Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Freeing the Text - Caleb Miller

Another post for CWR's 'Year of the Bible'
The debates around scriptural inerrancy (textual perfection—typically factually, historically or revelatory) often boil over so quickly that no real headway is made in the discussion. Too frequently, due to fear or a simple unwillingness to discuss, proponents tend to shy away from the various discussions about what to do with conflicting information on the pages of the library of books we’ve stitched together and called “the holy bible”. Rather than learning how to read the bible sacramentally, we’ve been taught to read it in order to get from it. And I believe that’s where the problem lies.
The text is not meant to be approached as a means of obtaining any "thing" necessarily. What is is meant to be however is a sacrament, a means of more clearly or fully experiencing the presence of the ever-present divine. Not as though God comes and goes, but as though our senses were perfected for a moment in time to experience him. Reading the bible in this way then makes us willing to acknowledge the human elements present on the pages we’re reading. Those human elements are what make the text "alive". 
One of the most common arguments I hear when discussing matters like scriptural inerrancy is the ever-popular “if the bible isn’t all true then how can we trust any of it?”. It is this question which I’d like to address.
History has shown us what happens when a strict literal interpretation of the text is held—especially when that literal interpretation engages itself in so-called "just war" and sacred violence. The crusades happen. The inquisition happens. Westboro happens. Thankfully, there are a few proponents of inerrancy who also follow a non-violent path so that the belief itself is not completely written off.
Thankfully, most have progressed beyond a strict literal interpretation of the bible and many have even allowed for the creation narratives to be viewed as something more like poetry describing the event of creation rather than historically factual narratives. The issues surrounding trying to make scientific or historical/factual claims using the bible itself as sole evidence (sola scriptura—the text interprets the text) ought to be enough to make us rethink our position. What do we do when something scientifically observable changes the paradigm? For example, while there’s evidence to suggest that Greek scholars had posited a curved earth before Jesus’ time, it’s also safe to say that some of the Old Testament authors believed “the ends of the earth” to be a literal place. To them, it was something not beyond reach, a final place where human and God met face to face. With what we now understand about the shape of the earth, in the strictest sense then, the text is wrong when it declares “the ends of the earth”.

Monday, May 25, 2015

How Big is God? - Greg Albrecht

How Big is God?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
   The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
   The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
   (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, "This is the one I spoke about when I said, 'He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.'") Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. —John 1:1-18
Many Christians seem to believe that Jesus came to this earth as a kind of Plan B. They've been taught that Jesus came to this earth to save us because Adam "fell"—and further, they've been told that when Adam "fell" God had to, in effect, scurry around and come up with Plan B. 

This reasoning is of course, unbiblical—and beyond that, it doesn't make sense. Why would Christmas, the incarnation of God, be Plan B? Why wouldn't Christmas have been on the drawing boards from the very get-go? Why wouldn't Jesus have been planning to come anyway?

Years ago I read a little book by J.B. Phillips titled Your God is Too Small. J.B. Phillips wanted the reader to understand that we, the created, limit our Creator—we shrink him down to our size, into our dimensions. Our keynote passage in John 1:1-18 teaches us that our God is far bigger than we could ever imagine. 

The longer we know God, by his grace, and the longer we walk with him as his transformed and spiritually reborn children, the more we wrestle with trying to get our brains around the infinite. Of course, given our human limitations, we will never, in this flesh, fully get our brains and our hearts around the limitless, infinite God.

Monday, May 18, 2015

God is Like Jesus - Interview of Jacob Wright (with Grant Garcia)

If you want to see folk damned, there is something wrong with you! - Randal Rauser

J.I. Packer has long distinguished himself as among the foremost evangelical critics of universalism. At the same time, he also made the following admission:
“No evangelical, I think, need hesitate to admit that in his heart of hearts he would like universalism to be true. Who can take pleasure in the thought of people being eternally lost? If you want to see folk damned, there is something wrong with you!”
Packer’s certainly right about that. And yet, the disturbing truth is that many conservative Christians don’t want universalism to be true. I wrote about this problem four years ago in “The very worst reason to reject universalism.” In that article I noted that acerbic Christian apologist Ray Comfort repudiated universalism because it entailed that Nazis and pedophiles could end up in heaven. Yes, it does mean that. It also means that acerbic Christian apologists like Ray Comfort can end up in heaven. And even a few tentative apologists too!
I was reminded of this topic the other day while reading the following passage in Brad Jersak’s A More Christlike God:
“According to Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, moral outrage at others’ sin is often a confession of one’s own deeply repressed cravings. Do we ourselves need hell to keep our envy of sinners at bay? One pastor in my city even confessed that without the threat of hell, he would not be a Christian.” (20)
The notion that people are most vociferous against the sins with which they most struggle is so familiar as to be called a cliché. The pastor who regularly rails against “demon alcohol” or “lust” invites suspicions as to his own struggles.
What I find especially haunting is the suggestion that we might need hell to reassure us of our own life decisions to eschew certain temptations (and, dare we say it, our inherent worth and superior moral standing over the “sinners”).
Two of Jesus’ parables speak powerfully to this. 

CLICK HERE to continue reading

Friday, May 15, 2015

“Infallibility” in the Early Church - Brad Jersak

The ‘Infallibility’ of Scripture

Current attempts to understand the ‘violence texts’ of the Old Testament in light of the nonviolent revelation of God in Christ have been renewed with vigor in recent years.
Eric Siebert (Disturbing Divine Behavior), David Lamb (God Behaving Badly), Thomas Römer (Dark God), Paul Copan (Is God a Moral Monster?), Eryl Davies (The Immoral Bible), Michael Hardin (Jesus Driven Life) and Peter Enns (The Bible Tells Me So) are among the host of scholars who address the problem of the so-called ‘toxic texts’ of the Hebrew Scriptures in an effort to read them in the light of the Father revealed by Christ. 
51rCawnwzXL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_More recently, Derek Flood’s must-read book, Disarming Scripture, caught the attention of Gregory Boyd (who is also writing an epic tome on the topic). While I know these two teachers have much in common, Boyd took Flood to task on the question of “biblical infallibility.” He began a four-part blog critique, beginning with a post entitled “Must We Deny Biblical Infallibility to ‘Disarm’ Scripture?” Derek blogged a series of responses, beginning with his post, “A Reply to Greg Boyd’s Critique of Disarming Scripture.
For my part, I would like to affirm both men for modeling a gracious exchange between Christians on a matter of striking disagreement. If only this were the common standard: charitable dissent without hostility. Well done, I say.
Second, to distill the exchange down to its essential feature, Boyd argued for ‘biblical infallibility’ and Flood argued against it … however, Flood rightly noted how they did not necessarily agree even on the definition of ‘infallibility,’ which could reasonably cause them to argue past each other. While the tension is in part a verbal one, I think they would both say it goes deeper than that. That is, even if they could come to a mutually shared definition of ‘infallible,’ they would still disagree as to whether the word should or should not be used as a descriptor for the Bible.
Third, this leads to a particular question that does not solve the problem, but may speak to its background. Namely, what did the early church teach about infallibility? I’ll pose the question as Derek asked it.  

Q: Would you say that the church fathers taught the "infallibility" of Scripture?

"Would you say that the early church fathers taught the "infallibility" of Scripture? This strikes me as wrong. Inspiration yes, but infallibility? Do you know of any articles or books that deal with this (whether infallibility was something taught by the early church)? What does the Orthodox Church say?" 

My response (expanded for this article):

Based in my late-coming knowledge and brief surveys of the early church fathers, 'infallible' was indeed a word they employed, but not with reference to Scripture. The 'infallibility of the Bible,' as best as I can tell, is a specifically Protestant notion, introduced as a point of leverage (under sola scriptura) in order to cut itself loose from the authority of the Vatican and from church tradition. An infallible Bible then becomes the final authority for faith and practice. Unfortunately, ‘an infallible Bible’ is often a code for ‘my interpretation of the Bible,’ and the schisms go viral.
On the other hand, while the early Greek fathers definitely speak of the 'inspiration of Scripture' they reserve the word 'infallible' for the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s guidance as they preserved the gospel (the ‘canon of faith’ or ‘faith once delivered’ – Jude 3) and summarized it in the creeds as they convened the early councils. That is, only God himself is the infallible Subject. 
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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Downward Mobility of the Jesus Way - Greg Albrecht

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. "We are going up to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise." Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask." "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked. They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory." "You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said. "Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?" "We can," they answered.  Jesus said to them, "You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared." When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."—Mark 10:32-45
Was Jesus amused or saddened by James' and John's blatant, unabashed request? We don't know. It seems that James and John were so blinded by their desire to lord it over others, to be big wheels and be in charge, that they assured Jesus that they would be willing to drink his cup and be baptized with his baptism! They must not have been listening, because just before their power-grabbing request, Jesus took the twelve disciples aside and reminded them that he was going to be condemned to death, mocked, spit on, flogged and killed (Mark 10:33-34). 

The Gospel of Matthew also tells this story, adding another element (Matthew 20:17-28). Matthew indicates it was the mother of James and John who asked for the most powerful places of honor to be given to her sons (Matthew 20:20-21). 

Whether it was their mother, or James and John—or both—who made this obviously transparent, self-seeking request, the other ten disciples were not happy campers when they heard about it. We assume that the other ten disciples were not only upset with James and John because they asked for the chief positions in the kingdom of heaven—but, in addition, because they (the other ten) didn't think to ask for the same positions for themselves!

The ten disciples were indignant about James' and John's request (Mark 10:41). Jesus, as he so often did, used the passion of the moment as a teaching opportunity. Jesus drew a contrast between his kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of this world. He said that the rulers and high officials of the kingdoms of this world exercise their authority to lord it over others. 

Authoritarian governing has a long and ugly record in the annals of history. More often than not rulers and kings have laid heavy burdens on people. There are many such examples in our world today—North Korea, Zimbabwe and Iran immediately come to mind. In the realm of religion, there are also many examples of hierarchies and authoritarian, top-down, do-as-we-say-or-else pastors and priests.

Jesus follows his description of abusive authoritarianism, which functions as a way to serve those who are at the top (at the expense of those at the bottom) with this declaration to his disciples: "…Not so with you" (Mark 10:43). 

Jesus tells his disciples, in no uncertain terms, if you think that my kingdom is going to replicate the power-hungry, authoritarian, serve-the-big-shots-first-and-foremost kind of authority this world often sees, then think again. "Not so with you." Jesus tells his disciples that if they choose to be ministers in his kingdom then they will choose love over power. 
If we want to follow Jesus, serving others in his name, then our lives will be exemplified by sacrificial love as he demonstrated on his cross rather than the crass control mechanisms of authoritarianism, whereby Christ-less religion and its leadership always gets served first, many times at the expense of those it pretends to serve. If we follow Jesus, the primary goal and objective of our life is not to move up the ladder of human importance. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Religious Version of the Prodigal Son - Greg Albrecht

The Religious Version of the Prodigal Son

For other video shorts, with Greg Albrecht, Brad Jersak, Lucy Peppiatt, Brian Zahnd, Steve McVey, and others, visit CWRvideo.

"Where Hope Grows" - Movie Trailer


Friday, May 1, 2015

Why Do Many Christians Make the Good News Sound So Weird? - Monte Wolverton

Among some folks, the ability to speak fluent "Christianese" is a sign of true Christianity. But do these special words and phrases help or hinder the message? Here's some suggestions as to how we as Christ-followers might improve our communication skills.  
—Text and illustrations by Monte Wolverton 

I just want to come up alongside you. I have a burden—because God has laid it on my heart to minister to you and disciple you. God spoke to me, and he wanted me to share my testimony with you and to witness to you. The message I'm called to give you will be a real blessing to you. 

Chances are, you know some people who talk this way all the time. Maybe you are one. You might know others who don't use this kind of language everywhere, but reserve it for use only when they are in the company of fellow Christians. 

In certain groups, the ability to speak fluent Christian jargon seems to be the verification of true Christianity.

Hundreds of thousands of well-meaning Christians talk this way because they believe it helps set them apart as God's people. It's their Christian jargon.

What Is Jargon?

Jargon (or inspeak) is a special set of words or phrases understood by a particular group. 
Jargon is useful. The world could not function without jargon. Just about every profession has a jargon. Musicians, publishers, computer software developers, lawyers and accountants use jargon. Psychology has a separate jargon for each of its several branches. 
Jargon is really a kind of shorthand; one word can encompass a broad meaning. It might take paragraphs—or whole books—to explain the meaning of one word to the uninitiated. 
Without jargon, communication on the job, or in a profession or in a field of knowledge would slow to a crawl. 

But how many times have you been in a group of computer aficionados as they started throwing around terms like USB, I/O port, co-processor, jpeg and bandwidth? 

Or perhaps you found yourself among a group of printers who started talking about bi-metal plates, blankets, slurring, density, web breaks and low folios. 

If you've ever been in a situation like this, one of the following things might have happened: 

• You pretend-ed to understand (and probably misunderstood) what everyone was talking about.
• You became bored and annoyed and wondered why the group was so socially inept and insensitive.
• You were intimidated and frustrated, so you left.
• You were impressed by the esoteric knowledge of the group, and you wanted to learn more about how to use these mysterious words. 

The last one probably didn't happen. 

The point is that if jargon is an aid to communication inside a particular group, it is a hindrance to communication outside the group.

Christian Jargon

Christian jargon (sometimes called "Christianese") falls into two categories. 

'Runaway Radical' - Interview with Amy Hollingsworth and Jonathan Hollingsworth - with Brad Jersak

Interview with Amy Hollingsworth and Jonathan Hollingsworth on Runaway Radical, Spiritual Abuse and Hardcore Christianity – with Brad Jersak

BradWhen you sent me an advanced copy of Runaway Radical, perhaps you remember me politely telling you I’d add it to my to-read stack. Before filing it in my inbox, I made the ‘mistake’ of reading page 1. I wasn’t able to put it down after that ... I read until I had to break for sleep, then finished the book before getting out of bed again! Jonathan’s journey totally captured me. Would you please give our readers a brief summary of this book that so captivated me?

AmyI do remember your telling me that you were a “bit buried” and then a few hours later you sent a note saying you made the mistake of thinking you could read just a little bit. Your quick and vigorous response really bolstered me because you were the very first person ever to read Runaway Radical. And the fact that your response has been replicated many times over is more than we could have imagined when we decided to tell our story.

The best and briefest summary of Runaway Radical I’ve heard is this: It’s a young man’s journey from idealism to realism to fatalism to faith.

BC_Hollingsworth_bioThe catalyst for the book was desperation. It was a mother’s desperate attempt to woo her son back into the land of the living. When Jonathan returned from what was supposed to be a year of missionary service in West Africa— and it was more a rescue than a return—I thought I would be so relieved and happy that I would drop the issues that forced him home. But instead the injustice kept me awake at night. I started writing a letter to the leaders of Jonathan’s church outlining the abuse he had endured from the mission agency in West Africa. My husband, Jonathan, and I met with the church leaders and their answer to Jonathan’s abuse was to swear him to secrecy. That blow was worse than the first. When I saw the toll silence was taking on Jonathan, not just on his faith but on his mental and physical well-being, I became desperate. To me the only antidote to the destructiveness of silence is to tell the truth. So I knocked on his bedroom door one afternoon (he was sleeping through most days back then) and said, “Let’s tell your story.” We started jotting down notes on a legal pad that day. 

BradOne facet of the book was your exposure of and insight into real-life spiritual abuse in the Evangelical world. We often think of ‘religious slavery’ in terms of crusty old forms and rituals that have been gutted of meaning—wool pants on oak pews reciting who knows what in King James monotone. Yet Runaway Radical showed us how spiritual abuse can flourish in the vision-driven ministries of evangelistic movements and foreign missions. Am I being fair? What were the marks of spiritual abuse that you saw in that context? I mean, how did it work? And what were the effects?

JonathanI think religious slavery is especially prevalent in cause-oriented ministries. Any group that’s hell-bent on carrying out a mission at all costs runs the risk of using and abusing others to accomplish their goals. I’ve talked with so many missionaries who look back on their experience on the field and feel exploited, manipulated, and taken advantage of by those in authority over them.

In my case, I was being scammed before I even left home. After I had raised the necessary funds to live in Africa for a year, the leader of the mission organization nearly doubled my fundraising goal, claiming he had miscalculated my living expenses. This was my first indication that something was off, but I did as I was told.

Once I arrived in Africa, I discovered that a major project advertised on the organization’s website (a fully-functional kitchen addition to the local orphanage) was unusable. Many of the other projects I had been assigned either fell through or were nonexistent, yet I was forbidden from seeking out other opportunities to help in the community. In fact, every aspect of my life was under their control—what I did, who I spent my time with, and even what I said on my personal blog.
When I finally told them I’d had enough, the leader of the organization told me I was being “prideful” and I needed to think about all the people I would be letting down if I left. He booked a flight that wouldn’t leave for another month and demanded that I write a series of blog posts praising the ministry and soliciting donations in the meantime. In the end, it took third-party intervention to get me home, and the mission organization pocketed every last penny I had raised.