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moral authority - supplement

I read a blog today from a current Fuller student about the Bible, and here is one thing this person wrote:

"We must recognize that it is the Scriptures- not our conscience, not culture, not religion, etc.- that tell us about God and are the foundation upon which Christian thinking is built."

(I won't post his name or blog to keep it anonymous)

My thoughts: Why? Why is scripture the only thing that informs our faith? Is that really how it works? What about the billions of Christians who did not or never will have access to scripture? How is their faith informed?

Think about it: The Bible as we know it wasn't really compiled until around 300 CE, and even then, there were few people who had access to it. There have been a lot of advancements in making the Bible more accessible since then, but the concept of having 10 different versions of the Bible within arms-length is an extremely new concept in the scope of Christian history.

So can we really say that the Bible is the only thing that informs Christian faith? Can we even go further (as the above quote) to say that conscience, culture, and religion have no bearing on how we live our faith? Is that really how God intended it? Did God want us to turn to the Bible for every little thing, or do we truly believe that God gave the Holy Spirit to guide us?

Rob Bell nails it pretty well in Velvet Elvis with his discussion on "Binding and Loosing." If you haven't read that, read it... but to summarize, "binding and loosing" is the act of determining a concrete response to God's revelation. In other words, those who bind and loose determine how the Christian community will live out the commands of God based on God's revelation. For Bell, it is the community of believers who do this difficult task of binding an loosing with the blessing of God (in light of Matt 18).

That's kind of a terrible summary of a complicated argument, but the point he makes is that it is the Christian community, based on its interpretation of God's revelation that plays a large part in how we experience this life of faith.

The Bible is not the sole contributor in this equation. Our conscience, culture, and religion play a big part.


...trying to do something different than "Christianese..."

Let's start talking about getting rid of some of the common phrases in the Christian world. Here's a few that bug me.

1. Heavenly Father

OK, maybe it's not that bad of a phrase, but let me do what I do and pick it apart. Heavenly - not of this world, not earthly... not present, not near, separated, etc. Father - male, dad, patriarch, ruler, etc. Father is a good word, but not for everyone. So do we want to associate all those things with God? Do we really think about all those things when we say "Heavenly Father?" Or are we just saying it because other people have said it? Could using the phrase make people think God is distant and not present? Could some associate the negative feelings they have of their own fathers with God? Maybe...

Sure, I'm being a little over the top here, but come on! There are better phrases to use. How about "Loving God," or "Gracious God," or anything else that isn't androcentric and outdated.

2. Man

As in "God's ways are better than man's," and "Mankind," and "With man, this is impossible, but not with God." Can we finally get away from this androcentric, patriarchal stuff? Could it be that women would like to be included in the whole mix? I mean, haven't we tried to keep them oppressed for long enough? I know what you're saying - "When I say 'Mankind', I'm referring to men and women." OK, so why not say, "Humankind?" Maybe women don't want to be lumped in to a category that bears the name of the all-powerful (tongue ripping through my cheek), all-fallible "man."

Same thing goes for "Brothers." Paul used that word like crazy, and I'm sure he meant "brothers and sisters..." but that's the culture in which he lived. His culture revolved around the man, so saying "brothers" to refer to men and women was what he did. We don't live then. We live now. Let's try to be a little more gender inclusive. I know we can do it!

3. Just

Whenever someone says the phrase, "Let's say a word of prayer," I always think that the most common "word of prayer" is probably the word "just." Think about it. "Dear God, we just come to you today ask you to just..." and the "justs" keep coming. What's up with that? Are we trying to seem humble in our prayers? Are we trying to minimize our requests? "God, I'm just asking for this..." Or has it become a filler word, like "um" 2.0?

Maybe we could really become a little more "just" as Christians. That would be a good thing. Instead of saying "just" all the time, we could practice a little justice in this world.

4. Relationship

As in, "I don't believe in religion. I believe in a relationship with Jesus." Great concept, and I'm sure it was really profound when it was first uttered. But I think the time has come to retire that phrase. We do believe in religion. It's what we do. It's the particular way we have decided to have relationship with God. It's the structure that we choose to use to respond to God's revelation. Yeah, religion can and often is a really bad thing, but not always. It's necessary.

5. Personal Relationship

Taking it one step further - the notion of a "personal relationship" with Jesus Christ. What does that mean? Is that even biblical? God works in communities. Jesus saves the world. The Bible is a book written to and meant to be read in community. This personal stuff seems to be more of a product of American Christianity than anything else. Yes, there are personal aspects to our relationship with Jesus, but there are also corporate/communal aspects, global aspects, etc.

6. What does the Bible have to say about _____?

If you read my previous posts, you probably know where I'm going here. Why have we turned the Bible into the answer key/owner's manual for everything with which we come in conctact? "Abortion? What does the Bible have to say about that?" "Republican or Democrat? What does the Bible have to say about that?" "Speeding on the freeway? What does the Bible have to say about that?" Are we really OK with stripping the Bible of all it's beauty to turn it into some kind of how-to on life? Should we just consider it normal to treat the Bible like we do the US Constitution? Pastors have become Judges who interpret biblical law instead of shepherds who help people experience the kingdom of God here and now. There's a lot more here, but I won't get into it.

That's a good start. Have any others you'd like to share?


my own inspiration

I'm often inspired. I know... a little bit of a weird sentence to write after my last post. Let me explain.

I get inspired by a lot of things every day - great stuff I read or see online. Pithy quotes in movies. Profound lyrics colored by beautiful melodies. You know the stuff.

But I'm lazy. Really lazy. I want so badly to put this inspiration to words or music, but I end up giving a lot of my time to less meaningful things (hello facebook. I'm talking to you). Why is that? When does it change? I mean, I'm approaching 30 at a full run, and I'm scared that when I hit it, it's going to hit back twice as hard.

What am I saying? Who knows. Maybe this is a prayer. God, help me give life to something significant instead of letting inspiration stir me and then fade. Yeah, maybe it's a prayer... or maybe it's just a rant.

Let me end by saying nothing at all.



I've been thinking about the idea of inspiration as it relates to the Bible.

Simple idea. Someone slaps down the NIV and says, "The Bible is the inspired word of God."

OK, but what does that mean? You may say, "The authors were inspired by God to write." Fine. But that's not the end of the story. Much of what is written in the Bible are compilations of oral tradition. So how does inspiration fit with that? Were the people who passed on the oral tradition inspired to do so?

Maybe. But what about the compilation of the 66 books of the Protestant Bible? When the men who compiled the canon of scripture at the various councils in the 3rd to 5th century inspired to do so?

Probably. But what about textual variants? Were the scribes who decided to clarify bits and pieces of scripture throughout the centuries inspired to make those clarifications?

Probably not... So what about the people who decided to translate the various books into English? Were they inspired when they chose which of the many textual variants to use as the most accurate to what was originally written? In other words, were the scholars who saw three different copies of a certain passage, and who ultimately chose one, inspired to do so?

I guess. What I'm trying to get at here is that the idea of "inspiration" is a tricky one. When we hold our English version, it's been in so many hands and so much scrutiny has already been placed on it that it's tricky to say it is inspired.

Sure, Paul said that scripture is "God-breathed," but what scripture did he mean? Revelation? James? Luke? Acts? His own writings? How did he know what would eventually be considered the canon of scripture some 300 years later?

I won't even address the question of what the Bible is inspired to do. That's a different post altogether.

It's a tricky thought, really. And it deserves a little attention. Ultimately, I think the Bible as we know it stands the test of time. It's an incredible book, and I'm more and more amazed when I think about how God is revealed in its pages.


child like faith?

The following is an interpretive assignment I did for a class at Fuller called "Exegetical Method and Practice" with Marianne Meye Thompson. I'm posting it mainly to link it to another discussion I am having with friends on facebook. I had to transliterate the Greek, and I'm not so good at that, so forgive me. Also, interpretive assignments ask a lot of questions and don't draw very many conclusions, so you'll notice that it doesn't have a thesis or conclusion. It's more of an exploration.

Mark 10:13-16
- Interpretive Assignment (23 January 2007)

In chapter 10 of his narrative, Mark provides a pericope detailing the circumstances surrounding an event in which people brought children to be blessed by Jesus. On the surface, the passage seems to promote ministry to children and encourage a blind, “child-like” reception of “Christianity” into the believer’s heart. However, a closer reading may provide a slightly different conclusion.

This specific narrative in Mark is well documented by all of the synoptic writers. Both Matthew and Luke place the narrative in their gospels, and both stay true to Mark’s order of events in terms of context. Mark and Matthew place Jesus in Judea at the time of the narrative (Mark 10:1, Matt. 19:1), but it is not clear this information affects the interpretation of the passage. It seems the pericope stands as an independent unit and does not hinge on the previous or following passages. Since it is not found in a series of parables or a discourse of Jesus, it can stand alone. Mark seems to be using a story to promote an aspect of the kingdom of God. However, there is somewhat of a thematic context preceding and following Mark 10:13-16. In chapter 9, the disciples (specifically Peter, James, and John) witnessed the transfiguration. Following the description of this beautiful and powerful event, Mark provides several stories of failure and rebuke on the part of the disciples. Was Mark trying to show contrast of heavenly glory versus earthly mediocrity and failure? It would seem so considering the evidence of the pericopes dealing with human failure (i.e. failure to heal the demon possessed boy in 9:14ff, failure to understand the hierarchy of the kingdom of God in 9:33ff, Jesus’ rebukes of the disciples and others in 9:39, 9:42, 10:14, 10:38, 10:49, etc.).

An interesting question arises with the use of apsatai (third singular present middle subjunctive from apto) which carries several meanings depending on the usage. In BDAG apto can mean “to kindle” or “light”, “to make close contact, to touch, cling to, have sexual contact, etc.” In Mark 10:13, the term most likely refers to “touching as a means of conveying a blessing.” Were the people bringing the children to Jesus so that he might provide some kind of rabbinical blessing, or did they recognize him as the Messiah and perhaps wanted some kind of messianic blessing for their children? If the term does not carry the connotation of blessing, were they just bringing their children to Jesus for healing, or simply to have their children held by a “celebrity?” Whatever definition fits best, the question remains as to why the disciples did not want this to happen. Was it beneath their transfigured Lord to do such a thing? Was there a limited amount of time? Were the children interrupting Jesus during an important theological teaching?

The textual variant in this passage seems to be an attempt by scribes to soften the disciples’ actions. The highly supported reading of the text leaves the direct object of the disciples rebuke unclear. They could be rebuking those bringing the children or the children themselves. Some manuscripts added epetimon tois prosferousin or some form of that phrase to clarify that the disciples were rebuking the ones bringing the children. Still, why did the disciples feel the need to stop what was happening? Were children considered less than human or outcasts of society?

Jesus becomes angry with the disciples actions and rebukes them, insisting that the children be brought to him. Three times in this passage Mark uses paidion to refer to the children instead of the more common teknon. BDAG defines paidion as “a child, normally below the age of puberty” while teknon usually refers to a descendent or offspring. Mark wants his readers to know that these children are young. Were they babies? Was this a custom of the Jews to bring a baby to a teacher at a certain age to be blessed?

After the rebuke, Mark provides the theological truth intended by the narrative. Jesus states “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all” (10:14b-15 NASB). Using the strongest negation possible (ou ma) Jesus, in a sense, says it is completely impossible to enter the Kingdom of God in any other way. This use of ou ma should cause the reader to pause and consider what was just read. But what does Jesus mean by the phrase, “receive the kingdom of God like a child?” Does this mean to receive it with blind faith? Does this mean to receive it happily and care free? Does he have something else in mind? Is this concept similar to the one found in Matthew 10:16 when Jesus said “so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (NASB)? Does he mean something along the lines of what Paul wrote in Romans 16:19b: “I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil” (NASB)? Is it the innocence of the child that is to be mirrored? Is Jesus teaching the concept of “rebirth” which he describes to Nicodemus in John, 3:3?

Could there also be a nuance in the wording of the passage? Could Jesus mean, “whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like I am receiving these children will not enter it,” as opposed to the more common reading of, “whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like these children receive the Kingdom of God will not enter it?” If this is the case, the focus should be on the actions of Jesus and not the actions of the little children. Perhaps the reader should be considering the way Jesus reaches out to the poor, the widows, women in general, and children. Perhaps the reader should be reminded of the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31ff where the most important thing is the actions of believers to the poor, sick, jailed, hungry, etc. To enter the Kingdom of God, one must accept those to whom the Kingdom belongs, which in Mark 10:14b is the little children. This reading seems entirely possible, except when compared to Matthew 18:3-4 when Jesus is quoted as saying, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (NASB). With this reading in mind, one could interpret Jesus words in Mark in a similar manner, making the Mark passage promote a child-like faith. However, in Matthew 18:5, Jesus also says, "and whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,” (NASB) providing evidence for a social justice reading of Mark 10:13-16. It would seem the passage could go either way.

Finally, Jesus takes the children in his arms and blesses them. This action is common for Jesus. He often touches the socially outcast, the poor, the sick, etc. In Mark 1:41 he touches the man with leprosy. In Mark 5:41 Jesus touches the dead girl and brings her back to life. Jesus often touched those whom society considered outcast or unclean. Perhaps Jesus is showing his disciples in this passage that the ministry of the Kingdom of God is a ministry of social justice.

Further evidence can be found in the fact that Jesus demonstrates his teaching at the end of the passage. He instructs his disciples to receive the kingdom of God as children, and then he receives the children.

Cited: Danker, F. W. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000)


moral authority?

I’ve been having a few email conversations with friends about the topic of moral authority as it relates to the Bible. I have so many incomplete thoughts about this right now - but a few that have taken shape as a result of these conversations and some things I’ve been reading.

The basis of all of this is the approach that many Christians have with the Bible. I think this approach is summed in this common question from Christians: “What does the Bible have to say about _______?” The question carries the idea that the Bible is some kind of manual for life; that everything has a solution or answer in the Bible, and that solution or answer is relevant at face value to a contemporary Christian community.

Another way to state the standard approach of Christian’s today is that the Bible is a type of trump card in nearly every area - science, history, morality, ethics, etc. Science says one thing - the Bible says another. Culture says one thing - the Bible says another. In every case, the idea is that the Bible wins.

I have a problem with this. The problem seems to be that many of us Christians read the Bible - an ancient document translated from many manuscripts that are written in languages that are no longer used - at face value with no regard to our own preconceptions.

Please hear me on this: I am not saying the Bible is not relevant in any way. I’m saying that it is a living breathing document that is interpreted by the community of believers and applied to that community in the way the community feels is best, and all of this is through the guidance of God’s Spirit. One must approach the book as aware of preconceptions as possible and know that it is God who speaks, and not the Bible itself.

To make the Bible a type of owners manual for all humanity, in my opinion, severely cheapens it. The Bible is meant to be so much more. It is the beautiful story of how God has redeemed and is redeeming all of God’s creation back to God.

Back to the idea of the Bible being the moral authority - that also is something that ignores what the Bible is intended to communicate. And is seems so often, even in the Bible, that it is culture that determines morality, and the Bible expresses the cultural morality not as authoritative, but more as an expression of how the community of God understood God.

Take marriage as an example. The definition of marriage has changed throughout history - even through the Bible. The are points in the biblical narrative that polygamy is acceptable, when at other points, marriage is defined as being one man and his wife (the wording of “his wife” is very intentional). Both are presented in the biblical drama as somewhat normative. It seems to be more what the culture deemed as acceptable than some kind of moral authority the Bible is expressing. Now, marriage is between one man and one woman - as equal partners (admittedly, this is not true everywhere, but seems more and more true with relationships in the US). Again, this is a redefinition. One might say a marriage based on the standard patriarchal attitude in the Bible is now morally wrong - and I believe that’s right and good! Sure, the morality expressed in the Bible would be in contradiction to this, but cultural morality would say otherwise. And why not? Why is it so bad that the community would determine what is moral for that community at that time instead of forcing the morality of a dead culture on people today?

These are just some incomplete thoughts, and I hope to come back to them later... maybe with a few of your own comments in mind.