reading the Bible with modern sensibilities

First of all, just as Christianity is not- tried and found wanting, but rather, untried, period (G. K. Chesterton), so the Bible is not- read and found wanting, but actually not read at all. As a rule. But it’s true that the Bible was written in a different day with reference to a different time. Also the Bible itself I think carries us along in what has been said to be a “redemptive movement hermeneutic” (William Webb), God moving his people toward the goal of his kingdom, fulfilled in King Jesus himself. So that the ethic of that kingdom which is to be lived out and explored in each culture and time ought to show the world a better way, even while ultimately such an ethic can be fulfilled only in and through Jesus, through God’s saving work in him.

Modernism in some ways has simply hidden the evil present, which Jesus taught precedes from the heart into our actions (or inaction). So that we fail to love God with all our being and doing, and we fail to love our neighbor as ourselves. Of course none of us will arrive on those scores, but the point is that we can directly violate them, failing for example to be a neighbor to those in need (Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan- Luke 10:25-37).

To think that modernism hasn’t been guilty of barbarism is not to know history. Of course we are better off with modern dentistry, medicine, etc., etc. In this world via “common grace” there indeed have been some good advances. But such things, while potentially helping the poor, still leave the heart unchanged.

The whole point of scripture is the gospel fulfilled in Jesus, God’s grace and kingdom come in him. And it is fulfilled through a people, Israel to begin with carried on now by what has been called the expanded Israel, the church. Yes, we have yet to arrive ourselves, but that’s not the fault of scripture, but rather our fault to a significant extent. But with the fact and factor that we are in process toward the final goal in this life.

Perhaps in a certain sense and in a good number of ways it’s not the Bible that needs critiqued, but instead the times in which we live. Postmodernism, arguably existent as a reaction to modernism, while carrying some weight, has enough problems of its own. One shouldn’t think they can slide on without factoring in the need for truth, having a basis for what’s right and wrong. But the answer we say as followers of Jesus is found in God’s grace and kingdom come in King Jesus. And God’s will in him. The Revelation at the end of the Bible is a bracing judgment of the evil in the world, a putting an end to it in bringing in God’s good salvation.

And so rather than us standing in judgment of the Bible, we need to let the Bible stand in judgment of us as God’s word, leading us to God’s final Word, Jesus.

the text and life

Postmodernism emphasized the subjective, whereas modernism emphasized the objective. Maybe we’re somewhere into post-postmodernism, whatever that is. But while each is erroneous, there is truth in both.

There is no way when I read (or listen to) scripture that my life does not impact what I am reading. It is good to ask God to remove all distractions so that by grace we may attend to him,*  give him our full attention, be still in his presence. Even so I am imagining, and I actually believe that God speaks into our lives, our circumstances. That what God says to us, what is impressed on us, will have an impact on us, on our lives and experience.

Scripture I take as God’s written word. It is a living document which somehow speaks into our lives here and now, into the lives of every generation and culture. God meets us where we live, in and through Christ. There is a sameness about that, even in all the differences that addresses.

Scripture helps us live beyond circumstances without denying them. Somehow in some way that is really beyond us, we come to settle down into a rhythm in which the truth from God in Jesus meets us and our world, even the world as well, and new creation begins to set in. In the midst of the old world that is dying, a new world is coming and will come.

And so I am in the word everyday. I want to read it with others, as well. That God might speak his truth in Jesus. A truth for life, that shapes our lives, and life in this world.

*A necessary aside: God is neither male nor female. Although both male and female in their differences are made in the image of God. I simply use male pronouns for God, as in scripture. I struggle with using God’s Self, or something of the like, grammatically. 

review of Anna Rapa’s “Second Story: seeing what’s not being said” (part two)

…from Issachar, men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do—200 chiefs…

1 Chronicles 12:32

Anna Rapa has written a kind of wisdom story in Second Story: seeing what’s not being said. In her words to me, “It’s really meant to be an object lesson or ideas with skin on. Could’ve been written as a nonfiction book, but it seemed impossible to really convey what the ideas would look like without a story.”

Anna tells the story well, real life people. One begins to identify especially with the main characters, Alex and Annie who have been anticipating marriage. Except Alex’s accident through which his life was hanging in the balance has awakened him to the importance of making his life count for God. Gone is the care free, fun loving Alex. In in his place is an Alex who wants to talk most all the time about spiritual things. And wants to share and confront others with the truth of God so that they might see their need for Christ.

Annie is all but lost. She was glad he wanted to go to church, she was raised that way. But really caring about other’s religion or personal matters to her seemed more than a bit much.

Enter Sara, who had served as a youth worker some years back in Alex’s church youth group. The three begin to meet, and we see every bit as significant a change in Annie as had happened with Alex. Except that Annie’s change due to Sara’s sharing had come with more than Alex could have imagined. More than he was willing to take on, or accept.

Alex is busy “witnessing” to people verbally any opportunity he has. A fellow worker, Drew, Alex discovers is gay, and has cancer. Alex is always wanting to share with him his need for Jesus, but Drew is not only uninterested, but antagonistic. He has been raised in a church, and his father is upset over his lifestyle. Alex while repulsed by that himself, won’t let up in trying to help Drew come to faith, seeing Drew’s death as imminent.

In the meantime, Annie is benefiting from their times together with Sara. She had been reticent, but in desperation had committed herself to God, or reached out to him while not really wanting such help. There was something not ringing true to her in what she saw of Alex in his change. And she was not where she needed to be herself as to God and his will.

In this unfolding comes a really compelling, well told story. With wisdom and insight woven in throughout.

God begins to change Annie through study of scripture and prayer from the times with Sara. Certain parts spoke into my life, such as when Annie was trying to grapple with Jesus’ words in the first and greatest commandment to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength. As is true throughout the book, how she works through this is so true to life. Annie begins to genuinely care about people. So that her friend Oliver, and her neighbors, Patti and Josie become priorities to her, simply as people. From that she does want to share the difference God is making in her life.

Alex sees every contact as a responsibility to confront others of their need, their danger if they don’t repent and believe the gospel. For him it is all about being a part of God’s work of reconciliation. For Annie it is first about loving people, praying for them, and out of that, sharing her faith when it is natural. Annie thinks it’s not always wise to speak of faith, in fact is reticent to do so unless it is a natural expression of her life, or sharing her story. Alex thinks he should always try to speak.

Out of this comes the perfect storm. Taught by Sara and really part of her own understanding and experience, Annie sees life as uncertain and not so black and white. Alex wants certainty, and sees truth at stake, or being compromised with Sara’s view that like Jesus we should tell stories from scripture, our own story as well, praying that the Spirit will give the hearer understanding. Alex can’t shake the belief that it’s up to him to help others understand the truth and their need for Jesus. Sara also has taught them that barriers to the faith for many today are largely emotional, that we help people to come to truth in their minds by being sensitive to where they are struggling in their hearts.

The story for me had an unexpected ending. It sets in stark and helpful contrast two models of evangelism and leaves us the reader grappling with which is the one most true to the witness of scripture and in the way we find in Jesus in scripture. And how we should be Christ’s ambassadors for reconciliation in this present time.

There is much more in this book. Anna covers it well, and out of her own life of nearly a decade in learning and growing in her walk in it. I believe this is an important book for this day. And Anna continues to think through this, and wants to do  so with others on her blog.

For me it was an encouragement as well as a challenge. That we should commit ourselves to this life of loving others and praying for their reconciliation to God through Christ. That we are to live out God’s calling in a way that is natural to us, to God’s gifting of us. And with love and sensitivity to others. Not abandoning the call to introduce others to Jesus. But doing so as those committed to others as true friends. Not in a commitment which is only about adding more to God’s kingdom in Jesus, or seeing more saved.

So on the one hand thinking through this in reading the book alleviated pressure on me and unnecessary guilt, while on the other hand it encouraged me to be more open and ready out of love to share the good news of Jesus with others. In God’s working.

Thanks, Anna for this valuable contribution to me, to us as Christ’s body in the world. I pray that this book may be a blessing to many in days to come.

review of Anna Rapa’s “Second Story: seeing what’s not being said” (part one)

Anna Rapa on the hope we have in Jesus and witness to in and for the world

And there was a strange sort of comfort for Josie when she was hanging out with Annie. It wasn’t that Annie had all the answers or even sounded certain about things all the time. But Annie had a sort of LIFE; she had a sort of purpose that moved her forward into things. Josie was trying so hard to sort everything out. Annie had this sort of confidence that even when things were awful, they would work out. Josie wanted to be around that.

Anna Rapa, Second Story: seeing what’s not being said, 279.

Anna Rapa is not suggesting at all that we don’t have answers. But that our answer is chiefly in the good news of Jesus himself. A good news which calls for a faith which sees us through all our uncertainties, what we do not, nor cannot know in this life.

faith is not intellectual knowledge

One truth coming more readily out of a more postmodern mindset is how little we really do know. Although the problem with postmodernism is that truth itself is dismissed as simply a power grabbing mechanism. Which reduces postmodernism itself into an absurd category in which there is no truth. Gravity is not really true, nor anything, really. A place in which no one can live. Or all is relative, so that what is true for you may not at all be true for me. At the same time Postmodernism brings with it a resounding, shattering critique of modernism, which was humanity’s confidence that by themselves they could figure the world out, and knowledge alone will bring the needed salvation to the human race. Our educational system is built largely on that fallacy. No need for revelation there, or faith, except faith in humankind’s ability. Of course that was shattered in the twentieth century and gave rise to what was already in the works I believe, in the critique which followed.

Faith doesn’t know it all. We know from God just enough to proceed by faith in the way of God. It is more like hearing a calling. Like Abraham who living in an idolatrous society heard the voice of God calling him out of that into a life of faith and obedience. Abraham in faith obeyed, not knowing in that he did not understand where he was going. Our Pastor Jack Brown yesterday shared with us a powerful message which noted this very thing: That faith by nature is trust in a person, in this case the Person of God. That we indeed can make an idol out of understanding. Or we can live in the mystery of faith. Of course we can’t explain the Trinity (yesterday was Trinity Sunday). God can never be reduced to our level. Instead we have to proceed with the sense God gives us, a sense which includes a message calling us to a faith in Christ: in his person, words and work. A faith which is rooted in the personal God, and through which we begin to know what is truth (reference: Pilate’s question to Jesus: What is truth?”). But in a way which never gives us place to boast about our superior knowledge. Because we know all is a gift, and that we are ever dependent on the One who gives in and through Jesus by the Spirit. A gift that puts us on a path of faith and obedience. Given to us in Jesus  for the world.