Preachin’ It March 22, 2011Posted by Matt in Christian Beliefs, church.
Tags: Bible, church of christ, Episcopal Church, preaching styles, topical lessons
I was reminded of something when I visited my parents’ church (the one I grew up in) over the weekend that I’ve noticed many times in years past when attending Evangelical congregations, but that I don’t believe I’ve ever written about before. It is something that bothers me to no end and that seems to be present across the various teaching aspects of a worship service – from Sunday school to the sermon.
So, what is this annoying aspect of attempted edification?
Well, it involves the use of the Bible in topical discussions or lectures/sermons in order to prove one’s point on the issue of the day. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with using the Bible as a reference point in these conversations, but it is the way that this is often conducted that particularly irks me. My observations over the years have been that a teacher/preacher/etc. will choose a topic and then pull singular verses, or sometimes even pieces of verses, from scripture in order to bolster the point they are attempting to make. Sometimes these may be lifted out of context and twisted and turned about until they little resemble their original meaning. I’m reminded of being a teenager and having a minister respond to my skeptical queries about water baptism being the only method of salvation with the first part of I Peter 3:21, “Baptism now saves you.” Of course, if you read farther you’ll find that this is not the point of the passage and that it actually says something almost completely the opposite of that assertion, but regardless, that was the defense thrust at me.
This no doubt originates from the beliefs that the Bible is inerrant (it’s not), perfectly unified across numerous authors and centuries (nope), and that one particular interpretation alone is correct (strike three). I’ve pondered this a great deal over the years as we hustle to flip from one verse in Galatians to another in Ezekiel and then to Leviticus, wondering what, if anything, they have to do with each other outside of the point trying to be made from the pulpit or in the classroom.
On the other hand, the faith community in which we now reside (St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church) takes a different approach. Each week there are a number of longer readings taken from the Lectionary on which to concentrate and generally both class and the sermon revolve around these. I particularly enjoy our priest’s style when it comes to preaching. He makes it more conversational and real, and rarely, if ever, cracks open a Bible. He has a real gift for storytelling and making it fit into the context of the week’s readings and in my view, this is much more effective and meaningful than a marathon page-turning session.
The Birth Myth Revisited December 13, 2010Posted by Matt in Christian Beliefs, Christmas.
Tags: Bible, Christmas, Jesus, mythology, nativity
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Last year I posted a series regarding the nature of mythology as it relates to the stories of the birth of Jesus. I put a good bit of effort into it and, though it caused a bit of controversy in this small corner of the blogosphere, I think it brought about some interesting discussion. In case you missed it then or if you would like to revisit the series, I’ll post the links below.
Biblical Pickup Lines August 18, 2010Posted by Matt in Bible, books.
Tags: Bible, David Plotz, Good Book, pickup lines
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I have just finished reading Good Book, a recent writing by David Plotz in which he, as a somewhat observant Jew, decides to read the Jewish Bible (Old Testament) for the first time. Along the way he makes notes divided out by book and chapter that describe his thoughts and feelings about the written words. It is funny, irreverent look at scripture and a enjoyable read, though I probably still liked AJ Jacobs’ similar book, The Year of Living Biblically, more.
The appendix in the back of the book contains several lists that Plotz put together that I thought were pretty good, so I wanted to share one of them with you.
The Bible’s Twelve Best Pickup Lines
1. “Oh, give me of the kisses of your mouth, for your love is more delightful than wine” (Song of Songs 1:2)
2. “Lie with me” – Potiphar’s wife to her slave, Joseph (Genesis 39:7)
3. “Praised be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! And blessed your prudence.” – David to his future wife, Abigail (1 Samuel 25:32-33)
4. “What is your wish? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to half the kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” – King Ahasuerus to Esther (Esther 6:6)
5. “There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and damsels without number. Only one is my dove, my perfect one.” (Song of Songs 6:8-9)
6. “I saw that your time for love had arrived. So I spread My robe over you.” (Ezekiel 16:8)
7. “let my beloved come to his garden and enjoy its luscious fruits.” (Song of Songs 4:16)
8. “Many women have done well, but you surpass them all.” – husband to wife (Proverbs 31:29)
9. “Here let me sleep with you,” says Judah. “What will you pay for sleeping with me?” says Tamar, his daughter-in-law (Genesis 38:16)
10. “Come over here and partake of the meal, and dip your morsel in the vinegar.” – Boaz to Ruth (Ruth 2:14)
11. “Your breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, browsing among the lilies” (Song of Songs 4:5)
12. “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may be intimate with them.” – the townspeople of Sodom to Lot (Genesis 19:5)
Opening the Door April 28, 2010Posted by Matt in Christian Beliefs.
Tags: Bible, church of christ, gays, progressive vs. conservative
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We have a friend (actually I’ve just recently met her, but she and Diana know each other well and her young daughter is a good friend of Rachel’s at school) who differs a bit from the rest of our diverse group of associates. It’s not that she’s African-American (most of our friends are) or that she’s a single mother (we know plenty), it is something else entirely. She is openly gay.
Sure, I have gay friends and Diana does as well, but this is probably the first time we have had someone we both know and who has a child the same age as ours (a characteristic that most family friends of ours have) come into our lives.
We know the majority of our friends through church and it is central to our social circle, so at some point – I don’t recall if it was before I met her or after – Diana told me that she had invited her to visit our place of worship. Normally this wouldn’t even be a point of discussion, but the possibility caused us to pause for a moment and consider the ramifications.
It’s no secret that I have a progressive view of the Bible and view the moral codes contained in it as cultural ordinances, and certainly not the all-encompassing divine mandates that many want to make it out to be – of course then those same people tend to pick and choose which rules and regulations to elevate to divine command status, but that’s another story altogether. That being the case, I have no problem with gays and feel no need to convert them from their way of life.
But, in the minds of many Evangelical Christians, there are few things worse than being gay. It’s easy to dismiss other transgressions spoken of in the Bible like, say, gluttony (just take a look around your church next Sunday), but being gay has become, in effect, the unforgivable sin, the one elevated above all of the rest as your direct ticket to a fiery, tortuous afterlife.
Our congregation is a fairly moderate one, sometimes balancing precariously between the liberal and conservative members, and that is something I can appreciate, even while pushing from the progressive side. But the question remains, would someone like our friend be welcome or would they feel as though they would be donning the scarlet letter and treated as an outcast?
At some point, churches are going to have to confront this issue and make a decision – will they continue in their role of Condemner-in-Chief or will they open the door to all, regardless of race or social status or sexual orientation?
Knowing what I do about our congregation, I think it would go over well. We have a good deal of socio-economic and racial diversity, and though I’m sure many who knew the particulars would have reservations, I don’t think they would be voiced and I think the visit would be a pleasant one. Long-term, though, I’m not so sure that the Church of Christ is ready to take a step forward and open the door a little wider.
And that may be its death knell.
The Birth Myth – Part 1 December 14, 2009Posted by Matt in Christian Beliefs, Christmas.
Tags: Bible, Jesus, Marcus Borg, myth, nativity, truth
Over the years, the word “myth” has been inappropriately maligned, being drug through the ideological mud and kicked to the side as unimportant, while other more “accurate” and “truthful” ideas have been pushed to the forefront. This misdirected animosity has its roots in the Enlightenment, a time of great scientific progress that began in the 17th century and, while this push for a more “absolute” sort of knowledge has certainly had its benefits, particularly in the field of science, it also carried with it some rather dire consequences for the religious world. This newfound standard of truth had a different arbiter, the scientific method, the principle by which everything must be gauged. So, in order to bridge the gaps between its obvious shortcomings, the world of religion scrambled about and, using the tool of apologetics, they strived to close off any loose ends with logic and natural principles, for the modern worldview held myth and stories in low regard, as little more than children’s tales when compared to the monolith of science.
But, the stories are important, even though many of them cannot be proved with any degree of certainty to have actually happened. As Marcus Borg defines them in his excellent book Reading the Bible again for the First Time,
While myths are not literally true, they can nevertheless be profoundly true, rich in powerfully persuasive meaning.
So, a different form of truth emerges, one that is profoundly true, rather than literally true, one that focuses on concept rather than on dates and facts. Myths, then, are as important, or perhaps even more important in this context than their verifiable, historically accurate counterparts. Maybe it is better to embrace mystery rather than eradicate it.
Next: Miraculous Birth Narratives
Ending Exclusion October 19, 2009Posted by Matt in Christian Beliefs.
Tags: Bible, Christianity, exclusivism, god, hell
I often wonder if there is a more damaging idea than that of Christian exclusivism.
There are few things less damning, to one’s argument than an insistence that there is but one rigid structure by which the entire universe is to be governed, that your particular view is most certainly that of an all-powerful deity, thus rendering those who disagree as wrong and on a nonstop one-way trip to eternal torture. Life must be absolute misery for those harbingers of this supposed one true way as they encounter the vast hordes of men, women, and children bound for fiery agony. If their lives are not consumed by tortured misery, then they must be among the most evil people to ever walk the planet.
Why must it be that people of faith, regardless of what their faith may be, resort to this narrow view so often, rather than accepting the fact that different faiths are the products of different cultures attempting to gain some understanding of the divine? Instead we (in Christian circles) choose passages of scripture to bolster our claims of being the only ones holding to the right way, while oftentimes ignoring the overall narrative. We insist on holding to every jot and tittle as 100% inspired and factually accurate, instead of accepting the fact that our holy book is imperfect.
And it is this exclusivism, this insistence that we must be right and everyone else must be wrong, that restrains us and keeps us from doing the work of God.
The Battle Against the Brain – part 3 September 15, 2009Posted by Matt in The Battle Against the Brain.
Tags: Bible, Biblical Interpretation, Divine Inspiration, educated people, Evangelicals, mythology
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One of the biggest sticking points between many Evangelical Christians and the educated is undoubtedly their unwavering belief that the Bible is the perfect, inerrant, divinely inspired, directly-given word of God. The aforementioned Pew study quantified this idea, stating that 59% of Evangelicals believe that the Bible is the literal, word-for-word dictation from God.
But, some of us have differing opinions.
The inaccuracies and contradictions contained within the pages of the Bible have been widely written about in the past (see Marcus Borg’s Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, as one example) and, though many seek to tie the loose ends together with the most tenuous and illogical explanations, they still exist and they can be quite damning.
Now, of course, this does not mean that the Bible is unimportant, quite the contrary, it is of great relevance, even to those of us living today in a world that the Biblical writers could not have even dreamed of. For us it is a window into the world of an ancient people as they try to explain things beyond explanation. It is their realization that something bigger than them exists, leading them to speak of it and write about it in a way that makes sense within their ancient worldview. It then leads us in our search for the Divine as we search for meaning in a world of randomly occurring tragedies and triumphs.
Thus, we do not feel the need to accept the asinine assumptions of creation science or to accept the obviously bipolar God of Genesis (It says creation is good and then, one page later, is sorry for it and wants to kill all the men, women, children, and animals by asphyxiation?) as factual. We do not need to believe that a good God sends pestilence and plague and natural disasters to wipe out masses of people. We can accept it that the New Testament writers borrowed heavily from Plato, rather than having their pens divinely guided (unless you accept Plato as being divinely inspired as well, but, as a homosexual heathen he’s probably not very high on the Evangelical guest list in heaven).
Perhaps then it is the overarching Biblical themes of redemption and love that truly matter rather than the specific stories. Maybe we would all be better off if we accepted mythology for what it is, a collection of thematic stories proclaiming truth without being factual representations of actual events.
It is this blind allegiance, this thinly veiled form of idolatry, that has been largely responsible for the exodus of the educated from America’s churches.
Losing My Religion – Part 8 June 10, 2009Posted by Matt in Losing My Religion.
Tags: apologetics, belief, Bible, defense, existence, god, questioning, truth
Or, Is There Anybody Out There?
As has been previously mentioned in earlier posts, I was raised in a church environment that often proclaimed the ironclad truth of scripture and the perfect nature of God’s will. Thus questioning the veracity of the Bible or the supposed actions of God was often looked down upon as a sort of weakness that must be overcome. It was as if the slippery slope to militant atheism began with even the most innocuous of questions regarding the scriptures.
Later on, in my college years, many of my long-held, heavily fortified beliefs began to spring leaks. Naturally, as I began to see teachings that were bestrewn with folly, my thinking became more and more defensive and, as I tried in desperate futility to plug the leaks, it became clear that I would need outside help. My mind was filled with questions regarding everything from doctrine to Biblical events to the nature of God, Itself, and I knew, just knew, that there must be some form of absolute proof to be found. Thus began my obsession with apologetic literature.
Apologetics are certainly interesting reads as authors attempt to make a stalwart defense for things like the Bible and God and I rabidly devoured them one after another. I worked my way through authors like CS Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Josh McDowell, and the recently popular Lee Strobel, as I worked to build a concrete foundation of absolute truth using the various evidences touted by these authors and others.
But my reading did not stop with authors such as these, no, armed with the supposed truths and proofs of God, I began to tackle other works – some from other religions, some from humanist philosophers and some from the most stalwart of atheists – and as I read through these tomes proclaiming ideas that conflicted with those I had long accepted, confusion reigned. For every argument in support of the Bible or the existence of God, there existed others disputing them that seemed just as convincing. So, I began to realize that God was beyond proof. Belief was illogical.
And that was okay.
There is something about mankind believing in something bigger than themselves that just seems right, despite our scientific observations and logical conclusions. I do not have proof of God’s existence, nor do I have concrete reasoning of His/Her absence, and today I am fine with that. Belief and faith and love are abstract concepts existing outside of this supposed sphere of the concrete, but they are no less real. And so we cling to them and look above amid the storms plaguing this mortal coil, for that is all that we can do in the uncertainty of life. I might question the existence of God every day of my life, and sometimes I may even come to an near-agnostic conclusion of uncertainty, yet still I cling.
My view could probably best be found in this rephrased quote of Socrates: “The unexamined God is not worth following.”
A Place at the Table – Pt. 3 January 27, 2009Posted by Matt in A Place at the Table.
Tags: Bible, Biblical Interpretation, church of christ, idolatry
I know it has been a few weeks since I last posted on the issues surrounding the role of women (or lack thereof) in the Church of Christ. In that time, there have been several comments both on my first “A Place at the Table” post (the comments were inadvertantly turned off on part 2) and the “Case Against Lads to Leaders” post from before then. In these, several people took the time and space to write out verse-by-verse how they felt about my prior statements – why they were either right or wrong.
Originally, I had it in my mind that I would do something similar and use the Bible to try and make my argument, but, after reading the arguments from both sides another question came to mind, arising like a phoenix from the leftover ash heap in this fight over Biblical interpretation. So, the more I thought about it, the more it plagued my thoughts and the more it affected my writing of this next installment.
So, I have decided that, instead of rambling on and on with my own opinions, I would pose the question to you.
Have we (meaning in my context the “Church of Christ,” but anyone is welcome to comment from their own situation) turned the Bible into our idol? In our zeal for having things exactly right have we elevated the scriptures to an unhealthy level? In our desire to parse each syllable of each word have we turned this volume from antiquity into a golden calf?