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Friday, August 19, 2016

The Bible Made Impossible #bookreview

The Book

The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism is not a truly Evangelical reading of Scripture
Christian Smith

I was given this book to read by my colleague. He has recommended books for my edification before and I greatly appreciate this gesture. Over the past couple weeks I have been able to digest this book section by section.

The Review

I have to give the author only 3 out of 5 stars for the actual composition of this book. While it is extremely well reasoned, I believe the points could have been articulated in a clearer, more organized manner. This is possibly due to his perspective as a sociologist writing on religion. However, his intent was clear: Smith began with the problems of Biblicism and continued toward (not a formed conclusion, but, rather, the beginning of a discussion) a better understanding of the Bible within an evangelical context.

Biblicism, as commonly defined within Evangelical circles, typically includes some version of the following nine arguments about the Bible:
  1. Divine Writing
  2. Total Representation of God's will
  3. Complete Coverage
  4. Democratic Perspicuity (anyone with common sense can understand the Bible)
  5. Commonsense Hermeneutics (read the Bible plainly)
  6. Solo Scriptura (no need for tradition when you have the Bible)
  7. Internal Harmony (the Bible fits together like a puzzle)
  8. Universal Applicability
  9. Inductive Method (anything can be learned by study)
In addition to these nine points, Smith argues that there is an unstated "Handbook Model" of reading scripture that pervades Evangelical Biblicism. This is seen by a simple stroll through the Christian Bookstores and noting titles like: Cooking with the Bible: Recipes for biblical meals, The Biblical Guide to Alternative Medicine, Biblical Psychology, & Gardening with Biblical Plants. In essence, the Bible is understood to be an authority on everything it covers, therefore opening God's credibility on every front under the sun.

The problem with this outlook is something Smith calls Pervasive Interpretive Pluralism. In short, you can give four evangelicals a single passage of scripture and potentially get four different interpretations of the passage. The problem here is that these outcomes are inconsistent and—as highlighted in the title of his book—actually impossible given the theory of biblicism. It should not happen.

Yet, it happens all the time. Particularly among the educated biblical scholars. Consider that Christian Bookstore again. In the book, Smith lays out the titles of over thirty "Four Views" books. That is, four different interpretations of biblical doctrine. These include four views on baptism, Christ, Hell, Divorce & Remarriage, Eternal Security, etc... This should not be.

Smith continues to address the typical responses which, no doubt, my readers currently have in their minds. In fact, you (my reader) may have already dismissed the problem posed by this book by your own rationale. Please note that Christian Smith addresses each response and deftly shows how their arguments do not hold up. In essence, most arguments are actually a deviation from biblicism.

Smith proposes a few ways to read the bible that might be more in tune with evangelicalism as a whole. His main potential solution (though, admittedly, not a complete solution) is a Christocentric reading of scripture. In other words, Christ is the main point of scripture. Everything else either leads up to him or stems from him. Even though most evangelicals will nod their heads and claim that they actually do read the bible Christologically, it is clear from the literature that they fall short in practice.

Other potential solutions include a redefinition of our beliefs into a tier system. There is dogma, doctrine and opinion. Dogma is the small circle of common christian beliefs. Doctrine is the slightly larger circle that includes assembly distinctives but are not necessary for a Christian Classification. Finally, opinion is just that, an opinion that can find deviations within a denomination. This paradigm allows for disagreement and unity within the same umbrella of christendom.

This is just a taste of what you will find in this book.

Conclusion

I had some real problems with this book. I kept arguing with him in my head. Going in, I felt that I was essentially an open-minded biblicist. I come from a tradition where biblicists abound and I grew up believing a lot of these things about scripture. Yet, after reading this book and analyzing my own arguments over the past few years I had to come to the conclusion that I am no longer a Biblicist. I still respect the Bible as God's communicative tool for us to learn about his nature and will. Yet, I do not read it as a handbook for life and science and history and psychology and gardening and cooking and... The Bible is so much more than that. It is about God's only Son who came to redeem me. That's the point and that's what I want to stick with.

I would not recommend this book to most of my Biblicist friends. I do not feel that most of them are ready to really question their reading of scripture in an honest way. The text of this book is also highly academic and potentially inaccessible to a lot of people. Granted, if my reader is ready to read with an open mind (and maybe an open dictionary) then I absolutely would recommend picking up a copy of Christian Smith's book. It may do you good.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Police Brutality: Don't be shocked

If you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight; for one official watches over another official, and there are higher officials over them.

—Ecclesiastes 5:8. NASB. Emphasis mine.

Black Lives Matter

The news cycle has been overwhelming in it's coverage of the tension between minorities, particularly Blacks, and law enforcement. Blacks have resorted to technology to record and live-stream the injustices and (dare I say it) persecution directed at them in an attempt to make their voices heard and shine a light on horrendous atrocities.

The statistics are also overwhelming. The Guardian states that, to date, 566 people have been killed by police. If you do the math, The Atlantic says every other day a black person is killed by a police officer. Don't misconstrue these statistics. Not every death is a so-called street execution. That is not what I am advocating about these statistics. Already remember Mark Twain's grouping of lies, damnable lies and statistics. Things are not as they appear.

Yet, we know there's a discrepancy between whites and blacks when it comes to police aggression. Whether the culprit is outright racism or socio-economic realities, it is still a travesty. The adage is clearly coming true: Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. We see this in our law enforcement, our court system, and our state/federal officials.

Do Not Be Shocked

So what is the Christian response? I have seen this verse used to both implicitly and explicitly tell us to just accept what we see and move along. If you don't look at it critically, that is the apparent takeaway. Leave it in God's hands and don't try to get justice for the helpless. Train your eyes on the Bible so you don't see injustice. Turn up the praise and worship so you don't hear the despairing cries. Is that what this verse is saying? Is that the message of scripture?

The operative word in this phrase is TAMAH, which is a verb that means astounded or dumbfounded. It is a state of being. In other words, our hope should not have been so firmly entrenched in this human government that when the human propensity for sin rears its ugly head we are left incapacitated by the shock. In a certain sense, we should have seen this coming given our knowledge of man's capacity for sin. Remember, sin is both natural and repulsive to God. What comes naturally is not necessarily right any longer, see the doctrine of The Fall.

Our great hope is The Lord. We trust that he will ultimately set things right. We also know that he works through the government and seeks to provide checks and balances for the benefit of society. What else is this verse saying when it talks about officials watching over officials and even higher ones? Supervisors have a responsibility to crack down on abuse from their direct reports and it goes on up the chain. But what happens when this system breaks down due to the human affinity for corruption?

Sharing God's Heart

At some point we have to reconcile "giving it to the Lord" with "have the mind of Christ." Just because I have given ultimate control to the Lord does not mean I have no emotional reaction or should have no say in what's going on in this world. We don't lay down our privileges as citizens of the USA just because my preferred citizenship is heavenly. That's crazy talk.

If God doesn't want to see this behavior in government officials, then I don't want to see this behavior in government officials. By the way, nobody (anywhere except the KKK) is saying they applaud this behavior in their police officers. Yet, by their fruits you will know them. This is a discussion that needs to take place in our Churches and small groups and families. Here are a few talking points:
  • Man is corrupt and selfish by nature.
  • Man's capacity for evil increases in proportion to man's influence and power.
  • God is holy and just.
  • God establishes government in human society and holds them accountable.
  • The form of government in the USA gives a certain amount of power to the people.
  • The people, then, are also under some obligation to do right in God's eyes.
  • What should a Christian, whose mind is consumed by Christ, do in this situation?

Conclusion

This post came out way more politically charged than I ever intended. I hate politics with a passion. I guess you could say disillusionment has set in for me. But I've literally cried twice this week after watching videos on Facebook. Your heart has to break for the things that break God's heart. You have to weep over the things that make God weep. Yes, He weeps because man puts his faith in man instead of God. He also weeps because man fails to meet God's standard of holiness. These things are not mutually exclusive. God can—and I dare say he does—weep for both.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Future of Evangelicalism in America: Book Review

The Book

The Future of Evangelicalism in America
Edited by: Candy Gunther Brown & Mark Silk

This book was slapped on my desk by a colleague who knows and shares my interest in all things Christian. He told me it was a good, interesting read. And it most certainly was. I saw expressed in these pages many of the things that I had worked out in my own struggle as a young evangelical (quickly becoming or, perhaps, already become a middle-aged evangelical). These struggles have to do with the fact that I both agreed and disagreed with a lot of the stereotypical stances of evangelicalism. In fact, you can read another book review on a similar topic in the aptly titled: Everything You Know About Evangelicals is Wrong plus one on a book referred to in this title: Karl Barth's Evangelical Theology.

I knew that this book would likely be a scholarly work given the one who recommended it. I was not incorrect.

The Review

The tone of this work is scholarly. It is infused with statistics throughout. Particularly, the final chapter on racial diversity in evangelical churches at times reads like a textbook. (Though, thankfully, the author finds a narrative once he plows through the data.) It is not a book for the faint of heart or mind. In addition to race relations, the essays tackled in this books cover topics like: music, divisions, and politics.

An interesting note is how the authors envision the future. Since each chapter is contributed by a different author on a different topic, there is no consensus on the future of evangelicalism. Some say the future looks bright, some say the collapse of evangelicalism appears imminent. Most fall somewhere in between skewing to one side or another. The final chapter serves as a guide of things to consider moving forward. These things include:
  • Biblicism - How will evangelicals define biblicism moving forward?
  • Nondenominationalism - Will the nondenominational denominations continue becoming institutionalized?
  • Magnetic Leadership - Who is the next charismatic leader?
  • Popular Culture - How will evangelicals assimilate and integrate popular culture into their moral code?
  • Pentecostalization - Will evangelicalism become overrun by the Pentecostal trends?
  • Globalization - Will the center of evangelicalism shift into Latin America?
  • Racial and Ethnic Diversification - How will the continued growth of nonwhites effect evangelicalism?
  • Political Realignment - As evangelicals detach from traditional political "allies," where will they turn as they exercise their voting rights?
  • Generational Change - As we get further from the roots of evangelicalism, what will the next generations do with their heritage?

Evangelical Ethos

It is important to understand how the authors define evangelicalsim. Rather than a readily apparent set of beliefs with clearly divisive properties (i.e. Calvinism, Roman Catholicism, Arminianism, etc.) the authors follow Mark Knoll and David Bebbington in describing an Evangelical Ethos based on biblicism, conversionism, crusicentrism and activism. These points actually work to unite Christians across denominational boundaries. This method helps explain why we have the existence of self-described evangelicals all over Christendom without there being one Evangelical denomination. Yes, you have Methodist Evangelicals and Catholic Evangelicals and Presbyterian Evangelicals and they can all work together for a parachurch organization like Youth For Christ (which figures prominently in the book) and agree with the teachings of Billy Graham.

These four points are explained as follows:
  1. Biblicism: The belief that the Bible is central to Christianity. Look to the Bible for the answer. While there is debate on whether the Bible is inerrant vs infallable, and there is debate on the role of Tradition and the Magisterium, the Bible settles all disputes in the end.
  2. Conversionism: A personal relationship and regeneration. You have to have some kind of experience with God. There has to be a moment when you were converted. The story of your personal decision to follow Christ must be a prominent feature in your life-narrative. Without this, you might not be a Christian at all.
  3. Crucicentrism: A focus and emphasis on Christ's atoning death. The Church, the Bible and all of God's efforts in this world find their culmination at the cross of Calvary. Without an emphasis on Jesus Christ, you have no Christianity.
  4. Activism: Evangelistic activity aimed at conversion, renewal and activism. Your faith must be lived out, your faith requires some kind of action. In most cases, this means sharing the Gospel with neighbors, friends, and colleagues. However, this may also mean social activism, like feeding the hungry and clothing the poor.

The Conclusion

I really liked the layout of this book. It was nice to hear from different voices about the changing face of evangelicalism. More than that, I liked to see how some of my own thoughts on the subject were reaffirmed. I know I didn't go into detail on that in this review, you just have to read the book to get that information.

That being said, I would not recommend this book to everyone. At the end of the day, it reads more like a scholarly work so if that's the kind of piece you enjoy reading, go ahead and pick it up. You will not be disappointed. For a similar book that treats the topic in a more informal manner, I recommend the book mentioned earlier: Everything You Know About Evangelicals is Wrong.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Holy Thingstagram April 09, 2016 at 06:27PM


Working on a few visuals for tomorrow's message. #holythings Loving God with all your SOUL via Instagram http://jmnz.us/1YlWFYv

All Your Mind: An Extension



Material not included in the sermon due to time constraints.

Jesus' Follow-up Question

Mark 12:35-40
So after all this crazy questioning, Jesus continues the debate with a follow-up question about David calling his own kid "Lord." At first blush, this question apears to be another example of reductio ad absurdum—a bit of crazy talk meant for either an exaggerated point or for empty discussion.

Jesus wants to re-orient the discussion to his Messiahship. That is precicely what David was referring to in the Psalm Jesus referenced.

The Scribe was not far from the kingdom of God. But he needed to take the next step and love Jesus with the same love he offers God. Nobody becomes a Christian by virtue of their knowledge. It is by grace through the virtue of faith. Yet, one's knowledge is a doorway to faith. Some things must be realized first, for instance:
  • Man's Depravity: Man has fallen into sin, which displeases God.
  • The Wages of Sin: Since Man has displeased God, he has no hope to be in God's presence. Without God—the source of life—he is doomed to the only alternative: death.
  • God's Grace: God, in His grace, has provided a solution for this predicament in the death, burial and resurrection of His Son.
If you do not know these things, how could you ever believe them? There are levels of understanding. Admittedly, I understand them better than some. Most understand them better than me. The level of understanding does not matter much. Regardless of the level of understanding, one is judged by their response to the information they have.

Beware of the Scribes

The scribes abused their knowledge. They used it unwisely, in the pursuit of selfish gain. They had good information, but their application was wrong.

Library Science espouses a theory of knowledge that works as a hierarchy. In it, the slight differences are highlighted between data, information, knowledge and wisdom as follows:
  • DATA basic facts, building blocks (look in the kitchen: eggs, flour, milk, sugar)
  • INFORMATION data within a framework ("Hey! I can make a cake with these ingredients!")
  • KNOWLEDGE information that can be applied ("Here's my mom's favorite cake recipes. Which one...")
  • WISDOM reflective, decides what to do with the knowledge (Should I have cake for breakfast? Should I eat the entire cake myself in one sitting? Is there a healthier option for breakfast?)
It would be a shame for someone to get to the point where their knowledge is applied unwisely. It would have been a shame for that scribe who agreed with Jesus in Mark 12 to have rejected Jesus as his Messiah. It is a shame that the religious leaders seem to have fallen short at this point.

Conclusion

We can pursue knowledge wisely and honor the Lord with it. It starts when your knowledge draws you towards your knees in repentance and continues by informing your daily routines.
  1. Apply your knowledge to God's word.
  2. Apply God's word to your life.
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