Monday, February 28, 2005
I felt very moved last night. I was nearly able to remember that angst-ridden life of a college student, the doubt and hope whether God really had a plan for my life, the fear that if He did, I would not like it or be up to it. I felt honored to be part of this time in these young people's lives. Everything is still ahead for them--it is all so fluid. They are so emotionally raw in so many ways. I felt towards these students as I have felt in the past when watching little children sing at the front of the church, that these are the next generation, these lives are beginning, they share the holiness of the very new and yet undetermined. Of course, the ironic thing is, these young adults are these same little children, 10-15 years later. Very soon they will pair off and have children of their own, and the cycle will begin again. I do not feel old; I feel a little surprised to be fifty. These years, for me, are gone, and have arrived now for my children who are of this generation. I felt moved to be there with them--to encourage them--to tell them, even if only by my presence, not to be afraid, but to go forth boldly and find life and live it. Life is good. Messy, but good. Mistakes and sin will come, but by God's grace--and His grace will always come also--one grows on.
Friday, February 25, 2005
Thursday, February 24, 2005
Recognizing that abortion is a secondary issue in this string, still...does it bother anyone else that the predominant Evangelical argument against abortion requires a body-soul dualism and an illogicall interpretation of Ps 139? Ie, it is based on the assumption...nowhere established (and certainly not in Ps 139) that every fertilized egg is a human being? That somehow a human "spirit" comes necessarily into existence at fertilization, and therefore human beings really can and do make other human beings at will? We can make batches of them in a petri dish, and regularly do so. Note: I am staunchly pro-life/anti-abortion. But these assumptions seem neither Biblical nor adequate to me. Is the best possible argument against abortion, that it constitutes murder? If so, is it the same kind of murder as if I killed my wife? Is the fertilization-equals-human-being concept Biblical? Or even more abstract, and more germaine to the upcoming Cloning Wars, is any cell which could, under the right circumstances and in the right place, become an embryo...a human being?
Sunday, February 20, 2005
Let's say right off the bat that Wayne Grudem's dislike of the new translation is a serious red flag to me; I deeply respect his work and regularly refer young serious Christians to his "Systematic Theology" in its long and short versions (depending on just how serious and academic the young person is...) He points out some very serious shortcomings in the the new translation that relate chiefly to two types of changes: the change of the singular exemplary "man" to the plural "humans" or "those", and the change of some male pronouns to gender-neutral pronouns. These obviously overlap, but are two separable concerns.
Those who want the church to de-emphasize the individual's relationship to God and instead emphasize God's interest in groups, and the Christian's membership in the collective Church, might welcome changes such as those in Psalm 1, from "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the council of the wicked" to "Blessed are those who...etc". Likewise, those who have cringed when reading over and over again Solomon's admonitions to his "son" while studying Proverbs in a mixed group might welcome language that suggested come concern for his daughters.
I think that one's approach to this question derives somewhat from one's approach to God's sovereignty, with those believing in the largest scope and depth of God's sovereignty weighing in on the side of the most literal translations possible. For us, there are no accidents, and especially no cultural/historical accidents, in the original manuscripts nor in their transmission down through the centuries. That is not to say there were no corruptions or losses, only that every single such was completely under God's control and oversight. Arguments deriving from the Hebrew culture, for example, that they thought in patriarchal and exemplary terms (ie, the one can be understood as standing in for the many) mean to me that God so directed the culture that, at the time of the writing of His word, it was precisely so because He wanted that perspective, those "flavors" if you will, in his word. I do not need to fully understand why. It is the same respect we would offer a poet, to believe that every word in the original language was just so because he wanted it so, and whatever interesting or distressing implications of word choice or image were meant to be interesting and distressing.
But poetry does not translate well, as we all know. The simple fact is that we do have to translate the Hebrew and Greek into English, and that complex decisions about original intent and clarity/connotation issues will arise. Which is preferable: "He left none alive who urinate against the wall" or "He left no men or boys alive" or "He killed all the males"? (I Kings 16:11) It isn't as though there were no word for males; so why this colorful phrase (which, by the way, does not even appear in the pretty-literal NASB except in the margin.)? I personally prefer to have the idioms left intact, and make the effort to learn enough about the ancient culture to understand and appreciate them. But I can see how this deeper appreciation may be beside the point to a new Christian, or even more so in the context of evangelism.
Whatever we say, the TNIV is coming out, and it will most certainly sell a lot of copies and show up in the hands of our young people and new Christians. As a teacher in the Church, I plan to treat it as I do any other paraphrase, for so I believe it to be. In changing the text for the sake of "first-read clarity", it places itself on the shelf with J.B. Phillips (which was trememdously useful to me in my spiritual infancy) and "The Message" and perhaps the "Good News Bible" (another one I used as a kid, but would never recommend to serious Bible student.) I do not allow such paraphrases to be used as the primary Biblical reference in a class. We do not read aloud from such versions without reiterating a disclaimer every time, that such paraphrases may be good for a start at the meaning but can never be relied upon as authoritative. Whenever a student bases an "insight" on his or her paraphrase that is not supported by the literal text, we gently discuss the shortcomings of the paraphrase and I urge a move, as a step toward mature study, to one of the more literal versions, or best yet, the Hebrew/Greek.
Hopefully, this version will not become the official pew Bible anywhere (though I fear it certainly will.)
Saturday, February 19, 2005
I can hear the snickers already. How utterly Evangelical of me; how quaintly naive and unsophisticated. The Bible indeed. We know all that...that's assumed...Seerveld/Kuyper/Wallis/(fill in your favorite writer here) are/were Christians and based everything they said on the Bible. We need to apply the Bible, and these people think about how to do that, and we simply think their thoughts after them.
Perhaps. Nevertheless, it got me thinking about my own past intellectual journey. When I was young, I was all about Schaeffer, Lewis, Sine, Wallis and Sider. Read their books, subscribed to "Sojourners". I knew a lot more back then. Over the years my reading gradually shifted to Spurgeon, Calvin, Luther, Hendriksen...an emphasis on Biblical commentary. Of the original group, only Schaeffer and Lewis endured. The rest may or may not be right. I don't know. Only time will tell.
As I get older, I am increasingly aware of an urge to distillation, to jettison ideas which may or may not be correct, but certainly cannot be known to be so. It may be because I have found the world to be much more complex than I thought it was, and my life's work with the human body, an incredibly complex system, has bred an incredulity within me regarding our ability to understand complex systems. In my experience, we are lucky if we know the full extent of the direct effect of any of our actions upon a complex system, and we know very little about secondary effects, and nothing about tertiary effects and beyond. Who would have thought that the welfare measures taken in the '60's would lead to a permanently dependent underclass and the dissolution of the African-American family structure? Or, if it didn't, what did? The multiplicity of theories is simply testimony to the uncertainty, the incomprehensibility of these mechanisms.
Hence my return to the Bible. I find there a deeper knowledge of First Principles of humanity. I do not understand how they work out beyond the first level, but I know that they do. I would not have foreseen, for example, how the equal rights of women and the abolition of slavery would arise from this document written in a patriarchal world in which slavery was accepted, but they did, and retrospectively we think we can see how. I know that if I treat my employees as I would be treated, then the kingdom of God will have advanced, but I don't know whether or how we should legislate so that all employers will treat their employees well. I know that if I help the actual poor I know in actual ways that I can, I will have done well, but I do not know how to "fight poverty". I know that if I drive a smaller car more slowly and for shorter distances, I will have been a better steward of the earth's resources, but I do not know what the secondary and tertiary effects would be of mandating that everyone do the same.
I would very interested in hearing the Biblical basis for what each person is doing to further the kingdom. This is a ground we all share, that is approachable by all, and acknowledged (by this circle, at least) as authoritative. Let's have more of it.
Sunday, February 13, 2005
Friday, February 11, 2005
Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis and Plataea.
These were critical battles in the Persian War against Greece. The huge, hierarchical and monolithic Persian Empire launched an incredible long-range war of conquest against the loosely organized city-states of the Greek homeland. Darius attacked Marathon by sea, and though his troops vastly outnumbered the Greeks, he was repulsed. His successor, Xerxes, launched an even larger assault by land and sea, mobilizing what was probably the largest military force in the history of the world, bridging the Hellespont and marching inexorably up the Ionian coast, through modern Turkey, up around the Aegean sea and through Macedonia toward Attica and Athens. Armies of the Peloponnesian peninsula, which included Sparta, wanted to fall back to their own land, defend the isthmus, and abandon Athens and Attica as lost. Athenians pointed out that Xerxes would not stop at Athens, that he had conquered all the lands lying along his route so far, and that if the Peloponnesians abandoned the Athenians they would simply fight the same Persian army later, at their own cities, and then without the help of the Athenians. They decided to stay together and fight Xerxes in Attica. Thermopylae, a narrow pass famous for the stand of 300 Spartans against over 300,000 Persians, decimated Xerxes’ troops and demoralized them. All the Spartans died, and Xerxes burned Athens, but the Athenians had already relocated to the island of Salamis. Again, the Peloponnesians wanted to withdraw to their own territory, but instead were convinced to make their last stand in a great naval battle off Salamis, in which a relative handful of Greek ships trounced the huge Persian navy and sent Xerxes packing quickly back to Persia. The Greeks pursued the Persian army and engaged them on land at Plataea, and beat them again. The Persians never returned. Though there were many skirmishes, and some other sizeable battles, these four are remembered because they were places in which the Greeks decided to “take their stand” against incredible odds, realizing that their entire homeland was behind them.
In his review of Jim Wallis’ new book, Byron Borger notes, “As (Wallis) and his colleagues like Tony Campolo at the Call to Renewal often say, we don’t need more polarization caused by insistence upon conservative hot-button issues (prayer in schools, homosexuality, expanded militarism) but rather should develop a renewed care for the very issues that the Bible speaks most about---social justice, economic equity, urban renewal, racial reconciliation.” Wallis makes this exact point in his recent interview with Terry Gross on “Fresh Air”, adding abortion to the list of “hot buttons” that have supposedly caused and amplified polarization. In that interview, he makes the argument that the Bible has only a handful of references about homosexuality, but thousands of references to poverty. He is very reluctant to directly answer Terry’s questions on abortion and homosexual marriage, but when pressed allows that he is against abortion, but we should approach it by (somehow) working together to decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies, and furthermore that we need to protect the civil liberties, including the right to civil unions, of homosexuals. But, of course, those shouldn’t be the main issues.
As an aside, one wonders about this approach to Biblical interpretation. I don’t find a single verse about elective abortion, for example, yet he is marginally firmer on this issue than on homosexuality, which is outright condemned as a capital crime in the Pentateuch and everywhere else treated as an “end-stage” sin. And I wonder about all those verses about urban renewal and racial reconciliation; like, where are they?
But my broader concern is his understanding of those chief points of conflict between the two Cities (Babylon and Jerusalem) as being problematic and distracting. The minimalizing term, “hot button issue”, glosses over the fact that these issues are two very legitimate battlefronts between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. Make no mistake: behind these fronts lie infanticide, euthanasia, and pedophilia. Two of the highest elites in the city of Babylon, Peter Singer of Princeton and Francis Crick of DNA fame, have already pressed the case for the first two, and essays and books have already been published exploring the latter (with consenting children, of course.) If we fall back from these issues, or arrange some type of “appeasement” or compromise, we will simply be fighting again later, even closer to home, with a culture that has become yet more emboldened to smash all boundaries and be “free”.
As long as there is conflict between the two kingdoms, the fronts will be heated, and could be characterized as “hot button” issues, or “lightening rod” issues. In the ancient church, one such issue was emperor worship. No one thought Nero was really a god, any more than anyone thought Nebuchadnezzar was. The issue could have been characterized as silly, philosophical and theological. “As long as the emperor-god doesn’t ask one to actually sin (against the second table of the law, anyway) who cares if you bow down to him, show respect and obeisance like everybody else? We know there is only one God! All the emperor cares about is that you’re a loyal citizen, and this is how he wants you to show it. Come on. Why throw your life away on such a fine distinction?”
Because it is the current, visible debate. Sometimes you choose the ground of battle, and sometimes the enemy does. In the cases of abortion and homosexuality, the battle was brought to us in “surprise” attacks through the courts. We are essentially defending ground that had never been overtly attacked before.
The issue of abortion is not moot; it is a hot-button issue precisely because both sides understand what is at stake. The whole field of bioethics, looming as the issue of the biotech revolution, is controlled by the determination of the value placed upon life in its various stages. Likewise, the issue of homosexual marriage is simply the narrow pass at which we are trying to stop the juggernaut of redefinition of normal human sexuality, a battle we largely withdrew from in the 1960’s, to our shame and now to our distinct disadvantage. The fact that these issues have rallied the Christian troops should be seen not as a problem but as an opportunity by folks like Wallis who want the church to become politically awake. Now that the troops are awake, and we have reinforcements, so to speak, direct their attention to these other legitimate issues. Educate them; send them forth. But don’t withdraw from the battles already joined or belittle them as “hot buttons”.
Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Saturday, February 05, 2005
Nicholas Kristoff, an editorial columnist for the New York Times, strikes me as a Decent Guy on the Left. Why Decent? For one, he seems to own his own mind, and does not simply parrot slogans or line up dutifully with other liberals for mud-slinging fests. He is the opposite of Maureen Dowd. He researches his positions carefully, and they are usually very nuanced. His recent column on Bush's Social Security policy is a case in point. He basically challenges the Democrats, "Hey...how 'bout a solution from your side if you don't like Bush's." I have been very impressed with his columns about forced prostitution in Indonesia, in which he has purchased the freedom of several teenage prostitutes (for merely hundreds of dollars) and returned them to their villages, only to find that many return to their slavery. He wrote several on-site pieces about "multinational corporations" with "sweat-shop" factories in the third world last fall, prior to the elections, and found that, by any measure one chooses to use, employment in these factories is far preferable to the "work" these employees had before their arrival. A very non-Left conclusion, and one which he was obviously surprised to draw himself.
Check him out. One can subscribe to the NY Times without payment, by supplying a username and password. Back articles, however, need to be purchased.