Category Archives: Bible

This world is not my home….or is it?

One of the most destructive views, in my opinion, is the belief that we are just passing through this world.

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Why is this so destructive?

This belief leads to the idea that the whole point is to decide if your going to go “up” or “down” after you die. (Up being good and for the special elite. Down being bad and where the vast majority of the human race goes…and somehow this is couched under the idea that this is good news?) Often this idea is said  for one of two reasons.

First, this is said frequently when someone is frustrated with the way things are going or they see so much injustice around them. In other words, behind this view is often the unspoken idea that “this world is messed up and doomed. You all are screwed, but I’m glad I’m not.”

Secondly, people fear the unknown, particularly what happens when you die and they desperately desire certainty. Certainty is likely one of the greatest deceptions and yet greatest draws toward religion for most conservatives.

Not only does this produce a sort of arrogance and an attachment to one’s views (what happens when people die is pure speculation and none of us know), but it is also destructive. Before I share why I think this way, let me first say that I resonate with part of the reason behind this saying. I do think that our beliefs about the afterlife matter. Try telling a mother whose child is about to die that she shouldn’t have any hope or that she may not see her child again – not helpful or hopeful!

Hope is at the core of the Christian story, but it isn’t a hope focused on the afterlife it is a hope focused on this life. 

Again, as a Christian, I think we can have hope for some form of life after death – though I am less and less convinced it will look like streets paved with pure gold, harps, or a burning fire of ceaseless torture. I am much more hopeful than to think that only a select few will enter into “paradise” while the majority suffer. I think we will all be shocked.

In the Jewish tradition there is a phrase called tikkun olam (pronounced tee-KOON oh-LUHM) which means “the repair of the world.” It is this idea that God is working to bring about reconciliation, healing, and wholeness to the entire world and we are invited to be a part (this is how I understand salvation). This goes beyond the overly simplistic idea of individualistic human salvation (very anthropocentric). God is not just working to save humans, but the entire cosmos.

Both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible would seem to support  tikkun olam more than the idea that the world is not my home. Starting in the beginning is a story that speaks poetically about a God who creates a good and beautiful world and then invites humans to continue creating, naming, and tending to this world. Nothing is said of this being “temporary” or there being “another, better place” afterwards. According to this narrative, God takes delight when humans continue to create and continue to bring about order and beauty in this good world.

Interesting to me that those who believe that God created the world and called it good are often so quick to want to leave it behind!

The vast majority of the stories found in Scripture are stories of a God working to help bring about justice, peace, equality, and wholeness in this world. Instead of trying to escape this world or tell everyone how bad, evil, or messed up they are, it seems much more in line with God’s movement to work toward things like sustainability, equality, natural energy, health care for all, businesses that benefit all not just a few, education that encourages forward thinking, and so many other creative ways. Our carbon footprint matters. Our use of water matters. Our diet effects others. Our way of transportation matters. Where we put our trash and if/how we recycle matters. These are all issues of tikkun olam – working to bring about healing and repair. We are not “just passing through,” but are a part of this world and what we do with life in this world matters immensely.

 

 

 

 

 

Is the universe benevolent?

What kind of world are we living in?

Are we living in a universe that is against us?

Is God on the edge of a throne somewhere just waiting for us to mess up so that God can smight us?

For some, God is someone to be feared.  God is a righteous and holy being who cannot stand to be around us when we mess up. This view of our world, God, and the universe affects people in very real ways.

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I have been in several conversations  where it has become clear to me that some people see God, the world, and the universe in a very different light than I do.

Now, before I even get to far into this, let me say that this view of God can be and is often defended using the Bible. But then again, so many hurtful and destructive things have been defending using the Bible so it really shouldn’t surprise us all that much. The Bible, like religion, can be helpful or hurtful. It can be used to speak life or death. The Bible, like religion, can be used to feed the ego and enhance our sense of being right or superior – it can create more boundaries of who is “in” and who is “out”.

Often, people who see God as an angry tyrant ready to destroy the “wicked” are fairly uptight themselves – after all if you have this view then you are constantly walking on egg shells – how exhausting!

I know this to be true because I lived much of my life here and can speak from experience. Everything needs to be defended and seen as a threat. The world is a terrible place and “Satan” is out to get you if you let your guard down for even a moment. This can take many forms; the Muslims are trying to take over the world, the liberals are out to get you, atheists are evil, evolution is deceiving our children etc etc.

When I am in conversations with people who see things differently – this can be concerning the LGBTQ community, evolution, science, hell, judgement, holiness, the Bible, righteousness, what salvation means, if the Christian truth is exclusive,  etc – what I have become aware of is that

beneath all of this is our view of God.

Is God benevolent or is God an angry tyrant? Does God’s holiness mean God cannot stand to be around us “sinners” – what an awful picture of God that paints – no wonder people are rejecting that god, I do to!

As I mentioned above, this is an exhausting way to live. The good news however, is that you don’t have to live this way. God, Reality, the Universe (however you define the Divine) is wholly and completely benevolent. God’s dream is for the world to flourish and God understands that you and I will make mistakes and occasionally mess up in the process.

So, it’s going to be ok. You can breath easy and don’t need to be anxious or fearful but can trust that God is working through your life, your decisions, and yes, even your mistakes.

I think God is best defined as love. Fear or anxiety do not exist in the domain of love. Where there is love, perfect and complete love, there is no fear.

Another way to say this is when one becomes fully conscious and awaken to God, they will no longer live in fear. Instead of seeing the world as a threat, one actually walks through it with eyes wide open in wonder and awe. God doesn’t need to be feared, but rather can be trusted because of God’s benevolence.

God is on your side and wants the best for you – how great is that!

Does the Bible contradict itself?

A few weeks ago I wrote about genocide that was commanded by God in the Bible. This week I wanted to finish the two part serious on Peter Enns book, The Bible Tells Me So…Why Defending Scripture Has Made US Unable To Read It.

Some would deny that the Bible contracts itself or offers differing perspectives, but anyone who has studied the Bible in depth cannot deny these – though many do enter into intense gymnastics to jump around or try to explain away the contradictions.

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Enns talks about the fact that there are four different gospel stories that do not all line up perfectly. It should also be noted that while these gospels are traditionally attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, these disciples were unlikely the authors of these gospel accounts (John is one exception – though it was redacted heavily). Each gospel writer tells their story in unique ways because they were addressing a specific audience and wanted to get specific points across.

The birth of Jesus is not even mentioned in Mark (the first gospel written) or John. Many scholars agree that Matthew most likely created some of his birth stories (e.g. the Magi and killing of babies by King Herod).

And then there’s the resurrection story.

Who is first to find an empty tomb?

In Matthew it was two women – Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and are greeted by an earthquake and an angel.

In Luke there are many women including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of Jesus, and the other women. No earthquake and not angel but two men (the two men could be interpreted as angels).

Marks gospel has a shorter and a longer ending. The longer ending was most likely added on sometime in the second century. The shorter ending has four who visit the empty tomb – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Solome. They see one man (not two) and do not experience an earthquake.

John’s story has Mary Magdalene who goes alone to the empty tomb and runs back to tell the disciples. Peter and another disciple race back to the tomb. There is no angel, no man, and no earthquake.

So we have four differing accounts. Was it two women? Four women? One women? Did they see an angel or angels or men? Was there an earthquake? These answers depend upon which gospel story one is reading from.

Enns then writes about the two differing stories within the Christian Old Testament. The first story is told in 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings while the Israelites were in exile. The second story that was written about two centuries later, after the exile, is 1 & 2 Chronicles. These two stories note different details and do not always agree.

This reminds me a lot of the prophets which we talked about at length my Hebrew Bible class. The different prophets challenged each other, saw things differently, and disagreed because each was wrestling through their current context in light of the past and trying their best to see into the future.

2 Samuel 24 states, “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them…”

1 Chronicles 21 states, “Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to count the people of Israel.”

So which is it? Was it God or was it Satan? (I wrote about the evolution of the view of Satan here).

Below is a short (not exhaustive list) of other places the Bible contradicts itself take from a great book by Kenton Sparks titled Sacred Word Broken Word: Biblical Authority & the Dark Side of Scripture

In some places God changing God’s mind and others claim that God never changes God’s mind – Gen 6:6-7; James 1:17

Some places describe God as having a physical body and others no body – Is 6:1; Amos 9:1; Jn 4:24.

Some texts say that Israel knew God’s name as Yahweh, while other texts say that they did not know God’s name – Gen 28:16; Ex 6:2-3.

Some texts tell Israel to boil the Passover meal and another forbids boiling it – Deut 16:7, Ex 12:9.

Some texts declare that God will judge the children of sinners and others say that God will not harm them – Ex 20:5; Deut 24:16.

One text says that Jesus’ family was originally from Nazareth, and another that says Bethlehem – Luke 2:1-4; Matt 1-2.

One text says that Jesus’ family moved to Nazareth soon after his birth, and another that says this took place several years after – Luke 2:39-40; Matt 1-2.

One text declares that there is no excuse for idol worshipers and another gives them an excuse – Rom 1:18-23; Acts 17:29-31.

One text says David paid 50 shekels of silver for Israel’s temple site, and another that says he paid 600 shekels of gold – 2 Sam 24:24; I Chron 21:25.

The Bible claims there was a world wide flood that killed almost everything, but geological  evidence proves this never happened.

If one reads the Bible seriously, one cannot just ignore these things and claim the Bible is without error.

How then should we read these stories?

I think a better way to read these stories is to ask why the original authors wrote these stories down the way they did. There was a point, a reason, why these stories exist (and others don’t) and continued to be passed along.

If one believes that God inspired the Bible, and believes that God’s Spirit was at work among the people who canonized the Bible, then we have these stories for a reason. I do not think that the reason we have these stories is to give us a rule book for how we are to live in the 21st century, but rather they are to give us a way people have engaged with the divine through their perspectives, their times, and in their places.

The Bible, as Enns suggests, is not a simple how-to manuel where we look how God acted in one stories and we extract that to mean that is how God acts in all times and places. The Bible is much more complex than that.

I cannot write without adding what I see as the crux of the story – Jesus. I read the Bible as a human journey to better understanding God, i.e. progressive revelation. This revelation climaxes in Jesus who I believe is the image of God. Jesus shows us that God is not distant, angry, or punitive, but is loving, forgiving, and merciful.

Unfortunately, a lot of violence has been and continues to be done in the name of a non violent and loving God. I would say that this god is not the god revealed in Jesus, but just as the Israel often viewed God as violent because of their consciousness at the time, we continue to struggle with ways to better understand God today. In this way the Bible seems most relevant to us in the 21st century!

 

Is the Bible Inerrant?…and did God command genocide?

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about the first chapter of Peter Enns new book The Bible Tells me so…why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It.

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I have since finished the book, it’s fantastic!

I wanted to reflect on what I saw as the main points of the book and where I resonated the most.

The main point of the book is that too many people have attempted to defend the Bible as an inerrant rule book that gives one harmonious story and picture of God, and this view has thus hindered them from reading the Bible as it is.

Enns’s conclusion?

The Bible doesn’t behave like a divinely dictated, inerrant rule book. The Bible contradicts itself, gives various pictures of God, and often tells stories that are not factually or historically true.

Enns jumps right into the complexity by dealing with one of the hardest stories in the Hebrew Scriptures, the genocide of the Canaanites that was commanded by God.

In the book of Joshua it states, “For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts so that they would come against Israel in battle, in order that they might be utterly destroyed, and might receive no mercy, but be exterminated, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.”

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Enns writes, “It’s hard to appeal to the God of the Bible to condemn genocide today when the God of the Bible commanded genocide yesterday.”

Enns goes a step further and writes, “…this God is flat-out terrifying: he comes across as a perennially hacked-off warrior-god, more Megatron than heavenly Father.”

If you are like me and have struggled with understanding how a loving God could command such atrocities your not alone!

Enns shows that the archeological evidence suggests the annihilation of the Canaanites never happened. (I have written about the historical inaccuracy of this here.)That’s correct…what the Bible claims to have happened appears to have never taken place…at least not on the scale that the story claims.

Before we get into other places where the Bible contradicts itself ( in Joshua it says that they annihilated all the Canaanites except for a few, but Judges makes it clear there were many still alive), we still need to answer the question of why this story is in the Bible.

Christians believe the Bible is somehow inspired by God. If this is the case, why would God allow such stories to become a part of the Bible?

Enns answers this (and I agree) by showing that God lets God’s people tell the story. The picture of God, in the case of the Canaanite annihilation, was not an accurate picture of God, but it was the way they viewed God at the time. Enns writes, “the ancient Israelites were an ancient tribal people. They saw the world and their God in tribal ways.”

I would add that we should be careful here to not think ourselves as having it all figured out. In another three thousand years I am sure people will look back upon us in many of the same ways we do to ancient people now.

So the story of the Canaanite annihilation is not a factually true story and God did not command genocide, but it was rather the view of ancient Israel of God as a tribal warrior deity similar to all other tribal warrior deities in the surrounding areas?

Yes.

Recently Richard Rohr wrote, “But, some will say, the Bible talks about God’s wrath. Yes, it does, but I would say that it was the people who were hateful at that point, and we wanted to create a God in our image. So we justify our wrath, our vengeance, and our violence by saying, ‘God orders us to kill all the Canaanites.'”

In other words, God works within whatever system or view humanity has of God at the time – even views that are not completely accurate (doesn’t this makes sense? If God is working through our limited views now, which I’m sure are not completely accurate, than our experiences would confirm this). We are limited in our perspectives. We see the world through certain lenses that our science, technology, archeology, cosmology makes available to us at the time. In the story of the Canaanites, the people of the Bible viewed their God in much the same way other people viewed their gods. Israel saw the world in much the same way other ancient people saw the world.

If the Bible is not an inerrant rule book or manual for life, what then is the Bible?

According to Enns, the Bible works, “as a model for our own spiritual journey. All of us are on a journey of faith to encounter God from our point of view.”

“The Bible presents a variety of points of view about God and what it means to walk in his ways. This stands to reason, since the biblical writers lived at different times, in different places, and wrote for different reasons. In reading the Bible we are watching the  spiritual journeys of people long ago.”

The Bible is inspired because it reveals the story of God that climaxes in Christ, yet it is always written from the perspective of humans and humans have different ways of seeing things.

So the Bible is not a simple, laid out, harmonious story that we just passively absorb. The Bible is a complex, multilayered, collection of stories with different perspectives that don’t always align. Thus, we are invited to enter into the story, engage with the story, learn from the story, struggle with the story, wrestle with the story, and even…yes…disagree with the story, in hope that we can continue the story of God in the present and into the future – this is actually what the people in the Bible were also doing when they wrote it down.

Where does the Devil come from?

In reading through the Christian Bible  (the New Testament), it is easy to picture Satan as an evil being who is God’s archenemy.

Texts such as Acts 5 and 26 suggest that Satan is not only other than God, but counter to God. For example, we read in Acts 26:18, “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God”. Clearly this text is suggesting a force of “darkness” that is working against the powers of “light”, but the view of a cosmic battle between good and evil was not the commonly held view in the Hebrew Scriptures, in fact the idea of a Devil is nowhere to be found in the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures.[1]

How did the idea of a Devil come to dominate the Christian mind?

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In Chapter four of The River of God, Dr. Riley explains the evolution of Judaism from monism (a belief that the world is unified) to dualism (the belief in a comic battle between good and evil). For much of the time leading up to the writing of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Jewish people, along with all the surrounded ancient Near Eastern cultures, had no teaching or belief of a Devil, demons, or an eschatology including a heaven or a hell.[2] Texts such as Ps 78:69 which states that God, “founded the earth forever” and Ps 93:1 “the world is firmly established; it will not be moved” reflect the commonly held belief that the world would exist throughout eternity. In other words, they had no belief in the end of the world – what is called eschatology.

Concerning the beginning of the Hebrew dualistic view, Dr. Riley writes, “Such a cosmic dualism does not enter the River of God until the Persian invasion of Mesopotamia in the sixth century BCE. Before that time, all of the cultures of the ancient Near East lived in a world more or less at peace with itself”.[3] The conquering of Babylon by the Persian Empire brought with it Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism was a dualistic way of seeing the world in which there were two cosmic powers at war with one another, each with their own following of angels or demons.[4] While people who lived in the ancient Near East had a belief that the world was created out of chaos or already existing matter, Zoroastrianism brought a new view that the creation of the cosmos was brought about by God as a “battleground” where God and the Devil would fight for the loyalty of humankind.[5]

This duality took root very slowly in Israel after the return from Exile, and the majority of Jews still believed there was a most supreme God who lorded over other lesser gods or angels.[6] As dualism increased, people began to see that evil was the result of some form of lesser beings that choose to go against the most powerful deity.[7] Evil was now understood to be  brought about by Satan and his demon followers.

One of the clearest examples of this evolution in belief is found in comparing two Hebrew texts: 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1. The text from 2 Samuel, which was written before the exile, states, “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them saying, ‘Go, count the people of Israel and Judah’”. I Chronicles, written after the exile states, “Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to count the people of Israel”.

So which is it?

Did God incite David or was it Satan?

This is a problem text for many who hold to an inerrant view of Scripture, but I think it clearly shows the evolution of belief among human history.

Dr. Riley shows that the idea of the Devil grows tremendously in the inter-testament period, and by first century, the idea of a Devil had fairly well solidified into the minds of many. This solidification was so dominant, as shown in Acts 5 and 26, that it’s impossible to understand the Christian Scriptures without the view of a Devil, demons, and a cosmic battle that will finally end with the destruction of the world and creation of a new one.

 

 

[1] Gregory J. Riley, The River of God (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 102.

[2] Ibid., 91.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 95.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 100.

[7] Ibid.

What is the Bible?

It is my belief that many of the divisions and debates within the Christian community can be funneled down to one simple question.

What is the Bible?

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How one answers the question determines so many other things that it is important to take the time to consider this question.

In my experience, whenever I am in a discussion with someone who disagrees with me, I often find that it is rooted in a different way of answering this question. For example, many who argue in a literal six day creation most often believe the Bible to be inerrant, while those who believe in evolution view the Bible differently.

Most know this, but the Bible is not a book, it’s actually a collection of books written by well over 40 different authors (many of which we do not know of), and written well over the span of a millennia. This means that there are many different genre’s within including: myth, poetry, history, wisdom, narrative, parable, prose, and some really obscure stuff called apocolytpic literature found in Daniel and Revelation.

There are many ways to answer this question, but I think most of them can be placed into three primary categories – each one also as a wide spectrum within.

1. The Bible is the inerrant Word of God.

This is the view I grew up with, and because of this it is the one I am most familiar with. As I mentioned above, people with this view have many small nuances, but most who hold to this view would see the Bible as without error.

Where they do not agree is whether the Bible is without error in it’s current English, the original languages, or the original writings called autographs – it gets very slippery here because a large number of people hold that the original writings are inerrant, but we don’t have any of the original writings (what we have are copies of copies of copies of copies etc).

Now, when pressed on issues like grammar, punctuation, etc. these people tend to lean away from thinking all of these things are without error, but are rather mistakes made by humans as they copied these texts.

These people tend to read the Bible literally. In other words, they believe in a literal Adam and Eve, a literal Noah, ark, and global flood, they usually believe Jonah spent three days in the belly of a fish, etc etc. They will tend to take any evidence that suggest certain aspects of the Bible to not be historically accurate as a threat – something they will defend vehemently.

When some suggest that the Bible contains historical inaccuracies and the impossibility of reading everything in the Bible literally, they tend to think that Satan (again a literal demonic being) is trying to blind people from the truth and that scholars and scientist are themselves  deceived, are deceiving others, or both.

2. The Bible is one big myth.

Many in this category see only two options: option 1 or option 2.

Many people will often think that either the Bible is historically accurate or it cannot be trusted. They may even have respect for the Bible, as a sacred writing for a religious community, but often view the Bible as a bunch of made up fairy tales.

In my experience, most people in this category tend to focus on the irrationality and inaccuracy of the Bible to show that it is just old stories made up by people who lived hundreds of years ago. They will point out that the Bible is archaic, old, outdated, and…come on…we live in the 21st century people!

3. The Bible is inspired by God

This is a very nuanced approach (as they all are), but overall people who hold this view tend to believe that God was working and continues to work through the Bible – it is inspired in ways other books are not.

These people believe that the Bible is not a scientific textbook, but is more accurately a faith book.

These people teach that the Bible is not always historically accurate, but also understand not everything must be historically accurate in order to present truths. They also understand that much of the Hebrew Scriptures were passed down orally for centuries and they were far less concerned with be perfectly historically accurate as they were in learning and retelling their stories while conveying the deeper truth within – whereas those of us who live in the 21st century often think of a picture or photograph (which shows every single detail), it is more accurate to think of a painting – both are true, but they do not show the exact same thing in the same detail.

These people think science and faith can go hand in hand, and are not afraid when science suggest that the way we interpret the Bible may be wrong.

These people also see that the Bible is not one singular voice, but rather a plurality of voices, each one bound by their culture, cosmology, worldview, etc. The Bible actually contains different perspectives and even different ways of seeing things – they would argue that this is to be expected in a book that has been written by so many different people spanning so many years.

Where do I stand?

I would fall into the third category and if I was asked what the Bible is I would respond by stating:

I think the Bible is a collection of books written by humans as they interpret the divine.

Inspired by God, written by man.

Because of this, we see human fingerprints all over the Scriptures. Some perspectives found within are more accurate than others. I do believe God was working through the limited understanding, cosmology, and consciousness of each of the authors – just like I believe God is still working through each of our limited understanding, cosmology, and consciousness.

In the pages of the Scriptures I see the divine pulling humanity forward into a greater consciousness, a greater awareness of what is right and what is wrong, how to live a fuller life, how to better take care and love others, how to live more economically and sustainably.

This way of thinking shapes the way I see the world at this moment.

I believe God is pulling us forward into greater consciousness.

The invitation is, will we enter into the growing expanse, or will we fight against it?

 

 

 

LGBTQ inclusion – my personal journey

Last week a second mega church came out for full LGBTQ inclusion (You can watch a video of the pastor of Eastlake Community Church in Seattle here – it’s a wonderful video totally worth the watch).

Time magazine recently came out with an article titled How Evangelicals are Changing their Minds on Gay Marriage.

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It’s pretty hard to overstate the importance and effect of the great shift that is going on in the Christian world. Of course it has caused massive debates and splits among families, friends, congregations, and even church denominations.

I was taught that gays and lesbians are living in “sin” and should be confronted with this truth. In my church tradition (and many that I was surrounded by) the LGBTQ community were thought of as another issue and reason for the relativism and decline of morality in American society.

I am fully open and affirming and believe that all LGBTQ people should not only be welcomed in our churches, but their marriages should be blessed and they should be allowed into all levels of leadership within church.

How did I get here?

It’s a long journey but I will try to highlight the major points.

First, I was on a personal journey where I began to ask questions and wrestle through many of the assumptions, doctrines, and worldviews that was passed down to me as a child. I came to very different conclusions on a number of issues which I think lead to an openness to question and wrestle through homosexuality.

Second, I met with a gracious friend who challenged many of the assumptions and reasons given to me as to why homosexuality was wrong. While I knew my journey would eventually take me to engage with this, this shoved it into the forefront and I could not longer ignore or postpone it’s importance.

Third, I read through and researched the half of dozen Scriptures that have been used to teach homosexuality is wrong. I realized several things. Jesus never spoke about homosexuality. The few Scriptures (and it’s amazing how few there are) that are translated into English as homosexuality have nothing to do with two adults in a committed relationship of fidelity. There’s a lot I could go into here, but the first century had no context for a committed, adult, same sex relationship. Sure they had a context for male prostitution, adult men raping young boys (pedophilia), and same sex relations outside of committed relationships most often in the form of an act of worship to a god, but they did not, and could not fathom what we currently know as homosexuality in the 21st century.

Fourth, I took time to listen to those on both sides of the debate (and in many areas in the middle). I did this by reading books, articles, blogs, and listening to the very real struggle of those who have endured years of shame, guilt, and oppression by people including the church. I’m lucky and thankful that I live in a time where information is much more available than has ever previously been. I learned that science shows that same sex attraction is not just a choice (I’m sure I did not willfully choose to be attracted to the opposite sex). I also learned, to my own shame and guilt, of how destructive the church has been to so many esp in the form of reparative  therapy (conversion therapy). I heard story after story of those who were taught that same sex attraction was wrong and tried to fix it, pray against it, and go through months of different counseling and therapy sessions which did not change them. If it really was a choice, why would so many willingly go through hell? It just didn’t make sense.

Lastly, I sought forgiveness for the ways I had been a part of shaming and excluding people from the church. I had done this in many ways, but I know there was at least one person in particular that I treated in a very self-righteous manner.

In the end I concluded that I cannot be certain about a whole lot of things, but I am personally under the conviction that God loves and accepts everyone, including people in the LGBTQ community completely as they are and invites us to do the same. I committed that if I err, I would err on the side of love, compassion, and inclusion since these are the main ways I see God and want to reflect this to others. I also witnessed the ways that God and Scripture were used to shame, guilt, oppress and exclude these people from God’s love, and reflected upon the ways I had been a part of this as well. In all of these ways it just seems to be to be so contrary to the way and teaching of Jesus.

I will not exclude people – this includes anyone who is queer. I will be a part of a church that not only blesses same sex marriages, but also allows anyone in the LGBTQ community into leadership and service at the highest levels of the church. Since this journey started, I have met many wonderful people in the LGBTQ community including fellow seminarians, friends, leaders, and pastors who are doing some wonderful work in the world. If this is you…you inspire me!

In the mean time, I think we should be full of grace to those who differ on this.

It is a difficult process to think through and complex in nature, especially if you are like me and were taught homosexuality was wrong all your life. I hope we can lay aside name calling from both sides (e.g. bigot, heretic, anti-christian, homophobic, self-righteous) and allow God’s spirit to work in the lives of our friends. I think we should still push this forward as it is important and causes so much pain and grief, but we should do so with grace and humility and not anger or hatred. If you are on this journey and still not sure what you think, my encouragement to you would be to continue on the journey (it takes time). Explore all angles. Read books, watch interviews, look at science, the Scripture, and the reasoning behind it. Talk to your LGBTQ friends, if you don’t have any, find someone and listen to their story (this above all else, will be the most helpful).

May we have love, grace, and compassion with others as we journey into the future.

What I learned from a Rabbi

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent last week in a class learning from a Jewish Rabbi, a Muslim scholar, and a Christian theologian.

midrash

One aspect that I found most interesting (I was  slightly aware of before) came from the Rabbi.

While Judaism and Christianity have much in common (much of our sacred texts), we have been shaped very differently.

The Rabbi talked in story and narrative as he described Judaism and I realized I am really drawn to this way of teaching (I was reminded that Jesus was a first century Jew and spoke mostly in parables). Afterwards I spoke briefly with him about why Judaism takes such a different approach than Christianity and he talked mostly of the different ways the Hebrew tradition, language, and culture engaged the world and the way Greek tradition, language and culture engaged the world.

I increasingly see how Christianity (most of it at least) has been largely shaped by a Greek, rationalistic and either/or way of thinking. While I’m sure this can be played out in many ways, what most intrigues me is the way it plays out in reading and interpreting our sacred texts.

The Rabbi spoke about the midrash way of reading the Hebrew Bible. In a recent meditation, Richarh Rohr wrote:

“The best Jewish approach to scripture study was called midrash; they struggled with the text, unraveled it, looked at its various possible meanings, and offered a number of interpretations that often balanced and complemented one another. There was never just one meaning, or one certain meaning that eliminated all others.”

I find this so refreshing and insightful!

Much of Christianity has been shaped by Greek thinking and we have approached our sacred texts in such a way as to uncover the “one and only truth” behind it. So we argue and debate, but not in the same way as the Jewish tradition does. While midrash  is flexible and invites exploration and questions that is open to different ways of interpreting the text, much of the Christian tradition is closed, rigid, and invites only certainty, uniformity, and one way of interpretation.

I have bumped up against very conservative/fundamentalist Christians from time to time who do not seem to be able to understand that Scripture must be interpreted. For some, their motto seems to be, “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” (I was actually in a church service where the pastor made this exact quote…wow!).  Some are not aware of their personal lenses and since they cannot separate their lenses from the text it leaves little room for disagreement or different views.

I think there is much we can learn from our Jewish friends as we learn to wrestle with our own sacred texts. I hope and pray that we can find the grace and insight to disagree without labeling others as “heretics” or “outside the faith”. As I have engaged people of different views, both within and outside of my tradition, it has shed light on different ways of seeing that I never would have thought about before. This has been hugely beneficial and I think Judaism has much to teach Christianity concerning this.

The Bible Tells Me So – what is the Bible and how do we read it?

ennsreview-1

Confession – I am a huge Peter Enns fanatic! I love his blog, his books, and the bioLogos website were he often writes puts out some fantastic stuff on science and faith!

His book The Evolution of Adam came out in 2012 and gave me a relief from an internal inconsistency, namely, how to read the Adam & Eve story in light of evolution.

Most recently he has come out with a new book titled The Bible Tells Me So…Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It. While I am suppose to be researching and writing an exegetical paper for my Hebrew Bible seminary class, I am distracted as I started to read this book (story of my life!).

When it comes to understanding the Old Testament, there are few scholars who make it more easily accessible than Enns. If you have struggled with science and faith as I have, he is an invaluable resource!

So I was raised in a tradition where the Bible was taken literally – meaning there was an actual garden with a literal Adam and Eve and a talking snake who was actually Satan (an evil fallen angel). Now, I want to be careful because there are many people I know that believe this and I want to be clear it is not my intention to  debate in a way that tries to change their minds (experience tells me this is ineffective and actually harmful to some). My intent is to reflect on this book while I intertwine my personal journey…who knows it may help someone who is going through something similar.

If you have struggled with an understanding that the Bible is to be taken literally, the Bible is inerrant, or everything in the Bible is historical fact, than this is a great book for you.

If you become angry and feel the need to argue the Bible should be taken literally, than you should probably not continue reading because this does not apply to you.

Here’s the intro to his new book.

“The human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naivety, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed.” – C.S. Lewis

To start off Enns makes it clear that he values the Bible and that the Bible is, “the main way for Christians today to learn about God…”.[1] It’s interesting to me that many people who do not read the Bible literally are often accused of not taking it seriously (myself included) and yet this is the dominant way the Bible has been read throughout history. It just seems foolish to argue that because someone does not read the Bible literally they do not take the Bible seriously. In fact, I would argue just the opposite is true.

Enns writes, “Many Christians have been taught that the Bible is Truth downloaded from heaven, God’s rulebook, a heavenly instructional manual…deviate from the script and God will come crashing down on you with full force”.[2] This is precisely the way I was taught to read the Bible (Bible – Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth), but while working my way through undergrad at an Evangelical Liberal Arts College this began to make less and less sense to me. It’s not that I was convinced of something else, it was actually that I became less and less convinced the more I heard the arguments for this view – I found them lacking (I wish I had something else, but that took time).

This may sound all well and great, but let me tell you it was like having the ground ripped out from under you…I didn’t have anything to replace it with and was forced into a free-fall (I know I am not alone in this experience and unfortunately some people never recover).

Enns continues, “this view of the Bible does not come from the Bible but from an anxiety over protecting the Bible and so regulating the faith of those who read it”. [3] In other words, the Bible does not claim to be a rulebook, blueprint, scientific or historical textbook and to think otherwise is to prop the Bible up so high it will fall – therein lies my greatest concern with this view.

Many well meaning people believe the Bible to be without error because it was written by God. The problem with this view is that there are differing perspectives, dialogues and debates within, and it becomes clear that it was written through the eyes of an ancient way of understanding the world (e.g. three tier universe, warrior deity, when science couldn’t explain something people were considered demon possessed). Most modern critical scholars easily admits this.

Here’s the problem if

A – the Bible is presented as perfect because God wrote it

B – since the Bible has inconsistencies, contradictions, and ancient ways of seeing the world then

C – God becomes untrustworthy, barbaric, archaic, irrelevant and outdated (I think many have arrived at this very conclusion)

(A+B=C)

Judgment Of God

Enns talks about the first two books of the Bible (Genesis and Exodus) and writes, “If we read these sorts of episodes outside of the Bible, from another ancient culture, we wouldn’t blink an eye. We’d know right away we were dealing with the kinds of stories people wrote long ago and far away, not things that happened, and certainly nothing to invest too much of ourselves in”.[4] Several years ago, while a Biblical Studies major, this became ever so clear to me.

But, what does that leave us with?

“Other parts of the Bible are shocking to read, even barbaric…God either orders a lot of killing or does it himself” (I only use the exclusive masculine pronoun here because it is a quote). “If we read this anywhere else, we would call it genocide”.[5]

– more on this topic later but I cannot begin to explain how this sent me on a tailspin that took a couple years to recover from. This struggle was one of the darkest times of my life…but that’s for another time.

Enns ends (try saying that three times fast) with a statement and two challenging questions, “The God of the universe often comes across like a tribal warlord”.[6] Yes, interesting how God comes across like other violent deities in the ancient Near Eastern world, almost like they were influenced by other cultures. Has this bothered anyone else?

So I leave you with the two questions Enns left at the end of the first chapter and these are basically the two questions that haunted me for months while I struggled to find answers.

  • “What are we supposed to do with a Bible like this?”
  • “What are we supposed to do with a God like this?”

 

 

[1] Peter Enns, The Bible Tells Me So (New York: HarperCollins, 2014), 3.

[2] Ibid, 3.

[3] Ibid, 4.

[4] Ibid, 4.

[5] Ibid, 6.

[6] Ibid, 6.