Inter-religious dialogue

What do you get when a Muslim scholar, a Jewish Rabbi, and a Christian theologian enter a classroom together?

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I week long of great dialogue, learning, and at some points tension.

I just got back from a week long intensive with more than 50 students from various backgrounds including Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and other. Personally, this was such a great experience and a total privilege to be able to learn from the other students and the professor’s who were all wonderful!

I decided to write a reflection. This is not at all meant to be an exhaustive list of what, why and how to do inter-religious dialogue as there are already so many great resources out there, but is meant to highlight the most important take-a-ways for me personally.

Why

It almost goes without saying, but we must first ask why. Why is inter-religious dialogue important and why are we doing it?

There can be multiple answers to this question, but I realized that the aim of inter-religious dialogue is to better understand others.

There are so many false assumptions (e.g. Muslims are violent, all Buddhist are peaceful) that are torn down and stripped away as one listens to others exactly what and why they hold their beliefs – let’s face it, though we live in a very pluralistic culture most of us are still fairly ignorant of most other beliefs…myself included.

It is my personal conviction that violence would be greatly diminished if we better understood others. The fact that there are people from various religions (Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, other) all working for peace, human flourishing and dignity, and environmental issues has been so encouraging for me!

Not about conversion

Proselytizing has absolutely no place in inter-religious dialogue. If one party is there to try to convert the other, this will make inter-religious dialogue impossible because we will debate instead of dialogue.

  • Debate – where one tries to win an argument or convince the other(s) they are wrong – often emotional and heated.
  • Dialogue – where one tries to better understand the other, their beliefs and why they hold them. They listen and ask questions without the need to say they are wrong.

Be true to who you are

While inter-religious dialogue cannot happen when one is there to “convert” the other, it is also not productive when the goal is consensus. This was one area that I really grew in. The goal is not to unpack all the areas we agree on alone.

If you think about it this makes sense. If you’re comparing two or more books, yet only compare all the areas they are similar, no one will really see how they are different and unique. In order to better understand others, we must be able to see the areas we disagree or where we see things differently – this is essential and we should not shy away from it. We can still get along and learn from others without agreeing on everything as long as their is mutual respect.

 We all have our own lenses

Even when in dialogue, we must realize that we have certain lenses which we see the world through. Some of us have very negative experiences of other religions. Some of us have only positive experiences. Some of us have no experience of other religions or have only read about other religions.

We should be upfront in admitting our own biases and lenses the best we are able (I’m certain we do not see them all) and be open to having those lenses shaped or formed differently.

There is diversity within each religion

The more I have interacted with people of other faiths, the more this has become apparent – it’s true within my religion as well.

Just because one Muslim states their beliefs does not mean that all Muslims think that way. Now, there are some places of crossover, but we must be slow to assume just because we talked to a few Muslims we understand the Islamic tradition in its entirety.

One of my professor’s shared that it’s not enough to know which religions are at the table (i.e. Christians, Jews, Muslims etc), but to know which Christians, which Muslims, and which Jews – there is wide diversity within each…I think this was another major growth for me.

No one person can speak for an entire religion, the best we can do is to speak about our own religious tradition through the lenses we have.

We become better followers of our own religious tradition

As we better understand others, we better understand ourselves. Also, I have often found places of blindness, false assumptions, or areas where a completely different perspective has enhanced my faith journey – if we just talk to those who agree with us we greatly limit ourselves.

Every time we engage in inter-religious dialogue, in formal or informal ways, we gain experience and wisdom. This is both true of dialogue with other religions, but even of those who see differently within one’s own tradition.

Inter-religious dialogue enhances intra-religious dialogue.

By talking with people of other faiths who believe differently than I and who see things from a different perspective, it has helped me talk with people within my own tradition – Christianity.

The majority of my dialogue is within Christianity – I think it’s unfortunate that we polarize so many issues all while trying to kick the other out (I recently had someone tell me I was not a Christian because I did not believe all the things they did in the way they did…they wanted to debate and not dialogue and it also shows how easy it is to become insulated within a small religious sub culture).

I was raised believing a small stream within the Christian river was Christianity – the older I get the more I see that there is vast differences (historical and present) within my own tradition.

These differences include: evolution, whether the Bible is perfect, whether someday God will suck a small select few of people away from the earth, who is saved and what that even means, what heaven and hell actually are, is there truth in other religions and if so to what extent – the list could go on and on.

My interaction with other traditions is still very limited and I am still very ignorant about a great many things, but the more I talk with others, the more open and full of grace I become. It also makes it easier to work with others for what really matters – the healing and peace of the world!

I end with a quote from Richar Rohr,

“The ecumenical character and future of religion is becoming rather obvious. Either religion moves beyond its tribal past or it has no chance of ‘saving the world’!”

 

 

drawn to the ancient

So I attended a few different church settings these last few weeks and I noticed a few things about myself.

When I was able to pick, my choice would surprise most.

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Yes, this is a picture of the church I attended. What comes to mind?

Likely traditional, rote, archaic, boring, ancient…maybe even Catholic?

Though it was not a Catholic church, it was an Episcopal Church which is the closest you can get. (I have come to admire many Catholics, esp those of the contemplative or mystical tradition – funny thing is I grew up believing they were not Christians)

For some time I have been torn…conflicted I think because I am drawn to both ancient and yet modern at the same time. I enjoy reading or watching Rob Bell or Fr. Richard Rohr both equally as much.

I could say much more about this, but I think the most intriguing aspect is that I have come to believe that our future lies in our past. I am slowly discovering the power of the liturgy, Eucharist, liturgical calender, past saints, and ancient practices that lure.

No, it’s not an instant gratification or Damascus experience, but more closely resemble water flowing over a rock – slowly carving away all the rough edges. (and if I’m honest sometimes it is uncomfortable or awkward, I think because I am so unfamiliar with it?)

What I find interesting is that many of the past Mystics seem to have been far more open, progressive, and ecumenical than many religious people today. They tapped into something (or better Someone) that was truly beyond comprehension – true Mystery.

My conclusion?

The current and future religious and cultural landscape is shaky – like a small boat amidst a massive storm.

We are moving from modernity to post-modernity. The rational ways of interpreting everything seem to be coming up short. The Enlightenment has taught most religious people to have predetermined answers to all the questions and to have all beliefs and doctrines organized and filed away neatly so they can be brought out at a moments notice.

The problem is we are moving (or have moved?) to a post-Enlightenment world.

Now, I do not think that means that we throw out our intellect, but rather it suggests that we must stretch our thinking further and deeper while at the same time realize that our rational mind cannot comprehend everything – there is more going on here.

As I  journey, I am wonder if some of the things needed to navigate these tumultuous waves lie in a pre-modern world.  I suspect that there are treasures that have been found by people who have journeyed before us (maybe even a long time before us?) that are important, even necessary, for us as we step into the future.

Most of this is not my own original thoughts, but a compilation from others as a part of my journey. Recently I have been reading one of the best books  you have never read by an Author named Ian Morgan Cron. Here are two mall excerpts as the author compares the times of St Francis of Assisi to our current times:

“Francis (St Francis of Assisi) lived in the gab between two historical periods – the middle ages and the pre-Renaissance – the opening days of modernity. We are living in the synapse between two moments in history as well – modernity and post modernity. People in Francis’ time felt the same anxiety that comes from living in a rapidly changing society that we do today.”

“Another similarity between the Middle Ages and today has to do with the state of Christendom. In Francis’ day the church was hemorrhaging credibility, it was seen as hypocritical, untrustworthy and irrelevant. Some people even wondered if it would survive. Clergy were at the center of all kinds of sexual scandals. It had commercialized Jesus, selling pardons, ecclesiastical offices and relics. Sermons were either so academic that either people couldn’t understand them, or they were canned. Popular songs ridiculing the church and clergy could be heard all over Europe, the laity felt used by the professional clergy, as if they were there to serve the institution, not the other way around. The church had also become dangerously entangled in the world of power politics, and war. Some fringe groups were beginning to say that you couldn’t be a Catholic and a Christian at the same time. Disillusionment with the church inspired many people to turn to astrologers and other alternative spirituality’s…To top it all off Christians were at war with Muslims.”

The future will no doubt involve a humble, open, compassion spirit that see’s opportunities and not dead ends.

The future will demand people to enter into ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue like never before, while being open to those who are not religious at all. (how can we work for peace together? end hunger and poverty together? etc)

The future will involve new ways of seeing and being…it will involve large amounts of creativity.

But most of all the future will involve an anchor that keeps one grounded and I think we will find this from the past.

I don’t think most churches or religious institutions need better coffee, a slicker website, a bigger band or a more hip/trendy pastor.

I think we need authentic spiritual guides who have done the hard work of uncovering the past and yet are creative enough to bring it into the future in a fresh way.

Well..at least that seems to be my take on it.

 

A bridger

So I have written on my personal struggle of confusion, uncertainty, and how the future seems often unclear.

What I have learned from this is that I am not alone…there are many of us.

I think there are a growing number of people (mostly young adults) who are going to bridge some gap between the old and the not yet.

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Now, I don’t assume to have the answers, but I have heard from several people within the last several weeks that I am a bridger. At first it didn’t really mean much, but this week I met with someone who brought this up for the third time and something stuck.

I don’t know what it means specifically for me, but I have some hunches on generalities and what it may mean for many of us.

My hunch is that there is a growing number of people who are frustrated with the way the religious and cultural landscape has been and currently is. We are not ok with simply accepting a belief system that has been handed to us – we are finding many answers lacking and would much rather converse with someone who thinks differently than be taught precise answers to predetermined questions (oh, I should also add that many of these are answering questions that few are still asking).

I think there is a growing number of young Christians who resonate more and more with the spiritual but not religious group and have personally experienced places where religion was used for violence, coercion, domination, exploitation, marginalization and oppression.

There seems to be a growing number of young people who care more for what they stand for than what they are against and want to work for peace, reconciliation, healing, equality, and justice. I would much rather work with an atheist or a Muslim for peace than to debate why I think I am right and they are wrong – it’s just not that interesting to me.

What about church?

I think many of us bridgers are still drawn to an understanding that there is something more – there is a God, Divine, Reality, Creator, Energy (whatever word you use) and we are drawn to this. We tend to see beauty and sacredness in all kinds of places and that includes outside of the church walls.

I think most of us still have a desire to build rhythms and patterns in our lives, to engage in rituals, prayers, meditations, spiritual readings that cultivate an awareness of the Divine and a sense of awe and wonder.

The problem is church has often (though not always) been either a social club or a lecture hall which either invites one to be a member (with a membership card, group language, and group dress codes – I have heard from so many that oftentimes church has clicks that are hard to break into) or teaches one what to think and believe for the purpose of convincing everyone else around them of these things.

I wonder if it is not religion, God, and church that we are ultimately turned off by, but it is how religion, God, and church have been handed down to us.

In other words, I’m not ready to forsake all these things, but I do think many of us feel the way these things have been packaged no longer works. We appreciate the many great things that have been given, yet we cannot simply continue to pass them along as they stand.

I see two choices

1 – ditch the whole thing because it’s a mess

2- build a bridge

Build a bridge from our experiences, thoughts, knowledge, and desires from what we have been given to what can be.

Build a bridge from an exclusive, self righteous, anti science, pro violence way of being to an inclusive, humble, non violent way of being that seeks to be as intellectually honest as possible.

Build a bridge where faith is not about having all the right answers  but where doubt, questions, and uncertainties are welcome and reflective of a mature spiritual life.

Build a bridge with people of different religious affiliations, different religious traditions, and those who claim no religious affiliation – not to “convert” them, but because this is what we want to do and find life in doing (i.e. loving the other).

Build a bridge from the past traditions, rituals, prayers, books, sacred writings, to a way of speaking, seeing, and being that makes sense to a post modern 21st century people.

The main struggle of course, is that the future is unclear – it’s unclear because we have yet to create it!

Does this make sense?

If so, maybe you are a bridger.

 

Reflection on Advent 2 of 2

For the last three advents I have been reading through a reflection book by Richard Rohr and each year I find it deeper and deeper. One advent reflection recently deeply resonated with me so I decided to share it with you.

Hope you enjoy and have a great holiday season!

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And Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord – Luke 1:45

When it comes to the gift of contemplations, every major religion in the world has come to very similar conclusion. Every religion – Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, the eastern religions – all agree, but each in its own way, that finally we’re called to a transformed consciousness, a new ind or being “born again” a second time in some way. Each religion has different words for it, and probably different experiences, but somehow they all point to union with God. Religion is about union. Somehow to live in conscious union with God is what it means to be “saved”.

The word religio means “to retie” to rebind reality together, to reconnect things so that we know as Jesus did that “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30). To live in that place is to experience and enjoy the Great Connection, to live in a place where all tings are one, “with me in them and you in me” (Jn 17:23). When world religions become that mature, we will have a new history, no longer based on competition, rivalry, cultures or warfare, but on people who are actually transformed (Gal 6:15-16). These people will change the world, as Mary did, almost precisely because they know it is not they who are doing the changing. They will know they do not need to change other people, just themselves. God takes it from there.

My confession – I resonate with the spiritual but not religious

I’m spiritual but not religious

Have you ever heard someone say that?

It seems to be a growing statement among many, but especially among millennials. I am a millennial and I have to say I resonate with this group more and more these days.

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This is an odd confession as a seminarian pursuing an MDiv and seeking to be a pastor. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how unclear the future is and I think this has a great deal to do with that.

What do you do when your a walking oxymoron?

I’m in seminary and yet I am so turned off by much of what is called Christianity these days. I’m not anti-gay, anti-science, anti-progressive, and I greatly dislike religious language (e.g. righteousness, sin, salvation, condemnation, judgement, submit, obey etc).

I’m a post modern, progressive millennial who hates labels (see what I did right there…labeled myself while confessing how much I hate labels – paradox).

I am drawn to an ancient, mystical and contemplative spirituality, but simultaneously I am very much a product of my culture and I do not speak the language of most religious people.

While I actually do like much theology (at least progressive, inclusive theology and critical scholarship), I’m not interested in debating – never really seen this be helpful.

If I meet someone who is a different Christian, a different religion, or non religious I feel no pressure to try to convince them of my beliefs. I would much rather talk to them about theirs and learn from them while hoping we both become better people because of it.

In a world where religious people in general, and Christians in particular continue to argue, debate, demean and dehumanize others I cannot help but think this just misses the whole teaching of Jesus (and I think of most religions for that matter).

Yes, I’m a paradox and I honestly don’t know what to do about it.

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Advent Reflections 1 of 2

Hi, my name is Aaron and I’m a busy-holic.

It’s true, for much of my life I have been addicted to being busy.

I tend to idolize those who seem to be doing so much which only exacerbates the problem. I see those who are married, have kids, job, volunteer, and usually jungle a few other things while being extremely successful – if I’m honest I envy them and want to be like them.

I cannot begin to count how many times in my life where I have had a full plate and am doing well, only to add more stuff onto an already full plate (eventually you would think I would learn). This leaves me feeling overwhelmed and also at a point where now I have to say no to something I have already said yes to.

If you say yes to to many things, you cannot do them all well.

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So this is only the second year I have really entered into advent. By “enter” I mean engage in  on a daily basis, with reflections, Scriptures and prayers while meeting on a weekly basis with a church that emphasizes the liturgical year.

The past several months I have embraced being a stay at home dad. While previously  my wife and I shared much of the house duties as we were both in school, I have taken the majority of the duties because my wife is in medical school. I struggled with this for a time, but have found that I actually enjoy it…well at least most of the time;)

What this has taught me and continues to teach me is to find the sacred in everyday, ordinary life. In other words, the dishes, the laundry, walking the dog, cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming the floor, studying for school, spending time with our kids…these are all sacred things.

I am learning that I cannot juggle as many things as some people can and that’s ok.

It’s ok.

It’s ok to say no.

It’s ok to embrace my limits.

Only in saying no and embracing my limits can I actually do a few things well.

Now advent is that time of the year were we live in anticipation. We should be slowing down to make room in our lives for Christ, and yet our lives tend to ramp up like it’s on crack!

So, this advent season (and actually the last several months) I have felt invited to slow down, to see things in a different way, and to embrace my limitations.

Maybe you can relate to my addiction to busyness, overproduction, and saying yes to to many things? I now believe most people can really only do about 2 or 3 things well and we only hurt ourselves when we add to many more.

I invite you to ask

what are the 2 or 3 most important things in my life that I feel called to or that are most important right now.

Then I give you permission to say no to all the other things that demand your time, money, talents etc.

 

 

The book of Job & liminal space

What does the book of Job have to teach us about liminal spaces? – A lot!

My last post was an honest, raw confession of where I am at personally.

Several people have contacted me about feeling like they are in a liminal space of their own. I think there are many reasons for being in a space like this (some of it is the time of life, some of it is part of the spiritual journey, but I also think much of it is the shift in consciousness), but there are several things that stand out to me which I would like to explore in the future (stay tuned!), but for now I wanted to share a few thoughts about the book of Job.

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Last year (about this time actually) I took a seminary class that was focused entirely on Job. Job is a complex book that has become my favorite book in the Hebrew Bible.

That being said one can read Job and leave frustrated and confused – Every time I read it I feel this way, yet for some reason I still find comfort in it (maybe because I find comfort in mystery and uncertainty and not in shallow, pat answers?)

One can read Job and conclude the following:

God caused Job’s pain – if not directly than indirectly by allowing “the accuser” (not the same person as the biblical character Satan which was developed over time and only really become a demonic fallen angel during the inter-testament periods) to inflict suffering. The picture of a heavenly wager is an ancient form of literary genre and should not be read literally for by doing so it paints a pretty horrible picture of God!

It can seem as if God bullies Job into surrendering –  one can walk away with the idea that we shouldn’t question. (Actually I think the opposite is true!)

Because Job is blessed ten-fold in the end all the suffering was worth it.  -Really?  ok if I’m honest that just sucks!

In class we discussed the different ways Job can be interpreted and what kind of story it actually is – is it an actual historical story? Is it a story taken from other cultures who had their own Job story? Is it a sort of fable or play?

However one interprets the book of Job, I was left with more questions than answers which I think is the point of the story. One thing that did stand out was the following;

Job was wrestling through a liminal space, i.e. how does he move forward when he was raised and taught to believe one thing, but has experienced something different?

Ever been there?

I have, many times and often it is a difficult and unclear journey because you don’t have the answers. All you can do is confess, “this old way of thinking, being, or seeing doesn’t work for me anymore” – often these experiences come in the form of pain, heartache, loss, grief, change, or transition.

Job was raised to think that everyone who followed God would be blessed, and those who were cursed clearly did not (retribution principle). This made the world black and white and easy to understand. You could look at someone and if they were poor or suffering it was because they had done something wrong, i.e. it was there own fault.

Now the story makes it very clear that Job was a good man who had done nothing wrong and yet was experiencing some tremendous suffering. Job defends himself while his three friends continue to argue that he must have done something wrong because he was going through such suffering.

Ever feel like people just don’t seem to understand why you can’t believe, see, or think the way they do?

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Sometimes I feel helpless because I just don’t have the words to articulate why exactly I do not see things the same way.

His friends were stuck in the old way of thinking, but Job’s pain, suffering,  and grief had given him an experience where this old way of thinking just didn’t work – the answers he was taught and the answers those around him were giving just weren’t good enough anymore.

Ever feel like people give you answers to questions for a world that no longer exists? Answers that seem to see things as clearly black and white, only your experience has opened your eyes to see the world in so many different colors?

I think Job can relate to this – I find comfort in this.

As I am writing this I realize that I find comfort in mystery, uncertainty, and in the grey – this seems to be where I find God. I think this is because it is not shallow. I was taught to have all the answers, and then to present them (argue) to others. This causes one to seem superior and often arrogant because they always have all the answers and others need to see the world the way they do.

Like Job, the old way of seeing the world as black and white no longer works for me, and yet I struggle at times to find the words to articulate and explain why.

Next post I plant to share many personal examples and experiences that have lead me through liminal spaces.

 

 

My personal struggle – my liminal space

 

Asphalt road in an autumn fog

Yep…the above picture pretty much sum’s up my life right now.

I am living through a major struggle in my life. At the moment life is foggy and it is difficult to see the future

I am living in a liminal space

I was raised in a religious tradition that is still very much a part of me, but that I do not fit into neatly.

Because of my life experience I see the world differently – I think that’s good because it shows growth (some would call it walking down the slippery slope). I am thankful for this journey, but for the past several years of my life it has led me in and out of liminal spaces. Sometimes they have been short times (a few weeks), but oftentimes they have taken months…right now I feel right smack dab in the middle of a long one!

One website says the following:

The word “liminal” comes from the Latin word limens, meaning literally, “threshold.”

A liminal space, the place of transition, waiting, and not knowing…

Seems to be the story of my life.

From my understanding a liminal space is the space where the old doesn’t work and the new is not yet known – it’s sort of an in between space (like dawn – not completely dark, but not light enough to see well). It is a time of uncertainty, unknowing, frustration – where one cannot see clearly what lies ahead and to be honest…

…this is difficult!

As I mentioned, for one reason or another, I seem to be drawn to walk in liminal spaces.  While I’m not sure why, I can say that I cannot stay where I used to be. Something is calling me forward into the unknown and I know deep within I must answer this call.

While it can sound romantic, let me tell you it is not at all.

While I cannot stay where I used to be, when I look around I often find I don’t fit into the openings I see.

I grew up evangelical, but have been involved in mainline churches for the past several years. While I am theologically progressive or mainline, I am culturally evangelical and this seems to be something I cannot shake.

I sense a call to be a spiritual leader, a sense a stirring and passion to be a pastor in the local church, and yet simultaneously I find church very constricting – mostly due to rigid structures and often dogmatic beliefs, but also the subcultures and foreign language patterns they often use.

I chafe against anything that seems dogmatic because it sucks the life and joy out of me – ironic that I want to work in religious institutions that are often the most dogmatic of all places.

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As my bio also speaks about I have been and continue to be shaped by different traditions, including those outside of Christianity. I love this, but it does at times result in loneliness as I search for a home. Sometimes I am grateful for this journey and sometimes I resent it – sometimes I wish life was so much more simpler like it used to be.

I am very much still a Christian, and yet when most people define or think of a Christian I cannot help but ask why I do not seem to fit this. I am evangelical, progressive, mainline, liturgical, contemplative and yet I am not defined singularly by any one of these labels. In fact, I actually get annoyed when these labels are used because I feel like an obscure hexagon trying to be shoved into a square whole….it almost works…almost.

This has caused me to seek a spiritual director…I will let you know how that goes soon.

But for now I feel this is a process, a frustrating part of the journey I am taking. I know I will likely look back at this time in my life and be thankful for what it produced in me, but for now all I desperately want it to get past it, to have clarity, to have a clear vision and to feel like I have some certainty.

Do you ever feel like this?

 

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

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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.

How do we handle historical inaccuracies within the Bible?

The majority of modern critical scholarship openly admits the historical inaccuracies and inconsistencies within the Bible.

In my Hebrew Bible class (which I absolutely love!) we are given a question we are to respond to in an essay form. Several weeks ago we were asked this question and below is my response.

– I plan to do an addendum in the future which deals more specifically with the question of how/if God commands genocide. (That addendum can be found here)

Note – in respect to my Professor who is a Jewish Scholar, I do not spell out the Hebrew name for God  – Yahweh (YHWH).

holy-bible-god

Today’s question is “given the differences between the biblical books of Joshua and Judges and historical account of that period,  how then do we read Joshua or Judges as sacred scripture?”

This week we read through Joshua and Judges which tell of Israel’s conquest of the land of Canaan under Joshua and Israel’s time in the land until Samuel.[1] Even from the outset, it is clear that the Joshua narrative begins with the Israelite belief that YHWH has given the land of Canaan to the Israelites.[2] As the Israelites cross the Jordan, YHWH miraculously provides a dry path for them to walk across[3] and YHWH divinely intervenes by bringing down the powerful walls of Jericho[4]. Next, Israel defeats the city of Ai[5] and then turns toward the Gibeanites who trick the Israelites into a peace treaty[6], and finally bring the city of Hazor to complete ruin[7]. Repeatedly, the Joshua narrative describes these conquests as a divine mandate in which the Israelites completely annihilate everyone[8]. Joshua 11 best summarizes this conquest by stating:

“There was not a town that made peace with the Israelites, except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon; all were taken in battle. 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.”[9]

What is most interesting about the Canaanite conquest in the Joshua narrative is that the following narrative found in Judges opens by stating, “After the death of Joshua, the Israelites inquired of the Lord, ‘Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?’”[10]

Clearly the Canaanites were not completely wiped out as the Joshua narrative suggests.

Not only are there biblical inconsistencies but there are also historical inaccuracies. First, it is now well known that the Israelite nation grew out of the Canaanite population and were greatly influenced by this culture.[11]

Second, the archeological evidence shows that Jericho, Ai, and Gibeon were all uninhabited during the time the Israelites entered into the land of Canaan around 1200 BCE.[12]

BSBA130102120

Concerning this one scholar wrote, “…the observation that the historical portrayal of the complete conquest of the land of Israel and the destruction of the Canaanite population is simply not true”.[13]

Should we throw out this narrative since archeological evidence, as well as biblical inconsistences, show it is historically inaccurate?

If we were to throw this out, as some may suggest, I think we would be falsely assuming that truth can only be found when it is conveyed with perfect historical accuracy. I’m not sure the author of Joshua was all that concerned with perfect historical recollection. One historian writes, “The theological messages that the biblical writers sought to convey are so thoroughly intermeshed with their perceptions of history that it is difficult to separate one from the other”.[14] When it comes to the Joshua narrative in particular, and any part of the Hebrew Bible in general, when the narrative does not align with historical and archeological evidence, we should ask what the main theological message of the narrative was – this is key.

One easy way to help uncover what the theological message concerning the specific narrative in question is to find out when and why this narrative was written. Concerning historical narratives Dr. Sweeney writes, “History was not written simply to provide an account of the past; it is written so that both its writers and readers can reflect on and learn from the past in order to build a better future”.[15]

It seems the Joshua narrative was not written primarily to give a perfect historical account of Canaanite conquest, but was written to answer the question, “why are we, as the nation of Israel and the people of YHWH, in exile?”

Much of the Joshua and Judges narratives were written to show YHWH’s fidelity throughout Israel’s history. The people who were living in exile were certainly wrestling with the question of why – something we consistently wrestle with when we endure hardship today. By reflecting upon their history as shown in the Joshua and Judges narratives, Israel was reminded that YHWH was always faithful and that the nation of Israel prospered when they were faithful to YHWH, but were faced with difficult circumstances when they were unfaithful to YHWH.

How then should we as modern readers understand the Joshua and Judges narratives?

We should read these narratives in light of the theological message which include the questions of why and when they were written. If we get hung up on the historic and archeological inconsistencies (or on arguing against archeology and science) it only encourages us to miss the main message which is still applicable today.

The message suggests that if we face difficult situations it is not because of YHWH’s infidelity. YHWH is always faithful.

 

 

[1] Marvin A. Sweeney, Tanak: A Theological and Critical Introduction to the Jewish Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 179, 193.

[2] Joshua 1:11, 2:9, 2:14 etc.

[3] Joshua 3 & 4.

[4] Joshua 6.

[5] Joshua 7 & 8.

[6] Joshua 9 & 10.

[7] Joshua 11:11-14.

[8] For Jericho see Joshua 6:21; for Ai see Joshua 8:22-24; for Libnah and Lachish see Joshua 10:32, 35, 37, 40; for Hazor see Joshua 11:11-14.

[9] Joshua 11:19-20 NRSV.

[10] Judges 1:1 NRSV.

[11] Marvin A. Sweeney, Tanak: A Theological and Critical Introduction to the Jewish Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 182.

[12] Ibid, 183.

[13] Ibid, 182.

[14] Steven L. McKenzie & Stephen R. Haynes, To Each Its Own Meaning (Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press, 1999), 21.

[15] Marvin A. Sweeney, Tanak: A Theological and Critical Introduction to the Jewish Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 172.

the in-between space when the old no longer works and the new is not yet clear