Category Archives: Theology & Ministry

A Developing Doctrine of Scripture: Questions and Answers (Pt 1)

Daniel Kirk recently replied to my previous post asking about how Jeremiah and I have been processing questions about a Christian doctrine of Scripture, so I am going to attempt to make some sort of reply in multiple parts. In this first, part, I’ll explain where I’m coming from as far as my questions regarding Scripture and some of the answers I’ve come to.

I first began to explore ideas about Scripture during my last year of college while in a New Testament survey class with Bart Ehrman. I already knew at that point that I didn’t care too much about trying to integrate the Bible with science—I didn’t think it was meant to be read as a science textbook, though I didn’t yet know anything about Genesis vs. the Babylonian creation myth Enuma Elish or other such things that support this view. I also thought it was silly to care much about how well the Gospels harmonized, since every storyteller emphasizes slightly different things and whatnot.

That doesn’t mean I was without questions, however. Some of the things I was more concerned with included, “Do I care whether or not there was an actual flood or battle of Jericho or census by Quirinius? If so, what do I do? If not, what does that mean for a Christian doctrine of Scripture?” and “Do I care if Isaiah was written by 3+ people or if the Torah was pieced together around the time of the exile or if the Gospels weren’t written by the people whose names got appended to them or if pseudonymous letters are featured in the ‘Pauline’ corpus?”

At Fuller, I’ve explored these questions a bit, but not as much as I might have imagined. With regards to historical events, I suppose I’ve become ok with the possibility that certain events have been recorded with large brushstrokes capturing the meaning or basic idea behind various events without necessarily recording every detail with the same level of precision as a modern historian. For me, this is largely an issue of whether or not I approach to text ethnocentrically. If I insist that the authors of the Bible behave according to my cultural norms, then I can find fault with “inaccuracies,” but if I accept that their focuses and aims in telling stories were not always the same as mine, I can be ok with “mistakes.” At the same time, I think it’s wrong to approach the Bible using a hermeneutic of suspicion. I like to assume it’s generally trustworthy and not dismiss the basic plot of the story, or even the general direction of the details, without a really good reason. I don’t feel this is suppressing the truth about inaccuracies, just not getting too worked up over things that are not a big deal.

With regards to authorship, my answer is a little less certain. I don’t have a problem with the Gospels being written by different people than the authors named, since they don’t claim to be by anyone in particular in the text. I have no problem with the concept of communal authorship. I also don’t really have much of a problem with any person or group writing any part of the Hebrew Bible (like 3+ “Isaiahs”)—I sort of take the Hebrew Bible as it is since it wasn’t mine first. (Is that a cop-out?)

I have a bit more trouble with the possibly pseudonymous letters of the New Testament. It’s seems illogical see Ephesians and 1 Timothy as Scripture because they’re part of the canon if they’re part of the canon because they were supposedly written by Paul if they were not written by Paul at all. (For the record, I am not convinced that a differing vocabulary, etc. guarantees a different author, but I also don’t rule out the possibility. I’m not educated enough, I feel, to be anything but agnostic on the issue.) In the end, I am very cautious to dismiss these books because of their place in the canon and historic value to the church. I also know that various interpretations of the “difficult” passages of these books exist, so that there is not necessarily a reason for a feminist to feel pressure to toss them out of the Bible or relegate them to secondary status. I also feel cautious to insist that the named authors of these books—I don’t think I have a problem with a scribe or affiliate of an individual playing a large role in the composition of a letter. If someone who wasn’t even friends with the “author” was intentionally deceiving people by writing NT books, I would probably have a problem with it—but the fact is, I know nothing of the social networks, private conversations, or intentions of any of these people. I just sort of feel it’s an impossible problem to solve, so while it’s interesting to think about, I’m not very motivated to figure it out once and for all. Again, perhaps a cop-out, but that’s where I’m at.

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Those Sexy Protestants

The other day in class, I was reading Wikipedia articles to refresh my memory on Katharina and Martin Luther. I’m not entirely sure how I got on the topic, besides that I wanted to make certain that Katharina had indeed been a nun prior to marrying Martin, as some of the ex-monk reformers married nuns, while others didn’t. This information is very significant, because Jeremiah and I have discussed being a monk and nun for Halloween, and to make this seem less disrespectful, I wanted to be sure we had a real historical monk-nun couple we could refer to. “See, we’re not just promoting bad behavior among monks and nuns, we’re representing a real monk and nun that had a romance going on!” Who can argue with people trying to teach church history?

This raised, in my mind, for the first time, a deep irony within the Protestant tradition. How odd it is that we are just now beginning (and I mean beginning) to more openly discuss sexuality from a Christian perspective. While sex was certainly not the most important issue for the reformers, it seems the Reformation made a point of saying, “Catholics have got this wrong.” Because they believed sex was a good thing, priests should be allowed to marry. Hence, for the first time in a long while, the theological leaders of this time had wives. While I’ve heard some negative gender-related quotes from Martin, and I’m not trying to lift up his marriage as any sort of modern-day ideal, I do feel like for his time, he and Katharina were in some sense progressive. This seems to be a part of our heritage to celebrate.

We, as Protestants, at once point in time, intentionally embraced sex as something good, the source of differences in Protestant requirements for ministers (marriage is allowed), as well as our openness to birth control today. How ironic that we don’t proudly own that, and how sad that we have made so little progress in developing serious theological reflection on gender and sexuality over the past few centuries.

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Absolutely FREE!!!

The other day, Jeremiah’s (and my—though first Jeremiah’s ;o) friend Geoff shared with him some disappointing news: One of Corpus Christi’s local churches has a great plan to bring people to the Easter service next Sunday. Illustrating the reckless abandon with which our generous God loves us, they are giving things away. It sounds good enough at first—Christians should be generous, right? But rather than, say, hosting a community brunch and inviting the poor and homeless or giving away possessions to the local Salvation Army or giving away money to help rebuild Haiti, Bay Area Fellowship had a different idea.

The church is giving away almost $1 million…

…in laptops, flat screen TVs, cars, and of course, many smaller items, as well, since everyone is a winner.

The oh-so-clever pastor claims, “They’re coming for the loot and they’re going to leave with Jesus.” Well, God redeems some pretty poor efforts on our part, but we’ll still have to wait and see for this one…

Check out the news story, including thoughts from Michael Emerson—no, not the actor who plays Ben Linus but the sociologist from Rice University. (I happen to be a fan of both. :o)

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When a feminist dies…

When a feminist dies, I don’t advise calling on the president of a Southern Baptist seminary to write the report.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Crosswalk.com did this past week after the death of “post-Christian” lesbian feminist Mary Daly, who taught theology at Boston College (until we was ousted for barring men from her higher-level courses of feminist thought…).

Albert Mohler, who frequently writes on current events and culture for the conservative Christian website and is President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, was called upon to reflect on Daly’s death. Mohler makes certain to point out radical Daly’s ironic prejudice towards transsexuals and pokes fun at her belief that women were, in some sense, victims of “gynocide” at the hands of Christianity. While he called her story “tragic,” it is triumphalism, rather than lament that seems to characterize his piece.

After reading Mohler’s article, I had two wishes:

First, that Christians would be sensitive to the personal connections of various authors and in the future, and perhaps choose an author who might not have the same prominence in a very anti-feminist denomination for a piece on the death of a feminist. I’m not saying, necessarily, that the author couldn’t be a complementarian when it comes to women in ministry, but I’ve met a lot of very gracious complementarians that would be much better suited to write such a piece than a member of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s governing body. Mohler was also instrumental in the addition of a statement about women’s submission to the 2000 version of the “non-creedal” creed of the Southern Baptists, the Baptist Faith and Message. I mean, according to wikipedia and from what I’ve heard, this guy is critical of anyone who chooses not to have kids, critical of birth control, opposed to all alcohol use… I don’t know why a more moderate complementarian could not be found who wouldn’t carry the same baggage into the conversation by mere virtue of his name and fame.

Secondly, I wish that we would truly lament Daly’s death in a manner befitting Christians. It just seemed unnecessary to harp on Daly for her views toward transsexuals–perhaps I read it wrong, but it seemed to be a, “Ha, you hypocrite radicals, you!” I also found it insensitive to scoff at her death from “declining health” versus “gynocide.” Just because she had an extreme view, doesn’t make her an idiot, and even if she were an idiot, what does that matter? There is no response we should have to this but sorrow: sorrow that sexism has tainted the church since its birth, sorrow that sexism continues to be inadequately addressed by Christians, sorrow that individuals feel they must choose between Christianity and feminism, sorrow that anyone would feel the Christian God was “phallocentric” or otherwise unconcerned with the lives of women.

Besides our sorrow over the state of things and over the story of this one woman, we also must be sensitive in how we write about such matters, that we not take lightly the death of someone who was others’ daughter, sister, lover, and friend. Additionally, as Daly began as a Christian, she likely knew Christians that cared for her deeply and were hurt profoundly by her apostasy. Regardless of what we make of her views, we must recognize the frustration and pain she apparently felt as a woman and the frustration and pain others felt on her behalf when she went down this path. Let us not let another’s bitterness towards Christianity lead to our own callousness at her death.

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Some ACT! ACT! [will certainly act] silly.

I may be regressing toward more less well-written posts.  Oh well, that’s that.

My primary topic of conversation with you tonight, dear reader, is the idiocy of many Christian scholars.  Ok, perhaps this is harsh.  I don’t even have a master’s degree yet.  But we have this one particular book in Pentateuch that is driving me up the wall.  It’s called, intuitively, The Handbook on the Pentateuch by Victor Hamilton, and I’m sure he’s smart and sweet and wonderful and funny, and maybe I even could learn a ton from him and he could defend himself against my amateur criticism… but sometimes he just drives me crazy.

(He amuses me, though.  And I think his book is a pleasant enough read as well as good for helping me create a mental map of large sections of the Torah. So if you’re reading this, Dr. Hamilton, I am sorry to be so mean, and I hope you will know that I have benefited from your book, as well…)

A few examples from today’s reading:

The Quick Dismissal
This move involves the mention of another scholar opinion followed by a polite statement to the effect of “But they’re just dumb and wrong.”

Ex: “Thus some scholars have argued here that Moses wore a mask with horns, or he was disfigured in some way through too much access to the divine glory (Propp 1987)–that is, his face blistered and looked like little horns.  That is hardly the case.” (p 226)

The reality is, none of them were there to see what happened, or even ask the biblical writers and redactors what they were trying to communicate, so they really don’t know.  But isn’t it fun to say?  The next time you disagree with someone about something you’re both merely theorizing about, please declare boldly that whatever they said is hardly the case!  It’s a lot of fun.

The Out-of-Context Christianese
Exactly what it sounds like.  Christianese is not an appropriate way to refer to events in the Hebrew Bible, friends.

Ex: About Israelites in Leviticus 17: “How is the believer to eat meat (a luxury item anyway?), and where is the believer to bring sacrifices?”  (p 285)

A tip for budding authors: if you’re writing a book targeted at American evangelicals, who often forget they’re not God’s “chosen people” anyway, don’t use their pet names for themselves in reference to Israelites.

The Magical Theological Disappearing Act!
This dramatic number involves the encounter of something difficult in the text, a mention of a frightening possibility, and a quick dismissal of said possibility due to evangelical theology.

Ex: In reference to God’s declaration that “You shall be holy for I am holy,” and the possibilitiy that this is a threat of some sort, “God’s way, however, is not to frighten or intimidate people into holiness, but to lure them into it by lifting up his own nature as the benchmark and model.” (p 283)

While it may be true that God’s not trying to scare them into holiness here, have you even read the rest of the OT?  God punishes people for sin–that’s pretty scary!  And not only that: he explicitly says of the law in Deuteronomy, “You have a choice between blessings and curses, life and death here, friends.”  This is not just a cute game of follow the leader into holiness, in my opinion; at points there are totally threats.

The Let’s-Interpret-the-OT-through-the-NT!
A classic!  One of my personal favorites.  This involves making unnecessary references to the New Testament when interpreting the Old.  It is one thing to do as Desmond Alexander does in his intro to the Pentateuch and include a section at the end of each chapter that talks about the relationship of the NT to that portion of the OT, largely discussing how the NT quotes or builds on that content.  It’s another thing entirely to mention the NT randomly as if everything were written at the same time by the same people.

Ex1: “First, God commands intolterance toward all pagan forms of worship (vv 11-16).  There is to be no yoking with unbelievers” (pg 225).

Ex2: “Of course, the phrase ‘you shall be holy as God is holy’ does not mean ‘you shall be as holy as God is holy.’  The idiom is known elsewhere in Scripture.  For example, Jesus says… Such comparisons abound in 1 John…” (pg 283)

First, don’t throw in a random sentence that makes clear reference to an NT verse.  It tells readers that it is wise to make a mental connection between the passages without necessarily reading them for themselves.  Whether or not it is a legitimate connection, it’s one they should make after reading and interpreting, not one you should make for them from the very beginning or without supporting your argument.

Secondly, while, again, it’s ok to talk about how the NT uses the OT, quoting the NT says nothing about what the Hebrew Bible was trying to say.  NT authors quote the prophets and Psalms like madness but that doesn’t mean the prophets thought they were writing Messianic prophecies.  Same goes for any other section of Scripture–just because someone else said something similarly another day doesn’t mean they were meaning the same thing.  Just because someone later thought they knew what someone before them meant when they said X doesn’t make the newbs right.

***AND NOW, THE MOMENT WE’VE ALL BE WAITING FOR!***

Hebrew Tidbit of the Day:
In Hebrew, there’s something called the absolute infinitive, which isn’t like a regular infinitive at all (a “to ____” verb) but rather means “will certainly ____” or “will surely ____,” as you may have seen reading the Hebrew Bible in English.  (It’s a pretty common construction.)  The interesting thing is, to use this form of the verb, you put the absolute infinitive (which isn’t conjugated for person, gender, or number) alongside the regular conjugated verb.  In a sense then, you’re saying the verb twice for emphasis.  The best example of this ever is in Genesis 2:16-17 when God is talking about not eating the fruit or else you’ll die.  Essentially he says, “So of the good fruit you will EAT! EAT! but the bad one if you eat you will DIE! DIE!”  I think that’s pretty sweet.

This construction in modern usage (as I recommend we all put into practice a little more often!):

If I do not go to bed now, I SLEEP! SLEEP! [will certainly sleep] through Pentateuch tomorrow!

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Pastor tells congregants to have sex

Check out this video on a pastor telling his congregation to have [married] sex seven days straight: http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/crime/2008/11/13/jvm.issues.preaching.sex.cnn?iref=videosearch.

This is actually mild compared to some 30 or 40 day things I’ve seen before, but still, interesting…

My questions:

* Why do Christians pride themselves on being sexperts crushing the myths of secular culture… when in the views of this reporter, and probably many CNN viewers (including myself), this pastor doesn’t really seem to get it.  He’s offering just as superficial a concept of sex as many of the myths he’d criticize.

* What about the reporter’s point?  In what better ways could this pastor talk about and encourage sex that wouldn’t be as likely to also carry negative ramifications for certain spouses?  (If anyone’s wondering if some men would really respond in such a way, I have to say, sadly, I have known some that would.)

* And what about our definitions of sex?  I wonder how broadly the pastor is using this term and how broadly his congregation is interpreting it?  I’m not going to go into detail, I just have to say I hope the women are standing up for what they need, as well.

* How frustrated must those single congregants be?  And what about people whose careers or health conditions make it impossible for them to have sex seven days in a row (or at all?) right now?  Also sucks for all the people struggling with infertility…

Other thoughts?

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Unity… or righteousness?

One of the most difficult questions for me in the last five or so years has been what to do with the issue of women in ministry.  On the one hand, I’ve been an enthusiastic participant in the broader evangelical community, and I’ve felt frustrated toward the polarizing exchange of monologues that sometimes seems to occur between the self-identified “egalitarian” and “complementarian” camps.  On the other hand, I have felt frustrated with the silence of my more local Christian communities regarding this issue.  For the sake of interdenominationality or keeping the peace they have kept quiet.  Much good has resulted, but perhaps also some harm.

Last weekend, my seminary sponsored a screening of the film For the Bible Tells Me So, tracking the stories of several families as teenage and adult children came out as LGBT.  The most famous story was that of Gene Robinson, the gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, the first ever in the Anglican Communion.  After coming home, I was doing a little more research on Gene and came across a video with this quote:

“We will stand up and say, this is who we mean to be, because together we have discerned this is who God is calling us to be.  And then the communion will have to deal with us.  But we are not going to sacrifice LGBT people anymore on the altar of unity.”

While I have not figured out what precisely to think of the many issues surrounding homosexuality and the church (though I will say that I’ve finally come to a point that I feel I must support civil unions without significant reservations), I really respect what Gene is saying here, an echo of how I often feel about women’s issues.

Unity is important.  So important.  I don’t want to de-emphasize that at all.  I’m not looking to demonize other Christians or pretend we can get along without each other or without dialogue.

On the other hand, I agree with Gene that when/if we finally come to feel convicted that a certain way is for-certain where God is leading us, why should we hold back?  I think of the evangelical response to slavery in the South.  While I wouldn’t encourage any abolitionist church to cut all ties with apathetic or pro-slavery churches, I would encourage them to take a strong stand for what they believed was right, not to leave it forever nebulous.  Timing and attitude matter so much in such a response, but I do think we can’t always just say, “You believe X, I believe Y, but things are fine between us, let’s focus on unity.”  I think sometimes it’s legitimate to say, “You believe X, I believe Y, and while I still want to be friends, I do think this is a serious issue with only one right answer.  And we obviously disagree about that that is.  But I have to move forward in pursuing what I think God is calling me to pursue.”

When we should move from open discussion and attempts to avoid alientation (say, within a denomination or other community) into the bulk of the leaders/people taking a stand is pretty fuzzy.

But at some point, I do think that those that believe in women in ministry have to just say it.  (Something InterVarsity, for example, is somewhat hesitant to do.)

And at some point, I think those that believe in LGBT ordination also have to take a stand.  To do nothing less, I think, is exactly what Gene says: sacrificing (your perception of) righteousness before a marginalized people and before God to appease others.

And I don’t think compromise was ever what Christian unity was supposed to be about.

(But this tension–between unity and advocacy–is not an easy one to manage with love and humility!)

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