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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Winning Football, Misreading Scripture: New Terminologies and Catchy Phrases

I remember watching an NFL football game one Sunday afternoon many years ago. I scoffed when the player bowed his knee in the end zone then stood up, forefinger pointing towards the heavens. It was his touchdown celebration on that Sunday afternoon complete with a short prayer and public acknowledgment of God.

Immediately, I discerned the admonition by the Spirit. I was admonished because of my own self-righteous arrogance and the notion that God had no interest in a game played on Sunday afternoon. He led me to reflect, ponder and examine what I had scoffed. Some, and I must emphasize some, of what I have come to understand since that Sunday and which I have developed in my faith over the years is reflected in this article. It scoffs at the Sunday game-day quarterback turned Monday morning quarterback as theologian. This is my comment on the article Winning Football, Misreading Scripture, and The Only Child Myth by Sean Palmer on the ploys and perils of words and phrases.

new terminology and catchy phrases

The basic premise of the author in this article, which I encourage you to read, is about the mistaken notions concerning the misreading of scripture and what he calls, The Only Child Myth. This myth, allegedly, is the tendency among American Christians to think of themselves, in the singular sense, as the reason God would tilt the world for them alone. I do not believe he has grossly overstated the matter which I would like to address here shortly. I do believe he seems to be unaware how his view, particularly as a teacher of the saints in Christ, is unwittingly shaped and colored by the influences of culture. Some of those influences which are widely embraced and parroted by the saints in Christ are reflected in the author’s own embrace and use of a terminology which such as; Christianity, community, and non-communally. (note: A discussion of terms such as this would have to include, Trinity, perhaps the single major misunderstanding of the scriptures by the saints.)

These are the terms used by teachers and preachers before those who hear them preach and teach. No, these words do not represent a heresy or a doctrinal problem. I do understand that these represent the struggle of the saints, teachers and preachers included, to proclaim the message of Jesus, the Son of God, and the kingdom of heaven. It is for this same reason I take no offense when I hear the unlearned Sunday’s player talking theology on Monday. Personally, while I do not take offense at the use  of these terms; I have no desire, need or use for these shorthand attempts to represent what is for the saints to read, examine and understand in the scriptures. Nonetheless, while the practice of coining new terminology and catchy phrases may be a good way to memorize and to parrot sound bites, these devices are not a substitute for teaching which can produce understanding in the hearts of the saints.

The author’s first attempt to debunk and clarify the mistaken notion of being special  is taken from the book by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. (A book which I have not read, but I expect to read this week.) What the authors debunk, according to Sean, is the misunderstanding and application by the saints in Christ of the prophet Jeremiah to certain plans:

'For I know the plans that I have for you,'declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

seems innocuous

Yes, it is true that the plans of which Jeremiah speaks are not about myself; the individual as The Only Child, or of the saints in Christ today. The plans in Jeremiah’s message pertain to Israel and his return from Babylonian captivity. Point well made. Point well taken.
What Sean does not seem to realize that while his own plans for re-imagining church as community may not represent a misreading of scripture they represent, 1) a dismissal of, let alone reading of, scripture together with the significant meaning of its terminology, and 2) a deference to culture for the things he teaches and practices.

The buzz of the past three decades about dropping the term church when referring to the body of believers in favor of the term community seems innocuous enough. The pop message of culture which the church often adapts for its listeners is that that the church is open and welcomes all. Again, this may have the appearance of being praiseworthy and commendable. (Conversely, do not distort my point as a suggestion that the church is to remain closed and unwelcoming to all.) However, the effective result is that the message reflects an abandonment of the significance and meaning of the term church as the called out.

Yes, we understand that even that definition in the first century had no religious connotation. It was used in reference to any civic or political gather of the citizens. They were called out to come and hear or discuss some matter of importance to them. It was the apostles who by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit saw it as a fitting and apt descriptive term to refer to and apply to those in Christ who have been called out from the world. This is not the idea which the term community connotes. It lacks the divine transforming nature of those in its number as well as the knowledge and sanctity of those who come together in praise and worship to the Father; the unique royal priesthood, the children of God.

the message of culture

Here is the blandness and contradiction when the message of the church defers to the message of culture. While the claim of culture is that it purports to foster and nurture diversity in the community its own poster children of same-sex couples represent a rejection and less than friendly response to any message which proclaims and exults the diversity and difference as between a man and a woman in the union of marriage. There seems to be little awareness of how the re-imagining church as community according to culture can/does bring with it these other, more substantive elements of pop culture. Community stands in stark contrast and opposition to the message of the church as the redeemed and the message which she is to proclaim in all cultures and nations of the world.


Conclusion

It may be a source of amusement (or a challenge to proclaim Jesus) for some saints to hear the Sunday football game quarterback-turned Monday morning theologian. That quarterback’s explanation and acknowledgement of God for getting him the game victory as though God were constantly tilting the world for the individual is neither a distortion of scripture nor a problem. Nonetheless, what the author of the article dismisses as a misreading by the saints in Christ of the message of prophet Jeremiah because it reflects a reasoning whereby God is seen as working marvels for the individual as though he/she were God's only child. Yet, this reading of the passage has more validity than the practice of the church to adapt of  terminologies and practices of culture as a kind of re-image makeover for the church. The truth is that what may be a growing practice in the church to chasten the saints for mis-applying the message of Jeremiah is found more and more with Jesus’ own words or the words of Paul. The words of Jesus and Paul are often dismissed as not applying to the saints in Christ today. It is hoped that even the least discerning of disciples would see it, if nothing else, than at least as something for them to be aware of it, understand it and not be troubled by it as the latest attempt to makeover what God has made.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin

First, I have thoroughly read this article. Second, I have, as recently as December 31, 2014 completed a cover-to-cover reading of the Bible. It is not my first reading. Kurt Eichenwald, the author of the above named article, states the purpose behind the article. He claims,
Newsweek’s exploration here of the Bible’s history and meaning is not intended to advance a particular theology or debate the existence of God. Rather, it is designed to shine a light on a book that has been abused by people who claim to revere it but don’t read it, in the process creating misery for others.

Then, after a dredging of the dregs on modern Bible criticism he concludes, 

So why study the Bible at all? Since it’s loaded with contradictions and translation errors and wasn’t written by witnesses and includes words added by unknown scribes to inject Church orthodoxy, should it just be abandoned?

No. This examination is not an attack on the Bible or Christianity. Instead, Christians seeking greater understanding of their religion should view it as an attempt to save the Bible from the ignorance, hatred and bias that has been heaped upon it. If Christians truly want to treat the New Testament as the foundation of the religion, they have to know it.


There is nothing in the content of the article by Kurt Eichenwald which is new to me, to the saints in Christ in general or to those other theologians and their contributions to the study of the biblical text which he purports to lay out but whose contributions are not a part of the bias of this article.
What is my purpose for this brief comment? It is neither to bash Eichenwald nor to refute every point in his article. Rather, my aim is to address just one point as an example which may serve to enlighten those saints in Christ who are impressed or shocked by the content of this article by Eichenwald.
There is one thing which Eichenwald does right. He begins with the matter of the scriptures themselves. I believe there is a consistent telltale characteristic when a message is being parroted. This telltale characteristic is evident in his opening volley that no one, not television preachers, evangelical politicians, the pope, Kurt Eichenwald or I (gt) who has read the Bible. Yes. I understand this is for dramatic emphasis by casting a dismissive shot at the authenticity of the Bible as he states:
At best, we’ve all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.


Eichenwald attempts to discredit and dismiss the authenticity of the Bible on three different levels: 1) bad translations, 2) bad translations of translations, and 3) the Greek koine language.
Eichenwald may be aware about koine Greek, but if so he reveals a markedly, significant ignorance about koine Greek. Years ago the very same language of the Bible manuscripts which stumped Bible scholars for many years was finally cleared up when it was discovered that the Bible was not written in classical Greek but it was written in koine; the common language of ordinary Greek people. Yet, Eichenwald states “not all of the amateur copyists spoke the language or were even fully literate,” and _ did not understand the words?
Then, after stating that the ancient manuscripts parchments crumbled and primitive ink faded away he cheerily touts the discoveries in the last 100 years of manuscripts which date back centuries. These are the same koine manuscripts which are the sources of those translations but in what would seem to be an even greater cause for Eichenwald to cheer for is to inform us of Erhman’s flip dismissal of these manuscripts.
“There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament,” says Dr. Bart D. Ehrman, a groundbreaking biblical scholar and professor at the University of North Carolina who has written many books on the New Testament.

What Eichenwald decries as dishonesty and a butchery of word translation is what is arguably debated among translators and linguists as dynamic equivalence. It is a means by which translators intend to provide for the reader, not the literal meaning of the word which would be obscure and lost to the reader, but rather a familiar word which carries the same or approximate meaning in the language of the reader. Of course, there is context which is always vital in the reading of any document. This understanding is absent from Kurt Eichenwald’s explanations even when he cites the manner of koine Greek in these manuscripts as it was written in one continuous, unbroken line without spacing or punctuation. Eichenwald purports to challenge Christians to “attempt to save the Bible from the ignorance, hatred and bias [and] . . . to know it.” This seems disingenuous because he would have readers believe that his article is just simply a presentation of the Bible as a very human work with its “flaws, the contradictions, and the theological disagreements.”
Those words may resonate with some people. Those who have read at least the first three chapters of the Bible may recognize the father of biblical criticism as none other than Satan. It was well before the account of what God had spoken had been written. All three parties present, namely, Satan and Adam and Eve knew what God had said. Yet, the Genesis account records of the serpent that,
he said to the woman, "Indeed , has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?"
Thus, a portend of what would become the lofty preoccupation of “modern Bible criticism.” This is the preoccupation of Kurt Eichenwald' parroting with this copy of a copy of a copy of a very familiar set of notions on alleged contradictions and translation differences of no substantive significance  in the Bible.