand spends some time sniffing the pages of The Arion Press NRSV Bible which is actually too heavy to be carried in the processional.
  • Jennell Williams Paris — who never met a topic she couldn’t tackle — thinks online dating sites are appropriate for Christians.  But Leslie Ludy disagrees strongly.
  • Another one of those articles promoting the idea of not delaying marriage, i.e. marrying young.
  • Kent Shaffer profiles the Water of Life filtration system being implemented by Compassion International.  This one works with water sourced from less desirable places than water obtained from wells.
  • Matt attends the Catalyst Conference and walks away feeling uncomfortable about the idea of ‘big church’.
  • Jesus said we could ask for anything and He would do it, but it’s hard to see results while we maintain traces of doubt that would appear to nullify the offer. So what did Jesus mean?
  • When his 28-year old gay son arrives at a midweek meeting with his boyfriend, the pastor yells “Sic ’em,” as the two are kicked and punched. (Note: This source isn’t a Christian blog, but I feel we need to be aware what is taking place and how it is perceived.)
  • A Wiccan claims she learned all about astrology from C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy series.   (Note: This one ain’t a Christian blog either, or even close, but again, if you’re open to reading, the first seven or eight paragraphs will give you an idea of how some people view the world.)
  • Christian bookstore owners find out why the DVD series based on Janette Oke‘s eight book Love Comes Softly series suddenly has a # 9 and a #10.
  • I’m not sure who the Reeds are, or how they originally got on my blogroll, but Joe Reed’s family of missionaries in South Africa got robbed this month, which can take awhile to sort through.
  • I guess that wraps up this week, except for the weather forecast: Slightly overcast with a chance of passing showers, but we don’t expect the rain to last —

June 10, 2011

Ya Want Deep Preaching? I’ll Give Ya Deep…

This piece appeared originally earlier in the week at Christianity 201.

There are presently two strains of evangelical preaching emerging. Some preachers, like Andy Stanley prefer the “one thing” approach; providing a rhythm and cadence to their preaching which leaves their listeners remembering a clear message and a clear application. The classic, “It’s Friday Night… But Sunday’s A-Comin'” is a message you’ve probably heard, or at least heard alluded to, that is based on this type of teaching.

The other style is the kind of message that gives you much information about context and history as well as cross-references to at least a dozen related scriptures. There are multiple points and various information sidebars.  While both styles can do verse-by-verse, or exegetical teaching; this exegetical style or expository preaching is considered by some a hallmark as to what constitutes real depth in preaching ministry.

The problem is that sometimes the people in the second camp, feel that the people in the first camp are not giving their people enough “depth.” This came up in the Elephant Room Conference where Steven Furtick used hyperbole to indicate the degree to which he did not want to aim for going deep on Sunday mornings.*

And it comes up here in this exchange between John Piper and Rick Warren. You might prefer to go direct to the YouTube page and click on some of the other subjects covered in this interview series. Some of the clips will also run in playlist form, allowing you to just sit back as the videos play in succession.

“Simple does not mean shallow.” “Simple does not mean simplistic.” What is deep? Warren says he taught series on sanctification and incarnation without actually using the words; do you think that is possible?

*For your interest, here is the discussion between Steven Furtick and Matt Chandler, moderated by James MacDonald. It gives you some insight into how pastors wrestle with the “deep” question.

What’s your definition of deep preaching?

February 14, 2011

Fantasy Bible Translation Critique

In some ways, this picks up where we left off yesterday…

You’ve been away overseas for several months.  When you return home your closest friend is talking about a hot new Bible translation which was published while you were absent.  You’re not familiar with it, nor its publisher.

Your friend hands it to you saying, “Check out a favorite verse or section and see what you think.”

So where do you turn?  Name up to three verses or passages or chapters — from either the first testament or the second testament —  that you would want to examine first:

  1. .
  2. .
  3. .

Place your answer in the comments section. And please play along; unwarranted comments will be deleted.  Everyone is invited, from recent Bible readers to PhDs in Biblical Studies.

January 14, 2011

The Gospel In a Single Sentence

When Dane Ortland, a senior editor at Crossway Books asked some people in his Rolodex to summarize the gospel in a single sentence, below are some of the responses he got.  Actually, to be fair, the question asked was to summarize The Bible in a single sentence.  But it’s a re-hash of a familiar theme among certain blogs repeated over and over and over and over and over and over and over again: What is the gospel?

I remain perplexed by this preoccupation, this obsession that certain people in the Reformed tradition have with trying to formulate the ultimate definition of the evangel; the good news. Without being flippant, I think that, like pornography, you know it when you see it; or in this case hear it or read it.

Mylon LeFevre, the musician from the early days of CCM put it this way, “If it didn’t sound like good news, you haven’t heard the gospel.”

I also think that, when considered in the light of the Jewish appreciation of the scriptures as a great jewel that reflects and refracts the light in infinite ways each time we look at it, the idea of trying to formulate a precis of the Bible is to venture into an endless and perhaps even frustrating mission. What would Jesus think of trying to consolidate something so great, so wide, so high, so deep into a finite number of words?

That God loves us and cares for us enough to intervene — that incarnation should ever take place at all — is such a mystery.  Why mess it up with over-analysis? Instead of reading about the gospel, and writing about the gospel, and — oh my goodness! — blogging endlessly about the gospel; would it not be better to get out into the streets and be living the gospel?  My answer would simply be:

  • It’s the story of the history between God and humankind.

Is that not sufficient?

Why? Why? Why? Would someone from within the Reformed tradition be so kind as to give me a reasonable solution to this riddle: Why so much time, so much energy, so much angst over trying to answer a question that never seems to be answered to everyone’s satisfaction?

Nonetheless, here are few answers to Dane’s question:

  • God is in the process of recreating the universe which has been corrupted by sin and has made it possible for all those and only those who follow Jesus to be a part of the magnificent, eternal community that will result.  (Craig Bloomberg)
  • The movement in history from creation to new creation through the redemptive work of Father, Son, and Spirit who saves and changes corrupted people and places for his glory and their good. (Paul House)
  • The message of the Bible is twofold: to show how people can be saved from their sins through faith in Christ’s atonement AND how to live all of life as a follower of God. (Leland Ryken)
  • God reigns over all things for his glory, but we will only enjoy his saving reign in the new heavens and the new earth if we repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the crucified and risen Lord and who gave himself on the cross for our salvation.  (Tom Schreiner)
  • God made it, we broke it, Jesus fixes it! (Jay Sklar attributed to Michael D. Williams)

Two of the authors merely paraphrased a familiar verse in John 3:

  • God created mankind in order to love them, but we all rejected his love, so God sent His Son to bear our sins on the cross in order that by believing in His sacrificial atonement, we might have life.  (Grant Osborne)
  • God was so covenantally committed to the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him may have eternal life! (Dan Block)

I thought there was actually more life in the answers given in the comments section:

  • God chose one man (Abraham) in order to make of him one great nation (Israel) so that through it He might bring forth the one great Savior (Jesus) and through Him demonstrate God’s glory and extend God’s grace to all creation.  (John Kitchen)
  • The good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that provides full and free deliverance from the penalty and power of sin, by the grace of God alone, through faith in Christ alone, plus nothing – all to the praise of His glorious name.  (Seth from Lynchburg)
  • Jesus, God’s promised Rescuer and Ruler, lived our life, died our death and rose again in triumphant vindication as the first fruits of the new creation to bring forgiven sinners together under his gracious reign.  (attributed to Steve Timmis)
  • Why try and better John the Baptist? He succintly summarizes the Bible: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”(John 1:29). It’s all there – epiphany, sin, sacrifice, salvation, redemption, justification, forgiveness, release, freedom and victory. (Michael Zarling)
  • The Triune God of Eternity restoring the demonstration of His glory in that which He has created by the redemption of creation through God-man, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rick from Dallas)

But at the end of the day — if you haven’t already spotted the pattern here — my favorite item in the comment section is this one:

  • Why didn’t you ask any women to contribute?  (Gillian)

To read many of the other featured definitions; and dozens of other comments; or to add your comments to the mix; click over to Dane’s blog, Strawberry Rhubarb.

October 8, 2010

Checking Primary Sources

Are you easily intimidated spiritually?  It’s easy to do.  The other person seems more passionate about his or her faith.  (“A fanatic is someone who loves Jesus more than you do!”)  Or they are more versed on the nuances of Greek or church history or some finer point of doctrine.  (The present Evangelical culture places a premium on education.)   Or they have lived through some life experience which gives them church cred.  (This is essentially a modern incarnation of what in the previous generation called “testimony oneupsmanship.”)

Despite working in vocational Christian service for a couple of decades, I still know the feeling of spiritual intimidation.   Furthermore, because I try to render my own comments in an offhand or less threatening manner, I am probably more often intimidated than intimidating.

But this week something happened which made me wonder if I haven’t been underestimating myself.

I was in a discussion with an older man who was reiterating some party-line doctrine about a particular topic, and I was mentioning to him a couple of authors who are refuting that position.    I haven’t actually read their books, but I’ve been in discussions both in-person and online with people who suggest an alternative reading of the texts.    I think their view is at least worthy of serious consideration.

And he shared with me what he has always believed, which is what his church believes.   And then he had to leave.

About 30 seconds later, it hit me that while I had quoted or alluded to several scripture verses and mentioned a few chapters, he hadn’t mentioned a single one.     While I’m not strong on chapter and verse numbers — another way to be spiritually intimidated (or intimidating)  — I did toss in a few, while he provided none.

There are two takeaways from this.

The first recalls the line, “Of all the major faith groups in the world, Christians are least acquainted with their own scriptures.”   Quoting verse numbers is intimidating sometimes, and often needlessly so; but we will speak most authoritatively when we speak with the backing of God’s word, especially when we can reference books and chapters.   The force of our arguments is not the force of our own words, but the force of scripture.

The second is, we need to be able to say, “This is what the Bible says;” instead of “This is what I’ve always believed;” or “This is what our church teaches.” We need to check primary sources, in this case the one primary source as the source for what we have come to understand on any given issue.    (“Study to show yourself…rightly dividing the Word…;” “…sharper than a double-edged sword…;” “All scripture is inspired…and powerful for…rebuking…correcting…;” etc.) Too many people are living a second-hand faith quoting second-hand doctrines.

Let me take it further and suggest that any discussion that person most likely to appear victorious in any theological discussion will be the one who, proof-texting aside, has an argument backed by scripture.

We need to, as did the Bereans, search the scriptures.   And if we’re deficient in the area of remembering numeric references — despite being able to recite credit card, PIN, or computer passwords effortlessly — we need to work harder at developing this area of Biblical knowledge; chapters at the very least.

July 24, 2010

Meeting the Conditions

We’ve just come back from a few days away, and as I have nothing scheduled for today here at Thinking Out Loud, I’m going to borrow this one, which ran last night at Christianity 201 under the title, “Conditional Promises.”

If I’m not getting the desires of my heart,

Maybe I’m not delighting myself in the Lord

If I’m not finding my paths being made straight,

Maybe I’m not trusting in the Lord with all my heart.

If I’m not finding God is adding good things to my life,

Maybe I’m not seeking first His Kingdom.

If it doesn’t seem like God is working in all things for His glory,

Maybe I’m not loving God or trying to live according to His purpose.

If it doesn’t feel like God is hearing from heaven, healing the land and forgiving sin,

Maybe it’s because as His people, we’re not humbling ourselves, seeking his face and turning from our wicked ways.

If it doesn’t seem like God is lifting me up,

Maybe I’m not humbling myself in His sight.

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