Sep 22

The Bible: Infallible, Inerrant, Other?

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Bible

Control came up a lot in Sunday School yesterday. What was the theme? We like to be in control. Understandably, no one wants her car to careen off the highway and spin into a field or ditch. No one wants to sign off his decision

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Bible

Control came up a lot in Sunday School yesterday.

What was the theme? We like to be in control.

Understandably, no one wants her car to careen off the highway and spin into a field or ditch. No one wants to sign off his decision making to another for major life choices. We like control.

Even when it comes to Scripture, we like control.

Control can mean keeping Scripture at arms’ length, never cracking the cover. Or control can mean memorizing a lot of verses so as to immediately squash your conversation partner in a theological debate.

Or, control can mean putting claims on Scripture that Scripture doesn’t make of itself. You (may) know the ones: infallible, inerrant.

Those claiming the infallability of Scripture most often mean that while it may contain errors it is doesn’t fail in achieving its goal (however they define that goal).

While inerrancy supporters claim an even stiffer line that Scripture contains no errors, about anything. Everything in Scripture is absolutely and definitively without error, even the years in those pesky chronologies. (It should be noted there is a wide gap in the way inerrantists define their own position).

For most of my life, I didn’t know what I thought about those terms, for most of my life I didn’t know those terms.

But once I cut some theological teeth, I scoffed at the idea of infallibility or inerrancy.

Maybe it’s because I come from a denomination that says only this of Scripture: “Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement for infallibility or inerrancy.

But last week I received an email, wondering if the Apprentice Institute affirms the inerrancy of Scripture.

And in my search to respond, I changed my mind, sort of.

See this Karl Barth guy popped in my head.

Barth has this idea that the Bible is not the Word of God (capital “W”), instead it’s the word Karl Barth--Wikimedia commonsof God that points to the Word of God (that is Jesus–“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” –John 1.1).

The Bible isn’t revelation, the Bible is witness to revelation.

Think about it, when you read the Gospels, or Paul’s letters, or the Old Testament, all the authors are telling you about someone or something else: God.

They’re not the revelation, they’re not the big show, they’re pointing you toward that revelation, toward the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

But my question is: if the Bible as witness points us to Jesus Christ without fail, then is the Bible infallible because it points us to the One who alone is inerrant? I’m playing fast and loose with that term, so forgive me.

The problem (we have) with Barth’s position is that we like control.

Inerrancy and infallibility are ways to put parameters on the Bible, to be able to cooly and calmly defend the authority of Scripture with unbreakable locks.

But what if the Bible doesn’t need all that? What if the goal of the Bible isn’t the Bible itself? What if the goal of the Bible is teaching you what it means to be part of this community called the body of Christ (the church)? And the way the Bible does this is to point away from itself to the One who calls you to be part of his body?

But thinking this way may mean we’re not as in control as we’d like to be.

 

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May 29

The Ascension: When Presence Seems Like Absence

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“When [Jesus] had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of

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When [Jesus] had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”   –Acts 1:9-11

Some witnesses, huh? Staring into heaven and all. If you ever feel like you’ve wasted some time or missed an opportunity, rest in the fact that even the disciples just stared into heaven on at least one occasion. They didn’t run off shouting the mystery of faith, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

But we do. Because, we’re stuck in between those last two clauses: Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

And sometimes it feels about as good as being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. That one space accounts for the whole of church history. For the highs and lows, the good and bad, the times when Christ’s presence seems impossible to imagine and the times when Christ’s presence seems impossible to deny.

But the great news of the ascension is that Christ is present. The ascension is the period(.) of “Christ is risen.” The space between that period and “Christ will come again” is the presence of Christ, hidden, yet there. Apparently absent, but also filling the void.

Christ didn’t float up into heaven in a hot air balloon. Heaven isn’t some far off place that we just don’t have the technology to see yet.

hot air ballons

**Not part of Jesus’ ascension

Heaven is the created order that God resides in. And Christ is there, obscured by the cloud and a little white space on a screen or page, but there nonetheless.

In the words of Karl Barth, “The point of the story [the ascension] is not that when Jesus left His disciples he visibly embarked upon a wonderful journey into space, but that when He left them he entered the side of the created world which was…[temporarily] inaccessible and incomprehensible, that before their eyes He ceased to be before their eyes.” (Church Dogmatics, III.2, 453-54).

Which Paul grouped you into, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1).

Hidden, but still there. Before your friend’s eyes, but no longer before their eyes.

And whether you celebrate the Ascension today or this Sunday, it’s all about the absence, which is really presence, which is an obscure way of saying: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Maybe it’s easy and tempting to stare off into the sky while Christ seems out of the picture. But that last clause won’t let us: Christ will come again.

“And when Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:4).

But that space, that (apparent) absence, is the stuff of your life. Don’t be overwhelmed, don’t stare off into heaven. Know that Christ is present in the apparent absence, and follow him out into whatever absence you stumble upon today.

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May 21

In Praise of Questions

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If you’ve stumbled onto the homepage of the blog archive, you’ve seen the cryptic quote from Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow. How many people read that and never make it any further? I have no way of knowing. How many people simply skim over it to

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If you’ve stumbled onto the homepage of the blog archive, you’ve seen the cryptic quote from Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow.

How many people read that and never make it any further? I have no way of knowing. How many people simply skim over it to get to the blog? I also have no way of knowing.

But it’s there. And I didn’t just slap it up there for kicks and giggles, or because I wanted to impress you with a quote from a book you might not have read (ok, so maybe a little of the latter, but definitely not the former).

I put it up because sometimes this field of Christian spiritual formation has too many answers.

Having a hard time? Read the Bible (preferably Jeremiah 29:11, or a related text).

Need an answer? Listen in silent prayer.

Problem meet solution. And so it goes.

There’s a time and place for answers, just not very often. I like answers. I was that student who tried to find out what answer the teacher wanted to hear so I could parrot it back to her and be appropriately praised.

It’s not that answers are bad, it’s just that answers shut off the journey.brick wall

Being content with answers is like closing your eyes during a road-trip from LA to New York (hopefully you’re not the driver in this scenario). You’d miss the dramatic changes in scenery, food, and culture along the way. You’re never forced out of your comfort zone. You arrive more or less the same as you left.

Which brings me to this Sunday’s lectionary reading from Acts 17.

Paul rolls into the Areopagus and sees how dad-gummed religious these Greeks are. They’ve got temples to everything, they’re worshiping like it’s their job. Heck, they’ve even got an altar dedicated “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” They’re that religious.

They’ve got a god  (answer) for everything.

Paul goes on to tell them about the God who they actually worship, the one who made heaven and earth and…you know the story. This God is known. Whew, thanks for the answer Paul.

Just when I had an answer, a dear teacher I’ve never met, Karl Barth, caused me to stumble. Barth insists–again and again–that the God revealed in Jesus Christ is wholly other. Different from us.

Yes, God became one of us, but lest we get too confident or comfortable in our own ability (our answers), Barth keeps that (wholly other) trump card up his sleeve.

Barth says to us (to quote an old show), “You think you know [God], but you have no idea.”

Which is terrifying and refreshing at the same time.

You think you know about God, but the reality would probably blow your mind.

Even Moses could only handle God’s backside.

It makes sense if you sit with it.

Except for his “I am” statements in the Gospel of John, Jesus is pretty cryptic in his teaching. The disciples continue to miss the point. Indeed their whole schooling with Jesus seems like an exercise in missing the point.

Who’s the greatest in the kingdom? Nope.

What’s the message of the loaves? Still didn’t get it.

Pray with Jesus in the garden? Droopy eyes.

But Jesus still loves them, still leads and guides them, even, perhaps especially, when they have no idea what the answer is. Heck, they don’t even always ask good questions (See “Who’s the greatest” above).

But asking is what opens us up for growth and transformation, for surprise and awe. Answers leave us comfortable in our knowing. And if we stay comfortable long enough, we might find out no one is asking the questions for which we have the answers anymore.

So, I hope you’ll read the epigraph for this blog. And I hope you’ll continue to ask questions, instead of just boxing God in with answers.

If you box God in long enough with answers, after you tear through all the tape and peanut packing, you might just discover the god you packed away is UNKOWN and unfamiliar to the God who meets us in Jesus.

What question are you asking in this season of life?

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May 12

Too Much Faith?

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“Guilt and sin can lead to anxiety and fear,” according to a report from KSN’s report tonight titled: “Too Much Faith?” Too much faith? While provocative, the headline is almost laughable. What would that look like? Tithing too much? Feeding too many people? Being too available? Making

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“Guilt and sin can lead to anxiety and fear,” according to a report from KSN’s report tonight titled: “Too Much Faith?”

Too much faith? While provocative, the headline is almost laughable.

What would that look like? Tithing too much? Feeding too many people? Being too available? Making eye contact with the person you’d rather avoid? Too much time spent in prayer? Too much Scripture reading? Too much time investing in the lives of your friends and family? Too much love of neighbor?

My sneaking suspicion is that this report will have too much emphasis on the wrong kind of faith.

Fides or Fiducia?

Somehwere in seminary I was introduced to two kinds of faith: fides (“mental assent,” or what you think) and fiducia (“sure and abiding trust,” thinking plus whole life).

I doubt this piece on religion in Kansas will focus on too much “sure and abiding trust.” They won’t interview anyone who is too convinced that God is out for their good.

No one will recount a story of having too many people over for dinner when there wasn’t enough food to go around. No one will be too drawn out of themselves and into the messy lives of their next door neighbor or co-worker, or complete stranger, because they believe too much.

And frankly, neither would I.

I’m good at the mental assent thing. I like to read, I like to write. My temptation in this journey is to make it a head game. But that’s precisely where the problem begins. I’ll get too much of exactly what I want, and exactly what I don’t need. I’ll sit in jeopardy over my sin.

I’d lie in bed at night during middle school, confessing to God. Terrified by fear that I might forget to ask forgiveness for something and God might condemn me forever, I’d sometimes say the same thing a few times just to be sure it took. As if my neighbor might be praying too loud and God might miss my (somewhat) impassioned confession of a moment of passion.

And the next night, I’d be back at it. Maybe you can relate. To be honest, I hope you can’t.

Because if you can’t, you might have escaped an overly-thinking-and-conflicted-head-faith for a sure and abiding trust. For the belief that you’re one in whom Christ dwells and delights. For the good news that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. For the better news that Christ invites us to a different way of life. Here. Now.

Then you might have just escaped the idols I like to worship. One of the idols that keeps me in control, but blocks out the one I’m supposed to be believing in following.

Idols aren’t just money and power. Confession and forgiveness can be an idol, heck, almost anything can be an idol. Sure, idolatry is worshiping something other than God. But idolatry is also using something (middle school confessions) to control God, to sway God in your favor.

But idolatry is fun, and it’s fides‘ partner in crime.

Do You Have Any Control Left?--Sebastien Wiertz--CC 2.0

**Do You Have Any Control Left–Sebastien Wiertz–CC 2.0

Because while I “think” I’m swaying God to my side with pious living and sin-confessing, I miss the good news that God is out for my good that whole time. I’ve got too much of the wrong kind of faith.

And it’s understandable, because fides is respectable.

You can pontificate about the meaning of evil and sin, and forgiveness and grace, and it can all remain quite abstract, arms’ length, no commitment. Any amount of that faith is too much.

But fiducia, it’s not respectable; it won’t let you cling to your idols. It’s party line is not going to win many votes: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27).

Lest those remain abstract: Love the lady who trashed your character through the grapevine, and refuse the desire to do the same to her. In fact, say something good about her. Pray for the guy who flips you off as he flies by you for not driving fast enough.

As long as you’re looking for something to make things easier or more palatable, you’re locked into fides. It’s respectable and comfortable and it’s where I’ve lived most of my life. Karl Barth puts it well,

God is not one of the many idols that we erect to make life tolerable in this world of death, but the God who wakes the dead, ‘who calls into existence things that do not exist’ [Rom. 4:17]”¹ (Barth/Willimon, 117)

But when you’re convinced that nothing you can do–good or bad–can sway God’s good news. When you realize that your faith (however much you think you have) can’t save you. Only God can do that. Then you’re ready to be drawn out of yourself and into the fullness of life Jesus promises.

Not some abstract philosophical reality, you don’t have to sell all you have and move to a foreign country: “This is what Christians do. We are present with people, dirty laundry and all, and share everyday life so that others can catch a glimpse of a different reality. We do not need to make anyone or anything a project. Instead we are witness to the hope, hospitality, and healing that God is bringing into the world. Our lives, our friendships, our entire way of life together point to something beyond ourselves: what God is doing to redeem the whole world in Jesus Christ.”²

You can’t have enough of that kind of faith.

 

¹Karl Barth and William H. Willimon, The Early Preaching of Karl Barth (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 117.
² David E. Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw, Prodigal Christianity (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013), 61.

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Mar 06

If You’re Tempted to Fast like a Pharisee…

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“Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days

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“Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.'” –Matt. 9:14-15

I nervously shifted on the couch. The drive to the church from the high school hadn’t been long enough and now I sat, hoping my peers would wax eloquent in their response to the question.

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

She asked the same question every year on Ash Wednesday. Why did youth bible study have to be on Wednesday, like it’s some kind of Minor League Sabbath? Still, it’s a simple enough question.

“Sweets,” a friend around the room chimed in. “Me, too” her friend echoed. Approving looks abounded, the ice was broken, no turning back.

My mind raced: What would be appropriately painful (and impressive) while not repeating last year’s fast. There must be some rule: Thou must not repeat thy Lenten fast. I’d given up pop (or soda, if you prefer) before, desserts weren’t my thing anyway, so giving them up was as easy as sleeping in on Saturday.

I half heard the other responses, ticking off the degrees of separation between me and the harrowing question.

“I’m adding on helping mom with the dishes every night.”

“Sweets.”

“Pop.”

“Fried food.” (as if us teenagers could bring in the kingdom of God by watching our waistlines and washing some dishes).

“Pop,” the word shot from my mouth. And just like that it was over. I was committed. As soon as I said it, I knew I had broken the unwritten “Thou shant repeat” rule, but it was the best I could do. Not enough time to prepare, live with the consequence.

That was my ritual most Ash Wednesdays growing up. Looking back, it wasn’t so bad. Dr. Pepper was my drink of choice, so every time I turned it down, I thought about Lent, about fasting.

Pious and non-pious, or The Pharisees and Jesus

I wonder what Jesus would have said, were he in that upper room with us, “I’m not fasting this year.” To which we might reply with the Pharisees, “Then why do we have to fast?

For the Pharisees and John’s disciples, fasting was an important necessary practice; any pious person would agree. Fasting was a box in their piety checklist, which Jesus didn’t fulfill.

Karl Barth, preached on this passage, “They [Pharisees] were always there [with Jesus], and they were the most difficult hindrance standing in the way of the Savior. So the most difficult hindrance lay not in the malice of worldly persons but in the righteousness of the children of God“.‡

Nobody doubted the righteousness of the Pharisees, or even John’s followers, but those groups doubted Jesus.

But notice Jesus’ response, or lack thereof. He doesn’t make excuses for himself or try to out-Pharisee the Pharisees (“How long have you guys been fasting? I fasted for 40 days and nights!). Jesus simply accepts their accusations.

How could his disciples mourn fast when they enjoyed the presence of the Son of God? The Pharisees (and John’s disciples, and maybe we) couldn’t accept that bit of good news. So, they gritted their teeth and fasted harder, begrudging Jesus’ lighter yoke all the while.

Here’s Barth’s imagined word from Jesus to the Pharisees:

In the fine points you are very meticulous because you do not yet know the great gift that can now be given human beings. You bring God sacrifice because you have not yet experienced God’s mercy. You prepare the way for the kingdom of God so avidly, with pick and shovel, because it has not yet come to you. Because you have not yet found the God you seek…Our of this great affliction, out of this painful privationcome your fasting and all the other things that are so important to you, and finally your damnation of me. Out of humanity’s great distress, but not about God’s Savior, comes your piety. Oh, you may keep your opinion about your fasting, so go on, keep doing what you are doing as long as you must, but do not forbid others to go a different way because the affliction and distress have been taken from them.‡

Fasting (from food, media, t.v., fermented beverages, caffeine, pop) can be a powerful and transforming exercise. But if you’re like me, you can’t be reminded enough that fasting isn’t earning.

We may be walking through the desert, but the good news of Lent is that “Jesus does what we cannot do. For us.”

Fast as much as you can (even if it is a repeat), but don’t take it too piously. All that fasting is a long preparation for a grand feast, just on the other side of Lent.

 

‡ The Early Preaching of Karl Barth: Fourteen Sermons with Commentary by William H. Willimon, Karl Barth and William H. Willimon, Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

**Featured Image Photo Credit: Do not enter by Ellipsis-Imagery / CC 2.0

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