Under His Eye

 

 

 

 

 

I haven’t had a heap of work lately so I did a binge watch of the Handmaids Tale over the last few days, a novel I had never got around to reading, but a very good mini series and chilling in its implications.

If you haven’t read / seen then it’s the story of a dystopian future where the vast majority of women are infertile and those who are able to bear children get rounded up against their will, to be ‘handmaids’ to the elite class, so that the species will survive.

How could this happen?

A conversation between three of the senior leaders explains it. Just use biblical justification (Rachel and Leah) and while the women (and wives even) might not like it, once the Bible is involved who can argue?

So ‘handmaids’ are assigned to various homes and the ‘ceremony’ is performed after the reading of a passage of scripture which allows these (apparently) deeply religious people find a way to reconcile their own inner desires with what they know to be wrong and evil.

I’m reminded of that other movie, The Book of Eli, where Denzel Washington protects an unknown book with his life. Eventually the nature of the book is revealed – a KJV Bible – because whoever gets the book gets the power. More correctly would be whoever gets to interpret the book gets the power.

Thankfully that will never happen in real life…

As if…

I’m no fan of 60 Minutes as quality journalism, but Sunday night’s show exposing the sexual abuse within a particular independent Baptist Church, (thankfully it was mentioned several times that this is not our mob) was a contemporary example of the Bible being used to justify a man’s own sexual desires and subsequent evil actions. The abuse suffered by the wife was tolerated for so long because she was caught in a system of belief that validated her husband’s evil behaviour. ‘It was in the Bible’ that she needed to submit and obey so she really had no choice… So she felt.

The recent ABC studies released on domestic violence in Christian families seems to have touched a nerve in two ways. Some of those suffering have finally been given a hearing and an opportunity to break free of ‘biblically justified abuse’ (an oxymoron) while others within the church have gone on the defensive, hitting back at the research methodology and the clarity of the findings. This is completely disingenuous at a time when we need to repent rather than justify. If all that is heard by those willing to tell their stories is that they are ‘invalid on a technicality’ then we have simply become modern day Pharisees.

The Handmaids Tale is no far fetched sci-fi fable. It is an all too real possibility if we continue to allow men to get away with using the Bible / or any other religious text – as a justification for evil behaviour.

To be clear, I’m talking about using the Bible to manipulate your wife into doing something she does not want to do, or using the Bible to justify behaviour that would otherwise be considered wrong and liable to prosecution, even using the Bible to justify any self centred, self serving actions that hurt another. Of course you can step back from the line of ‘abuse’ and still be emotionally abusive and psychologically destructive, which is just as much of a problem.

As men the cards are usually stacked in our favour and the dominant readings of scripture for many years, giving men control and power, have allowed for the possibility of destructive outworkings of those interpretations.

I don’t think its as simple as ‘complementarians are bad and egalitarians are good’. It’s possible to be an egalitarian arsehole and a complementarian gentleman.

Its more to do with how we see Jesus and submit to him in our own lives. Because he isn’t cool with this stuff.

 

Changing Our Minds (Back Again)

Well Eugene… You really caused a stir, ‘changing your mind’, only to not really change it at all.

All suspicion aside, if you were ever in doubt that this is the litmus test of orthodoxy in 2017 then this is a clear indicator. Get the ‘gay thing’ wrong and you’re history – no matter who you are.

I doubt Petersen has much interest in the actual ‘debate’ outside of dealing with real human beings – which is possibly why his initial response felt simple, clear, and affirming. He’s a pastor. But when it comes to the flip side of the conversation – the theological argey bargey, he realised he is still conservative. That’s my interpretation of what may have happened. I doubt the removal of his books by various stores would actually sway a person with real integrity. He answered some questions in one state of mind and then as he reflected and had push back he decided to change positions. I’ve done this plenty of times in conversation, on FB and on blogs, but my name is not Petersen and I don’t have his influence, so no one really cares.

But the hostility he experienced for the short time he ‘switched’ means this can never be an open and genuine conversation because too much is at stake.

Anybody wanna get ‘Petersened?’. Ummmmm… No thanks…

A couple of years ago I took off on holidays to Bali with 5 books, three advocating for an affirming approach to homosexual relationships and two of the conservative view. I wanted to really dig into this stuff and explore it – openly – to the point where I was prepared to come home and quit leading our church if it came to that (because I don’t think I could hold a progressive view and keep leading the same church – we aren’t ‘there’)

And as I read the books I felt myself warming to the tone and language of the progressive writers (Gushee, Venn Brown and Brownson), and I felt the pain they expressed both for themselves and for those who find themselves gay and struggling. And then, as I read the books by the conservative authors (names forgotten) I felt a harshness and theological wankerishness that made me want to distance myself from them. I really disliked the matter of fact approach that seemed to exude no pastoral compassion whatsoever.
But at the end of the day I just couldn’t see the progressive argument clearly in scripture. I read and listened, discussed and explored and some more, but it just didn’t gel with me.

Theologically I found myself still conservative. And in fact last week when I had to speak from Romans 1:18-32, the more I read the passage depicting the downward spiral of morality as people moved progressively (no pun intended) away from God, the more I became convinced of the conservative position – theologically…

But it leaves me with the pastoral dilemma. How to respond to gay folks, Christian or not in this time?

I really feel stumped by this as one who is unashamedly conservative theologically.

A friend posted on FB recently looking for a church in Perth fully accepting of gay Christians and I wanted to say ‘hey we could be those people’, because I’d like to be… But truth is we are not – and I am not.

And then I hear a phrase like ‘welcoming but not affirming’ to describe churches and I feel it reads like an oxymoron. Who will feel genuinely welcome while being unaffirmed in their sexual identity? I don’t think we can go that route and not think it will backfire.

Is it more honest to say ‘gay folks not welcome here’?..

But I really don’t want to say that either – (not because it’s a cultural faux past), but because that’s not even close to what I feel in my heart.

Perhaps Bill Loader’s approach is best – summarised, he would say ‘the Bible is clearly against homosexual relationships, but we are now in the 21st C so we need to ditch those teachings and accept that our new context requires new thinking’.

I find that argument more compelling than the re-interpretations that just haven’t been at all convincing in my opinion. My fairly ‘high’ view of the Bible prevents me from taking that route.

That said after 53 years of evangelicalism indoctrination maybe I am simply incapable of any fresh reading of scripture. Or maybe I am tied by my pastoral role and need of income to being unable to even conceive of a way other than the one I have always held.

I have no doubt those are real factors in my own processing of the question.

Then some would suggest that if we accept Jesus as the ultimate revelation of God and read all scripture ‘through him’ then he would surely be far more gracious, accepting and embracing than the conservative view seems to allow us to be, suggesting that maybe we need to go back and re-read the biblical text again. Jesus certainly wouldn’t behave like so much of evangelicalism in this regard.

My hunch is that somewhere between 10 and 50 years time this will be a non-issue – like divorce is today. Divorce was once in league with the ‘unforgivable sin’, (40-50 years back) but now it is accepted as inevitable and unfortunate, but generally not disqualifying in any way. I remember the days when divorcees couldn’t attend church, take communion, teach Sunday school and certainly not serve on leadership teams or as pastors.

I sense culture will move us (as the church) to acceptance of gay relationships as normative and that gay folks will be part of our churches just as straight folks are. I imagine it will happen incrementally, and maybe one day young people will look on us in our older years, perplexed at our curious and somewhat disturbing views on sexuality… that is, if we still hold them… because we are not immune to these forces either.

So – people have often asked me for my view on this subject and I have hesitated to give it, initially because I hadn’t done serious reading & reflection and then ironically because I had done the reading and reflection. Reaching a position of stability in my thinking only served to create new challenges and issues that I am still unable to resolve adequately.

I don’t know why some folks have known nothing other than a gay sexual orientation.

I don’t know how we help gay folks find faith and acceptance in Christian community.

And yet if someone walked into my church tomorrow I know my instinctive response would be to welcome them, hear their story and try to help them find a place of belonging… Aint that conflicted?…

So maybe Eugene felt a bit of that stuff going on over the last few days. Maybe he will change his mind again. Maybe I will too…

Either way let’s be a lot more gracious with one another as we try to process with integrity a theological, pastoral and cultural issue that currently seems to be bringing us undone in ugly ways.

If there is a greater and more significant ‘cosmic spiritual conflict’ going on – and our battle is not against flesh and blood then surely we have to see that in this time we are getting brought undone by our enemy as we attack one another and ‘fight for the truth’, meanwhile leaving all manner of carnage in our wake.

When God Kills People IV

I’ve put down Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God for a bit as the further I get into it the more disturbed I become – not so much by his ideas per se, but by the sheer complexity of it all. Is the Bible really that hard to understand? I get that we read with 21stC western lenses and we need to re-enter the culture of the people and their writing to appreciate it. I get that we are always interpreting and we need to interpret well, but I fear he has made this so inaccessible that it almost becomes absurd.

I’m a big believer in the ‘teenager test’ – can I explain my ideas in such a way that a teenager can get them? If not then I need to go back and re-think them.
I posed the ‘teenager test’ on the CWG Facebook forum and discovered I wasn’t the only one frustrated with the hermeneutical gymnastics Boyd was calling for in order to make sense of these difficult passages of scripture.
So I’ve read 1000 pages and have 500 to go… I ‘get’ his points and I understand his theses. I’m yet to be convinced they are the best answers to the questions, but I’m more concerned that if someone said to me ‘what’s the deal with all the killing God orders in the OT then I doubt I could use Boyd’s framework as an explanation unless the person had a theology degree and a half hour to spend.
On a slightly different tack, I discovered an interesting podcast the other day – ‘Unbeleivable’, a series of debates between believers and atheists hosted by a Christian apologist, Justin Brierly. I like the premise of these podcasts – that we don’t need to fear honest debate although I’m not sure how much movement there would be on either side when a convinced atheist comes to defend his position against a theology scholar! Both are entrenched and unlikely to shift, but it is interesting hearing the arguments that get posed.
This one was centred on ‘genocide in the Bible’ and looked at 1 Samuel 15 – apparently the most offensive chapter in the entire Bible according to a ‘Ship of Fools’ survey (ok hardly reliable…) I’m a fair way into it now and the atheist is making a much better case than the Christian so I’m not sure the answers lie there – ha!
So at this point I feel far more aware in dealing with these difficult passages, but I’m yet to settle on answers that I can own. I imagine I will read further afield to see the other modes of reconciling these stories with the nature of Christ.

(Not) About a Dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About 4 years ago we decided it was time to get a dog again. It had been two years since Winston, our last dog had died (pic above) and we were feeling it would be a good thing for the family – and Sam especially – to add another member…

So after a brief Gumtree search I found Lucy. It felt right and I thought she looked the part so I gave the kids the task of scouring Gumtree for any dog they liked. Funnily enough after they had narrowed the field, they too finished up choosing the exact same 3 year old golden lab.

Snap.

We were all agreed. She was the one.

So we bought her and brought her home and ‘life with a dog’ began again. Her owners were sad to see her go but apparently they had ‘allergies’ brought on by her and couldn’t keep her. I’m not sure if ‘allergies’ was a euphemism for something else, but more about that later…

I must admit I had somewhat ‘immortalised’ Winston, our first dog, a super-fit, athletic golden retriever cross lab who could run all day and retrieve a ball from even the largest of surf. I only had fond memories of him and I had forgotten the bad – the inability to ever walk on a lead, the maddening barking, selective hearing especially at the beach, the morning surprises he frequently left us as his bowel control deteriorated with age.

Even as I remember now, I still hold him in high regard as a beautiful dog.

I really wanted to love Lucy, but I discovered she had some quirks that made it hard. She would pick up things in her mouth and move them – constantly – shoes that were outside could now be anywhere. Rocks, balls, toys all got ‘dragged and dropped’ around the yard. Ok – so she’s a dog… they do that kind of stuff. No biggie… just a pain.

But she was kinda ‘odd’ too. She began her time with us by climbing all the steps at our place with no problem, then one day she decided she didn’t want to any longer. Now she would only go up the limestone steps – not the timber ones – so dog walking meant taking her around the back of the house to get to the front. I may have thought ‘stupid dog’ on more than one occasion. She will now climb one set of steps, but still refuses to go down another. No logic that I can see – just silly. Get a grip dog…

There were various other quirks that just annoyed me, but the deal breaker for the last year or so have been the 3am wake up calls as she bashes on the door and asks to be allowed in. We keep dogs outdoors and she was fine with this for a couple of years, but it seems she is no longer fine. According to the vet she has developed anxiety (which needs medication…) and she doesn’t like being away from people. In fact if you let her she will sit under your feet every moment of the day.

So a 3am wake up call has happened fairly often in the last 12 months and we inevitably rise to a frantic, panicking, panting dog who is unable to settle even if we bring her indoors. She has been locked in the shed, tied to a post, brought inside, but very little works. Danelle has turned herself inside out trying to find a solution.

After 6 months of this I gave up on her – not consciously at first, but eventually I realised I was over her. I started to dislike her. I may have developed an ‘allergy’ to her… Maybe those previous owners didn’t tell us the whole story?… I began to call her ‘dog’ or ‘stupid dog’ when I’d see her and I no longer got up to her racket. I left it to Danelle who was still willing to persist. I was for selling her – moving her on – and getting our life back.

Gumtree was beckoning.

It came to a head last week when a couple of particularly bad nights left even Danelle weary and out of puff. We discussed it as a family and despite some reluctance we agreed to put her on Gumtree with full disclosure about her issues. She didn’t give us ‘allergies’ – she was just a full blown psycho, nutbag, crazy dog – buyer beware!

We had 8 calls that day – for an 8 year old insane dog…

The very first people sounded ideal and we agreed to re-home her with them. They lived in Fremantle, had another placid dog who needed a friend and both dogs would sleep in their bedroom. Not my cup of tea, but that’d work for Lucy. ‘Our lives revolve around our dogs’ she said and at that point I realised we were speaking a different language.

‘She’s all yours’ I said. Deal done…

They wanted to come that evening, but it was a bit soon for the kids, so we agree they would come in two days time. We’d gather up her stuff and say our goodbyes and then get our life back.

There were some tears and some regret – but none of it was mine. I realised that if we were actually going to do this then I had to be the badass – the hardliner who would see this thru to the end, because if I didn’t push this thing thru we’d capitulate and change our minds. Sometimes you have to do hard things and I am generally ok with shutting off the heart and allowing common sense to prevail.

This was certainly a win for common sense and I was looking forward to getting out balcony back (chairs currently stand up ended because she can tear them up when she is frantic). I was looking forward to uninterrupted sleep and not worrying about how we would manage her when we went on holidays. Life was about become simpler and neater.

I fell asleep early that night and had a most bizarre night of sleep, waking every few hours to a deep sense of ‘dread’ that this was the wrong decision. Each time I ran it through the grid of why we were doing it again – recalled that we had all signed off on it – remembered that it was a perfectly rational and sensible things to do – but each time I woke there was a clear sense of it being a ‘wrong call’ – a decision I would regret.

I’ve known God long enough now to know that sense of him speaking and this definitely felt like him – it sure as hell wasn’t me… I was done.

As I ‘opened the conversation’ with him and asked ‘what’s this about?’ I sensed he was saying ‘you gave up – you got lazy – you left it to your wife – and you got selfish. You just want it to be easy, but sometimes its not.’

I thought ‘I know it gets hard – but this one I can ‘fix’ by removing the problem.’

What if the dog isn’t the problem though?

What if it is actually largely my problem, my attitude, my refusal to allow her to be a weak, sick, animal – my struggle to be kind? I began to realise I wanted a dog who would never get sick, never cost money, never do stupid things… etc etc… I allowed myself to hear what a jerk I’d been both to Lucy and Danelle in simply giving up in being unkind to her. I realised if we sold her we would never have a dog again – ever – because I couldn’t be trusted to do the right thing with them.

I managed to catch Danelle in the bathroom before she left for work and I said ‘I think I’ve got this all wrong. I think we need to pull out of this whole thing.’ I explained what had happened. It felt weird. ‘It makes very little logical sense – but it feels right’. I knew that if I pushed on with my ‘head’ and ignored what was happening in my heart I would regret it deeply. I needed to go with what I felt was a really ‘dumb’ gut decision.

Danelle was relieved – mostly for Sam who was taking it hard – and she agreed to discuss it with the kids on the way to school, who were both wrapped we weren’t following thru with it.

I apologised to Danelle for giving up and made a commitment to help her. I ‘apologised’ to Lucy for the way she had been treated and I chatted with the kids about how my change of heart had come about. I think its good to allow our kids into the inner workings of our sometimes perplexing spiritual/philosophical processes.

Its been a weird few days ‘selling’ and then ‘unselling’ a dog.

Maybe if you’re not a God botherer like I am, you could just call it ‘an attack of the guilts’, but I believe it was more than that. I believe God was getting my attention. It was partly about a dog – an animal I had agreed to care for and then given up on – and in that he reminded me of our calling to care for the creation we interact with, but it was also about shaping of character and having another rough edge knocked off.

So we still have a dog.., called Lucy and she’s a beautiful dog.

When God Kills People III

Ok so the sausages were really good. We have a fantastic butcher here in Yanchep who creates some really interesting varieties – not your standard ‘meat paste’ rolled in plastic – but some really funky types like ‘cheesy-mite & bacon’ (bacon, vegemite and cheese) or ‘hot hot hot’ – so hot in fact I could only eat one before my mouth was on fire – and I’m a hot food lover!

But back to Boyd’s book…

He describes his idea as like one of those magic eye pictures that if you stare at it long enough it comes into view. Of course some people stare aimlessly for a very long time and just see blurry lines and he acknowledges that this may happen with the ‘cruciform hermeneutic’ for OT violence.. Right now I’m having rare moments of glimpsing the picture (you know that feeling?) but mostly its blurry lines and long periods of wondering if I’ve actually been conned… There is no picture after all…

I finished volume 1 earlier this week so it seems time for an update before I forget what I read. I appreciate that Boyd is unwilling to just dismiss what is inconvenient and that he takes a high view of scripture so obviously he needs a different plan for articulating the violence passages.

He is looking at possible solutions now and his next one is the Synthesis Solution where ‘the OT’s violent portraits of God must be accepted as accurate revelations alongside of Christ’. He acknowledges this as the broadest of the views with 4 main strands.

  1. The ‘Beyond Our Categories’ Defense ie. he is God and subject to our ethical constraints and he sees the bigger picture so he can do what we might find abhorrent without failing to be good. Think ‘potter and clay’ and ‘will not the Lord of the whole earth do what is right’ type scenarios. The end of this thinking means that we have to somehow see that ‘barbaric and atrocious-appearing behaviour is in fact ‘good” While I think there is an element of truth in this explanation he goes on to argue well that we simply cannot accept that good is simply defined by what God calls it at the time otherwise our understanding of morality has no north point.
  2. The ‘Divine Punishment’ Defense – this speaks to the violence being an ‘expression of God’s holy wrath against sin.’ Boyd rejects this on the basis that much of the violent behaviour in the OT seems unjust. eg being stoned to death for picking uo sticks on the sabbath (fairly harsh…)
  3. The ‘Greater Good’ Defense – the idea is fairly obvious – God is at work doing something bigger than we see, but Boyd suggests it comes unstuck when we look at an example like the complete wiping out of the Canaanites as being ‘necessary’ yet ‘subsequent to the invasion of Canaan the Israelites continued to live side by side with – and when in exile even in the midst of – wicked and idolatrous neighbours.’
  4. The ‘Progressive Revelation’ Defense – which he sees as the most tenable outside of this own ideas. This idea suggests that God interacts with his people in ways that are in keeping with their development. ‘In short God meets people where they are at, not where he wishes they were’. This view suggests ‘Yahweh acquiesed to violence as much as he had to but moved his people in the direction of peace as much as possible. He argues that if this were the correct view then why does God not minimalise violence rather than (as some times happens) allowing maximal violence. He maintains that this view means that under certain circumstances God’s character is such that he is willing to command and engage in horrific even genocidal violence.

These are very brief overviews and I’m not trying to argue for or against any of them. I’m just trying to keep my head above water and stay with his thinking.

He spends the rest of this volume in his ‘reinterpretation solution’ which he calls the ‘cruciform hermeneutic’. If I were to sum this approach up in as simple language as possible then it would be saying ‘If Jesus crucified is the ultimate revelation of God then when we read the violence texts we must assume something else is going on that bears witness to the crucified Christ and we need to ‘keep digging’ till we find that truth.

He cites Origen as an inspiration for this methodology and while he doesn’t agree with his conclusions he states that he was headed in the right direction by ‘digging deeper’. Boyd writes ‘Origen’s incarnational model of inspiration ld him to believe that there could never be anything superfluous in scripture’, so there has to be a way of understanding the difficult stuff and locate the ‘spiritual meaning’.

‘The method of the spirit’ he notes ‘is to conceal these truths and to hide them deeply underneath narratives which appear to be records of actual events.’

So this is where Boyd finds his ground to stand. Its a long spiel from here on and I’m no sure I will do it justice in this post, but perhaps Boyd’s summary of his path forward is enough:

I will argue that as we interpret these violent portraits through the lens of the cross, we can discern what God was doing when he ‘breathed’ these violent portraits through ancient authors anticipates, participates in and thereby bears witness to what God did in a decisive manner, and for all humanity on the cross. We can in a word, discern in these violent portraits that God was bearing the sins of his people and was thereby taking on an ugly literary semblance that reflected that sin, just as he did in a historical way for all humanity on Calvary p.457

I got to this point and then realised that the subsequent chapters in this first volume must have ‘gone in one ear and out the other’ so to speak, so I may need to re-read them to make sense of what’s ahead. (Don’t ya hate that?…)

I appreciate some folks are reading and commenting – and I’m not replying much – largely because I am yet to form any opinions on this subject and I am not writing this as an advocate for Boyd or to negate his ideas. I’m just curious… So if I don’t reply its largely because I don’t have a lot to say at this point.

I’m hoping to get into Volume 2 shortly, but the work of reviewing it is more than I anticipated – a bit like an ungraded essay for a theology class – so don’t be surprised if my next posts are thinner and more of a ‘good book’ / ‘bad book’ scenario!

(And I have stared at that ‘magic eye’ pic above for 5 minutes now and still can’t make out what it is so that might be indicative of my capacity for new ideas…)

The Wave That Sam Caught

I reverse the ute in tight against the car park fence and drop the tailgate to create a seat with an ocean view. We are the only ones at the beach on this still, warm autumn afternoon. It’s 4.00pm and I’ve driven Sam down for an afternoon surf at our local break. The waves are small and he is the only one in the water. The tide is precariously low exposing the reef, meaning his decision to use my surfboard might just bring us both unstuck.

He clambers across the reef and paddles out into the line up as I open my book. But it’s a weighty theological piece and it makes no sense to bury my head in it, while the ocean is doing its thing just 50m away and my son is surfing. Most days I’d be out there with him, but I had my share of waves earlier in the day.

Still I love to bring him down here and sit in the autumn sun watching him learn and push himself.

So I lean back and watch as he paddles over waves, misses others, sits, waits some more and then misses more waves. I see him size them up but back out and I know that paralysing fear that grips you when you lack confidence and are learning.

And I want to yell at him and coach – bellow instructions from the car park, but truth is every hour in the water he’s learning and finding his way, figuring it out. He doesn’t need me in his ear assaulting him, imposing my will on him, ‘helping’ him. He just needs time… to develop courage and confidence…

So I sit and wait watching diligently, patiently, and then he gets one… paddles strongly into a lefthander that he rides with unexpected confidence and composure. ‘You see! You can do it’ I want to call out, because I knew he could… And I think he knew he could too. He just had to actually do it.

And I realise now that all the way home we will talk about that wave… we will relive that wave from every angle and in slow motion. And I will get a commentary on how big it really was (its bigger when you’re out there you know), how shallow the reef was, how hard it was to catch… but how good it is when you do just commit…

And I will listen to it all (with pride) then we will do it again tomorrow.

And yes – that was the wave in picture

 

 

When God Kills People II

 

 

 

 

I still have a rather disturbing memory of a friend coming for dinner around 10 years ago and having a conversation around issues of faith. She picked up my ‘book of fairy tales’ as she sometimes called it and asked me how I could believe this nonsense.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked.

She opened it totally randomly and read the first words she came across which just happened to be Exodus 32:27 when Moses has just returned to the Hebrew people after they erected the golden calf.

It said this:

“Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbour.’ ”

And she asked ‘what the hell is that all about?’

Fair question?…

I don’t remember my exact answer but I imagine it would have had something to do with God’s holiness and people’s sin – fairly standard fare. But I would have much preferred she opened to John 3 or a more accommodating passage of scripture.

I’m about a third of the way thru Greg Boyd’s ‘Crucifixion of the Warrior God’ where he attempts to provide coherent answers to the horror passages of the Old Testament. I’m reading it slowly and trying to digest it (often I skim and get the gist) and I have to agree with Boyd that we have often been guilty of putting our ‘best spin’ on the difficult issues of violence and that we need a better way of dealing with this stuff.

At the end of the day I may read 1400 pages and disagree, but either way I’d like to open the subject up and give it a shake as I haven’t found a response that I can sit well with. I wrote about this here and I will continue it until I finish the book.

So I began…

I haven’t driven across the Nullarbor for a few years now, but the first 300 pages of Boyd’s book gave me that feeling. It’s a long and at times very repetitive trek through difficult terrain, with some great highlights along the way, but for the most part it’s just a place of endurance. You rarely drive across the country just for the fun of it.

Essentially Boyd is attempting to reconcile the issue of violence in the OT with the non-violent Jesus of the NT.

He begins with an introduction that serves as a roadmap to the journey ahead. Just reading this I felt weary, but I’ve signed up for the trip so I kept moving. His opening chapter, titled the faith of Jacob is about the importance of struggling with the tensions he is about to develop. This is an excellent intro and presents the reader with some of the key challenges for the road ahead. Issues like how we view God, how we read scripture and the link between ‘violent gods’ and violent devotees. A good kickstart.

He then devotes a chapter to explaining the idea of a christocentric hermeneutic but concludes by saying that focusing on Christ alone is ‘too ambiguous to be of value in interpreting the divine violence in the OT’, giving an overview of the direction he will head – towards what he calls a ‘cruciform hermeneutic’.

He then spends the next 200 pages showing how that cruciform hermeneutic (viewing the Bible thru the lens of Christ crucified) is present both in scripture and history. This part of the trip felt very dry… you could certainly call it ‘thorough’, but at times it veered into repetitive tedium.

He hammered the ‘cruciform hermeneutic’ and he did make a good case for it, as well as spending a fair slab of time arguing against his critics. I have certainly been challenged to look for this focus each time I read but I’m yet to appreciate how he makes it work in the violence narratives. He views this hermeneutical framing as critical for any further work hence the time spent on it.

From here it is on to a chapter entitled ‘The Dark Side of the Bible’ where he scans the Old Testament material for all kinds of divine violence. By the end of that chapter you are rather overwhelmed with the vast amount of problematic material.

He breaks it into 5 categories:

  1. Divinely sanctioned violence eg promised land entry
  2. Prescribed violence in the law – eg kids being put to death for being stubborn, lazy, drunk
  3. Divinely Caused Violence, eg flood and destroying angels.
  4. Violence in the Psalms, like Psalm 139:19, 21-23
  5. Violence in Biblical Stories, like the Levite and his concubine in Judges 19–21.

There is no shortage of material to deal with and I was quite stunned by how assaulted I felt having read the chapter. Most of this stuff I had come across over the years but in isolation. When you are confronted with it all together it really does make you take a breath. But I found this chapter helpful for simply laying out the weight of material that needs a response.

From here he moves to the solutions he rejects and this is the section I am in at present. He begins with the ‘dismissal’ solution, beginning with Marcion and moving on to more contemporary voices albeit to a lesser degree. Boyd states that he is committed to the inspiration and authority of the Bible (as well as what he calls ‘infallibility’ – as opposed to inerrancy) so obviously simply ‘ripping those pages out’ is not a valid solution.

He takes what I would consider a conservative view of scripture, but not so conservative that he can’t recognise genre, nuance and literary license. He argues that authority remains intact even if we conclude that certain ‘historical narratives’ fail to align with actual history. (eg Jericho entry)

He also states:

‘I believe every utterance of scripture should be taken literally; not in a shallow sense but in a deep sense. That is, it should be accepted as literal within the world of the biblical narrative, considered as God’s word which has an altogether deeper significance than taking something literally in that it corresponds to some scholar’s reconstruction of what actually happened.’

 

Make sense?

To be more specific he says:

‘The divine authority of a narrative is thus not diminished even if someone were to consider it proven that a particular narrative reflects no actual history.’

 

You might need to read the chapter to get the whole breadth of his argument here. He does go on to make the point that he considers himself a ‘maximalist’ in simply believing that most scripture does line up historically, so I’m curious as to why he needed to make the point so strongly. That said I think I would line up pretty closely with his views.

So I am now up to Chapter 9 ‘The Synthesis Solution’ and once I’ve read another 400 pages I will offer another update.

As a personal reflection I appreciate that its all too easy to read the Old testament with no prior knowledge of context and get tripped up in that, but if it takes 1400 pages of pretty serious reading to make sense of this stuff then what hope is there for the average church-goer who doesn’t have the time or energy to dive in this deep?

In other news I am cooking sausages for dinner tonight…

Sorry Charles?

Back in 1996 I ventured off to what was then called Baptist Theological College. I went reluctantly and not expecting to enjoy myself, but thankfully the experience was very different to the perception.

One of my first year units was Intro to Old Testament, a subject I really couldn’t give due diligence to because I was also studying New Testament Greek and it was the ultimate time thief. Every other unit got studied at half capacity while I sought to pass Greek and invested all my spare time in rote memorising Greek words and expressions. While I eventually got HDs for Greek I missed out on really digging into the other areas, something I was somewhat bummed about (and the reason I never did study Hebrew and subsequently dropped out of the accreditation process.)

In that first year of OT study I remember beginning to explore some difficult questions around the early chapters of Genesis. I picked up The Biblical Flood by Davis Young, that looked at the biblical flood and began to raise questions from a geological perspective about the legitimacy of a worldwide flood, an ark inhabited by two of every species and the sheer logistics of having predators housed with prey, not to mention the means of dealing with animal excrement.

The author made a very good case for reconsidering and re-reading the Genesis story, and I was intrigued by what that meant and how it would play out. But ‘Greek’ called (bellowed) and I was forced to abandon real learning to try and get my head around an ancient language I had very little interest in, but without which I couldn’t make it to second year.  I doubt I would have been half as resentful towards learning biblical languages if it hadn’t impinged so negatively on the learning I really wanted to do. But as it was I ended up shelving many pressing questions to make sure I could enter my next year with Greek behind me.

So when a friend recommended Adam & The Genome recently by Venema and McKnight I felt it may be time to re-open some of those questions. I also have Greg Boyd’s ‘Warrior God’ sitting on the table, but it only arrived this week so I felt it worth finishing the ‘Genome’ first.

I must admit I am something of a McKnight groupie – if theology lecturers had fan clubs then I would join his as he has a remarkable ability to express in readable English, thoughts and concepts that are often inaccessible to us mere mortals. I also find myself on a very similar theological trajectory to McKnight, who is (to my perception) thoroughly conservative evangelical but willing to think, reconsider and adjust his conclusions if needed.

My short ‘Danelle-language’ summary of the book is that these two make a case for Darwin’s theory of evolution to be the best explanation of human origins and as a result call for a reading of Genesis that does not see Adam (and Eve) as historical, but literary. Venema makes the case from genetics for modern humanity descending from approximately 10000 individuals rather than just two distinct people. If the science is correct – and it does seem to be quite compelling – then we either have to see the biblical story as an aberration in history where God intervened dramatically, or we need to consider how we read it differently.

So Venema writes the first half of the book and explains the science behind all the genome stuff. To be honest I struggled to stay with him at times, but I did pick up the gist of his argument – essentially that Darwin got it right. McKnight then begins to look at how we view Adam and Eve in light of this scientific insight and offers an alternate and (to my mind) fairly convincing reading of Genesis that does not see two literal human beings, but rather two people as part of a story suitable for its time that is a way of giving sense to origins.

I have never had any trouble subscribing to an old earth point of view, but up until reading this I hadn’t given serious thought to Darwin’s theory as palatable. I could swallow ‘intra-species’ evolution, but the inter-species form Darwin required for us to get here today was always a bit of a stretch for my mind. Venema suggests it is legit and part of God’s creative process. He suggests the sheer weight of scientific evidence leaves us with no option but to let go of our abhorrence towards evolution and begin to accept that God chose to work thru the evolutionary process.

I don’t have time to unpack all of McKnight’s discussion, but suffice to say that his tracing of understandings of Adam through history, the genre of Genesis and his subsequent conclusions are not easily dismissed either.

It certainly isn’t a denial of the miraculous or supernatural as McKnight agrees that we still read the gospels as historical documents. But I am certainly up for revisiting and re-considering the early chapters of Genesis and where they fit in the broader story.

Am I convinced?

It’d be foolish to be convinced on the basis of one author, but it has certainly led me to think more about the subject as it is a much more believable rendering of things than anyone else I have heard to date.

Anyone else read it and can comment?

Smile and Say ‘G’day’

Remember primary school – and those basic skills in making friends we were introduced to?

So what happened to that stuff as we became adults?

I’ve been surfing a lot lately, mostly at our local break just across the road from home (pic above), but occasionally I venture to the more popular (and crowded) spots. At our local you can paddle out and instantly be in conversation with the other 3 or 4 blokes in the water and most of us know each other quite well now.

But once the crowd becomes unfamiliar the tone changes. It becomes the same kind of crowd you find in a train, or an elevator, except that there is an added air of competition afoot for the best wave. A pecking order forms and I am under no illusions where I sit these days…

I love my local break partly because its a relatively unknown gem close to home, but I also love it for the men I spend time with while I’m out there. Recently I’ve taken Sam with me on most surfs and he has been welcomed into the crew too. The other men encourage him and cheer him on as he learns and improves.

It’s what surfing ought to feel like.

Last week as I paddled out to a break north of Two Rocks amidst 20 other guys I became a face on the train again – another competitor – a threat – and it felt somewhat icy. So I decided it was time to ‘smile and say g’day’. Not kooky, dorky ‘smile and say g’day’, but warm and friendly – change the tone kinda ‘smile and say g’day’.

In a sullen crowd of snarling faces a smile could well be seen as a sign of weakness – a way to further lower my place in the pecking order. Or a smile could be a way to return surfing to a shared experience of the ocean where we all enjoy ourselves rather than separating into winners and losers.

In a silent group of 8 or 9 blokes all scanning the horizon to snaffle the next wave, sometimes all it takes is a ‘beautiful day hey?’ to break the ice, but it so often seems to go against the grain. I’ve actually had people plain ignore me as I’ve looked them in the eye and said ‘g’day’… bizarre… so I’ve waited 5 minutes and then tried a different tack. ‘Day off today?’ And sooner or later they cave. No one really wants to be an rude, arrogant pig.

I’m not out there for a ‘chat’, but neither am I out there to compete.

As with most things in life someone has to go first to change the culture. So if you happen to see me in the water chances are I’ll be that guy who paddles over and smiles at you – then says ‘g’day’.

Try to be nice.

It makes for a much better world.

Evidence That Demands Skepticism

The older I get the less theological stuff I want to be dogmatic on.

There is some core teaching I’ll go hard with, but there is plenty that is either negotiable, mysterious or just plain incomprehensible. That would have scared me when I was 20.

As my kids get older they ask me questions that I once knew the answers to, but now am not so sure about. That’s difficult because at their stage in life and faith they need fairly black and white answers and I see shades of grey far more easily. I refuse to give them trite answers to complex questions.

It was nice to be certain and assured of my responses and a part of me would like to go back there, but 52 years of life has left me with plenty of questions that aren’t easily resolved. In fact if I weren’t a Christian today then I doubt I’d have much chance of finding my way to faith. I seriously doubt you could put me in an Alpha course and have me pop out the other side convinced and converted.

That said I know the ‘reasons for faith’ and I could present them to you. Plenty of them have strong currency, but I subscribed to them when I wanted to believe. I ‘bought’ them when I was growing up in a Christian community. I think now I’d try to poke holes in them and I’d find a flaw in every piece of reasoning and use that to hold all belief systems at arms length.

I’m a natural skeptic and questioner, so things I just took as ‘gospel’ earlier in my life I have been revisiting and asking ‘what do I think now?’ And that’s a trickier question when you get paid money to be (at least somewhat) sure of things and to lead people to a strong place in faith.

What its helped me grasp is that there are few people out there just waiting to be intellectually convinced of faith (sorry ‘Case for Christ’ fans). I became a Christian largely because the ‘data made sense’ – the ‘numbers added up’ and I couldn’t refute the evidence (but I was also unconsciously being strongly formed by the Christian community I was in). It was the Josh McDowell / apologetics era, but much of what I took on board then is still valuable in holding a reasonable faith.

However in a world where there are so many competing ideas I don’t think people are chasing a ‘reasonable faith’. I don’t think many people are waiting for someone to hit them with a killer argument for the gospel.

Rather I sense that the difference will be encounters with God that have undeniable potency – prophetic insights, experiences with the divine that send chills down the spine – inexplicable love and grace. If faith is all down to logic and reason then I think we are fighting a losing battle.

But because my faith has been formed in a community, where I have experienced God repeatedly and also heard stories of his actions, I have a much harder time when it comes to letting go of my belief system. I would have to deny or re-interpret so much of my life experience.

As I’ve pondered how we approach evangelism in this climate it has led me to consider that the keys will be the supernatural experiences / divine encounters that give people a context in which to consider the ‘evidence’. I’ve begun praying for people more – and telling them I’m praying for them. It certainly opens up conversation and allows for God to do his thing. In that context there has been opportunity to speak of how I see the world – of how I see Jesus.

I’m sure there is still a place for well formed apologetics, but it seems that for every answer there is an equal and opposite response. I don’t really know how to do it, but reclaiming a faith that is more spine chillingly supernatural may just be a foothold in a slippery world.