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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Pause to Ponder

I have written much these last days, perhaps too much to take in. So I offer a break to ponder some things. Tomorrow is my sermon, then back to the heavier reading.... Peace

We ended with this question yesterday: Inspiration: a person or a book?

I asked us to ponder this question yesterday, and I think it is a fairly important question. I have already alluded to Christology as the best model for understanding the Bible. Perhaps some fear that I seem to be leaning toward the idea that God lets human run free and just chose the writings of some and said, "That is my word!" However, such a take on Scripture would be the equivalent of "adoptionism" in Christology (the belief that Jesus was a man and 'became divine' because He was faithful). Adoptionism is heresy. I think God would have had to be more active than that.

However, the nervousness that this discussion generates leads me to ponder what is going on inside me-and-you? Some questions to think about:
What motivates us in our discussion of inspiration? Are we defenders of the faith or seekers of truth?
What fears lurk in our minds and hearts?
What do we need to be the case to keep us feeling secure?
What is the function of the Bible from God’s perspective? Does He speak to us through it now, or did He speak to someone else long ago and now we are invited to read and try to figure out what it means to us. (if both what is primary?) 

Is revelation primarily an historical documentation or a living word today? Is the Spirit of God active in the word (does 'God-breathed' mean the animation of human words like 'God-breathed' meant the animation of clay in Genesis to make a man?) Could 'God-breathed mean God’s Spirit takes what a human has written and transformed it (sort of like redemption)?

Is the Bible different from any other book? Is that difference obvious and observable? If one were handed a series of pages from various sources would the Biblical ones be so different that one could pick them out?

Could Biblical inspiration be sacramental: baptism still just looks like water and oil, eucharist still looks like bread and wine, yet by the work of the Spirit they become rebirth and the body and blood of Christ.

What do you WANT the truth to be? Why?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Bible 5: Inspired Authors

The Inspiration of "the Bible" as we have seen, is much more complex than the simple statement "God inspired the Bible." It does not matter how high your view of inerrancy is, you still have to explain what you mean when you say what you say.

The Bible is not a book, it is a library.  While one divine Author is the source, God is not the sole author. Human beings wrote the words and there were lots of them doing the writing over a long time. In addition, other writings which were authoritative in some places which were not included in the canon of Scripture. So the the Jews and later the church had to decide. [And it did. The problem is there were lots of churches so Bibles do not totally agree on the content.]

The fundamental issue for my reflection is the collection itself (whichever one you claim is really the Bible). "Inspiration" of the Bible has to account for God's activity in the Jews and later the church gathering together the disparate books and compiling them together and calling this bundle The Word of God....

Having looked at 'the Bible' as whole, now we consider what inspiration means as applied to individual works within the Bible (Like Matthew or Jeremiah). This is probably what most people mean when they say 'the Bible is inspired.'

The first question is, is inspiration primarily what is at work in the human writer or what is at work within the Scripture itself? This may seem silly at first, but lets briefly consider why it matters. Probably two of the more common ways to inspiration:
·        1. Somebody sat down one day and wrote the Biblical text as dictated by the Holy Spirit (God breathed) which is the infallible, inerrant, perfect, complete Word of God. All that matters is the fact of God’s authorship. The text is a direct communication to the reader of exactly what God wants that reader to know. [This could mean the original language text, or some current translation of the reconstructed text (e.g. those who think the King James Version is The definitive inspired Bible), or both. Many people are not aware of the original languages so it is a simple or ‘na├»ve’ approach to “their” Bible]
   A more process aware person may think: 

2. Somebody sat down one day and served as the final author (redactor) of the Biblical text as dictated by the Holy Spirit (God breathed) which is the infallible, inerrant, perfect and complete Word of God. All that matters is the fact of God’s authorship. The final text is a direct communication to the reader of exactly what God wants the reader to know. There was an actual process prior to final document, but it is immaterial & unrelated to inspiration and has no influence on interpretation. 
   In both instances, inspiration is something at work in the author. It often is probably pictured as the Spirit of God whispering words, or controlling the pen or somehow forcefully causing the author to write what is written. And this view thinks of the reader as the individual holding a Bible and reading it. However, the ancient world was devoid of that skill and books were rare and very expensive. If the Spirit of God fills the words, does that change what we mean by inspired? Is it more or less useful? We continue tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bible: Inspired and Inerrant 4

The Bible and Canonization
    There are some who approach the Bible from an a-historical perspective. They only consider the 'supernatural' authorship. Some do not even know there was a time when the church discussed (debated) which books should be in the Bible. They do not know that in different parts of the early church world there were different collections which were thought to be Scripture (in fact that is still true today in the different branches of Christian faith). In some cases this is a function of ignorance and it is naive. In cases people think that canonization process does not matter. In the first two approaches, therefore, the only relevant data in "God inspired the Bible" and so here are the two approaches:
    1. I believe that the Bible (this English translation) in my hand is the Word of God. It is “given” by God to me (&/or the church) and it is the inspired Word of God, the process for getting to my hand is immaterial.
·        2. I believe that the Bible in my hand is the Word of God in an English translation of the Word of God from the original languages. The original written text is the inspired word of God and was free from error.The activities of copyists and translators are “human impurities” which might be present in the final text. The canonization process is immaterial.

  There is a range of other approaches which consider the hundreds of years of canonization to be important. The historical fact that the Bible "as we know it" was not in finished form for centuries means we have to think deeper and broader about what God is doing in revealing His Word to us. Those ancient discussions and debates about discerning which texts are Scripture are not only interesting but important; and impact our understanding of what 'inspiration' must mean. In fact, it broadens it to include much more. This approach might be:
·        3. The Bible in my hand is the Word of God in an English translation. The canonization process is part of God’s inspiration and/or the translation is part of the process of inspiration. That process matters and helps us understand more deeply the mystery and miracle of "inspiration." God's revelation and the gift of the Bible is a longer historical process than the final composition of a written document.
o   Canonization is also work of Holy Spirit in church to discover the texts which were authored by/inspired by the Holy Spirit and identified as authoritative (Word of God). This emphasizes the miraculous and divine component. [of course the different canons in different church traditions raises issues].
o   Canonization is a work of the Church inspired by the Holy Spirit to discover/recognize/establish the texts inspired by the Holy Spirit and defined as authoritative (Word of God). Folks who believe this take more seriously the human element in the process. Probably those who study church history and read ancient writers or documents from ancient church councils are more likely to see that human process in/through which God is at work. This is a balance of human/divine.
o   While the third approach would acknowledge that the work of Holy Spirit is a vital part of the inspiration process and is included in God’s action of “communicating” His Word.We will look at this later, suffice to say the "control" of the Holy Spirit is seen as less absolute. More of a gentle "push' or "pull" than operating levers on human puppets.
·        Because the third approach above raises questions about just how 'controlling' inspiration is we really have identified a fourth approach to the Bible. Probably, this is where the issue of "inerrancy" takes on a different meaning. It is why people can agree the Bible is "inspired" but come to different conclusions about exactly what that must mean.
  4. I believe the Bible in my hand is the Word of God, as “established” by a long human process of writing and canonization, all of it under the influence (influence can be as strong as God controlled human choice—or—to varying degrees of intensity, He gave wisdom, insight, discernment) of the Holy Spirit, so that what it contains can be called the Word of God because God directly communicates to us (church and individual) through it—or—God speaks in and through these words to us by the working of the Holy Spirit.
·        5. Just to provide a viewpoint which is widespread but not advocated here. It is pretty poplar in Liberal/Modernist/Progressive 'Christian' circles.They think that the writing and canonization processes are thoroughly human. Inspiration means something as strong as “The Holy Spirit ‘helps’ (has input but not control) in the process” to “the process is a purely human exercise by people seeking God.” In this view, there is an emphasis on political/power forces as work. The Bible is authoritative because the church makes it so but the church errs, including councils, so be careful! Many embrace a viewpoint that the Bible is suspect because it is archaic, Paternalistic, pro-slavery, homophobic, etc.! It is useful to them when it is aligned with current beliefs, especially like Social Justice and various oppressed populations (gender, race, sexual preferences, etc.). The prophets, teachings on love and tolerance, and social critique are especially valued. A stance of suspicion and resistance are generally preferred. 
   The range is obviously more complex than this, but it is fair to say that these five provide a basic starting place for thinking about what do I mean by "God inspired the Bible"...

Sunday, September 21, 2014

On Whining and Open Mics

Sunday Homily for September 21; Proper 20 in Revised Common Lectionary
It was my cousin’s wedding. I was the priest. We were in the sacristry joking around. I went to the bathroom. When, I opened the door, a distressed woman was standing there. She said, “Your mic is on!” oops!
…Today we heard (Exodus 16:2-15) the shadow side of the Good News (God sees,   God hears,   God knows,   God is coming down to save…) Because…. God sees, EVERYTHING. God hears, EVERYTHING. God knows, EVERYTHING. We have an open mic. Things not meant for God’s ears to hear are still heard...
God heard and so He rescued the Hebrew slaves. Exodus 15 recounts the miraculous escape and destruction of Pharaoh’s army. Moses and the people sing a canticle of joy. Miriam dances with a tambourine and proclaiming, “Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously, horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”  This is the pinnacle!!!! Salvation!
Yet the very next thing we read is that within three days the Israelites complain against Moses about bitter water. God hears and showed him some wood (cross?) to make the water sweet. God heard, God saved; but did He also notice they were ungrateful whiners?
The God of Grace has covenant expectation (15:26): IF…, if you listen, if you heed, if you do right, I will not treat you as I did the Egyptians---says the Lord.
Today’s reading (Ex 16:2-15) follows immediately after the water miracle. They complain against Moses AGAIN. They demand food and pine for the slave days (which they had hated). God gives them manna and meat; but Moses gives them a warning. “You are complaining against God not me.” It is popular to differentiate between the church (’Man’) and God. The Bible says human ministers are His ambassadors!
In chapter 17, again, there will again complaints about water.

We need to listen and learn from this:
1.    God sees and hears; He comes to save; He provides water and food. He redeems His people. He is merciful and kind.
2.   The appropriate response is not entitlement, bitterness and endless complaint! We should not test God. Disobedience and Faithlessness are deadly. There are consequences
Whining against God was also directed at the ministry Jesus. People did not like His embrace of the ‘undesirables.’ Today (Mt 20:1-16) Jesus illustrates this attitude. “Not fair” complain the workers in the parable, “You were too generous to these less deserving others. We do not want them to be treated so well….” Many of us feel like we are the ones hard at it all day while others sneak in late, right? We are the ones who really have been busting it, right????? Well, I wonder what the (starving & homeless) Christian survivors in Iraq think? Do they agree that you and I should feel underappreciated and cheated by God? Have we really been hard at it all day for Jesus and the Kingdom? Is it possible that we have identified ourselves with the wrong group of workers in that parable?

God is merciful and saves His children. He is longsuffering and patient. But there is a point where He draws the line.
He drew the line with Israel.
He drew the line with those who rejected Jesus.
He has drawn the line for us.
We need to trust in His mercy but we also need to repent. Really repent, and keep in mind that He hears everything. So whine less; thank and praise more, and start today!