Friday, October 30, 2009

Two Stuck Out

Five minutes before a youth workshop on reading the Bible began, I was asked to lead it, at least until the actual leader came along. He did so about 10 minutes into the discussion, but that was more than enough time for me to be encouraged by what I heard from my fellow Bible readers. I started out by getting everyone in the group to say their name and to tell us something they know about the Bible. All Most of the answers were good, but two stuck out, mainly because of my own thought process over the past few months. One person simply said that the Bible is about God - a more profound answer than perhaps he realised. Another said that what they know about the Bible is that it tells us God loves us - a more profound answer than perhaps any of us realise.

It's about God, and it tells us God loves us. If those are the only two things you keep in mind as you read the Bible, then you're not far from being exactly where you need to be.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


First it was Missio Dei, next it was Reckless Grace, and after that came Honest Questions. Whatever about you readers, I've enjoyed these series', if only because writing them helps me get to grips with the books they're based on. Next up I'm considering either a mini-series on Richard Hay's views regarding pacifism (quite controversial in some circles) or one on Dallas Willard's idea of "Christian pluralism" (also controversial). Expect one of those to appear once I return from my two days of waiting around in cold water and occasionally lying on a surf board in the vain hope of getting to stand on it just one time surfing.

Doctrine Fiends

“Sure, there are some Catholics who are Christians, but…”

I’ve said something like this before, and I’ve heard a few others under the Evangelical umbrella make similar concessions. The point of such an observation is to avoid painting every individual Catholic with the same brush. It is to reluctantly acknowledge the sure reality that they’re not all spellbound by Rome. The law of averages demands that at least a few of them are genuine believers, and so yes, there are some Catholics who are really Evangelicals Christians. There, isn’t that very inclusive and gracious?

No, not particularly.

The problem I now have with this pseudo-graciousness is not necessarily that it is a false observation. I’m not suggesting that we amend it and say that most (or all) Roman Catholics are Christians. In reality, we simply don’t know the proportion of professing Catholics who have a genuine trust in Jesus and who thus “walk in the Spirit”. But is it not also true that we don’t know the proportion of Evangelicals whose faith is genuine? Why is it that only some Catholics are Christians, with the implication being that most if not all Evangelicals are Christians?

My point is that if we can say that there are some Catholics who are Christians, can we not equally say that there are some Evangelicals who are Christians? Or perhaps better still, shouldn’t we simply leave the judging to the One who will judge justly? If we don’t, then where will the madness end? Calvinists will admit that some Armenians are Christians, hyper-Calvinists will concede that some Calvinists are Christians, and so on until eventually we’ll have a denomination of Christianity that claims there are actually no Christians at all; the subset of genuine Christians amongst the professing ones will be the nullset, if you’re into that kind of thing.

When Jesus tells the story about separating the sheep from the goats (Matt. 25), the basis of the separation is not whether one is Evangelical or not. The goats are not all the non-Evangelicals of this world, and the sheep are not all the Evangelicals plus a couple of the Catholics that made the cut. The difference maker -- and this is a hard pill for us doctrine fiends to swallow -- is not our denomination, but our treatment of fellow human beings. The ones accepted by God will show themselves to be those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick. On this basis, might we say that there aren’t many people across all religions and denominations who are as right with God as they’d like to think they are? In light of this, shouldn’t we remove the plank from our own eye before pointing out the speck in our neighbours’?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Set Apart for the Sake of Others

“…you will be for me…a holy nation.”

These are the words of Israel’s god Yahweh, spoken to the Israelites after he brought them out of slavery in Egypt. In another place the LORD calls his chosen people to “Be holy as I am holy”. Clearly “holiness” was high on God’s list of priorities for his newly redeemed people, but why?

To be holy means to be set apart. Out of all the nations on the earth, God chose Israel to be his own special, distinctive people. They were to stand out from those around them, not only because of the unique god they worshiped but also because of their moral character (though the two can hardly be separated - we become what we worship, it has been said).

This all sounds a bit…exclusive, right? It sounds like Israel was called to be a nation permanently riding around on a gigantic high horse, scoffing at others who aren’t as “holy” as they are. This seems like holiness for the sake of self-righteousness, or perhaps holiness for the sake of exclusivity and nationalist pride.

David Peterson, in his book Engaging With God, paints an altogether different picture of Israel’s vocation to be holy. He says of the Israelites (quoting W.J. Dumbrell along the way) that,

They were chosen to demonstrate what it meant to live under the direct rule of God, which is actually ‘the biblical aim for the whole world’.

Go back to Israel’s roots, and this reality becomes apparent. YHWH promised that through Abraham’s descendants, all the nations of the world would be blessed. Israel was to be a “light to the nations”, a manifestation of the kingdom of God here on earth. Yes, they were to be set apart from others, but they were to be set apart for the sake of others. It was distinction with a view to inclusion. Transformative holiness, you might call it.

Fast forward a couple of millennia, and we find a Jew, Peter, writing to Jews and Gentiles in Eastern Europe and calling them “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation”. The church -- consisting of men and women from every tribe, tongue and nation -- is Yahweh’s “called out ones”; she is simultaneously the recipient of the blessing promised to Abraham and the means of passing on that blessing to those in need of it. Like Israel, she is called to be holy, just as the god she worships is holy. But once again, this is not to be an exclusive holiness. The church is called to be set apart from others for the sake of others; a manifestation of the kingdom of God, drawing in those who remain outside of the Messiah Jesus, who did for the world what Israel could not do.

If whatever we call holiness is not something which engages with the needs of those around us, if our holiness doesn’t get our hands dirty (as it certainly did Jesus), then we have missed it. The history of Israel is a history of “missing it”. What will be the history of the church of this generation?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Christian Theology

What then might a specifically Christian theology be? More, I take it, than simply an account of what Christians have believed in the past, or believe in the present, though those tasks will always be part of the whole. That whole includes a necessarily normative element. It will attempt not just to describe but to commend a way of looking at, speaking about, and engaging with the god in whom Christians believe, and with the world that this god has ceated. It will carry the implication that this is not only what is believed but what ought to be believed. To the relativist's response, that this will seem very arrogant, Christian theology will reply that it can do no other. If it is not a claim about the whole of reality, seen and unseen, it is nothing. It is not a set of private aesthetic judgments upon reality, with a 'take-it-or-leave-it' clause attached. Even the relativist, after all, believes that relativism is universally true, and sometimes seeks to propogate that belief with missionary zeal. Christian theology only does what all other worldviews and their ancillary belief-systems do: it claims to be talking about reality as a whole.

- N.T. Wright

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Love That Lasts

If I...have not love, I am nothing.

- Paul

I’ve been stealing other people’s thoughts can calling them my own thinking. The resurrection was not only the raising of Jesus’ body from death to life. For example, the raising of a cat from death to eternal life would not be the equivalent. The resurrection was a vindication of Jesus, and more to my point, a vindication of his kind of love.

One of the clear messages we get from the cross and resurrection is that love triumphs. The love that costs is the love that lasts; the love that leads to death is the love that leads to life.

Perhaps we spend too much time trying to find a way to "love" that keeps our hearts intact and our lives in order, when all the while it is the love which causes us to lose ourselves that helps us experience life to the full, and brings the kingdom of God to earth.

The resurrection of Jesus enfleshes those oft-quoted words of the apostle Paul:

Love never ends.

The death of Jesus forms the shape of that never-ending love; it is eternally cruciform.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Come Out

Yes, I’m gay.

Not my confession, but that of Cork hurler Donal Óg Cusack. He officially came out of the proverbial closet in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday. They sold the story as “an All-Ireland hero becomes the first Irish sportsman to come out”.

First things first. Not to stereotype homosexuals or anything (i.e. that’s exactly what I’m about to do), but there’s a gay hurler? Given the nature of soccer these days, it wouldn’t surprise me if a large number of its players were playing for the wrong team so to speak, but hurling? It’s so raw, so passionate, so physical, so intense, so up-close-and-personal. What possible appeal could it have to a man who likes other men? Oh, right. My bad.

A gay hurler. Honestly, I never thought I’d see the day. The very words stuck together almost represent a contradiction. I just couldn’t see those two cultures ever overlapping. I’m almost certain that not a few within the hurling community have had to be told what “gay” actually means in light of Cusack’s revelation. ("He's wha?") The idea of someone -- anyone -- being that way is completely foreign to a large number of those who’ve grown up loving this most Irish of sports. I wouldn’t be surprised if some die-hard hurling fanatic reading the Mail on Sunday thought that Donal Og was simply saying, Yes, I’m happy. Ah, isn't that nice.

The story itself -- which is made up of extracts from Cusack’s forthcoming autobiography -- is a little bit depressing. The general impression I was left with after reading was that for Donal Óg, being gay consisted mainly of waking up with fellas in bed. He tells the story of skipping away from “the lads” (his Cork colleagues) in Ho Chi Minh in order to find a group of lads with slightly different items on the agenda. “Next morning, I woke up with a fella”, he says. “Hungover. Demented. Lost.” His words, not mine.

Perhaps it’s due to fear of being found out to be a gay hurler, but for Cusack the whole thing smacks of being a vice, or a problem; maybe even an addiction. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that a man who goes training on Christmas Day would also sneak out on his team-mates, get plastered and have sex with a complete stranger? What’s going on here? On the one hand, he is so disciplined, so controlled. On the other, a bit of a mess. Or perhaps only a bit of a human (let the reader decide).

The repercussions for this quite shocking and unprecedented revelation are hard to predict. The bond between hurling and Catholicism runs deep, therefore something like this will hardly be accepted as progressive by many of those for whom hurling alone is a way of life. One imagines that there will be confusion, awkwardness, and even anger inside the minds of some of those involved in the game. Donal Óg was never the most beloved hurler in the country prior to Sunday; I have the feeling that that isn’t about to change anytime soon.

Of course for others, the Cork hurler will be held up as a symbol representing the modern Irish nation. His name will become known to people who have perhaps never seen or heard of him before. He will be used as evidence in long-standing arguments, regarded as a courageous hero who broke down barriers not only in the culture of hurling, but in the culture of Ireland as a whole. If our hurlers can be gay, who can’t? To some, this is a question filled with wonderful possibilities. To others, it is a question asked in fear.

Crossing a line is always seen either as progress or rebellion; something to be embraced or something to be frowned upon. With Charismata supposing itself to be a Christian blog, where does it lie on the matter?

Well as for me, I frown upon Donal Óg Cusack. Not because he's gay, but because of those short bloody puck-outs.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Honest Questions - #10

Before I put my copy of Inspiration and Incarnation to one side, I wanted to give this series a little personal touch. So far I’ve attempted to present Enns’s material in as impartial a light as possible, not trying to sway the reader one way or the other. Besides, Enns’s provocative proposals speak for themselves really, so they don’t need me and my couple of cents getting in the way. But get in the way I shall.

I’m sure it’s obvious already, but I found Inspiration extremely helpful. And not helpful in the sense of strengthening my own assumptions about the Bible, but helpful because it tore down some of those assumptions and built up some sturdier ones. My conviction that the Bible is God’s word has not deteriorated; quite the opposite in fact. But what I mean when I give Scripture this most esteemed title has surely changed, and changed in a positive, healthy way - in a way that “fits” with how Scripture itself behaves.

Like many people, I’ve often thought of the Bible as a collection of “timeless truths” dropped down from heaven which are to be understood (and agreed with) upon careful interpretation and spiritual guidance. As for the stories in Genesis, I’ve read them as if they were originally written for the modern reader, all the while making the outlandish (though unsaid) assumption that someone like Abraham thought like a 21st century man.

Enns’s book has opened my eyes to just how, well, silly that kind assumption is. Why should I expect God to talk to Abraham not as a Babylonian steeped in the culture of his day, but as a modern scientist? It’s absurd, and yet debates about creation rage on, predicated on this feeble assumption made by both sides, liberal and conservative alike.

Also, in thinking about the creation accounts from a purely “modern” perspective, I’ve actually missed the force of what was going on back when Genesis 1 and 2 were articulated - YHWH was implicitly claiming that these other rival creation stories did not tell the real story -- the true metanarrative for the world, if you like -- and more importantly, the gods contained within were not worthy to be worshipped. The god of Abraham was basically saying “I am the creator, and it was simply my good desire that brought about all that you see. This is the starting point.” He drove His point home by taking the stories Abraham grew up with and transforming them into reasons why YHWH alone should be loved and worshipped. This is the power of story, as potent today as it was back then.

None of this proves that Scripture is God’s word of course, but it does show us that God’s word to us comes in ways that we can understand. He condescends to our forms of communication, and speaks words that mean something here and now to particular people. His adoption of our limitations is not beneath Him, but rather an example of His great love for us.

Undergirding all of what Enns writes is the Incarnational Model. As Jesus is both divine and human, so is the Bible. Strangely enough, the church in general has had little problem articulating the deity of Jesus; it’s his humanity that gives us the most headaches. Jesus was hungry? Jesus was thirsty? Jesus didn’t know the answer to certain questions? Jesus was a carpenter? Jesus died? We don’t quite now if/how we should embrace these things, because they appear to us so un-Godlike.

The human marks of the Bible can be similarly problematic. Would God really speak through a category of literature we know as “myth”? Would He really adopt the cultural limitations of the day? The answer affirmed by the Incarnation is “Yes and amen”. The human way of life is not beneath the creator, for it is He who created it and said that it was “very good”. Not only should this transform our understanding of Scripture, it should also deeply humble us and stir up thankfulness in our hearts.

Inspiration and Incarnation is a challenging read, both for those with a high view of Scripture and for those with a low view. It doesn’t try and find a place for us to rest somewhere in the middle, but instead tries to find fresh ways of thinking about what it means for the Bible to be God’s word. When it comes to Scripture, we can’t affirm anything much greater than that it is the word of God, therefore all of this is extremely relevant to the average person who engages in Bible reading. The way we read this most popular of books is partly based on our understanding of the term “word of God”. Enns paints a picture of this term that is linked with the eternal Word, Jesus, which is helpful in answering our honest questions, and which ultimately leads to a clearer portrait of the God of the word; the God who descends.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Journey

I went hiking last weekend. I woke up to a phone call at 8am, regretted my decision to go hiking for ten or fifteen minutes, packed up some fruit and chocolate, and was on the road by 8.30. Gear wise, I wasn’t quite in hiking mode. I had my ridiculously expensive hiking shoes strapped to my feet, but that was about it. The rest of the ensemble was made up of items such as a soccer jersey, cords, and a laptop bag. I felt like the prissy city girl in a romantic comedy who’s forced to go on a hike as part of her work (or something), and who gets laughed at by a ruggedly handsome local for wearing high heels and bringing her fancy laptop up the mountain. Needless to say, Matthew McConaughey plays the ruggedly handsome local, and after an hour and a half of silly banter mixed with one deep late night chat by the campfire (most likely to do with past lovers), he wins the heart of prissy city girl. The end. Vomit.

Our party of four arrived at the 12 pins in Connemara at around 10:15, and immediately we set out on the trail. Roughly 20 minutes into the hike, we turned around and skipped back to the car in order to head home, stopping only at a local pub for a full Irish breakfast. At least that’s what happened in my head. The reality was something entirely different, involving me, sheep poo, exhaustion, and my will to live abandoning me in my time of need. How much more of this could I take, given that I was almost a broken man -- both emotionally and physically -- before we even got going properly? The answer would surprise me.

Once we hit our first peak things started to improve, mainly because we took an extended break and I got to stuff my face with Lidl’s finest chocolate. Germans - have they ever let us down? Also, the next stage of the hike was all downhill, which gave my withering calf muscles somewhat of a respite. But just as they were reaching full recovery, the journey up began once more. This terrain was harsh, relentless, unforgiving, sheer…something or other.

Three-quarters of the way up Ben Baun we decided to do what every hardened group of men does on a grueling hike like this: we took lots of silly photos. I think at this point I was into my second wind. It didn’t last long mind you, and a third never materialised, but for this 10 minute photo shoot I was able to jump into the air on numerous occasions and muster up some semblance of a smile on my face, giving the outward illusion of good times while inwardly I was wasting away, soon to become just a shell of a man.

We reached the summit of Ben Baun in good time, so all that remained was the journey back to the car. I thought this would be the most pleasant part of the hike, with the four of us prancing along while surveying the conquered terrain with great pride. It turns out the journey back was actually worse than anything that preceded it (including the sight of two of my fellow hikers embrace for an eerily romantic photo*). Getting down to level ground was easy, but unfortunately there were a few mountains separating us and petrol-fuelled freedom. Instead of cutting through the mountains we decided it best to simply walk around them through the bog land. No problem, I thought.

I thought wrong.

Perhaps it was the uneven surface of the bog meaning every step was a potential ankle-breaker, perhaps it was the fact that my legs had stopped working; I don’t know. But for the next hour and a half I was utterly miserable. From the look on my face you’d swear I was watching an Irish soccer game…an away Irish soccer game. I think what had happened was all the adrenaline had left my body what with me thinking the trail was complete, and so mentally and physically I was as unprepared for this as I was for a Financial Maths exam.

In an unexpected twist, we ended up spotting a stag as we negotiated ourselves around the final mountain. The other three were quite wary of its presence and were thus keen to avoid it, even if it meant extending the hike. Me? I had fantasies of climbing atop the stag, shouting “Giddy up!”, and guiding it victoriously through the bog to the Kylemore Abbey carpark, or perhaps right into the city centre. In other words, extending the trail was not a good option at this point. Not for me. It was either potentially cross paths with the stag and risk death, or hike some more and face certain death. It was always going to be the former.

Thankfully we never saw the stag again, although I had a creepy feeling that he was watching us in secret. Perhaps I’ve just seen The Edge one too many times.

It was just after 5pm when we reached that most hallowed tarmac of Kylemore Abbey carpark, a little under 7 hours since we first left its beautifully unsloped surface. I fell into the car almost without saying a word and drifted off to slumberland - a place where hiking is outlawed and pizza is supplied at your beck and call, along with a complimentary massage.

“Never again”, I thought, as I wondered how I’d cope without my legs for a couple of weeks. But hindsight is 20:20, and though there was much pain throughout the day, there was also much gain. The good ol’ fashioned male bonding, the wonderful scenery, the feeling of having endured, the sense of being in a world far bigger than yourself leading to a renewed appreciation for the age-old question, What is man that you are mindful of him? - all of these things were worth it in the end.

“What makes a man a man?”, I asked as we began the hike, in an attempt to focus my attention on anything but the burning sensation throughout my body. “The journey”, replied one of my fellow hikers, who had obviously feasted on a John Eldredge book or two in the past. “The journey?” I thought, in a dismissive manner, not quite knowing what exactly that meant. Roughly seven hours later, however, I think I began to understand what he was getting at.

Maybe John Eldredge isn’t full of s**t after all.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What Lies Ahead

The internet is down in my flat, hence the lack of blogging. For those who regularly check this page (i.e. my dad) I do apologise.

On a brighter note, I've cut my teeth into the first of N.T. Wright's five volume masterpiece - The New Testament and the People of God. I'm barely fifty pages into it, but already I feel like my head is going to a good way. The preface alone had me highlighting and note-taking like mad. Consider this gem on the discussion of God (or god):

The christological question, as to whether the statement 'Jesus is God' is true, and if so in what sense, is often asked as though 'God' were the known and 'Jesus' the unkown; this, I suggest, is manifestly mistaken. If anything, the matter stands the other way around.

Simply brilliant, and that was before I ever got near page 1. Needless to say, I'm excited for what lies ahead.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


An update on my life in reading:

I finally finished The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard (he's the guy I imagine to look like this). I must have started it about 18 months ago, but I began seeing some other books on the side and we just drifted apart. Anyway, what's done is done. I'm going to have to read it again because there's a lot to take in and digest. In short, Willard portrays a Jesus who has everything to do with real life here and now. That's an exciting and timely message me thinks.

I've also just finished a book called Reading Paul by Michael J. Gorman. If you want an easy-to-understand overview on the apostle's theology, this is an excellent resource. Simple yet full of profound insight. His view on "justification" (which is expanded on in Inhabiting the Cruciform God) is extremely interesting. I'm not saying I agree with it, but it's worth a grapple.

Speaking of "justification", I've set my face towards The Deliverance of God by Douglas Campbell. This is a 1248 page tome on that most topical and controversial of doctrines, so I'm about as excited as you can be before reading a massive book on justification. Don't worry, I won't be starting a blog series on it. [A collective sigh of relief ensued from his three loyal readers].

I've also decided that the time is right to get cracking into N.T. Wright's magnum opus - his Christian Origins and the Question of God series. This will make for slow, studious reading, but given the importance of the author in terms of both scholarship and church life, it will be worth it in the long run.

Finally, as a sort of personal quest I'm trying to take a deeper look at the Cross. I'm scanning through the New Testament, marking explicit and implicit references to Jesus' crucifixion in terms of why it happened, what happened, and what are the consequences - historically as well as theologically. This is especially interesting when it comes to the Gospels, where the crucifixion and resurrection of Messiah Jesus is the underlying reality in most of what was written in these post-cross accounts of the good news about Jesus. I'm also trying a assemble some books on the cross/atonement. Any recommendations would be more than welcome.

Connect Those Dots

The real problem with pornography is not that it is too erotic, but that it is not erotic enough. In seeking to reveal everything, to fulfill every fantasy, it destroys the very possibility of fantasy and eroticism. And so the use of pornography ultimately results not in erotic ecstasy or euphoria, but in mere boredom.

Ben Myers of Faith and Theology wrote this in relation to why evangelicals are converting to Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy. See if you can connect those dots! A free book to whoever can*.

* not a genuine offer.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Honest Questions - #9

Last time out saw Enns ask the provocative question,

Why is it that God can’t use the category we call “myth” to speak to ancient Israelites?

A witch! A witch! Burn 'im!

Or, we could hear him out and see if what he says makes sense.

For Enns, Abraham -- whose story begins in Genesis 11 -- holds the key to understanding Genesis's earlier chapters. Here is a man who was called by God from "Ur of the Chaldeans". He was not an Israelite, but a Babylonian, and therefore steeped in its culture. Enns highlights the fact that

The Mesopotamian world from which Abraham came was one whose own stories of origins had been expressed in mythic categories for a considerable length of time. Moreover, the land Abraham was going to enter, the land of the Canaanites, was likewise rich in its own mythics.

When we keep this historical context in mind, the creation and flood accounts in Genesis can be seen in a better light. Abraham would not understand a God who spoke to him in scientific terms, and so it is unreasonable for us to expect the creation account to be a piece of scientific literature. Therefore the reason Genesis looks like other ANE documents is that this way of thinking was normative at the time. Abraham thought like a Babylonian, so it should come as little surprise that God spoke to him as a Babylonian.

So how and why is Genesis different to the Babylonian myths Abraham would have grown up with? Enns suggests that

The reason the biblical account is different from its ancient Near Eastern counterparts is not that it is history in the modern sense of the word and therefore divorced from any similarity to ancient Near Eastern myth. What makes Genesis different from its ancient Near Eastern counterparts is that it begins to make the point to Abraham and his seed that the God they are bound to, the God who called them into existence, is different from the gods around them.

God didn't transfer Abraham out of the mythic world and into a completely foreign scientific world. He simply "transformed the ancient myths so that Israel's story would come to focus on its God, the real one". Creation was no longer the result of divine feuds (as in Enuma Elish) but the product of the One True God's desire, who spoke things into being.

Enns proceeds to drop another bombshell on our assumptions:

...the question is not the degree to which Genesis conforms to what we would think is a proper description of origins. It is a fundamental misunderstanding of Genesis to expect it to answer questions generated by a modern worldview, such as whether the days were literal or figurative, or whether the flood was local or universal. The question that Genesis is prepared to answer is whether Yahweh, the God of Israel, is worthy of worship...It is wholly incomprehensible to think that thousands of years ago God would have felt constrained to speak in a way that would be meaningful only to Westerners several thousand years later. To do so borders on modern, Western arrogance. Rather, Genesis makes its case in a way that ancient men and women would have readily understood - indeed, the only way.

It is worth reading that paragraph again, because it represents the heart of Enns's argument, and challenges the Western man's mind to its very core.

Enns relates his argument back to his Incarnational Analogy, which suggests that we think of Scripture as we think of Christ - both divine and human. The Bible as the word of God is God's words in human words. It "does not imply disconnectedness to its environment. In fact, if we can learn a lesson from the Incarnation of God in Christ, it demands the exact opposite". The accounts in Genesis should not embarrass us because of their similarities to the "myths" surrounding them, but we should instead be thankful that God is a God who stoops down low to our imperfect ways of understanding, and speaks words that make sense to the hearers. In light of the Incarnation,

We must resist the notion that for God to enculturate Himself is somehow beneath Him. This is precisely how He shows His love to the world He made.

And so it ends (no pun intended). Has Peter Enns convinced you? Have your assumptions been rattled? Have any of your honest questions been answered? Is the notion of the Bible as God's word either clearer or muddier?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Dark Side

The hidden dark side of this posture toward God's Word is that it reveals a deep-seated self-absorption that keeps us at the center of our universe and insists that God and His Word orbit our needs and serve our interests....

What is this posture? Jeremy Berg explains it over on Jesus Creed in a post that is worth reading and reflecting on.

Remember Richard Hays's candid words: It's about God, stupid.

On That Lie

Meaningless, meaningless, says the Teacher. Utterly meaningless. Everything is meaningless.

Not the words of an atheist philosopher, but the words of an inspired writer of Scripture. Suspend with me whatever beliefs you have about the world and take a look at this brief clip from television's greatest gift to its viewers. This scene came to my mind as I listened to an introductory sermon on Ecclesiastes last night.

To summarise what's going on here, a drug war is about to break out between two crews, but the thing that instigated the war never actually occurred. It's all predicated on a lie. So what now? Well, in the words of Slim Charles, "if it's a lie then we fight on that lie, but we gotta fight".

And this relates to Ecclesiastes how exactly? Well, say the Teacher is right. Say everything is meaningless, even the greatest things. Take this worldview to be what's real. My question is this: Why does almost everyone "fight" on the lie that there is meaning in the world, that their choices matter in some profound way? We all do it, whether we identify ourselves as Christians or atheists or what have you. We pretend that love between two people matters, we pretend we can make a difference in the lives of others and in the state of the world. We pretend so much and so convincingly that though we may or may not affirm in our cosmic reflection time that ultimately there is no meaning, our day to day lives and thought-processes tell of a story. that matters significantly In many ways, we exchange the truth about meaninglessness for the lie of meaningfulness, whether we're aware of it not. To paraphrase Slim, if meaningfulness is a lie, then we live on that lie, but we've gotta live.

Of course the Christian worldview does not affirm meaninglessness. The truth as Christians understand it (though only in part) is that the origins of the world spring from a God of love and purpose, who made mankind in this image. The desire for love and purpose remains as God's fingerprint on His creation, yet we are confused because of our alienation from the Creator. We cannot handle the truth about God, yet we cannot handle a truth void of true love and purpose. In this state we end up living our lives based on two lies - God is nonexistent/irrelevant, and there is meaning in the world.

The Christian proclamation, however, is that the latter is no lie. We are not faking it when we act as if love ultimately matters. A broken heart is not irrelevant, nor is a restored one. Relationships matter, our vocation matters. It all matters. The lie that we all fight on -- that there is meaning in the world -- turns out to be the truth. Why? Because Jesus is the truth; the truth about God and the truth about man. His supreme act of love and His vindication by resurrection has changed everything. New creation and thus new meaning has burst into the world. When we adjust ourselves to this reality, things begin to make sense.

Unlike this post.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Honest Questions - #8

We looked previously at how the evidence -- that is, ancient Near Eastern documents which seemingly bring a "high view" of Scripture into question -- has been handled by scholars in the past. Some saw it as a dagger in the heart of evangelical doctrine. Others -- a.k.a Evangelicals -- tried to view most of it as irrelevant.

Now we come to the part we’ve all been anticipating for the past month or so; the part where Dr Peter Enns guides us along a new path for thinking through these issues. Honest Questions has been the title of this series; we now turn to some of Enns’s honest answers.

An important word has cropped up from time to time during our snapshot of Inspiration and Incarnation. That word is not ‘evidence’, but ‘assumptions’. For Enns, the key to grappling with the evidence is to tackle some of the assumptions made on both sides of the liberal/conservative divide.

But before doing that, he makes two assumptions of his own. He assumes that

the extrabiblical archaeological and textual evidences should play an important role in our understanding of Scripture.
All attempts to articulate the nature of Scripture are open to examination, including my own.

He assumes the former because Christianity is a(n) historical faith, and so it makes little sense to ignore history when it comes to understanding the faith better. The latter assumption is necessary for the sake of humility; not just Enns’s, but all those who grapple with the nature of Scripture. As Enns wisely observes, “the Spirit leads the church into truth - He does not simply drop us down in the middle of it”.

With those assumptions clarified, we head back to the issue of Genesis’ relation to other ANE (ancient Near Eastern) creation and flood accounts. Is Genesis, like these other documents, to be classified as “myth”? If so, it would seem to drag Scripture down to the level of any other ancient text. Enns questions this assumption, however (see, I told you he'd do that), claiming that the distinction between Genesis as either myth or history is a “modern invention”. He goes on to say (with pin removed from grenade) that

It presupposes -- without stating explicitly -- that what is historical, in a modern sense of the word, is more real, of more value, more like something God would do, than myth. So, the argument goes, if Genesis is myth, then it is not “of God”. Conversely, if Genesis is history, only then is it something worthy of the name “Bible”.

Enns proceeds to ask a simple, honest question (with grenade launched into the air):

Why is it that God can’t use the category we call “myth” to speak to ancient Israelites?

Medic! Medic! Assumption down!

(Keep in mind Enns’s generous definition of “myth”: an ancient, premodern, prescientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins and meaning in the form of stories.)

So how are we to account for the similarities between Genesis and ANE myths? Why are they there, and what do they do to our understanding of Scripture as the word of God?

Expect a few more grenades next time as this series draws to a close.