bible bashing

11 01 2011

It’s one of the age-old conundrums of our faith. How do you explain that a book written yonks ago by (allegedly) crusty bearded blokes still speaks to us today? And when we say it speaks, we don’t mean it literally ‘speaks’ out loud; and we don’t mean ‘it’ actually speaks, because there is no life-force or entity that could speak. It is a book, or rather a collection of writings and poetry and story and history, prophecy and metaphors and doodles and epic canvasses. The ‘it’ that speaks is actually God, who speaks through the Bible by his Holy Spirit. Though we call the Bible the Word of God, actually Jesus is the Word of God, revealed through the Bible. Which might seem like a pedantic distinction, but I think an important one. And he doesn’t speak just once – he spoke when he inspired the original writings, and he speaks as we read it afresh.

[That is a complicated opening paragraph. Must shorten it. -Ed]

When some people speak of the Bible, they speak as if God dictated it, as if it is the Bible we worship, that cannot be questioned, wrestled with or challenged; they use hard, command-type words like infallible or inerrant. I can understand this, though I don’t agree. I think it comes down to how hard it is to describe our relationship with this complex collection of revelation (I wrote a bit about this here). Call it a library of community history and that seems a bit weak and we could be accused of being  a bit dodgy and not taking the Bible seriously; call it the Infallible Word of God and we are in danger of Bibliolatry, where the Bible becomes more important than Jesus whom it reveals and lots of Capital Letters appear everywhere, Scaring Everyone into Submission. Which sounds a lot like Islam.

[This paragraph seems a bit wordy. Again. Were you listening? -Ed]

I think the Bible is a fascinating account of the turbulent relationship that God has had with his people; it shows the wrestles and the struggles, as people want him to be their mighty king and deliverer and he wants to be their shepherd; they want him to destroy their enemies, and he wants them to love them; then they want to blend in with other nations, and he calls them to be distinct. They want their freedom, and at the same time his protection; they want free will, and at the same time to be clearly led. They want to worship God but also to know how to live with the myriads of daily issues that come with husbands or wives or children or work or sex or love or money or other people’s gods. They want to know what he says about things, when quite often he says nothing, but asks them a question.

We want a Hayne’s Manual, and he gives us a cuddle; we want a text-book, he buys us an ice-cream; we want a quick fix, he invites us to love people who murder our families.

When being translated in 2000 years time this will make no sense. Must be less oblique and briefer. Is Ezekiel your role-model? -Ed

I am making an effort to read the Bible a bit more this year. I am joining in with the Essential 100 initiative (part of Biblefresh) to help me with it. The kick up the proverbial backside (Proverbs 7.1) is the 400th anniversary of the Authorised (King James) Version of the Bible, which is not a translation I have ever particularly enjoyed reading because I do not live in 1611 but 2011, but at least it is a chance to remember to read the Bible! In our church we feel particularly connected to this anniversary because we are named after Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, one of King James’ translators.  And we are trying to read it together, because the Bible was never meant to be read alone, but to be read together in community, where we can talk about it and discuss and say we don’t understand and then wait for God to speak through it.

As Brian McLaren says we don’t want to be under the text like conservatives tend to be, or over it like liberals often are, but in the text…

“…in the conversation, in the story, in the current and the flow, in the predicament, in the Spirit, in the community of people who keep bumping into the living God… loving God, betraying God, losing God and being found again by God.” (A New Kind of Christianity, p125)

Maybe you’d like to do the same.  Let’s not get hung up on what the Bible is or isn’t, but let’s read it, and allow God to speak. Again.





faithworks 2: dirty hands or helium balloons

10 03 2010

I’ll stand with arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand, my soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is yours

What can I say?
What can I do?
But offer this heart O God,
Completely to you

I was listening to this song by Hillsong today, a song I love and have had many ‘moments’ whilst singing, when I realised the direction it faces. Upwards. Always. We offer abstract things to God, like ‘all I am’ and my ‘soul’, my ‘heart’. Perhaps it would be more realistic to sing What can I do? Offer my money, my attitudes, my house, my time. Maybe that’s what they mean. But there is a real tendency in modern theology to offer abstract things, to sing abstract things. It’s safer.

At the Faithworks Conference Brian McLaren spoke of our theology getting exactly the results we get – we talk about extracting souls from earth to heaven, via church, which is like a big soul-warehouse where we are stored until death. So, we care and sing about souls and eternal destiny; we say soul because it sounds better than saying self, but really we mean self. God exists to extract my-self from here to there, via church, whilst stripping me of my money, and presumably any sense of fashion. We look up, forgetting Jesus came down because God so loved the world.

It’s another example of what I talked about in my earlier Faithworks post – the salvation and liberation that Jesus talked about and that the early church talked about was this but was so much more. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. We are freed to be his grubby dirty hands, not to be his helium balloons floating gracefully away.

what must i do to be freed?

Brian McLaren gave an excellent example of freedom and liberation as often misunderstood. Here’s a whistle-stop tour. Read Acts 16. Paul and Silas hang out with mixed-race family, and then a gathering of women at the edge of the city. Women. At the edge. These are not the powerful people. Lydia then hosts them – the first female church leader, and their patron. A slave girl makes money for her owners by predicting the future. She keeps shouting at her owners that Paul and Silas will tell them – not her – the way to be saved. Saved? Does she mean getting to heaven when they die? I think not. She is owned and exploited. They can be free. Paul and Silas are slaves of the Most High; her owners are slaves of the system of oppression. If they are free, she can be free.

They exorcise her evil spirit (as you d0), and are imprisoned for advocating unlawful customs. What customs? Freeing slaves. They are in a Roman colony and are freeing slaves. The Roman economy is dependant upon slaves. In prison, there is an earthquake, and the jailer thinks they have escaped. He is going to kill himself. Why? He knows the system. He knows what happens to jailers who let prisoners go. He will be imprisoned. He knows what happens to prisoners. He knows that death is a better option. He is enslaved by the system.

But they have not escaped. His question: what must I do to be saved? Does he mean getting to heaven after he dies? No. I think not. He means, what must I do to get out of this horrific system of ownership, oppression, fear and slavery. What can you offer me? The kingdom of God breaking into a Roman prison in a Roman colony. How can we have missed the irony?!

Paul says, believe in the Lord Jesus (instead of the Lord Caesar – it’s wordplay, in Greek, kurious iesous instead of kurios caesar). Stop the domination narrative and you and your family will be saved. So the jailer takes the prisoners to his home, washes their wounds and feeds them. This family is having a liberated moment. This is very un-Roman. This is very Kingdom of God. This is beautiful stuff.

The next day, the magistrates want to quietly release Paul and Silas. Hush hush. Keep it quiet. But Paul and Silas engage in some civil disobedience. They refuse to go until the corrupt magistrates, who were only concerned about lining their pockets from the oppression of the slave system, have come face-to-face with their actions.

Summarising this story, Brian made these points:

  • women are at the centre of the Kingdom of God movement
  • women are released from oppression
  • the economic system is challenged
  • the political system is exposed as corrupt
  • low-level functionaries are liberated, along with their families
  • high-level functionaries are confronted with their corruption

set free from what?

So this story is way more than a Sunday-school story about an earthquake and a jailer, way more than telling people how to be saved from this earth and get to heaven. This is a get down and dirty story about the kingdom of God breaking in unexpectedly to a Roman colony, to a Roman prison, to a Roman family, to a female Roman slave. And so it is a story for us as we are called to imagine where we can be a part of the Kingdom of God breaking in to our world.

Do we simply offer our I ams, our hearts, souls and abstract selfs, or do we offer to be slaves that we may free slaves.

Dirty hands or helium balloons.

Helium balloons are fun for a bit, but end up making squeaky voices and popping uselessly. Dirty feet do get dirty, but they get things done, here and now.

What can I say?
What can I do?
But offer myself O God
As a slave to you

We are blessed to bless a world in pieces, loved to love where love is not. If you need a holy pause, download for free We Are Blessed (Bring Heaven to Earth) by Andy Flannagan. Listen, worship, then go. 

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faithworks 1: liberation is everywhere

5 03 2010

How can it be that for so long we followers of Jesus have completely missed the point. So many of us read the Bible and see hell everywhere. Just look at Christians who post on blogs and sites (not this one, of course), who are like Mr Angry on a radio phone-in. Judgement, judgement. Hell, hell.  If we actually read the gospels we see that suprisingly, Jesus didn’t  bang on about going to heaven after we die and leave it at that. Most (all?) of his strongest words were for those already ‘in’, the already religious, the already ‘saved’.

brian mclaren - i guess you had to be there...!

At the Faithworks Conference Brian McLaren gave excellent examples of us historically missing the point, which I will write about soon; for now, I found one of my own. Writing a talk on Luke 13.1-9, I was confused. What is this all about? Read it and see yourself. Galileans blood, falling towers, repentance, perishing and another vineyard tale. What?

Pilate was a violent and cruel ruler. He had a history of violently suppressing rebellion. He had a history of trampling on the sensibilities of the Jews. Once, when a group of Galilean pilgrims had gone to the temple to sacrifice, Pilate had slaughtered them, perhaps fearing a riot. The blood of the Galileans mixing with the blood of the sacrifices. Horrendous, offensive – like occupying forces storming a church on Christmas Day and smearing their blood on the communion table. According to Tom Wright, this is the environment Jesus, and his band of Galilean pilgrims, are working in. Should they still go?

Jesus knows the danger. He knows he will be killed in Jerusalem. But that is not the point he makes here. He says, If you do not repent, you too will perish, be destroyed in the same way. Not hell after death, as this is often understood to mean. Not eternal perishing and pain. Not here. Many of the groups that Pilate suppressed and killed were leading rebellion against Rome. They were violent. One of Jesus disciples or apprentices is Simon the Zealot, one of these very people. Jesus means that unless you turn away from and repent from violent, armed rebellion against Rome, you will die as the Galileans did. If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword. And if not by the sword, then when Jerusalem is crushed by Rome, you will die as the walls collapse. As they did in 70AD.

Jesus’ message – you must repent! Which here means not the 5 -point prayer and carrying a leather-bound bible to work to bash people with until they escape the fiery flames of hell, but you – WE –  must turn from violence and rebellion, and instead follow my teaching – of peace, of loving enemies, of carrying an occupying soldiers cloak an extra mile. The vineyard story reflects this – there is time to repent, there is time to choose the way of peace.

Then it gets interesting and uncomfortable. The old adage of one finger pointing = 3 fingers pointing back at you comes to mind. Read the next passage in Luke 13.10-21. It is a story about Jesus healing a crippled woman on the Sabbath. Why is it here? I think Luke puts it here deliberately. He makes no claim to be chronological. The Jews hate the Romans and want them out. Jesus says, you want change, you want revolution – start here. Start with yourselves. Their culture was such that that a crippled woman was low in status, probably not married, therefore in that culture probably very poor. Unnoticed. Invisible.

Jesus made her visible. Jesus healed her.

Jesus liberated her – saved her – from the oppression of her position. And what do the religious leaders say? You can’t heal on the Sabbath. They still don’t even notice her. They don’t want to notice her. Her presence offends them. Jesus is angry, and he says they treat their donkeys better. Their tight religious observance and rules oppresses and enslaves their own people, even before we start on what the Romans are doing.

Make this women visible! Repent from your violent rebellion – and repent from the way you do violence to each other by chaining people up or bending them over double according to their illness or ability or ‘holiness’ as defined by you. You the dominant ones.

Liberation is everywhere. This is the heart of Jesus’ message. See it!! Be it!! Or, as he says, we will all perish.

I finish with a quote from Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons, who despite their mandolin have hit upon something profound:

Love it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be

There is a design, an alignment, a cry
Of my heart to see
The beauty of love as it was meant to be


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