Trade as One

Friday, November 27, 2009

This is a video some of my students at the Academy put together to promote Trade as One. It's part of a program I've been working on there to bring together worthy causes with state of the art media and visual effects in order to help them have a visual impact for their message that a nonprofit could not normally afford. On top of that, it allows the students to get involved in some really important causes, opening their minds up to how they can make a difference in the world with their artistic abilities. Like the video says, "It's good to be upset, it's better to be inspired."

I was really pleased with how it turned out. Take a look, and then go visit the Trade as One website to see how you can get involved.

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Exegesis # 4 - Critiquing Biblical Criticism

Monday, November 23, 2009

You've no doubt heard the stories of how people lose their faith in seminary. I'm pretty sure I know why people make this complaint. Biblical scholarship is often times not only detached from faith, it is hostile to it. Let me begin with a personal story to illustrate:

The class was Intro to the Old Testament. One of the first things our professor told us was that the historical accounts of the OT - the story of the exodus, the promised land, the whole meta-narrative of the people of Israel which is the foundation of the Jewish self-understanding in the OT was a big lie. None of it happened, he said. Archeology has proven it. He didn't go into any details about how exactly archeology had done this, nor did he give us any other perspectives of scholars who might disagree with this assertion.

You'd think that since this a seminary training future pastors that at some point he would come back to this and tell us how we should approach the Bible in light of that. Why it was still meaningful. Nope. That was it. The OT is a big lie, so let's study it. At this point I asked if we were going to be looking at these stories from a theological point of view then, trying to understand their meaning? Nope. We would only be approaching them from the point of view of the neutral historian. In other words, the plan was to read a book from an exclusively historical perspective, that did not happen historically.

I dropped the class.

This is sadly not at all uncommon in biblical scholarship. The common stance is that one needs to remove themselves from a faith perspective in order to do biblical scholarship. As Michael V. Fox writes in an article on the Society for Biblical Literature, "faith-based study has no place in academic scholarship... Scholarship rests on evidence. Faith, by definition, is belief when evidence is absent. " The idea here is that faith would make one dogmatically biased, and thus the only right way to read the Bible is a-theistically, by detaching oneself from faith. Faith gets in the way of truth, so the argument goes.

Now of course Fox has completely misunderstood what faith is about, making it the enemy of reason, which would be forgivable for a secular scientist. But these secular scientists who think faith=stupid are the teachers teaching the church's teachers. The result is that a great deal of people who practice and teach the study of the Bible either have no faith at all, or are hostile to faith seeing it as a hindrance to their profession. Again, what is disturbing about this is these are the people training the world's future pastors.

What happens is that seminarians are given all sorts of sophisticated tools for determining things that no one really cares about (like whether Matthew was based on a hypothetical work called Q), but are not given any tools for interpreting the Bible's normative significance - what it means, why it matters, how we should respond. Any normative implications are avoided as unscientific. So when it comes to interpreting Scripture as a pastor in a faith community, the seminarian with this kind of training is given zero tools to do this. They are not being educated. As Joel Green writes, in the introduction to Eisenbraun's recently launched Journal for Theological Interpretation,

"Biblical scholarship in the modern period has not oriented itself toward approaches or development of means that would enable us to tune our ears to the voice of God. How do we read these texts as Christian Scripture so as to hear God’s address? The methods of choice have generally focused elsewhere: the voice of the reconstructed historical Jesus, the voice of the redactor of the Gospels, or the voice of the “community” behind the text, for example. Maybe, then, it is not surprising that Wesley Kort can offer this commentary, 'At one time people knew what it meant to read a text as scripture, but we no longer do, because this way of reading has, since the late medieval and reformation periods, been dislocated and obscured.' "

Okay, ready for some good news? There is a growing movement to read Scripture as Scripture. This may seem like a no-brainer, but actually the majority of exegetical methods do not take this approach. Narrative criticism reads the Bible like literary fiction. The historical-critical method reads it as a historical artifact. Reader-response reads it from our own individual subjective perspective. So the idea of reading the Bible theologically - asking what it means, what God may be saying to us is within biblical scholarship a crazy idea, and all I can say is "thank God!"

Some proponents of theological interpretation are Brevard Childs, R.W.L. Moberly, Christopher Seitz, Francis Watson,
Luke Timothy Johnson, Ellen Davis, Douglas Harink, Karl Donfried, Markus Bockmuehl, Stephen Fowl, Kevin VanHoozer, and NT Wright. Some journals include the Journal of Theological Interpretation, Pro Ecclesia, Ex Auditu, and Horizons in Biblical Theology. All of these folks are big time scholars from places like Yale, Duke, Princeton, and Durham.

So what does this approach look like? Theological interpretation is reading Scripture as Scripture, and asking what God is wanting to say to us through it. As R. Moberly writes, interpreting the Bible as Scripture indicates "a frame of reference for biblical interpretation that, while not taking the Bible as less than a historical artifact, clearly takes it as more than a historical artifact; and that more is in some way given content by the notion of the self-communication of the living God - a notion to whose breathtaking implications we are too easily dulled." (JTI 3.2 (2009), p. 162. Emphasis in the original).

In other words, they don't ignore insights from history, literary analysis, or ideological critiques. But they recognize that the Bible is a book where somehow God is wanting to speak to us through it, and try to listen to what God is saying as well. They approach the text not just with their minds open, but with their hearts open too.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

I was recently asked if there was a gospel tract that expressed the Christus Victor model of the atonement. An alternative to those nasty Chick tracts that talk about threat and fear and ticked off God. I was reminded of a little book I read a long time ago in German called "Ein Ganz normaler Müllmensch" (trans: "Just Your Average Junkboy") that I really loved. Since there is no English translation, I decided to translate this sweet little tract myself for you (and you thought knowing German was only good for reading Karl Barth!).

So without further ado, I present to you the story of Junkboy. Just click the picture below to read the rest.

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Jesus was a Democrat

Below are some highlights from the lyrics to the song "Jesus was a Democrat" by Everclear.

I bet you think of him
As a nice clean long haired Republican, nah
He would be all locked up in Guantanamo Bay
If he were alive today
He would have been a revolutionary
Wanted by the CIA

I picture him in all the wrong places
Finding diamonds in the dirt
A Star of David tattoo
And a Che t-shirt
Jesus Christ was a left wing radical Jew
Murdered by people like you

If Jesus was a Democrat like the bible says he was
I don’t think he’s going to want to take the blame
For all the awful things you say and do in his name
I am pretty god damned sure ……
He is going to be angry
He is going to be angry

You say Jesus loves the little children
And I say I know that’s true
I say he loves all the Muslims and the Jews
All the addicts and the porn stars too
You say Jesus died to save us all from a fiery hell
I say Jesus died to save us
Save us from ourselves
Will you save me from myself?

If Jesus was a liberal like the red letters say he was
I know he would have big love for all the killers and the racists
And the bullies in this world

If Jesus was alive today
And you had a chance to meet him face to face
I’m pretty God-damned sure that you and your friends
Would find some way to kill him all over again
You would kill him all over again
Again and again and again
Just like you always do
You do just what you always do

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Hebrew is weird

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I was looking at Proverbs 3:8 in the original Hebrew and I thought it was hilarious. The NIV translation here says that the fear of the Lord will bring "health to your body". But the literal Hebrew here is "healing of your bellybutton".

Yes, that's right, your bellybutton (שֹׁר)

I bet you didn't even realize that your bellybutton needed to be morally healed, did you? It goes on to say that a further benefit is "a drink for your bones" which sounds pretty silly too, but it's pretty hard to top bellybuttons for silliness!

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