Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Book Giveaway: Two for One Deal

This week I am not giving away just one, but two books. I have the two volumes of Sergovia and Tolbert Reading from this Place (Fortress, 1995). Volume one is Social Location and Biblical Interpretation in the United States. Volume two is Social Location and Biblical Interpretation in Global Perspective. Here are the blurbs.
How does one's life situation shape one's reading of the Bible? In this landmark volume, Segovia, Tolbert, and their 15 other contributors measure the impact of social location on the theory and practice of biblical interpretation. Reading From This Place helps readers come to terms with the interpretive revolution sweeping through biblical studies. 
Biblical studies are proving to be a test case of the large interpretive issues of how one's "location"--social, cultural, ethnic and gender--affects one's reading of the text and its import. Segovia and Tolbert gather 19 leading biblical interpreters from around the globe to address the complex hermeneutical and religious questions attendant to this paradigm shift. 

I am giving both volumes to one lucky winner. So put your name below and I will draw a winner on Sunday.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Rejecting Church but not God

A few things have caught my attention recently. Time Magazine reported last week about the rise of the "Nones,"  those who are religious but have no religious affiliation. According the article, these are people who still love God, but are not interested in what organized religion has to offer. They are interested in serving God and even in being part of a community, but not in what has typically been offered in "church." The article's author, Amy Sullivan, writes: 

But the hunger for spiritual connection and community hasn't gone away. A 2009 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life asked respondents whether they believed in God, how often they prayed and whether they were affiliated with a particular religion; it found that "40% of the unaffiliated people were fairly religious," says director Luis Lugo. "Many said they were still hoping to eventually find the right religious home."
And then this week Rachel Held Evan has posted on the idea of leaving and staying in the church. On Tuesday she gave15 Reasons I left the Church and then on Wednesday 15 Reasons I returned to the Church.

What about you? Are you in the church and considering leaving? If so why. And if you did leave the church and returned why? 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Gladiator Meets Noah's Ark?

Apparently Rusell Crowe's star is beginning to fade a bit. Or he has decided to follow fellow Aussie Mel Gibson by stepping into the biblical film genre. Reports indicate that the star of Gladiator, A beautiful Mind and Robin Hood has been tapped to play Noah in a film that begins shooting this July.
A formal announcement should come this next week. The once hoped-for spring start is now July, sources say. Russell Crowe is set to float the boat as Noah in Darren Aronofsky’s edgy Biblical re-telling of Noah’s Ark.  

Hmm, I am not sure what to make of this. I wonder what the combination of "edgy" and "re-telling will yield? I guess it is a good thing Crowe has already played a ship captain in another movie.

It seems that Hollywood has begun to have an interest in the Bible again. Reports in January indicate that Steven Spielberg is getting ready to film a "gritty version" of Moses. Spielberg's Moses will be a warrior to beat all warriors. Think Braveheart in Egypt. No kidding, that is what the article says. 

Earlier there were reports that Will Smith was considering playing Cain, the infamous fratricide from Genesis 4. But here too, it is a movie with a twist. Somehow he Cain was going to be a vampire. I guess it is not enough for Cain to spill Abel's blood, he must consume it too. 

Sigh. While on the one hand I can appreciate the Hollywood has always made adjustments to the biblical stories to fill them out and make them more interesting for the screen, I really do wonder where this will all go. I am reminded of an early made for TV version of Noah's Ark made by Hallmark.. In that film Noah lived in Sodom with his nephew Lot. When the flood hit Lot also was able to build a boat and became a pirate that eventually attacked Noah and his family. I am not kidding.  Check out the clip below in which the city of Sodom is destroyed. I don't remember that in the story of Noah.

Perhaps now you see why I wonder when these other films are described as "gritty" and "edgy." Anyone want to bet Russell Crowe is going to be chased by zombies in this version?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

On Speaking to the "Laity"

I've just returned from lecturing at some churches in Florida. I know it’s a tough job, but someone has got to do it. The purpose of the trip is to introduce the seminary to new people and to touch base with those who have already been a part of our mission here. It’s usually a good excuse to escape winter, but with 75 plus degree temperatures, Ohio was not much cooler than Boca Grande.

During the trip I gave three lectures focusing on the last week of Jesus’ life in Jerusalem. The lectures looked at history, archaeology and scripture as I tried to paint a picture of what happened. It was certainly not your typical Sunday school material.  In fact, it was more of what you expect in a graduate level lecture. It was the kind of material that made people rethink what they had always heard or believed and hopefully left them with a more informed faith.

Over the years I have had numerous opportunities to lecture on a variety of topics to the so-called “laity.” What I have discovered is that more often than not, people are eager to be challenged in their faith. They are not looking for teachers and preachers who simply endorse what they already think or provide ten steps that will lead them to theological bliss. Yes, there are always exceptions to what I just said. But I have also found that people are very appreciative and excited when you engage their minds and ask them to think. But too often, they do not receive this type of teaching in the church. And there at least two reasons, though I am sure we could name more.

The first reason is that some leaders are scared to bring up some topics. Many pastors are in a situation in which their positions are controlled by a board. In these cases the pastor sometimes doesn’t have the freedom to speak out on issues and challenge deep held beliefs. They dare not rock the boat. It would be easy for me to suggest that these leaders step out and challenge the status quo, but I am not in their shoes.

The second reason I have discovered is an inherit lack of respect for the audience. I have met a number of leaders who think that their congregations are either not interested in or unable to interact with material that challenges their faith and cause them to rethink. One example that stands out to me was an experience I had in one of my classes. I was introducing my students to the birth of Jesus in the context of other miraculous births recorded in the Greco-Roman era. The point of the exercise was to understand Jesus in his context and to make sense of how we understand the Bible. But I had one student who said that this material was irrelevant since no one in the church knows about this material or cares. I countered by pointing out that every December there are numerous articles in the magazines and papers on this very topic and that the Discovery and History Channels would run specials on it. I suggested that he did not give enough credit to the people he was shepherding and that his assumption that he knew what they were thinking was really unfortunate.

The fact is, many people in the church are curious about the Bible and they also want to be challenged. And they often have lots of questions. But they are afraid to ask those questions because of the response they might get. Either they will be warned that they are “getting off track” or they will be put off with a simple answer like “well the Bible says” or “we just need to trust God here.” But that kind of head in the sand theology doesn’t cut it in today’s world and it short changes the people who are looking to understand what they believe and why. It suggests that being a thinking Christian is not a “real Christian.” Sadly, the church is not a safe place to ask questions.

If you are a leader I would suggest that you find ways to engage people where they are thinking. And challenge them to move up a level and be stretched. If you are open and honest you will often find so are they and the questions you raise will draw you together rather than drive you apart.

But that also means that you need to challenge yourself. It means that you need to allow yourself to ask the questions that you fear. You need to study the Bible in a way that is stimulating to both your faith and your intellect. And it might mean not being afraid of whom you might offend. In the end, I think you will find that people will be more eager to hear what you have to say and the comments about your preaching and teaching will be more than “well, that was a nice sermon pastor.”

Monday, March 19, 2012

Thoughts on "Biblical Marriage" and the Unintended Results of Applying the Bible

We talk a lot about biblical marriage in the USA. The culture wars have witnessed a number of people making claims about marriage from the Bible. Bumper stickers say "marriage = one man + one woman." Others read, "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve."

 But like everything else in life, the picture of marriage is much more complicated than we would sometimes like to admit. We claim that the Bible promotes marriage between one man and one wife, but in fact it allows for a number of different combinations. Look at the chart to the right and you will see that the Bible's definition of marriage is not the way it is sometimes claimed.

What brings me to this subject is a report out of Morocco where a sixteen year old girl has committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist.  According to reports, Moroccan penal code 475 allows for a kidnapper/rapist to escape prosecution if he marries his victim.

The victim’s father said in an interview with an online Moroccan newspaper that it was the court officials who suggested from the beginning the marriage option when they reported the rape.
“The prosecutor advised my daughter to marry, he said ‘go and make the marriage contract,’” said Lahcen Filali in an interview that appeared on Tuesday night.
In many societies, the loss of a woman’s virginity outside of wedlock is a huge stain of honor on the family.
In many parts of the Middle East, there is a tradition whereby a rapist can escape prosecution if he marries his victim, thereby restoring her honor. There is a similar injunction in the Old Testament’s Book of Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy 22:28-29 is being quoted quite a bit in conjunction with this story. But in fairness to the Moroccan government and the Bible, I have yet to see any clear evidence that the law is based on this Bible passage or anything from the Koran. It seems to be more cultural. But this does not detract from the point that what we have here is a modern example of how a biblical passage works if put into force.

The fact is, very few of us follow the Bible in the way that we claim. Some things we observe, others we flat out ignore. In the fight over marriage in the USA, most proponents of "biblical marriage" never bring up these other forms of marriage that are clearly supported by the Bible. Even in the New Testament era Levirate marriage is still being practiced according to Luke 20:27-33, but I don't see anyone suggesting that it be a legal requirement today.  The idea that the Bible only supports the kind of marriage commonly recognized in the USA does not stand up to scrutiny.

I don't want it to seem like I am criticizing marriage. I am not. I have been happily married for 22 years. But what I am criticizing is the way that we read the Bible to define marriage while ignoring the whole witness of the scripture. When we claim that the Bible has all of the answers and that the marriage question can be answered by only consulting the Bible, we are in danger of having some unintended consequences.

I think back to 2009 when a group of Evangelical ministers in America helped to promote an anti-gay law in Uganda that resulted in a law suggesting that homosexuals be executed. This law also could find basis in the Bible (Lev 20:13). But we can also find in the same scriptures a command to stone rebellious children (Deut 21:18-21) I suspect few Americans today really want to execute their rebellious teenager no matter how tempted they may be some days. And I have yet to see any bumper stickers that say "stop vandalism and crime: stone rebellious children." So why would we use the Bible to suggest that gay people be executed? Why would we suggest that we have "biblical marriage" when that means that people would need to choose one of eight options for marriage, most of which give little consideration to the rights of the women involved?

It is the political season in the USA and Bible verses are going to be thrown around by all of the candidates to attract supporters. But few will actually think about (1) whether that is what the Bible says and (2) what would be the unintended consequences of enforcing these "biblical principles." Not everything in the Bible should be adopted as a way of living life.

In the mean time, I hope that the law in Morocco is changed swiftly and that those who rape and abuse women are no longer able to escape justice. And I hope the family of this young girl is able to find comfort and peace somehow. Perhaps her death will cause a change in the laws in that part of the world. And perhaps this tragedy will make us think a little more about the way we apply the Bible.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Friday Book Giveaway Winner

Congrats to Tim Marsh! He is this week's winner. He has won Hal Taussig In the Beginning was the Meal: Social Experimentation & Early Christianity (Fortress Press, 2009). 

Tim, remember, you have 5 days to claim your prize.