Whether you're preaching the Bible, teaching it, or reading it on your own, there are always new facets to be revealed. Here are a few books that may refresh your perspective.
(I was invited to take part in a debate about hell at a university recently, but unfortunately, the dates don’t work with my schedule this time. But since it’s an interesting topic, and one about which many folks have questions, I thought I’d share a couple of short essays I’ve written on the subject.)
While Jonathan Edwards wasn’t the first to preach about hell and condemnation, his ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ sermon in 1741 crystallizes the beginning of a modern movement in the church. Edwards employed fear of punishment as a primary means for conversion and doctrinal adherence. Meanwhile, his congregants fainted in the aisles and clung to the pews to avoid being dragged down into the abyss.
We can argue day and night about whether fear-based theology is effective, biblically accurate, or even necessary. But it’s worthwhile to consider where our contemporary ideas about hell and Satan even come from.
Today, we’ll begin with Satan; we’ll save hell for tomorrow.
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Evangelical theologian David Lamb tackles some of the Bible’s most troubling passages in his book, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? His answer: yes and no.
The book has received mixed reviews in the Christian blogosphere, but Lamb was well received when he recently spoke at a church here. Religion News Service sat down with Lamb, an Old Testament scholar at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, Pa., to find out how believers’ long-held views of a wrathful Old Testament God might waver with his findings.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Every Christmas, my family makes an 8-hour drive to celebrate the holidays with extended family. This year, to fight off sleep half-way through the trek, my sister started reading aloud in the book of Luke. Before you begin to feel remorse about your worldly choices in travel entertainment this past holiday, you should know that we opted for this reading only after finding a disappointing selection at Red Box. While Hollywood failed us, God did not. The Spirit revealed something new in a story I’ve heard over and over.
My sister read aloud. Chapter 1: Zechariah, Mary, Elizabeth, babies on the way. Chapter 2: Jesus, prophesies. Chapter 3: John the Baptist, and wait, what?
Luke 3:7-14 reads:
When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. ... The crowds asked, “What should we do?” John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?” He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.” “What should we do?” asked some soldiers. John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”
Israel reported last week that it successfully tested its latest missile defense system. Known as “David’s Sling,” it is designed to shoot down midrange missiles from Hezbollah rockets originating from Lebanon.
I don’t want to get bogged down in a discussion about Israel’s right to defend itself. What I want to do is explore the biblical reference to “David’s Sling” and what it might mean for us. The name is an obvious allusion to the story of David’s victory over Goliath. It’s a favorite biblical story for many Sunday school teachers, but a conundrum for those teachers who take mimetic theory seriously. Mimetic theory claims that violence belongs to humans, not to God. It also states that the Bible progressively reveals this message about violence to us. And yet, the connection between God and violence permeates the Bible, with God apparently sanctioning violence against God’s enemies.
So we rightly ask, “What about all the violence in the Bible?”
There’s a lot at stake here. By trying to turn the Jewish poetry of the Genesis story into a scientific-historical text that would stand against evolution, Creationism, as an ideology, serves to diminish the account of human dignity established in the Creation story that might, in fact, represent a worthy alternative to Darwinism. Says [Marilynne] Robinson: “People who insist that the sacredness of Scripture depends on belief in creation in a literal six days seem never to insist on a literal reading of ‘to him who asks, give,’ or ‘sell what you have and give the money to the poor.’ In fact, their politics and economics align themselves quite precisely with those of their adversaries, who yearn to disburden themselves of the weak, and to unshackle the great creative forces of competition. The defenders of ‘religion’ have made religion seem foolish while rendering it mute in the face of a prolonged and highly effective assault on the poor.”
Today is the day we remember the Protestant Reformation. On Oct. 31, 1517 Martin Luther, my denomination’s namesake, nailed his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenburg. It was the beginning of a new movement that brought many changes to the Christian church. Perhaps the change I am most thankful for (other than a new awareness of justification by faith alone, simul iustus et peccator, and imputed righteousness of course) is that the Reformation paved the way for the Bible to be placed in the hands of the people. Before Luther’s German translation was completed in 1534, which happily coincided with advancements in the printing press, it was virtually impossible for any non-clergy Christians to get ahold of, much less read, the book we take for granted.
Individual faith and the ability to study this book for ourselves is a benefit we don’t even stop to consider. I grew up with more Bibles in my home than we could ever use and have countless different versions now in my office. And yes, there are still some places where access to information and printed text is hard to come by, but at least here, God’s Word is always at our fingertips, if we want it to be.
Debates on immigration in the United States continue to move in the default direction of North/South. As such, the prominent debating points often direct public attention to the U.S./Mexico border fence and the Latina/o community. By sleight-of-hand, many in the mainstream media tend to recast a centuries-old U.S. immigration experience as a Latina/o problem.
Unlike the variety of migration stories in the Bible, the forces creating migration for many Latina/o families are closely tied to the issues of power and hyper-consumerism. Often as a last resort do immigrant families enter the northbound currents of low-wage laborers that, as Bishop Minerva Carcaño describes, feed “the economic machine in this country.”
Editor's Note: This is part one of a three-part series from Dr. Miroslav Volf an a voice instructing us how to involve our values into our present politcal debates.
In this year of presidential elections, I have decided to summarize key values that guide me as I decide for whom to cast my vote. There are three basic elements of choosing a candidate for public office responsibly:
- Values we hope the candidate will stand for and the order of priority among them (which requires of us knowledge of faith as a whole, rather than just a few favorite topics, and knowledge of how faith applies to contemporary life)
- Ways in which and means by which these values are best implemented in any given situation (which requires of us a great deal of knowledge about how the world actually functions and what policies lead to what outcomes — for instance, whether it would be an economically wise decision to try to reintroduce the gold standard)
- Capacity — ability and determination — to contribute to the implementation of these values (which requires of us knowledge of the track record of the candidate)
Most important are the values. As I identify each value, I will (1) name the basic content of the value, (2) give a basic rationale for holding it, (3) suggest some parameters of legitimate debate about it, and (4) identify a key question for the candidate.
I write as a Christian theologian, from the perspective of my own understanding of the Christian faith. Whole books have been written on each of these values, explicating and adjudicating complex debates. In providing a rationale for a given value, I only take one or two verses from the Bible to back up my position, more to flag the direction in which a rationale would need to go than, in fact, to strictly offer such a rationale.
God created the earth to produce every thing Adam and then Eve — and then their issue, and then all of us — would need. In the beginning, the garden needed little tending, but — due to a rather fortunate fall — eventually Adam and Eve, as his helpmate, and their children and the issue of generations had to toil the earth to pull from the garden those things God intended to meet their needs.
Along the way, progress was made in the form of extensions of the garden bounds, the distribution of water and other nutrients, applications of healthful foods and herbs, techniques for every aspect of garden production. A community grew from a couple who worked hard as stewards, first out of penance and then, I think, out of love for the land provided to sustain them and for each other as they worked together. This is the story of how sustainability came to be.
To simplify: God created the Heavens and Earth. He designed a glorious garden and put in it everything needed to make that garden productive: plants, water, clean air, soil, enrichers (bugs, worms, life, decay), animals, and the Sun, the first and last fuel. And, finally, He made man and woman.
HARRISBURG, Pa. — A federal judge on Oct. 1 dismissed a lawsuit filed by an atheist group that challenged a "Year of the Bible" resolution passed early this year by Pennsylvania lawmakers.
Yet U.S. Middle District Judge Christopher C. Conner also questioned whether the resolution should have been adopted at all. The nonbinding resolution, introduced by state Rep. Rick Saccone, urges Pennsylvanians to read the Bible during 2012.
The judge dismissed the suit by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation after concluding that House members have "absolute legislative immunity" in passing such measures.
Conner emphasized, however, that his decision to grant immunity "should not be viewed as judicial endorsement for this resolution. It most certainly is not."
It’s amazing what a difference six words can make in our understanding of a figure as central as Jesus to the lives and faith of so many. Even historians and others who don’t claim Christianity personally are intrigued by the scrap of text recently discovered to contain, in Coptic, the sentence fragment: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’”
Was this Jesus of Nazareth? is it authentic? Did the author have an original source to pull from, or simply word-of-mouth legend? After all, this writing seems to be several hundred years newer than the synoptic gospels. Perhaps Jesus was speaking in parable, as he often did, or maybe the “wife” was the Church, which often is referred to as “the bride of Christ.” Who knows? It’s likely we never will, but the buzz that this find creates is more interesting to me than the source of the scripture itself.
Why do we care so much if Jesus had a wife and kids or not? Why does it seem to matter if he died without ever having sex?
Cheerleaders at an East Texas high school are fighting their school district’s orders to stop using Bible quotes on their signs at football games.
In August, cheerleaders at Kountze High School, a school with fewer than 500 students 30 miles north of Beaumont, Texas, began painting Bible verses on large paper signs football players burst through at the beginning of games.
But this week, Kountze Independent School District Superintendent Kevin Weldon called for an end to the banners after consulting with a legal adviser at the Texas Association of School Boards.
“It is not a personal opinion of mine,” Weldon told KHOU, a Houston television station. “My personal convictions are that I am a Christian as well. But I’m also a state employee and Kountze ISD representative. And I was advised that such a practice would be in direct violation of United States Supreme Court decisions.”
That prompted the cheerleaders and their supporters to launch a Facebook page, “Support Kountze Kids Faith,” which attracted 34,000 members in its first 24 hours — more than 10 times the population of Kountze.
Parents of at least three cheerleaders have hired an attorney and are considering suing the school district.
When Jesus showed up, I think it’s interesting that he took that deaf man away from the THEY. He removes him from that system. He sticks his fingers in his ears and spits and touched his tongue and looks to heaven and the text says, he sighed. He looked to heaven and sighed. And the thing is, Jesus didn’t then rebuke the man or his deafness. He didn’t say, I cast out the demon of deafness. He just touched him, looked to heaven, sighed and said “BE OPEN."
It’s a wonderful statement for healing isn’t it? Be open.
It’s an image that’s stuck with me all week. This might sound weird but all week I kept picturing Jesus sticking his fingers in each of your ears and saying “BE OPENED." And then in the same daydream, before I could stop it, I pictured Jesus’ Holy and unwashed fingers in my own ears. He sighed he looked to heaven and he said, "Be opened." To which I said, “No thanks."
“Words! Words! Words!
I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through, first from him, now from you. Is that all you blighters can do?”
So, Liza Doolittle challenges the hapless Freddy Eynsford-Hill at the height of a dramatic confrontation in My Fair Lady. Freddy has come to her rescue, with his flowery, long-winded protestations of love, but poor Liza is fed up with words:
“Don't talk of stars, burning above. If you're in love, show me. Tell me not dreams, filled with desire. If you're on fire, show me.”
And you know, Eliza has a point. A well-turned phrase won’t keep you warm at night.
It’s ironic that this drama was penned by one of the great wordsmiths of the English language. The play turns on the transformation of a poor Cockney girl into a proper English lady through the manipulation of her ability to master the English language. One argument put forth in the course of achieving this goal is that it doesn’t matter what you say as long as you say it properly. Style can compensate for the absence of substance.
In contrast, I listened this week to a powerful sermon preached by the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber to a gathering of some 34,000 Lutheran youth gathered in assembly in New Orleans.
In the 31 years since the discovery of HIV and AIDS, nearly 30 million people have died from the virus with 34 million people currently living with the disease.
The epidemic is at its worst in sub-Saharan Africa, and women are affected the most. In fact, 59 percent of people living with HIV and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa are women.
Statistics like these are mind-numbing. Though necessary, they can nearly cripple our response as they point to the inefficacy of our actions.
This is why, when I teach or write on HIV and AIDS, I prefer to tell stories. And as people of faith, we need stories, both ancient and new, to help us navigate our response to social issues such as HIV and AIDS.
A hotel in the United Kingdom has replaced in-room Gideon Bibles with the soft-porn best-seller Fifty Shades of Grey.
The change was made earlier this month in all 40 guest rooms at the Damson Dene Hotel in the Lake District of England.
The hotel's owner Jonathan Denby explained his decision in a blog post:
"Tonight millions of women will be curling up in bed with a good book and you can bet your life it won't be the Bible. More likely than not it will be Fifty Shades of Grey. I haven't read the book yet – I'm not in the target audience – but I'm told it's a ripping good yarn and everyone who's in the target audience loves it. This made me wonder about the sense of providing a book, the Gideon Bible which no one reads, and many dislike, in the bedside cabinet of our hotel bedrooms, instead of a book which everyone wants to read, such as Fifty Shades of Grey."