Why Read the Bible?

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

A common question I deal with in regards to the Bible is how one can move from an authoritarian reading to one that involves ethical/moral engagement and responsibility. I have written about that quite a bit. This time around however I want to address a question that comes at things from the other side, and asks basically "Why should we read the Bible at all? Why not just toss it in the waste bin?"

I want to stress that both of these questions, while coming at things from opposite sides, are really asking the same thing: How can I read the Bible in a way that leads to love? Both are asking about how we can have a moral reading of Scripture. They are just coming at the question from different starting places, and both hoping to arrive at a place that is good, arriving at a place that promotes love and faith, and is characterized by moral maturity.

So let's dive into the question asked by a reader which I think captures the dilemma quite well,
“The question I have is, If the Bible more times than not leads us to a misunderstanding of God, why give it such preeminence in one's relationship with him, especially after we come to a realization of God as love?...

I would agree that IF we are going to use the Bible, we need to read it through the lens of love... I just don't see the benefits of continuing to base my revelation of love on a book that more times than not won't get me there.”

Great question. Let's start by putting things into some perspective: Remember that the Bible is not the goal of our faith, Christ is. Christ is not a concept we find in a book, or set of teachings. Christ is alive. We are seeking a living connection with the one who is life, and truth. Through that living connection we are relationally formed into Christ’s image. Not by doctrine, but through relationship.

The Bible is a vehicle whose purpose is to lead us to Christ. If we find that it leads us away from Christ, away from loving action, away from compassion, and towards hurtful things—like self-loathing, hard-heartedness, and ungrace—then we need a change.

Perhaps that change entails learning to read it differently, in a way that leads us to Christ. One of the aims of my book Disarming Scripture is to work out how to read Scripture like Jesus did. However, for many this may need to come in steps.

Perhaps because of long indoctrination we will be unable to read even the words of Jesus without hearing them in a way that is shaming and leading us away from love. In that case, we may need to learn from someone else who shows us the way of Jesus, and shows us how see things in a way that leads us to life and love, rather that getting this directly from the NT.

Let’s return to the idea though that “the Bible more times than not leads us to a misunderstanding of God.” Here I think it’s critical that we differentiate between the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament is not a book that presents a single vision of who God is and what is good, but rather it is a collection of books with multiple conflicting visions of who God is and what is good. It is a catalog of a people’s developing understandings of God over time. So some of the understandings in it are terrible and wrong. That’s why we frequently hear a biblical writer say “that’s terrible and wrong!” The prophets do that all the time.

So you can’t just flip open the OT and follow whatever it says. It may be something awful and immoral. You need to learn to embrace the things that Jesus embraced, and reject the things that he rejected. The Old Testament in that regard is a lot like life. There is good in life, but you need to look hard for it, and there is also a whole lot of rotten stuff going on in the world. Just watch the news. So with life, and with the OT, we need to learn to dig for the gold, and that means that we also will need to dig through a lot of dirt to get there.

With the New Testament the case is different because it is pretty consistent in the vision it presents of who God is and what is good. There are some differences among the NT writers to be sure, but these represents differences in how to best live in the way of mercy, as opposed to one person advocating mercy and another advocating the opposite (like Moses commanding soldiers to “show them no mercy!” in the OT).

With the NT the real problem is often not the minor differences in the applications of the NT writers, or the limitations they had (for example the idea of abolishing slavery seemed to not be on their mental horizon), but far more what we bring to the NT as we read it.

Many if not most Evangelicals have been taught to begin with the unChristlike values of the Old Testament (things like seeing vengeance as just and good, or seeing greatness in terms of glory and power, rather than humility and service) and carry these values over to how they read the NT. Instead, we should be letting the NT correct the OT, but we do the opposite.

So that means we need to get a new vision of what is good that is based on what we see (or should see) in Jesus. If however we are projecting these unChristlike visions of what is good onto Jesus, then the NT will not lead us to Christ, and in fact can keep us from Christ.

This brings me to the pursuit of the good. What is good? We might ask. How can we know? I do not believe in arguments based on authority. I believe in arguments based on merit. The way of Jesus is not good “because I said so! that’s why!” (an argument of authority). It is good because it can be demonstrated to actually be good. The way of grace and forgiveness is not easy, but we can experience that they are indeed good and life-giving in a deep way.

So we begin with what we can recognize is good. Not based on “because I said so” authority, but based on its actual merit.

So I say, if you can best get to that way of life by not reading the Bible, then do it. Do what you need to do to move towards the one who is life. I’m sure that Jesus would care most that we are able to find life and love, and move towards showing that love to others, no matter how we get there.


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35 Comments:

At 5:00 PM, Blogger Steven Hammond said...

I like this very much, Derek, but I'm hoping you'll expand a bit here on some ideas.

You said: "Let's start by putting things into some perspective: Remember that the Bible is not the goal of our faith, Christ is. Christ is not a concept we find in a book, or set of teachings. Christ is alive. We are seeking a living connection with the one who is life, and truth. Through that living connection we are relationally formed into Christ’s image. Not by doctrine, but through relationship."

I agree that Christ is not a concept we find in a book, getting this "relationship" started is very much dependent on the Christ we find in Scripture. There may well be people who meet him first through mystical experiences of various kinds, but for the most part, they learn to know (and hopefully love) him through the presentation of him in the NT. That being said, there are some different voices in the NT even as there are in the OT. Matthew is notorious for his focus on eschatological retributive judgement and there are similar 2nd temple types of views throughout the NT even if not as obvious.

My question then, is how do people forge this "living connection" and how best to understand the Christ whom we want to follow. I see a lot of conservative evangelical/fundamentalists who seem to have forged a "connection" with the Christ coming back with supernatural violence and anger to punish the unbelievers. Personally, I now see a non-violent, loving Christ at the heart of the gospels and the rest of the NT, but I can understand how might think the eschatological judgement we see is what they should focus on. I think they are completely wrong---don't misunderstand--but I wonder how best to get an accurate picture of Jesus (and his Father) given these violent texts in the NT?

All the best,
Steve

 
At 7:44 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Steve,

For your question it's vital to distinguish between the eschatological violence of God and justifying human violence in God's name as a means of enacting justice. For example Miroslav Wolf believes in God's eschatological violence, but insists that followers of Christ are called to nonviolence. In contrast to that, many conservative Evangelicals argue that the state can in God's name use lethal violence to bring about "justice" and thus endorse war, torture, capitol punishment, and so on.

I would say that the position of Miroslav Wolf is one that can be taken with integrity. It is possible to read the NT that way. However it is not possible to read the NT with integrity and arrive at the state violence endorsing position of so many conservative Evangelicals. They are just flat out categorically wrong. One cannot take that position and claim to be following the way of Jesus of the NT. That's just terrible exegesis resulting in getting things completely backwards. If Jesus was in the grave, I'm sure he'd roll over in it. Luckily he's not!

So I would start there. I argue in Disarming Scripture why it is I disagree with Wolf's vision of God in Christ, but this is "an argument among friends" and one that I think we can also find among the various NT authors as well.

On a more personal note, I wonder whether those people who embrace a violent understanding of God experienced violence from their own fathers? Is that why they believe in violence so strongly? Certainly if we are speaking of people from previous centuries, almost all of them would have endured severe beatings. How does that effect one's view of God?

 
At 10:05 PM, Blogger Kenneth Nichols said...

Derek, great article. I was wondering if I could get your view on the divine purpose of the Bible. In other words, do you see the Bible as something God desired for us, had a hand in putting together, ENDORSES, protects, etc.?

Personally, I see it as a poor manmade substitute for the Spirit, that God uses to accomplish His will in spite of the idolatrous nature inherent in reading without it being God-breathed (enlivened) by the Spirit.

I think it's caused as many problems as it's helped. I see it as the same as Israel's kings -- not recommended but used by God in spite of it's nature. In your opinion do I go too far?

 
At 11:09 PM, Anonymous Daniel said...

Thank you for your post? What if one says that all recognition of good has to assume authority statements? Can we say that Christ taught and demonstrated that love is the supreme authority; therefore, His teaching and life define the appropriate recognition of merit/love?

 
At 4:18 AM, Blogger gingoro said...

"but based on its actual merit" This statement presupposes that one knows what actual merit is. Why is the love in the Bible normative when nothing else is? DaveW

 
At 6:18 AM, Blogger Pastor Gary Taylor said...

The Bible not only reveals a God who is love but it also reveals the ugly truth that humanity is violent. Since we humans hate admitting that truth we blame God for the violence or we claim that God sanctions our violence. Once we admit that the violence of the Bible is humanity's violence then we can begin to see God who is love and who is working in the world to free us from our enslavement to violence even going so far as dying for us on the cross. This is how I read the Bible through the lens of love.

 
At 6:43 PM, Blogger Joel Kessler said...

The word that kept ringing out true throughout this post is the word "authority." Authority is the word that rightly worries people more than anything, because without a concrete, flesh-and-blood, or book where people can turn to to challenge their morals then it makes life too ambiguous and a religious life is not supposed to be ambiguous. My buddy and I read Derek Flood's book on Disarming Scripture and we concluded that he didn't like it, but that i liked it because of its logical coherence. His critique was interesting. He basically said that, 'If the Bible isn't authoritative beyond logic, than we cannot challenge our own moral logic against it. It becomes a picking and choosing game at that point, and then the Bible is anyone's book, either moral or amoral, loving or unloving, violent or non-violent." How does the Bible actually challenge us, is the question, if it's not completely infallible....I guess I would answer by pointing towards the acts of Jesus towards others, and His beliefs during his time in history. His life is inspiring, and why He did what He did was completely original. I don't know though. It was a good critique.

 
At 7:19 PM, Anonymous Robert said...

Hi Joel- To me the word *authority* is a major thing also. Jesus said *all authority in heaven and on earth* had been given to Him by His Father. The jewish leaders as well as the people were in awe of Jesus because He spoke as one having authority. I think Jeus did not deny authority, He just turned the right way of possessing it on its head, showing God is a servant and not about wielding power. I like your question about how the Bible actally challenges us and the way Jesus led His life. I think that leads to more questions about the role of the Holy Spirit.

Derek- do you have analysis on how the Holy Spirit worked in Jesus life as well as how He is to work in ours to bring about the lens of love and moral enemy love?? A huge issue since the conservative christians you call out for getting jesus wrong about the OT and violence also have the Holy Spirit and seek His leading.

 
At 7:57 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Kenneth,

"Personally, I see it as a poor manmade substitute for the Spirit, that God uses to accomplish His will in spite of the idolatrous nature inherent in reading without it being God-breathed (enlivened) by the Spirit."

This is a similar idea to how Paul contrasted Christ and the law, or the spirit and the letter. Paul describes the law as being a temporary thing to restrain us for a time, but the real deal is having the mind of Christ and being under love which is higher than law.

What that really comes down to I think is not the Bible, but how we read the Bible. We should not read it like a Pharasee (as Paul did before his conversion), but read it like Jesus did.

 
At 8:03 PM, Blogger Steven Hammond said...

Just wanted to say "thanks" for your thoughtful reply, Derek. Also, I think you're absolutely right that those who have experienced violence from their parents are more likely to embrace violence as a legitimate and perhaps "righteous" way of dealing with various problems--from children's misbehavior to unfriendly and violent nations. I also think they tend to legitimize their violence ex post facto in their reading of scripture. Seems like a nasty and harmful feedback loop, I suppose. I appreciate your work and that of others to break that cycle on both the human and religious sides of it.

All the best,
Steve

 
At 8:21 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Dave W.,

"'but based on its actual merit' This statement presupposes that one knows what actual merit is"

Yes, I do know what merit is. I am able to judge what is good and bad. So are you.

Fundamentalism tries to indoctrinate people into thinking that they cannot evaluate what is good and moral, but that is a lie. What fundamentalism does therefore is make adults stay at the moral developmental level of children. The issue here therefore is one of moral responsibility. As adults we need to be morally responsible, we need to evaluate and choose and own that. Anything less is morally irresponsible.

As adults we recognize that our moral choices will not be perfect. As a father I know for example I will make mistakes with my kids. But it is still on me to make the moral choices as an adult, to seek to love them the best I know how. As an adult I need to make and own my choices. That's what being an adult means.

We can't outsource our moral responsibility. Certainty is a belief that we need to discard as we (as Paul says) "put childish ways behind us" and enter into maturity and moral adulthood.

I fully believe in having a posture of being open to learning, growing, and maturing. I fully believe we need one another in this, and need to stay open and humble in all this. Growing towards maturity does not happen over night, and we all make mistakes along the way. However, I insist that we need to be moving towards maturity, and not stay in a perpetual state of immaturity. That is not virtuous or faithful.

 
At 8:26 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Gary,
That's a really important insight. Humans see violence as good, but Christ shows us a different vision of goodness.

 
At 8:32 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Daniel,

"What if one says that all recognition of good has to assume authority statements? Can we say that Christ taught and demonstrated that love is the supreme authority"

I'm not completely sure I'm following you here, but I'd say Christ taught and demonstrated that love is the supreme good. When you teach and demonstrate, you are showing the merit of something. I'm juxtaposing that with an "argument based on authority" where one does not demonstrate anything, and simply commands "do it cuz I say so or else." The word "authority" can of course be used in other ways, but that's how I'm using it here.

 
At 8:37 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Joel,

Can you elaborate on your friend's critique? I'm not sure I'm following it.

 
At 8:56 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Robert,

I think it's really important that we listen to the Spirit. That however is not a guarantee that we will never get stuff wrong.

That elusive pursuit for certainty I would say is the real flaw in the Evangelical way of thinking that you and I have been taught. The assumption is that if we have the Spirit... or if we have the infallible Bible... or if we are a real born again Christian, then we will not get things wrong.

But we DO get things wrong.

My experience is that the Spirit works in me, leading me to a deeper understanding of Christ and his way. So I try to listen to, and be open to the Spirit. However, if I am indeed growing in Christ, that means I can also look back and see where I was less mature in the past, less loving, and less right before. In other words, having the Spirit does not mean I can't get stuff wrong. I do. We all do.

 
At 11:46 PM, Anonymous Robert said...

Derek- your response to Dave W is masterful. Seriosuly, I wish all psych 100 classes and sociology as well as philosophyand theology basics could have that as a purpose statement. if we could all relate life and relationship to God & Christ as children becoming mature adults what a more perfect world it would be!!!

Your reply to me also contains something i want to see a LOT more discussion on. The whole notion of *real bornagain christians won't get things wrong* In Bible College and Seminary, conferences, retreats and the like, that notion has underscored so MUCH of what has been preached and taught. When peter seys, *be perfectas your Father in heaven is perfect* and i know another verse talks about being perfect, the word is actually translated mature right??? Why have we for eons gotten the notion it means absolute moral uprightness?? i think a more detailed study on what righteousness means is also needed.

I am with the other commenters who have acknowledged your hard work Derek and greatly enjoy your blog. If i ever push back it is always in a spirit of wanting to stretch each other more and grow. i really hope more and more people comment as well.

 
At 1:48 AM, Blogger Kenneth Nichols said...

Derek, thank you for your responses to me and to others here.

Your insight on how, even with the Spirit, we still get things wrong was very meaningful to me. This is something I've been trying to communicate to my "fundy" sister. She thinks that now that I rely on the Spirit rather than scripture for my faith, that I will (or HAVE) "fall into error" (ie. make a mistake). I've told her that yes, I probably WILL, but that's how we grow. I also said that even if I DO fail, I have confidence that the Spirit will eventually right my course, because that's Jesus' promise to us regarding His ministry. I think that kind of faith (in the ministry of the Spirit) is the definition of "real faith" -- it's living and organic and individual. Faith in the inerrancy and/or authority of scriptures is not real faith, but merely mental assent to propositional certainties. Unfortunately, she won't (can't) see the logic of this.

 
At 11:53 PM, Blogger Joel Kessler said...

Derek,

I think what my friend meant was basically, "What good is a book if it does not challenge our already held presuppositions about what is good and what is bad (or even) who God is and who God is not (and lastly) what God says and what God doesn't say about humanity." I think I told him basically what you say (or rather what Walter Brueggemann says) in your book that everyone picks and chooses from the Bible, because it is multi-vocal book about the morality/character/and voices of God." Could you, Derek, add anything to this intriguing critique?

 
At 12:11 AM, Blogger Joel Kessler said...

Also,

I would like to add something to the Holy Spirit question.

Derek said, "I think it's really important that we listen to the Spirit. That however is not a guarantee that we will never get stuff wrong."

First off, "Yes! And Amen!"

Secondly, does anyone see this as like the most important problem in not just all the Christian religion, but all of life and life's problems of evil? Literally every problem could be solved if people actually had an actual relationship with God that was like how people actually related to each other: through talking each other's language directly. I find it funny that although 'God is Love' is the most noteworthy and noble doctrine we have in our Bibles and in our faith in God through Christ, that if 'God was love' were actually true shouldn't we expect God to speak our language. I mean I know Christ came and spoke our language, but that was 2000 years ago. If having "a relationship with God" is the point (Eph. 1:17, Phil. 3:10, 1 Jn. 1:3, 1 Pet. 3:18, 1 Cor. 1:9, Jn. 17:3, Pro. 8:17), than wouldn't "Love" demand that it stoops to the level of it's beloved and speak their language directly so that they can understand; much like a parent gets down on one knee and speaks to a child in language that they can understand so that the child and parent can relate to each other?

I respect the Charismatic tradition for attacking this problem head-on and trying to develop a thorough theology on "How God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit." People try so hard! Why would God make it this hard for people to do what we were purposed to do in this life?

I just had to add that to this conversation on the Holy Spirit/God speaking stuff, because quite frankly it pisses me off. I'm not mad at people, but this subject is irritating to the point that when I get to Heaven the first thing I'm going to do is slap Jesus right in the face. Then hopefully He'll explain to me why I'm wrong :) That is all.

 
At 1:04 AM, Blogger Kenneth Nichols said...

Joel, amen to your comments. I think there is a schism happening in Christendom regarding the Spirit.

Either a great deal of "lip service" is made to the Spirit while very little real listening or interacting is taking place. I'd say this is the default position for most protestant and Catholic mainline groups.

Or there is such a HUGE focus on being "empowered" by the Spirit through various gifts that simply LISTENING to Him gets lost in all the noise. Most pentecostals and charismatics are obviously in this camp.

That's why I think it's so important we listen to the "contemplative" disciplines around the world ("Christian" or not) who can teach us how to "shut up and listen". The only way to hear the Spirit better is to practice listening. But it's not something we can "prove" we are doing more effectively than anyone else, so we shouldn't be trying to push theology or practice for OTHERS based on what we hear from the Spirit, no matter how "right" we think it is. We need to ALWAYS remember, as Derek said, that we can STILL be wrong, and not be AFRAID of that proposition. ALL the OT saints got God's message wrong at times or interpreted it based on their own preconceptions. Eventually, God brought them back to Himself when they trusted Him. The same will happen with us if we just keep listening and never "camp" at our conclusions - be they right or mistaken. God is ever faithful no matter how faithless we are - either purposefully or in ignorance.

 
At 3:17 AM, Blogger kent said...

from my experience, and i believe i am not alone, i was taught to "listen" to the spirit in my mind (left brain) instead of in my heart (right brain). i have come to the conclusion (i realize my conclusion is left brain interpretation of my experience) that god/spirit/love speaks intuitionally to my right brain, and then this is interpreted, rightly or wrongly, by my left brain. this has been hard for me to accept because i, like all humans, am a left brain (mind) dominant being. left brain dominance gives me control (or at least the illusion of control) whereas allowing right brain (heart) to dominate makes me fearful, and i usually will convince myself (left brain) that the heart is too subjective to place my faith in.
in my past, i was so intent on hearing god's voice that my desire would produce within me a "message from god." as i look back (and even at the time if i am to truly be honest) i realize that more than likely i was producing these messages myself because ultimately i wanted to believe that i was special to god, and i wanted to have a better, more impressive relationship with god than others around me....i wanted to hear from god directly. now i can be honest with myself because i no longer am a part of a sunday morning group in which there is pressure to put on a mask.
in the end, it makes sense to me (left brain) that god reveals himself to man intuitionally in impulses of love which is the language of god. these impulse are then filtered through one's worldview by the left brain and this results in thoughts and actions. the heart (right brain) over time gains dominance and transforms the mind (left brain) into christ likeness, which ultimately is just saying love.

 
At 11:11 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Joel,

I really relate to what you write here. I have had many deeply moving encounters with the Spirit where I felt helped or loved or guided. Yet I have also felt upset or in need and cried out and encountered only a silence. If I think purely in terms of a normal human relationship, that would be really mean for God not to answer. So what I conclude is that it is not like that. As much as I might say God is a "friend" or a "father" there are many ways that the relationship is not like that at all. There are many ways where its more like taping into some sort of "love force thing" that is in that regard not personal at all.

I don't know. It's just what I puzzle together. If I think of God in terms of a person in a relationship I would need to conclude that God is cruel in being silent and allowing things. At the same time, I have really had these encountered where I have felt tremendous love that deeply changed me. I have experiences both. And it seems like I can hardly make sense of the two. When I feel I really need it, I experience that I just get silence. That's really painful and hard for me. Sounds like it is for you too, and so all I can say there is "me too, brother, me too."

I think there's a pressure to hide that. I feel that pressure myself. But I think it's really good for us to be able to talk honestly about it, and have our theology express what we really experience, rather than what we wish we experienced.

Brad Jersak explores that in his latest book, and I found it really helpful. I want to hold onto love, and it seems somehow that that love is alive and even communicates somehow to me. But it's also really hard, and somehow veiled too.

 
At 11:31 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Joel asks (via his atheistic friends), "What good is a book if it does not challenge our already held presuppositions about what is good and what is bad (or even) who God is and who God is not"

I’d stress that the understanding of what is good and who God is that I recognize in Jesus absolutely DOES "challenge our already held presuppositions about what is good."

The OT is multi-vocal, but one of these voices is a voice of protest from the margins that questions not only our presuppositions, but questions the common religious presuppositions recorded in the Bible, questions the common religious presuppositions of our faith today, questions the common religious presuppositions that nearly all religions hold, questions the common presuppositions that we as a society tend to assume of what's "good." That's really radical.

I see Jesus embracing exactly that questioning narrative found in the OT prophets, and taking it way farther, and making it way more challenging by focusing on enemy love and forgiveness and mercy. I see what Jesus says as deeply challenging and hard, and upside-down turning. It is a profound critique of religion.

So I try to work through that, and consider it. What I won't do is just blindly and unquestioningly follow it without any understanding of why that challenge is good and right. Rather I want to consider the challenge, to understand it's validity, and then from that understanding pursue it. I want to say "I see how this is good, I get it, and so I'm gonna try to live that out the best I can now."

 
At 2:16 PM, Anonymous Robert said...

Great questions Kenneth and Joel!! When i asked my question before about the Spirit, it was spurred by so many seemingly confliction interpretations on the Spirits leading and how can the contradict when the Bible says *one Lord one Spirit One baptims one faith* A question came up today in my sunday school class about God not being the author of confusion. We were focusing on the age of the earth and i gave my reasons why I thought the earth was millions of years old and creation was not a literal 6 says event. I would like to hear from as many of you who want to- how would you respond to that question?? If God is not the author of confusin, why are there so many conflicting and, from a human standpoint,confusing views about Himand how He reveals Himself. i said i thought it would be great if God made Himself like siri and ask Him anything he immediately gives a vocal response. lol. Also, the statement was made eith you believe in Jesus or you don't. No middle ground. It seems to me like God wants us to question and seek, which would be a process, as opposed to believing because if you don't and you die your eternity is hell. Woulkd like all your thoughts on that too. Iask these things to help me respond to my friends who are like Kenneths sister. Thanks!!

 
At 3:29 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Robert,

Here's what I'd suggest you could do with your group:

Begin by asking "Is that actually something from the Bible?" Turns out it is. It's from 1 Cor 14:33. So look it up together. Begin by reading the full sentence there.

It's "God is not the author of confusion, but of peace." Note that it does NOT say "God is not the author of confusion, but of simple and clear propositional statements of absolute truth." Rather it contrasts confusion with peace. Why is is that? What is Paul trying to convey here? Discuss this together.

Next try reading the immediate context... first the whole paragraph, then the whole chapter. Again ask what is being discussed here? Is it doctrine? (hint: nope).

What you'll discover together is that Paul is not talking about what we think or believe, but about how we act together. He's saying "don't act together in a way that leads to chaos and confusion, rather act in a way that promotes peace and harmony."

Next look at the chapter before and after this one to get the even larger context. Note in the previous chapter that Paul speaks of love (1 Cor 13 is super famous for that). Is Paul setting the stage in ch 13 for what he says in ch 14? Discuss.

In this way you can discover the big picture of what is being said, by studying Scripture together, learning to read in the bigger context in order to understand the author's intent.

Moral: Beware of people who take a complex letter (like 1st Corinthians) written by a super smart guy with complex ideas (like Paul) and turn it into simple universal statements (often by taking it completely out of context)

 
At 3:51 PM, Blogger Joel Kessler said...

Thanks guys.

It's encouraging to know people see that "the struggle is real," when it comes to having a relationship with God. It's a depressing subject, because we don't wanna "fail Jesus" in this or make him look bad, but it does need to be said for the sake of reality. Questioning and seeking God is the general overall narrative of the Bible, and to that end I go, not only because I have no choice, but also because....well I guess it's only because I have no choice. lol.

I do like Brad Jersak's stuff on the voice of God. It's very thorough, which is awesome, but it seems to not face this question about the ambiguity of an actual relationship with God too much. It's too optimistic about God's voice in my opinion. For example: (in Brad Jersak's book 'Can You Hear Me?: Tuning in to the God who speaks') Jersak writes, "This is such good news! In truth, the Spirit of Christ is speaking. His voice is constant and clear. But the news gets even better. You already hear him well and often." (pp. 29), "On one hand, we tend to despise the weirdness of grandiose prophets. On the other, we tend to devalue God's voice in our own hearts because it isn't accompanied be enough hoopla." (pp. 55), and also, "God does so speak. He is speaking all the time. He speaks in many way. The problem is not with God's voice. The trouble is with our ears" (pp. 22). I just refuse to believe that the problem is all people's fault. Sincere, God-seeking people should have an easier time relating to our Trinitarian-relational God, I think. I love Jersak's thorough style though. Every nook and cranny covered, biblically speaking. That was my only qualm. I haven't read his new book, "A More Christlike God." Does it speak to the problem of God's voice more directly Derek?

I have thought about a podcast called "Beyond the Box" and what Steve Sensenig said once said about the voice of God. He called his theory "Christian Panentheism." He wasn't talking about Pantheism. Pantheism being, 'God is all,' and panentheism being, 'God is in all;' that basically all the verses in the New Testament (John 17:22-23, 1 Cor. 15:28, 1 Cor. 6:15, 1 Cor. 6:17, 1 Cor. 2:16) and Old Testament (Ezek. 36:27, Jer. 31:33-34) about God becoming ONE with the church, and therefore we are the ones who speak God's voice to each other by His Spirit, and by Christ's mind, and by the Father's heart for all His children.

I think about what Kenneth Nichols said about contemplatives, and St. Theresa of Avilla said the prayer that encompasses this "Christian Panentheism:

"Christ has no body but yours, No hands, No feet on earth "but yours." Yours are the eyes he uses to look with compassion on this world. Your are the feet He uses to walk with; to do good." And one could say, "Christ has no mouthpiece to speak but yours. We are the voice of God. We are His body." Quite literally.....I mean it would make God more impersonal, because there isn't a separation between us and God for us to talk with as separate entities. It would make our voices more important to the "God-speaking" process, because Jesus has no mouthpiece but ours. And our thoughts are the thoughts of Jesus; of course, not all of them, but the 1 Cor. 2:16 verse and the Jer. 31:33-34 verse have to mean something kinda mystical like Christian Panentheism. That's my 2 cents.

 
At 4:30 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Joel,

Yes I meant Brad's "More Christlike God" book specifically. Perhaps his views have developed over the years. Mine sure have. Knowing Brad I'm sure his intent was not to blame people, but to instill faith and hope. But sometimes I have in the past have painted things in too flowery of a way, that make hard things seem easy. Maybe Brad did that too with his earlier stuff.

In his last book he takes a pretty brave stance on the problem of evil that I found really good and really scary at the same time. I discussed that here: http://www.therebelgod.com/2015/05/a-more-christlike-god-more-beautiful.html

Beyond the Box is great. I really appreciate both Steve and Rayborn!

 
At 4:35 PM, Anonymous Robert said...

Derek- That suggestion is superb!!! The contrast you show Paul making vis a vis confusion vs peace is great help in clarity. I really like Kenneths point also about the divide over the Spirit in the church.I wanted to ask all of you from your own life experience, how would you respond to trhe statement- *you believe in Jesus or you don't no middleground* Dereks various blogposts, especially archived ones i went back and looked at, show so clearly of faith more as trust than mental assent. Since Jesus is Love, it seems He would allow for trust to grow and develop maturely. The traditional doctrine says Turn or Burn if you die tonight and dont believe in jesus you will go to hell. It seems like the One who is Love would not want anyone to believe as an escape from hell as opposed to a genuine love response of trust. I am so loving this exchange from all of you. Very insightful thoughts in last comment Joel :)

 
At 8:11 PM, Blogger Kenneth Nichols said...

Robert, my question to the idea of "You believe in Jesus or you don't" would be "Which Jesus?" Who's idea (standard/theology) of Jesus is the "correct" one to "believe in"? Or is it not about what we THINK we KNOW about Jesus that makes a difference, but simply putting our trust in Him for our LIVES. Belief in Jesus is not about believing just the right combination of facts and doctrines about Him (because I don't think ANYBODY'S gonna get that "right"), but about putting our TRUST in Him.

Honestly, the demons (if you believe in demons) have a better empirical idea of who Jesus is than any of US, and they certainly aren't going to be "saved" because they don't TRUST Him.
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Personally, I've stopped trying to figure out who the "right" Jesus is, and just put my faith in Him alone.

 
At 8:49 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

That's a really good point Kenneth. Very solid reasoning, and I think it expresses well the perspective of the NT.

 
At 6:00 AM, Anonymous Robert said...

I would really like to hear from all of you, much like Derek did with the 1 Corinthians verse. Break down your interpretation of the meaning of the verse *perfect love casts out fear* For me, i have sought to experience this verse as long as i can remember. i have heard varied interpretations, but almost always the answer is incomplete, acknowledges o by all answering. When i see or hear someone say * love and fear cannot exist if you have fear you are not loving and your faith is lacking* it strikes me as does the person who says * believe in Jesus this certain way or burn in hell* it is a authoritarian fear inducing message supposed to be about love!!!! i hope you all see the paradox in this!!! How is fear extinguished by perfect lov in your experience??? Do you think it is a lifelong process that may never fully happen 100% because we re humans?? I really hope to get a lot of responses thank you!!!

 
At 6:32 AM, Blogger Kenneth Nichols said...

Well, this is a favorite verse of mine, but even I must admit it's not a complete reality in my life. I've shed much of the fear inherent in popular theology. I've let go of a judgemental God who can only stand to look at us because of His murder of His own son. I've let go of the possibility of a Hell of eternal torment. These both helped me love God more and fear Him less. Sure, I still stand in awe of Him, but I am no longer afraid of what my "Abba" might do to me.

However, letting my certainty in scriptures go while depending solely on the Spirit for "truth" and direction IS scary. There's no getting around it. I call it "roller coaster scary" because while I know my destination on the track is sure, and the car I'm riding in (the Spirit) is safe, I don't have any control of the ride. There are huge ups and downs and you can sometimes feel a bit queasy. That makes it scary, but also exhilarating.

So, in conclusion, I think there is a KIND of fear that isn't "bad". Fear that IMMOBILIZES you and keeps you away from a deeper relationship with God is wrong, and understanding the fullness of God's love DOES remove THAT fear. But we are told the "fear" of the Lord is good. Maybe, in addition to awe, that means that "roller coaster fear" I talked about. The "fear" of knowing you're just really hanging on for the ride. Maybe, with time, I'll learn how to take my hands off the bar and wave them in the air. But I'm not there yet. :)

 
At 10:47 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

In general, it's important to try and understand the style of how a particular author writes. John's pastoral letters are very different from how, for example, Paul writes. John's letters are written with these bold declarations. I think it works better to see these the way we would a song, rather than as some sort of universal law. If the Beetles sing "All you need is love" and we take that as a law, we might say "but don't we need food or rent?"

Note the phrase is "perfect love casts out fear." This can also be translated as "As love matures, fear goes away." The reality of course is that we all can struggle with fear, because maturing is not linear or simple.

 
At 11:49 AM, Anonymous Robert said...

Derek- thank you so much for your last comment it really helps get past the absolute black/whiteness of many verses. Like when Paul says *pray without ceasing* Don't we have to be able to function living our lives?? I wanted to get your take , as well as everyone elses, on the verse where Jesus says,*fear not flesh and bllod but rather fear Him who is able to cast both body and soul into hell* Since hell is actually referring to gehenna or the valley of hinnom by Jesu, why would He say BOTH body and soul??? It is anytime eternal & jusgment get put together regarding God my knuckles get a lil white, like kenneth spoke of :D Hope to see many more people respond!!!

Btw Derek- i know you get swamped i am sure but you did get my email about my moms question?? Thanks!!

Robert

 
At 12:35 PM, Blogger Kenneth Nichols said...

Robert, regarding the "body and soul" verse you referenced. I'm certainly not an expert like Derek is, but I can offer a couple of possible explanations.

One, if he is speaking of those who were cast into Gehenna and burned in 70AD, their "souls" perhaps also will need to go through a period of "hell" in regards to refining them. Since MOST who died did not embrace the message of Jesus, there would be false perceptions and long-held beliefs that would need to be "burned away" before that person received the fullness of the love of Christ. So, that COULD be the way He's using it.

However, in CONTEXT He's speaking to the disciples about the fear they may be experiencing about being tortured or killed for sharing their faith, so the above explanation doesn't seem to really fit. Is Jesus telling them to trade ONE fear (of man), for another (of God), or is He using hyperbole to make a point about what is more permanent, man's wrath or God's wrath? Again, I don't KNOW, but it seems possible. This is a verse that bothers me as well. I'll be curious to hear Derek's take on it.

 

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