Archive for the ‘the bible’ Category

My blogging has been lax the last few months because of time.  Also it has been lax because of lack of inspiration.  Yet I read a book recently on eschatology that inspired me.  Tensions with Iran have inspired this as well, but I’ll explain why at the end.

Before reading on, this article assumes that you are a Christian.  You may or may not have strong opinions about eschatology, but I assume that you have read the Gospels.  Thus, you probably agree that peace is preferable to war, that Jesus disapproved of economic/military oppression, and that Jesus started something called the Kingdom of God.  If this is new to you, then re-read the either Matthew, Mark, or Luke with this in mind: Rome was an occupying military power.  Many of the Pharisees were complicit with that fact, even if they hated Rome.  Simon the Zealot, one of Jesus disciples, was to the Romans what a terrorist is to the United States.

Now on to Dispensational Futurism and why we can do a lot better.

Literally whenever Possible?

Dispensational futurism is hermenutically challenged, in other words, the method of interpretation is not that great.  Dispensationalism claims that it “reads the Bible literally whenever possible.” If, and only if, there is an obvious poetic queue, should you read the Bible metaphorically.  This is a frequent refrain from LaHaye, Thomas Ice, and anyone who is familiar with Dispensationalism.

Are futurist themselves consistent with this rule?  Frequently, Dispensationalists refer to the seven churches at the beginning of revelation as seven metaphorical church ages.  So where is the poetic queue that lets us know that the churches are of church ages?  I see none.  “Literally whenever possible” seems to lead us to believe that those are seven literal churches that existed at the time Revelation was written.  The messages begin with phrases like “to the Angel of the Church in Ephesus.”  It is really no different than when Paul opens his Epistles with a quick “hello” to the Romans, Corinthians, or Galatians.

That aside, “literal whenever possible” is problematic for two reasons.  First, it assumes that the language of the Bible is either “literal” or “metaphorical” -just two ways to write.  It completely ignores the possibility of hyperbole, idiom, or even a pun.  There are more ways to speak than “literally” or “metaphorically.”  Secondly, just because something can be read “literally” does not mean it should be taken that way.  It is as if we have flawless intuition i.e. whatever appears literal to us, must have been intended that way.  Can we understand a book written in another time, place, and culture that intuitively?

Think about the phrase, “I’m full.”  What does that mean?  Well, it means that the speaker has had enough eat.  It couldn’t possibly mean anything else, because we take that to what it literally means.  There is no queue to let us know its metaphorical.  Now what if the speaker was a French woman, and said the literal French translation of “I’m full”  (Je suis pleine)?  We would intuitively think that she means she’s had enough to eat …and we would be wrong.  Je suis pleine is a French idiom.  It is a way of saying, “I am pregnant.”  Once we have that background information, we understand Je suis pleine easily.  This is an example of the flaws in our intuition, and “literally whenever possible.”

Here’s another example: “the sleeping giant awoke after Pearl harbor.”  Every American knows what that means.  But what if you translated it, and said it to a hermit in Tibet?  It would be possible for him to take it literally.  He’d ask why the giant was sleeping.  He’d probably also ask who Pearl Harbor is why he awoke before the giant did.  Did Pearl Harbor leave a window open, so that he awoke when the sun rose?  Was the giant sleeping in cave?  Maybe the giant was really tired or Pearl Harbor had a bit more energy.  You get the idea.  “Literal whenever possible” doesn’t work here because the Tibetan hermit lacks background information.   Once that Tibetan hermit -who knew nothing about American History- is given the right background information, he’ll understand the statement just fine.

Here are few more phrases.  Some are translated from other languages.

“Shake the Spot.”

“Are you holding a grudge against somebody?”

“We need more boots on the ground.”

“Why do you withhold your breathe from me?”

“May the force be with you.”

“I’m mashers.”

If even one of those phrases you did not understand intuitively, then you do not have flawless intuition.  You cannot trust “literal whenever possible” because what seemed literal to you, was not meant to be literal by the speaker.  Is this the speaker’s fault?  Should the speaker given us a clearer poetic queue?  Yes, but only if the speaker addresses us.  In the case of Revelation, we’re not the original audience.  We’re not the original audience of any book in the Bible.  No book of the Bible the addresses us!

Now, I am not saying that we can’t understand the Bible, or that we can’t understand Revelation, Daniel etc just because it was written to another people, at another time, in another place and in a different language.  Of course we can understand it.  We can understand just like Americans can understand Je suis pleine or that Tibetan hermit could understand “the sleeping giant awoke after pearl harbor.”

What we need though, is background information about the speaker or writer as well as the original audience.  Specifically, we need to know their history, political situation, religious customs, idioms and so forth.  We need to know enough about them to understand the Bible’s passages as they understood them.  We need to know what was appeared literal (or metaphorical, idiomatic, hyperbolic etc) to them rather than what appears “literal” to us.

This is something that many dispensationalists -from Scofield to LaHaye, just. Fucking. Ignore.  They therefore unconsciously read it as if it was written for modern Americans.  This is absolutely wrong.  If we’re going to read Revelation, we need to put aside our political, cultural, national, and even religious concerns.  To do otherwise is to make the Bible in our image.

An Example

Here’s a short passage that is worth interpreting:

And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; 7and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”

8 And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.” (Revelation 14:6-8 NASB)

Dispensationalist Thomas Ice asserts pretty strongly that, “The biblical text in Revelation says Babylon and to take it to refer to anything other than what it says is not consistent with literal interpretation.  If it refers to Babylon, then it has to be a future reference.”  That is then, the “literal whenever possible” interpretation.  Of course, I’d have to ask Dr. Ice why it must necessarily refers to a future event.  After all, Babylon is literally already long gone and “fallen” is a past-participle.  I’d expect the future perfect tense (will have fallen) if this was reference to a future Babylon.  I digress however.

Now, let’s erase from the mind’s eye any contemporary political, religious, cultural concerns including (for the moment) that Revelation is a road map for future events.  Let’s instead replace them relevant facts about the first century, in Jerusalem and its vicinity.  Here I am summarizing from the “Rapture Exposed” by Barbara Rossing.

Rome worshiped the goddess Victory (Nike in Greek), which was a winged flying goddess that streaked over a battlefield announcing the victor for a battle.  They put images of this goddess on their sculptures, statues, and so forth.  They would even put images of this flying goddess on top of depictions of the people they conquered -just in case those people forget who the winner was.   Her image as ubiquitous as a Starbucks logo and as sacred as American flag.  I emphasize that this was more than a symbol for the Romans; they believed that this goddess was on their side.  Their military victories justified their brutal control over their empire, including Jerusalem.  Rome always wins.  Do you get the message?  Good.  Now pay the tribute!

Hail Roman, Victory... or else

Hail Roman, Victory... or else

Now many of the Isrealites did not like Rome.  Many violently opposed Rome.  Others, like the Pharisees shrugged their shoulders and paid their taxes.  Still others decided that God had either abandoned them or went over to the Romans.  They responded with a “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” attitude.  This is not unlike Israel’s forbidden alliances with foreign powers, which is described allegorically as prostitution/whoring.

Why is Babylon mentioned here?  By the time Revelation was written, Babylon was long gone.  However, its memory in the mind of first century Jewish world was not.    They remembered what Babylon was and what it symbolized to them.  They remembered Babylon like Atlanta Georgia remembers General Sherman, or like the Lakota remember Wounded Knee.  Babylon reminded them of oppression, exile, and subservience.  Now which nation was cause of such duress during time of Revelation?

Given all this it is perfectly reasonable to believe that the flying angel was a direct challenge to the flying goddess.  The oppressed audience was reminded that Rome, like Babylon before it, would fall.  Rome doesn’t always win.  This message was treason.  No wonder the Romans were so eager to kill Christians!

Now is this interpretation open for debate?  It wouldn’t be on a blog if it wasn’t.  But here’s the critical difference between Barbara Rossing’s interpretation and Thomas Ice’s:  Rossing is not relying on manifestly flawed intuition to tell her when to interpret something “literally” or metaphorically.  She realizes that the Bible isn’t always going to give a verbal, poetic, queue that is obvious to modern readers.  She is putting aside our contemporary mindset, finding the right background information, and letting that inform her interpretation of Revelation 14:6-8.  Thomas Ice’s article, by contrast, makes no reference to the historical context of Revelation.  Neither, in this article, does he explain why the literal past tense in Revelation 14:8 refers to a future Babylon.  Rather, he insists that because “Babylon” referred to a literal city in the historical books of the Bible, that it cannot possibly be used symbolically in arguably the most symbolic book of the entire Bible!

The main point then, is that the books of the Bible weren’t written in vacuums and we, contemporary readers, aren’t reading it with a blank, mental slate.  We have to do the extra work of getting into the mindset of the original audience, otherwise we’re bound to misunderstand it just like that Tibetan hermit will misunderstand a reference to the sleeping giant.  “Literal whenever possible” is insufficient and not even consistently applied by the very people who endorse it.

Why bother?

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that political tensions with Iran are part of what motivated this post.  If you google “Iran” and “revelation” you are going to see a lot of interpretation from a dispensationlist perspective.  Why does this matter?  Well because a lot of people make their political decisions -such as when we should go to war, antagonize a middle eastern nation, or provide military support to another etc- based on their interpretations of Revelation.  War is serious stuff.  As we all know people die, homes are wrecked, veterans are emotionally and physically scarred, sometimes for dubious pretenses.  Furthermore, the aftermath of military conflict can ripple out for decades and even centuries.

If we’re going to attach that much political power to an interpretation of the Bible, we had better be damn sure we’re getting it right.

All of us who have responded to Andrew’s Story at Mars Hill in Seattle are quite worked up.  Glenn Peoples at Beretta Online has reminded us that we are only hearing one side of the story.  I am personally grateful to him for doing so.

Andrew has made his case known and Mathew Paul Turner has played the role of the prosecutor.  This means he has the burden of proof and must present evidence.  In my opinion, he has made his case well.  He did not make vague allusions to foul treatment at Mars Hill while calling Driscoll a poopy-head.  He demonstrated a specific incident and has included written statements and correspondence from Mars Hill.  By your own words, be judged and all that.

Is Mars Hill pointing, or pointed at?

The Defendant Takes the Stand

Mars Hill now has a chance to respond.  This is good, because a candid world deserves to hear it.  As a detractor of Mars Hill, I am very happy to listen.  If you are also  not a fan of Pastor Mark Driscoll, then I please put your feelings aside as you read their response.  Maybe Andrew withheld some key information from the incident.  Maybe we can hear from his former leaders as well.  There is no doubt a lot of information that they could share, that would help us understand the situation better.  Let’s hear it:

In recent days, there has been some discussion surrounding Mars Hill Church and our process of church discipline. We do not wish to comment on the specific scenario in question, as this is a private matter between church leadership and members, all of whom have voluntarily agreed to this prior to becoming members. We do want to be as clear and forthright as possible in presenting our theology of repentance, forgiveness, and church discipline and make clear that our convictions on this come from our study of Scripture and our deep love for our members and a desire for them to enjoy the freedom that comes from walking by the Spirit in response to Christ’s work on the Cross on our behalf. At the heart of the process is our deep belief that church discipline is about the grace of God, not penance. (Mars Hill Website)

Oh… huh… well at least they offered a link to Driscoll’s book, Vintage Faith, which explains their theology.

Why would Mars Hill not offer a specific defense here?  I realize that Mars Hill isn’t under some kind of legal obligation, but I would assume that the church is concerned about its reputation before the rest Christendom.  Andrew has went public with this, but I understand that confession is often considered sacrosanct and private.  Maybe Mars Hill did not want to break confidentiality.  Let’s check that book to see if that’s why:

Members of Mars Hill Church are not guaranteed confidentiality regarding issues of church discipline, and understand that in submitting themselves to the authority of the church, issues of a sensitive or personal nature may become known to others. This includes, but is not limited to, notification of the authorities if a crime has been committed or if a real threat of someone being endangered exists, as well as other violations of scripture that may not result in physical danger.

Oh, I guess not.  Though nothing in the Andrew story seemed to imply physical danger or legality.  Maybe they wish to stay mum on the details because Andrew decided to leave.  This makes sense.  If you voluntarily join, and you voluntarily leave, then the relationship is over.  I could see why Mars Hill might prefer to let things be.

There is a sense in which you never really let the unrepentant sinner go. Though you don’t associate with him, you keep calling him back. He is put out for the purity of the church but is always admonished to come back.

Okay.  So Mars Hill is not tight lipped because Andrew left or because of guaranteed confidentiality.  In fact, this seems to imply that they still want to be involved with people who leave.  Though I guess Andrew did leave under bad terms, and is considered an unrepentant excommunicate.  Maybe Mars Hill is doing the best they can do to avoid tarnishing his reputation anymore than he already has:

If someone under discipline begins attending another church, we notify the leaders of that church that they are unrepentant and have been removed from fellowship in our church.

Nevermind.  Mars Hill does the exact opposite.  If you have a bad reputation at Mars Hill, they will do their very best to make sure you have a bad reputation anywhere.  Mark Driscoll is like Khal Drogo: he doesn’t do anything half way.

If you still feel that Mars Hill is tight lipped because it is “private matter,” don’t forget that they circulated a letter to the congregation regarding Andrew after he left Mars Hill.  Also, Andrew has gone public with this, so who are they trying to protect?  The best thing I can think of is that they do not want any current member named and “dragged into all this.”  That much is fair.  However, the response was unapologetic about their actions, and they don’t deny them either.  Is Mars Hill simply owning and acknowledging what they did?  That they feel everything was right?

The Repentance Smackdown

Mars Hill has done well to present its view of Church Discipline.  I realize it is not the entire book, but it still feels a bit lacking.   Here then, is what is mysteriously absent:

First, Driscoll’s chapter offers no details how about how a confessor (the person who hears someone else’s sins) should respond.  They make no mention of announcing Christ’s forgiveness, assuring the sinners that they are loved by God, whether to stay quiet about what you hear, how you might pray for repentant sinner, and pretty much any other act of compassion that I can think of. Remember, the recent statement from Mars Hill said: our convictions on this come from our study of Scripture and our deep love for our members.  Perhaps Mars Hill believes that we should only confess to another person if we sin against that person specifically.  Are we to keep silent then, about all other sins?

Secondly, they detail out all the signs of false repentance and conjoin true repentance with a desire to change our lives.  Yet that desire for change and actual change is seldom instantaneous.  Ask any former substance addict how long they desired change before they had actual change.  There seems to be little room for “same time justified and sinner” in Mars Hill’s church discipline.

Third, there is no mention of the sin of withholding forgiveness, or even a way to make forgiving another person easier.

Here then, are questions to consider:

1. If “true repentance” necessarily causes behavior/life changes, could this not become a salvation-by-works in practice even if it is still salvation-by-grace in theory?

2. Who judges whether or not a sinner has repented truely?  Church Leadership?  Can we trust their judgment as infallible?

3. If someone voluntarily joins a church, then voluntarily leaves, does the church have a right to negatively influence that person’s life?

4. Why is church discipline arranged in degrees of severity of punishment, rather than in degrees of restoration?

5. If you attended this church, had sinned grievously, would you feel comfortable sharing your sins with leaders at Mars Hill (James 5:15-16)?  Why or why not?

In interest of fairness

In deference to Glenn’s post, I’d like anyone who comments in this blog to be candid with their comments, but please avoid inflammatory speech.  I myself am trying to be as charitable as possible, but it is hard -from their response- to think that the conclusions Matthew Paul Turner reached are false.  Still though, if Mars Hill ever wants to offer something more specific, it would be great to hear it.

>

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season reprove rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. -2 TIM 4:1-2

Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. – 1 COR 4:6

Based on these two verses, and the pattern of scripture, how do we justify blogging? 2 TIM 4:2 calls us to preach, the word not post it on the internet. Where is the New Testament authority for google reader, blogspot, html, comments, and facebook posts?

>I meant what I said when I wrote that I don’t want my blog to be excessively negative. The last post, on my frustrations with dispensational futurism, was quite deconstructive. In this post, I’ll be positive instead. I will explain why I prefer preterism.

I realize that many people reading this have probably never heard of preterism. It is fairly new to me too. Briefly put, preterism is the view that many of the prophecies in Revelation and the Olivet discourse were fulfilled by the end of the first century. More information can be found a The Preterist Site or you can listen to the Preterist Podcast if you (like the Podcast’s author) are a Mac loyalist, or at least own an iPod.

As a caveat, I reiterate that I am relatively new to preterism. I missed the “Biblical Apocalyptic” class at Azusa Pacific. Eschatology in general is not my area of expertise. Additionally, I would like to make it clear that I support orthodox preterism. What this means is that I reject the kind of preterism that denies a future bodily resurrection among other essentials to the Christian faith. I find that there are those who automatically equate preterism with heresy. I hope that those reading this won’t have such a knee jerk reaction.

Here goes:

Preterism understands literal and temporal context well. If there is one fundamental reason why I like preterism, it is the fact that I never scratch my head and wonder why preterists believe what they believe. Preterists know what their hermeneutic is and they understand how it is distinct from actually interpreting the bible. N.T. Wright, who is often invoked by pretestists, spends a whole four-hundred page volume explaining his method before he proceeds to exegete the Gospels in later works. I know his assumptions, he knows his assumptions, and consequently I understand him when he gets into the story of Christ’s ministry.

Preterists, when commenting on things like the Olivet discourse or revelation are upfront with their hermeneutic and I see that. For instance, when reading through Jesus’ words at Olivet they rightly point out that condemnation of the Jewish Apostates was a major theme in Matthew, and they understand Olivet in that light. Preterists then, look to the surrounding literally context of a passage to get to an understanding of what that passage is talking about.

Preterists also get deep into the time period of when a passage is written. First, they rightly assume that when Jesus was talking about things happening “soon” and when he refers to “this generation” they ought to be understood as if they were written to another audience, in another time, and in another place –because they were (in fact!) written to another audience, in another time, and in another place.

Literal and temporal context are imminently basic to any hermeneutic of anything. Yet it seems to me the preterists are the only ones applying it to scripture.

Preterism is consistent when it comes to cultural idiom and genre. Idiom and genre are other important aspects of interpretation that preterists have a firm grasp on. Most people agree that there are plenty of idioms in the Bible. When Jesus says in Luke 14:26 that the disciples must hate their family and their own lives, most people will agree that Jesus did not want us to be hateful, but recognize that Jesus was using a cultural idiom for choosing between two alternatives. (“I love this, and I hate that.” Was a way of saying “I choose this.”). Likewise, genre is something that nobody wants to ignore. The parables of Jesus are understood in the way they are because we know their genre. We know this, and how they were understood, because lots of other people in that era spoke in parables. So we come to understand genre by comparing what the Bible contains with similar literature from the era the Bible was written in.

When preterists read phrases like “the moon will not shed its light” and “coming on the clouds” and even “[violence/tribulation] never to be equaled again” they are fully aware of the idioms and hyperbole of Jesus or whoever else might be speaking. Likewise, when looking at Ezekiel, Daniel, or Revelation I have noticed that preterists are also aware of the genre of apocalyptic literature, which they glean from other sources just like the non-biblical parables. From this, they learn to look at Revelation in a way the author likely intended.

Preterism makes the Good News sound like “Good News.” There is another thing that I’ve noticed about preterism, that may not be essential to it, but often goes hand and hand: the idea that the Kingdom of God was initiated with the coming of Jesus and continues to this day.

This is some serious good news! The idea that the Kingdom of God is a way of life, a political order, and/or liberation of the oppressed etc deserves an entire blog. Preterists take it as a given and often articulate that God has been growing the Kingdom of God like a muster seed since its inception in the time of Jesus. There is also an assumption that waiting for Christ’s coming is preparing the world for him to come. This is like how you would clean up your house for an honored guest. The Church, then, works in the world to make the world better. When preterists say, “The Kingdom of God is at hand” they mean things like “We intend to liberate slaves” rather than “Christians are going to disappear and the planet will pretty much literally go to hell.”

All Hail Dee Dee Warren!

I think that those three reasons are only the beginning of why I am attracted to preterism. It really boils down to one thing; even before I knew there was something besides dispensational futurism (yes, I was eye-ball deep in a church that believes it), I learned the basics of hermerneutics. When I listen to the preterists, I hear them appealing to, understanding, and applying the principles I learned. Because of this, I simply trust them a lot more than others. Additionally, the idea of end times being about regenerating and providing hope for the world is an eschatology I am instinctively drawn to.

So color me an Orthodox preterist. It was inevitable after leaving Azusa Pacific anyway.

>While it was never my intention to be overly negative or deconstructive when it comes to this blog, I think I finally need to comment on Dispensational Futurism, otherwise known as “end times” by the popular evangelicalism. Dispensational Futurism, for those of here who may not be familiar with it, is a specific understanding of the Olivet discourse in Matthew 24, Revelation, Daniel and such. It represents the popular dogmas like the rapture (when Christians disappear) the coming tribulation, black helicopters, and a world government of the Anti-Christ. It was popularized by the Left Behind series, which is a whole different blog entirely.

At this time, I not only think that Dispensational Futurism is off track, I think that dispensationalism faces quite a bit of problems; problems that I think are not easily overcome. Here are some of the reasons why I am frustrated with futurism.

Dispensational Futurism is not a “conservative” view. Dispensational Futurism is often taught in evangelical churches, and especially charismatic and very fundamentalist churches, “what the Bible teaches.” Deviations from futurism are often taught as “liberal” viewpoints to be viewed with suspicion. Dispensationalism is right because it is conservative.

The strange thing is, dispensational futurism is far from conservative. It began in the 1800s –very late by Church History standards- and it was incredibly novel of an idea even then. Most Christians, including the big names in Protestantism like Luther, Calvin, and Wesley, never knew of futurism like we know it today and would not endorse it if they knew of it now. Furthermore, when futurists first came on the scene, they snubbed ministers who they considered to intellectual (and were consequently the actual conservatives) as not having anything worth saying.

Dispensational Futurism is a liberal view. In fact, if one considers how futurists approach scripture, the positions might actually be radical. This leads me to the second point…

Dispensational Futurists are hermeneutically challenged. While I am sure that there are futurists out there who are very conscious and aware of their interpretative methods, I am beginning to think that many futurists not only do not know their own hermeneutic, but do not even know what a “hermeneutic” is.

The more I talk to futurists, the more I am convinced that they do not know the difference between an interpretive method (a hermeneutic) and the act of interpreting. Furthermore, some of the most basic principles of interpretation are outright doubly ignored, such as reading a passage in its literally context or according to the time period it was written.

I believe that the conclusions of futurism are matters of presumption, and it is a presumption they are not aware of. The parable of the Purple Cow exemplifies this problem.

Dispensational Futurism has made Too Many False Prophecies. One can pick up a book at a Christian bookstore entitled “Charting the End Times” but chances are you aren’t going to find “88 Reasons why Jesus is coming in 1988.” Most books that talked about the end of the world around the year 2000 are less than likely to available for purchase too. I also doubt anyone is reading “the Late Great Planet Earth.” Why? Because these books prophesied about then current events that turned out not to be true.

There is a serious problem with consistency here. Many Christians rightly denounce the latter day prophets of Mormonism and the Jehovah Witnesses for their failed visions of the end of the world. Rightly, people invoke the test of a false prophet in Deuteronomy 18.

For even one false prophecy made by the founders of Mormonism, your average evangelical will rightly say “away with them and their theological projects.” Why then do we tolerate the failed predictions of dispensational futurism? Is it because names keep changing every ten years or so? Failed prophecies are failed prophecies. This should be enough to make at least reevaluate futurism if not dump it completely. Sadly, people seem to have a short memory about these things.

Dispensational Futurism encourages a “fire escape” Gospel I almost entitled this section as “Dispensational Futurism has a suspicious genesis.” But I think it suffices to say this, Dispensational Futurism, since its inception, has taught that the W.A.S.P.’s are alienated people, losing control in their society, and thus will eventually be sucked away from world because they’re just that special. In other words, get on board, and get out. Many articles, like those found at the preteristsite.com and the slacktivisit have already noted this same attitude in the Left Behind series, and I need not expound on them here.

I do not believe the Gospel, the Kingdom of God, and such is about escape planet earth and letting all God’s creation burn. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that starts small and then grows into something huge within the soil it was planted in. It is not like a soldier in a foxhole waiting for helicopter evac. Christians should not be looking to things like the rapture index to see how horrible the world is getting and looking foreward to our escape with self-satisfactory smugness, rather we should be doing the work of God in the world and preparing it for his coming.

So there it is: Four reasons why I am frustrated with futurism. It is a liberal view supported by poor interpretation. It has a bad track record when it comes to predicting the future and encourages, if only implicitly, that Christians need not care about the condition of the world around them. This is something I have been frustrated with for years.

So suck it, LaHaye.

>One thing that I continually come across in the world of the wired is a particular approach to Biblical interpretation. When confronted with the complexities of Christian tradition, contemporary issues, and of course hermeneutics, many Christians respond in a way that sounds incredibly pious. They might say something like this: I just believe what the Bible says. I take it literally. This may be expanded into a principle that says Take the Bible literally until you have to take it metaphorically.

This kind of approach is motivated by a sincere desire to be faithful to scripture. It is often supported by appeals that the Bible should be understood by the common man. The idea then is dispense with the “academic” hermeneutics and arguments about tradition and simply get into God’s word while the Holy Spirit is your guide.

As good as that may sound, it simply does not work. Here are a couple reasons why.

One of the problems, I think, is what it means to read the Bible “literally.” Literal often meant that this simply means “in the sense of the letter.” So if I read something literally, it means I read it according to its genre. Thus, a “literal” reading of the Bible will mean different things in different sections. The Gospels will not be understood like the psalms. Neither will Revelation be understood like the epistles. This is all done for the same reason that phonebooks are not understood like adventure novels.

What this means is that there may be metaphors within scripture and reading it “literally” will give you clues as to when something is metaphorical or not. Because of this, there is no simply dichotomy between “literal” readings and “metaphorical” readings. Interpretation is more complex than that and requires more background knowledge –knowledge that is surprisingly basic, but often ignored.

When I have seen people insist on taking the Bible literally, I think they really mean something else. Typically, taking the Bible literally is an attempt to read the Bible, only the Bible, and not have any “interference” from any kind of tradition, hermeneutic principle, 1st century Palestinian context or whatever. When people say they take the Bible “literally,” they are trying to say that they read the Bible with no hermeneutic or assumptions at all. Scripture, after all, is sufficient right?

It seems that a literal reading of passages like 2 Tim 3:16-17 indicate this: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching for reproof, for corrections for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Or how about Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Other examples abound, such as Isegesis 24:7) Scriptures like these are often propped up to show that all we need to do is just read the Bible –hermeneutical tools/knowledge are therefore superfluous.

Both of these verses, by themselves, do not prove what is hoped for. Nonetheless, I think there is a stronger argument against the idea that we can, or should, read the Bible free of any kind of assumptions, tools or method, for interpretation.

A close look at some hard-to-understand verses might help. In look at these, we see that nobody reads the Bible so plainly. Here’s my favorite from John 6 (this is Jesus talking by the way).

I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out heave, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh. Then the Jews began to argue with one another saying, “how can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, Turly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life in yourselves.
John 6:48-53 NASB

What does the Bible literally say here? It means that we must eat of the Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood –literally. After all, it is not as if Jesus corrected their misunderstanding when the Jews restated what he just said. But the point I am trying to make is not one about the real presence of God via communion.

My point is this: Why do those who invoke 2 Tim 3:16 and others who want to “just believe the Bible” resist this so much? After all, if we can take 2 Tim 3:16 to support the sufficiency of scripture, without further discussion, why do people resist so strongly when someone else reads the Bible so plainly in John 6:53? It is because (like all Christians) they have assumptions, a hermeneutic, and an interpretive method, even if they deny it or are unaware of it.

There is another great example that I think literalists often stumble on. Luke 14:25-26

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26″If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:25-26 NASB

Again, no literalist thinks that being a disciple means we must hate our parents our children, or other members, of our family. Jesus didn’t literally mean that we should hate the sacred bonds of the nuclear family because….. well because why? Whatever reason someone offers to explain why Jesus meant something different is an appeal to some assumption or interpretative method. If a person does not believe hating the family is what Jesus meant, then they are denying the same “just read the Bible” approach that a equally plain reading of 2 Tim 3:16 was supposed to support.

There is no such thing as a “just read the Bible.” There is no taking it literally, so we can ignore all interpretative methods, traditions, etc. No one is free from assumptions when they read the Bible, no matter how hard they try. So what is common man to do?

My suggestion is similar to what the Reformers in Geneva thought. Then, they realized that the common man was illiterate. Their solution was, “let the Common man learn to read.” Today, the common man should learn to read well. Learning how to interpret the Bible is not some esoteric, mystical, discipline reserved for Monks on mountain tops or pipe-smoking scholars at Ivy leagues. It’s actually fairly simple. It does take time and a few resources, but considering the amount of books that flow thorough a Bible book store, I don’t doubt that anyone lacks the time or the resources to learn a little bit about reading the Bible well.

And I think it’s when we do that is when we really get to where the literalists hope to go.

Thanks for reading.

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>Having dealt with the rhetorical appeals, I cautiously move onto Mel White’s talk about scripture. I will write mostly on his fourth through sixth premises. I had lousy adjuncts as my Bible professors, so this section will be short. This section might be entitled “What Mel White shows, and doesn’t show, about homosexuality.”

Mel White’s first premise is this:

The Bible is a book about God–not a book about human sexuality. The Bible is a story about God’s love for the world. It tells the history of God’s love at work rescuing, renewing, and empowering mankind. It was never intended to be a book about human sexuality. Certainly, you will agree.

Certainly this is questionable? Obviously, all people think the Bible is a book about God’s relationship with humanity, but why on earth should we believe that this excludes a discussion about our sexuality? A wise Bible professor (who is on the other side of the debate) once said that sex is not bad, sex is powerful. Since the Bible is about “God’s love at work rescuing, renewing, and empowering mankind,” wouldn’t we expect it to deal with something as powerful as sex? Is White’s first premise not as strange as “The Bible is a book about God –not economics and money” or “The Bible is a book about God –not governments and rulers”?

To support this claim, White proceeds to list off a series of obscure, agreeably out-dated, passages from the Old Testament. White wants to remind us that much of what the Bible says about sex we do not follow. Yet in this assertion, he defeats his first claim: the Bible is not a book about human sexuality. Perhaps he means “The Bible is not a book primarily about human sexuality.” Yet this still doesn’t mean that we should simply be dismissive when we find in the Bible discussing it. It is true that much of the old laws that White cites are obscure and strange –and we should not follow them literally, but this does not mean that God no longer uses scripture to inform our sexuality.

From here, Mel examines several verses from the Bible. I think he does a good job with most of them, however, I must take issue with interpretation of Genesis creation story. Mel uses his first premise (The Bible is about God, not sexuality) to completely dismiss a priori any discussion the creation story might say on sexually. I do not think that this is fair. Maybe the creation story does not condemn homosexuality, but I think it affirms heterosexuality.

The reason I believe this is because of the work of Catholic philosophers like Peter Kreeft. In short, human heterosexual romance and sexuality is a reflection of God’s self-contained love within the Trinity. This extends to his love for creating. Heterosexual romance points us towards a “sharing” in the creation of the pinnacle of God’s creation through reproduction. This is a type aesthetic beauty that cannot be found in homosexual relationships. What makes this point even stronger is that there was no logical need for God to create two different genders in order to reproduce. For some reason, God saw fit to create male and female.

Mel White does not address this well. His counter arguments of older couples or sterile couples still ignore a connection between heterosexual romantic feelings and our joining with God in the creation of new life. His treatment of the creation story is simply far to reductionist. It is Mel White that misses hearing something here, not the conservatives.

Mel White’s treatment of Sodom is much better. You do not have to be liberal to think that this passage is not a condemnation of homosexuality itself. One general rule of interpreting scripture is that “scripture best interprets scripture.” So if Ezekiel tells us that Sodom was destroyed for pride, greed, and arrogance, then the conservatives ought to concede that point. Now of course, this may not be an either/or issue. God had plenty of problems with sexual sin that went on there too. But violent rape is not an essential element of homosexuality. Therefore, I do not think that Christians should appeal to Genesis 19 to condemn homosexuality.

The remaining passages that Mel White cites I do not feel competent to comment on (like I said, two lousy adjuncts), so I will be silent on them. From here, let us temporarily concede all of Soul Force’s remaining points about scripture. Let us also ignore the Genesis issue. I’ll even feign agreement to White’s point that the Bible authors knew nothing about homosexuality, since it wasn’t “discovered” until the 19th century.* How far has White taken us?

What White has done, and what I think is the best that liberal wing can do with scripture, is show that scripture does not explicitly condemn homosexuality. What he has failed to do is show how scripture affirms homosexuality. This may not seem like a problem for some, but it ignores Christian tradition. Throughout history, when Christians have broken with tradition (say, the debate about woman in church) they usually point out to how scripture affirms their (newer) viewpoint (Jesus, a radical Rabbi, spoke to women). Why is Soul Force, in this huge pamphlet, not pointing out the affirmation? Is this silence the real reason behind premise four? I, for one, would love it if the liberals could produce an affirmation of homosexuality.

The liberal wing has a lot against them. They have, thus far, an unanimous agreement of all Christian Doctrine so far –even post reformation. They also have much of Christianity outside Europe and North America in disagreement with them. Until they can produce a very compelling affirmation for homosexuality, the lack of a “yes” from scripture remains their Achilles’ Heal.

Throughout the article, Mel White used science to affirm homosexuality. It will be this subject I deal with in the third blog.
Thanks for reading.


*Although I find this view absurd. Google “homosexuality in history” to see why.

>As promised, I have will now be dealing Soul Force’s article on Christianity and Homosexuality. Dr. Mel White is no fool, and I respect him and think what he is doing important, as I implied previously. I hope to be as fair as possible to him in these next few blogs, but let the reader be the judge. In this blog, I will deal with his first three premises.

White’s first premise is very well put: “As you know, Biblical ignorance is an epidemic in the United States.” He goes on to say that his relates to homosexuality in particular. On this, I am in complete agreement. Biblical ignorance is an epidemic in American Christianity. This ignorance does show its head quite well in the homosexuality debate.

I offer your average Christian retail store as evidence. Like any businesses, a Christian bookstore sells what the public is buying. The books that sell the most are something like a “Christian Self-help” or devotional books for prayer life. You may also find books that target people by their strata in life: college student, parent, teacher, man/woman, businesses professional etc. However, commentaries, hermeneutics books, etc are almost always in a small section in the back –if indeed at all. Bottom line, if you look at the simple volume of what a Christian book store presents, it’s evident that most Christians are more likely to buy “Power of a praying wife/husband/child etc” than they are “Social World of Ancient Israel.”

No one is saying the former “popular literature” is wrong. No one is saying that all Christians need to become great exegetes. What I am saying is that I am doubtful whether most Christians are even aware of the complexities of interpretation. Thus they are not in a position to discern what is written in the more popular books. Much more could be said on this point alone. For purposes of this blog, it is enough for me to reiterate that I think that Mel White is correct in this assessment.

White’s second premise is “Historically, people’s misinterpretation of the Bible has left a trail of suffering, bloodshed, and death.” He then goes on to cite the various tragic examples from church history. He believes that the tragic hate-crimes against homosexuals are also an extension of this same trend.
This is a highly emotional appeal that must be dealt with carefully. Clearly, I am not in doubt that these things have happened, nor do I think that they good. Hate crimes against homosexuals are not right, on any grounds. They are not justified, no matter what scripture says or does not say about sexuality. This goes the same for racism and such. These emotive appeals give the hetero-sexual Christian community insight into how the homosexual community sees the issue.

The problem is this: it takes a lot more than an interpretation of scripture (right or wrong) for someone to commit acts of hatred or even to endorse them. Does White really believe that anytime someone disagrees with homosexuality that he also wants to go out and shoot homosexuals? No, in fact he says so. Therefore, I think this premise is mostly a rhetorical fear appeal that adds little to the real weight of his argument. Truthful though it may be, it serves only to grab the reader’s attention through sympathy.

Finally, there is White’s third premise: that we must be open to new interpretations of scripture. To this premise, I think all Christians can give a qualified yes. More importantly, we should be humble enough to be corrected. The conservative wing should be careful about their own viewpoints, bias, and prejudices and not simply recourse to “the Bible clearly says…” But this should go both ways, correct? The “liberal wing” should also be aware of their own viewpoints, bias, and prejudices. Appealing to the Holy Spirit “leading us to all truth” will not erase these things, and neither will the few fear appeals that White sprinkles in here, as he did with the previous premise.

I think White’s first few premises were more rhetorical than logical. The purpose of these things is to get the reader’s attention and subtly move the reader towards agreement with soul-force. He does this largely through appeals to fear and sympathy. While I do not think these things are wrong, I think it is very important to point them out. While we certainly should all recoil in aversion to the hate crimes other things, we should not automatically recoil in aversion to the conservative position. Sympathy and understanding are important, but they are not the sole arbiters.

Of course, I think the author knows this. His further points show this. They are specific views about scripture and about science. I will deal with both, but I will deal more strongly with the latter.

>I didn’t want to do it, but I have to do. Homosexuality is too much of a hot button issue to avoid. I need to make a few blogs about homosexuality and Christianity. With prop 8 on California’s ballot next month, I have to say not just something, but several things. The first of these, will be some ground work on the subject.

First, I am primarily concerned with homosexuality debate within the Christian church. This eventually spills out into politics, but what these blogs will be mostly about is homosexuality and a Christian conscience and from Christian symbols, traditions, and other authorities. To this end, I’ll be responding to Soul-force article I recently read.

Secondly, within this context, I believe the burden of proof is on the “liberal” or “pro-homosexual” group. Both sides of the debate believe in the authority of Holy Spirit, traditions of the church, and Scripture and the complex interplay between them all. The “liberal” side of the argument has not only the majority of history against them, but the majority of the Christians world-wide against them. This debate takes place primarily in America and Europe. It is not taking place in Africa. As far as I know, the liberal side is not willing to deny that the Holy Spirit moves in both of those sources. Note, neither of these reasons mean the “liberals” are wrong, only that they have the burden of proof.

Third, I do not hate homosexuals. Is it is understandable that many people believe that if you disagree with homosexuality that you are hateful to homosexuals. After all, there have been highly publicized hate crimes on the subject. I am sure many people reading this have perhaps experienced hatred or anger. Despite these highly emotional and tragic experiences, it is still unfair to generalize the hatred to all Christians, or to assume that the conservative position must lead to such hatred. I do not generalize that all homosexuals started off as psychologically troubled teenagers (perhaps “troubled teenager” is redundant), even though I’ve meet plenty who were. All conservative Christians should be afforded the same courtesy.

Furthermore, members of the “liberal” group should not be derided or falsely caricatured. Accepting gay marriage does not make someone un-Christian. It does not someone make stupid, sinful, or brainwashed by the sexual revolution. The liberal group is trying to live out the Gospel as best as they can in relation to one of the most difficult issues the Church faces. The debate about homosexuality is one that is needed and should be handled charitably.

Fourthly, I am going to avoid the use of the word “tolerance.” I am going to avoid this term because I am never sure of what it actually means. Some say it is “accepting people who practice a life style you do not affirm.” But is it possible for me to “accept” someone in the sense they desire without also “affirming” their lifestyle? I do not know. Rather than wrangling over this definition, I will instead use one of my own: liberty. I will use this is the classical, John Stuart Mill sense. Liberty means that “One can speak, believe, or do whatever one wishes to do so long as it does not interfere or prohibit what someone else wishes to speak, believe, or do.” Notice that this is a two-way street. The logical implication of this principle is that we all have to put up with people whose opinions we find frustrating and perhaps abhorrent. Our commitment to such values goes only as far as we extend them to those we do not agree with.

Finally, I need everyone to understand that this will not be the entire content of this blog. My blog is for personal reflection on Christian spirituality, philosophy and theology. The gay marriage issue is only one subject. God forbid it should be otherwise.

So that’s my ground work: I will discuss the homosexuality issue within Christianity, but with some secular political principles. I will write at least three articles in response the article from soul force. Of course, my next update will be a review of “Watchmen.” You know, I really don’t want my blog get bogged down…

Thanks for reading!