Archive for July, 2012

O Canada

Today, I’m happy to share another guest post by Tim Fall.  I always appreciate his willingness to share his thoughts!

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I have a romantic idealism about our neighbors to the north, but I really like Canada. It could be our family camping trips there when I was a kid – yeah I’ve been to Penticton, folks – the cool Maple Leaf flag, all those Dudley Do-Right cartoons I watched, or this guy’s impressive spoken-word performance at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games opening ceremonies. Whatever it is, I’m hooked.

Originally I planned to use this great winter headwear as further proof that Canada is all kinds of awesome. (You know you want one). But here’s something even more impressive, although it’s the coach and not the hockey league authorities that deserve our admiration. A team of 18-20 year olds wanted to play in a hockey tournament but the timing was bad, coinciding with exams at school. So the players told the coach they couldn’t go unless the trip included study time. The coach agreed and notified the league that the players would miss the opening and closing ceremonies because they had to study. After the tournament finished, the league told the coach he made the wrong choice (all players had to be present at all functions according to the tournament manual) and banned him from coaching for a full year. Then it fined him $2000. He’s a volunteer coach. $2000 and a year in exile for making a choice that he informed them about ahead of time. Thanks for all your hard work, Coach; no we couldn’t have told you beforehand that the players weren’t allowed to skip the ceremonies.

From what little we can see of the coach in that article, I would bet he’d make the same choice if given the opportunity again. This is a coach who puts his players first, who answers to a higher sense of sportsmanship than that shown by the league.

This is a coach who reminds me of Peter and John.

In Acts 3 John and Peter performed a miracle, healing a man who had not walked in years. The amazed crowd asked how this happened and peter answered with a phenomenal sermon on the Good News of Jesus Christ. The authorities were not pleased.

The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. (Acts 4:1-3.)

The next morning there was a trial of sorts, but it didn’t go as planned:

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old. (Acts 4:18-22.)

Doing what’s right because it’s right. Not following orders, because those orders violate a higher principle. Taking your lumps for doing so (like going to jail), because you know you that ultimately you answer to God and not people. (Psalm 56:4; Joshua 22:22; Luke 16:15.)

Where have you seen this lately?

Would you do the same?

[Biography: Tim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for over 24 years with two kids (one in college and one just graduated, woo-hoo!) his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings in his life. He and his wife live in Northern California. Tim guest posts on other peoples’ blogs, but is too lazy to get a blog of his own.]

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“What is the point of all that Bible reading if you can’t even love your neighbor?”

In 2010, I set out on a quest to read the whole Bible in a year and to blog about my reading every day.  The first few weeks were more than a little daunting and overwhelming, and it was only by God’s grace that I pressed on past January.  As unsuited to the task as I felt,  however, and as overwhelmed as I often was by my own ignorance, there was also a part of me that–let’s be honest–was ever so proud of the fact that I was reading and blogging through the Bible.  My whole life, I have heard of the importance of daily Bible reading and disciplined time with God, and there was a definitely a part of me that was tickled pink at the fact that I was now averaging an hour a day at Bible reading and reflection.  This was the spiritual “big leagues,” in my mind.  This was monk stuff.  A bid for sainthood even!

I know that’s obnoxious.  I know it now, and I knew it then.  But you know how thoughts are.  They just come to you, and you’re like, “That’s so bad.”

but you still thought it.  And I found those little prideful reflections seeping in fairly regularly in my first few weeks of reading and blogging.

Source: charethcutestory on tumblr.com

For all I know, I might have gone on like that, awash in my own sense of self-importance, were it not for another thought that came, unbidden, one chilly afternoon.  I had been having a normal day with the run-of-the-mill frustrations, and some situation was annoying me, gnawing at my mind.  I honestly cannot remember what it was, but I remember that I was unduly frustrated with some person–maybe even one of my children.  And I was having a hard time reacting in a Christ-like manner.  As I was stuck in this common, human moment, my brain asked me a question.  It echoed a scene from Batman Begins, in which Alfred  chastises/motivates  Bruce Wayne when he is in a tough spot.  Wayne manor is burning down around him, and the bad guy is getting away, on his way to do some dastardly deed.  In the meantime, Bruce Wayne is pinned helplessly beneath a beam from his crumbling manor, unable to get free.  Alfred comes running and tries to help, but he, too, is no match for the heavy wood.  Frustrated, he asks Wayne, “What is the point of all those push-ups if you can’t even lift a bloody log?”

Needless to say, that rebuke does the trick, and before long, Batman is in full pursuit of the villain.

It was that style of rebuke that forced its way into my mind that afternoon, and it cut me deeply:

“What is the point of all that Bible reading if you can’t even love your neighbor??

In a second, all my pride evaporated, and I was left in a puddle of humility and even self-loathing.  What was the point?  Who cares how many hours I spend reading and studying the Bible if I can’t even treat people right?  If the Bible is not changing me into a more loving person, then what purpose does it serve??  Why am I even doing this–it’s a complete waste of time, if my actions are any indication.

In his book, The Blue Parakeet, Scot McKnight addresses this issue of reading the Bible versus living the Bible.  He is very careful not to couch this discussion in terms of a list of rules, however.  Instead, he emphasizes that we read the Bible in order to have a relationship with the God of the Bible.  The Bible is not God, neither is it a list of rules.  Instead, it is God’s story to us, a story told in a myriad of ways over hundreds of years by many different authors.  This story cannot be tamed or systematized or completely “figured out.”

I feel the need to say all that because without that background, his emphasis on actions could be perhaps construed as legalistic.  Again, McKnight is not advocating a “rules” approach to Scripture.  Rather, he argues that the Bible should transform us, as the same Spirit that was at work in the Bible’s formation is at work in us as listeners.  Thus, reading the Bible should empower us to live out the story of God “in our days in our ways” (109).  Because of that emphasis on transformation instead of a systematized theology, McKnight questions the idea of proper theology apart from actions.  He illustrates his doubt with a story about a student, who comes to him with the following question:

“Why does my youth pastor ask me all the time if I still believe in the ‘inerrancy’ of the Bible?”  I was about to explain to him the history of the doctrine of Scripture and the battles Christians have waged over the Bible when he interrupted me with these words (and this is how he said it):  “You know, Scot?  I don’t give a d–n what my youth pastor’s view of the Bible is because he doesn’t give one frickin’ dime to the poor and he’s never met a homeless person in his life and he didn’t even know about Darfur when I mentioned it at Christmas” (94).

In McKnight’s story, the student goes on to aver that he, in contrast, tries to read the Bible and do what it says.  Then, the student asks another question:

“What good is ‘inerrancy’ if you don’t do what God says?”  Then he asked a question that shook me a bit:  “If I do what God says, doesn’t that show that my view of the Bible is the right one?”  (94-95).

As inelegantly as it is worded, the student’s frustration echoes a frustration that I have felt many times.  It is the same frustration, in fact, that I felt when I asked myself that question about reading the Bible.  There just seems to be something pointless in studying the Bible if you don’t act on it.

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus shares a similar sentiment:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Jesus’ little brother agrees with the importance of actions:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do (James 2:14-17).

I believe that this “faith and deeds” dichotomy can also be applied to “Bible reading and deeds.”

As McKnight points out in his book, Paul makes the point explicitly in 2 Tim. 3:16-17:

 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

I’ve heard 2 Tim. 3:16 all my life, but it has not always been taught in conjunction with the verse immediately following.  McKnight argues that verse 17 is the main point.  The words, “so that,” signify that the point of Scripture is to equip you for good works.  Furthermore, he argues that these good works can only occur in the context of a relationship with God and can easily be summed up in the greatest commands:  Love God, and love others.

Now, the push back I would expect to receive from this position is that it downplays “proper theology.”  Is such theology not important?  I grapple with this question often.  How much does one need to understand of the Bible to follow it?  What views are indispensable?  And even more pointedly, does it matter if your view of substitutionary atonement is askew if you sincerely love God and love others?

I don’t know the answers really.  I do know that misinterpretations of Scriptures can really hurt people and drive them away from Christ.  At the same time, I have worshiped with people throughout my life that I believe are misinterpreting Scripture, and they believe that I am, and we will probably never come to an agreement…and yet, I love God and them, and they love God and me, so does it matter?

I’m inclined to answer no.  

Maybe that’s problematic.

I’m more confident in stating the reverse of that position.  Maybe proper theology does matter more than I think it does, but I can confidently say that one’s pristine theology doesn’t amount to a hill of beans if they aren’t living out God’s love in their lives.  I’m confident that love is the most important thing, and being filled with God’s love is more important than cognitively understanding the right things about Him.

Unfortunately for me, that means that there is no point in doing all this Bible reading if I can’t even love my neighbor.

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There are all sorts of ways to push back on this.  Feel free to try out some of those ways in the comments.

Also, the quotes from McKnight are taken from:

McKnight, Scot.  The Blue Parakeet.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2008.

Bad Shortcuts to Reading the Bible

Man, Scot McKnight really got me good.

I am still working my way through his book, The Blue Parakeet, and in chapter 3, he really lets me have it by demolishing my pet theories of studying the Bible. His book is about hermeneutics, which is really an unnecessarily ridiculous word that means the theory of interpretation. In this case, McKnight writes about how we interpret the Bible. He has his own ideas, of course, but before he gets to those, he spends some time discrediting some of our “shortcuts” to Bible reading. In chapter 3 of his book, he highlights five such shortcuts that he believes distorts the message of the Bible. The first shortcut is to read the Bible looking for “morsels of Law.” People who take this shortcut read the Bible as a rule book. The second shortcut is “morsels of blessings and promises.” People who read this way tend to turn the Bible into some kind of inspirational self-help book, a tome of positive thinking.

I really don’t see the Bible as either of those things, but that doesn’t mean I get off easily in this chapter. Whereas shortcuts 1 and 2 really don’t apply to me, shortcuts 3 and 4 hit home.

Shortcut 3 is called “Mirrors and Inkblots,” where the Bible becomes a type of Rorschach test that tells us about ourselves more than about God. McKnight definitely steps on my toes when he writes,

Some people read the Bible as if its passages were Rorschach inkblots. They see what is in their head. In more sophisticated language, the project onto the Bible what they want to see. If you show them enough passages and you get them to talk about the, you will hear what is important to them, whether it is in the Bible or not! They might see in the “Jesus inkblot” a Republican or a socialist, because they are Republicans or socialists. Or, they may see in the book of Revelation, a favorite of inkblot readers, a sketch of contemporary international strife. Or, they may have discovered in the inkblot called “Paul” a wonderful pattern for how to run a church, which just happens to be the pastor’s next big plan! You get the point–reading the Bible as an inkblot is projecting onto the Bible our ideas and our desires (48).

You’re killing me, McKnight! Honestly, I really do try not to project onto the Bible…but it just happens. For example, I really, really want Jesus to be a hippie who never says anything mean and always acts gently and lovingly…but he’s just not. And I really, really want God to be all peaceful and kind and for-heaven-sakes-stop-slaughtering-all-those-people-in-the-Old-Testament. Instead, in my Bible reading last week, God appointed Jehu king, and gave Mr. Seventy-Heads-in-a-Bucket the divine seal of approval! Argh. It truly does confound me sometimes that I can’t make the Bible my inkblot.

But that’s not even the worst of what McKnight points out. After all, I understand cognitively that the Bible is not an inkblot, as much as I apparently would love to remake God in my own image. When I got to the last shortcut, though, I was really thrown for a loop. I read it and honestly thought, “Wait…but isn’t that what hermeneutics is??” Here’s McKnight’s last bad shortcut: “Puzzling Together the Pieces to Map God’s Mind.” He says,

For some people the Bible is like a big puzzle. Once you’ve got the puzzle solved, you no longer have to work with the pieces. The shortcut is that once you’ve expended the energy to solve the puzzle, the job is done…These people know what the Bible says before they open it up because they’ve already puzzled it together (50).

And…this is me. I have referred to the Bible as a puzzle. I’ve referred to people as puzzles. In fact, I refer to most things as puzzles; I think in terms of puzzles. Puzzles are my favorite. I puzzle through everything, which means that I find various pieces of information spread out over the pages of the Bible, or the words and actions of my friends, or in a movie or a song or a genre, or in most anything that has information…and then I put them together to form some comprehensive line of thought. I’m a puzzler; it’s what I do. To drive the point home that this “shortcut” is aimed squarely at me, McKnight says, “Think about it this way: it is one thing to pull together the social thinking of Charles Dickens from his novels,” and then goes on to explain why that method is not applicable to Bible story (51). Friends, I kid you not, that was a paper I wrote in grad school: the social theory of Charles Dickens, based on his novels. It was one of my favorite papers, and I still think about it often whenever I contemplate social problems. The bottom line is, my puzzling is one of my favorite parts of my brain; I love its ability to take large, diverse chunks of information, distill them, and then systematize their underlying theories. This is exactly what I want to do with the Bible.

So far, I have been foiled. I have tried and tried to systematize the Bible into a comprehensive, coherent code of morality that takes into account every single book and story, but I just have not been able to yet. I was still holding out hope, when McKnight deflated the rest of that balloon. Here’s why he says the puzzle method doesn’t work.

1. It presumes to have “mapped the mind of God.” (Oh, the hubris!)

2. It “nearly always ignores the parts of the puzzle that don’t fit.” (You have to, or you’d go crazy. Trust me!)

3. It is impossible. (This is where he compares it to figuring out Dickens’ social theory and points out the diversity of viewpoints in the Bible.)

4. It “calls into question the Bible as we have it.”

That last reason is what really got me, and looking back, it is what inspired my post on cranky conservatism earlier this year. I had read this part of the book over Christmas break and then forgotten about it. Clearly though, the thoughts of the book were behind that post. What McKnight specifically says about reason number 4 is,

After all, had he wanted to, God could have revealed a systematic theology chapter by chapter. But God didn’t choose this way of revealing his truth. Maybe–this “maybe” is a little facetious–that way of telling the truth can’t tell it the way God wants his truth to told…

What is the problem here? In one word, mastery. Those who solve the puzzle think they’ve got the Bible mastered…God did not give the Bible so we could master him or it; God gave the Bible so we could live it, so we could be mastered by it” (52).

Sigh.

That man speaks the truth.

The last shortcut is called “Maestros,” and when we take this shortcut, we focus solely on our favorite voice, like Maestro Jesus or Maestro Paul, and ignore the others. That is tempting to me, as I love Maestro Jesus…but really, it’s the “puzzling” shortcut that got me.

Have you ever taken any of these shortcuts to the Bible? Which one(s) are your favorites?

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Quotes taken from:

McKnight, Scot. The Blue Parakeet. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2008.

The Challenge of The Blue Parakeet

I’m currently working my way through a fascinating and challenging book by Scot McKnight. It is called, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible. I really need to blog about this one because, even though it is relatively short and simply written, there is a lot to process within these relatively few pages.

For example, take the first chapter. In it, McKnight maintains that, as much as we might claim to revere and follow the whole Bible, the truth is that

we all pick and choose the verses that we follow.

To make his point, the author highlights several examples of clear commands and examples of the New Testament that most Christians today have no trouble disregarding: the Sabbath, the tithe as “combination of spiritual support…and social service” (not just a check written to the church), foot washing, the practice of charismatic gifts, and surrendering possessions (14).

Even though I still don’t like the sound of it, I have long known that we “pick and choose”; I think most Christians would acknowledge that, even if they didn’t use those particular words. After all, even as a member of a biblically conservative tradition, I was raised regularly hearing sermons explaining why verses like “greet one another with a holy kiss” and commands about female head coverings did not apply to us, but verses on baptism and women’s roles did. It seemed obvious to me even as a young teen that anyone who had even a passing knowledge of the Old and New Testaments understood that Christians did not follow every command within those sixty-six books.

The question that was never satisfactorily answered for me, however, was how do we pick and choose? The one tool I never received from my upbringing, as biblically centered as it was, was a consistent hermeneutic, a framework through which to read the entirety of Scripture and to understand how to interact with all the verses.

As an adult, I have read a few histories of the churches of Christ and now know that “we” do have a hermeneutic, known as the Baconian hermeneutic. If you are a nerd interested in learning about the Baconian hermeneutic, you can read a good description here. The author, John Mark Hicks, sums up not only the basics of the hermeneutical model, but also identifies my problems with consciously using it as a guide for Scripture. In fact, I now realize that most of the things I have over which I have disagreed with the church have come directly from the application of that model to Scripture. If nothing else, reading the post will explain many of the “quirks” of the churches of Christ!

That said, I love my church, and I don’t foresee me ever leaving this faith tradition that has given me so much. It has given me my love for Scripture, my hunger for studying and knowing the Bible through and through. It has also given me an anti-traditional, theologically-independent streak, which, to be honest, has its drawbacks, but overall, I’m glad I have it. And more than anything else, the church of Christ has given me a great desire for the unity of all believers, for us to embrace ourselves and others as Christians only, irrespective of denomination. Over our relatively short history, I think that the actual practice of the churches of Christ has diverged from that noble goal (depending on who you are, that statement is either disrespectful to the churches of Christ or the world’s biggest understatement). However, despite our inability to live up to our own lofty standards, those standards are still very much present in my heart.

What my membership in the church of Christ has not given me is a consistent hermeneutical model, as I was never explicitly taught “our” model and as I now reject it as an adult.

Thus, I’m in the market for a new one.

And so I’m interested in hearing what Scot McKnight suggests.

Do you have a consistent hermeneutical model? If so, please share!

“Be Nice to the Person You’re Next To”: Church Highlight Reel

Today was a good day in church.  Here are a few of the high points:

Highlight 1:  In Sunday school, after talking about the parable of the sheep and the goats and its implications for our church, our teacher directed us to 1 John 3:17.  I had the NLT, and this is how it read:

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?” 

I think it was the unfamiliar translation, but something about that verse just hit me in the face like it was the first time I’d heard it.  Such a simple question…

In discussing what a life that follows these verses looks like, our Sunday school teacher said something that really hit home to me:

“It’s about having your day usurped.  It’s about finding out that the things you thought were important are not as important as the needs of others.”

Ouch.  My plans tend to be very important to me.  These words, and the verses that lead up to them, really spurred me.  Yep, “spurred” is definitely the word!

Highlight 2:  After Sunday school, I went to pick up my kids, who were finishing up a thankfulness activity.  Luke proudly showed me his craft:

I’m thankful for our family, too, Luke.

Highlight 3:  During the Lord’s Supper, the speaker directed us to Philippians 2, an old stand-by.  Again, the simplicity of the NLT brought new life to the words in verse 4:

 “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”

Again, so simple and yet, so relevant.  Also, I think it has been too long since I’ve read an epistle; I realized today that I am starving for them.  Hungry for more, I read past the requisite first 11 verses and was blown away by verse 13:

 “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”

Ah…manna from heaven is what that verse is to me, especially in light of all the “spurring” that went on during Sunday school!

Highlight 4:  Greg did something different in church today.  He shortened his sermon on Romans 6, saving time for us to break out into four groups and answer discussion questions about the passage and its applicability to our lives.  His rationale was that it is a shame for us all to get together as a body and only listen to one guy talking, when there are so many stories and experiences and thoughts to be shared.  I loved that.  I also love that everyone in church was invited to be a part of the groups and to participate.  My kids and I even went to different groups!  In my group, there was a sweet six-year-old girl, and who thoughtfully participated, and the group leader, a Bible professor at Lipscomb, did a great job at affirming her (very good) comments.  For example, when the group was asked what individual things we could do to live out the story of Jesus, this little girl thought a moment, then raised her hand.  When called on, she offered, “You can be nice to the person you’re next to.”  So precious…and as I thought about it, so profound.  If you know me, you know that I do think we have global responsibilities to our neighbors across the oceans; however, I also know how easy it is to “love” people who are far away.  In contrast, it is sometimes so difficult to love the person who is right next to us:  our neighbors, the person in the grocery store, our brothers and sisters in Christ, even our family members.  As our group leader affirmed, just think of what a better world it would be if we all loved the person next to us!

Highlight 5:  During the closing prayer, I noticed Anna slip something into my bag.  After the prayer was over, I pulled out her note:

Is it any wonder that Sunday tends to be my favorite day?

What did you do in church today?

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