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Bad Girls, Bad Girls

Bad Girls, Bad Girls

Rachel Held Evans, in her es 9-11" href="">Sunday Superlatives links, provides a link to a post by Sarah Bubar on The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood blog titled The Bad Girl’s Club.

In this post are featured four women for this “bad girl’s [sic] club”: Julian of Norwich, Ann Hutchinson, Margaret Fell Fox, and Phoebe Palmer.

Now it’s not my plan to explain how these four weren’t bad girls. Rather, I’m interested in just what Sarah Bubar thinks they have in common. Apparently, the real problem is that they all failed to bow to the proper authorities and thus came up with doctrines that are, perhaps, objectionable. I say, “perhaps” because I would have a different opinion on certain of these.

There are two critical things in common between these women, as far as I can see. First, they all saw visions or emphasized spiritual experience. Second, they exercised, or tried to exercise leadership.

I recall once discussing biblical inspiration with another man. At one point I asked how, if one hears a voice, does one know whether it’s from God or not. His response was, “We’re not talking about voices; we’re talking about the Bible.”

Well, I’m afraid that if you want to read the Bible you are going to read things written by and about people who heard voices. In view of this post, I’d add that your going to read things by and about people who saw visions.

And you’re also going to read about women who did all those things. So here’s my list of bad girls.

  1. How about Miriam, a prophetess? She was leading singing, but there must have been a reason she was called a prophetess. And yes, I know about her later experiences for challenging Moses; but remember she wasn’t the only one who had such problems (Exodus 15:20-21).
  2. How about Deborah (Judges 4:4), prophetess and judge? You may argue that Miriam was leading women, but Deborah went much further than that. You know, this prophetess thing pretty definitely indicates some kind of spiritual experience.
  3. How about Huldah (2 Kings 22:14-20), giving God’s instructions to the men of the temple in Josiah’s time? Visionary experiences and teaching the men, I’d say.
  4. Or Anna, a prophetess who affirmed Jesus (Luke 2:36-38). If women can’t speak with authority, why record her words for all Christian generations?

But there’s another side. How many men who do not claim any special spiritual experiences go off track. We’ve had plenty of heresies started by men whose method for finding their own “new truths” was in searching through texts.

The fact is that you can find good an bad examples of people of either gender in any time and place.

And since I note that women in scripture exercised more authority than certain modern Christians believe is legitimate, I think there’s good reason to think that exclusions of women were, in fact, limited in terms of time and place.


On Being a Liberal Charismatic Believer

On Being a Liberal Charismatic Believer

I found a new blog (for me) this week via John MeunierTo Him Which is Yes. I was particularly attracted by the post John linked to, Bringing back belief.

Jack Burden, the blogger, tells the story of how he silenced a committee meeting, doubtless an extremely useful skill under any circumstances, but the point is much more important. In discussing who they thought would make the ideal member for their church, the committee members listed a number of things, all of them good, but the suggestion that the ideal member should be a believer silenced them.

I think this should strike committed Christians as a problem, but I don’t think that those of us who deal with mainline congregations should be surprised by it. A friend of mine once commented to me that the main attack form of liberals is intellectual ridicule, while the main attack form of conservatives is moral condemnation. I’ve since had several conservative friends point out that many liberals are quite capable of moral condemnation, and I know the reverse to be true as well. Belief often does not stand up well to intellectual ridicule.

But there is an entire category of Christian church members who are there because they ought to have a church to go to. It’s traditional in their family or community. They want to be known as “church going people.” Now I could expend many words on the notion that “church going” people are better than other categories of people. But there are certainly communities where “church going” is a helpful attribute to have in doing business. Being a true believer? Not so much!

These people often will, out of duty, attend church fairly regularly, participate in activities, give to the church budget and special projects and many other things. Since I have already noted that I don’t think “church going” necessarily describes a better class of people, these folks may well be doing all of the good and moral things called for by discipleship.

The open question is this: Why do they do these things in a church?

I’m sure there are many answers to that question. Liberals are more frequently accused of being unbelievers in church, but I’m not sure this is a liberal/conservative thing. Amongst people that I know, there are very committed believers in both the conservative and liberal camps, but there are also people who are simply checking the right boxes on their checklist in both camps. I have no idea what the proportions are outside of my own experience.

I’m going to be teaching a Sunday School class in less than two hours (the Tifounden Class at First UMC of Pensacola). I taught this class for a few weeks last year, and I was invited for a return engagement with the specific task of discussing the subtitle of one of my books: Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Confessions of a Liberal Charismatic. In particular they’re interested in the combination of “liberal” and “charismatic.”

There are so many ways I could go in discussing this. The title “liberal charismatic” was bestowed on me by someone who didn’t like me at all and was looking for a good insult. When I floated it as a subtitle for my book, quite a number of people–friends–said, “That’s you!” Even my wife said it, so it must be true! I prefer “passionate moderate” myself, but one doesn’t always get to choose one’s labels. One should note, of course, that I didn’t fight this one all that much.

So what, exactly, is a liberal charismatic? I was playing around with many ways of describing what I would mean by liberal, and what I meant by charismatic. The person who first used the phrase to describe me meant that I didn’t accept all orthodox doctrines, and also believed that all gifts of the Spirit were to continue in the church to the end. He was particularly offended by the idea of a prayer language, which is certainly a controversial topic all around.

But when I read Jack Burden’s post, I realized something else. The label “believer” has never bothered me. In fact, I have insisted on it. I even occasionally use “true believer” of myself. Why? I confess that, unlike some Christian apologists, I cannot prove that God exists, that Jesus rose from the dead, or that God communicates to us through scripture. I can’t even match the gentler (and better, in my view) form of apologetics that claims that the evidence is sufficient to make this the best option.

I’ve made the leap of faith. While I am quite unadventurous physically, in the spiritual sense I looked out over the chasm as did Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade, closed my eyes and put my foot down on empty space. I think my foot landed on that hidden bridge; others think they hear the echoes of my screams as I fall. Ah well, it’s my leap of faith, after all.

I don’t mean that there is no evidence at all. It’s just that there wasn’t enough evidence to make me certain, intellectually, of the destination. At the same time my experience means that I believe in God because I experience him, in a way that differs fundamentally and completely from intellectual assent, I know that there is a God. If that means I’m less intellectually sound, then, well, I’m less intellectually sound.

But I remain liberal in the sense that I don’t believe this means that I am somehow more right than others about the attributes about God or about a doctrinal system. It doesn’t mean I’m a better person than my friends who believe differently, or not at all. It is simply an honest statement of who I am.

I was once asked by an agnostic if this meant that, in order to become a believer of my sort, he would have to have his own private hallucination. I told him that bar the slanted terminology (I don’t prefer “hallucination”!) that was pretty much where I was coming from.

I’ve told the story on this blog before, but let me tell it again. When I joined my first United Methodist congregation, I was attending Bible classes at one church, and attending church at another. I had a hard time choosing. When I discussed membership with one pastor, he told me that he didn’t care what I believed. If I would enjoy their fellowship, feel free to join. What I believed didn’t matter to them. The other pastor asked me what I believed regarding Jesus and why. I joined his church. Belief is very important to me.

So for me, the “liberal” in “liberal charismatic” means that I’m doctrinally open. I am skeptical of my own ability to know substantial amounts about God. At the same time, for reasons that have so far escaped my powers of rational explanation, I believe that when I know (1 Corinthians 13:12) I will be happy with that knowledge. I’m charismatic because I believe that God’s presence is not variable, but our awareness of it is. God is as present today as he was on the day of Pentecost. (Perhaps I should call myself pentecostal, but that would be much too confusing!)

That’s it, not in a nutshell, but as close as I get to one–a bit over 1200 words. Is it any wonder I hear this or similar questions so frequently that I decided to write a book just so I could hand it out to those who ask?

Willful, Crusading Ignorance

Willful, Crusading Ignorance

I took the title of this post from one of the speakers in the video embedded below. I’ve followed this IUPUI case for some time, mostly via Dispatches from the Culture Wars, but also through the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

This case is particularly egregious, but political correctness, or the idea that people have the right not to be offended often manifests itself in much less obvious ways. Frequently the label “politically correct” is used as a weapon against simple courtesy, but at the other end, it’s used to suppress freedom of expression, or in this case, simple reading.

I think this deserves the maximum publicity, and the university officials who either carried it out or turned a blind eye to it deserve the maximum ridicule.

The Difficulty of Appropriate Public Prayer

The Difficulty of Appropriate Public Prayer reports that there is a bit of a kerfuffle over whether Rick Warren will use the name of Jesus in his prayer at Barack Obama’s inauguration. At the same time we have a group of atheist and humanist groups suing to prevent any prayer at all at this public event.

I confess to mixed emotions about the public prayer, largely because I think that the event reflects not only the public, but also the person who has been elected to that office, and Barack Obama is a believer. I could quite easily regard the prayer as relating more to him as a person than as something that is intended to reflect the country as a whole. While I may have mixed emotions, I would suspect that the lawsuit is doomed to failure, except in producing publicity, because we still have military chaplains and prayers to open the houses of congress, and the courts have shown no inclination to stop them.

But I have more problem with a public prayer as a Christian than I do as a political matter, something that has only been stirred up and sharpened by discussions with a friend of mine who is a pastor and who gets invited to pray at public events. There are two major points involved. First, for most trinitarian Christians, prayer in the name of Jesus (or in a trinitarian formula in some cases) is the way to pray–it is prayer. Second, just what is it that we expect a pastoral prayer at a public event to accomplish? As my friend has pointed out to me, and I agree, the public bodies over which prayer is offered are not going to actually seek God’s guidance and blessing as a group. They’re going to go right on doing whatever they were going to do anyhow. And it’s difficult to expect a public body that is diverse in beliefs to do so.

So in that case the public prayer becomes, in many ways, an act of idolatry. It is a pretense at worship, but not the reality. A critical part of the Lord’s prayer is “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Show me the public body here in the United States that intends to behave in that particular way. And with acute awareness of my atheist and other non-Christian friends, that is not a prayer that can be prayed collectively by a public body, expected to act in a secular way to govern a diverse body of people.

Were I an elected individual, I could individually pray that God guide me, even though I must express my viewpoint in non-religious terms in public debate. And note here that I can only express my viewpoint in non-religious terms if it is honestly supportable in non-religious terms. That means that I can pray the Lord’s prayer for myself, but that collectively prayed, it becomes an outright lie. Any prayer prayed in the name of Jesus is similarly supposed to be “under the authority of” as well as “in the name of” and thus, in my view, becomes idolatrous if prayed corporately on behalf of those who do not consent.

Given that there will be prayer at the inaugural event, I think the explosion of hostility over the selection of Rick Warren to offer that prayer is at best overdone. President-elect Obama, in my view, thinks he’s secure in his liberal credentials and wishes to reach out to a block of voters. That’s the political view. Thinking of it as a Christian I am much less comfortable, not because I don’t think Rick Warren can pray for, with, and on behalf of Barack Obama, but because I think it’s somewhere between difficult and impossible for him to pray on behalf of the inaugural crowd and certainly on behalf of the nation as a whole.

I understand pastoral prayers in congregations to be collective, that is that the pastor prays both for and on behalf of the people. Those who are more theologically and liturgically oriented than I am may argue this. I don’t see how this can be transplanted to the public square.

Yet we do so constantly in this country. I’m not sure where my conscience would lead me if I were a pastor. My friend doesn’t want to pray at public events (not in church), a position with which I sympathize. The only compromise position I can see is praying in public, but seeing this as praying solely on one’s own behalf, and for the gathered audience. Trouble is, unlike pastoral prayer in which I believe all participate, I think this sounds a great deal like a violation of the principle expressed in Matthew 6:1-6. The prayer becomes a public show, or perhaps a political show.

I like interfaith dialogue, but I like interfaith prayer much less. I prefer the idea that in interfaith dialogue all sides maintain their distinctives honestly and openly, yet celebrate the diversity. In my view too much interfaith dialogue involves homogenization and blandness rather than actual celebration of diversity, combined with robust but respectful discussion and debate.

Readers are free to see this as a modification or even a partial repudiation of my view expressed here, where I considered the invitation solely from the political point of view.

The Imagination Stopper

The Imagination Stopper

Carl Zimmer has a post on the Loom that discusses irreducible complexity along with some examples. I found it very interesting how we start with a bicycle as irreducibly complex, a claim of an intelligent design (ID) advocate, and then see how the irreducible is reduced through the magic of Google.

There are many ways in which ID is less irrational than young earth creationism. For example, ID requires one to deny things that are much nearer the cutting edge of science, whereas young earth creationism requires one to deny well established theories from a wide variety of disciplines.

But there’s one area in which I think ID has managed to be more destructive to sound science than young earth creationism, and that’s in causing atrophy of the imagination. Because ID provides an answer to many things that are not known, or purports to do so, it tends to make people quit looking or quit trying to imagine what might be. This atrophy of the imagination winds up with ID advocates not even checking to see if the problem they propose has already been solved.

This is simply one instance of a more general problem: Satisfaction with existing answers. There is nothing like being satisfied with the answers you have to prevent you from finding new and better ones. This satisfaction often manifests itself in the “insurmountable problems” attack on any form of new technology. “It doesn’t work now and it never will,” the critics announce with great solemnity. The answer to which, of course, is to overcome the problem.

Similarly, the attack can come in the form of damning with faint praise: “Sure, that will work, sort of, but it won’t solve the whole problem.” In the creation-evolution debate, this argument is repeated over and over in stages.

“There are no transitional fossils.”

So paleontologists find one.

“There are not enough transitional fossils.”

So paleontologists find dozens more.

“Well, you found a few, but there are still not enough.”

It doesn’t end.

Now ID advocates could turn this argument against me, or more purposefully against scientific opponents of ID. Are we too satisfied with current answers? Are we damning with faint praise? Well, I think we’re all safe from the “faint praise” accusation. Successful prediction #1 has yet to be made so that it might be praised faintly and thus damned.

But is there the possibility that satisfaction with current answers is preventing progress? This one is more difficult to tell. The absence of any new answers to actual questions is a bad indicator for ID, but I wish they would go ahead, spend some time in the laboratory, and attempt to produce such an answer so that it could be criticized. Since the beginning of discovery, the proper answer to the critic who says it will never work, or will never provide a satisfactory answer, is to go out and make it work or provide that answer.

As it is, it is the ID crowd who are trying to make us satisfied with an existing answer, and are trying to prevent us from finding a new one.

I’m not a scientist. I don’t work in the natural sciences. But I do read a wide variety of materials from various fields, and I have to say that the field of evolutionary biology looks nothing like the static sort of field stuck in a 19th century theory that hasn’t changed which is described by some (see the Dispatches comment on Steve Fuller.) It isn’t a field that is blocking discovery or trying to defend an entrenched orthodoxy. It is a field that is constantly producing new ideas. In fact, one of the great resources of its critics is the criticism of existing ideas produced within the field.

The ID critics perform an interesting sleight of mind when they both use quotes from various working evolutionary biologists (normally taken out of context, but still!) to show how the whole theory is falling apart, while at the same time say that the whole field is static and is blocking new ideas. That very active criticism and reexamination is the sign of a healthy field of science, involved in serious discovery and growth.

And just what have the ID advocates produced to match? What I see is defense after defense of a static position, one that is much, much more deserving of the epithet “18th century social theory” than is the theory of evolution.

Interpreting the Bible I: Obvious Exegesis

Interpreting the Bible I: Obvious Exegesis

I’m starting a short (I hope) series on interpreting the Bible. This is in response to a series of posts I read recently. The first two were from EvolutionBlog, OEC vs. YEC and The “Terrible Texts” of the Bible. I then encountered A question for Christians on Positive Liberty, which discusses some poor (in the both mine and the post author’s opinion) exegesis used with regard to homosexuality. Though I do read Positive Liberty, I actually went to that post via Dispatches from the Culture War, who agreed with and commented further on the post here.

I have two more kind points of meta-posting. First, what interests me in these posts in particular is that all of the authors involved are people I read regularly and respect, though obviously I disagree with them on some issues. I’m not talking here about stupid approaches to the Bible, but rather, misunderstanding of Biblical studies as an academic enterprise and also of the role of the Bible in Christianity. Second, I’m posting this here on my Threads blog, rather than on my Participatory Bible Study blog, because I’m most interested in commenting on the social aspects.

Now for those who were not too bored by the introduction . . .

What distresses me here is that while those involved in scientific endeavors quite rightly expect others to note technical nuances in their fields, or at least to admit those nuances are inaccessible to them, they often don’t grant similar respect to another field. I’m going to get to material on the Bible and homosexuality in later posts, but right now let me just illustrate from the creation vs. evolution debate.

It’s quite common for a scientist, let’s say an evolutionary biologist, to comment on how some creationist fails to comprehend details of an issue because that person is a non-specialist. This is very important and quite appropriate, because people who don’t understand certain issues precisely can make wildly silly remarks about it. An engineer may not be well equipped to understand cell development. I’m not really all that well equipped to understand any of the above, which is why I stick my nose in a book when posting on science and/or get someone more expert to check what I write. (On a blog, I can count on correction in the comments, but those usually come from people who know even less than I do.)

Similar courtesy is often not extended to experts in Biblical studies, however. Scientific experts are quite quick to comment on just how people in Biblical times understood the world, and what their statements on such topics actually mean. One example is the common statement that the Bible “clearly” supports young earth creationism, so that anyone who is a Christian but doesn’t support a young earth is “going against the Bible.” It’s one of the few things on which non-theistic evolutionists and young earth creationists can agree!

But stating that the Bible “clearly” supports young earth creationism is an example of “obvious exegesis.” I use that particular collocation of words in my title because it makes my hair stand on end. I hope I can make some of my readers feel similarly about it as I write.

In discussing this I’m going to look at two aspects of Biblical interpretation. First, exegesis. I’m going to simplify by restricting the word “exegesis” as I use it here to mean “getting to understand what the original author meant to the people to whom he originally spoke or wrote.” (We’ll find, however, that even such an apparently simple label as “original author” is somewhat complex.) Second, we have application, or the way in which people who use the Bible in their lives in some way take Biblical statements and apply them. This one isn’t so simple either, and not just because modern Christians try to accommodate the Bible to modern science.

For this introductory post, let me simply take a look at one statement from Jason Rosenhouse:

But for all of that, I do still have quite a bit of sympathy for their interpretation of Genesis. It sure looks to me like twenty-four hour days and a young-Earth were what the Biblical authors intended. The text itself describes the days as being bracketed by an evening and a morning, which is a very odd way of speaking if something other than twenty-four hour days were intended. . . .

Now oddly enough, Rosenhouse gets around in the paragraphs following this one to a couple of the key points of exegesis that do not fit into a young earth model, but he misses significant details, and also some of the key ways in which an expert in appropriate areas in Biblical studies would look at the text. Note here, of course, that I am not an “expert” in the “doctoral degree and academic involvement” sense. I’m a popularizer. That’s important, because an expert in any one of the areas I’ll touch on would make this more complex than I do, not less.

So is it so obvious that Genesis describes creation in seven literal 24 hour days? That all depends. In what context are we studying what part of Genesis? Rosenhouse does not that Genesis 2 is different from Genesis 1, but he only notes the length of time involved, not the key point, which is that Genesis 2 is itself a creation story that differs from Genesis 1, that it does not have any days of creation at all, and that it is chronologically incompatible with Genesis 1. If I step beyond Genesis I should point out that Psalm 104 is also a creation story that skips that part.

So when we do exegesis, we have several levels at which we can look:

  1. The textual pre-history, in this case Genesis 1:1-2:4a vs Genesis 2:4b-24. We will get a different answer to our questions in looking at the original intent of each author. (Note that I have a breakdown of these stories according to the sources here.)
  2. We can look at the redactor who somehow combined the two stories. The interesting thing here is that he is unlikely to have been unaware that the two stories do not share a time framework, and are not actually chronologically compatible. In interpreting the combined text, we have to take that into consideration. Did he mean Genesis 1 to be taken as the chronological framework, which should then be imposed on Genesis 2, or did he see them as compatible in another sense? (If, as I argue below, Genesis 1 is liturgy, while Genesis 2 is a narrative sharing many, but not all, characteristics with myth, then it is quite possible that he intended the reverse–that Genesis 2 is closer to the history, while Genesis 1 is the way in which it is celebrated liturgically, and the time framework is entirely liturgical.)
  3. We can look at their canonical position as part of the Torah. This involves adding the Sinai experience and the 10 commandments, which pushes us back in the direction of a literal creation week.
  4. We can look at them in the broader canon of scripture, in which case we must not only add those points at which a literal creation week is described, but those texts, such as Psalm 104 or Proverbs 8 that describe creation differently.
  5. Finally, we get to the point of application, as in what is the community that uses the Bible as scripture expected to believe about this material. This is where those who are not part of the community, and especially those who once were but no longer are tend to be very dogmatic. The “true” Christian way is to figure out what the original author said and then to believe that. I’m going to deal with this in a later post, but I will simply note for now that this has never been the actual approach, even when people most vigorously claimed it was.

So what would the “obvious” exegesis of Genesis 1-2 be, actually? I hope I’m giving you the sense that this is not quite so simple. Rosenhouse is certainly right on one point, in my view. Genesis 1-2 was not intended to describe the process of evolution. As he says:

Ultimately, it is very hard to believe (to put it kindly) that a writer setting out to communicate a lengthy creation process over billions of years would have written anything like what Genesis records. . . .

Just so. It’s hard to believe, and you shouldn’t believe it.

But then he says:

Or you can take the most sensible approach. That’s where you recognize that the Bible (more specifically the Torah) is not inerrant, and it is not the word of God. . . .

While I certainly agree that the Bible is not inerrant, the rest simply does not follow. A simplistic idea of how one gets from scriptural text to doctrinal belief is posited and then discarded. An idea of the word of God that may or may not be correct (or more importantly held or not held by a community) is assumed and then dismissed.

If I believe that errancy is incompatible with the phrase “word of God” then obviously I must discard it if I discover error–or, perhaps, alter my view. But having discovered that Genesis does not describe evolution does not remove the option of allegory, or any number of other points. (I’m going to discuss the meaning of “word of God” in a later post in this series.)

So let’s go back to the initial point of “obvious exegesis.” Just what did the Biblical writers think they were writing in this case. Was it chronology? Was it narrative history? Allegory? Myth? Here is where I find myself most annoyed with superficial looks at what the Bible might mean, whichever end of the spectrum they come from. Allegory is a particular type of literature. Myth is a particular type of literature, as is narrative history, theology, liturgy, and so forth. All of these occur in the Bible, and all of these are written to answer different questions or to serve different roles.

Those liberal Christians who call Genesis “myth” are doing as much or more disservice to the Bible as those Christian fundamentalists who treat it as science or history. It is none of the above. In fact “it” cannot be so classified, because “it” combines different types of literature into one text.

The redactor of Genesis had before him (or in his head) genealogies, stories from various sources, poetic elements, liturgy and theology, which he wove into a new text we call Genesis. I would argue that Genesis 1 is liturgy, and that is a fairly common view amongst experts. Now liturgy is not myth and it’s not allegory, though it may partake of aspects of both. For example, when the minister on Easter Sunday morning announces “He is risen!” as part of the liturgy, nobody supposes that he is claiming that Jesus just rose from the dead, nor does one suppose that the liturgy means that this rising occurs annually. Nobody who understands the liturgical calendar supposes that this statement is made precisely (even to the day or week) of the anniversary of what it celebrates.

Neither does Genesis 1 necessarily mean that the writer or those who used it in their liturgy actually believed that the earth was created in six literal days followed by a literal day of rest. In fact, allegorical interpretations of the seventh day come much before modern times, as, for example, in the book of Hebrews. But even earlier you get sabbatical years and cycles of seven years, all based on this same concept.

Were you to ask the Israelites just what they believed at the time when Genesis took on its current form, I would personally guess that they would believe something like a literal week “a long time ago.” (I would note that Daniel seems confused on some chronology that occurs over only a few centuries. We’re talking millenia. That probably means “ancient times.”) I also think they would be surprised at the question, simply because it didn’t occur that much in their world. My guess as to their answer is not obvious, however, it’s just my guess. They might have just looked at the questioner oddly and had him locked up as nuts!

Genesis does not answer the kind of questions we seem to want answered regarding origins, because those were not the questions that the authors wanted answered, and they wouldn’t have had a clue as to the answers even if they had asked them.

Note that I have not excluded Jason Rosenhouse’s view. Much of what he says the Biblical text doesn’t mean is quite likely correct. But looking at what it does mean is substantially more complex. Understood in its historical context I would say that the Bible provides very little comfort for any of the groups. The Biblical authors would, I think, be equally surprised by efforts of young earth creationists to lock their days and their chronology into stone, by the day-age efforts of old earth creationists, and by efforts of some Christian evolutionists to suggest that the Bible really teaches their view. It simply doesn’t tell any of these stories, or answer the questions these stories intend to answer.

I intend to continue with posts on the meaning of the phrase “word of God,” on how scriptural application is determined, and how this relates to the issue of the Bible and homosexuality as I continue.

Rockets and Bombs Hamper Cease Fire!

Rockets and Bombs Hamper Cease Fire!

I’m working on some web stuff and have the TV on at the same time. I saw on the scroller for MSNBC that rockets and mortars are falling on southern Israel “hampering diplomatic efforts to revive a cease fire.”

I guess one could say that things that go BOOM! might “hamper diplomatic efforts.” Somehow I think those living where they go BOOM! might not consider that to be the most serious consequence of the rockets.

It’s weird what gets emphasis in news headlines!

Academic Freedom and Creationism in SciAm

Academic Freedom and Creationism in SciAm

Glenn Branch and Eugenie Scott have an article in Scientific American titled The Latest Face of Creationism in the Classroom, detailing the latest approach to getting creationism in the classroom.

Since I touched on this briefly in two previous posts, I thought I’d link to this longer article so people can get the context. I really don’t have the patience for detailing these legislative strategies, so I’ll let others do it.


Obama Regards Himself as Liberal

Obama Regards Himself as Liberal

Terms like “bipartisan” and even “post-partisan” were employed throughout the campaign and are being used now in criticism of the Obama administration that is taking shape.

The problem is that we have gotten used to the notion that bipartisanship involves people from two parties who happen to agree on an issue working together. Thus moderate Republicans and Democrats can get together on points on which they can agree, and that is regarded as “bipartisan.”

Trouble is, neither party has a very coherent ideology, and thus there are always issues on which people who already pretty nearly agree can get together. There is a virtue in ignoring unimportant labels in order to work together on common goals.

I honestly didn’t believe it during the campaign, but President-Elect Obama seems actually to have meant bipartisan. Not merely as in Republican and Democrat, but as in conservative, moderate, and liberal, as in people who actually disagree on substance having an input and a part in the process.

That’s much harder to do, and it involves reaching out to people with whom one disagrees. The complaint has been that Obama has done too much reaching to the center and the right hand side of the spectrum.

But it seems to me that the president-elect regards himself as a liberal, and thus any reaching out would involve reaching out to those on that side of the spectrum. He expects to set policy, as he has indicated in answers to the press, and to have this team carry it out. He will be listening, however, to a variety of voices.

This doesn’t involve merely adding a couple of Republicans of moderate persuasion to an otherwise Democratic cabinet. It involves putting people who disagree substantively in a position to be heard by the president.

I don’t know how this is going to work. If the president-elect is less of a leader than he thinks he is, the result could be disastrous. On the other hand, if he is capable of directing this group of leaders he has put together, which strikes me as a bit like herding cats, he could accomplish something quite extraordinary.

Only time with him in actual power will tell us what the result will be, but I would say that I am more optimistic today than when I cast my vote.

There are some issues on which the cabinet concerns me, particularly the Iraq war, torture, and certain constitutional issues in domestic counter-terrorism. I will continue to watch these issues, and to hope that Obama’s view, as expressed in the campaign, is one he can see through with the team he has assembled.

But overall, think there is much cause to hope this coming administration will be better than I expected.

Loving, but not Recommending, the REB

Loving, but not Recommending, the REB

There has been a good deal of talk in the biblioblogosphere about translation theory, and in connection with that support for the REB.  In particular, I would note John Hobbins post Why the REB is a Great Translation, and to his earlier posts (not directly on the REB but very relevant to this post), You need an excellent translation to understand the Greek New Testament, and Critique of “Natural English” as a Goal of Translation.

I’m not going to respond in detail to these posts.  I think I’ve made my translation philosophy, such as it is, clear previously.  But it’s interesting to me that I can disagree quite profoundly with John Hobbins’ view of translation, and at the same time personally prefer the REB.

But the answer is right there in my phraseology.  I prefer the REB, but I eschew terms such as “the best translation.”  The problem I see here is that such statements tend to ignore the audience for the translation, and at the same time prescribe goals that audience should have.

For example, John presents some rather admirable goals in terms of literary allusions and quality, as well as in terms of understanding the source language.  As I always do about this point, let me simply note that if one wants to get the nuances of the source language, the only answer is to actually learn the source language.  This is something Hobbins has done, and done well.  But at the same time he thinks this will somehow be made widespread through a particular approach to translation.

The problem, in my view, is that many people will miss these subtle, and even not-so-subtle, literary characteristics.  I believe most will miss them, but can’t prove it as I’m working from personal experience.  In my experience teaching Bible classes to lay people, I have found that there is a distinct limit on what you can expect people to do.

This is not because they are stupid; it’s because they have other lives.  They don’t spend most of their time studying this sort of thing.  In general, when I point out details, people are happy to listen, but this doesn’t become a regular part of their Bible study.  In the best cases, such things come to them through commentaries.

I would note the happy exception of my mother, who chose on retirement to learn to read both Greek and Hebrew.  She’s now 90 years old and continues to use both in her own devotions.  But I will note that she did this after retirement, though her retirement is a quite active time in her life!

I think it is arrogant of me to expect people in general to learn my field or expect them to have the same goals that I do in Bible reading.  For some, the target will be reading for a general message, without concern with details.  For others, literary beauty will be the main issue, and literary beauty is in the reader’s eye or hearer’s ear, despite centuries of “experts” trying to make certain literature “good” and other literature “bad.”  (J. K. Gayle provided an interesting post on this.)

For yet others, the issue is to get to the forms of the source language, and while I recommend that they learn the language if that is their goal, a more word for word translation will help in a limited sort of way.

So how does this relate to the REB?  Quite directly.  I love the REB.  I read it regularly.  I think it does overall the best job of translating the Bible in well-formed literary language.  That is something that I personally like.

But other people function differently than I do.  A literary translation may actually be a distraction for them in devotional reading.  I note that some congregations I’ve worked with find the REB not that easy to follow when read from the pulpit.  (It shares this characteristic with some other translations like the ESV or the unfortunately NKJV.)

Now each of those translations has some things in its favor, though I find the NKJV the hardest to justify, but they also have drawbacks.  It depends on who is using the translation, including when the “who” is a community, and what they are using that translation for.

I see no reason to be prescriptive here.  One simply has to match the characteristics of a translation with use and user, as far as possible.