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.

Scot McKnight on the Language of Mission

Today I wish to direct your attention to a post by Scot McKnight on the language of mission.  In this post McKnight reviews a book by Michael Stroope which analyzes the history of how the word “mission” and other related terms, such as “missionary”, came to be used within the context of Christianity.  Stroope’s big ideas are to figure out why the Bible says so little about “mission”, to examine where the concept of “mission” came from, and to contend that we should replace “mission” language with “kingdom” language.  Stroope contends that the term “mission” came about via pilgrimage traditions but morphed over the course of history into colonialism, imperialism, and territorial concepts.  Because the language of “mission” is imported into the Christian tradition, it is in continual need of defending and propping up, and if it rises to the level of sacred language it can obscure kingdom priorities.  Instead of using the language of “mission” and thinking of ourselves as “missionaries”, we should think of ourselves as pilgrims and witnesses to the coming kingdom as we seek to follow Christ.  The Church is a community of such pilgrims and witnesses who surrender personal agendas and desires in order to live in community with each other, thereby providing a poignant counterwitness to the pervasive individualism of modern life.

Read:  Why Do Christians Speak of “Mission”? by Scot McKnight

The Culture of Resentment: Building Hell in Heaven’s Despite

In Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, there is a scene where Dagny Taggart, the story’s heroine, is attempting to learn what happened to the Twentieth Century Motor Company, whose long-abandoned factory contains a secret with the potential to revolutionize the world’s economy.  Once the leading automobile manufacturer in all of America, the Twentieth Century Motor Company went down in flames when the children of Jed Starnes who built the company up, took it over.  After several false restarts, the Twentieth Century Motor Company was finally shuttered for good while the Starnes heirs hid out and wasted their lives away in drunken dissipation in a small town out in the middle of nowhere.  Eric Starnes, the youngest of the Starnes heirs, had committed suicide four years earlier.  He had started running after a young woman who wanted nothing to do with him, and when she married the man she was engaged to, he broke into their house on their wedding day and killed himself in their bedroom.  The town’s police chief, in explaining this to Dagny, said:

Now I say there might be forgiveness for a man who kills himself quietly.  Who can pass judgment on another man’s suffering and on the limit of what he can bear?  But the man who kills himself, making a show of his death in order to hurt somebody, the man who gives his life for malice–there’s no forgiveness for him, no excuse, he’s rotten clear through, and what he deserves is that people spit at his memory, instead of feeling sorry for him and hurt, as he wanted them to be….

And that is where we are today.  Fox News and talk radio have made a living out of perpetuating a culture of resentment directed against an ever-widening circle of welfare queens, illegal aliens, and other such undesirables.  In the eyes of those who are steeped in this culture of resentment, any benefit directed toward the undesirables comes at their expense.  It is easy to imagine that like Eric Starnes, they would give their lives for malice to ensure that the undesirables have no joy or good in life.

This post from Slacktivist looks at the culture of resentment as a reaction to a heartwarming story about poor children in a community receiving needed school supplies.  Most people would respond properly to this bit of good news, but there are more than a few who would see it as cause for resentment (i. e. their hard-earned tax dollars are being taken from them and given to entitled poor people).

This angry resentment is periodically a major force in American politics. It is a destructive force — destructive of self and destructive of the whole (self-destructive people always have bad aim). The Resenters rejoice when others mourn and mourn when others rejoice, and their politics of resentment has the crabs-in-a-bucket effect of making things worse for everyone, themselves included — making sure that nothing ever improves, that no problem is ever solved. The politics of resentment can never be for anything. That which benefits others will provoke resentment, even if it benefits all, including the Resenters themselves. They will still manage to resent the benefit to others — mourning at their rejoicing — convincing themselves that they might have benefited more if those others hadn’t also been unjustly included in the common good.

…The Resenters have learned to be unhappy. They have been taught to respond unhappily to happiness, taught by a steady toxic diet of Fox News and resentment radio and the demagogues of the politics of resentment. Part of our job, then, must be to help them learn again how to be capable of happiness. We must teach them, remind them, show them how to again look at a smiling child with a new backpack and to take delight instead of taking offense.

Read:  The Resenters: Building Hell in Heaven’s despite by Slacktivist

John Pavlovitz on the Naked Hypocrisy of an Evangelical Disney Boycott

ICYMI:  Disney is coming out with a live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, which will feature an openly gay character.  Evangelicals are all up in arms right now, and many are loudly calling for boycotts of Disney.

This is not surprising.  The Baptists have been boycotting Disney for years, decades even, for a variety of reasons.  So when the news dropped that the Religious Right was calling for yet another boycott of Disney– *yawn*.

Except that this time things are different.  You see, the people who are screaming loudest for a boycott of Disney right now are the very same people who just elected a racist, misogynistic tyrant, the most spectacularly unqualified candidate ever to seek public office, a man who is the complete opposite of anything even remotely connected to Jesus, to the highest office in the land.

Herein lies a monumental disconnect:  An openly gay character playing a feature role in a live-action version of Beauty and the Beast is somehow more of a threat to children and families than a racist, misogynistic President and pussy-grabbing and “golden showers” and an endless, torrential firehose of orders and decisions targeting the weakest and most vulnerable among us–those who, I feel compelled to note, are especially the focus of God’s care and concern.

Think about that, people:  To condemn a gay movie character in the name of so-called “Biblical morality” while supporting a foul-mouthed sexual predator, an unapologetic, reprehensible, amoral monster who is the exact opposite of anything even remotely connected to Jesus–is that not the epitome of rank hypocrisy?

Read:  The Naked Hypocrisy of a Christian Disney Boycott by John Pavlovitz


Morgan Guyton: How Did Defenders of Truth Become Post-Truth Ideologues?

Today I direct your attention to a post by Morgan Guyton, a college pastor in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Guyton blogs at Mercy Not Sacrifice.

Guyton, who grew up in the same evangelicalism where I have spent the vast majority of my collegiate and young adult existence, asks a poignant question.  In the evangelical world I remember, it was all about absolute truth, but the notion of absolute truth was presented like this:  There is an objective universe out there that exists, regardless of the myriad of vantage points from which people perceive it.  Objective facts matter.  You don’t get to make up your own reality.

This is how we differentiated ourselves from all those godless liberal relativists who believed that each person got to make up their own truth.  Now here we are, and don’t look now but we’ve become the exact same thing that we used to (and still do, in some places) accuse those godless liberals of being.  How did we get here?  It all started as a reaction against Bill Clinton and the excesses of his administration–somehow it was OK to cook up absurd conspiracy theories about a morally sleazy politician because his sleaziness justified it, and when those conspiracy theories are debunked just cook up a whole shitload more.  From there it snowballed, and now here we are.

Guyton posits that this is due to another way of defining absolute truth–not as the existence of universal truth but as obedience to an infallible authority.  Evangelicals claim that this authority is the Bible but the way it works out in reality is that the true authority is those who interpret the Bible and the doctrinal/theological framework within which they interpret the Bible.  Apply this to a partisan political platform and it’s no surprise that evangelicals are all about Donald Trump.

The biggest mistake conservative evangelicals make is to extol obedience for its own sake. Obedience is the lifeblood of fascism. It is the primary way that sin reproduces, because obeying the crowd is a lot easier than critically thinking for yourself. Most of the time when obedience happens in our world, people are not obeying God; they are obeying an idol whether it’s a political hero or the forces of the market or a sinful lifestyle goal. To actually obey God in a world filled with liars, narcissists, and conmen both inside and outside of the church requires constant vigilant disobedience. That’s what cruciform resistance looks like. Obedience in and of itself is not a virtue.

…I believe in absolute truth. That’s why I refuse to accept easy explanations or mass-produced bumper-sticker doctrines. It’s why I’m very distrustful of people who valorize blind obedience. It’s why I work out my salvation with fear and trembling like the Bible tells me to do (Philippians 2:12).

Read:  How Did Defenders of Truth Become Post-Truth Ideologues? by Morgan Guyton

Greg Goebel: The War on Advent

Today I wish to direct your attention to a post by Greg Goebel entitled “The War on Advent“.  Goebel blogs at Anglican Pastor.

Every year at around this time of year, it seems that all of evangelicalism gets geeked up about the supposed War on Christmas.  The real war at this time of year, says Goebel, is not whether retail store clerks say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”, but a crisis of misplaced priorities in our churches and homes.  In our observance of the Christmas season we jump right over Advent and go straight to the Christmas carols and decorations.  And though Advent is making something of a comeback in evangelicalism lately, in many places the emphasis is all wrong as those supposed Advent devotionals that are all over the place at Family and Lifeway are really Christmas devotionals in disguise.

Advent is a journey back in time to before the first coming of Christ.  Its themes are waiting and repentance, with a heavy focus on the Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah and the ministry of John the Baptist.  Advent takes us through the whole story of the people of God all the way up to the birth of Christ, so that when Christmas comes we have the whole story in mind.

It is human nature to want to lick all the icing off the cake before the birthday party even starts, to skip all the hard work of fasting and preparation, reflection and repentance, and go straight for the carols, decorations, gifts, eggnog and pumpkin-spice lattes.  But the season of Advent, as the Church has historically observed it, puts us in a mood of waiting and anticipation.  We do not celebrate Christmas prematurely like the rest of the world, even though we still go to all the Christmas parties and do all the Christmas shopping and enjoy all the Christmas lights and decorations.  Instead we are in a mood of waiting, reflecting and anticipating the coming of our long-promised savior Jesus Christ which we will celebrate on Christmas.  And when Christmas comes, we are ready to start celebrating Christmas–not all Christmas-ed out and wondering what the hell happened, like the rest of the world.

Read:  The War on Advent by Greg Goebel