According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
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 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)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

How Are We to Read the Bible? As a Divine Product or Human? Part 1 of 2

Paul didn’t have a BACKSPACE button
http://toddrisser.com/2014/03/07/paul-didnt-have-a-backspace-button/

by Rev. Todd A. Risser
March 7, 2014

I went down to Hagerstown, Maryland, yesterday to have lunch with a blisteringly smart and gifted colleague who also used to happen to be one of my protégées. We were riffing back and forth on the subject of inspiration and how evangelicalism has a strong feel for the ‘divine’ part in Biblical inspiration, but we don’t have a very robust sense of what it means that the human writers were involved. As a result, many folks end up with an operationally Qur’anic view of Scripture (the words falling directly from God’s lips – the human hardly involved at all except as a typewriter). In contrast to this, my friend says “It’s not like Paul had a backspace button.”

In fact, it appears Paul didn’t have his laptop with him a lot of the time – he can’t even look up (nor remember) who all he baptized. And that faulty memory… is part… of Holy Scripture (1 Corinthians 1: 14-16).

And so here’s Paul, pacing back and forth, ripping off a letter (with his secretary writing as fast as he can to keep up), dealing  with whatever church issue he was responding to, ranting at times, and he makes a side comment to further illustrate the point he’s making. He makes it on the fly, not sitting around wordsmithing at a computer screen. We preachers  do this all the time in sermons. Add a line or two spontaneously that we think helps further illuminate what we are saying from a different angle. But after the sermon, if pushed, we might say “Wait, no – that one comment wasn’t the point of the sermon – I was just adding that – don’t try to make that one example carry too much water – it only works if you look at it this way…”

If this is the case, we have a problem when we get a Qur’anic view of Scripture lodged in our heads, (all divine – virtually no human influence) and as a result start acting like all verses are equal. So you end up with Luther grabbing a sentence or two from Paul (made on the fly?) and concluding that the Mosaic law was a bad thing. Later you have Calvin come along, take a much broader look at what the whole New Testament  –including Paul – has to say on the subject, and conclude that the Law was a good thing.

Paul didn’t have a backspace button. And it looks very much like he was ranting in some of his letters – moving fast, making his point, falling into poor grammar and mile-long sentences. In everyday human life we give people the benefit of the doubt and say “Well, he didn’t mean that the way you are taking it. He was just making his point. Don’t take that with the same level of seriousness as when he is calmly, carefully stating his point…”

Is there a way for us to accommodate the human factor in Scripture as well? Paul’s memory in 1 Corinthians 1 isn’t the only place we come across indications there is more to the human aspect of inspiration than simply being flesh-and-blood keyboards. Luke states unapologetically that he did a bunch of research  in order to get the story straight about Jesus (Luke 1: 1-4). The Psalms express a range of very human emotions, including the desire to kill an enemy nations’  infants by smashing them on rocks (Psalm 137:9). Anyone ever heard of the phrase ‘noncombatants’? Whatever we are going to do, it seems we ought to be thinking carefully  how to deal with the very human aspect of what we mean by ‘Divine Inspiration.’ What sort of metric can we use to factor this in?


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Supplemental Rejoinder

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As an aside, rather than look at the human factor in a distinctly negative fashion, I would pose that we also look at it from a multifaceted (more positive) view formed of many lips speaking God. Not from just one or two attenuating authors; or from an institution whether Jewish or church, temple or sanctuary, abbey or lobby; or from an era-specific redoubt in retracting to the thinking of its day. But from the many lips that are speaking God to one another from many different nationalities, experiences, backgrounds, thoughts, feelings, understanding, and eras. This is what fascinates me. Not so much that there is an implied "slip of tongue" from the authors of Scripture - which I heavily weight not so much as a "slip" but as a cultural departure of description, ends, and means.

That is, the burden of the Scripture is upon me to understand its meaning, not to subjectify whether it is a "slip" or not. But whether my era-specific understanding meshes with its sense of antiquity. And whether I and its author are even on the same theological page concerning desperately different implications of philosophical understanding between them and myself. That like myself, the biblical soothsayer is himself (or herself) in the same position of speaking God to his/her generation's of adamants given what we know and think (along with its consequential shortcomings) into the public ranks of workers, house moms, traders, officials, rulers, beggarmen, and thieves. That the inspiration of God must mix with the passionate inspiration of (holy?) men and women in order to be spoken, remembered, and written into the general composite and digest of what we now call today the Scriptures.

That the Scripture's work best - not from an artificial platform of pointing out its errors and fallacies - so much as to think of its narratives forming a greater composite or mosaic of God through its many testimonies, acts, and events. That one man's "slip" is another man's (mine own perhaps) inspiration to see into the frailties (or inadequacies) of those author's humble backgrounds and preformative judgments requiring redemptive narration and divine resourcing. That every man - including the humble biblical speaker - is in the transformative stages of becoming conformed by the grace and love of God. Of being confronted with God's great mercy and forgiveness in the face of death, ruin, and judgment. Of discovering hope where none exists. Of finding humanity in all places bereft of it. And not simply in the hallowed halls of our own feeble judgments or sanctimonious sanctuaries.

For me, this is the beauty of Scripture. To read of it warts-and-all with an open heart seeking God from the greater testimony of all men and women - both past and present. Rather than critically critiquing its pages we are critically digesting its harmonies, becoming informed by what it says - or doesn't say and omit - or by how it says it and understands God. It is in this postmodern sense that the Bible is both a divine work of the Holy Spirit and human product written by the hands of very earthy men and women. Who enounce God in their generations backwards to when the first convicted penitent began to speak God to family and friends. A literal reading of the Bible cannot do this. But a forming (and informing) reading of the Bible from a multifaceted polyplural, multi-interpretive, anthropologic hermeneutic can. It throws out the attitude that the Bible is full or errors or slips and infills its pages with the dusty remains of the human spirit in tattered communion to God and all that it may portend for that generation as for us ourselves. It sees both the divine and the human in necessary communion each with the other. Whose pages bear the elemental marks of torn human hearts with the divine Spirit whithing itself in tears.

Such a reading asks us first our own beliefs, prejudices, and anathemas, even as it asks us to lay them down to re-consider another's point of view different from our own. It is an anthropologic reading of the Bible. Or an existential - phenomenological reading of the Bible as Paul Ricoeur would say. An interpretive hermeneutic that would ask why the very questions we ask (or the very demands we seek to place on God and His people) must be so primal in our private interpretations of the Bible. According to the book of Proverbs, this is the beginning of wisdom. A book itself composed from a composite, and eclectic mix, of popular sayings, insights, and rejoinders, as it critiques its symbionts to critique themselves. The work of their hands and lips. While all the while asking the question, "Hath God said?" to our enfeebled hearts seeking  to embrace God through our human simplicities and folklorish observations or proverbs.

Hence, to see the Word of God as a wholly divine product would be in error no more than to read the Word of God as a product of holy (or unholy?) men and women. I would prefer to read the Word of God as a collection of God's embodied work through the testament and life works of His people as they grapple with the very real issues of their day using all their knowledge and experience and societal understanding of God to speak of their Lord and Saviour, Creator and Judge. Who would testify to God in an "I-Thou" relationship and not as a principle, power, or thing objectified by their wishes, hopes, and dreams. But as a very real divine presence seeking to transform men and women and their societies into the holy thing of His divine grace and good will.

A redemptive fellowship filled with the presence of His Holy Spirit in transformative living, graces, and forgiveness. Which stand as testaments to the wickedness of man, the cruel ingenuities of his heart, and the base imaginations that only sin and death may bring with such devotees of hell, devil, and hate. A society of men and women who bless one another and who seek to withstand the evil of their day against the stout goodness, presence, power, and strength of the Almighty. A God who delivers and protects His children in the day of fastness and coming judgment. This is the God of the Bible. Who speaks His word through men and women filled with His Spirit - shortcomings and all - to their generations needing spiritual leadership and communal bonding. A God who heals and binds up the wounds suffered by the curse of the Fall and the works of evil men. A God who will redeem. Who will judge our works. And who will bring all to His holy ends in its time.

R.E. Slater
March 11, 2014

continue to -

Part 2 of 2

http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2014/03/how-are-we-to-read-bible-as-divine.html