My article in Sojourners on wrestling with violence in the Bible

Monday, December 12, 2011

My feature article just came out in the latest edition (Jan, 2012) of Sojourners Magazine. It is called:

"The Way of Peace and Grace: How Paul wrestled with violent passages in the Hebrew Bible"

You can read it online at the SoJo website for free (you just need to register).
EDIT: For those who don't want to register, here's a direct link to a
PDF of the article

As the title suggests, it deals with how we can faithfully wrestle with really disturbing passages in the Bible that seem to advocate and even command committing violence in God's name. As I've mentioned before, most commentaries tend to either justify or downplay these passages. What I propose is a very different approach: if we learn to read the Bible the way that Jesus and Paul did, we can deal with them like they did.

In the Sojourners article I deal in particular with how Paul wrestles with violent passages from the Old Testament, disarming them and putting them under Christ. You'll need to read the article for the details, but Paul's approach is pretty awesome. If Paul read the Old Testament like this, then I think its fair to say we would be on pretty solid ground if we read it that way too.

I'm really excited about this article, and am thrilled to finally be able to share it. As far as I know, it represents a unique contribution to biblical scholarship. I've found scholars making similar conclusions about Paul, buried in the middle of some obscure footnote in a dense technical commentary, but I have not seen anyone connect all the dots like this. In fact, books like the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament miss (or intentionally omit?) this pattern in Paul's reading entirely, even though Paul does this constantly. In doing so, they completely miss how Paul reads his Bible and arrives at a gospel of grace that is so different from how he previously read his Bible before his conversion to Christ.

What's more important than scholarship though is how we, as followers of Christ, read the Bible as Scripture. Adopting Paul's way of wrestling with these violent passages opens up a way for all of us to read the Bible that does not force us to check our conscience at the door. Jesus and Paul didn't, and neither should we!

So if you've ever wondered how Jesus or Paul could have read the Old Testament and arrived at a loving, radically grace-focused understanding of God, then check out the article.

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The Real War on Christmas

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Well, it's that time of year when Fox drums up outrage about the alleged "war on Christmas." This time around they are declaring victory because as they report,
"Walgreens is the latest store to return to explicit references to Christmas, switching its position a day after some Christian groups threatened to boycott over its generic holiday wording."

What I'd like to remind these "Christian groups" is that Christmas isn't actually supposed to be about shopping at all. We Christians don't need to fight to have Christmas associated with shopping, we need to fight for it not to be. You're fighting the wrong war guys.

So let's take a moment to remember what Christmas is really about: Christmas celebrates the story of God coming among us in the most humble of circumstances. Christ was born in a manger to a homeless teenage girl named Mary. These humble beginnings are in keeping with the ministry of Jesus which was focused on the poor, the sick, and the outcast. Jesus teaches us that the way we treat "the least of these" is how we treat him. It's a story about God coming among us, meeting us in the middle of our need.

With that backdrop in mind, let's also remember who the real Santa Claus was. Yes, Virginia, there really was a Santa Claus, but he didn't live on the North Pole, he lived in Asia Minor. Saint Nicholas was known for his love for children, and his generosity to the those in need, often given in secret. For example, one story tells of a poor father who was unable to provide a dowry for his daughters. At the time that meant that they could not marry, and so were destined to be sold into slavery. As legend has it, Nicholas secretly placed bags of gold in the girl's shoes and stockings, hung by the fire to dry. So those Christmas stockings you hang by the chimney are symbols of liberating the poor from the bondage of slavery.

The moral of all this is that the original Christmas story and the story of Saint Nick are both focused on caring for the least and on compassion. So what if we remembered that this Christmas, and spent a little less money shopping for all those gifts we don't really need. Then instead of standing in line at the mall or stuck in traffic, we could spent more time with people we love. And what if we took all that money we saved, and gave some of it away to people who are really in need? To the poor, the hungry, the hurting, the lonely, the sick? That's what the folks at Advent Conspiracy are asking.

So maybe the way we really should be celebrating Christmas is by caring for the least, rather than shopping til we drop. Maybe we should be teaching our kids lessons about compassion and giving, instead of about getting more and more stuff. And... just maybe... Christmas should be about showing "peace on earth and good will towards all mankind," rather than on getting mad at people who say "happy holidays" to us.


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