She Blinded Me … With Science!

Yup, totally went to the ’80s with that headline.

Anyway, my good friend and rhetorical sparring partner Adam made some comments to my last post about the Bible and homosexuality that I wanted to address in a more public way because I talk a lot about science on this blog, particularly about how we as Christians do, could or should respond to it.

First, I’m a fan of science. I think it’s cool, and I wish I knew more about it. Second, if you read this blog for any length of time, you know that I’m working through rethinking my faith in light of some pretty significant changes in how I view the world. I grew up with the biblicist propaganda of A Beka Press curriculum (Update: This link is better), and the further away I get from its views of science and history – which was a rejection of anything that did not fit a religiously and politically fundamentalist worldview – the more comfortable I feel. It’s your job as an active reader and commenter to make sure I don’t get too far away from A Beka’s more admirable dedication to the truth of Scripture (even if they went about defending it in a horribly false way).

With that said, here’s what Adam had to say:

[I]t seems like science is being used to create an absolute position from which ones theology should always agree. …

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How Not to Cite Scripture

I’ve officially started the writing portion of my big semester-ending exegesis paper for Old Testament. “Big” is a relative term, as other grad students have assured me; 10-12 pages isn’t that bad, and I’ve found myself looking longingly at that kind of page length when I’ve been forced to chop my previous papers this semester to fit much smaller requirements.

Anyway, the topic is Leviticus 18, which is all about sex – mostly which family members you shouldn’t sleep with, but also some random verses about men sleeping with men, men and women sleeping with animals and, yes, men sleeping with women on their period. Oh, and don’t sacrifice your children to Molech.

Good times.

I’m not going to give away the thrust of the paper just yet, but let it suffice to say I take a pretty firm stand that this is not the appropriate way to adapt ancient Near Eastern holiness codes for a 21st century culture:

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Classes and work are done for the week, and we’re preparing for the arrival of family later this morning, so I’m taking a moment to wish all four of my blog readers a safe and happy Thanksgiving. I’ll return on Monday.

(If you’re looking for reading material, this is a fun post about what the first Thanksgiving was really like. You can even think about how, in just a couple of centuries, oral tradition has greatly changed the reality of what actually happened in Plymouth that day, and what that means for the oral traditions that shape much of the Bible.)

‘Neither Male nor Female, Slave nor Free, Gay nor Straight’?

I like to rile people up sometimes, so a few months ago, I posted the following to my Facebook feed:

If Paul had been living in the 21st century, would he have added ‘neither gay nor straight’ to Galatians 3:28?

As you might know, Galatians 3:28 reads:

There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Most people who responded did so with a Christian version of, “Hell, no!” But I think we do ourselves and the Bible a disservice by pretending it universally contains specific, timeless admonitions and prohibitions. Don’t get me wrong: Sometimes it does. But usually those are pretty clear. Stuff like, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind and with all your strength.” The Old Testament mentions them, Jesus mentions them, Paul refers implicitly or explicitly to them.

You know, kind of like divorce.

Wait, what?

The Bible mentions divorce 34 times. It features prominently in the levitical law. In Malachi God is described as hating divorce, and in Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus equates divorce with adultery and even gives specific reasons in which divorce is acceptable. Paul argues Christians shouldn’t even divorce their non-Christian spouses and reiterates Jesus’ command against remarrying after a divorce.

So how many people actually follow that? Nearly 40 percent of regular churchgoing Christians are divorced. And I would guess a good percentage have remarried or plan to be. They have already made the decision that the Bible’s clear, multitestamental admonitions are confined to a specific culture.

Perhaps you would disagree.

Would you also disagree about women covering their heads? Women wearing jewelry? Men wearing long hair?

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Teaching the Bible in a Post-Literal World

From at least one perspective, I’d rather still be a biblical literalist.

It’s easy, after all, to teach your children that everything in the Bible is literally true, but much harder to introduce the nuance and shades of reality that lead to essentially overturning the reality of their childhood stories. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do that – I feel it’s always better to be truthful about the challenges and nature of the Bible because to pretend otherwise invites many more problems later – but it’s harder.

In literalist evangelical circles, there seems to be a tendency to describe the Bible as child-friendly, but I don’t think it’s true. There are stories in there we have adapted for use by children, usually by greatly sanitizing them, and there are concepts we can paraphrase so that children can understand, but the books making up the Bible were written by adults living in much different cultures thousands of years ago so that other adults in that culture could read them.

So how do we teach our kids to believe in and love the Bible while giving them the freedom to discover its tensions and contradictions without shaking their faith?

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What the Bible Gets Wrong … About God? Part 3

Part 1 | Part 2

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell a series of odd – and I would argue unsettling – stories about the Jews when they return from exile and resettle Jerusalem.

In Ezra 4, as the returnees begin rebuilding the temple, the current residents of the land ask them if they can help.

When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple for the LORD, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and the heads of the families and said to them, “Let’s build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we’ve been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Assyria’s King Esarhaddon, who brought us here.”

But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of the families in Israel replied, “You’ll have no part with us in building a house for our God. We alone will build because the LORD, the God of Israel, and Persia’s King Cyrus commanded us.”

Who are “the enemies of Judah and Benjamin”? Well, for one thing, many of them are Jews! Or, rather, their parents and grandparents were Jews who were too poor to be worth anything to Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar razes Jerusalem and exiled the aristocracy.

They are also, as the text indicates, residents of the land formerly occupied by the northern kingdom. The reference to “Assyria’s King Esarhaddon” having brought them is a reference to the Assyrian policy of not only decimating and exiling a nation but transplanting exiles from other parts of their empire to live in that area, thus removing any regional affiliations or alliances that could threaten the empire. Those exiles then intermarried with the poorer Jews left in the land, and the resulting mixed-race northerners were known as Samaritans.

So Ezra 4 gives us the opening salvo in the centuries-long stigmatization of Samaritans, a stigmatization Jesus himself disregards and, in so doing, implicitly rejects. Which should lead us to ask: Did God actually approve of what Ezra and the returning exiles did in excluding the people of the land?

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The Ethics of Eating

One of the more childish decisions I’ve made lately is to avoid watching documentaries like Food Inc., which promises “an unflattering look inside America’s corporate food industry.”

I’ve avoided it and similar films because, well, it’s a more passive version of closing my eyes, covering my ears and yelling, “Lalalalalalalalala” as loudly as I can. I know the American food industry engages in inhumane and arguably repulsive practices in the care and slaughter of the animals we eat, but I like meat too much to confront this fact head on.

That needs to change.

I’m increasingly convicted that one of the ways in which I should be living out the call of Christ on my life is through the choices I make – and that goes beyond simply choosing to be a faithful husband, a present and loving father, a truthful and hard-working employee and an active church member.

It involves the kinds of practices I support with my money.

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