Archive for February, 2010

the ghost of bobby dunbar

This American Life is a wonderful program on National Public Radio featuring essays and interviews about people’s lives. Describing the show on their website they say, “There’s a theme to each episode, and a variety of stories on that theme. It’s mostly true stories of everyday people, though not always. There’s lots more to the show, but, like we said, it’s sort of hard to describe.” I have listened to maybe a half-dozen episodes and have found each one impressive, often moving. Podcasts of the episodes are available free, I think each one is an hour.

I recently listened to this episode, a fascinating and haunting story in its own right, which also provides insight into the way people hold beliefs. I will not include too many details to avoid spoiling the story for anyone who might want to listen.

The episode is introduced on their website as follows:

In 1912 a four year-old boy named Bobby Dunbar went missing in a swamp in Louisiana. Eight months later, he was found in the hands of a wandering handyman in Mississippi. In 2004, his granddaughter discovered a secret beneath the legend of her grandfather’s kidnapping, a secret whose revelation would divide her own family, bring redemption to another, and become the answer to a third family’s century-old prayer.

People can experience a very real sense of trauma when long and deeply held beliefs and convictions are challenged, which can create both internal and external conflict. The granddaughter conducting the research in this story experiences both. At one point a character in the story tells her, “Nobody wants to know,” about her research. Meaning that the granddaughter should stop prying into the past, even though it is her own personal family history she is investigating. But learning about the truth is more important to the granddaughter than remaining comfortable or making people happy. Sometimes the truth hurts.

Perhaps the person’s complaint, “Nobody wants to know,” does contain a grain of truth. Some or many people in the story likely will not deal with the turmoil well. Living in denial might maintain a degree of comfort, but is it best for him? What will really bring him peace? Will the truth set him free? Sometimes the answers to questions like those are not as clear as we might think.

But peace and happiness can be found in searching for truth even when it hurts, as this story beautifully demonstrates. Introspection into human nature, a mystery, truth, history, redemption… What more can one ask for in a story? Please let me know your thoughts if you find the time to listen (so there may be spoilers in the comments section). Warning before you get sucked in, the episode is an hour long and is devoted to this one story. Got some time on your commute? Need to turn the TV off for a bit? Enjoy!

February 22, 2010 at 9:50 pm 6 comments

the year of living like a new kind of christian

tyolljA brief mention of a couple of books I’m in the middle of reading.

The Year of Living Like Jesus, by Ed Dobson, follows the genre of The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. In fact Jacobs even provides an endorsement of the book. Dobson does as the title of the book states and tries to live like Jesus for a year. Kind of like “what would Jesus do” carried to an extreme. It is definitely more spiritual in nature that Jacobs’ book. Dobson is a devout believer and pastor who seeks to live like Jesus, not so much in the cultural norms and rules of Jesus’ time, though he does a bit of that, but more in the spirit of Jesus, trying to understand his message better and how he would have chosen to live.

One big difference from The Year of Living Biblically is that while Dobson’s book is very well written, it is not as funny or entertaining as Jacobs’ book. Not necessarily a shortcoming, just a different style and purpose. I probably also enjoyed Jacob’s work more because I am more of a “reverent agnostic” (as Jacob’s describes himself by the end of his book) than an evangelical Christian like Dobson.

Dobson is an interesting guy because he comes from a very conservative Christian background, would seem on the outside perhaps to be a very conservative evangelical, but does a lot of things that many conservative people would not feel comfortable with. Not just doing things that makes conservatives uncomfortable, but seeming to enjoy that it does. Dobson actually worked directly with Jerry Falwell for over 14 years.

He is very insightful in the way he learns from others even when he does not prescribe to all their doctrines. For example, he writes about what it means to pray to Mary and say the rosary with Catholic people, and grows in his understandings of these concepts from discussions with Catholic friends. Very humble and I have a lot to learn from his example.

I glanced at the rosary. Maybe I should pray the rosary as part of my journey in following Jesus. As quickly as that thought came, another one followed: that’s crazy. Praying to Mary? You’ve got to be kidding. We only pray to God. Not Mary, not the saints, not anybody! And besides, praying the rosary has absolutely nothing to do with living like Jesus.

Or does it?


ankocI am reading through Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian along with atimetosew. The book is told as a fictional story where the characters end up narrating the points the author wants to make. As fiction, bleh, but the teaching is very good. McLaren discusses what it means to incorporate postmodern thought into his Christian faith, still somewhat orthodox in belief, but new at the same time.

atimetosew feels she may be heading in that direction with her faith, which I can confirm, I think she is becoming A New Kind of Christian, which is pretty cool. Maybe I am becoming a new kind of person too. I think we both find the book pretty great. Some good ways to understand and work out one’s faith in this modern age.

February 17, 2010 at 8:37 pm 10 comments

the authority of paul (or someone)

Don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but I already had written this, and it goes along with a couple of previous posts…

I was not exposed to much if any critical study of the bible at the church I belonged to. Not faulting the church, but I am glad to be learning about it now. It is not that all critical study of the bible is rejected by conservative Christians. But many conclusions of critical biblical study are rejected out of hand. Not much fun if you can’t follow the evidence where it leads.

Authorship of the New Testament letters (epistles) is widely debated by biblical scholars. Many conservative scholars automatically attribute authorship of the letters to whoever they say they were written by. Many less conservative scholars agree in attributing some, but not all, of the New Testament letters to their stated authors. For instance, of the thirteen letters in the New Testament attributed to Paul, there is general consensus among scholars that something like six of them were authentically written by him, while authorship of the other seven is in question.

In that light, consider these verses I posted on recently:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
2 Corinthians 6:14-15 (KJV)

According to the website, Early Christian Writings, scholars question whether the apostle Paul really wrote 2 Corinthians. One of the evidences against Paul writing the letter is that “…there are difficulties that have suggested to several commentators that 2 Corinthians has been compiled from several pieces of correspondence.” 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 is included in a portion of the letter which was likely a later addition. If so, it would initially seem this added section was not written by Paul.

But wait, not so fast! Some conservative scholars accept there may be additions to the original letter, but argue that Paul himself wrote those additions, they were just compiled together from another letter at a later date. That’s a way to accept some findings of higher criticism while maintaining a doctrine of biblical inerrancy. But the web site also quotes a scholar as stating that verses 6:14-7:1 “contain a fragment that has next to no connection to Paul in ideas or wording, although it does have some affinities with the Dead Sea Scrolls.” So attributing the additions to Paul may be a stretch anyway.

If Paul did not write these verses, what bearing does that have on the authority given to them? Does it really matter who did the writing? Most Christians do not go around worrying about who wrote something in the bible before they are willing to learn from its teaching or respect its authority. And someone can of course still find wisdom in the verses regardless of who wrote them. But I wonder how often people sweep issues like these under the carpet in order to protect their faith.

The letter was included in the biblical canon because people thought Paul wrote it. If he didn’t write it, or if there is reason to question its authorship, it is reasonable to question its authority as well. It is important for people to exercise their own judgment and make their own evaluations in life, rather than blindly following what someone wrote in a book. Especially when you don’t know for sure who that someone is. That is actually true whether or not you give authority to the bible; applying any teaching requires a healthy measure of judgement, wisdom, and caution.

February 14, 2010 at 3:52 pm 14 comments

the greatest of these is love

Christiana said in the comments of my deconstructing daniel post:

I think many people are confused about what the essentials really are. They will die on the hill of textual dating, marriage roles, politics, clothing, music styles, church polity and organization etc all the while leaving, justice, mercy, faith and love in the dust.

Which reminded me of a recent post from James McGrath’s blog, Exploring Our Matrix. My wife and I have both benefited from the post this week. It is a refreshing reminder, and a surprise that this emphasis is so easily neglected or forgotten. I’m just reproducing the post below because McGrath did such a good job.


The Greatest of These Is Love

I’m grateful to Richard Beck for highlighting Paul’s own words on an important subject. Paul is famous for his emphasis on faith, and much contemporary Christianity follows his lead on this point.

Yet when it comes down to it, Paul says that there is something more important than faith – more important even than the sort of faith Jesus talked about as capable of moving mountains:

If I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing…And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13).

Richard’s own conclusion is likewise worth quoting:

The defining criterion of Christianity isn’t faith. It’s love.

February 5, 2010 at 7:46 pm 17 comments

reconstructing daniel?

Biblical scholar Peter Enns says of his book Inspiration and Incarnation that it is “an attempt to bring an Evangelical doctrine of Scripture into conversation with the implications generated by some important themes in modern scholarship.” My paraphrase of that statement would be that Evangelicals should not automatically reject the findings of modern biblical scholarship. In discussing the fear some Evangelicals have towards the implications of modern biblical scholarship, Enns writes:

“…fear cannot drive theology. It cannot be used as an excuse to ignore what can rightly be called evidence. We do not honor the Lord nor do we uphold the gospel by playing make-believe. Neither are those who engage the kinds of issues discussed in this book necessarily on the slippery slope to unbelief.”

In my previous post I included the quote below, relating a view of the book of Daniel as a later writing rather than as literal history and prophesy:

Like his New Testament counterpart, the Revelation of John, Daniel was written to strengthen his people during a difficult time. Whereas John wrote to Christians under the persecution of Domitan, Daniel wrote to Jews under the persecution of Antiochus. By casting his history as a series of predictions, Daniel hoped to show that the present sufferings were indeed a part of God’s plan for his people.

Accepting this view can lead to a couple of different conclusions:

  • Rejection of the inerrantist view and seeing the story as the work of men and not of God.
  • Rejection of the inerrantist view but seeing the story as still divinely inspired.

The theory in support of the second conclusion would state that the author did not intend to deceive his readers. This genre of prophetic literature was common at that time (so the theory goes), and the audience would have known to read the book allegorically. The book still communicates that the sufferings of the readers were part of a bigger plan and that God had not departed from Israel.

I do not know Enns’ view of the book of Daniel in particular, but this view is generally consistent with his approach, accepting some modern conclusions and findings about the bible without giving up his trust in its divine inspiration.

While I do not hold the same kind of faith in the inspiration of the bible, I find his approach engaging and honest. Enns’ analyses of biblical history seems trustworthy, in contrast to scholars (apologists?) who place certain presuppositions higher than evidence in reaching their conclusions. Regardless of your view on what kind of book the bible is, grappling with issues like these is essential for understanding its real meaning.

February 4, 2010 at 1:11 pm 6 comments


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