The Shack

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I already know that the theology police are not super happy, their citation pads are out and they are furiously scribbling down infractions. What has them so upset? The Shack is now a movie. It’s not just the theology police either, I imagine the theatrical police have their issues as well. It’s always difficult for actors to depict convincingly for the screen spiritual struggle. I will leave the varying theological and theatrical policing blogs to do their necessary work. As for me, I only want to comment on how I believe the movie managed to capture powerfully the big ideas of what it means to be a Christian person connected to God in the midst of grief.

A Christian person — To be a Christian, is to get to a point where you agree with God that he is good and to be trusted. Jesus, God in the flesh, is the vital link in getting us to that place. We are told, that when you’ve seen Jesus you’ve seen God. You must walk with Jesus to avoid sinking into the black abyss of guilt, shame and bitterness. In this movie Christianity is portrayed simply as being friends with Jesus, trusting him. It’s not about religion, or keeping a list of rules, or paying for past sins. Both Mack and his older daughter blamed themselves for the death of Missy. The older daughter was fooling around in the canoe. In her mind it was her irresponsibility cost Missy’s life. For Mack he was sure that this unspeakable tragedy was the result of his own past sins. Both their lives became stuck in the quicksand of guilt and shame. Because of Jesus’ love and sacrifice they both came to believe that the time for blame and guilt was over. Bad stuff happens, our hearts break, we suffer, great sadness occurs, but we don’t get stuck, we trust that through it all God will do what is good and right and true. That’s what it means to be a Christian.

Connected to God — God is depicted as a trinity so that we can see that the Christian God is fundamentally relational. Love is possible only in relationship and the Father, Son and Spirit have that in bucket loads. God’s invites us into this love. In the movie God reminds Mack regularly that he is especially fond of him and all humans. That was a tough one for Mack to accept, and it’s a tough one for all humans to accept. We all must suffer and we all must die. Reconciling human suffering with God’s goodness is not a new conundrum, and this movie offers nothing new in resolving that tension, except in this movie God gets to answer directly the charges levelled against him. I found God’s explanations in the context of this movie powerful and helpful.  All three persons of the trinity, are shown to feel our pain. That’s the reason all three have nail prints.  God changes his appearance in order to help us understand that he knows what we need when we need it. God is portrayed as all knowing, but yet keenly interested in our lives. And though God loves all his children, he is not disinterested in justice either. In the end we are told that God will make right judgements upon his wayward children, however, we are also told in compelling fashion, that this job of ultimate justice is better left with God. The perpetrator is never caught, justice never served in the movie. Even still Papa wants Mack to “remove his hand from the throat” of this terrible predator. Forgiveness is the only way forward, but by forgiving Mack is also entrusting himself to the judge of all the earth who will judge rightly.

In the midst of Grief — When we suffer, we have to realize that we don’t have the complete perspective. We can only see through the “knothole of our own grief.” The garden in the movie is an absolute mess from Mack’s perspective, but when the shot pans out and you see the garden from the air, mess turns into beauty. God is not the ultimate source of evil, human free will prevents that conclusion, however, God is actively working in and through evil to bring about a greater good, good that we can’t always see, but must learn to trust is there.

I think if every person walked away from this movie, having taken into their hearts the above conclusions about Christianity, God, and grief. The world would be an infinitely better place.

Challenges to Building a Missional Church — Three Observations. 

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Doing Just Fine Without You.

As people who are committed to living missonally a huge priority for us is the building up of loving inclusive community. We embed ourselves in a neighbourhood and practice hospitality and generosity for all. As people are drawn to these manifestations of love they begin to enquire and eventually they come to know the God of love who we serve. Sounds great right? Well, it is. To love people well, wherever they are at in life, to draw people in to this net of appreciation and mutual service is a beautiful thing, but what happens if the people you attempt to draw into community already have a community of their own?

After 5 years of tirelessly practicing generosity and hospitality we’ve come to see that people who have their own communities remain in many ways unreached. People collect naturally into small groups These groups of people form tight bonds, the result is that the vast majority of their socializing is done together, to the exclusion of others. They function as private groups once they achieve a size 4-8 people. The idea of intentionally welcoming others in, is a foreign and unwelcome concept to these friendship groups. They are not unfriendly to others, and they even participate in our larger community building events. But polite conversation and community parties is pretty much the extent of our influence. Understandably, we are not welcomed into the inner circle of their own communities, and they are not interested in merging into the community we’ve created because they have their own that works just fine.

In addition to this, we tend to collect up the broken, the wounded and the lonely because our community building ventures are truly inclusive. When people look for a community of friends they naturally want an environment that is safe and full of people who they are like. Our environment is anything but that. In fact the opposite is true, we pull together people with such profound dissimilarities it’s absolutely remarkable. There is no question that this fact is very distasteful for many of those in our neighbourhood who already belong in their own safe communities. There is no doubt Christians and non-Christians alike have scattered away from us, because we are a bit too inclusive for their taste!

So what do we do? Keep practicing generosity and hospitality, keep welcoming in the broken and lonely, keep extending the hand of friendship into these other existing groups,  grateful for any influence however small it might be.

Community Building is a nice idea but…

Community building is all the rage these days. The Missional church movement is not even leading the charge on this, the broader public is fully engaged as well. The Vancouver Foundation will actually pay anyone real money to build community! Thousands upon thousands of dollars have been given away so that we as a city can build community. The report’s are in, we all know that people are isolated, alone, and disconnected, we all know that welcoming people into community is hugely beneficial to all. “Better Together” is the oft used phrase that flutters around our city like the seagulls. But, when it comes right down to it, building community requires effort and sacrifice, time and energy. We are all down for an occasional picnic, or block party. Being responsible for polite conversation, a casserole and some wine are totally  doable for most, but if community building requires more that that, well, lets not get carried away! Truthfully in the minds of most the cost of community building still out ways the benefit.

We are a self absorbed culture, we do what we want to do when we want to do it. Christians are no different. We are all still consumers at heart,  which means we shop around and spend our time and money accruing pleasurable things and experiences for ourselves. Christian people want something that benefits them, the unasked question of most who look at our little church is “How does this church benefit me?” Non-Christian people appreciate our efforts as well as any Christian, maybe even more so, but at the end of the day they appreciate us based on how we perform. The actuality of being part of a community of people who genuinely function together as a “sent, family of servants” remains largely unrealized. Don’t get me wrong, we have our moments, and there are a lot of good things to be said for our efforts, But ultimately it’s still “What time does church start?” What do you offer?” or “When’s the next party?”

So what do we do? I guess, tell them that we meet at 10:00 on Sunday’s, tell them that we offer them a chance to be part of a community on mission in the everyday, and tell them to show up next Sunday night for our next big community building event. Celebrate the small victories as well, someone might not be totally intentional yet with their life but if they come to a block party and stay an extra hour to talk to someone they wouldn’t normally talk to, that’s a major step in the right direction! Over time, I believe that people will see that the church is more than an event, more than a religious good received. There will be those who cast off their consumeristic glasses and busy themselves with the work of living together in such a way that the love of Jesus shines brightly into every facet of the neighbourhood we inhabit.

No more room at the table 

We have room at our dinning room table for 8, 10 at the most then we are full. I feel like this is a true picture of community life. One family cannot experience true community with 50 people, not even 25 really. What that means is, the Wilkinson family is full. We have no more room at our relational table. So how do we continue to “build community?” I think, what that amounts to is networking. We bring people into Meta’s net, and then we connect them to other people in the net. Hopefully friendships will be built and the relentless scourge of loneliness will be pushed back a bit. Our work of community building means we bring people together and connect them with each other. What it cannot mean is that the Wilkinson’s become best friends with everybody. It’s just not physically possible.

The problem is we don’t have a way to connect people together in any sort of strategic way. We don’t have loads of Christian people waiting in the wings hoping for a chance at friendship with someone who has a different point of view, we don’t have multiple missional communities scattered around the city just waiting for people to welcome in. We don’t have a weekly Sunday gathering that draws people together, plus the people we connect with would not come to that anyway. There is just us, and we are full.

So what do we do? We continue to connect people with people regardless. We hope that the friendships that emerge will benefit the neighbourhood and that somehow through all of these seemingly random connections people will find their connection to God.

Lamb — The Gospel according to Biff Christ’s childhood Pal

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Christopher Moore in his afterword reminds his readers  “The book you’ve just read is a story. I made it up…I am not trying to present history as it might really have been, I’m simply telling stories…This story is not and never was meant to challenge anyone’s faith; however, if one’s faith can be shaken by stories in a humorous novel, one may have a bit more praying to do.”

The book is definitely irreverent, which is why Moore feels compelled to make the above statements. I wonder if Moore will ever decide to write a book about “Hank the childhood pal of Mohammed” — not likely, the life insurance policy would be to expensive. The religion of grace is always easier to pick on.

What is the book actually about? Biff takes Jesus on an epic trip of self discovery for about 20 years through Afghanistan, China, and India. On this trip there are Yeti’s, Monks, lots of wisdom learned, evil spirits vanquished, daring escapes, people rescued, discipline learned, miracles practiced with varying degrees of success, and lots and lots of sex, not for Jesus though, his father in heaven had told him “no sex” and he was going to obey. Biff had no such prohibitions coming down from heaven however and so was free to indulge. The benefit to Jesus with having such a promiscuous friend is that he was able to learn all about sex through Biffs detailed recounting’s but yet still remain blissfully pure as the son of God. — Lovely.  I’m not sure if there was a single chapter that was free from this tireless crusade to educate the son of God on all things sexual. Eventually Biff and Jesus make their way back to Judah just in time for Jesus to gather up a bunch of misfit disciples, bring in the kingdom of God, rekindle old romances with Mary Magdalene and die on the cross. Biff is not at all for Jesus’ death, and tries to prevent it, with all manner of cunning and deception. He fails, Jesus dies. In a fit of sorrow and rage, Biff tracks down Judas, kills him, then commits suicide. This inglorious end is the reason why the disciples of Jesus wrote Biff out of the official story recounted in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Is sin real? Moore never excuses or justifies the actions of Biff. Biff is impulsive, careless, foolish, proud, and selfish but Jesus loves him anyway, but not with an “It’s all good” kind of false love. Jesus, with masterful patience genuinely speaks into Biff’s life with authority. There is a right and a wrong, and Biff finds himself regularly on the side of wrong, but Jesus’ ever faithful arm is always there gently pulling him back, but yet giving Biff the freedom to make his own choices.

Who is Jesus? Jesus’ humanity comes out strongly in this book, Jesus is confused at times, unsure of himself, unsuccessful, and wanting to hear from God more than he actually does, however the author without hesitation communicates Jesus to the reader as God in the flesh. This was one point that I was surprised at, through all of the twist’s and turns of this story there is never a doubt, Jesus is God enrobed in flesh here on earth to save the world through his own death and resurrection. This beautiful high ground that has actually changed the world is present in this book! One just has to wade through a lot of swamp land to get there.

Who is man? Biff loves Jesus with all his heart, his fierce loyalty is commendable but his constant use of unwholesome traits to protect and shield Jesus from the dangers of this world, not so much.  Biff is decidedly human, all of us can relate to him, but we are not left feeling comfortable with that. Sure, Biff’s escapades create lots of laughs, and at times leaves the reader shaking his head saying “really?” But in the end, It’s obvious that Jesus’ life not Biffs is the life we should long for.

Do all paths lead to God? Not hardly. Moore does not present a universalist understanding of the worlds religions. I thought for sure as Jesus traveled into the Buddhist and Hindu worlds I would be told that the Jesus way that was being developed would essentially be a repackaged version of what already existed. The tired old mantra that “all religions are the same” would inevitably come forth. It didn’t. Instead Moore has Jesus carving a new way forward in contrast to the eastern religions. Moore’s Jesus is radically anti caste. He is at his most aggressive in resisting the scourge upon humanity that has Brahmans on one side and untouchable’s on the other.  He is very critical of karma and the justification of doing nothing to help your fellow human as a result of it. Jesus is gracious but firm, meditation is over rated, and the perceived wisdom of nebulous guru’s is fraught with hypocrisy and pretension.

The book is entertaining, and it contains some food for thought. Moore is certainly a clever writer, but sadly he resorts to the familiar “must use sex and sensation to sell” motif. I wish Moore would use his talents to produce a substantive work of literature.

Big League Sin

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If you see a fellow believer sinning in a way that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give that person life. But there is a sin that leads to death, and I am not saying you should pray for those who commit it. (I John 5:16)

We do not know what the “sin that leads to death” actually is. However, we do see it as so severe in John’s mind, that he wonders a loud if it’s even worth praying over. This individual evidently is so hell-bent on his own destruction that John sees that perhaps prayer energies would be better spent on someone else. How does one make that judgment? Without more explanation how is this passage helpful? Is this a descriptor of the modern-day terrorist? The modern-day pedophile? I hope not, because this sinning person is referred to as “a brother”. Is this then about someone who would claim to be Christian but yet is so decidedly evil? In this epistle John is particularly hard on 2 types of people

  1. Those who claim to be Christian yet have hearts full of hate
  2. Those who claim to be a Christian yet deny Christ’s real identity. (In those days the tendency was to accept Jesus’ divinity but not his humanity, now a days, the mistake is the other way around)

Are these people so far gone into their own destructive hate and delusions about the person of Jesus that they are beyond the point of return? Is this what John is talking about? I wonder if it’s even possible to know for sure.

What is the lesson for us? Is it that some sins are more severe than others? Yes, certainly that is one point, but I don’t think that’s the main point. The Christian must take all sin very seriously.

We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning (Vs 18)

The Christian person will run from and resist all sin at all costs. The Christian life will manifest itself in loving actions and attitudes toward other humans.

If we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? (4:20)

If it does not something is “deathly” wrong.

Father, Son, & Holy Spirit –Relationship Roles and Relevance

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Bruce Ware is good for laying down the historical back story for how the Christian church came to affirm the Trinitarian position. Certainly it was a struggle, but it was always a struggle to make sense of what the Scriptures actually said. Faithfulness to the written text was the motivation for the doctrine even if the conclusions went beyond the capacity for full human understanding.

What the Scripture presents is monotheism, but yet at the same time,  3 unique persons emerge from the Bible all having the attributes of deity and the affirmation of deity from the biblical authors. If all three persons are equally God, then whats the difference between them?

The answer to that question is essentially what Bruce Ware’s book is all about.

For Ware the difference comes down to roles. God the Father’s role is that of supreme leader (not to be confused with the title currently given to North Korea’s dictator) He is the highest authority, the one deserving of ultimate praise, the grand architect of all things. Both Jesus and the Spirit acknowledge the Fathers authority even though they are equal in value to him.

God the Son’s role is that of submission. Jesus always yields to the will of the Father. It doesn’t mean that Jesus is inferior to God, only that to obey is divine. It’s not a bad thing to submit is Ware’s oft given refrain during this chapter. He has a reason for driving this point home.

God the Spirit’s role is that of assistant. Ware refers to the H.S.’s job as “the background role” of the Trinity. But certainly it is not unimportant, the Spirit’s work both points people to Jesus and also empowers those who follow Jesus.

The “so what” part of the book is the last chapter. What I liked about his conclusion is his presentation of the Trinitarian God as highly relational, interconnected and interdependent. For Ware this vision of God is also a vision of what we should be like. He takes a well timed swipe at the rugged independence of the western world, and urges us away from the “I did it my way” Long Ranger approach to life that America is famous for.

What I’m definitely iffy on is his efforts to put the members of the Trinity in their proper places. Order is all that seems to matter to Bruce Ware. Yes, they are all equal, But God is first place, Jesus is second place and the H.S. is third place. I don’t believe the Bible makes as many pains to bear this out as Bruce Ware thinks it does. But he has good reasons for pressing into Trinitarian order.

Which leads me to the second thing that I just can’t swallow. Ware seizes upon I Cor 11:3 —  But there is one thing I want you to know: The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God and then launches himself into the conversation about the role of men and women. Just like Jesus submits his will to God so to must the woman submit her will to the will of man. But that’s just the starting point, the conversation quickly moves to a Church polity discussion and I discover that because Jesus submits to the will of the Father, women should not be aloud to speak in church! Wait, what? But don’t worry women because men and women are positionally equal, just like Jesus and God are. It’s just that it’s your job to submit which means you need to keep your mouth closed in church. Yeah, it’s just too much for me. I don’t believe the wonder of the Trinity should be used as a maneuvering point to “keep women in their proper place.” I think a Trinitarian conversation could go in so many better directions, which is why I like Michael Reeves book Delighting in the Trinity a 100x more than Bruce Ware’s book

Delighting in the Trinity

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“God is Love” is always a much more interesting topic than “God is Trinity” however, Reeves contends that we can appreciate God as love only because God is Trinity. As Reeves made pains to prove his thesis, I did not feel like I was reading another theological treatise on the unassailable doctrine of the Trinity, rather it read like a friendly invitation to discover and love the triune God. Also I found salient, humorous, and fascinating little historical gems scattered throughout the book, which made the read even better.

Reeves asks the question; “What was God doing for all eternity?” His answer:  loving the son. (John 17:24-26)  The trinity gives us a completely unique vision of an eternally loving God. Love happens in the context of a relationship. The trinity makes it possible for there to be a divine relationship. Drawing this connection between trinity and true love is not a new concept, Richard of St. Victor centuries ago understood the triune love with the term “sharing”. “Its not that God becomes sharing he’s always been sharing, he is Triune. If God were just one person he could not be intrinsically loving.” 

The Trinity and Apologetics — The concept of the Trinity is so good in Reeves mind that it makes other religions look, well, not so good. Islam in particular, is a target: Love demands a relationship or it doesn’t exist. The Quran teaches that Allah is loving which means, he must be dependent upon his creation in order for that to be true. But the Quran also teaches that Allah is dependent on no one. This creates a conundrum with no way out, but not if one believes in a non-solitary God as Trinitarians do.

The Trinity and the submission of women to men? — For many I Cor 11:3  But there is one thing I want you to know: The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. has long been a verse used to teach submission, and in particular at it most practical level the need for women to submit to men. Since Jesus submits to the Father so to should women submit to men. Reeves doesn’t take that approach. He see’s this passage as “A gracious cascade, a waterfall of love”  For Reeves the focus is not on submission rather love. he doesn’t deny headship, but he doesn’t describe it either, he sidesteps it.

“For eternity, the Father so loves the Son that he excites the Son’s eternal love in response; Christ so loves the church that he excites our love in response; the husband so loves his wife that he excites her to love him back. Such is the spreading goodness that rolls out of the very being of this God.”

To me the passage and it’s context is still confusing, but I like Reeves generous attempt to infuse the entire passage with love, even though I don’t quite see it in the text like he does.

Does everything hang on the trinity? I’m wondering if perhaps he attributes a little to much to the triune God. Good can’t exist without the Trinity. Evil has no real explanation with out the Trinity. Love appears to be void of meaning without the Trinity, God becomes an empty word without the Trinity etc. etc. I get it, he is making the case for loving the Trinity. I think Trinitarians have probably not done enough to imagine and appreciate the implications of a robust acceptance of the doctrine, so I’m inclined to give Reeves an “At a Boy” and not an “Easy Tiger” on this.

The best way to understand God. God is not an abstract quality he is a loving father. The Scripture doesn’t suggest that God becomes a father at some point, rather he always was a father. That is how he is known. God is a father by virtue of his relationship with his son. God should not be viewed primarily as creator or ruler, but instead as a loving Father. Humans are the creative result of an overflow of love. Reeves describes the human originating from “The overflowing joy of the heavenly harmony bursting out!” Who doesn’t like that? But you only get to that vision of humanity if you have a non-solitary God who is truly love.

The whole “Solitary God” thing just isn’t cool

From Reeves’ pen straight up…

For strip down God and make him lean and you must strip down his salvation and make it mean. Instead of a life bursting with love, joy and fellowship, all you will be left with is the watery gruel of religion. Instead of a loving father, a distant potentate; instead of fellowship, contract. No security in the beloved Son, no heart change, no joy in God that the Spirit brings

Reeves is not kidding around here

If he is not essentially triune then he is not essentially loving and it’s a real reason why Atheists would prefer no God over this grizzly image of the single person loner ruler God.

I was really captured by this book. It didn’t help me understand the Trinity any more but it helped me appreciate the Trinity way more. The Trinity is not an insignificant doctrine that demarcates Christianity from everyone else, its the diamond in the crown of Christianity.

The Trinity of God is the secret of his beauty — Karl Barth

If we try to think about God without thinking about the Father, Son & Spirit, then only the bare and empty name of God flits about in our brains, to the exclusion of the true God — John Calvin

Pray, but also be ready to Punch?

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But we prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves. (New 4:9)
“Let’s just pray about it.” was not quite enough for Nehemiah. They were going to pray about the danger, but also arm themselves and be ready to protect themselves should the enemy show up. Their prayers to God were backed up with immediate human action. They believed that God would protect them, but they also believed that they themselves would be the means through which God would do the protecting!
“God we need your protection, but I have my sword here straped to my side, so that you can answer my prayer through it’s blade.”
What enemies do Christian people have in the western world today, and what possibly could be the application for a text like this? Regarding enemies I would have to say it would mostly be hostile world views and wicked philosophies of life, as far a actual people as enemies, well, there are many tempter’s out there both computer generated and real and smooth talking charlatans abound.
So whats the application? It’s certainly good to pray about those dangers but it’s also just as important to take drastic action against them. What exactly that looks like I’m not even sure. My faith tradition is against violence of any kind. So punching out a smooth talking charlatan is probably not the right course of action, (though, I must confess sometimes the thought is appealing) but it would seem according to this story that in some cases we will need to push back aggressively against real enemies. Prayer is part of the pushback but so to is action.
Does this contradict Jesus’ admonition to love our enemies and pray for them? Maybe. But in some cases I wonder if the best way you can show love for someone is to resist them, to fight against them and their beliefs. Was it not the best thing for white people when Martin Luther King resisted them? The entrapments of racism and superiority had blinded white people for centuries. It was a soul eating cancer. Kings active resistance against it not only liberated black people but it also freed many whites from their blindness.
Christian people will always need to be praying but sometimes they will also need to stand up, raise their metaphorical sword and say “No more!”

5 Views on Biblical Inerrancy

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Has God spoken? Have those words been written down and preserved for us in the Bible? Are those words perfectly good and true? Is the Bible absolutely trustworthy, mostly trustworthy, somewhat trustworthy? Right on some things but wrong on others?  All of these questions coalesce into a debate among conservative Christians . “Inerrancy”  is the term that capsulizes this conversation. This book pits 5 Christian men with varying views on inerrancy against each other. Each gets a shot at explaining how they understand inerrancy and each has to look at three passages of Scripture which seemingly purport a mistake and offer their two cents on how that Bible might still be true or not in light of these alleged  errors.

This was both fascinating and spicy! Clearly, this is not a topic of casual debate. For the Christian understanding the Bible is a big big deal.

1 ) Al Mohler — The Bible must be factually accurate in every detail otherwise it cannot be trusted. In short Mohler believes that “When the Bible Speaks, God Speaks” The Bible alone and the Bible in it’s entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.

The church must have a total commitment to the trustworthiness and truthfulness of the Bible, or else the church is left without a defining authority.  Inerrancy is an all or nothing kind of thing. Scripture is the support beam on which Christianity is built. Christians need a trustworthy guide. If the Bible is not completely true and trustworthy then the support beam for our faith, is destroyed, and the whole thing comes tumbling down.

Mohler rejects attempts to say that Biblical authority does not require inerrancy. In no meaningful way can the Bible be authoritative in a persons life while at the same time have some errors in it. “Biblical authority is inescapably impaired if total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded.”

With an alarmist tone Mohler laments that if the Bible is not fully authoritative, fully trustworthy, then we don’t even know what Christianity is.

Mohler reasons that he is on solid ground with his position because

  • The Bible teaches total inerrancy
  • The tradition of the church teaches it
  • The function or purpose of the Bible demands it.

But ultimately Mohler appeals to his pre-supposition first of all

“I do not allow any line of evidence from outside the Bible to nullify to the slightest degree the truthfulness of any text in all that the text asserts and proclaims. That statement may appear radical to some readers, but it is the only position that is fully compatible with the claim that every word of scripture is fully inspired and thus fully true and trustworthy” 

Bottom line, since God is true his word must be true. Certainly translations can go off the rails but that’s a different matter. Given this disclosure, we already know Mohler will not struggle to much with the alleged discrepancies.

  • Did the walls fall? (Joshua 6) — archeology says there was no walls in Jericho at the time Israels alleged invasion, therefore Joshua 6 is not true in a factual sense. Mohler simply throws shade on the archeological “evidence”, and finds an archaeologist who agrees with what the text says.
  • Did Paul’s companions see or hear? (Acts 9:7) — The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one (Acts 22:9)  — Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. So did the men hear but not see, or did the see but not hear? Can’t be both so the argument goes. Mohler see’s no conflict, his presupposition won’t allow him to, but there is also a convenient explanation, in both cases, the men heard something and they also saw something, but there were unable to grasp what they were hearing and seeing.
  • Is God inconsistent with himself? Duet 20:16 — Kill your enemies Matt 5:43-48 —  Love your enemies — the Bible is contradictory. Mohler says it’s impossible to understand why it had to be this way, but to get to the cross the Bible has us going through Cannan. It’s all one grand, mysterious, and wonderful story. Judgment in Canaan and also in eternity is part of that story.

Criticisms of Mohler

  • There is certainly criticism of Mohlers a-priori convictions. You can’t even have a discussion about errors in the Bible, because going into the conversation Mohler has already decided there aren’t any. You could slap him in the face with an error and he won’t accept it.
  • Mohler’s approach is not helpful because “It is reductionistic and adversarial. It produces not a faith seeking understanding but a rational seeking certainty.”
  • He is too much against extra Biblical lines of evidence. It’s ok for someone to modify their interpretations of Biblical texts and make better sense out of them based on facts that come in. Interpretations change and the text can still be trustworthy.
  • There is criticism of Mohler’s appeal to the church fathers, yes, they made great claims to the inerrancy of Scripture but that was because of their commitment to spiritual and allegorical interpretation. The Bible was declared true because the hermeneutics were so flexible in their day. Augustine wasn’t interested in becoming a Christian until he discovered allegorical interpretation!  The concern is that Mohler is forcing a more modernistic fact based interpretation into inerrancy. Literary devices such as myth and saga need to be considered — they were part of the landscape of the ancient world

Peter Enns

Like it or not, the Bible is empirically false at times, and must not be regarded as inerrant. The Bible tells of God’s acts but also reports some events that either may not have happened or have been significantly reshaped and transformed by centuries of tradition. Inerrancy as it has been accepted by many evangelicals like Mohler actually proves to be unhelpful because it puts expectations on the Bible that it was not meant to bear. The Bible was never meant to be read with our modern interest in accuracy and scientific precision. Strict pre-suppositional convictions on inerrancy short circuit helpful criticism, inquiry, and healthy intellectual pursuit. It’s all about the manner in which God speaks truth, namely, through the idioms, attitudes, assumptions, and general world views of the ancient authors. — some of which we now know are not technically true in a strictly modern sense. Inerrancy is an intellectual disaster for evangelicalism, and it’s gotta go!

  • What about Jericho? — Didn’t happen like Joshua 6 says it does. The archaeologists are correct. This then must be an example of “Mythologized History” There is a kernel of true history to the story, but it has been retold and expanded for reasons we don’t fully know or appreciate. According to Enns the entire Exodus narrative is a myth. A small band of Jewish slaves escaped Egypt, snuck out through a dried lake bed, and created an insignificant colony in Canaan.
  • What about Pauls friends — It doesn’t matter whether one account said they saw something and the other account said the heard something. We need to embrace the creative nature of ancient portrayals of the past. We cannot force the text into being burdened by modern precisionist notions of truth.
  • What about the extermination of Canaanites? — That didn’t really happen either at least not to the same extent the narratives seem to indicate. These narratives were not reported events, they were tribal rhetoric. When you discard the violent narrative’s as tribal trash talk, it’s not so bad. But that’s not the main point. The point is what Jesus says and what the O.T. says cannot be neatly lined up together. Jesus is reversing the O.T. way. We don’t vainly try to justify or explain away the genocide like inerrantists are forced to do. Stuff happened in the O.T. that was tribal and brutal. It is what it is, God’s name got thrown around, now because of Jesus all that is different.

Criticism of Peter Enns

  • If inerrancy falls so falls evangelicalism. It’s difficult to see the difference between Peter Enns and a liberal protestant. It’s what he sounds like. Liberal protestantism is in ruins because they emasculated the authority of Scripture. It hard not to imagine that the same problems will occur if one follows Enns.
  • If one can effortlessly turn most of the O.T. into a myth, what would hinder one from doing the same to the N.T.?  The answer is nothing.
  • Enn’s appears to be a Marcionite — The God of the O.T. is an inferior war like tribal God that has been replaced with the loving God of the N.T. — That heresy was expunged from the church millennia ago. It’s really hard not to draw this conclusion given what he said.
  • He caricature’s inerrancy as some sort of brain dead position, and then attacks it viscously. Critical inerrancy looks very seriously at literary form, grammar, and cultural context , but he seems to think it doesn’t.
  • His “mic drop” ending. See it’s all a mess, quite trying to cover up the errors!  What then is God’s Word? What Qualities must it have? Can the Bible be authoritative? To these questions he gives no answers.

Michael F. Bird

He doesn’t feel comfortable with the standard comment “the Bible is inerrant in it’s original autographs.” What does original autographs even mean? Several portions of both the New and Old testament had later add ons, the original Jeremiah was destroyed and then re-written. The N.T. authors were clearly more interested in the meanings of the O.T. and not it’s actual wording, because they regularly take great liberties when quoting the O.T. certainly they weren’t concerned about “the originals”. This feels to Bird like a convenient way to explain away lots of the potential problems with the Bible. “Well yes, there is that problem, but we believe it wasn’t in the originals, so we are ok”

For Bird Inspiration is a better term. Inspiration extends “to the human literary processes which preserved the meaning and power of God’s Word to achieve the ends for which it was given.”  

Bird see’s inerrancy debate as a largely American phenomenon which is used primarily as a weapon for religious politics. So what does Bird believe about the Bible?

Bible is an authentic and authoritative account of God’s actions in creation, redemption, and consumption…God does not feed us nuts of truth inside of shells of falsehood…There are bits of Scripture, inconsequential for the most part, that do not agree (with the truth) in their precise details.”

These minor inconsistencies, do not derail Birds confidence in Scripture. Nor does he feel that we should always try to defend and explain these bits of Scripture. “We should not anchor the truth of Scripture in our apologetic capabilities to beat the skeptics at their own game; I think there are better ways.” 

Bird things the Bible speaks authoritatively for salvation, but not necessarily on matter of history and science. The Bible should be the ultimate standard for faith and practice, but it should stop there.

He lands his plane by rejecting inerrancy and embracing infallibility as the better term. Infallibility to Bird is the confidence that “The Bible does not fail to achieve the purpose for which God has given it, whether that purpose is asserting, promising, commanding, exhorting, praising etc.”

Jericho? — Main point of story is God fulfilling his promise to bring his people into the promised land, that happened. He is not nearly as confident as Enns in the “clear evidence” of archaeology. But he is ok if the narrative doesn’t correspond exactly to reality in certain mostly minor points.

Pauls Buddies — Ancient historians were story tellers not modern journalists. Lukes narration can be flexible on the details because that is what the genre in which he was writing allowed.

Genocide — God’s a pragmatist, it wasn’t ideal but the Canaanites had to go, and the children of God were the people for the job. This is the unfortunate but necessary provisional step on the road to Shalom in God’s master plan. You can be committed to the Bible with out having to reconcile this O.T. instance of  killing your neighbours and Jesus’ admonition to love them but in order to do that you have to recognize “the contingency of divine command in less-than-ideal situations, and an acknowledgement that some commands are more indicative of God’s original and eschatological intentions than others…We don’t fully understand but we trust.” 

Criticism 

  • Bird assumes that to hold to inherency means you accept strictly literalist interpretations. Which is not true.
  • I don’t know how helpful it is to just walk off from the genocide passage by saying it’s imponderable but I trust God. — Maybe that’s all that can be done?

Kevin Vanhoozer 

Vanhoozer defines inerrancy in the following way: “to confess faith that the authors speak the truth in all things they affirm when they make affirmations, and will eventually be seen to have spoken truly when right readers read rightly.”

Two things stand out about his definition.

  1. Vanhoozer is quit willing to give the biblical authors the benefit of the doubt. He embraces the Augustinian idea of “Faith seeking understanding.” and thus is confident that the authors words will eventually be proven true.
  2. The second part of his definition “when right readers read rightly” is meant to draw attention for the need to understand how truth is revealed in many ways through cultural context, genre, and authorial intent. Truth is about reality, but there is more than one way to render reality in language. Like the difference between maps, one highlight’s roads, another topography, another buried treasure, they need not contradict each other they have different purposes. a poem harbours truth in a different way than does a physics manual right readers reading rightly will know this. for example was Jesus affirming botanic truth when he called the mustard seed the smallest of all the seeds or was he drawing an analogy that his hearers would have understood in order to communicate a non botanical truth? For Vanhoozer this is not difficult, the reader was never intended to look for technical botanical accuracy.

Vanhoozer believes the Bible has difficulties but stops short of referring to them as errors. He also recognizes the pastoral importance for Christians to have an authority that is ultimately united and coherent.

The walls of Jericho — Archaeological evidence is inconclusive, however in many cases, narrative is “true history artfully presented.” Ancient narratives do not give us a completed and unbiased account of events. It’s an angle on truth. But that doesn’t mean its in error.

Damascus Road — Don’t ask what words Luke used, ask what he is doing with those words. This is a progressive reduction of the role of his companions. Paul alone is a witness to Christ’s visit upon him. Literary repetition with a difference is Lukes way of showing that Paul’s commissioning by Jesus was intended for Paul alone. That’s the point.

Racial violence vs. Radical Love — Jesus understood the O.T. as a grand story with an overarching plot — Salvation history. “At points along the story we have holy love meeting with unholy rejection. we have the Creator redeemer engaging with the forces of Chaos. Jesus could say “love your enemies” without condemning the O.T. because the conquest of Canaan was a unique and limited event — a single scene, now past — in the drama of redemption.”  This event was never intended to be a model for how all future generations were to behave towards their contemporary enemies. This event has to be interpreted in the shadow of the cross.

Criticism 

  • It’s not fair play to simply say this difficultly is not an error because it has some greater theological purpose.
  • This is the standard “be patient” and “it’s not impossible” apologetics which Enns has no interest in.
  • Vanhoozer tries to systematize all of the difficulties away.

John Franke

“While the diverse parts of the biblical canon do not contradict or negate each other, neither do they cohere. — When we attempt to ease the difficulties of the multiple perspectives in Scripture to make matters more compact, clear, and manageable, we suffer the loss of plurality and diversity that is woven into the very fabric of Scripture and by extension, the divine design of God” 

John is all about plurality when it comes to truth. He wants us to see the Scriptures as the Word of God in human words, and that as such its stories and teachings taken as a whole, are true and not a lie. However, he strongly rejects inerrancy. For him the principle of divine accommodation is really important. Human language is incapable of providing descriptions of God that are fully faithful to the reality of God as God. What that means is Scripture is not so much the actual words of God as it is a map that effectively guides our journey into the mission of God. The Bible points us in the right direction without the necessity of being photographically precise or drawn exactly to scale.

Another way he explains it, is as follows: Capital T truth is how God sees things, small t truth is how we see it. Witnesses to Capital T truth are contained in the human speech-acts of Scripture but these witnesses are situated and fragmentary and are therefore small t truth.

He is against the idea of forcing Scripture into conformity with others Scripture for the sake of systematic unity. Scripture doesn’t have to agree with itself, there is a plurality of truth found in the Bible is his big idea.

Instead of viewing Scripture as a true foundation it should be a web of interconnected beliefs that are a witness to capital T truth. With the web model, new evidence, fresh interpretation, and alternative viewpoints are continually assessed and incorporated as needed into the existing network of beliefs. All beliefs are subject to critical scrutiny and reconstructed, replaced, or relinquished if necessary.

Truth is not relative Franke says, but it’s a whole lot more flexible than inerrantists think.

Jericho — Doesn’t’ matter because the purpose of the text is to form a covenantal community. It’s not about details at all.

Road to Damascus —  Precisionist approach is terrible. perhaps Sauls companions did not hear with comprehension in the one case. The second telling is from Paul perspective the first from Luke’s. Perhaps Paul’s companions had a different experience. There is no need to harmonize these accounts in anyway.

Genocide vs Love — Both legit perspectives — Franke believes in just war theory for example, and yet still believes in the love of Jesus. Two truths in play. The Bible is a web of varied truths.

Criticism 

  • He shrugs off difficulties in the Bible by saying that there is a plurality of truth, and that’s it. Difficulties aren’t difficult anymore. He is careful to say he is not a relativist. However I’m not sure how he is anything but that.
  • He doesn’t really say what he believes in other than it all fits together, and errors, or conflicting truths don’t really matter because the Bible is a web that we can sort of pick and choose out of.
  • God’s truth as he knows it and God’s truth as he reveals it are two different things, I’m not sure that’s a great idea. Certainly not if we want to have any confidence that we can know what God has spoken to us.
  • There is no real application to his approach.

I’m sympathetic to Mohler because those are my roots. As a Christian who doesn’t want a Bible that is completely free of errors and 100% accurate on everything it talks about. However his unyielding faith in the inherency presupposition made me a bit uneasy. It was kind of like “Don’t confuse me with any facts my minds made up”.

I’m not so much persuaded by Enns. He feels more like a wrecking ball to me. That and a heretic. I’m sure he’s not, right? It just felt to me like he was a Marcianite. Plus his explanations don’t actually help explain the challenging passages in the long run.

Bird is shooting for the term “infallible”. The Bible will not fail to achieve it’s purposes, it is fully reliable for matters of faith and practice, and if it’s a little off here or there on minor points, no big deal. It’s not intended to be a science book, or a technically precise modern history book.

Vanhoozer acknowledges his presupposition that the Bible is true, but it doesn’t feel the same as Mohler’s alarmists cries. I liked his persistent reminders for us to understand how important it is to read Scripture rightly. In many way’s I felt like he was a more scholarly version of Bird.

Franke lost me in a postmodern cloud. I get the part about the plurality of truth, I think. But what is he saying then? Is the Bible really a loosely-connected web of incoherent truths that are all true in their own special way? Truth ever shifting ever changing? Truth with a capital T only known by God, and small t truth for the rest of us —  I’m a bit confused.

I like Bird and Vanhoozer the most. No one had a good explanation for the genocide passages. I’m not sure there is one.

Believe or Die!

So Josiah removed all detestable idols from the entire land of Israel and required everyone to worship the Lord their God (2 Chron 34:33)

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Once again we see that there’s no real choice in the matter, you have to worship the true God or else. Involuntary religion is the name of the game throughout the entire Old Testament. Often we see examples where worshipping the “wrong God” is a capital offence!

We see this all through Christian history as well. For example, In GJ Meyers book on WW1 I learned that Prussia was originally inhabited by Slavic people. German Christians moved in and with the help of the Teutonic Knights, they crushed the Slavic people militarily. They allowed the survivors to stay on the condition that they would convert to Christianity. Many did and it was from this combination of Slavic and German people that the German Empire of the 1800 and 1900s came to be.

Religious freedom is definitely a new development for the human race. Sometimes Christians can look at the inflexibility of Islam and frown. Certainly it’s lack of religious tolerance today, is a major problem, however Christians need to remember that it wasn’t so long ago that they too were we’re forcing people on point of death to accept Christianity.

My question is how does one appreciate the religious intolerance of the Old Testament? Or what can be learned devotionally from reading it? Certainly we don’t want to follow the Old Testament example here and regress into a form of Christianity that forces itself upon others with dire consequences for those that do not comply. So what then?

The New Testament was written when Christianity was a fugitive religion without any power. Is it because of this fact that it’s message for nonbelievers is completely different than the Old Testament? I hope not. In any case the mandate for Christians coming from the New Testament is crystal clear: we are to love our enemies not kill them or force them out. Ok, got it. So we know that the many examples of Christian brutality in human history are definitely outside the margins of what Jesus prescribed. But still the angst for me is in trying to figure out what kind of value there is in the Old Testament here? What’s the lesson? Christians believe that the Old Testament is God’s word too right?

Devotionally speaking it could be an opportunity to thank God that we are in the time of voluntary religion over against involuntary. Perhaps this passage could serve as a warning to us, that even though we enjoy religious freedom, there is only one true God and those who turn away will one day face severe consequences. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Phil 2:10) We don’t force people to bow nowadays, but it doesn’t change the fact that one day they will. These Old Testament passages serve as a sober reminder that true faith is not found in a smorgasbord of belief options. Salvation does not come from a pick and choose,”It’s all good” kind of universalism. We all get to make our choices nowadays with who or what we worship, but still as in the Old Times there is only one right choice. In graphic and often troubling fashion these Old Testament passages remind us of this all important truth.

The Problem of Power & Pride

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16 But when he had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall. (II Chronicles 26:16

In the Biblical record of Jewish kings we see leader after leader succumbing to self absorption and then ruining all things good. Power corrupts.  Power turns itself into pride which results in problems for everyone. This isn’t just a localized problem that ancient Jewish kings experienced. This is every humans problem. It’s the story of human history! As I have read The History of the Medival World by Susan Wise Bauer and now GJ Meyers book on World War 1, this truth is the one constant! What is the cycle of human life?  Gain power — Develop inflated view of self — Hurt others — Repeat.

What protections do I have against the corrupting nature of power?

1) Embrace  A worldview that demands humility  — I believe that I am the one who is broken. I am forever in need of a Saviour. I am the one who needs mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

2) Embrace a lifestyle that seeks service as the greatest form of leadership  – “I am amoung you as one who serves” says Jesus, this “be great by serving others” model of living is exactly what Jesus attempted to instill in his followers.

3) Embrace a worship that exalts what is truly glorious. For the Christian, God is the creator and redeemer, the one who truly helps us and the one who will ultimately restore all the broken things in our lives and in this world. This God alone is worthy of the greatest praise. To celebrate the goodness of God in all things is of tremendous assistance when wanting to avoid the all to natural tendency towards self inflation.