Monthly Archives: January 2011

Absolute, Crystalized Divine Perfection

Steve Douglas does a nice job contending that we don’t need to be convinced that the Bible is inerrant in order to be confident that it’s telling the truth.

…I doubt very many reasonable people become Christians solely because they have been persuaded that the Bible is inerrant. They become convinced by what it says, and this may or may not suggest to them that the whole thing is absolute, crystalized divine perfection. We don’t need to be assured of inerrancy in order to make good use of a newspaper, but our confidence may be boosted by its consistent accuracy.

Telling an unbeliever, “Accept Christ as Lord, just as the Bible says,” is not itself dependent on inerrancy at all.

Obviously Some Indication Of…

Quote from Douglas Adams’ book The Salmon of Doubt

The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.

Found at 3quarksdaily

Only Love Can Do That

Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength To Love, 1963.

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Several parts of this quote bear reflection, but the one that stands out most in my mind is only derived by misunderstanding what’s being said. By saying, “a night already devoid of stars,” Mr. King intends the image of a very dark place. But this being the morning after the Golden Globe Awards, the word “stars” immediately brought to mind those who are famous. Think of violence, devoid of its stars. No stars, no heroes, no practitioners made famous for their violence. No hope of glory by that path.

Violence, devoid of stars.

It’s Not Woman’s Fault

Here’s what I thought was a great quote from Rachel Held Evans in her blog post A Good Example of Picking and Choosing. The whole post bears consideration.

Let’s face it. The Bible was written in a misogynistic culture. It’s not God’s fault. It’s not man’s fault. And it shouldn’t be woman’s fault anymore.

Symbolic Representations and Quantum Mechanics

Charles Halton states that we misread the Bible when we interpret its descriptions of the Heavens and Earth as the ancient authors’ best attempt at a literal description of how the cosmos was structured. If we take the Biblical description literally we arrive at something like this picture of the cosmos by Michael Paukner.

Mr. Halton goes on to say:

I don’t think that any of these cultures believed that they produced a scientifically accurate description of the universe.  This idea should be tautologically obvious since it is anachronistic to think that ancient cultures would view the world like modern people who take things like the Hubble telescope and quantum mechanics for granted.  How else would ancient people have approached a topic that was so beyond their technological capacities to understand?  Symbolic representations were the only things available to them.

This is a new thought for me, that perhaps the biblical authors’ descriptions of the world aren’t an attempt at a physical description at all, but rather a decidedly symbolic description because the writers themselves knew they had no way of knowing how the physical world was really structured. I’d assumed the ancient authors were “taking a best guess” at describing the physical structure of the cosmos and that they were unsophisticated enough not to realize that they’d never be able to get at an accurate description because they didn’t have the tools necessary for the job.

Mr. Halton then introduces the idea of quantum mechanics in our own time. I certainly don’t have the tools to understand quantum mechanics, though I could give a thumbnail description of the ideas surrounding the field. Due to the fact that I know I’m ignorant on the subject, my description would end up being just as symbolic and untied to actual physical particles, forces, and structures as an ancient author’s description of the structure of the cosmos. But if I can set out to convey ideas about the quantum realm of our universe yet knowing that I’m light on physical details, why shouldn’t I allow that an ancient author might recognize his own limitations in knowing the physical details of the world and so try conveying ideas about the world in a symbolic manner?

Mr. Halton continues:

We should respect this fact as as we read ancient texts and not force them into some hyper-scientific grid.  Instead, read them as they were intended and likely understood by the vast majority of ancient peoples themselves: as beautiful and accurate–in their own right–symbolic representations of the world from the perspectives of particular cultures.

Poop Continues To Smell

The question “Did poop smell before the ‘Fall’?” is answered from several theological perspectives at the blog Preach It, Teach It. I quote the part of the answer I thought was funny, emphasis mine.

If you are a seven-day, twenty-four-hour creationist then you have to decide whether or not the animals … ate and pooped before Adam and Eve had time to eat the forbidden fruit? If they did poop before the Fall, then poop did not smell because decay did not occur until after the Fall. But, then on the other hand, you have to consider the fact that poop by its very nature is decay. If the first poop came after the Fall then, of course, poop stank. Poop continues to smell as a residual reminder of the Fall into sin.

One need not be a 7/24 creationist to derive logical conclusions from a set of premises; whether or not those premises are right or wrong is a different issue. So given the premise “No decay before the Fall” and the notion that what’s going on inside poop is decay, we are led to conclude that poop wouldn’t stink. Wouldn’t, that is, if what’s going on in poop is indeed decay. The remaining hurdle is to support the proposition that the biologic processes of bacteria and fungus breaking down organic matter is properly classified as “decay” of the sort that arrived with the curse. I’m pretty confident that it’s not.

I would think that Curse-worthy decay would destroy and consume and ruin. What happens to poop via the stink-making bacteria-and-fungus process isn’t waste and ruin but reprocessing. Reuse! You wouldn’t heap ruin onto your garden, would you? Poop isn’t ruin, it’s useful stuff.

Perhaps we can get away with calling human death a part of the curse, but nature’s reclaiming of the corpse to put the now-dead body’s materials back to good use isn’t a broken, cursed system, is it? I would imagine that any curse would be interested in breaking this miraculous process of reuse. Nature’s reclaiming of God’s materials to use again as part of God’s creation seems like a brilliantly functioning plan, not a curse.

No Matter The Cost

I got the following quote from Jesus Needs New PR, who got it from Aaron Reddin’s site

Here’s the quote about Christians doing good works regardless of institutional lines, emphasis mine.

I did get to see liberals working with conservatives. Black people working with white people. Men working with women. Teens working with elders. Denominations working with “nons”. And even churches working with the de-churched. … It has been remarkable. It hasn’t been about what church was doing what. It’s been about identifying needs and finding ways to meet them, no matter the cost.

The last part about no matter the cost that struck me. I wonder if I’ve done anything this past year — or plan anything for the year ahead — that I would pursue no matter the cost.

God Never Forgives

Henry Neufeld discusses a shocking-sounding quote from someone named Richard Cunningham who said “God never forgives — he punishes.”

Mr. Neufeld comments:

This looks to me like an example of the problem we get into when we regard a metaphor as the actual core of the truth. Substitution, even penal substitution is a good metaphor, but it remains one metaphor. When you put it at the center of your doctrine of the atonement and then build everything else around that, oddities like this result.

My evangelical Christian education taught me that penal substitution and atonement were one and the same. God didn’t actually forgive us our sins so much as He allowed His unforgiveness and punishment of our sins to be directed at someone else — Jesus. I began having problems with this idea of forgiveness when I became a parent, however, and was regularly called upon to forgive the trespasses of my own children. I would use punishments as a form of correction, hoping to steer them away from evil and into the right. Once they turned, however, it was now my turn to demonstrate true forgiveness. I would forgo further retribution and make the effort to heal our relationship. I might feel that their sin had inflicted harm on me (physically or else to my sense of honor) but forgiveness meant to let that go so that we could be of one mind again.

The Bible Isn’t About Good Marriages

From a blog post by jps at Idle Musings of a Bookseller

I received a catalog from STL Distribution which included Husbands, Wives, God: Introducing the Marriages of the Bible to Your Marriage.

Now, aside from the questionable hermeneutics, think of the marriages in the Bible. Which of those would you want to model your marriage after? Abraham and Sarah? Really? Have your wife call you brother…I don’t think so. Isaac isn’t any better. And, don’t get me started on Jacob, to say nothing of Hosea and Gomer.

He’s got a point. The stories in the Bible tend not to give us shining examples of getting it right. I say this as someone whose marriage has benefited greatly from a study about Biblical principles of marriage. That is, if you’re a Christian then the person you should be most diligent about practicing your Christianity toward is your spouse. But I agree with jps’s closing paragraph:

No, the Bible isn’t about good marriages—or any marriages. It is about a God who became flesh and dwelt among us, died for us, and was resurrected that we might live a new life to his glory and praise through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us. Now, that is a story I can endorse whole-heartedly!