Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Thanks to Scot McKnight’s ever-interesting Jesus Creed blog, I found an article by Pastor Jonathan Martin with the intriguing title, “On Israel, the Church, and the Politics of Jesus.” I’d not heard of Pastor Martin before, but I follow McKnight’s blog regularly. It’s certainly one of the livelier, and more diverse, blogs from any seminary
perfessor professor of an evangelical tilt.
What caught me about Pastor Martin’s post is his starting point: “the relationship of the Church to Israel.” Pastor Martin goes on to write about how most evangelicals view the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and says:
“Anything less than a ringing endorsement of all Israeli policies is seen as an affront to the living God. This position is largely determined by eschatological convictions (beliefs about the end of the world), in which Israel (as a modern nation-state) exists as a fulfillment of prophecy.”
He then follows that with a thoughtful and short essay (well, long for a blog post) countering this idea. It’s balanced and worth reading and, let me add, Martin is a Pentecostal pastor. He comes from a tradition that, for the most part, agrees with the “ringing endorsement.” He gives good reason why he himself doesn’t.
I’ve been wondering for myself about Israel (the nation-state) and the Church. I’m no longer satisfied with the idea that everything Israel does is right and justifiable and approved by God, and must be approved by the Church. What I see in the New Testament is a God who has begun with one man and his descendants but who now calls all nations his. Maybe I can sum this up with the statement: What nation has God not called to himself? The whole of the New Testament shows this, starting with the Day of Pentecost, when Jewish disciples began proclaiming the glory of God in the languages of the nations. The Book of Acts begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome, the heart of the Gentile world (and hated conqueror of Judea). Paul’s final words to the Jews of Rome scolded them for rejecting God’s salvation, telling them: “God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” (Acts 28:28).
There are nuances here, but the main point is this: How can we interpret the New Testament as saying that a modern state holds a special privilege before God—whether that state is Israel, the US, Russia or whatever state you live in? The issue of Israel as the people of God is not the same thing as the issue of Israel as a state.
Israel as a nation has the right to exist and to defend its borders from legitimate enemies; all nations have that right, so far as I can see in the New Testament. That doesn’t mean that everything Israel does is right. And pointing this out doesn’t make us heretics.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
|English: King James IC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
I know that the picture of fundamentalist/conservative Christians is one of hide-bound, stuck-in-the-past reactionaries. That's true in some cases, but the Pentecostal pastors who taught me were really quite revolutionary compared to the stereotypes. For one thing, I grew up in the local Church of the Foursquare Gospel, which has always ordained women, and I experienced first-hand ministry under women as pastors. At a time when "Christian Rock" (anyone remember that?) was controversial, my pastors favored it--not that they spun any Larry Norman records. But they never called it "the devil's counterfeit"; to them, it was like a missionary learning the language of the people he/she lived among. And, as for the new Bible translations that began making their way into the pews, my pastors were all for them: The Living Bible, Good News For Modern Man, The Amplified Bible. . . anything that made Scripture more easily understandable.
My first non-KJV Bible was the Good News version, aka Today's English Version. Then I picked up a New International Version; and then, the Amplified, New American Standard, New King James and English Standard versions. Today, the NIV, NAS and ESV translations are the ones I use most. Out of these came another lesson: It's important to compare translations before you grab onto a doctrine.
This matters for me because, from time to time, I get to fill a pulpit. And there have been plenty of times when I've had a bang-up sermon from a striking text run through my mind. . . until I researched that text in two or three translations. Suddenly the text changed, and I couldn't support the main idea.
Example? Well, how about this one, quoted frequently by old-time Pentecostals: "It's the anointing that breaks the yoke." That's from Isaiah 10:27 in the King James version: "The yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing." Yet here are some other translations:
- "and the yoke shall be destroyed by reason of fatness" (American Standard)
- "And destroyed hath been the yoke, because of prosperity" (Young's Literal)
- "and the yoke will be broken because of the fat" (English Standard)
It's easy to see where the idea of "anointing" comes in; but newer translations make clear that Isaiah is speaking, not of supernatural empowerment, but of freedom (for Judah, from Assyria) and blessing and increase as a result.
Moral of story? If you can't support your "revelation" through two or three translations, maybe you should simply set it aside.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
It was kind of a shocking statement my friend made in our Sunday morning study. He knew it would be, and he apologized before making it, but still he had a point he wanted to make.
"Christians use God just to feel better," he said. We're not quite so interested in actually doing what God says; we're not really interested in being like Christ. We want to feel a certain way. God is there to make us feel good, to make us feel satisfied.
I'd been about to say something myself--about how Christians react rather than act, and so we have this tendency to live unbalanced lives--but I was, first of all, caught up in what he was saying and, secondly, not willing to push the study into worship-service time (I'm not the study leader, after all). My friend had just made an important point worth mulling over: The average Christian values a certain kind of experience over and above actual obedience to God. Christians use God.
It put me in mind of something the late Chuck Colson had written in one of his books--that he'd been studying then-current "successful Christian living" books and had a problem with them. "They were all telling me how to get more out of my faith, while I wanted to know how to put more into it." (Roughly remembered paraphrase here; you get the gist of it.)
The heart of the matter is simple: Does God exist for me, or do I exist for him? I can't think of any Christian of any stripe who would say: "God exists for me, of course!" But I can think of plenty of times when I've acted as if God exists for me. God is supposed to make me feel better about myself, comfort me when I'm sorrowful, and make repentance simple and easy. He's supposed to accept my excuses for sin and forgive me and understand that I'm only human and might just go back and do the same thing all over again.
In the United States at least, people tend to think of "spiritual" experiences as "emotional" experiences. They don't need to involve any lasting change of character or personality. They are like one-night stands. It's all about the pleasure they give; no commitment is required.
Monday, November 12, 2012
I recently won
a much-coveted an earnestly-desired copy of the 3rd edition of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart (thanks, Rob Bradshaw—your website rocks!). It’s a basic hermeneutics primer and I’d read good things about it since I first heard of it. So far, it has lived up to its promise.
I, like Professor Fee, grew up in a Pentecostal denomination. I’m still in a Pentecostal church; this one is in a fellowship rather than a denomination. The difference is that fellowships are affiliations; the local churches are entirely self-governing. There’s no hierarchy or governing authority over the local body. This has both advantages and disadvantages; but I digress. The main thing is that, being part of the Pentecostal flock all my life, I’ve heard downright strange stuff. Most of it hasn’t come from pastors but rather from independent teachers. . . or, really, from folks who’ve read something from some of those independent teachers.
I don’t intend to get into names here; there are plenty of websites where you can research the subject. But I have found that folks in the pews typically don’t read their
But OT narratives are not, Stuart goes on to say, “allegories or stories filled with hidden meanings.” Nor are they “intended to teach moral lessons.” Yet they often “illustrate what is taught explicitly . . . elsewhere.” This isn’t quite the same as teaching a lesson or giving “the moral of the story.” A life is more than a moral lesson.
I’ve heard a lot of teaching that makes the Old Testament narrative into allegory. Maybe that’s just the Pentecostal way—looking for the hidden “deeper truth” while missing the plain hard-hitting “surface” truth. It’s refreshing to read this quote: “You will get into all sorts of trouble if you try to find meanings in the text that you think God has ‘hidden’ in the narrative” (p. 102, paperback ed.). That alone is worth the price of the book.
Saturday, November 10, 2012
All right, enough of that. Now it's time for some unity. . . something sadly lacking in the United States. What are the chances of reaching it? Maybe not so great.
|Cover of Daniel Amos|
There's no question that America is changing. The nation is aging; minorities are growing; "traditional religion" is slip-sliding away. It's easy to point out the failure of old models on both Left and Right; neither has lived up to its promise. Two things are missing: A frank confession by both liberals and conservatives of where they have failed, and an honest and open debate of what we want to be as a nation.
We've been told for years that most Americans are, in fact, somewhere in the moderate scale (moderately conservative to moderately liberal). This accounts in part for the large number of independent voters who think that neither party truly represents them and who therefore choose no party affiliation. Politics has become the art of drawing folks in the middle to one extreme or the other, against their better judgment. This is not what democracy is meant to be. Democracy is built on finding consensus rather than persuading people to extremes. When parties try to push people to edges that they are not comfortable with, it's no wonder that party power swings from election to election: Democratic gains in 2008, GOP gains in 2010, close margins in 2012 that (slightly) favor Democrats.
The change you expect often isn't the change you get. Changing demographics don't necessarily mean wholesale changes in society. There is, I suspect, far more consensus even in the face of change than either Left or Right suspects. At heart, voters want to be safe; they want tomorrow to be like today; they want their children's futures to be better yet. Maybe it's time to build on this.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Didn't think so.
Yes, debate season is about to open and we will soon be treated to more flips and spins than the Olympics ever gave us. We know how it goes: Panelist (or audience member, in those trendy "town hall"-style debates) asks question, Candidate A acknowledges question has been asked, goes to talking point, Candidate B goes to own talking point, Candidate A gets the last word in--all in 3 or 4 minutes. Viewers are left with the knowledge that neither candidate has really said anything new or substantial; we've heard these soundbites before. They serve two purposes: Make the target look foolish, and keep the speaker on safe ground.
The one purpose they do not serve is answering the question.
THIS. MUST. CHANGE!
I hereby put forth a modest proposal to change the format and, I hope, usefulness of political debates. I want one simple change. Just one. Such a little thing. Ready? Here it goes.
Right after all this question/response/rebuttal/final response stuff, the moderator turns to the questioner and asks: "Are you satisfied that your question has been answered?" The questioner must give a clear, concise response: "Yes; as I understand it, Candidate A thinks we should do such and such, while Candidate B says we should do such and such instead." Or the questioner can answer: "No. I have no clear idea what one (or either) candidate would do about this issue."
In most debates, candidates don't give specific actions. They attack. They tell us why their opponents are evil. They talk about their own selflessness and Compassion for the American People, and how their opponent has none of that (the cad!); but they say precious little about what they will do. Answering a question is no more than opening a can and dumping its contents out in front of the audience; and there's a big stock of cans in the cupboard for each candidate to draw on. They get away with it because, in most debates, nobody has the time or authority to point out that the question hasn't been answered. We cannot have substantive debate when candidates do this; and Heaven knows we need substantive debate now.