You Don’t Need Chapter and Verse for This

In the previous post we looked at typical evangelical ways of handling Scripture.  Scripture is the product of a specific people at a specific time and in a specific cultural context, yet is also a living Word that speaks to us today.  Yet evangelical ways of handling Scripture do violence to this, reducing Scripture to a set of propositional truths covering everything from theology of atonement to proper financial management, all with chapter and verse to back it up.  Today we shall zero in on a specific issue, namely the question of whether young children go to heaven, and how a specific subset of evangelicalism, the Neo-Reformed, would approach this.

Last week Mark Driscoll did a daily devotion addressing this subject.  He comes to a good enough conclusion:  “I do not have a clear biblical answer as much as I have God who is a loving and gracious Father whom I trust.”  But the process by which he gets there…ugh.  It is as if truth does not exist unless it is in the book, spelled out explicitly, with chapter and verse to back it up.  Who needs a “clear biblical answer” on whether or not an infant who dies is safe in God’s care?  Based on what you know of the character of God as revealed to us in Jesus Christ, you already know.  Can you even begin to imagine that the same God who is revealed to us in Jesus Christ, could damn an infant to eternal suffering and be just in doing so?

For some things, you don’t need chapter and verse.  You already know.

A Few Posts About Inerrancy

Today we are going to talk about inerrancy, and more broadly, about the general evangelical way of handling the Bible.  If you’ve been hanging around here long enough, then you already know that the concept of biblical inerrancy is on my shit list.

Our first stop on today’s journey is at Pete Enns’ podcast The Bible For Normal People where he has an interview with noted biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann.  This will take you about 45 minutes but is well worth a listen.  Brueggemann routinely addresses both mainline and evangelical audiences, and has challenging words for both.  In his view, the great failing of the mainlines is that they have become completely infatuated with the historical-critical method of handling Scripture and have never attempted to move beyond that.  They are not asking the question “Okay, now that we have come to recognize the Bible as the product of a specific people at a specific time within a specific cultural context, how can we look through that to see it as a living Word that speaks to us today?”  Whereas the great failing of evangelicalism is its tendency to reduce the Bible to a package of truths and principles.  Whether you’re looking for a theology of atonement or a practical guide to managing your finances, it’s all right there, spelled out word-for-word on the pages of that book you hold in your hand.  Neither approach serves Scripture well or respects the actual nature of the book that is before us.

For our next stop we go to Slacktivist for a post entitled “Captain Kirk, the Green Woman, and the Bible“.  His starting point is Star Trek’s Captain Kirk and his persistent reputation as an intergalactic womanizer of the first order, which has no basis in fact or in the original series.  Yet this reputation persists, a phenomenon which he refers to as “Kirk Drift”, borrowing the terminology from an article which he links at the outset.  From there he goes on to explain how “Kirk Drift” colors our understanding and interpretation of the Bible, giving as a specific example the subject of hell, which he explores in greater detail in a follow-up post.  Though the Bible says precious little about hell other than that it is not exactly the kind of place you would want to take a girl on a first date, that has not stopped us from constructing elaborate theories about it and claiming those theories as incontrovertible truth drawn from a plain reading of Scripture.

Our next and final stop on today’s tour is at PostBarthian, entitled “Errors of Inerrancy #9:  Inerrancy turns the Bible into a Paper Pope“.  Quoting Karl Barth, who himself was not a fan of biblical inerrancy, the post argues that inerrancy flattens the distinction between the text of the Bible and a particular interpretation of said text, thereby asserting that not only is the Bible free from error, but such-and-such interpretation of the Bible is free from error as well, because the meaning of the Bible is so plain that one will inevitably arrive at the preferred interpretation.

The recurring theme here is that the typical evangelical handling of Scripture attempts to turn it into something it isn’t while disrespecting the nature of the book that is actually in front of us.  God has given us a collection of books which tell the story of His plan for redeeming humanity and remaking creation, putting right a world gone horribly wrong, the story of the people whom God chose specifically for this purpose, told in their own words, how that story came to its unexpected climax in Jesus and his death on the cross, and how we get to be part of the new community Jesus is building and its ongoing work of reconciling humanity and creation with God.  We have spent the entire Lenten season looking at N. T. Wright’s latest book, which draws out all these themes and more in unpacking how the events of Good Friday changed the world.  Yet this is not what we want, and so we insist upon the Bible as a repository of propositional truth containing everything from cosmic origins to the theology of atonement to seven steps for a successful love life, all with chapter and verse to back it up.  In so doing we dishonor the Bible by disrespecting the nature of the actual book in front of us.

Progressive Christians: This is Unacceptable

ICYMI:  Tim Keller was to have been honored with a major award from Princeton Theological Seminary this year.  Princeton is a mainstay of the PCUSA, the liberal wing of American Presbyterianism.  Keller was until recently pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, one of the largest and most influential congregations in the PCA, the conservative wing of American Presbyterianism.  The PCA does not ordain women or gays.  Because of this, the decision to honor Keller stirred up no small amount of controversy in PCUSA circles.  Many felt that a school like Princeton had no business honoring someone of Keller’s political/theological commitments.  Princeton heard its critics and chose to rescind the honor.

Is it at all possible, in this day and age, to honor someone for actual achievements, regardless of whether said person is in agreement with our political/theological commitments?  Is it at all possible to listen to a reasonable argument, such as that made by seminary president Craig Barnes that it is “a core conviction of our seminary to be a serious academic institution that will sometimes bring controversial speakers to campus because we refuse to exclude voices within the church. Diversity of theological thought and practice has long been a hallmark of our school”?

Nope.

Progressive Christians:  This is unacceptable.  This is just like that fiasco a couple of years back when Louie Giglio was to have given the invocation at Obama’s inauguration, until some of you went snooping around in the sermon archives and found some things he had said about homosexuality–over a decade ago!!!!!!!!!!–that you did not like, and just like that he was off the program.

Progressive Christians:  If you behave like this, you become just as intolerant, just as close-minded, just as unwilling to listen to reason as you have ever accused us conservatives of being.  That is unacceptable.

Stop Saying “God Is In Control”

protestIf you’re looking for the reason (well, one of the biggest reasons) why evangelical Christianity is now on America’s shit list, here it is, in living color.

With the election of Donald Trump, the resulting dumpster fire in DC, and the ever-mounting unrest in our nation, anyone who expresses concern over these developments will, at some point, receive some version of “Take a chill pill.  God is in control.”

True enough–in an ultimate sense, I guess.  In the ultimate sense, God works all things for good.  There is not a thing in the world that he cannot and/or will not use to advance his redemptive purposes for humanity.

But those words, spoken into this particular context, at this particular time–well, here’s what that sounds like:

It sounds as if God meddles in election outcomes.  (Of course there are a few evangelical leaders running around out there who say that the outcome of this election was a God thing.  But that’s beside the point here.)  It sounds as if evangelicals are now free from any and all culpability for a vote which they may now be regretting.  (Of course there are more than a few evangelicals who are not regretting this at all or who just don’t care.  But that’s beside the point here.)  It sounds as if we are excused from any responsibility to be the hands and feet of Christ to people who feel shunned, devalued, and degraded as a result of this election outcome and who are now concerned and fearful of what the future holds for them.

Essentially it passes the buck to God for human injustice and human suffering.

This is unacceptable, people.

God is in control–in an ultimate sense.  But he has called us to work with him in bringing his kingdom to pass, on earth as it is in heaven.  He has called us to be his hands and feet to a hurting world that is desperately in need of his healing touch.  When you say “God is in control” as a means to justify your inaction in these troubled times, you have essentially abdicated your calling and responsibility as an agent of God’s kingdom.

God is in control–in an ultimate sense.  But God is not magical or forceful.  God works to bring his peace and his healing touch into this world through people who aspire to those qualities in themselves and who choose to exercise such power as they may possess right where they are standing.  Jesus is not beamed down from heaven–he is made real in our world through the actions and lives of those who believe that others for whom he died are worth sacrificing and caring for, that mercy is the greatest gift, and that love is revolutionary.

God is in control–in an ultimate sense.  But there is one thing God is NOT in control of (John Piper be damned).  It is you, people.  You are in control of you and God is asking you to be love and mercy and compassion in a way that changes the narrative of the story in which we all find ourselves living.  What are you willing to do to be love and mercy and compassion to a world that is desperately in need of these things–or at least that part of the world in which you happen to find yourself?

Would We Have Taken Part in the Sins of Our Ancestors?

protestIf you have been tracking with me around here or on social media, it is no secret that I am vehemently opposed to our current president and his vision of America as a barricaded, militarized state which feels like home to a privileged white Christian male few and a segregated hell on earth to everyone else.  I believe that Donald Trump represents a unique threat to everything we are as America and as Americans.  I believe that history will one day look back on this moment and demand of each of us, to know which side we were on.

But before we go any farther down that road, allow me to direct your attention to a piece by Mallory Ortberg at The Toast which appeared around this time last year and which will guide our thinking today, sort of.

In a hilarious and snarky way, Ortberg hits upon one of our most natural human tendencies:  to reflect upon the great struggles and moral crises of history and imagine that, if we had been alive back then, we would have been on the right side of things.

The truth of the matter is that we probably would have done no better than our ancestors in the moral struggles which they faced.  We would probably have been right there with the people who were burning witches in Salem.  We would probably have been contributing in our own way to this grave injustice.

And here is where I have to get gut-level honest with myself:  A huge part of the reason why I now stand with #TheResistance is that it costs me very little to do so.  For the price of a Coke or a six-pack of Bud or a one-night stay at an Airbnb, I can commit an act of political defiance.

But if that state of affairs were to change, I would probably be rethinking things a bit.  If Donald Trump were to start jailing political opponents (could happen–I certainly wouldn’t put it past Steve Bannon or the new attorney general Jeff Sessions), you could probably expect me to start toning things down around here.

Because, like Ortberg, I am the sort of person who places a high value on physical safety and comfort.  If the cost of resisting Donald Trump were to get too high, I would probably bail.  I would like to think that I’m a better person than that.  I would like to think that I would stay and fight for the right no matter what.  But I am not there yet, and I have a long way to go to get there.

You see, despite what I have said here and in earlier posts about being on the right side of history, we really can’t worry about that.  Our job and calling in this age is the same as it is in any age:  to resist the injustice of our present age, whatever form it may take.  We can look to the past for guidance, but it is not our job to fight their battles or to imagine how we would have fared if we had lived in their times.  As soon as we do that, then we are in danger of missing the injustice that is right in front of us every day.

Jesus had some not-too-kind words for the Pharisees of his day, who imagined that they would not have taken part in murdering the prophets of Israel had they lived in the days of the prophets (Matthew 23:29-32).  Their eyes were closed to the injustice that was happening right there in front of them, that they themselves were about to perpetrate against the one who was greater than all the prophets.

So I must fight on.  I must resist.  It is not my job to worry about being on the right side of history, or about if I would have been on the right side of history in the great moral struggles of the past.  It is not your job either.  Our job is to resist the injustice of our present day.

I will not do it perfectly.  Lord knows, if the cost gets to be too great, I may not do it at all.  Like Ortberg, I place a very high priority on my physical safety and comfort and there is probably little if any limit to what I will compromise if these things are at stake.  So I can have no illusions about being a hero or being on the right side of history.

But at the end of the day, there is still a battle to fight.  There are people out there who fear–legitimately–what the future holds for them in a Donald Trump presidency.  These people need to know that they are not alone.  There are people out there who hear the name Christian and for them it is inexorably linked to the Republicans and the KKK and the Neo-Nazis and many other things which are completely opposite the character of Christ.  These people need to know that this Christian does not approve.  These people need to know that when 81 percent of evangelicals act as if they are perfectly OK with Donald Trump and his racist, homophobic, misogynistic, Islamophobic agenda, they do not act in my name.  I may not fight this battle perfectly, but not to fight–that is not an option.

I Stand With the Resistance

protestHistory is replete with times when horrible people did unconscionable things with power and were able to do such things with impunity, unleashing untold amounts of suffering into the world, because otherwise good people sat back and did nothing.

Our nation is entering into just such a time.

In the future, history will look back upon this and demand to know which side you were on.

So let the record reflect that I stand with the resistance.

I did not support our president when he was running for office, and I sure as hell do not support him now.  I refuse to get behind his vision of America as a barricaded, militarized state that feels like home to a rich white Christian male few and a segregated hell on earth to everyone else.

I do not support the pro-choice agenda.  I thought Obamacare was a bad idea, and still do.  I believe that most of the criticism of school vouchers and charter schools comes from unaccountable teacher unions and others who stand to gain way too much from our public education system remaining in its presently broken state.  I remain committed to the conservative position on a number of issues.  Of course, none of this counts for anything in the eyes of those who support Donald Trump:  because I will not shut up and get in line and support their Donald Trump, I belong in the same box with Hillary and Bernie and all the devils of hell.  Never mind that you, Trump supporters, forced me to this by robbing me of all other conservative options.  But all that is beside the point here.

This is bigger than politics.  This is bigger than abortion, Obamacare, school vouchers, gun control, or whatever your political issue du jour may be.

This is about basic humanity.  This is about the sheerest, basest, most virulent form of rank inhumanity now spewing forth on a daily basis from the highest office in the land.  In the name of basic humanity, this must be resisted.

This is about basic Christianity.  This is about 81 percent of American evangelicals supporting someone who is the complete opposite of the character of Christ, knowing full well that he is the complete opposite of the character of Christ, and saying that their Christian convictions compel them to do so.  (Mr. Grudem, your phone is ringing.)  In the name of basic Christianity, this must be resisted.

This is about love.  This is about those who insist that what love requires of us is to support a leader whose message is nothing more than anger and hatred.  This is about those who, speaking in the name of Jesus Christ and on behalf of American Christianity, insist that our relations with those who hail from foreign birthplaces, with those whose skin is darker than our own, be characterized by fear and anger and hatred.  This is about those who seek to remake Jesus Christ in the image of a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, Islamophobic bigot.  In the name of love, this must be resisted.

Every person you will ever come eyeball-to-eyeball with is a person for whom Jesus Christ died.  Yet our current president has made it abundantly clear that the vast majority of these people–at least those who are not rich white Christian males–count for absolutely nothing.  I cannot and will not support this.

So count me in with the resistance.

Those of you who don’t like the political posts on here and on Facebook:  tough.  This should have been over after a few weeks in the summer of 2015.  It wasn’t.  This should have been over when the election ended.  It wasn’t.  It still isn’t.  So you can expect to see plenty more of this in the months and years to come.  You can expect to see plenty more snide comments about Donald Trump on the Facebook feed.  I suspect that one thing this demon cannot endure is to be mocked, and I am more than happy to oblige.  It is not over yet, and I will not shut up until it is.

Because when Donald Trump enacts his racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, Islamophobic agenda, he does not act in my name.

When 81 percent of American evangelicals act as if they are perfectly OK with Donald Trump and his racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, Islamophobic agenda, with the fear and hatred that he relentlessly perpetuates toward those with foreign birthplaces and/or darker skin than their own–people for whom Christ died, I feel compelled to note–they do not act in my name.

History will look back on this and demand to know which side you were on.

So let the record reflect that I stand with the resistance.

I stand with those who oppose Donald Trump and his vision of America as a barricaded, militarized state that feels like home to a privileged white Christian male few and a segregated hell on earth to everyone else.

I stand with those who affirm the dignity of all those for whom Jesus Christ died, people whom Jesus Christ commands us to love, regardless of race, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation.

I stand with the resistance.