Game-Changers

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When I was younger, I had a lot of answers. Now I’m older, and I have a lot of questions. The few things I feel like I know, I know with more confidence than before. Here are things I know from experiences I have had that have radically changed my view of God over the years — my real game-changers.

Most people who get diagnosed with terminal cancer are almost certainly going to die.

No matter how much you pray.

If you’re not aware of this on some level, I’m so, so sorry to bear the bad news. But it’s critical that you know this.

There will be exceptions, of course, and I’ll pray as hard as anyone, but if your theology depends on God healing some particular person, this is probably going to get harder.

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When Scholarship Serves Superstition


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I just came across this statement on a blog I was reading. It refers to a book written by Dr. Peter Enns, former professor at Westminster Seminary, who was fired for writing said book.

Here’s the statement:

Upon my second reading and more reflection, however, I questioned whether Enn’s answer helped doubters to keep the faith.

Is this what scholarship is about? Helping doubters keep the faith?

Some people think the Christian (or any) faith is about deciding first what’s true, and then making sure one never says anything that conflicts with the truth one has already decided is true. Enns, and most real scholars, believe one decides what is true based on where the data leads.

Enns got fired several years ago for not holding to the truth the seminary had already declared. The problem, of course, is that this conflicts with the very essence of scholarship itself. It makes no sense to declare one’s self a Biblical scholar if one has already decided, before even approaching the text, that the Bible says this or means that. That’s not scholarship, that’s superstition, which scholarship is meant to combat.

If I say, “I believe the human hand is made of gummy bears,” and then every time somebody tries to show me evidence to the contrary, I dismiss them, saying, “You’re misleading me because your evidence is telling me the opposite of what I know to be true,” then I have — with that statement — surrendered my right to be a called a rational person. And if I surrender my right to be called a rational person, then how much more have I surrendered my right to be called a scholar?

Scholarship — when it is real — has not decided in advance what the outcome of a study must be before the study has been done. Neither does it dismiss the results of a study simply because the results conflict with the beliefs of those who did the study (or their bosses, or the stated beliefs of the organization they work for). Indeed one of the things that makes the work of academics so critical is this commitment to following truth wherever it leads.

It is deeply disconcerting for me to see such a lack of understanding of what sound thinking is in an academic environment that awards Ph.D’s to people, calls itself a university/seminary, and claims to value knowledge.

What is Righteousness?

heart with plant growing out of it -- what is righteousness

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Yesterday one of Wildwind‘s small group leaders texted me asking if I wouldn’t mind explaining the Biblical understanding of righteousness. He said the word had, for him and his group members, a bit of a negative connotation. I’m not sure why this is, other than possibly its legalistic undertone and associations (conscious or not) with self-righteousness. He said the best they were understanding it, it was God’s standard of what is right and wrong. I emailed him an answer that, of course, was more like a personalized sermon so, rather than let it go to waste, I thought I’d post it here for anyone who is interested. If you view God as someone who is ready to punish you, or who demands behavioral perfection from you, I encourage you to read this.

Okay, big theological question here. You’ve pretty much got it, but let me nuance it a little bit. Check out this verse in these two translations:

Matthew 5:20 (NIV)
20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:20 (MSG)
20 Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom.

I would encourage you to read the verse in context. Jesus is talking, really, about the impossibility of meeting God’s standard of righteousness. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were impeccable in matters of right living. NO ONE could surpass them, and everyone knew it. So what’s the catch? What is righteousness, then?  

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Words Give You Away

Words give you away. A week or so ago I posted something on Facebook to encourage people who fear that God has been removed from our schools. That post got more likes and shares and “thank you’s” than anything else I’ve ever put on Facebook. When one of my friends shared it to his Facebook wall, he got a reaction I could never have anticipated.

A guy started quibbling with the theology, “Is David saying that all of these people worried about God not being in schools do not believe in God’s omnipresence?” Stupidly, I took the bait, and quite the lively and completely pointless back-and-forth ensued, though we both remained very courteous. His point was that I’m missing what people truly intend when they complain that God has been taken out of schools. What people actually mean, he said, is not that God has been removed, but that God is no longer openly acknowledged. My friendly opponent argued that I was quibbling over a “Freudian slip,” that people don’t actually mean it like it sounds. But it’s not a Freudian slip. Freudian slips are accidental. They do not keep “slipping” out of people’s mouths the same way over and over and over again.

My response was, and is, that people nearly always say pretty much what they believe. In fact, your words actually belie what you really believe. Words give you away. If you say, “God is no longer in our schools,” you don’t mean only that “while God is certainly present in a theological sense, he is no longer openly acknowledged.” You in fact mean that the lack of acknowledgement of God’s presence in schools makes you feel that God is no longer there at all.

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Re-post from Peter Enns: Are Christian Fundamentalists Actually Polytheists?

bible

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Peter Enns is one of my favorite theologians. He writes in ways that are accessible to non-theologians. As an introduction to him and his work, I have posted his entire most recent blog post below, word for word, putting in red the things that resonated with me most deeply. I encourage you to join the discussion here on my site, but also to definitely check out Dr. Enns’ site for yourself. In today’s post, Enns writes:

I came across this quote recently from James A. Sanders, Old Testament scholar, translater and editor of the Psalm Scroll (Dead Sea Scrolls), and former professor (retired) from Claremont School of Theology

Another form of idolatry or polytheism that has emerged in Western Christianity in reaction, in part, to Enlightenment study of the Bible, and that needs also to be eschewed, is that of bibliolatry – viewing the Bible as somehow divine. God is divine, not the Bible! Hard-core fundamentalism and literalism, born in extreme reaction to contextual study of the Bible, have so idolized the Bible as to abuse it. Canonical criticism proposes to understand the Bible as canon not as a box of ancient jewels forever precious and valuable, but as a paradigm of the struggles of our ancestors in the faith over against the several forms of polytheism from the Bronze Age to the Roman Empire. (From Sacred Story to Sacred Text, p. 5)

Maybe not the most subtle way of putting it, but Sanders makes a good point.

I resonate with a couple of things here. First, I regularly come across a phobia in Fundamentalism concerning the historical context of Scripture. The reason is that such study presents regular challenges to Fundamentalist ideology. But, a serious study of Scripture in its historical context, however unsettling at first, will sooner or later lead to a deeper, more real place.

Second, when seen in historical context, the Bible is not a collection of proof texts, like loose earrings in a jewelry box, but a canonical narrative. The Bible, despite its historical variety, is a grand narrative compiled and composed in the wake of Israel’s grand national struggle in Babylonian exile, which recounts Israel’s religious struggles throughout its history, both as they contend with the polythiesm of the other nationsand with their own struggles with their own God.

From this perspective, the Bible is not a series of verses that tell you what to do or think, but a grand story that shows you what the life of faith looks like.

To paraphrase Sanders, he is saying something like this:

Put the Bible in its place and then you will see its deep religious value. If you treat the Bible as a rulebook dropped out of heaven, you will miss the purpose for which the Bible was written in the first place. 

Just something to think about in this Labor Day afternoon.