Healing the Gospel is now avaialble as an audio book!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

I'm happy to announce that my book Healing the Gospel is now available as an audio book! You can purchase it through either Amazon, Audible, or iTunes. And of course you can listen to a sample of the book on all of these sites.

I know it can be hard to find time to read books. So my hope is that folks can now listen to Healing the Gospel on their iPod or phone while they are driving to work in their car, working out at the gym, doing the dishes, or just taking a walk somewhere.

If you've read the book and liked it, please consider writing a review on one of the audio sites above. It just went up and so there are no reviews yet. I've really appreciated all the positive reviews the print book has received so far.


Rethinking the authority of Scripture #3 - Context!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

This post is part of a continuing  series on rethinking the authority of Scripture. Read the first post here

Last time we looked at how many progressives deal with difficult passages by appealing to scholars who question the authorship. But does that really solve the problem? Let's be honest: If we have a problem with passages like 1 Timothy 2:12 it is not because of who wrote it, but the content of what it says. It is therefore disingenuous to act as if the issue here is one of authorship. Let's have the integrity to face the real issue: We find the statement to be wrong and hurtful, and that's why we wrestle with it.

So how do we deal with Bible passages that seem wrong or hurtful to us? Of course the conservative approach would be to simply say "Well too bad, if God commands it, you just have to do it, no matter how profoundly immoral it may seem!" That of course a recipe for moral atrocity, and has repeatedly lead to exactly that. It has resulted in burning people at the stake, slavery, torture, mass killings, and on and on. It is a profoundly evil position to take. It is frankly demonic.

Biblical scholarship is unfortunately little help to us here. Ironically, while liberal scholars have had little problem questioning the historical reality of biblical claims (saying for example that the exodus never happened) they have resisted making any sort of assessment as to the moral claims of the biblical text and its underlying assumptions (for example it seems rather obvious to question the morality of claiming that God told you to commit genocide as the Old Testament does frequently).

Biblical scholarship has consistently seen such ethical questions as off limits, and as a result pastors and students are given no tools in seminary with which to engage in what is perhaps the single most important task of biblical interpretation. This constitutes is a big fat glaring deficit in how ministers are being trained in our universities and seminaries, and leads one to question whether academic scholars are really the best people to train us how to read scripture as scripture.

What we need are tools by which we can ethically engage with, and wrestle with the biblical text as responsible and thinking adults. Yet we have been persistently taught -- both in our churches, and by scholars -- that we cannot question the Bible simply on merit. We can't simply say "that's wrong" or "that's hurtful" or "that's awful" and  instead need to say  "that's a mistranslation" or "Paul didn't write that" or "that's taken out of context."

Now, of course some things are taken out of context. Some poor interpretations are due to wrong translations. However, there's a point where this kind of argument becomes absurd and sounds like special pleading. The following video by NonStampCollector painfully but hilariously illustrates this point:

Ouch. What we need to realize is that this is not making fun of the way fundamentalists or conservatives read the Bible, it's making fun of the way progressive Christians read it. In other words, this is stepping on my toes (and if you are reading this blog, it's likely stepping on your toes too!). So after having a good laugh at ourselves, I think we need to take an honest look and re-think how we are reading the Bible.

Can we handle the tension it creates when we call a spade a spade in Scripture? Or to put it differently: Can we dare to have the integrity to side with the victims, to side with love, to side with true justice, even if that means that we may need to question the Bible in doing so? Because isn't that exactly what Jesus did all the time? And isn't that exactly why he got in so much trouble the the teachers of the law and the religious leaders of his time? As his followers, we need to take a look at where the priorities of Jesus were, and make sure that is also where our priorities are too. His priorities were not upholding a book, but on caring for the least and vulnerable, even when than meant he was accused of being a law breaker and blasphemer.

What I want to propose is that it is perfectly legitimate to question scripture on ethical grounds, to question it on merit, and that if we look closely at how Jesus read scripture we will find that this exactly what he did.


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Rethinking the authority of Scripture #2 - arguments from author-ity

Saturday, July 13, 2013

This post is part of a continuing  series on rethinking the authority of Scripture. Read the first post here

In my previous post I discussed the problem of inerrancy and infallibility, and in particular how they support an authoritarian reading that hurts people and legitimizes violence in God's name. Consequently, lots of us have been looking for alternative ways to read the Bible. Let's dive into a practical example:

In 1 Timothy 2:12 we read “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man.” Lots of progressive evangelicals like me find this passage troublesome because it appears to promote gender inequality, and imply that women are inferior and cannot be good leaders. So what do we do with this? 

One approach that is taken frequently by us progressives is to claim that Paul did not write First Timothy at all. This argument comes from biblical scholarship which, based on a linguistic analysis of the Greek has determined that the vocabulary used in the pastoral epistles (including 1 Timothy) differs significantly from the other "authentic" or "undisputed" Pauline letters like Romans, Galatians, and so on. 

We see this kind of statement being made a lot in biblical scholarship. Another prominent example is the entire study of the "historical Jesus" which tries to differentiate the Jesus we find in the Gospels who is presented through the lens of the Gospel writer, and the "authentic" and "real" Jesus of history. From this, again, similar claims are often made: "The historical Jesus did not say that yucky thing, that was an embellishment of Matthew."

There has of course been a lot of debate as to whether these claims are true or not, but what I want to focus on here is a much deeper issue: Namely, these kinds of arguments are appeals to authority in the very literal sense of the word: It is an appeal to author-ity. That is, the appeal is to who said it (the author), rather than to the merit of what was said. I would submit that the real problem here is not one of authorship at all. 

Let's be honest: the reason you and I have trouble with 1 Timothy 2:12 is not because of the authorship, it's because we recognize that it is hurtful and wrong to dis-empower women. So we look for a way to make sense of this, and then we hear about this idea from biblical scholarship, and say "Ah ha! That's it, Paul didn't say it. Whew, now I can discount it!" The irony here is that while we are disputing an authoritarian claim (the subjugation of women) we are using an appeal to authority (who said it) to do this.

What I want to propose is that if we have a problem with passages like 1 Timothy 2:12 (I certainly do, and hope you do too) then let's not pretend the issue is about who wrote it or that an appeal to (non)authorship solves the issue. Let's be honest and face that this is really not the issue for us at all nor is it a valid solution. The issue is moral. That's important and deserves a moral response. That is, we need to present an ethical response to this as readers of scripture. I would insist that an ethical response is the single most important task of biblical interpretationc-- and one that biblical scholarship has largely avoided all together (more on that later). So let's find a way to deal with that honestly and forthrightly.

We read in Galatians (an undisputed letter of Paul if anyone is still keeping track) that Paul says "I told Peter to his face that he was wrong" (Gal 2:11). Peter wrote parts of the NT. Yet apparently he could be wrong. So is it equally possible that Paul could be sometimes wrong, too? Can we also "tell Paul to his face" that he's wrong too? I want to propose that Paul makes room for us to do just that. He models a way of questioning things that don't line up with the way of Jesus. When we do the same it's not because of unfaithfulness, but precisely because we are being faithful. We question out of compassion and in the name of grace as an act of faithfulness.

Paul says further here in Galatians  "I saw that they were not behaving consistently with the truth of the gospel" (v. 14). Now what is that gospel message Paul is referring to here exactly? Specifically, Paul is criticizing Peter for treating Gentiles like second-class citizens when they were now one in Christ. Along these lines, Paul declares later in Galatians that in Christ there is "neither Jew nor Gentile" to back this up. But he does not stop there. Paul continues on to say "nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." So just as Paul called Peter on treating Gentiles badly, we can call 1 Tim 2:11 to task and say "I see that this is not consistent with the truth of the gospel."

With all of this in mind, let's think for a moment about what real authority means: True authority does not come from who says it, but from the content of what is being said. In other words, authority is not demanded by threat. That's tyranny. Authority is earned through trust. It is deserved. There is a huge difference between these two perspectives. One is about fear, and one is about respect. Perfect love casts out fear.


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Rethinking the authority of Scripture #1 - why infallibility leads to violence

Thursday, July 04, 2013

As many of you know I've been hard at work on my next book which deals with the problem of violence in the Bible -- and in particular human violence done in the name of God -- and how we can confront and wrestle with that as followers of Jesus. I've been taking some time off from blogging and writing online in order to focus on the manuscript, but now I'm at a point where I think I can begin to share some of the ideas of the book and flesh them out with all of you.

I'd like to start with a series of posts which consider (or  re-consider) the way most of us have learned to see the Bible. These are some pretty deep seated ideas so I want to approach them one step at a time. So with that in mind I'll be doing several posts with small thoughts that all build up to a bigger whole.

Let's begin with the idea of inerrancy. Inerrancy means that there are no errors in the Bible. The problem is, there are quite a few. So people who want to maintain biblical inerrancy need to do some immediate qualifications:

For example there are many scribal errors in the manuscripts. These are basically typos. So biblical inerrantists will  claim that the original manuscripts are inerrant, even if the later manuscripts are not error free. The trouble is we do not have the original documents. We only have copies with scribal errors. So it kind of doesn't matter of there is a document without errors that no one has.

A common reaction to this is to say that the Bible is not inerrant, but it is infallible. That means that there may be little errors (typos) in it, but it is still infallible -- meaning it cannot fail or that it will not cause us to fall by misleading us. So we can trust the Bible to lead us in the right way.

The trouble with infallibility (which again means un-fail-ability) is that people cannot agree on the One Right Interpretation. Christian Smith calls this persistent interpretive pluralism. That means that some people interpret the Bible in ways that others insist is really really wrong. "That's heresy!" they say. Then the others answer back, "No, you are the ones who are completely wrong!" That happens constantly. So to say that the Bible can be trusted to lead us in the right way when we can't agree what that way is becomes meaningless. Hence the title of Smith's book The Bible Made Impossible.

The bottom line is that since we humans are not infallible (that is, we can be misled and fail) it really makes no sense to say that the Bible is infallible. The fact is, since at least some people can, and do, get it wrong (not you of course, I mean those other guys over there), we can't say "just follow this book and you will never go wrong" and then turn around and say "they got it wrong."

Now, the problem of biblical inerrrancy was just about a bunch of typos, then it really would not matter that much. Heck, I just spelled inerrancy wrong in that last sentence. Big deal. The real problem is that the idea of biblical inerrancy and infallibility goes hand and hand with the authoritarian claim that you should follow what the Bible says to do -- even when it seems really wrong and hurtful. So you will find people saying you should, for example, beat your children because this is what the Bible commands, and that you can't trust in your own conscience that tells you this is wrong, but need to instead trust in God's word. "Lean not on thine own understanding" you'll hear them say.

Now that is a very dangerous argument. It basically says "Don't question abuse, violence, and oppression. God said it, that settles it." This was how slavery was justified in the past. It's how a lot of oppression and violence is still justified today. So the problem is not just that infallibility is impossible, but that it promotes unthinking authoritarian violence. It teaches people to not be morally responsible adults, to shut off their minds and consciences. That's really dangerous.

What I notice about Jesus is that he was constantly questioning religious authority, especially when he saw that it was hurting people and shutting them out. So maybe in Jesus we have a model of how we should approach scripture too: Not with unquestioning obedience even when it seems hurtful, but instead by questioning in the name of compassion, challenging authority as an act of faithfulness.


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