Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Wild Goose (Part 4 of the Bible)

If you're still with me after the first three parts of this, you may find yourself asking, "So what?".

I think it's important how we view scripture. Allow me to do something I'm not too big a fan of: proof-texting:
It cannot become what the Law was for the Pharisees.
It cannot replace God.
It is not God. It is God's servant.
And it is our servant (useful!).

I struggle when I see faith statements or church belief statements that begin not with God, but with scripture. Our story doesn't begin in or with scripture. It begins with God (even scripture says so). Faith does not come from the Bible, faith is fed and shaped by the Bible. The Bible is not the "source" of our faith or the "foundation" of who we are.  Jesus is (by the Holy Spirit.)

Speaking of the Holy Spirit...sometimes it feels to me like the primal authority that is often given to scripture cheapens the active presence, work, and person of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, by the way, did not leave us the Bible. Jesus left us his Holy Spirit. We didn't trust ourselves a couple of centuries later, and thusly canonized scripture (and it's a good thing, because we certainly did/do need it).

But ultimately, anything is nothing without the active presence (=inspiration) of the Holy Spirit. We can understand that this was the same Spirit of God that inspired the people who spoke and wrote scripture and is the same Spirit of God who helps us with it today.

Faith is not so easily a matter of black and white. And the spotlight of our faith (the Holy Spirit) is not a matter of black and white. There is a good reason that the Holy Spirit is called "spirit" and not a Holy "Rock" or Holy "Head" or Holy "Statue" or anything else that we can easily see, manipulate, control, or stick in our pockets. Material things can be controlled. But you can't control the things of spirit. We might even say that it blows where it pleases. Further, there are good reasons that the Holy Spirit is described by images like stillness, fire, wind, and loud noises. Again: none of those are easily controlled.

We're able to control the words of the Bible with our own power. We can shape and form them as we see fit. And we do so very often (all of us). None of us come to the scriptures with unbiased lenses. But the Holy Spirit doesn't live in our pockets or in covers with zippers that Grandma stitched. (I was recently informed that a Celtic image for the Holy Spirit is the "wild goose." Not bad. Though even a goose can be caught and manipulated for our own purposes.)

It's difficult to place too much priority on things that are of divinity, but I'm comfortable saying that the Bible is subservient to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

But it's notable how they work and dance together.

So I will continue this later with a further post on how I tend to think the various ways that authority comes to us. It's my feeling that if I give the Bible too much authority, I'm actually devaluing the living and active God. I have one or two other posts brewing as well in response to questions that have come up. I'm not sure I can do this daily from here on, but I will try.
This is Part 4 of a short series on The Bible.
Part 1 - Chan, the Bible, & Jesus
Part 2 - I love the Bible. Really.
Part 3 - A Signpost and a Compass

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Signpost & Compass (Part 3 of the Bible)

N.T. Wright is one of my favorite biblical scholars (certainly the one I've read the most from). (I realize that when I make that statement, it already puts me in the danger zone in the eyes of many of my brothers and sisters in Christ.) Wright talks about the signposts of scripture. I love this image and find it very useful in talking about what scripture is and does:

A sign along the road is something that points us in the right direction to get to a destination. It is not the destination in and of itself, but without it, we may never get to the destination. Once we've passed a road sign and arrive at our destination, we don't need the sign anymore.

So to flesh the image, the destination is to be "in Christ," with Christ, etc. The Bible is a signpost to get us there. We will always need the Bible in this lifetime. But in eternity, the Bible will be quite moot. It's not part of God's creation. It's of human hands, inspired by God.

(By the way, this is one thing that separates us from those who were directly given their scripture from God like Islam (via Mohammed) or Mormons (via Joseph Smith).)

At the same time, scripture is more like a compass than it is a roadmap. A roadmap tells us exactly where and when to turn, with every step along the way. A compass points us in a direction, and we often find we need to return to the compass to be re-aligned.

The destination is Jesus.
The point is Jesus.
The Bible tells us about the point and isn't in and of itself the point.
This is Part 3 of a series on The Bible. I'll post the fourth tomorrow.
Part 1 - Chan, the Bible, & Jesus
Part 2 - I love the Bible. Really.
Part 4 - The Wild Goose

Friday, July 08, 2011

I love the Bible. Really. (Part 2 of The Bible)

I read, study, preach, and otherwise talk about the Bible for hours every week. It's kind of important to what I do as a pastor. I love scripture. I have dozens of Bibles and hundreds of biblical commentaries. The more I read scripture, the more I love it. I love the incredible melting pot of personalities, love, anger, creativity, emotion, narrative, power, weakness, divinity, humanity, poetry, art, inspiration, and so much more that the Bible is. I love reading about the people of the Bible. I'll never forget staying up late reading my children's bible as a kid (I particularly liked Joseph, David, and Daniel). Today, the gospels sit at the center for me, while Paul's description of the sacrifice of Christ and the community of his Body (the Church) continually inspire and challenge me.

But the Bible is not God, falls well short of God, is temporal, and should not be made more than it actually is. I even believe that the Church is above scripture, always has been, and always will be, even despite our whorish and schismatic brokenness today (a predicament that makes what I'm saying here challenging in orthopraxy, I know).

All by the grace and inspiration of God, the Bible was:
formed by the Church (the people of God),
selected by the Church,
has been maintained by the Church,
and is taught by the Church.

Unless one is part of a church that only reads from the original text in Hebrew, Greek, and the little bit of Aramaic and Latin (meaning no preaching, no teaching, or anything else other than reading verbatim from the original text), this is pretty much how everyone operates. Interpretation has begun the very moment that someone opens their mouth with words other than the text to explain the text.

I am glad that the Bible is the most printed book in all of history, and I am glad that it's so accessible and more accessible every day. I wish everyone in the world had a Bible. But...there is something to the concern that the RCC had about the Bible being in the hands of all during the Reformation. They were wrong in their monopolization and fist-grip, but they were partly right in their concern about what might happen. (As an aside, I loved how the movie The Book of Eli dealt in the slight with this.) Some of the greatest acts of history were inspired by the words of scripture. And some of the worst atrocities of history were supported by the same.

Don't get me wrong: I believe that God will use whatever vessel, means, path, or anything else to reveal Godself to people. If someone wants to begin with the Bible, I believe that God will honor that. But the Bible simply cannot become God, or the only source by which one finds God throughout the whole of life.

Tim Suttle discusses this wonderfully in his new book:
...the Bible is not self-explanatory. Just as the Ethiopian eunuch needed Philip to help him understand what he was reading, we need help as well. No one can read the Bible apart from community. For one thing it is a written document. You cannot read it unless you’ve been taught how to read. One has to know the language, and language is socially and culturally mediated. You have to be taught the meaning of words by someone else before you can read them. No one is born with the ability to read and understand words. For another thing, the Bible was written in languages hardly any of us can read. It has to be translated into a language which we can understand. This means as soon as we pick up an English translation, we are reading a text which has been mediated by someone else. Lastly, the Bible was never intended to be read apart from community. For the first fifteen hundred years of the Bible’s existence, until the invention of the printing press, it was read privately only in very rare cases. Our ability to read comes from community, as does the Bible itself. People love to point to the case of the addict who grabs the Gideon’s Bible from the hotel room and comes to faith in Christ as an individualistic event. But, who taught him to read? Who put the Bible there? Who translated it into English? Who authored it? Who decided what writings would be included and not included in the canon? Much of what we know about God has come to us through community and has been mediated by that community under the guidance of the Spirit. (An Evangelical Social Gospel?: Finding God's Story in the Midst of Extremes, Chapter 5)
That bold and underline emphasis is mine. The Bible is nothing without the Holy Spirit, which I'll deal with in the next post.

This is Part 2 of a series on The Bible.
Part 1 - Chan, the Bible, & Jesus
Part 3 - A Signpost and a Compass
Part 4 - The Wild Goose

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Chan, the Bible, & Jesus

So Francis Chan spoke tonight at Nazarene Youth Conference. The die-down on Twitter and Facebook of chatter piqued my curiosity a bit. People were excited about him being there. There's no doubt why: he's popular, catchy, cool, and has written what I've been told is a good book (sound familiar?, I mean really...look at those two pictures side-by-side again). But I don't see how Chan's very Wesleyan. I'm sure that he loves Jesus, Jesus loves him, and I could learn a lot from his incredible example. I hope and pray that people were changed tonight for eternity. I trust that it happened and is happening.

But if so, it was because he showed them Jesus and not just the Bible.

Several weeks ago someone posted this video on Facebook. I appreciate much of what Chan says (love the part about clay telling clay about the potter). I had to chuckle at the coupled warning to "be careful what we read" with the blatant "buy my forthcoming book" (on hell). And I find the reaction to Bell's book on hell predictable. Both Chan and Bell have ingenious marketing folk.

But the video has led me back to thinking about what I believe is the primary difference and divide amongst so many in evangelical, mainline, and other circles of the Body of Christ today.

We can list issues that vigorously separate Christians today: homosexuality, abortion, peace/war, atonement theories, the age-old Reformed/Arminian spectrum, and more. But it's more than likely that the position held by someone(s) boils down to one thing: how we read, use, and view scripture, its authority, revelation, and inspiration. That's a lot of words, but it boils down to: the Bible.

(By the way, in the time that I took to type this post out, some chatter has arisen on Twitter about NYC and how great Chan was tonight. Awesome!)

This is Part 1 of a series on The Bible.
Part 2 - I love the Bible. Really.
Part 3 - A Signpost and a Compass
Part 4 - The Wild Goose

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Some more thoughts on compassion

In the below video of Brene Brown (yeah, I'm a big fan) from Altar Video Magazine, she quotes Buddhist nun Pema Chodron who says, "Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals."

Part of her point is that we can only become truly com-passionate ("suffering with") once we have realized and actualized our own brokenness. I'm not sure I completely agree (it seems like Chodron is describing empathy more than "suffering with").

But it's likely that I'm drastically influenced by the compassion of Christ, who was both at the same time: equals ("man") and also healer ("God").  However, I definitely like how Chodron (and Brown as well) are challenging people to realize that compassion is hardly just the healthy helping the unhealthy and cannot be equated with charity.  It sounds familiar. The Incarnation is all about this.

Anyone else have thoughts?

Learning How To Sit In The Dark from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.