"Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world." - Todd Littleton
"I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see." - Anon
"Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all." - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
"Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be." - Kurt Vonnegut
"Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals." - Jim Forest
"People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone." - Anon
"... Certainly God's love has made fools out of us all." - R.E. Slater
"An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst." - R.E. Slater
"Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics." - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
"Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated." - Emil Brunner
"Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh" means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Why a Christian Evolutionist Cannot be a Naturalist (or, the False Divide between Science and Religion)

Debra Haarsma from Biologos @ GVSU Forum Discussion on Evolution, April 2014 [GVL/Marissa Dillon]

Grand Dialogue discusses science and religion

by Erin Grogan
April 13, 2014

Alvin Plantinga presented his theory that naturalism and evolution are incompatible at the Grand Dialogue at Grand Valley State University on Saturday. The Grand Dialogue is meant to open conversation about the relationship between science and religion.

Plantinga is the John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame. He said he believes that Christians can believe in evolution but cannot believe that evolution happens by accident. This is because one of the core Christian beliefs is the idea that God created human beings in his image.

“There is a science/religion — or science/quasi-religion — conflict, all right,” Plantinga said. “But it is a conflict between naturalism and science, not theistic religion and science.”

[photos by GVL/Marissa Dillon] Ryan Roberts, professor of religious studies and the Old Testament at Cornerstone University, speaks of the "Manipulation of Nature in Joshua." This presentation was part of this year's Grand Dialogue conference in the Devos Center.

By the term “quasi-religion,” Plantinga is referring to naturalism, which he defined as the “thought that there is no such thing as the God of theistic religion or anything like him.” If both naturalism and the current evolutionary theory were true, Plantinga said, then the likelihood of reliable cognitive faculties, meaning memory and perception, would be low.

As an evolutionary biologist, GVSU biology professor Michael Lombardo responded to Plantinga, supporting the idea that naturalism is the best way to explain the observations and data recorded about the world. Lombardo said naturalism is superior because it is the only form of science that purely seeks answers through natural explanations, completely disregarding any form of the supernatural for things that happen in the natural world.

“Remember in science, ideas that are not testable are of little value to increasing knowledge and understanding,” Lombardo said. “In science, we require tangible evidence, not just arguments. In fact, theistic ideas about causes of life, especially in nature, are outside the domain of science. They’re not vulnerable to either testing or verification.”

Deborah Haarsma, an astronomer, Christian, and the president at BioLogos — a company that dedicates itself to dispelling the idea that science is in conflict with religion, said she believes that God created all matter and continually upholds his laws and creation. However, she also believes that natural evolution is entirely possible and has yet to see a miracle of direct divine intervention throughout her studies of the creation of galaxies.

“For me, doing science has enhanced my faith,” Haarsma said. “When I see the beauty of the natural world, I see God’s glory. When I see the fascinating processes and physics, I see God’s creativity.”

Haarsma took issue with Lombardo’s idea that having a presupposed idea of Christian belief is incompatible with scientific discovery. She said she disagrees with this idea because in history, many influential scientists were Christians and still made top discoveries.

“The regularity of nature is because of God’s faithful governance,” Haarsma said. “And it’s worth studying the natural world because it is God’s creation. We’re learning things about God from looking at his world.”

Several breakout sessions followed Plantinga’s keynote and the responses by Lombardo and Haarsma. They discussed a wide variety of topics surrounding the central idea of the conflicts between religion and science. Such topics included “What is natural selection?” by Lombardo, “What can the Talmuds tell us about science and medicine?” by GVSU professor Sheldon Kopperl, and “Humans are religious beings: An existential-functional account” by John Cooper, a professor of philosophical theology at Calvin Theological Seminary. Breakout session presenters came from local colleges, universities, seminaries and organizations.

“Here in Grand Dialogue, we have a lot of different faiths in the room,” Haarsma said. “But I think that we have a consensus that we are respectful to each other and also seem to be interested to consider how spirituality and science fit together, and maybe share disappointment and even grief that there are a lot of students out there who do not see that science and belief can fit together.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

by R.E. Slater

Part I - Naturalism

Even as naturalists will argue for pure science without any attempt to inject their philosophical preferences, so too will Christian scientists argue for the same without allowing Christian beliefs to interfere with scientific research and discovery.

As such, the Theory of Evolution can be admitted by both sides - both by the scientific naturalist as well as by the Christian theist (e.g., God-believer). Even so, the pure naturalist will not attest to a Creator-God, nor His presence, nor sustaining power to a purposeful creation. This is a philosophical belief. In contrast, the scientific theist will disagree with these agnostic/atheistic beliefs or conjectures and strongly admit to those theistic beliefs.

Supposedly, it is this very argument that provides the opposing philosophical framework between the false divide between science and religion. The naturalist will claim that religious belief will influence findings. But the religious scientist will say, "Not so! That religion can - and must - work from scientific neutrality."

Realistically, both positions can influence scientific research and discovery even though both positions would strive for neutrality of personal philosophical beliefs. That the naturalist would strive to ignore his or her's position of agnosticism or atheism even as the Christian scientist must fight the urge to do theology in scientific work.

And yet, it is at this very point of divide between science and religion that the Christian theist finds nature to be the most meaningful, purposeful, and pregnant with destiny, when understanding creation from a God-ward aspect. Even as the pure naturalist would claim that it isn't. That creation is all random chance and disorder.

But again, the observant theist will point out that even in an open system of random chance and disorder God is present as its Maker, Sustainer, and fulfilling destiny. That even in a system such as this it is God Himself who created it by primal decree. Thus, the philosophical argument between the two sides - one doesn't see God in the details while the other does. One disbelieves that a chaotic creation is God-ordained while the other can accept the same.

However, as good and impartial scientists, both the Christian or the naturalist scientist seek to remove their philosophical differences so as to avoid affecting their work as a neutral scientists. Anthropologically this is highly doubtful and it would be better to admit one's philosophical preferences so as to be truer to one's research as a scientist. Humans are not robots. They are not automatons. They come with feelings, pains, beliefs, and subjectivity. This is the nature of being human.

As such, though the ideal meeting point of science is to allow research on its own grounds by means of the scientific method, as human beings this task will always carry the philosophical shadings and preferences of the researcher. Thus the need for dialogue and collaboration without creating the artificial divide between science and religion because all science carries with it its own belief systems - even that of the agnostic and atheist.

Part II - Theism

The other false assumption is that true science is without its integration with true religion. That they each oppose the other. This is a naturalist's prejudice which has become the grounds of argument by popular agnostics and atheists. As example, the agnostic/atheist would claim that a Christian evolutionist cannot admit to the mechanistic - or quantum - machinery of evolution without necessitating interventionist, supernatural miracle(s) into the system of creation. Mechanism is the older classical argument (think, Isaac Newton) that in recent years has been replace by the quantum argument of random chance and disorder (think, Stephen Hawking).

However, both systems are more deterministic than they are indeterministic. In classical mechanics the initial conditions of velocity and mass determines all, while in quantum mechanics the same can be true. That even within the observed disorder of the quantum world if we knew enough about the moving objects then we can project with accuracy specific results using propagation and uncertainty principles.

But for the theist, s/he sees that same world of chance and disorder and admits to the indeterminate nature of the natural world. That behind its existence rules the God of its existence over all its uncertainty and improbabilities. That we do not live in a deterministic world but one that is full of possibilities despite our sophisticated projections and ignorance.

That it is not necessary to claim the need for divine miracle (or supernatural intervention) into the indeterminate "machinery" of creation by a God who dwells outside of its existence. Who must interrupt its workings to impose His will upon it. But that the idea of "miracle" or "sovereignty" is already built into the machinery of quantum physics and evolution. That tells of a Creator who dwells more within His creation - or alongside His creation - than of a God who exists outside His creation and from time-to-time must go within it. That tells of a creation that is miraculously put together through God's originating decrees of chaos and disorder.

Further, that the very process of indeterminate evolution itself is how God chose to create by decree. That His fingerprints are everywhere about and nowhere seen except by the believing heart. That evolutionary creation was ever-and-always a supernaturally mediated process without necessitating immediate intervention or natural disruption. It is simply how God made the universe with all its disturbances, irregularities, uncertainties, randomness, and disruptions.

Part III - Evolutionary Creationism

This latter statement would then separate the Christian evolutionist from the Christian creationist who would argue for a creational process of supernatural intervention and disruption. This is generally known as biblical creationism (or, the young-earth Christian YEC position). That Adam and Eve were immediately created and not purposely planned through the God-ordained process of evolutionary creation. Though both positions are theistic, each differ as to type or kind of process that God implemented. That one is anti-evolutionary while the other is evolutionary. One is interventionist while the other is non-interventionist. One is immediate in process whereas the other is mediated by process. That one claims direct supernatural intervention by miracle (sic, "how many movies do we see of Adam rising from the dirt and dusty clays of the earth??") whereas the other is indirect and full of supernatural miracle within its system of theistic evolution.

Hence, for the Christian evolutionist (otherwise described as an evolutionary creationist) there is the dual dilemma of finding common ground with the agnostic/atheistic naturalist even as there is the additional burden of finding common ground with the theistic non-evolutionist. The first deals with the philosophical/theological belief of whether there is a God or not. While the other wrestles with the kind of creation that this God has ordained, does now rule, has-and-is ordering, superintends, and maintains, in His sovereignty.

Moreover, to this latter discussion come the difference in idea to the kind of divine sovereignty God shows to us. Whether it is one of meticulous sovereignty requiring absolute control over fair-and-foul, giving to us the old problems of theodicy (the source of evil and sin, and the kind of election God that rules with per the doctrinal system of Calvinism). Or whether divine creation is laced with free will ordination throughout its being by holy decree (per the doctrinal system of Arminianism). And it is this latter doctrine that for the evolutionary creationist determines all. Why?

Because a free will creation (or, more accurately, an indeterminate creation as representing non-sentient objects) does not see a mechanistic, determinative creation meticulously controlled by a Creator God. But one, like the creature or man himself, that exists as an indeterminate creation without disallowance to the broader doctrines of divine sovereignty.

That God is not a controlling God but a permitting God by primal decree on the eve of creation's dawn. And that the process of evolution is God's ultimate idea (or vision) of that primal decree where random chance and disorder must occur as the very mechanism of His creation. But that within that indeterminacy God does sovereignly rule over all His creation. This is the mystery of sovereignty. A mystery that we would try to describe when there are no words to describe it.

And it is this kind of creation and divine rule that gives to creation its hope and promise. Its destiny and purpose. Its very openness to the future. One that is burdened with responsibility for free willed beings to enact and submit as to the divine rule of God's gracious and holy will. That all be done on earth as it is in heaven.

R.E. Slater
April 16, 2014

Parody: Hitler Finds Out Arminian Theology is True

Hitler Finds Out Arminian Theology is True

Comment 1 - If you have had ever had to try to find your way out of the maze of Calvinistic confusion, this video sums it all up.

Comment 2 - Exactly. This is totally wonderful. Rant: Calvinism makes me say AGHHH! It totally defeats the point of good. It's like saying good includes evil. No darkness in God's heart. God is not a liar. Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. But good doesn't include evil...

* * * * * * * * * *

Downfall (2004 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Downfall (German: Der Untergang) is a 2004 German war film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, depicting the final ten days of Adolf Hitler's reign over Nazi Germany in 1945.

The film is written and produced by Bernd Eichinger, and based upon the books Inside Hitler's Bunker, by historian Joachim Fest; Until the Final Hour, the memoirs of Traudl Junge, one of Hitler's secretaries (co-written with Melissa Müller); Albert Speer's memoirs, Inside the Third Reich; Hitler's Last Days: An Eye–Witness Account, by Gerhardt Boldt; Das Notlazarett unter der Reichskanzlei: Ein Arzt erlebt Hitlers Ende in Berlin by Doctor Ernst-Günther Schenck; and, Siegfried Knappe's memoirs, Soldat: Reflections of a German Soldier, 1936–1949.

The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.


The movie begins with the real-life Traudl Junge expressing guilt and shame for admiring Hitler in her youth. In 1942 a group of German secretaries are escorted to Adolf Hitler's compound at the Wolf's Lair in East Prussia, including young Traudl.

The story resumes on April 20, 1945, Hitler's 56th birthday, as the Battle of Berlin is underway. Traudl is awakened along with her fellow secretary Gerda Christian and cookConstanze Manziarly by a loud blast. The women deduce that it is from long-range artillery, as does Hitler who emerges from his office demanding answers. Hitler learns from GeneralsWilhelm Burgdorf and Karl Koller that the Red Army is within 12 kilometers of central Berlin.

At his birthday reception, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler and his SS adjutant Hermann Fegelein plead with Hitler to leave the city. Instead, Hitler declares, "I will defeat them in Berlin, or face my downfall." Himmler leaves to negotiate surrender terms with the Western Allies behind Hitler's back.

In another part of the city, a group of Hitler Youth members continues to build defences. Peter, a boy in the group, is urged by his father to desert. Peter resists and later, members of his unit are awarded the Iron Cross by Hitler.

SS doctor Ernst-Günther Schenck is ordered to evacuate Berlin as part of Operation Clausewitz. Schenck convinces an SS general to let him stay to treat the wounded and starving. Schenck is requested by Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke to bring available medical supplies to the Reich Chancellery. After finding medical supplies at a deserted hospital, Schenck unsuccessfully tries to prevent the summary execution of two old men by members of a Greifkommando or Feldgendarmerie. Meanwhile, Hitler discusses his new scorched earth policywith his Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer. Eva Braun ignores Fegelein's pleas to leave Berlin and holds a party for the bunker inhabitants.

The next day, General Helmuth Weidling is mistakenly thought to have ordered a retreat to the West and is ordered to the bunker to be executed. Weidling explains himself to Burgdorf and Hans Krebs, only to find himself appointed commander of the Berlin Defence Area by Hitler.

Later, Hitler is informed by Wilhelm Keitel and Alfred Jodl that the 9th Army, under the command of Theodor Busse, is in danger of annihilation. Hitler announces that Waffen-SSGeneral Felix Steiner's unit will assist the 9th with help from Walther Wenck's 12th Army, and attack the Soviets from the north.

Another day passes and Krebs informs Hitler that Berlin's defenses have further disintegrated. Hitler still believes Steiner's attack will control the Russian charge. Krebs and Jodl inform Hitler that the attack never took place as Steiner could not mobilize a large enough force. Hitler dismisses everyone from the room except for Burgdorf, Krebs, Jodl, and Keitel, then flies into a rage. Hitler finally acknowledges that the war is lost, but insists that he will remain in Berlin and commit suicide.[3]

General Mohnke is outraged when he sees conscripted civilians under the command of Joseph Goebbels needlessly gunned down. Mohnke has them removed from the line of fire and returns to the Reich Chancellery to confront Goebbels. Goebbels tells Mohnke that he has no pity for the civilians, as they chose their fate. Hitler, Braun, Traudl, and Gerda Christian discuss various means of suicide whilst Krebs, Burgdorf, and other military staff get drunk. Hitler gives Christian and Traudl one cyanide capsule each. Eva Braun andMagda Goebbels type goodbye letters.

Hitler loses his sense of reality. Field Marshal Keitel is ordered to find Admiral Karl Dönitz, whom Hitler believes is gathering troops in the north, and help him plan an offensive to recover the Romanian oil fields. Oberscharführer Rochus Misch, Hitler's radio operator, receives a telegram from Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring, asking permission to assume command and become head-of-state. Hitler orders Göring's arrest. Speer urges Hitler to halt the scorched-earth orders, but Hitler refuses. Speer confesses that he never implemented the plan. Hitler is shaken but allows Speer to leave.

Hitler summons General Robert Ritter von Greim and his mistress, ace pilot Hanna Reitsch to the bunker and appoints von Greim Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe. At dinner, Hitler receives a report that Himmler has attempted to negotiate a separate peace settlement with the Western Allies. Betrayed, Hitler explodes in a tearful rage. He orders von Greim and Reitsch to leave Berlin, rendezvous with Dönitz and ensure that Himmler is dealt with. Hitler delusively assures von Greim that his ordered counter strikes can be carried out with a thousand jet aircraft, which do not exist. Reichsphysician SS Ernst-Robert Grawitz, the head of the German Red Cross and responsible for Nazi human medical experiments, requests that he be allowed to leave Berlin for fear of reprisal. Hitler denies his request, assuring him that he has done nothing shameful. Grawitz returns to his apartment and kills his family and himself with grenades.

Hitler wishes to speak to Fegelein about Himmler's treachery but Fegelein has deserted. Hitler demands that Fegelein be found. An RSD squad arrests Fegelein. Despite a tearful plea to Hitler by Eva Braun to spare her brother-in-law, Fegelein is executed by Peter Högl. Weidling reports to Hitler there are no reserves left and air support has ceased. Mohnke reports that the Red Army is only 300 to 400 metres from the Reich Chancellery and that defending forces can hold out for only a day or two at most. Hitler reassures the officers that General Walther Wenck's 12th Army will save them. After Hitler leaves the conference room, Weidling asks the other generals if it is truly possible for Wenck to attack; they agree it is impossible.

After midnight, Hitler dictates his last will and testament to Traudl, before marrying Eva Braun. Hitler has ordered Goebbels to leave Berlin, but Goebbels intends to die with Hitler. When Hitler's adjutant Otto Günsche brings a reply from Keitel that Wenck's army cannot continue its assault, Hitler forbids all officers to surrender on pain of summary execution. Hitler then gives Günsche the order to cremate his body and that of Eva Braun. Hitler summons Dr. Schenck, Dr. Werner Haase, and nurse Erna Flegel to the bunker to thank them for their services. Dr. Haase explains to Hitler the best method for suicide as well as administering poison to Hitler's dog, Blondi. Braun gives Traudl one of her best coats and makes her promise to flee the bunker. Hitler eats his final meal in silence with Manziarly and his secretaries. He bids farewell to the bunker staff, gives Magda his own Golden Party Badge #1, and retires to his room with Braun. Frantic at the thought of a world without Hitler, Magda pleads with Hitler to change his mind. Hitler states, "Tomorrow, millions of people will curse me, but fate has taken its course."

Adolf and Eva Hitler retreat to their rooms and commit suicide. Their bodies are carried through the bunker's emergency exit to the Reich Chancellery garden. The corpses are doused in petrol and set alight; given one final Nazi salute. Thereafter, General Krebs leads a delegation through the Russian lines and tries to negotiate peace terms with Soviet Lieutenant-General Vasily Chuikov. Chuikov says that the Soviets will only accept unconditional surrender, but Krebs does not have the authority, so he returns to the bunker.

Magda Goebbels poisons her six children while her husband waits. Then Goebbels and Magda proceed up to the Chancellery garden, where Goebbels shoots his wife and himself. The people remaining in the bunker agree that they must try to break out. Krebs and Burgdorf commit suicide as the rest evacuate. Weidling goes out and broadcasts to all Berliners that the Führer is dead; he calls for a ceasefire with General Chuikov.

Meanwhile, Schenck and Walther Hewel stay with Mohnke and his remaining SS troops, who debate about what to do once the Soviet troops arrive. Schenck tries to talk sense into Hewel who promised Hitler he would kill himself. When news reaches the officers that Berlin has been surrendered, Hewel and several SS officers shoot themselves. Outside, child soldier Peter finds that his post has been obliterated and his colleagues are dead. On a side street, the menacing Greifkommando or Feldgendarmerie men stalk across his path. Peter enters a nearby apartment and finds the squad has executed his parents.

While the Red Army ranks are only blocks away, Traudl decides to leave. Peter emerges in civilian clothes, takes her hand and pulls her through the masses. Moving ahead, Traudl blunders into a celebrating drunken Red Army soldier. Peter tugs her arm and she hastens away. At a ruined bridge, Peter finds a bicycle and they pedal away from Berlin. The epilogue then tells the fates of the other characters and one final segment where the real life Traudl appears before the credits.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Peter Enns - "How Jesus Read His Bible," by Michael Hardin (Parts 1-4)

How Jesus Read His Bible
(Michael Hardin part 1)


by Peter Enns


We have learned from modern theologians that what one says about Scripture and how one uses it can be two different things and that how one uses Scripture is the real indication of what one believes about it.

I notice, for example, that many preachers use Scripture as a diving board, they quote it and then jump off into a pool of ideas, leaving the biblical text behind. What they say might be good or true or even relevant but it has little or no connection to the passage under discussion.

Other preachers I have heard treat Scripture like they are in a 7th grade science class dissecting a frog. They notice with some repugnance the things they don’t like and can be quite critical of the process of having to figure out what lies before them.

Some have a "high" view of Scripture by which they mean Scripture is the Word of God, inspired and without error, yet the way in which they use it betrays that they really don’t take it very seriously. These folks ignore context and, "a text without a context is a pretext" or as my Australian friend Jarrod McKenna says “a text without a context is a con.”

These folks have what I call the Old McDonald approach to the Bible, here a verse, there a verse, everywhere a verse verse. Contemporary fundamentalist preaching is like this; a string of verses on a chain like pearls that all make whatever point the preacher is seeking to get across.

That makes the Bible flat and you can do all kinds of strange things with a flat Bible. It’s like silly putty. A flat reading of the Bible is like a 2D grainy black and white silent film compared to reading the Bible on a Hi-Def BIG HDTV screen with Blu-Ray color and Bose Surround Sound in 4D. Now what would you rather have? A thin schemer of old butter on cold toast or a rich robust Feast?

There is a way to read the Bible that is life-giving, thoughtful and joyous. How Scripture is deployed says a lot more than what is believed about it. Believing something to be true about the Bible does not make it true no matter how many have shouted it.

What counts, ultimately, is the way the Bible is rendered in your life, that is, how your life is the living interpretation of the Bible.

Protestants frequently argue that because Jesus quoted the Jewish Bible, this means that he accepted its authority as a whole. When they do this they import a modern view of the authority of Scripture or canon back into the past.

The fact is that there were many and varied views of the authority of the biblical writings and not all groups in Jesus’ time had the same view of biblical authority. It is also true that the way the New Testament writers and Jesus quote and interpret Scripture follows certain patterns in their culture.

Groups in Jesus’ day had rules or guidelines for interpreting the biblical text. The key question for us and one that is rarely raised is this: Did Jesus have a way of using his Bible that was different from those around him? I suggest that he did.

The key text for us to explore in this section will come from Jesus’ inaugural sermon at his hometown synagogue in Nazareth found in the Gospel of Luke (4:16-30).

To be fair, many critical scholars see the hand of the Gospel editor all over this text, noting that many phrases are typical of Luke. Nevertheless, I suspect that there is an authentic story underlying this text inasmuch as Jesus’ first sermon almost gets him killed.

There is also a tremendous congruity with how Jesus interprets the Scripture in this text and his way of understanding both theology and ethics that we find in his teaching, e.g., in the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6).

In Luke 4 Jesus returns to his hometown in Nazareth after having been baptized and then tested in the wilderness. He enters the synagogue and is asked to be the Scripture reader.

In Jesus’ day this could have taken two forms, the first is the actual reader (a vocalizer) of the Hebrew text that would not have been understood by Galileans. It would be like someone reading from the Greek New Testament in church today.

The second role would be that of a translator/interpreter known as a targumist. This person would not read from a scroll but recite from memory a ‘standard’ translation (a Targum) in Aramaic that was the common Semitic tongue in Palestine. Luke appears unclear as to which role Jesus took, perhaps conflating both roles into one. Nevertheless in Luke, Jesus arises takes the scroll and reads from Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to
release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

After this he rolls the scroll up, hands it over to the attendant, who puts it away and then Jesus sits down.

The sermon was short and sweet. He further says,

Today this text has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Now what follows is strange for at first it appears that the listeners are quite glad for what Jesus said. But he retorts rather sarcastically and then proceeds to cite two examples (Elijah and Elisha) to justify his sarcasm. It is at this point that the crowd wants to take him out and kill him by throwing him off a cliff.

This really doesn’t make much sense. Some interpreters might argue that what got Jesus in trouble was some sort of ‘divine’ claim, that God had anointed him to be special. But is such the case?

In my next post, in order to see what is happening here in Luke 4, we shall note three critical but interrelated aspects of this episode. First, we will note the way Jesus cites the book of Isaiah compared to what is actually in Isaiah. Second, we will look at the translation problem of verse 22. Third we will look at why Jesus uses these specific examples from Elijah and Elisha to make his point.

- Michael Hardin

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Are you irked at the thought of God not being wrathful?
(Michael Hardin part 2)


by Peter Enns
April 9, 2014

Today we have part 2 of a 4-part series by Michael Hardin, “How Jesus Read His Bible.” Hardin (see full bio at part 1) is the co-founder and Executive Director of Preaching Peace a non-profit based in Lancaster, PA whose motto is “Educating the Church in Jesus’ Vision of Peace.” Hardin has published over a dozen articles on the mimetic theory of René Girard in addition to essays on theology, spirituality, and practical theology. He is also the author of several books, including the acclaimed The Jesus Driven Life from which these posts are adapted.

In today’s post, Hardin continues his discussion of Luke 4 and and how Jesus’s use of Isaiah 61:1-2 reframes our understanding of “wrath” and the retributive violence of God.

- Peter Enns


When teaching Luke 4, I point out that Isaiah 61:1-2 was one of the more popular passages in Judaism. It is cited in the Dead Sea Scrolls and other writings as well as in rabbinic literature. Have you ever seen a football game where after a touchdown somebody holds up a sign in the end zone seats that reads “John 3:16?” If they had played football in Jesus’ day that sign would have read “Isaiah 61:1-2.”

What made it so important was that it was a lectionary passage for the Year of Jubilee. This was a text that expressed the hope of Israel for liberation from the bondage not only of spiritual disease but also political and economic oppression. The vision of Isaiah was one of shalom, wholeness in all of life.

The first thing to notice is that Jesus does not cite the entire text but eliminates one very important line, “and the day of the vengeance of our God.” The question is: why did he do this?

Some suggest that now is the time of grace and so Jesus holds off on quoting the text about God’s vengeance since that will come later at the end of time. But nowhere else does Jesus seem to quote the biblical text in this fashion, and he never seems to break the work of God into dispensations or periods of time. [Therefore,] something else is going on here.

Second is the problem of translation that arises in Luke 4:22. Most translations indicate that the crowd was pleased with Jesus. These same synagogue hearers then comment, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

Jesus reading Luke 4
The intonation we are supposed to supply would be something like “Oh, what a fine sermon and what a fine preacher Jesus has turned out to be, his father would be so proud!” But is this the case?

The Greek text is quite simple and the King James has adequately translated this “and all bore witness to him.” This bearing witness in the KJV is neither positive nor negative. Why then do translators say, “all spoke well of him?”

Translators have to make what is known as a syntactical decision, they have to decide whether or not the “bearing witness” is negative or positive. Technically speaking they have to decide if the dative pronoun “to him” is a dative of disadvantage or a dative of advantage; was the crowd bearing witness to his advantage or to his disadvantage?

If it is the former case then the intonation we gave to “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” above would make sense and Jesus immediately following gets sarcastic for no reason, but if it is the latter then we could just as well translate this text as “and all spoke ill of his sermon,” that is, they didn’t like what he said.

Then the intonation of the phrase “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” should be rendered something like “who does Jesus think he is coming into our synagogue and saying such things?” With this alternate, preferable translation, of verse 23, Jesus is not being sarcastic but is responding to the negativity of the listeners.

A third point to be made concerns the two examples Jesus cites from two of Israel’s greatest prophets, Elijah and Elisha. In both cases Jesus notes that God worked not within the bounds of Israel but outside the chosen people when he sent these prophets to feed and heal.

What is the connection between what these prophets did and what Jesus said when he quoted the Isaiah text, and why did the crowd get angry enough with him to want to kill him?

We noted that when Jesus quoted the Isaiah text he did not quote the phrase “and the day of the vengeance of our God.” If, in popular opinion, part of the promise of jubilee was that God would deliver Israel from her oppressors, and if that expectation was that God would punish her oppressors, then the phrase “and the day of the vengeance of our God” would be an aspect of the longed for and hoped for deliverance by which Israel’s enemies would be cast down.

Political deliverance was perceived as an aspect of God working wrath on Israel’s enemies. By eliminating this line, Jesus also eliminated the possibility that jubilee included God’s wrath upon whoever was oppressing Israel. His words were indeed “gracious words” (“words of grace”).

The citation of the two examples of Elijah and Elisha then justify Jesus’ exclusion of this vengeance saying, for both prophets had worked their healing miracles among foreign outsiders, those whom God was supposed (in popular piety) to hate.

In short, Jesus is saying to his synagogue hearers:

Jubilee is here, not only for you but also for those you hate; in fact God also goes to your oppressors with this message of jubilee, deliverance and salvation. God will become their God and thus you shall all be family.

Now we can begin to understand why they got so mad at him.

But there is a further implication to be drawn from this. By eliminating the phrase regarding God’s vengeance, Jesus is removing the notion of retributive violence from the doctrine of God.

Noah's Flood
He is in effect saying that God is not like you think, loving you and angry with those you hate. There is a great bumper sticker making the rounds these days that captures this problem. It says “Isn’t it convenient that God hates the same people you do?”

Like the Galileans, we too have a tendency to want to believe that God is on our side and will judge “the other” who is over against us, or different from us. Such was not the case with Jesus. He observed that God makes no distinctions between righteous and wicked, between oppressors and oppressed, they both need deliverance and God’s blessing. Did he not say, “God makes rain to fall on good and evil and sun to shine on just and unjust?” (Matt 5:45)

This is perhaps the most important point I am seeking to make in my book The Jesus Driven Life, namely that, like Jesus, it is essential for us to begin to reframe the way we understand the “wrath” or retributive violence of God.

To suggest that God is nonviolent or better yet, that God is not involved in the cycle of retributive vengeance and punishment will undoubtedly strike many as wrong. Some having read this far are no doubt ready to run me out of town. If you are feeling this way, then what is the difference between how you feel and how Jesus’ hearers felt that day when he preached in his hometown synagogue?

Nothing irks some folks more than losing a God who is wrathful, angry, retributive and punishing. This is only because we want so much to believe that God takes sides, and that side is inevitably our side.

- Michael Hardin

* * * * * * * * * *

What does a God without retribution look like?
- Ask Jesus!
(Michael Hardin part 3)


by Peter Enns
April 10, 2014

Today we have part 3 of a 4-part series by Michael Hardin, “How Jesus Read His Bible.” Hardin (see full bio at part 1) is the co-founder and Executive Director of Preaching Peace a non-profit based in Lancaster, PA whose motto is “Educating the Church in Jesus’ Vision of Peace.” Hardin has published over a dozen articles on the mimetic theory of René Girard in addition to essays on theology, spirituality, and practical theology. He is also the author of several books, including the acclaimed The Jesus Driven Life from which these posts are adapted.

In today’s post, Hardin continues his discussion of Jesus’s use of the Old Testament. Hardin argues that the manner in which Jesus quotes his scripture shows us the God Jesus proclaims is not retributive. And, as you’ll see, John the Baptist was confused about this (as you might be).

- Peter Enns


We ended the last post by saying,

Nothing irks some folks more than losing a God who is wrathful, angry, retributive
and punishing. This is only because we want so much to believe that God takes
sides, and that side is inevitably our side.

So much of Jesus’s teaching subverts this sacrificial way of thinking.

One example is the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector found in Luke 18:9-14, where what counts as righteousness is completely and totally turned on its head!

If, in fact, as I argued in my last post, that Jesus begins his ministry by asking what God without retribution looks like (Luke 4), and if he acts this way in his ministry, and if he interprets his Bible to say such things, the question arises:
  • Shouldn’t we also follow Jesus in interpreting our Bibles in the same way?
  • Is biblical interpretation also a part of discipleship?
  • Does following Jesus include more than just living a virtuous life?
  • Might it also have to do with helping folks change the way they envision God?
Such was the case for Jesus who called people constantly to “change your thinking.” This is what repentance is, changing the way you think about things (Greek metanoia). When we change the way we see and understand the character of God, everything else changes and we turn back (Hebrew shuv) to the living and true God.

John the Baptist
We can see Jesus doing the same thing in Luke 7:18-23 when he responds to the followers of John the Baptist. Herod had imprisoned the Baptist for his preaching against the Herodian family system. John did not want to die without knowing whether Jesus was the one to come.

Now what could possibly have created this doubt in John’s mind? The answer comes in Jesus’ response to John’s followers. “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard,” Jesus says and then follows a list of miracles. Is Jesus saying, “Tell John you have seen a miracle worker and that God is doing great things through me?”

Doesn’t John already know these things about Jesus? Surely he does. Healers were rare but they were not uncommon in Jesus’ day. What then is Jesus really saying?

Luke 7:22ff is a selection of texts, mostly from Isaiah but also including the miracles of Elijah and Elisha (blind, Isaiah 61:1-2, 29:18, 35:5; lame, 35:6; deaf, 29:18, 35:5; poor 29:19; dead/lepers, I Kings 17:17-24 and 2 Kings 5:1-27).

The Isaiah texts all include a consequent or subsequent reference to the vengeance of God none of which Jesus quotes. As in Luke 4 what is at stake is the retributive violence of God that was an important aspect of John’s proclamation (Luke 3:7-9).

John, like the prophets before him, believed that God was going to bring an apocalyptic wrath. Nowhere in Jesus’ preaching do we find such and this is what confused John, just as it confused Jesus’ synagogue hearers.

Jesus implicitly tells John, through his message to John’s followers, that the wrath of God is not part of his message, rather healing and good news is. That is, Jesus is inviting John to read Isaiah the way he did!

The last thing Jesus tells John the Baptists’ disciples is “Blessed is the person who is not scandalized on account of me?” What could have caused this scandal? What had Jesus said and done that would cause people to stumble on his message? The clues are here in both Luke 4 and 7.

Jesus did not include as part of his message the idea that God would pour out wrath on Israel’s enemies in order to deliver Israel. Violence is not part of the divine economy for Jesus.

Sad to say, most Christians still think more like John the Baptist than Jesus.

Christians have lived a long time with a God who is retributive.
  • We say that God is perfect and thus has the right to punish those whom he deems fit.
  • We say that God will bring his righteous wrath upon all those who reject God.
  • We say that God can do what God wants because God is God.
All of this logic is foreign to the gospel teaching of Jesus about the character of his heavenly abba.

Jesus does not begin with an abstract notion of God or Platonic metaphysics, but with the Creator God whom he knows as loving, nurturing and caring for all persons regardless of their moral condition, their politics, their ethnic background or their social or economic status. God cares for everyone equally and alike.

By removing retribution from the work and character of God, Jesus, for the first time in human history, opened up a new way, a path, which he also invites us to travel.

Sadly few have found that this path and church history is replete with hundreds, even thousands of examples of a Janus-faced god, a god who is merciful and wrathful, loving and punishing. Some have said that we need to hold to both of these sides together.

Jesus didn’t and neither should we. It is time for us to follow Jesus in reconsidering what divinity without retribution looks like.

- Michael Hardin

* * * * * * * * * *

“Scripture is like a cracked jar” -
the glory of an imperfect Bible
(Michael Hardin part 4)


by Peter Enns
April 11, 2014

Today we come to the final post of a 4-part series by Michael Hardin, “How Jesus Read His Bible.” Hardin (see full bio at part 1) is the co-founder and Executive Director of Preaching Peace a non-profit based in Lancaster, PA whose motto is “Educating the Church in Jesus’ Vision of Peace.” Hardin has published over a dozen articles on the mimetic theory of René Girard in addition to essays on theology, spirituality, and practical theology. He is also the author of several books, including the acclaimed The Jesus Driven Life from which these posts are adapted.

In today’s post, Hardin talks about how he sees God speaking through Scripture: through the cross.

- Peter Enns


If God speaks through Scripture, and I believe God does indeed speak, how shall we understand God speaking? I begin with several criteria.

1 - The first is that in Jesus the “fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily” (Col 2:9). Jesus is the figure who reveals the character of the Father (so Heb 1:1-3, John 1:1- 18, etc).

2 - The second is this: God speaks through broken vessels. The greatest speech/act of God can be found in the cross. God did God’s best work on the cross reconciling a stubborn, blind and rebellious humanity by forgiving them their sins.

The cross is the ultimate place of God’s brokenness. It is in this brokenness that we see most clearly the affection of God for humanity, an affection or love that takes even misjudgment, torture, humiliation and shame and still announces forgiveness.

Paul in 2 Corinthians 4 says we have “this treasure in clay jars.” This treasure is the gospel (vs. 3). If a jar could contain light, say, the light of the gospel, and it was perfect, then that light would not be seen, for it would have nowhere to shine through. If it is cracked, then there are places for that light to leak out and shine forth.

For me, Scripture is liked a cracked jar, it is because it is cracked that light is able to shine forth. If in our brokenness God shines God’s light in and through us, can we not also assert the same of the prophets and the apostles? Can we not say that we are most like God, not when we are whole, but when we are broken? Does not the Fourth Gospel (John) suggest as much in its view of the relationship between ‘glory’ (doxa) and the cross?

In other words, we do not need to have a theory of Scripture where the Bible must be perfect in order for God to reveal God’s self.

Some may object and say but if that is the case how do we distinguish between what is “man’s [sic] word” and what is “God’s Word?” This has already been answered by suggesting that revelation comes through the voice of the forgiving victim.

It is the Crucified that speaks the eternal word: shalom. The forgiveness announced by Jesus on the cross is no different than the ‘shalom’ announced by the Risen Jesus. They are flip sides of a coin. God is at peace with humanity.

For this reason, I see the cross as the evacuation of all concepts of divine wrath, existential and eschatological. There was no wrath of God poured out on Jesus on the cross; the wrath is strictly ours. Nor is there an eschatological wrath, as though God was only partly ameliorated at the cross but will make sure to vent holy anger come The End.

The cross is the death of all our god concepts, and we humans are the ones who, through the justification of scapegoating, believe that God is one with us when we victimize. After all, ‘God’ victimized plenty of people and people groups in the Old Testament.

This sacrificial way of thinking is terminated by the anti-sacrifice Jesus. Jesus’ blood covers our sin, not through some divine forensic transaction but as we lift our blood stained hands we hear the divine voice, “You are forgiven, each and every one of you, all of you.”

The New Testament writers say this was all done “for us” (hyper humon), for our sakes, for our benefit. This is what the Nicene Creed affirms when it says Jesus “who for us humans and our salvation came down from heaven.” Just as Hebrews 10:5-8 says, this coming was not to be a sacrifice but was the opposite, it was anti-sacrificial.

Jesus did not come to fulfill the logic of the sacrificial system (either Jewish or pagan) but to expose it and put an end to its reign in our lives.

The cross of Christ is the place of revelation, the resurrection of Jesus is the vindication of that revelation, and the ascension, where Jesus is given the Unpronounceable Name (Phil 2:5-11) is the place where that revelation is confirmed for all time.

This is the good news, this is the gospel, and this is why we trust God to use our brokenness to shine his light from our lives into the lives of others, just as God uses the broken prophetic and apostolic witness to continue to shine light to us and for us today.

How can we break through to this new reading of the Bible? What is it that hinders us from really seeing and hearing and experiencing the good news? What keeps us in bondage to our old sacrificial ways of thinking?

It is time to name the interpretive prison system in which Christianity finds herself. We must discern how the ‘satanic’ sacrificial interpretation manifests itself in our theology. Just as a prison has guards or warders so also sacrificial Christianity has warders that keep it bound to the false logic of sacrifice.

It is the revelation of the resurrected victim that creates the possibility, hitherto an impossibility, for reading texts outside the box of our anthropological mythmaking and justification of reciprocal vengeance.

Christopher Marshall also points to this way of understanding our changed relationship to God:

God’s perceived involvement in the infliction of violence is over. God no longer fights fire with fire. God has changed – or, perhaps more accurately, the human experience of God’s association with violence has changed. God no longer permits his identity to be defined by violence; God actively repudiates the violent behavior which has hitherto clouded his character so that the duplicity of violence itself may be exposed and defeated. (“The Violence of God and the Hermeneutics of Paul” in The Work of Jesus Christ in Anabaptist Perspective [Telford: Cascadia Publishing, 2008], 89.)

I suggest a correlation of hermeneutics with resurrection and discipleship as the three legs of a new paradigm of biblical authority. This anthropological reading of the text is a formative new paradigm for framing the specifics of how the Bible is to be read, understood and lived within the Christian communion.

It is a liberating paradigm for it moves beyond the contentious debates regarding the relation of truth to language and brings to the fore the key problem that has bogged down the church since Marcion on the relation of violence to divinity.

The lens of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus reveals our total sin and God’s total grace. It is a paradigm that calls for more than just intellectual assent; indeed it requires the risk of obedience to Jesus so that, just as he is the Light of the World, so we too, in listening to him and following him, may be light to our world.

- Michael Hardin