Posts filed under ‘Christianity’
These are some of my favorite books critiquing evangelical Christianity:
- Inspiration and Incarnation, Peter Enns
- God’s Word in Human Words, Kenton Sparks
- The Blue Parakeet, Scot McKnight
- Evolving in Monkey Town, Rachel Held Evans
These books share a common thread; they all critique conservative evangelical Christianity from within the framework of evangelical Christianity itself. Meaning the authors remain evangelicals themselves, which I think uniquely positions them to be heard better by Christian readers. Probably less threatening than someone on the outside with the message, “Your biblical framework is lacking!” (maybe Bart Ehrman?). And because they have held onto the parts of Christianity they feel are important or essential, they have something more to offer than only negative observations (as I tend to have).
I especially appreciate the intellectual honestly displayed by the authors in the way they ask difficult questions, rather than offering up soft balls they already have the answers too (Lee Strobel, et al?). They all describe a Christianity which depends less on a literal interpretation of the bible and allows for a higher degree of mystery in their faith. They also tend to hold to a less exclusivist form of Christianity; that is, they do not necessarily consider everyone who believes differently than them to be bound for Hell.
For me personally, the books also share a common thread where they all fall short; they fail to describe a Christianity which I find believable as ultimately true. My overall question when studying the bible became, “Is the bible true?” I certainly did not find it to be true in the conservative evangelical sense. And while the books offer alternatives to that conservative, literal reading of the bible, my general doubt about the factuality of the bible still seems to be an insurmountable problem for having Christian faith.
I do not think Christians have to consider discarding their faith before they can honestly examine and discuss it. And correspondingly, others should not have to earnestly attempt to believe the bible before they can honestly examine and discuss it. Too many books about Christianity (both for and against it) seem to be based on those premises. These authors provide great examples of showing sincere respect for those who believe differently than they do. By doing this, they promote dialog and intellectual discourse over diatribe and rhetoric, and find common ground rather than defined divisions.
The picture to the left shows angels dancing on the head of a pin. One more post along these lines, then on to other things…
Evangelicalism tends to overstate the confidence people can have in knowing its doctrines are true. OK, I know I can be overconfident about what I believe as well. But as a religion, or maybe the culture it produces, I think evangelicalism is especially susceptible to this problem.
If there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, then why is death the punishment for sin? If all our penalty for sin has been paid by Christ and he died for us, then why do we die?
That is a little bit of a puzzle. I think we have to say that death for [Christians] should not be seen as a punishment, because the penalty for our sins has been paid by Christ. Rather, it must be that God, in his wisdom and his sovereign good pleasure, has good purposes for us in allowing us to go through the experience of death, and I suppose [of aging] leading up to death.
One point is that God, even though he has forgiven us, still allows us to live in a fallen world, and death is the final outcome of living in a fallen world. Because, even though Christ in his death paid the penalty for us to earn his perfect fullness of salvation with all its blessing, all that has not been applied yet, so death is not yet removed.
I spent a number of years working in computer customer support. Have you ever spoken with a computer support analyst who sounded like they were making things up? They probably were! “The problem is caused by the variegated VGA daughterboard, it’s a type A12 you know…”
The theological answers above strike me in much the same way. “I think we have to say…” Why would anyone have to say that? How about, “We can’t know, but maybe…” Or something like that, I think it would be more honest. “I think we have to say…” assumes there is one correct and comprehensive system into which the verses of the bible can be compiled. And that a teacher needs to have a correct answer for every question.
You might be a theologian if…you make stuff up! Or you might be a computer support analyst…
Al Mohler seems to be the go-to-fundamentalist in many Christian circles today. He has an article in Christianity Today decrying the overturning of Proposition 8 in California yesterday. Below are some quotes from the article, along with my comments.
“On page after page, Judge Walker …declares the evidence and arguments put forth by the defenders of Proposition 8 as lacking in any rational basis”
And the rational basis is what? The defenders of Proposition 8 had their day in court, they had their witnesses take the stand to make their case. And the judge found that, yes, they were indeed lacking a rational basis for their opinion. This statement only attempts to persuade based on rhetorical skill, and nothing else.
“A single unelected judge nullified the will of the voters of California as expressed through the electoral process.”
Isn’t that an established purpose of federal judges, to rule on the Constitutionality of legislation? I am not a scholar of our government, but that is my basic understanding.
“Until this verdict, such language had never appeared in a decision of a Federal court. If gender is no longer “an essential part of marriage,” then marriage has been essentially redefined right before our eyes.”
This is true, but wasn’t that true one time of race relations in the United States? It would have been true then, just as it is today. But that doesn’t make it wrong, just (perhaps) unprecedented.
“The central institution of human civilization suffered a direct hit, and its future hangs in the balance.”
That is true only if Mohler believes marriage is defined by governmental rules. But of course he would say it is defined by God as expressed in the bible, right? If so, what factual impact does this statement carry?
If one is to assault gay marriage from a religious perspective, do it from a religious perspective, and within religious institutions. The legislation in question is part of a culture war and a religious issue, but not a case of judicial incompetence or injustice.
We live in an area of the United States originally settled by German Mennonites. There is still a large Mennonite population here. German, or actually Pennsylvania Dutch, was still commonly spoken in the area through the 1950’s. I don’t know that much about the Mennonites, at least not as much as I should living here. My own heritage is partly Pennsylvania Dutch, though not Mennonite.
As with many other Christian denominations, there is a wide spectrum of churches, from liberal to conservative. Old Order Mennonites, a conservative group at one far end of the spectrum, are similar in many ways to the Amish, forgoing many modern conveniences and embracing older, traditional ways of living. On the other end of the spectrum, many Mennonites are quite progressive and modern.
Mennonites have a long tradition of working for peace and taking a strong anti-war stance. The Mennonite Central Committee, a service organization of the Mennonites, performs relief work and invests in sustainable community building all over the world, and are well know for their work in the field of appropriate technology (which is one of my pet interests).
So that’s a brief background. I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who are Mennonites, or are of Mennonite lineage, and they all are good people, every last one.
This post was really created for the photographs included below. They were all taken within a five minute radius of our home. I am guessing someone in the region manufactures them. I don’t know if it is just a Mennonite endeavor, though it would seem to be, from the location of the signs.
Click on the images to see them full size.
|This sign is across a small road from a Mennonite church, but I doubt they placed the sign there themselves. I suspect the verses inserted in these signs can be swapped out, but I’m not sure. Are you rejecting Jesus?|
|Here is the other side of the same sign. Like most of these, it has a strong emphasis on wrath and judgement.|
Here is a second sign, next to the larger greenhouse sign. The Mennonite owners of the business seem a conservative group. The men always wear button up shirts, and the women wear long dresses and head coverings. I had thought all these signs contained harsher messages, until I noticed this one when I photographed it. Also note the statement concerning the day they are closed, near the bottom. The signs clearly express a desire to preach to the world around them.
|I took this picture out my car window while stopped in the middle of a road, which resulted in the camera shake.|
|This sign is in the front yard of a house. There is sign at the corner of the property advertising toys and crafts for sale. Some of the merchandise can be seen on the small table next to the yard sign.|
|The toys are more visible in this photograph. I think it is an interesting jux-
taposition with the message on the sign.
There are a couple more signs I know of in the area, one a bit farther away, and one I can’t remember the exact location. I may add them to the post at a later date. What bible verse would you put up in your yard if you were to do so?
I try to avoid the Answers in Genesis web site. But I recently saw a link to an article there, and confess, gave in to the temptation. I apologize in advance for any pain it may cause, should you choose to click through. The article is about unicorns.
As background, the King James Version of the bible uses the word “unicorn” in several places (blogger Sabio goes into that a bit here). The article starts out with an assertion that some anti-Christians will use the King James Bible’s references to unicorns to mock Christian beliefs as akin to belief in fairy tales. Fair enough, I haven’t heard that, but I’m sure it happens.
The article then goes on to provide some guesses as to what kind of creatures the biblical authors were referring to, under the assumption that they must have been referring to a real creature. But could it be possible they were referring to a creature that never existed, under the false assumption that a legend was real?
Answers in Genesis says categorically it is NOT acceptable to think the biblical authors referred to a mythical creature. The article ends on a typical Answers in Genesis low note, with polemics against those who would disagree with them, finally concluding, “To think of the biblical unicorn as a fantasy animal is to demean God’s Word, which is true in every detail.”
Such a simple equation; doubt the biblical authors, demean God. It is ultimately a call to submit to authority rather than to exercise critical thought, and it preempts honest study into origins and meanings of the bible. If only we could all hear God’s voice as clearly as Ken Ham does. Or on second thought, maybe not…
“If a man and a woman commit adultery, kill them both.” (Leviticus 20, my paraphrase)
A man accused his wife of cheating on him. “How can you say that?” she cried, “you have never had cause to doubt my faithfulness to you!” Despite her pleas of innocence, the husband remained adamant. “Are you calling my honor into question?” he shouted. “I will not be subject to this kind of insubordination!” In jealousy and anger, he dragged her to see the pastor of their church to seek help.
The pastor forced the woman to stand before him, alone, and told her to unpin her hair. The woman did so, her long hair flowing down around her face. The woman felt vulnerable, shamed, and afraid. “Fetch the water from my office,” the pastor whispered to an assistant. The assistant returned with a pitcher of vile, muddy-looking water.
“You will need to drink this water,” the pastor explained. “If you truly are innocent,” he said, “everything will be fine. But if not, you will become violently ill. So ill in fact, you will never be able to have children again. And also know,” he added, “should all this come to pass, your family and your church will shun you, you will live as an outcast, even in your own home.”
The pastor wrote down notes of the proceedings on a piece of cardboard, using a stylus of charcoal. With some water from a cup, he rinsed the words off, into the pitcher of muddy water. “Do you agree to this course of action?” he asked. The wife remained silent, tears streaking her face. The pastor repeated his question, his voice rising. The woman nodded her head softly. “Do you agree?” the pastor almost shouted. “Say it!”
“Yes,” the woman choked out, more a sob than an actual word.
“Drink, now,” commanded the pastor. Seeing no other option, the wife took a gulp of the water directly from the pitcher. She gagged twice before she could swallow. Her shirt was stained by the brown liquid which ran down her chin.
“Go,” said the pastor. The woman took a couple of steps back and rejoined her husband. The pastor intoned, “I hope there are no ill-consequences from this experience. I wish you many happy days together, and many children. I wish you peace. I trust we never need repeat this experience.”
Before the couple left, he pulled the husband aside. “Fear not,” he told him. “As you already know, I will ensure nobody condemns you for coming here today.” At this, the husband breathed a sigh of relief. It had not been easy, but he knew he had done the right thing.
my (amateur) commentary:
If you are not familiar with this story, it follows the outline of chapter 5 of the book of Numbers. Many Old Testament practices which sound terrible to us today are explained by apologists as the bible’s depiction of sinful people, in no way condoning the actions. I am sure that is true in many cases. This one cannot be written off so easily though, it is clearly described as God’s instruction to Israel.
The best apologetic I have read, in support of a beneficial purpose for this passage, explains that contemporary cultures were far worse, so this was a merciful commandment given to Israel by a loving God. For example, you wouldn’t want to undergo the trial of being bound and thrown into the Euphrates River to prove your innocence!
I do not find that answer satisfying though. Even if it was progressive for the time, it still seems unnecessarily harsh. Is that just my culture-bound judgement? It seems more likely to me the passage is a cultural artifact of an ancient tribe, rather than a divine message to a chosen people.
On a more positive note, this practice was not embraced by the Christian tradition. John 7:53-8:11 (the “Pericope Adulterae“) tells the story of Jesus graciously protecting a woman caught in adultery, seemingly in stark contrast to Numbers, chapter 5. “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
There is a general consensus among biblical scholars that the Pericope Adulterae were not part of the original text of the gospel of John. If a later insertion however, it is a relatively early one (c. 4th century CE), and signifies a moderation of the Old Testament theme. And either way, I suppose there is no reason one can’t choose to believe the events actually occurred, regardless of when they were added.