Biblical Studies

Non-Contradictions

You may have come across the “law of non-contradiction” in your religious readings. It appears frequently in apologetic writings that seek to defend certain religious doctrines. It is a simple rule that goes like this:

A concept or rule cannot be true and false at the same time.

Technically, it looks like this:

A cannot be B and not B at the same time.

Now there are truck loads of articles and books addressing this rule, but all I’m really concerned about is how it is used by church apologists to make an argument. This rule was key for me as I developed my theology in college. I was a modernist who rejected all forms of postmodern thinking.

Ravi Zacharias

One of the main illustrations that made the law of non-contradiction clear to me was a story told my one of the heroes from my college years, Ravi Zacharias. It is often repeated in churches, Bible studies, and Sunday school classes; and is one that I have used frequently.

After Zacharias had finished a lecture, a professor of philosophy challenged him on a significant point. Zacharias had pressed the law of non-contradiction. Putting it in simpler terms for his audience, he said that the law might be called an either…or system. Christian theology uses this system. For example,

Either Paul is an Apostle or he is not.

Either Jesus is the Son of God or he is not.

Either Christianity is true or it is not.

You see the rule here:

A cannot be B and not B at the same time.

Paul cannot be an apostle and not an apostle.

Etc.

The irritated professor went to dinner with Zacharias and one other school administrator to talk things over. The philosophy professor insisted that the either…or system is exclusively a western philosophical idea while eastern philosophy uses more of an both…and system of logic. So…

A can be both B and not B at the same time.

Thus…

Paul can be both an apostle and not an apostle.

Jesus can be both the Son of God and not the Son of God.

Zacharias opposed this view with a simple statement: “So you are telling me that it’s either the both…and system or nothing else, is that right?”

The philosopher puzzled over this: “The either…or does seem to emerge, doesn’t it?”

Zacharias added, “You know, even those in India look both ways before we cross the street, because they know ‘It’s either me or the bus, not both of us!'”

The main point is that the either…or system–the law of non-contradiction–is something that even Easterners use in their thinking. This is a very important distinction and has helped me a great deal over the years. It also tended to lock me in a modernist way of thinking, and I think it has done the same to several of my contemporaries.

What I erroneously took away from that illustration was that all legitimate ideas come from either…or thinking; the both…and system of thought is worthless and even deceptive. That worked for me for a while, but I started having some pretty big problems with it when I went to seminary. In my biblical and theological studies I found that you must employ the both…and system to make things work. Otherwise, those who champion the non-contradiction rule will actually contradict themselves!

Jesus is both God and man.

The church is both currently redeemed and not yet redeemed.

God is both a single person and not a single person.

A strict either…or approach would have to deny these principles, even though these concepts are central to historic church doctrines. To be sure, there are many who try to reconcile these doctrines with an either…or system; and it seems to me that the harder we try, the further we separate ourselves from the teachings of the text.

Ultimately, I think we need to learn to use both systems where appropriate (see what I did there?). It seems to me that the “either…or” system promotes a more mechanical and objective style of thinking while the “both…and” system is much more organic and subjective. There will always be a tension between the two of them, but they are both helpful.

Categories: Biblical Studies, Philosophy, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Good Parent Condescends, God Does too


You probably won’t answer your son as elaborately as the dad in this commercial, but I wonder if you condescended in a similar way when your 4-year old asks where babies come from. Why do you do that? Why don’t you just come on out and talk about sexual intercourse and all the things around it? Well–duh!–he’s four years old! It wouldn’t be appropriate for him to learn about all the aspects of human sexuality (which you, of course, have mastered)! I’m not a child psychologist but I think I know why you might do it:

-For one thing, he won’t really understand what you’re talking about.
-It will introduce him to concepts that are either inappropriate or irrelevant to his current lifestyle (let’s hope!).
-Also, he might not be emotionally ready for full-disclosure on the topic.

So maybe you’ll just be as vague as possible. That’s a safe move. You don’t want to bring out the textbooks and talk anatomy. You don’t want to use dolls for any illustrative purposes. You’d rather not use specific terms. The main thing you try to do is condescend to your son. You want to put complex matters into understandable terms. And why would you do such a thing to your son? Are you trying to lie to him? Confuse him?

Just the opposite, actually. You want to answer his questions in a way that is relevant to his life experiences and his current mental acumen. This is a little heavier than working with fractions and pie charts, after all.

As you explain some things, you’re holding back. You’re not being dishonest or deceptive. You are giving him the amount of information that he can handle. He uses some terms that are not technically correct, but you’ll overlook that and actually use his terminology to communicate the main point clearly. As he grows up, you’ll talk about these things more and correct some of his misconceptions.

So we condescend to our children because we love them and want them to understand matters that are relevant to their current situation.

In the same way, God the Father is the best dad of all (Matt. 7:11) and condescended to answer people’s questions. The ancient Hebrews wondered where they came from and where they were going. God answered with the creation narrative–Gen. 1-3. The Hebrews weren’t asking questions about science–at the time, nobody was! So God answers their questions in ancient symbols that they would understand. He could have told them how old the earth was. He could have described the creation in much more scientific detail. He could have explained how there could be light before any sun existed, or how a day could pass before the sun even existed (Gen. 1:14). But apparently, those things didn’t matter to the Hebrews.

Instead they asked, “Are we special?” And God said that he created them in His image and ordained them to rule the earth in his place. They learned that they are included in a divine struggle between the serpent and God. They learned that their disobedience leads to separation from God. They learned that sacrifice would be necessary to cover their shame before the Almighty. God was answering their questions based on the terms and knowledge they had. That’s what a good dad does. God condescends, he does not lie.

Categories: Biblical Studies, Creation, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Word about Christian Skeptics

File:Caravaggio - The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.jpgCall Peter your favorite all you want; Thomas is my favorite disciple in the New Testament! He’s gotten a bad rap as the doubter, but I think a better word for him is skeptic. He is optimistic about one thing: pessimism. I find his complaints familiar and comical. The Gospel of John brings these out twice, probably because the writer is arguing for belief more than anything else (Jn. 20:30-31)

Exhibit A (Jn. 11): Jesus heard that his good friend Lazarus was dying, so he made the peculiar decision not to hurry to his side. He waited until Lazarus died so that he could resurrect him, stimulating faith in his disciples (vv. 14-15). The folks in Lazarus’ town have murderous plans for Jesus and his disciples; so the move doesn’t make any sense to them, and Thomas is the only one who voices his sarcastic complaint: “We’re making this trip to see a dead guy? Fine, let’s all go so we can be dead too!” Now, I’m sure this wasn’t all he said. Narrators always cut material to make things work–that’s just good storytelling. So I’ll wager Thomas grumbled a lot on the way.

“This is nuts. We left our careers for this?”

“The guy is already dead. What’s the point of all this?”

“You know, we could have gone to visit him a long time ago.”

“This has become a ministry of death, not of life.”

I also wonder if he was behind this statement uttered later: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” (Jn. 11:37)

But Jesus bore with Thomas, and Thomas stayed nonetheless. In return, Thomas saw one of the greatest miracles reported in the New Testament, the resurrection of a dead man.

Exhibit B (Jn. 20): Thomas was not with the other disciples when the resurrected Jesus appeared. We’re not sure what this means. Maybe he had abandoned all hope in Jesus’ ministry and separated himself from the other disciples. At the very least, his separation suggests disbelief. But when the disciples told Thomas that Jesus was truly resurrected, he demanded concrete evidence. “Unless I see him for myself, and see the marks of crucifixion–unless I see hard evidence, I won’t believe it” (v.24). But there must have been some sibilance of hope within him, because Thomas went with the other disciples to the room where they saw Jesus before (v. 26). There, Jesus had special dialogue with Thomas, offering him the evidence he needed to believe (vv. 26-27).  Maybe Thomas should have believed all along. Maybe he was too pessimistic. In fact, Jesus chides him a little for needing so much evidence (v. 29). Earlier, in fact, Jesus criticized the people for their need of signs to believe (Jn. 4:48). But he did provide signs, and provided the direct evidence Thomas needed.

There are some important lessons here:

Skepticism is not a sin. Some Christians are afraid to voice their concerns and questions about life, about Christ, about the Bible for fear that they will be condemned and cast out of the Christian community. It’s true, Jesus called for faith, but he did not demand a naïve belief. In reality, all Christians believe because they are convinced that they have seen the hand of God move in their lives. Some people require more “evidence” than others. That doesn’t make anyone better or worse, it just means that they are built differently. And if the Christian is to love God with all his mind (Mk 12:30), then his objections and questions should be taken seriously and not simply waved off as “disbelief.”

Skepticism can be arrogant, but so can piety. I hope to be a humble skeptic, the kind of guy that respects the positions of others and admires the kind of faith that others can have so easily demonstrate. Some of the godliest people I have ever met have shared matters of doubt and struggle with me (they were wonderful conversations, I might add). Yet I know some skeptics who think they are the epitome of wisdom and knowledge. We don’t see that kind of arrogance in Thomas. Instead, we see honest concerns and fears voiced in inquiry and frustration. He didn’t have all the answers, but he was looking. Truthfully, I see more arrogance in the most pious of disciples: Peter. Peter’s radical trust is admirable, but he was a little too sure of himself more than once. It was Peter’s misled enthusiasm that drove him to attack those who came to arrest Jesus (Jn. 18:10-11). Peter insisted that his faithfulness to Christ was superior to the other disciples, yet he proved to be just as weak as the rest (Matt. 26:33; 26:69-75). And let’s not forget how Peter actually rebuked Jesus, which drew Jesus’ harshest criticism: “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matt. 16:23). Arrogance is simply not limited to the skeptic.

Skeptics in church are skeptics in church. It’s important to recognize that Thomas participated with the disciples despite his skepticism. He went to Lazarus’ tomb despite the danger and joined the disciples when they gathered in the locked room to see the resurrected Christ. He could have left at any time. He could have blown them off. If he was such a skeptic and such a doubter, why did he stay with the disciples? I think it is because he had hope in Christ and his ministry. He had a measure of faith already; otherwise, why would he waste his time? There are many skeptics in church because they have hope in the Christian message. They may not believe everything you do, and they might even be a little rough around the edges; but they are there for a reason.  If you condemn them for asking honest questions or having legitimate concerns about the Bible or beliefs in the church, you’re not helping them.  Instead they will learn that church members get defensive when they are challenged instead of answering honestly.  Jesus let the skeptics stay in his group; maybe the church should follow his example.

Christ didn’t drive the skeptic away. Thomas could be a pain in the rear. But Christ did not chase him away like some churches do. Ultimately, Christ broke through the biggest barriers that kept Thomas from a fulfilled faith. It took time. It wasn’t until after the resurrection that Thomas grew into his faith. Jesus had a longsuffering for him that resulted in Thomas’ triumphal cry: “My Lord and my God!”

The skeptic is not bad. He has honest questions and struggles that he hopes God can address. I pray that our churches will remain a place where skeptics can voice their genuine questions without feeling threatened or condemned.

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Isaiah 9: the Warrior-King and Christmas

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For a child has been born to us,
a son has been given to us.
He shoulders responsibility
and is called:
Extraordinary Strategist,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
9:7 His dominion will be vast
and he will bring immeasurable prosperity.
He will rule on David’s throne
and over David’s kingdom,
establishing it and strengthening it
by promoting justice and fairness,
from this time forward and forevermore.
The Lord’s intense devotion to his people will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7, NET)

Isaiah 9:6 is a favorite passage quoted by Christians just before Christmas, predicting the coming of Messiah. It’s one of my favorites, too. It is difficult for us to look at the passage in its original context, but let’s give it a try.
In the 8th century BCE, Judah was in trouble. Ephraim and Syria were a new threat just to the north and the Assyrian Empire was a terrible juggernaut gobbling up all the surrounding territories. These days, commentators say that Judah was under the “Assyrian Crisis.” The Assyrians were a pretty ruthless people who demonstrated their cruelty in some terrifying ways. Impalement and dismemberment were just a few ways they proved their power to their enemies.
In this cultural and historical setting, Isaiah gave a prophecy of great hope to a people under enormous pressure. A child would be born who would set all things straight. Isaiah’s audience were under Ahaz’s rule, but his actions were less than ideal. But this child would be a king who rules on David’s throne and would bring about a definitive order in the middle of the political chaos.
The birth announcement foretold a human event with divine intention. The child is a human conception, though God has determined its happening and purpose.
He will be one that bears a great weight of responsibility as a political leader, but will be renown for his technique and ability, because he will be called “Extraordinary Strategist” by many. I think the NET Bible communicates this well. Oftentimes we see the popular gloss “Wonderful Counselor” and think that he will be someone that will give great advice or direction in a personal matter. Instead, Isaiah’s audience was more interested in a leader who could get them out of their terrible predicament; someone who could save them from forces like Assyria.
As was common to the ancient Near East, kings were representatives of a nation’s deity. The kings embodied the authority of the gods. They were even considered the very presence of a deity on earth. The title “Mighty God” points to this divine embodiment, but it isn’t an outright incarnation that the New Testament teaches. Instead, a king who accomplished the great things destined for him would obviously be driven by the deity. His authority would be synonymous with the authority of the deity, and so he would represent the divine.
The title “Everlasting Father” really doesn’t have anything to do with deity. Instead, it refers to the fatherly provision and protection of this coming king. A Christian appeal to the Trinity would be problematic here, especially since Christian see the king as the Son and not the Father. The metaphor of a kingly father is also found in Isaiah 22:21 (esp. ESV or NIV). Of course, the duration of his protection will be “everlasting,” which fits the theme of this pericope nicely. This kind of forever language is almost always hyperbolic, not referring to a literal eternity, but is instead a magnanimous description of the coming king. It also fits the language of the promise made in 2 Samuel 7 where God promised David that one from his lineage would establish a kingdom of peace that would endure forever.
He’ll be a “Prince of Peace.” How can a king in that environment establish peace? He’ll be a supreme and unbeatable warrior-king who will force the bad guys into submission and so take care of his people. His concern for his people is clear in verse 7. He’s David’s son, he brings peace and justice to his kingdom, and that kingdom is one of great prosperity. It’s YHWH’s passion that motivates and drives him. He’s the perfect king, truly the Messiah.

Is it any wonder that the first century Jews expected a warrior king that would utterly demolish Rome? It makes a lot of sense when you hear Peter’s revolutionary language and see him charge the crowd who came to arrest Jesus in Gethsemane.

But what do we do with this Isaiah 9 passage this Christmastime? The people who walked with Christ experienced a paradigm shift and interpreted these passages like this one differently and we do it too.

A child was born by human effort and divine intention. This child would set things straight and we would save us from a war going on between all humanity and God himself: this king would save us from our own sins (Matt. 1:21). The king will be not simply be a representative of God, but will be the actual incarnation of God Himself. He will not just be a symbol of God’s presence among us (Isaiah 7), but will actually be God in human flesh. He will be Immanuel in substance, and not just in spirit. His kingdom will expand as the Gospel message moves across the globe. Our reasons for fear–death, sickness, and divine retribution–will fade. In him, we got more than was originally expected. With him we gain victory over the grave and death. Political aggressors are really secondary when it comes to the issues of sin and death; and the latter are the most important things in our lives that the Messiah came to correct. The culmination of all God wants to accomplish on earth are found in the Christ child.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

Categories: Biblical Studies, Christian Calendar, Christmas, Practical, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Redeeming Christmas

Christmas tree

Christmas tree (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Around A.D. 336, the Christian Church made December 25 the official date to celebrate the birth of Christ. Some of the images and rituals popular in Christmas celebrations today, have their origins in ancient pagan celebrations.  The Christian Church could have rejected these images but instead redeemed them, pointing them to Christ instead of false gods.  The Biblical authors had no problem with such methods.  In Psalm 29, David described a storm rolling over Lebanon striking down trees with lightning.  Canaanites thought Baal was behind such power, but David corrected this notion, claiming YHWH was behind it all.  Pagans were right to acknowledge a deity who brought the storm, but their adoration was misdirected!  David took the religious enthusiasm fomented by the image of a storm and directed praise toward the Lord.  He used an image that was common to his Canaanite neighbors and corrected the theology behind it.

Likewise, in the New Testament, Paul recognized the religiosity of his audience by noting the pagan idols they worshipped and paid special attention to the writing on one particular altar (Acts 17:23).  Paul used the altar devoted to “the unknown god”  to preach the good news to his listeners!  They had religious momentum, yet Paul sought to correct their misconceptions about religion and direct their devotion to the true God.

So when I remember Christ in December of each year, I enjoy putting up my Christmas lights and admiring their beauty during some of the longest nights of the year, because they remind me of Christ–the light of the world who shines in the darkness.  When I decorate my Christmas tree, I think about how it stays green and vibrant while the  other trees of the woods look dead.  Christ similarly makes believers alive in a world spiritually lifeless in sin.  The gifts under that tree remind me of how Christ was a gift from the Father to the world.  The Yule log in the hearth should keep a home warm through the night until the daylight shines once again, just as Christ’s Spirit in our hearts will keep us until the dawn of the second advent.  Just as God has redeemed our lives and corrected our theology, some of the traditions of Christmas which had pagan roots long ago are now symbols that point to the true God.

Categories: Biblical Studies, Christmas | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sacred Word, Broken Word by Kenton Sparks–Comments from a Former Fundamentalist

When I returned from the SBL annual meeting a few weeks ago, I told lots of folks about my experiences and about a few of the books that I purchased or had hoped to purchase in the near future. The one I began reading on the bus ride home was Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture by Kenton Sparks. I posted the picture of the book on my Facebook account, which led to a flurry of mostly negative comments. I don’t suppose most of the folks knew Sparks or anything about his book. They might have reacted to the title which calls the Bible both sacred and broken, and I’m sure Sparks’s quote from Bonhoeffer that I posted helped egg on the discussion:

“We must read this book of books with all human methods. But through the fragile and broken Bible, God meets us in the voice of the Risen One” (Sparks, 1; Bonhoeffer, Reflections on the Bible)

A former fundamentalist, I understand the concern. People assume (as I did once) that any insinuation about the Bible’s brokenness is simply an attack on the Bible’s authority. Bonhoeffer’s quote makes me uneasy, but it is also one of the more wonderful and refreshing things I’ve heard about the Bible in a long time. The more I study the Bible through an academic and critical lens, I am less convinced by the traditional ways to reconcile Bible contradictions and difficulties. It is one reason I could no longer tow the fundamentalist party line. But old habits and theological positions die hard, and Bonhoeffer’s quote makes me nervous yet hopeful in my search for a different approach to Bible interpretation. But Sparks intrigued me with his first quote, so I eagerly dove into the rest of the 156 pages for the next week. I read it slowly, marking it up in several places with some !’s, some ?’s and a whole lot of circles, underlines and comments. Overall, I was enthusiastic about the message.

He began his book by affirming that the Bible is God’s word, the sword of the Spirit, and written by those who were moved by that Spirit (8-9). It contains God’s truth and elements of divine beauty. Yet it also contains some features that are very disturbing to modern readers–to Christians and non-Christians alike. It is pretty clear that one of the basic messages in the Bible is that the world was created by God and yet contains a great deal of pain and evil. Sparks touches on different theological approaches to the creation narrative and the effects of the Fall on the universe, probably to show the theological complexity of the issue. He also offered a very brief argument himself, but ultimately stated that no one can really prove conclusively that the Christian view of evil is correct (17-19). I agree, especially since the Bible itself offers several approaches to the problem of evil (compare the messages of Job and Ecclesiastes for example). Furthermore, Sparks observed that God expresses himself through creation even though it is fallen and warped (20-21; cf. Ps. 19:1-3). I had never considered this before; and so as I read I could feel my hope grow. The Bible can and does reflect a redemptive message through the pens of depraved authors.

Next Sparks devoted a few pages to Christology..which is a little weird until you see where he is going with it. The coming of Jesus is an example of how God seeks to communicate with mankind. God became incarnate, taking on the “likeness of sinful flesh” to redeem and communicate with those people who were condemned (Rom 8:3-4). Therefore, the fallen world is only redeemed when God interacts with it (27). But unlike the nature of Christ himself, the scriptures were written by sinful men whose works were adopted or sanctified for God’s uses. To claim the scriptures themselves were sinless all together, insinuates a kind of hypostatic relationship between God’s divine perfection and text or its authors. Since none of the human authors have a simultaneously divine and human nature, a perfectly written text seems unlikely. This was a difficult section for me, but I largely agree with Sparks and I think that it honors God more to separate him from the text in this way. An inerrantist view of Scripture seems to idolatrously elevate the Bible to a divine status.

After giving some samples of the “broken” elements in the Bible, including logical and theological inconsistencies along with moral difficulties such as genocide and slavery, we get to the heart of the book where Sparks makes his main arguments. The fact that some of the laws of the Old Testament codify actions that are morally troublesome these days, indicates that the Bible is not simply a divine yardstick to measure all morality for all people. In Sparks’s estimation, “biblical error became God’s wise accommodation to the intellectual and spiritual limitations of the human audience” (53). The idea that the text cannot have errors because it is “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16) cannot stand since, “the Greek word itself does not really imply anything in particular about how the transaction between God and the human authors took place” (56). Strengthening his case, Sparks shows that other key theological figures have made similar remarks in Church history.

At this point, I’ve agreed with Sparks a great deal, though I feel some trepidation. When he states, “By virtue of its human form and character, Scripture is an adequate human voice that does not fare so well when judged by the yardstick of divine perfection” (61, emphasis his), I must wonder if there is a yardstick at all. What makes Scripture so special? Should we trust the Bible’s documents with the fate of our souls if it doesn’t fare so well against divine perfection? It’s here my hope begins to fade, giving way to despair. But Sparks doesn’t leave me entirely dead in the water. The Bible is not an end in itself. It is a divinely motivated witness to God’s work of redemption in the world through Christ (63). But this still doesn’t answer my questions.

The chapter on epistemology was foundational to the book and one of the most intriguing parts in my reading, probably because I’ve been exploring postmodern ideas on my own. It is important because the way a person determines truth has direct bearing on that person’s ethics. Sparks promotes what he calls “practical realism” (73), which is a tempered postmodernist view. He acknowledges the importance of empirical evidence in the pursuit of truth, but recognizes that personal experience, culture, and traditions carry a great deal of weight as well. Thus, church tradition and history inform and guide church theology and ethics.

With this in mind, Sparks then revisits some of the diversity of ideas and difficulties in the Scripture again. In anticipation of Christ’s imminent return, Paul stated that people should avoid marriage (1 Cor. 7), but Sparks states that these days one is better off looking to Genesis 2 when deciding to marry (115). Good advice, I think. Regarding slavery: “We should not try to argue that biblical laws which allowed Israel to buy foreign slaves (Lev 25:44) fit very nicely with biblical texts that call for justice, equality, freedom and love of neighbor. At a crucial point the two views are simply incommensurable” (105). These slavery texts may have more self-serving purposes for the human authors than divine mandate. And, of course, there’s the church’s old view of geocentrism they finally had to abandon based on new scientific evidence.

Okay! I get it! But how can I know if my reading of the Bible is correct? I’m a Reformed Protestant, so I cry “Sola Scriptura!“and have placed little emphasis on church tradition for my hermeneutics. But recently I have joined a church that does place a great deal of weight on church tradition; so his points resonate with me now. Sparks notes that more Protestants are like me are recognizing the importance of church traditions in Bible interpretation (125). And so my hope grows even more! (FYI: See also the emphasis on tradition in 2 Thesselonians 2:15 and 1 Corinthians 11:2) We also have confidence that the Spirit of God guides the church as she interprets the Bible. As mentioned earlier, we should also consider the natural world and scientific knowledge, since God also reveals himself in nature. Furthermore, Sparks argues that we should always consider our own experiences. He notes that he was taught as a child that Catholics could not be Christians, but working with several devout Catholics over the years has taught him that this is not the case. The church should take a similar approach when reading the Bible. Sparks also gives a list of guidelines and principles for validating one’s interpretation of the text. Part of it includes the mystery of God’s Spirit interacting with the church throughout history, and part of it recognizes one of the most obvious points of all the canon: God is on a mission to redeem the world.

If I could, I would thank Dr. Sparks personally for writing such a great book! It stretches the limits of my accepted doctrines and has given me the groundwork for an alternative to an inerrantist position. I had abandoned this position a few months ago, but Sparks’s writing has given me a nice blueprint for constructing a new hermeneutic. To me, the Bible remains authoritative even though it has clear evidence of human frailty behind it. Sparks affirmed my suspicions about the Scriptures, pointing out some difficulties I had never considered, and then gave me some guideposts with which I can chart a better hermeneutical method that still shows great reverence to Gods word. Now, I feel that I have stronger supports for my position.

Yet, I do have some criticisms and points of disagreements, but there is really only one matter I care to address. As a former fundamentalist, I was drilled with one doctrine above all: the Bible is inerrant. Without the Bible’s inerrancy, I had supposed with everyone else that all was lost. Without inerrancy, we can’t know God and his requirements. With an inerrant view, we can be certain who God is and what he requires. So when my friends saw the title “Sacred Word, Broken Word” and the Bonhoeffer quote, some felt two things: anger and despair. Anger because to question inerrancy is to question God himself, and despair because the recognition of errors in the Bible can feel like the foundation of one’s faith has been compromised. I’m a trained Biblical scholar, and I felt it even while reading Sacred Word, Broken Word; I can only imagine the layperson’s struggle through such a text. Sparks doesn’t seem to anticipate this tremendous emotional and existential struggle. Simply put, he is not pastoral anywhere in his approach. To be fair, he is a theologian and does a great job arguing his point. But this is a sensitive issue for some, and I didn’t see that he is aware of that.

The model I was taught as a fundamentalist is like that of so many: the Bible is my one foundation for truth. Sparks doesn’t replace that foundation with another, instead giving principles for good Bible interpretation via the church, tradition, experience, and nature. After reading Sparks’s book, there is no more singular foundation upon which a Christian can build his house (life). Thus, despair or anger for the fundamentalist reader. As one who has a so-called Calvinist perspective on the sovereignty of God, I find that this is a great replacement foundation to fill the fundamentalist void. The Spirit of God sovereignly moves through the church and through its members to eventually redeem us. We get it wrong sometimes, but through those errors, shortcomings, and even sins, God will be faithful to accomplish his purposes. A little emphasis on something like this would have been appreciated!

 

 

Categories: Biblical Studies, Calvinism, Existentialism, Postmodernism, Practical, Theology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

SBL Annual Meeting 2012

SBL

For the past several years, I have attended the annual and some regional Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) meetings where I have learned a lot and met several great scholars. I never had the chance to attend the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), which usually met about the same time and in the same city as ETS–though not this year. Because of my new and recent theological investigations I decided to go to SBL this year. I am so very glad that I did!For those of you who don’t know the difference between ETS and SBL, here’s the deal. ETS is primarily faith-based while SBL is purpose based. ETS is for scholars who believe in two basic things (1) the inerrancy of the Bible and (2) a trinitarian view of God (a later stipulation that deals with any Mormons who want to get involved). SBL exists to encourage any scholarship of the Bible or any literature relating to it. Since it is not limited to a religious view, the scholarship is wonderfully broad which offers so many scholarly views of any given biblical topic or text. Pure gold to a biblical scholar.

SBL exhibits3

SBL exhibits3 (Photo credit: Joe Weaks)

Why go to a conference like this? There are several reasons. One obvious reason is to learn. From Friday through Tuesday morning scholars from all over the world present papers on new findings and new theories. Some people present papers just for the sake of presenting, some really want the feedback of the other participants so they can fine-tune their ideas, some people present ideas as precursors to published essays and books. On the downside, some papers promise a lot but really aren’t worth your time. Another benefit of the conference is the books . Numerous vendors sell their books and products at a huge discount. Additionally, you’ll meet editors at these booths with whom you can discuss publishing opportunities.

Another plus is networking and running into old friends. I met several old buddies and made many new connections while looking at books, eating meals, and traveling. It was over some pasta and a few drinks that I had one of the most aggressive and serious theological discussions I’ve had in years. Each of us made very strong points…and mine were the strongest . That was probably the greatest learning experience for me on the whole trip. It was so friggin’ awesome.

Giordano’s kickin’ pizza

That leads to another reason to go to SBL–the hosting cities. The meetings are always held at great locations:

San Francisco, Dallas, Atlanta, Baltimore, and this year it was Chicago. So during my down time I would go to some of the great r

estaurants and sights. Of course, one evening I strolled to Giordano’s to get a stuffed pizza and ate it nice and slow. Another plus is the fact that you’ll do so much walking in Chicago, it helps offset the fact that you just ate ten thousand calories.

I am so going to do SBL again. I’m hooked.

Categories: Biblical Studies, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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