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Archive for December, 2013

Grace and I just finished the Hunger Games trilogy. Suzanne Collins writes a story from the 1st-person perspective of a 16 (17) year old girl by the name of Katniss Everdeen. Katniss lives in Panem – a country divided into 12 (13) districts situated in a post-global warming North America. Panem is ruled by a despot from a territory called the Capital. Collins reveals little about the history of Panem. The effect of limiting the reader’s knowledge of the history of Panem focuses their attention on the present. What happens is what matters.

Panem experienced a revolt 75 years prior to Katniss’s story. In response to the revolt, the Capital instituted the Hunger Games as punishment. The Hunger Games gathers 24 youth, 2 from each district, in an arena to fight to the death. The Hunger Games also serves as entertainment, mostly for the residents the Capital whose shallowness is poignantly displayed by the way they alter their bodies, the way they talk, their tendency toward excess, and their lack of sympathy toward those who are truly suffering.

This dissonace of cruelty and entertainment creates a conflict of interest in the mind of the reader. The physical feats of the tributes (the participants in the Hunger Games), the delicate politics they must play with audience in order to receive aid, the exotic, yet dangerous arenas all create a tense story that keeps you on the edge of your seat: “This is good! I want more!” Yet, Collins does not allow you to escape the cruel world the Hunger Games takes place in. No one ever wins the Hunger Games. No one. They just survive. One poignant example is Haymich Abernathy, Katniss’s mentor and champion of one of the Hunger Games, who chooses to escape the pain he experiences through the bottle.  Haymich’s advice to Katniss sums it up: “Stay alive.” The Games has a lasting effect on the participants – they are tortured for the rest of their lives. At the end, you just want it to stop. In the last book, Mockingjay, the Games do stop, but the game does not. The cruelty of the world Katniss lives in endures til the end of the series.

Katniss is in constant turmoil, both physically and emotionally. Momentary relief is met with enormous trials each occurring in surpassing measure. Katniss takes personal responsiblity for every death that happens under her watch whether it was by her hand or not. She is impulsive, always defying orders, and yet she is always acted upon – manipulated, tortured, commanded, rescued. She goes through a tremendous amount of suffering. She has to endure the loss and torture of friends and family. She has to continually sift through lies and half-truths and is often confused. Her moral compass always spins; her conviction often leads her right, but she always questions whether or not she did right. She always endures. I want her to be rewarded for her endurance – to experience redemption, but she never triumphs. She just survives. No one wins the Hunger Games.

Collins plumbs the depth of human depravity and suffering. Nobility and goodness come out on top, but I wonder if it was only because the “odds were their favor.” Very little can be redeemed from suffering in Collin’s world. Makeup and medical advancements can heal the physical wounds of war (Katniss’s deaf ear is healed in the book). War and cruelty leave deeper scars that cannot be fully healed. Nightmares persist for Katniss even 15 years after the main events of the book take place. Collin’s books encourage us to fight past the superficial (Are you not entertained?). Emotion and psychological damage can last a long time too. I am reminded, though, of another truth not contained in Collin’s trilogy. We live in a world where redemption is real. Suffering is short in comparison to the joy that comes from God. God’s word steadies the moral compass and provides wisdom to understand and act appropriately.

“May the odds be ever in your favor” is a common phrase throughout the trilogy, but I think Paul’s benediction in Romans is more appropriate: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

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It will really be a push to get through both books in a year especially with the amount reading I do in class and for Sunday School. But the reading for 1 Samuel should allow me to engage with several works I would like to read over the summer.

I would like to read Mark because I’ve never read through a gospel in the Greek before. Last year, I read through Malbon’s Mark’s Jesus. Her work has piqued my interested in Mark, so I’m excited about reading through it.

I’m still working on a reading schedule. I would like to aim on being done with both by September at the latest. I’m also debating whether or not I should read through both at the same time or just tackle them both individually. Finally, I’m going to try to read them side-by-side with a commentary. I have some ideas for Samuel, but for Mark, the jury’s still out. Let me know if you have any advice!

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Michael Bird argues in his essay on inerrancy that as it is defined in the CSBI inerrancy is an American reaction to modernism.

Its primary function is to define American evangelicalism as a bounded set, to use inerrancy as a way of forcing conformity to certain biblical interpretations, and to weed out dissenters in denominational politics.  If, in any debate on doctrine, one plays the inerrancy card against one’s opponents, then one can effectively remove these opponents on the grounds that they are denying the prestigious moniker of inerrancy. Thus inerrancy is primarily a weapon of religious politics to define who is in and who is out. That is why some inerrantists preach the inerrancy of the text but practice the inerrancy of their interpretation.

To maintain its application on the global church, however, is to go too far since it reflects an American mindset toward the Bible. The global church by and large does not need to have inerrancy in their doctrinal statements. The truthfulness of the Bible should be grounded in the positive statement of God’s faithfulness.

 The testimony of God’s Word about itself is that God’s Word an authentic and authoritative account of  God ‘s actions in creation, redemption, and consummation. God speaks in revelation, and it is true because God identifies with and even invests his own character in his Word.

He further maintains

The Battle for the Bible was always rigged in favor of modernity, and a better strategy would have been to deconstruct modernity as its philosophical DNA.  So we shouldn’t anchor the truth of Scripture in our apologetic capabilities to beat the skeptics at their own game; I think there are better ways.

I agree with Bird’s assessment here that we cannot surrender too much to the philosophical language of modernity in our own defense of the Bible. Modernity is not ground for biblical reliability. Bird seems to affirm much of what inerrancy as defined in the CSBI maintains. He certainly draws attention to the main thing: the Bible makes good on its claims because God is the source of that revelation. He criticizes the CSBI for being too American. I am not sure he spells out exactly how it is American. If it is because of its orientation toward modernity, Kevin Vanhoozer’s critique is appropriate:

If you can find McDonald’s or Starbucks in Taiwan and Timbuktu, can Richard Dawkins or Bart Erhman be far behind?

Thus Mohler says:

But, to put it bluntly, modernity happened. And the church had to respond to modernity as it happened, answering the unique questions that modern knowledge and world views posed.

Many clarifications of Christian doctrine occurred in response to some controversy in the church (Arianism, Marcionism). I love Bird’s emphasis on God’s character as foundational for understanding biblical reliability although I don’t know what is internationalist about it. I also think his warnings about modernity controlling the debate are appropriate.

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Here are two mysteries for the price of one – the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus. It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. “The Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.

This quote from J.I. Packer’s Knowing God is one of the most appropriate quotes for Christmas that I can think of. I love Christmas for this reason: it gives me a special reason to think on one of the greatest mysteries of the universe. That God became man and lived among us as man is the greatest demonstration of humility this world has ever witnessed. It fills me with wonder to think of how it could even be possible. It fills me with praise to think that it did happen.

He came to be humbled even more than becoming a helpless child. He lived as human for the sake of his wayward people. He came to rescue them. He succeeded where they failed. He died in their place  – a very shameful death. He took their sins upon himself. And it began with the Incarnation. 

The Incarnation is cause for rejoicing; God has fulfilled his promise to those humbled by sin by humbling himself. May we properly reflect  upon the greatest gift ever given this Christmas.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:5-11

Merry Christmas!

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Michael Bird argues that one of the problems with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) is that the statement places emphasis on the inerrancy on the original autographs. The problem, as my brother-in-law eloquently stated, is that we don’t have the original autographs. Bird argues:

To maintain that divine inspiration is confined to the initial autographs is a position that is textually problematic, as it is theologically indefensible.

He brings up the textual difficulties in Jeremiah, which contains many different readings  between the LXX and the MT. Also, he notes that the end of Deuteronomy, which contains the record of the death of Moses, could not have been written by Moses. Both books exhibit editorial activity which progresses the development of each book. Bird says:

Limiting inspiration to an initial autograph creates a host of problems when we realize that our biblical texts sometimes had secondary additions and subsequent editions, since it would imply that our inspired autographs have noninspired sections laid over them.

The picture of the “original” autographs especially when applied to the Old Testament is not clear-cut. We want to maintain that, in Bird’s words, God is faithful to his revelation. If, however, we consider his revelation as coterminous with “the” original documents, we have some serious evidence-to-the-contrary to contend with. Bird’s solution is to “see inspiration as extending to the human literary processes which preserved the meaning and power of God’s Word to achieve the ends for which it was given.” I agree with that assessment.

I still have questions though. What do we do with the pericope adulterae or the end of Mark, for example?  Are they editorial additions inspired by the Holy Spirit? Does the fact they do not occur in the earliest manuscripts enough to excise them from the canon? From my vantage point, what seems to work for the OT doesn’t work as well for the NT and vice versa. This issue isn’t enough to challenge my faith – I find biblical Christianity a much better explanation for the world than any other worldview. Yet, this issue remains one of the most problematic issues for biblical inerrantists.

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Peter Enns writes the next major section in this book. He believes that the evangelical formulation of inerrancy obscures the Bible for what it really is: a human book. He explains:

Scripture is a collection of a variety of writings that necessarily and unashamedly reflects the worlds in which those writings were produced. The implication of this metaphor is that an understanding of those historical settings can and should affect interpretive conclusions. This process, I believe, is what is presumed when we are dealing with a God who, in Christ, seems to be quite ready and willing to walk among us rather than keep his distance.

Enns believes that the evidence stacks up against the evangelical view of inerrancy, which takes the Bible too much out of the context in which it was written and places standards upon that are unreasonable for the time period in which it was produced.

I think Enns is right that when taken too far, inerrancy can dominate a text rather than expound it. I’ve said before that Genesis 1 is not a polemic against evolution. When we read it as such, we do not allow it to speak with full force the message it intends to convey. Such are the dangers of proof-texting – making individual bits of Scripture to take on more significance outside of the narrative/poetic/epistle/gospel/etc. context in which it lies. The abuse of inerrancy can also flatten interpretation such that one piece of Scripture drives the interpretation of the whole.

I agree that we should allow Scripture to declare, with all its voices, the acts and character of God. But is maintaining that voices of Scripture speak truly about what they see really consonant with denying the humanity of Scripture? I wonder if Enns’s model denies God his own voice. God’s self-revelation to people in actual history has an effect on those people; it changes them. He intended that his revelation shape the way they view, himself, themselves, and the world they live in. Thus, the Bible isn’t just another text. The Bible is a reliable testimony to God’s character and acts in actual history.

The Bible was written in the past by a people of much different culture than ours. Scripture was written for them and by them. We should honor that. Yet, Scripture was also written for us. The significance of that fact does not mean that we stand at a distance in appreciation of the thoughts and expressions of the ancients about the Deity but recognize that such thoughts are inappropriate for us today. Scripture speaks truly about God in the cultural forms of the ancient Israelites and the early Christians, and those forms are an accurate description of who God is and what he has done in history.

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Bird voices a concern about a view of biblical inerrancy combined with a rationalistic interpretation of the Bible. He says that such a view is “pastorally dangerous:”

In their theological training, [Erhman and Bell] were given shallow and terse multiple-choice answers to deep questions and were never equipped with a proper hermeneutical tool kit to deal with the ambiguity or complexity that they can be confronted with in scriptural study and application.

Inerrancy as defined in the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy does not provide a detailed hermeneutic on how to interpret the Bible. Often, the doctrine of inerrancy is used to support rationalistic/modern interpretations of Scripture. The Bible, however, does not support that worldview. Instead of changing the interpretation, which the interpreter perceives as hand-in-hand with inerrancy, the interpreter rejects unreservedly the doctrine of biblical reliability.

Bird provides an apt description of this view of biblical inerrancy: “It produces not a faith seeking understanding, but a rationalism seeking certainty.” The character of God as testified to in Scripture identifies Scripture as a reliable document; it is, after all, God’s word. But we should not be reductionistic in our application of inerrancy. Let the Bible speak for itself.

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