Thursday, July 28, 2005

Biblical Interpretation: A Tale of Two Sermons

As Christians we often hear from non-Christians that the Bible is subject to whatever interpretation the believer wants to see there. There is some grain of truth in this - many Bible verses are subject to mulitple readings. Certainly the divisions within Christianity are a testimony to this. C.S. Lewis pointed out:

"that brings us right up against the real snag . . . Most of us are not really approaching. the subject in order to find out what Christianity says: we are approaching it in the hope of finding support from Christianity for the views of our own party. We are looking for an ally where we are offered either a Master or--a Judge" -- Mere Christianity
That is one problem with interpretation - we want it to say what we want it to say - not what God wants to say. Another problem is . . .

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

"Crab People" and Personal Evangelism

Personal (i.e. relationship) evangelism is far and away the most effective form - and the one overwealmingly advocated by Jesus and the other New Testament writers. There are a plethora of verses supporting this conclusion; so I will not defend it now.

Regardless of
2 Corinthians 6:14-18:

14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. 17 "Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE," says the Lord. "AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you. 18 "And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me," Says the Lord Almighty.
quoted by the Amish as their reason to stay out of the world; I think Christians are required to stay engaged. To stay separate would make the Great Commission impossible; as well as the passages on "salt and light". We must stay engaged in the world; but resist becoming part of it or touching its unclean parts. We must eat with "tax collectors and sinners" in order to call them to repentance - at least by our example. Ahhhhh, our example. This brings us to crabs.

If you put a live crab in an open pot it will escape. Crab pots (traps) are elaborate because crabs are escape artists. If you want to keep a crab in an open pot you must put another crab in the pot. When the first crab tries to escape, the second crab will crawl up on its back - and drag it back down; and neither will get out.

People do that to other people constantly. Ask people on diets, people trying to change direction in their life, etc - and you will find that they all suffer from people who are not inspired by their attempts to lift themselves out of the pit but who keep dragging them back down into the pot with them. It is imperative if you are going to make a change to separate yourself from those who will try to hold you down - "The Crab People". Usually, that must be coupled with finding folks who have gotten out of the pot; and are willing to reach down to you for the purpose of helping you out. They of course would be of no use if your hand drug them in; or if we couldn't see them from where we are.

Christ gives us the strength to pull ourselves out of this pot even with the crab folk hanging on our backs. This is usually in the form of people who have escaped reaching down to help us out; and once we have escaped we too must not just enjoy our freedom but turn to others to help them out of where they are held. However, this process does no good if we are simply pulled back into the pot instead of helping someone else out of it.

That is why new Christians often "separate themselves" from non-believers after they come to Christ. First, their first wondrous attempts to enthusiastically "spread the truth" after their conversion are very often horribly rebuffed. After all, as Christ said:

Matthew 13:57 And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household."

These are the people who know you when you were one of the biggest sinners in the group (the most desperate sinners are the most likely to seek God). The other reason is that we are not strong enough not to get sucked back into the sinful practices that we now find uncomfortable as God begins to change us. Whatever the reason, Christians tend to find that within 3-5 years all of their social relationships are with other Christians. They become separate.

Paul separated himself on some level for 3 years after his conversion on his way to Damascus to prepare for ministry. And then he didn't. We must as Christians find the strength through the "armor of God":
Ephesians 6:13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, 15 and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,
This is not so we can look very fine in the very best armor; but so we can stand on the edge of the pot and be ready to help those out that reach out to us. Our separation is necessary for a while in order to gain strength and maturity - after that we are just refusing to grow up.

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Monday, July 25, 2005

Was Jesus a socialist?

I have been involved in an interesting discussion over at Habbakkuk's Watchpost on "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex?". It has remained a civil discussion on preaching on sin/repentance vs driving people from the church; contradictions between wealth and Christ's teaching; and evangelism for missionaries. This thread launched this post - and it may be good to read the post and the comments before continuing here.

CS Lewis:

the New Testament . . . gives us a pretty clear hint of what a fully Christian society would be like . . . It tells us that there are to be no passengers or parasites: if man does not work, he ought not to eat. Every one is to work with his own hands, and what is more, every one's work is to produce something good: there will be no manufacture of silly luxuries and then of sillier advertisements to persuade us to buy them. And there is to be no 'swank' or 'side,' no putting on airs . . . On the other hand, it is always insisting on obedience-obedience (and outward marks of respect) from all of us to properly appointed magistrates, from children to parents, and (I am afraid this is going to be very unpopular) from wives to husbands . . . If there were such a society in existence and you or I visited it . . . I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing . . . We have all departed from that total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out that his own modification of the original plan is the plan itself . . . every one is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity . . .

In the passage where the New Testament says that every one must work, it gives as a reason 'in order that he may have something to give to those in need'.
Charity--giving to the poor--is an essential part of Christian morality: in the frightening parable of the sheep and the goats it seems to be the point on which everything turns. Some people nowadays say that charity ought to be unnecessary and that instead of giving to the poor we ought to be producing a society in which there were no poor to give to. They may be quite right in saying that we ought to produce this kind of society. But if anyone thinks that, as a consequence, you can stop giving in the meantime, then he has parted company with all Christian morality . . .

Most of us are not really approaching the subject in order to find out what Christianity says: we are approaching it in the hope of finding support from Christianity for the views of our own party. We are looking for an ally where we are offered either a Master or--a Judge . . . A Christian society is not going to arrive until most of us really want it . . . I cannot really carry it out till I love my neighbour as myself: and I cannot learn to love my neighbour as myself till I learn to love God: and I cannot learn to love God except by learning to obey Him . . . we are driven on to something more inward--driven on from social matters to religious matters. --
Mere Christianity [all of the . . .'s in this passage indicate that perhaps you should click this link and read the whole chapter]
One thing wrong in this passage is that I do not believe that a "christian society will arrive" until Christ does. However, Lewis is correct that any hope rests in learning to love God by obeying Him; and not expecting Him to be my ally but my Master.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Homosexuality Part I: The State of my Brain (today)

I had pointed you to a discussion here - which then moved to here. I am now posting on the latest state of my brain cramp.

Tyler, and company, are at least mostly divinity students at the University of Chicago. Tyler himself is very sincere, possibly/probably intends ministry, is not gay, but is a very passionate believer that homosexual sex is only sin in context - as is heterosexual sex. He supports allowing legal marriage to homosexuals. I like Tyler a great deal - he has an obvious heart for people and God. You need to read through the two blogs and their comments linked above. I deeply sympathize with both these positions. I have a sister who is gay; my wife's brother was a gay Catholic who died of AIDS; my wife's niece was one of the gay marriages in Oregon that was annulled by the state; and I myself have had gay relationships in the past. As Walter Taylor says in New Testament on homosexuality:

"This is not merely a theoretical issue for me nor can it be for anyone who is engaged in the life of the church and who is honest . . . I do not carry out my scholarship, my ministry, nor this presentation in splendid isolation from gay and lesbian people . . . for the first time, churches are facing the issue of homosexuality with fellow Christians who are professed gays and lesbians. 'Now we know the gay person as one of us, a fellow member of the household of faith.' . . . At an intuitive level, part of me wants to say, 'What's the big deal! Let's just take people where they are . . . and get on with things.' My struggle, however, is that my commitment to the biblical witness and my reading of it do not allow me to make that move . . . Part of what we are about today . . . is discerning what God's will is. For some people that will is quite obvious, but for most of us it is a bit more muddified."
and later:
"Which is to say that my reading today stands against what I would like at many levels to conclude. But my dilemma is part of what I think it means to be under the authority of the Word and part of what it means to allow the Word to address us from outside our own wishes." [My emphasis]
Which is where I stand: I truly believe that the Christian position that that homosexuality is necessarily sin comes down to one sure passage:
Romans 1: 26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. (NASB)
and one iffy one: 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10. This is iffy because it has been translated a lot of different ways; and Taylor pretty much dismisses it as talking about temple prostitution in particular - not homosexual acts in general. I will post the NASB and the NRSV:
I Cor 6:9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. (NASB)
I Cor 6:9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God (NRSV)
You have to keep in mind that "homosexual" as some kind of group; as opposed to discussing "homosexual acts" did not exist as a word until the late 1800's. Taylor again:
Strictly speaking, of course, we could quit right now, since the word homosexuality had not yet been coined when the Bible was written, and therefore the Bible does not speak about that specific term. The word itself, I believe, was first used only in 1869. But certainly the Bible does have a number of passages that talk about same-sex sexual relationships
Taylor's conclusion:
there is a shorter line between then and now because of my understanding of the original historical situation, namely, that not all the texts deal with pederasty or prostitution but in fact at least one and perhaps two deal with consenting adults. I think that Paul was dealing with a situation much closer to our reality that some others would allow. And . . . the theological basis of Paul's argument in Romans 1, rooted in the Old Testament and in his understanding of God as creator, indicates the fundamental nature of his comments.
I do not have a problem with the New Testament position against homosexuality being based on one or two passages. However, Taylor raises some very important questions:
Even if one assumes with Paul that same-sex sexual activity is a manifestation of sin (which obviously many people would not agree to), given the broken world in which we live how can Christians bring the most order and justice out of less than ideal situations? In other words, is it possible to glorify God in sexually active gay and lesbian relationships?

What does it mean that immediately following what Paul says in Romans 1:26-27 he lists twenty-one other examples of inappropriate behavior? Do we not need to talk about how what Paul says about same-sex relationships fits with or doesn't fit with the rest of his list? In other words, even granting that same-sex relations are his primary example, do we pay the same attention to his other examples as we do to same-sex relations? Why or why not?

Is it possible for Christians to affirm the understanding of Romans 1:26-27 that I have outlined without concluding that condemnation and persecution should result? I think so.

Is it possible for Christians to differ radically on this particular issue and yet carry on the dialogue in a way that respects people as individuals as well as respects their thoughts, feelings, and opinions? I think so, and I have seen Christians all over this nation do that. Romans 14:1-15:13 provide us good models on how to welcome each other in the Lord even - perhaps especially - when we differ.
The upshot of these four questions for me is: Why is homosexuality a big issue nationally for Christians?

Next: Methinks we protest too loudly! (Comments will be allowed at end of series)

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Monday, July 11, 2005

An interesting place to visit

Wandering around I run into some interesting blogs - and they are listed over on the left side of this page.

I ran into Ninme today - and a very interesting article:
The Jaw Drops

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Monday, July 04, 2005

How Should We Discuss?

In starting a new blog, I am aware of the craziness in other comment sections (and posts) I have read. As a Christian writer, I realize that I have no particular philosophical basis to talk to non-Christians about the tone of their comments - except the natural law espoused by the likes of C.S. Lewis. So be it. Since I plan to approach almost all subjects from a Christian and/or scriptural viewpoint - I have no reason to expect non-Christians to agree with many of my positions - and certainly none of the authority standing behind it. So be that too.

I called this blog "Brain Cramps for God" because early on I will be approaching subjects I am struggling with. I will also be approaching questions society is struggling with. I personally am trying to find solutions. This runs counter to
Leiter Reports. I would then ask why people then comment and engage in discussion? Obviously, at first to state their opinion or their questions. If they disagree, are they looking for understanding, compromise, to be educated, or to teach? Or do they just wish to argue and bash the enemy? Certainly I wish people here who want discourse - who wish to bring light, and not heat, to a topic. I will not get it, but I can want it ["Can't we all just get along?": No, but we can be civil while we figure out why not].

Tyler over at
Habakkuk's Watchpost approaches the same subject; and CQD did too. However, in both cases we have to come to a reasoned argument about what separates Christians after some initial hyperbole (if not outright demagoguery).

There are many times Jesus called folks "vipers" without being kind; and trashed tables in the temple a couple of times - all in defending God from hypocrisy and sacrilege. He was God - He can do that easier than us.

In the interests of discussing how we should discuss:
The Moral Case for Manners by J. Budziszewski

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