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Review: Simple Faith Bible

Review: Simple Faith Bible

Subtitle: Following Jesus into a Life of Peace, Compassion & Wholeness

I find it hard to fairly review study Bibles. On the one hand, I am a bit hesitant to have so much text combined with the text of scripture, because everything we do to add to the text, even arranging it into chapters and verses, tends to bias our viewpoint. But on the other hand, it is possible to provide people with necessary background and help them get more out of their study.

In this second sense, a study Bible is a bit like having a number of teachers gathered to help you understand the text. Few benefits come without some downsides. As I like to say, while every cloud may have a silver lining, silver linings tend to come with clouds.

So when the opportunity arose to review this Bible, I found the idea fascinating. Former U. S. president Jimmy Carter has been a Sunday School teacher for decades. While I confess that I worked diligently to get him out of office back in 1976 and 1980 as a precinct captain for Ronald Reagan, my appreciation for him as a person has grown remarkably since.

The Bible itself is the NRSV, one that I regard as quite good. The copy I received was hardcover. There is a leather bound edition, which can be found using the cover widget at the left hand side of the page. I don’t believe I need to add anything to my previous comments on the NRSV.

The paper is thin “Bible” paper. The text is of adequate size, though there is a certain amount of crowding required for the amount of text included in the edition. The introduction makes the purpose of this edition clear.

The introductions to the book are time-limited as one might expect in a Sunday School class dedicated to getting to the things the class wants to talk about. They make no effort to cover the book introduced in any detail. They are more a theological note of introduction, leaving any content to follow-up studies.

The devotional content is, well, devotional. While I could quibble theologically with some of it, most of it is just encouragement drawn from scripture, and the Baptist roots of the author are evident, though not thrown in anyone’s face. Titles like “Love That Covers” (1 Kings 2:3,9) or “Encountering God in Creation” (Romans 1:18-32) give the flavor.

The problem I had with this Bible was in classifying it. Is it a study Bible? No, I don’t think so, as it is missing most of the landmarks that would help a student understand the Bible better. Is it a themed devotional Bible? This is much closer, as the devotional content is quite strong. But I still don’t see it fitting the definition.

I recall the Spirit-Filled Life Bible that looked for the work of the Holy Spirit throughout scripture. Well I was concerned that this focus on one subject would prevent readers from hearing the main point of the text, the Bible had a devotional theme that followed through.

Unfortunately, in the Simple Faith Bible, it seems to me that the editors and layout designers of the Bibles have failed to truly wed the devotionals to the text, so that you have loosely collected devotionals bound in one cover with the text of the NRSV Bible. Yes, the content is placed with the scriptures, but there is so much that has no comment, even limited comment, and there is so much that is skipped, that the two never come together.

I would add my personal complaint. There is a view in the study of scripture that says, “Let’s study the stuff that makes us feel good and skip the stuff that annoys one.” I personally have written in defense of some form of “cafeteria Christianity.” We all do some picking and choosing, but try to deny it. Some do it by just reading the stuff we like and skipping over the stuff we don’t. Others explicitly choose, which is more honest, I think. Yet others interpret away the things they would prefer were different.

In fact, a blind selection, or one that is denied can create more divisive debates as people build their Christianity on different scriptures while pretending they are doing otherwise.

In the Simple Faith Bible we have a number of interesting cases. For example, in Romans 1:18-32, where many root debates on homosexuality, we have the “Encountering God in Creation” article, which mentions nothing about sin of any kind. Now this passage is not primarily about homosexuality, though this is not mentioned, but it is also not primarily about encountering God in creation. It is rather saying that humanity is wicked and lacks a good excuse. This leads up to informing us that God has an answer for the humanity God created.

In Numbers 31, as the Israelites slaughter infants, we have a note about God’s attitude to wealth. I once called this an “unpreachable passage” while trying to propose ways from preaching it. We may not like it. In fact, we probably don’t, but if this is a devotional Bible, might someone decide to read it from cover to cover? If so, what about the difficult stuff?

In Leviticus 19, verse 32 elicits a note on caring for the elderly, but skips verses 33 and 34 about treating the aliens living among you well. On the other hand, we miss Leviticus 18:22 which is famous again in the homosexuality debates. My hermeneutical challenge to both sides is to create a hermeneutic that applies the texts you want to apply and bypasses the others without using some form of special pleading. Of course, the very challenge I am making calls for special pleading, so no takers so far!

Bottom line on this is that I find quite a number of the notes by Jimmy Carter quite uplifting and helpful in a devotional sense, and appreciate them, but I would probably prefer them in their own devotional volume to be read separately. In a devotional book, you understand that you are dealing with passages that happened to strike the author in a particular way.

As a Bible, this is fine. The devotional that happens to be bound with it is uplifting. The combination … I find troubling.

I received a free copy of this Bible from Zondervan in exchange for an honest review, and blog as a #BibleGatewayPartner.

Blaming and Sympathizing with Groups

Blaming and Sympathizing with Groups

Peace dove
From OpenClipart.org

I didn’t want to comment on the murder of 49 people in Orlando, not because I don’t sympathize with the victims or condemn the killing, but because I dislike getting tangled up in politics on this blog.

If a Christian commits an illegal act, we often separate him (or her) from “our” Christianity, or even claim that the perpetrator was not a Christian at all. From local history here in the Pensacola area, I recall Paul Hill who committed murder here at the entrance to an abortion clinic. Paul Hill was an ordained (and later defrocked) pastor. He built his view on principles that were held by a large number of Christians. Yet when he went so far as to take two lives because of those views there were those who said he wasn’t really a Christian.

That’s a claim of convenience. It keeps us clean. It prevents us from having to examine ourselves, and that is very unfortunate, even dangerous.

On the other hand, we have the problem of someone looking at Paul Hill and saying, “See! That is what Christians do! Paul Hill was a Christian and he was also a murderer. So also all Christians!” That is an equally dangerous view. A faith tradition as broad and varied as our own is bound to have some people who go off the rails. If some Christians are opposed to abortion as murder, someone is bound to decide to become a vigilante and “fix” the problem. This isn’t an argument against the view that abortion is murder. Rather, it tells us that human beings will carry things too far, or perhaps jump the rails to something completely different.

In fact, we can have similar results in society as a whole. I am always concerned when legislation is proposed and passed in the heat of emotions following an event. Rarely, I believe, is such legislation the best choice. We are capable of passing immoral laws because we are outraged by evil. Evil can generate more evil.

Neither blaming the entire group of which a person is a part, nor excluding that person from your own group will help. A person who, up to yesterday, you would have called part of your own religious (or other social) group has now committed a crime does not become something else when he commits a crime. He was something else while living among you. The terrorist, murderer, or child molester of tomorrow may be sitting down the pew from you in church. There are evil people out there and there are triggers waiting to start them on doing evil deeds.

The same is true of other faiths and social groups. There are Muslims who are appalled by acts of terror. There are Muslims who are evil. Just as we would wish to have the evildoer separated from our faith, and don’t like the idea of “Christian terrorist,” so Muslims would like to have terrorists separated from their faith. We don’t want to have all Christians blamed for the Paul Hills of the world. Muslims don’t want to all be blamed for the actions of one man in Orlando.

This is not a matter of numbers. Some will point out to me that there are more Muslims espousing terror and violence by far than Christians. I’m not going to argue the statistics. I recently spoke at an interfaith event along with a number of other people, including a Muslim Imam. He’s a fine person and an advocate of peace. He doesn’t cease to be those things because others commit acts of terror. He is who he is, and so are millions of others.

We need to grant them the courtesy we want people to grant us. We are each who we are apart from what other people who may claim the same label(s) does. Where attitudes of our group contribute, we need to fight that. In my experience, peace advocates tend to fight just such attitudes.

And then there are the victims. It was interesting watching who mentioned what. The victims were from the LGBT community, gathered at a place where one would expect to find them. It appears that the perpetrator of this act of terror hated and despised gay people. This is also a fact and needs to be mentioned. LGBT people are targetted these days for who they are. It’s monstrously wrong to do so and we need to be aware that it is happening and conscious of what makes that happen. Think: What is it in my language or behavior that might make someone else think a gay person is less of a person than I am? Then don’t do or say that.

We need to sympathize with those who are injured, and in doing so, we need to be willing to name them and to name the reasons they were targetted. We need to condemn evil, and at the same time give the same courtesy we would expect to the innocent.

About a year after 9/11 I was traveling and rode in a taxi with a driver who was a Sikh. I made bold and asked him whether he had been threatened following the attacks because of his appearance. I recognized him as Sikh, but he might easily have been misidentified as a Muslim (some Sikhs were). He told me that for several months he could not wear his turban because of the threats. It was unfortunate that a man with no connection to Islam, much less the terrorists, was treated in this way.

But it is equally unfortunate that Muslims with no connection to the terrorists are treated in that way because of hate for their group. We make every effort to be separated from evil acts by those who call themselves Christians. We should be equally sympathetic to those in other religious groups who are trying to do the same thing. It’s easier to blame the group. It’s more productive to be precise and accurate.

Not to mention more Christ-like.

 

On Publishing a Book I Can’t Read

On Publishing a Book I Can’t Read

IMG_0867I suppose it had to happen sometime. Well, not really. I could have said no. But I have now taken a step off the edge and published a book I can’t even read. It’s in Simplified Mandarin. I got the translation, did the layout, and then had it checked by the translator. I ran some of it through Google Translate and it came back resembling English.

Really, I’m delighted to have released this book, and hope that many will enjoy it. For those of you, I assume most of my readers, who don’t read Mandarin, the same book is available in English, Seven Marks of a New Testament Church by David Alan Black. I’ve been blogging about it, and will resume that series soon.

Tomorrow I head to Atlanta for the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature where my company, Energion Publications, has booth 2110. I don’t know if this means I will blog less or more, but I suspect it means something. If you’re there, be sure to drop by and say hello!

Video Repost: Idolatry and Trust

Video Repost: Idolatry and Trust

My sister was going through my older YouTube videos and called my attention to the one titled Idolatry and Trust from six years ago. It relates to some of my more recent comments on God in my study on John. I’m amused to watch myself in this, as I clearly had a written transcript and had it placed too low for me to both read it and look properly into the camera. Note also that the URL provided in the video no longer exists. For information, you can use this site.

Announcing According to John: The Word Became Flesh

Announcing According to John: The Word Became Flesh

This will be the second study. I’m going to mention a few things to think about. The question remains as to how many of these things I will be able to address, but I think it’s worthwhile to consider these in any case. The study will be via Google Hangouts on Air at 7:00 pm central time, Thursday, January 18. The event on Google+ is here. And here’s the trailer:

I’ll embed the YouTube below, but first, some things to think about! The major scripture for the study is John 1:1-18. If you haven’t read the book of John through completely recently, it will help to review the entire book.

Critical Issues

One issue of source (and to a lesser extent redaction) criticism comes up for this passage, which is the question of whether John 1:1-18 was written as part of the gospel or whether it is an early Christian hymn adapted for and incorporated into the gospel. There are some folks who regard it as poetry with some prose comments added.

Read the passage and pay special attention to the boundary between John 1:18 and 19.

Textual Issues

I’m going to list two, though one comes in two parts:

First, in verses 3 & 4 we have a verse division/sentence division issue. Should it read something like “… without him was not anything made that was made”? Or alternatively “… without him was not anything made. That which was in him was …”? You’ll probably find references to these two possible divisions in the footnotes to your translation. I just looked at the NRSV and REB as I was preparing this, and their notes are pretty clear. The NIV at BibleGatway.com isn’t showing a note. Does your Bible have a note?

The difficulty for the average student is that these translations don’t provide any justification for the decisions made. It would be impractical to expect them to. But if you have a Bible with study notes or a good commentary, you may find a bit more information.

Second, John 1:18 has two alternative readings, which the REB lists as “God’s only Son” (their text) and “the only begotten God” (alternative). Of course, if you read Greek, you should consult your apparatus to discover the evidence for these readings. How much difference does this make? What is the translation choice of the Bible you use? The NIV kind of combines the readings, while the NASB makes the opposite choice to REB and uses “the only begotten God.” I will definitely discuss this variant and something about how these choices are made.

Just for fun, I went through my files and extracted a paper on this verse that I wrote in college, for a course titled “Translation Problems.” Though it doesn’t have a date on it, I think this was in my junior year, which makes the paper more than 35 years old. Read it and see if you agree with my younger self! (I note here that this was written when I was still a Seventh-day Adventist, and references to Ellen White and “the Spirit of Prophecy” should be taken in that context.) Younger readers will doubtless be unacquainted with the quaint device used to produce this paper, a manual typewriter. If I remember correctly it was an old Remington, and no, it had no Greek font!

Theology

Well, combining theology and inter-textual relationships.

First, do you think the cultural/philosophical background for the phrase “the Word of God” should be taken from Greek thought (the word logos is so common in Christian speech that it has almost become an English staple!), or should it be found in passages in the Hebrew scriptures/Old Testament? This will have some impact on precisely how we read it.

Your answer doesn’t have to be one or the other. We discover the precise meaning of a word through it’s use in a particular context, and so this word can be shaped not only by the Gospel of John, but by the New Testament, and by its usage discussing concepts from the Hebrew scriptures, but from doing so in Greek.

Second, I want to explore a connection to one of my favorite books in the New Testament—Hebrews, and specifically Hebrews 4:12, though the prologue (1:1-3) comes into it. James Moffatt, in the International Critical Commentary volume on Hebrews, says: “Here the writer poetically personifies the revelation of God for a moment…. Here it [the Word of God] denotes the Christian gospel declared authoritatively by men like the writer, an inspired message which carries on the OT revelation of God’s promises and threats, and which is vitally effective” (p. 55). Moffatt distinguishes this from the usage in John 1:1-18.

Looking from the other direction, Leon Morris, in his volume The Gospel According to John (Revised) in the NICNT states that the only other place where the word (logos) is used undoubtedly with the same meaning is Revelation 19:13 (pp. 63-64).

I’m going to look at some elements of these two passages. Do you think they are more closely related?

Finally, I want to examine the concept of testimony. We start here with John the Baptist bearing testimony to Jesus, and near the end of the gospel we see Thomas brought to giving a testimony to Jesus: “My Lord and my God” (20:28)! We’ll tie this in later with the critical question of whether chapter 21 was originally part of the book or was added later as a sort of postscript.

Doubtless I will have many words on all these topics and perhaps a few more! The YouTube embed is below.

Why Not to Tithe

Why Not to Tithe

9781938434129The word “tithing” has undergone quite a substantial change in meaning over the course of my life. Growing up as a Seventh-day Adventist, it meant giving precisely 10% of one’s income to the church. This money had a special use in the SDA church, supporting pastors. For my parents, the tithe was just the starting point of their giving. They put aside an additional 10% and gave that to various other activities of the church. They called this offering. They had an additional fund, I believe around another 10%, that they used to help people personally.

When I started attending Methodist churches, I found that the term “tithe” had a somewhat different meaning. I think I ran into this first in a stewardship campaign, in which people were encouraged to begin to “tithe” at 2%. The idea of a “2% tithe” was somewhat puzzling to me, as I knew the Hebrew word was derived from “10” and was used pretty much exclusively in that sense. (Not 10%, as not every instance of 10th turned out to be precisely 10%, but always related to 10.)

So tithing had the meaning of giving, rather than a specific type of giving, and the number was no longer considered relevant. There was a sort of goal at 10%, but the other amounts were still considered tithing. If one needed to distinguish them, one might say “full tithe” but I rarely heard that.

In my own view, however, there was no obligation for Christians to follow the tithing laws from the Pentateuch, and even SDAs were not doing so. There was a more substantial effort on the part of SDAs to translate, but it nonetheless was not the same thing. It was not that Christians should be less generous. It was just not a law addressed to us. At the time, however, I was afraid to say that I didn’t believe in tithing. Why? I was afraid people would start giving even less, and the giving in Methodist churches (and many others) is rather dismal as it is.

In other words, I didn’t really believe in grace. I didn’t trust grace.

I believe that tithing can be a good starting point or guideline. I don’t believe Christians are called to give less. Rather, we are called to give more. I also don’t believe that we are necessarily called to give all to our local church. But we are called to give it to the kingdom of God, whether in the form of helping our neighbor in trouble, feeding the homeless, carrying out acts of love and mercy, supporting missionaries and all who are working in service to God and others. I believe this should be a response to grace, not a price we pay or a duty we fulfil. All giving, whether to support your local church, your local food pantry, or world missions, should be a joyful response to God’s grace.

Recently I had the opportunity to publish a small book on tithing, titled Tithing after the Cross by David A. Croteau. He says boldly what I failed to say, and backs it up with a large amount of additional research. While he has written larger works, in this book he distils it into a short volume that anyone can read. Don’t worry! He didn’t “dumb it down.” He made a concise version.

This afternoon he’ll be on the Janet Mefferd show with an interview on the topic. Show time is 4:00 PM eastern time. I invite you to listen and then check out his book, Tithing after the Cross, on Energion Direct.

From My Editing Work: Personal Salvation vs the Social Gospel

From My Editing Work: Personal Salvation vs the Social Gospel

From Seven Marks of a New Testament Church by David Alan Black, p. 6:

In the fourth place, evangelism in the New Testament was always characterized by genuine concern for the social needs of the lost. When I was in seminary, a good deal of distrust existed between those who emphasized personal salvation in evangelism and those who emphasized the so-called social gospel. The two, however, are indivisible.

(forthcoming … at the printer)