Almost as soon as the Supreme Court handed down its verdict upholding the Affordable Care Act, the liberal supporters of the act began claiming victory – not for them, but for others.
In the afterglow of a huge political victory that was covered, and for which both sides rooted, like a sporting event, the law’s proponents began talking about people – the millions of people who will have access to health insurance as the result of the law, told in the representative stories of a few.
One writer, a former superintendent of insurance in Maine, told stories about women and families she encountered in her job who would be helped under the law:
I was doing a quick shopping run the other day for my wife when I ran into this set of books prominently displayed at our favorite grocery store:
I was immediately leery, as book publishers seem to have certain ideas about what boys need to know versus what girls need to know about the same general topics. The covers are fairly innocuous – sailboat versus horse, diving versus jumping rope – nothing too offensive. Of course, inside the books was a different story:
Full disclosure: That’s the first page I opened to in the boys’ book. I flipped around the girls’ book briefly to find a page that corresponded – fun summer idea on one page and an activity on the other.
So boys are told they can skip stones and solve puzzles, and girls are told they can look good … and lie on the beach. Note also the actual text – “a girl has her image to think of” … “be a beautiful beach babe” – and the unnaturally skinny, bikini-clad preteens in the girls’ book, as well. And I would be remiss as a typographic nerd if I didn’t point out that the boys’ book has a strong, bold headline font compared to the girls’ frilly, cutesy font, which along with giving the boys’ book a better design also reinforces the subtle message that boys are to be strong and adventurous while girls should look pretty.
Update: I’ve clearly been doing this series too long when I forget what part I’m on. 😛
Last time out, I mentioned that the conservative defense of the virgin birth had a strong argument its Protestant proponents tend not to emphasize: the history and tradition of the church. Relying too much on the tradition of the church sounds too Catholic for many people, and in more extreme circles there remains the notion that the Catholic Church was a usurper of God’s true church.
Nevertheless, the church is a method by which God chooses to reveal himself, and since there’s no bright line that divides the apostolic church from its more centralized, organized successors, such traditions that have a long history of acceptance by the church – such as the Trinity, for example – should be seen as more reliable than others that do not. Though I don’t think I need to say that it’s a foolproof argument; the church has gotten many things wrong over the millennia and will continue to do so, humans being what they are.
To flesh out the history of the virgin birth doctrine, I turned to Hans Von Campenhausen’s The Virgin Birth in the Theology of the Ancient Church. It’s a short book and an interesting read. It’s about 40 years old, but I believe it’s just been reprinted, so it’s a little easier to find now than perhaps it once was.
Von Campenhausen starts with the Bible, noting as we have the silence of Paul and Mark and the ambiguity of John on the subject, as well as the internal inconsistencies of the two lone biblical witnesses. He branches out from there to note that two of the more widely read contemporary Christian works – the Letter of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas, both of which were considered canonical by some early Christians (in fact, if we were to rank all the early Christian writings by order of precanonical importance, the Shepherd of Hermas might be above 2 Peter and Jude, which were rejected as canonical by some early Christians) – discuss Jesus in great detail but also are silent about the virgin birth.
I have birthday money, so I’m thinking about what books I should get with it. Right now, I’m thinking King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight, How God Became King by N.T. Wright and A Better Atonement by Tony Jones.
You might notice a trend, but all three of these books argue that modern-day American Christians have lost the true meaning and method of salvation. Most Christians grow up with the concept of penal substitutionary atonement – Jesus died to save me from the wrath I deserve; he bore it in my place. McKnight in particular argues that when we look at the first statements of the gospel – the writings of Paul and the sermons of Acts – a heavy focus on the individual and the wrath of God is not in sight.
In fact, although atonement is clearly a piece of the salvation story, I would argue that the penal substitutionary variety creates a distorted view of God. Rather than seeing a God who loves the world so much that he would sacrifice anything to bring humanity back to a sin-free Eden, we see a God who is so angry, Jesus had to die to save us from him. And we can see how many Christians’ view of grace, sin, judgment and the end times all grow out of this view of God, which I would speculate is the result of misguidedly attempting to reconcile the incomplete, even inaccurate, description of God in pieces of the Old Testament with the much different descriptions of him provided by the New Testament.
So I look forward to getting and reading those books because, frankly, theology blogs sometimes feel a little over my head, and I haven’t given this issue enough thought. But I’ve been thinking about it a little more lately thanks to the work of another theologian, who treats the issue of salvation and atonement on a level I can understand.
I’ve been reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis to my oldest daughter the past few weeks. We just finished the part where Aslan, the Christ figure of Lewis’ fantasy world of Narnia, dies and rises again. And I can’t help but think how much better all of us would be if we grew up learning about God the way we learn about Aslan.
I enjoyed Robert Gromacki’s The Virgin Birth, despite my many disagreements with his approach and assumptions about the inerrancy of scripture and Jesus’ sinlessness. But there was one line on Page 125 that, had I been drinking something when I read it, would have produced an epic spit take.
In a chapter entitled, “Jesus Was Truly Human,” Gromacki endeavors to describe, shockingly enough, Jesus’ humanity. Unfortunately, Gromacki doesn’t actually view Jesus as truly human in two rather large ways – first in the way Jesus was conceived and second, and more important, in the notion that Jesus could not have sinned even if he’d wanted to. Nevertheless, at the end of the chapter, Gromacki compares Adam to Jesus and comes up with quite the notion:
Contrasted with Adam, Christ’s humanity had a different expression. Adam was created and began an adult existence on the very first day he lived. The human nature of Jesus was conceived within a mother’s womb just like any other human being, but apart from human fertilization. Jesus experienced a fetal state, a real birth and normal development, but Adam did not. Christ had a navel; Adam had none.
Peter Enns has spent a lot of time defending the notion that we should view the Bible incarnationally – that is to say, we should recognize that the Bible, like Jesus, is the incarnate word of God, fully divine but also fully human.
Although Enns makes this argument to explain why we should not expect a fully human book to provide answers to modern historical and scientific questions the original authors were not in a position to understand, it’s fascinating to note that Robert Gromacki in his book The Virgin Birth makes the same argument while achieving the completely opposite results.
On Page 147, Gromacki argues:
What man wrote and what God said are one and the same. … God had providentially prepared the writers’ life experiences so that their personalities, including their distinctive methods of written communication, were exactly the way God wanted them to be at the moment of writing. At the critical moment when pen struck paper, God so superintended them by the Holy Spirit that they wrote exactly what God wanted them to write, leaving out nothing and adding nothing. They contributed a human character to the Scriptures, but they were prevented from passing on to the written product any errors. The Bible, therefore, is God’s Word. It is one book with both a divine and a human nature.
So it happened at the critical moment of conception within the womb of Mary. …
The problem is that Gromacki is not actually describing a truly human collection of texts. He’s describing a fully divine book that happens to have human authorship – a book in which God was something of a dictator, in both senses of the word. And this deeply flawed idea of the Bible affects the way he views Jesus.
Update: TED’s WordPress embed code actually links to the wrong video, so you’ll have to visit this link to watch it. Sorry for the inconvenience!
My wife and I like to wind down before bed by watching one or two TED Talks – partly because we’re that nerdy and partly because Netflix has begun streaming them in little 10-talk packages by subject. We’re working through the “Ancient Clues” packet, which has all sorts of fun talks about human origins and the like.
The talk above by David Christian, an Australian history professor, is perhaps the strongest argument I’ve ever seen for the nature of God’s work in the universe. He never mentions God – indeed, doesn’t give us any reason to think he believes in any god at all – but his treatment of “Big History” and the various “Goldlilocks moments” when conditions were just right for the universe to buck the law of entropy and produce greater complexity rather than greater disorder is an inspirational telling of just how intimately involved God is in his creation.