Archive for March, 2010
It is the week of Passover, the Jewish holiday which commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. My father is Jewish, and I grew up celebrating Passover, though in a fairly secular way, my family was not very religious. I have fond memories of the seders (Passover service with dinner) with ethnic foods, and the whole occasion was a pretty big to-do. I still love matzah ball soup, though at some point I lost my taste for gefilte fish, I think after my wife made a comment about the fish in it being a “bait fish.” Hey, she’s the fisherperson, not me, so I’ll take her word for it.
As a Christian I early on learned about Messianic Judaism. Messianic Jews are people of Jewish ancestery who believe in Jesus. They consider it the natural progression for Jews, and have special concern for converting their bretheren to their faith in “Yeshua,” which is the Hebrew version of the name “Jesus” (Jesus is the Greek translation of Yeshua, in my understanding). Messianic Jewish movements (like the famous Jews for Jesus group), tend to be fairly close theologically to conservative evangelicalism.
I was somewhat recruited by some Messianic Jews in college, and while I found some attraction, I was ultimately turned off by the whole thing. I don’t know if it was an element of racial pride, or some kind of weirdness, or the feeling that I was being recruited, but I ultimately decided to go in a different direction.
But one element of of Messianic Judaism which I kept personally was the Messianic Passover seder. At a Messianic seder, they practice the traditional Jewish seder, but with a twist in that they see Christian symbolism in the traditional Jewish elements of the seder.
The connections for the most part are pretty straight forward. For example, in the New Testament, Jesus is depicted as celebrating the famous last supper as part of a Passover dinner. The Passover ceremony commemorates the Israelites’ freedom from slavery, as Jesus represents Christians freedom from sin. The Israelites were redeemed from Israel, and the angel of death passed over their homes because of the blood sprinkled on the lintels over the doors, just as Christians are redeemed from the punishment of death for sin because of the sprinking of blood. And so on.
While Christians see this as a clear fulfillment of the Scriptures, Jewish people today often see it as a misappropriation and incorrect interpretation of their religion. Interesting to me, I see it both ways. I don’t begrudge Christians reinterpreting the old Jewish stories and making their own new story. But at the same time I can understand why it makes Jewish people uncomfortable. It isn’t just that Christians are appreciating the Jewish roots of their faith, but some are actually saying they understand them better than the Jews themselves. That kind of thing can easily create resentment.
Like many religious traditions, the Messianic version does seem to take things a bit far. For example, one of their interpretations is that the matzah, unleavened bread, used in the service forshadows Christ, because it is striped, just as Jesus was given stripes from the lash, and it is pierced, just like Jesus was pierced with a spear after being crucified. Those are rather silly interpretations. I’ll accept that kind of things as a cute and kitchy religious story, but matzahs that look like that are a modern invention. There aren’t really Jewish people going around wondering why they put little holes in matzahs, missing the point that God has them inadvertently pointing to his story about Jesus.
Growing up in a secular family, with parents of mixed religious traditions (Jewish and Christian), I guess I am not so sensitive over the synthesis of the two religions in the Messianic passover seder. I have personally led a few seders mixing the two traditions, and plan on doing so again. I like the tradition, I like being able to point out the roots of both religions in these stories, even while I take the stories far less literally than I once did. And why would I want to give up a holiday where matzah ball soup has a key roll? Pass me another cup of Manishevitz please, and “Next year in Jeruselem!” Happy Passover!
My wife is not a fan of the title track on the new They Might Be Giants album, “Science is Real,” she thinks it is anti-religious (she has a good point). And while she is OK with the message of the song, “My Brother the Ape,” she isn’t real big on it either (me too). But I can heartily agree with her when it comes to “Roy G. Biv” — the song rocks! I also like “Why Does the Sun Shine?”. We’ve been enjoying the album with the kids the past couple of weeks.
Conservative theologian Norman Geisler is a famed apologist and the author of the book, The Big Book of Biblical Difficulties (I always get the title mixed up with Gleason Archer’s book, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties). In this book he outlines various solutions to stories in the bible which are difficult to reconcile with a strict view of biblical inerrancy. He states in the preface that what might seem like inconsistencies are only “apparent contradictions,” meaning though they might appear to be errors, but really they are not, we just are not reading or understanding correctly.
Many of his solutions to these biblical difficulties contain valid arguments based on careful study of the languages, context, geographies, etc. of the biblical writers. Unfortunately, many of his solutions, while perhaps being logically possibilities, make a tangled mess of reasoning, or “pretzel logic.”
On his web site Geisler recently addressed a problem related to the virgin birth of Jesus. The dilemma, according to Geisler, is:
“Conservative theologians have long troubled by how the Virgin Conception of Jesus is related to his sinlessness. In short, if Mary was his actual mother, then why would not the inherited depravity from Adam be passed on to Jesus anyway. Why isn’t a sinful mother, which Mary was (Lk. 1:46), as much of a problem as a sinful father in channeling original sin?”
Leave it to a conservative theologian to be “long troubled” about something like that. As though the set of possible solutions to this vexing problem couldn’t involve the problem not existing in the first place.
Geisler’s goes on to relate how recent discoveries in genetic research may have finally resolved this “biblical difficulty.” Geisler believes that if we do not know of a way to resolve an apparent difficulty in the bible, it just means we haven’t figured it out yet, and so he writes:
“This is where epigenetics may solve this previous “mystery.” According to scientists, “the general mechanism for transmitting information about ancestral environment [is] down the male line”. If this is so, then perhaps a person born of a virgin mother would not inherit the epigenetic information resulting from Adam’s Fall. Whether this is so or not, we are not in a position to say. And, of course, there may be other factors. But certainly epigenetics has opened the door to a possible solution of this long-standing and vexing problem for evangelical theology.”
This is a fantasy world, where presuppositions cannot be challenged and people are more content with shoddy reasoning than they are with a healthy, “I don’t know.” Honestly, as a Christian I found this kind of reasoning made me very uncomfortable. It sounded so shaky, it made me wonder what else was shaky about my beliefs. I appreciate that Geisler admits this is only a possible solution and could be wrong, but it sounds more like grasping at straws then providing a reasonable basis for the beliefs he tries to support. It makes me question myself though, wondering where I hold on to tenuous solutions to maintain my beliefs, rather than dealing more directly with challenges.
Looking back it was hard to distinguish from a kind of relationship with myself. I never actually heard a voice with my ears, just as I never saw my invisible friend with my eyes. I am trying not to caricature the situation, just to see it clearly.
From an interesting article, “Jesus and me broke up*”
I can echo the sentiments of losing belief in a relationship with Jesus the way the author describes. As such it is something of a critique of modern evangelical Christianity. In a similar way to how people can view Jesus as a mirror of themselves, people can experience a relationship with Jesus which is actually a relationship with themselves. Even within evangelicalism you will hear warnings of “creating God in our own image,” meaning understanding God as who we want him to be rather than, “who he really is.”
The author goes on to describe his experience with a more “liturgical” faith, alluding to a different kind of direction for followers of Jesus (“liturgy” meaning “a standardized order of events observed during a religious service, be it a sacramental service or a service of public prayer.” per Wikipedia).
I’ll admit to finding the latter kind of relationship far more attractive than the former. I often read more liturgical Christians (eg., Catholic, Anglican, Episcopal), stating that evangelicals have lost something by leaving liturgy behind. I think evangelicals are trying to strip away what they see as meaningless and empty tradition, but some will question what is left at that point.
HT: Ben Myers