Friday, March 30, 2012

Losing Weight and Eating Right the Bible Way: Another Example of How NOT to Use the Bible

It seems that the Bible as "answer book" approach is not going away anytime soon. There are plenty of authors and preachers out there that claim you can solve all your problems if you would simply apply the Bible. Got money problems? Follow the Bible's ten easy steps to financial freedom. Having problems in your marriage? The Bible has the answer. Looking for ways to get ahead in Business? The Bible has the answer for that too.

It seems that whatever your problem, the Bible has the answer. Never mind that this "book" is a combination of  documents written over hundreds of years, thousands of years ago. You can use it like an encyclopedia or phone book and simply look up what you need to know. Ah, if it was only that simple.

So what put me on this rant this morning, you ask? Food. No, not the instant oatmeal I was eating at my desk. It was food in the Bible, or at least the claims that some are making about "Bible food" or "Bible diets."

I ran across a book review today that discusses how a psychologist who specializes in sex therapy and addiction turned his attention to food. Sounds exciting already, doesn't it? The good doctor turned to the Bible as part of his work with food addiction. But here is the interesting part. He is Jewish. So instead of asking "what would Jesus eat"  he asked "what would Moses eat?" In sum, he suggests that we consider eating to be a "holy act" by recognizing that food is a gift from God. His approach in Holy Eating is that you approach food spirituality. He wants us to concentrate on being thankful to God, which will help us to lose weight. In fairness, he does not seem to be offering a selection of recipes that will make you lose weight. But I am also not sure if he needed the Bible to do this. I will be even more wary if his publisher starts selling rubber bracelets inscribed with WWME?

But this article led me to a Google search to see what else I could find on this topic.

I was not surprised, though I wish I was, that there is already a book out there titled What Would Jesus Eat? There goes that idea! I have not read the book, but I suspect it is a very thin one since the only things I remember Jesus eating in the Gospels is bread, fish and wine. Perhaps the author suggests I eat a filet-o-fish sandwich with a glass of Merlot?

I was briefly excited to see another book titled The Maker's Diet. But then I discovered that it was not published by Makers Mark and there would be no recipes for bourbon ribs.

If you are looking for a quick list of foods with antioxidants, belief-net lists ten Bible foods that may help you.

On another website I found someone suggesting that we reject all nutritional advice and instead concentrate on our impure thoughts and remember the words of Jesus that it is what "comes out of your mouth" rather than what goes in that matters more.

I was pleased to see that there really was a Bible diet out there. The Daniel Diet claims that it is a ten-day detox and weight-loss program based on Daniel 1:8-15. There Daniel and his friends only eat vegetables and drink water for ten days. What confuses me about the diet, however, is that the conclusion of Daniel's story is that he and his friends were fatter than everyone else. I wonder why the promoters of this diet did not mention that? I wonder if they read that far?

Finally, there is Ezekiel Bread. I have seen this for sale in various grocery stores across the the country. I suppose the attraction is that the recipe comes right from Ezekiel 4:9. What could be better? But again, I wonder if people have read any further.True, Ezekiel is given a specific recipe for the bread. But a few verses later he is instructed to cook it over human dung. After a bit of debate, God relents and allows the prophet to cook it over cow dung. Somehow I suspect that the FDA is NOT allowing that to happen, which makes me wonder if the health benefits of the loaf have been compromised.

I am not against reading the Bible and I am not against healthy eating. Both are a regular part of my life. But I am frustrated with those who mine the Bible for magic formulas, in this case recipes, that will help them lose weight. I do think the Bible can guide us here. It suggests that we live a life of moderation and listen to the wisdom of those around us. Perhaps if we ate less, ate things we know are better for us, and listened to the wisdom of health experts we would not be generating books and articles about so-called Bible diets and recipes that are neither a diet nor biblical.

In the mean time, I think I will try a filet-o-fish with Merlot.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Women, Ministry and the Apostle Paul

March is women's history month. With that in mind I thought I would post some links to a series I did on Women in the Life the Apostle Paul. I did the series when I first began blogging and didn't have near as many readers. I thought that perhaps it would be valuable to repost those links here. I would be happy to read your comments.

The first link contains some general thoughts on the topic of women in ministry and hermeneutics. The next three links is a series I did on women Romans 16. The last link is a bookreview that some may find helpful.

Does God Really Call Women to Ministry?

Women in the Life of the Apostle Paul 1

Women in the Life of the Apostle Paul 2

Women in the Life of the Apostle Paul 3

Book Review: What Did Paul Really Think of Women? 

Update: Here is a post on Women's History Month by one of my students. His blog is called Church in Culture. Stop by to read what he says and leave him a comment.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Review of The Evolution of Adam by Peter Enns

The last few years has seen an uptick in debates between creationist and evolutionists. But the debate has been within the church, not outside. If you have followed the news at all you will be aware that people on both sides of the debate are becoming more vocal.

One of the “sticking points” for some is the figure of Adam in the Bible. Was he an historical person? Some creationists insist he must have been, while those who follow evolutionary theory say that he was not. The debate might not have become an active one if Adam had stayed in Genesis. But his appearance in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 has led many to suggest that if Paul thought Adam was a historical person then so should we.

Wading bravely into this debate is Pete Enns with his recent volume The Evolution of Adam: What theBible Does and Doesn’t say about Human Origins (Brazos Press, 2012). Enns’ goal is to help his readers come to a new way of thinking about Adam in a world informed by evolution. This is not a book about evolution and if you are looking for someone to evaluate and weigh-in on the evolution vs. creationist debate then this book is not for you. Enns is convinced of the truth of the evolutionary theory and is not a seven day creationist. What Enns does do in the book is help his readers understand Genesis better and develop a more informed method for reading the Bible, specifically Genesis 1-3 and Romans 15.

The book is broken into two parts. In part one Enns focuses on Genesis and the function of the book in the history of ancient Israel. In part two he focuses on Paul and his references to Adam. Enns has packed a lot into this little book and I will not be able to do it justice here.

In part one the reader is given a brief overview of the impact that nineteenth century scholarship and archaeology has had on the study of the Old Testament (p. 6). These advancements helped scholars to discover the ancient context of Genesis including other, similar creation and flood stories from Mesopotamia. Enn’s demonstrates that when Genesis is viewed in the context of these other creation stories it is clear that the stories in Genesis 1-3 are not unique, but ubiquitous. But he also argues that we can’t simply interpret Genesis as “borrowing” from these other creation and flood stories. On the contrary, he describes Genesis as “genre calibration” (p. 35). In other words, Genesis is making statements about who the God of Israel is and the writer(s) of Genesis are using the genre of the day to make those statements, albeit with some important nuance. Enns understands the purpose of Genesis to be a declaration of who Israel’s God is and how Israel defines themselves in light of their understanding of God (p. 32). Genesis 1-3, he argues, is not about the origins of humanity but the origins of Israel. The story of Adam mirrors the story of Israel (creation, command, disobedience, exile/death) and Adam is in many ways a proto-Israel (pp.65-66). When read this way, Genesis 1-3 is not a story about the origins and failure of all humanity, but only of Israel.

In part two Enns begins by pointing out that what Paul does with Adam is largely unique in antiquity. Furthermore, Paul goes beyond Genesis with what he has to say about Adam (p. 81). The Old Testament has little to say about Adam after Genesis 5:3 (only mentioned again in 1 Chron 1:1) and does not look back on Genesis as a time when sin entered the world (p. 85-86). While the Old Testament has much to say about sin and death, it doesn’t connect it to Adam. Thus Paul’s turn to Adam is actually very new. The key to understanding what Paul is doing is to understand the way that he interprets the scriptures. Enns points out that Paul interprets the scriptures like other Jews of his day, which means that he was not objective and that he took advantage of any gaps or ambiguities in the text (see the examples on pp. 103-17). And Paul brings this method to his reading of the New Testament with the Christ event in mind. Thus Paul’s understanding of Adam in Genesis is through a Christ centered reading (p. 122). Paul understands the solution to humanity’s plight (sin and death) and reads it back into the Genesis Adam story (p. 131). If the last Adam, Christ, is the answer to sin and death then the first man, Adam, must have been the one who introduced it. Paul’s analogy between Adam and Christ connects the two together.

But what is important for Enns is not whether or not Paul believed in a historical Adam. If one no longer accepts Adam as historical, it doesn’t undermine Paul’s theology. The problem of death and sin still remains and the solution through Christ’s death and resurrection is still Paul’s answer to that problem (p. 123). Enns sums it up this way.

“So even without attributing their cause to Adam, sin and death are with us, and we cannot free ourselves from them. They remain foes vanquished by Christ’s death and resurrection. The fact that Paul draws an analogy between Adam and Christ, however, does not mean that we are required to consider them characters of equal historical standing. Unlike Adam, Christ was not a primordial, prehistorical man known only through hundreds and hundreds of years of cultural transmission. The resurrection of Christ was a present reality for Paul, an event that had happened in Jerusalem about twenty-five years before he wrote Romans.” (p 125)

The book closes with nine theses on how we should consider Adam today. Among some of what Enns argues is that (1) literalism is not an option, (2) that the Bible and science speak different languages and ask different questions, (3) that inspiration should embrace God’s use of cultural idioms, and (4) that a rapprochement between evolution and Christianity requires a synthesis, not just adding evolution to theology.

As I said above, Enns packs a lot into this thin volume and the nature of a blog post limits what I can say. I have nothing to offer by way of criticism because I by and large agree with him. No matter which side of the debate you find yourself this is a worthwhile read. Overall I think you will find this to be helpful, informative book that will help you to think in new ways about the function of Genesis and the place of Adam in that story. I think Enns has made a clear argument and if you are wondering about human origins and in particular about how to understand Genesis and Adam then this book is for you.

As I read the book it struck me that one of the best ways that this book could be read is as part of a small group or Sunday school class. The chapters are small and accessible. With a good leader I could see some fruitful if not challenging conversation coming from reading it.  I highly recommend it. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Jewish Jesus

As hard as it may be to believe, there are still people out there who don't understand that Jesus was Jewish. They know that he was born, lived and ministered in Israel, taught in synagogues, prayed in the temple and read from the Hebrew Bible, but they don't really understand that he was Jewish. Many followers of Jesus think of him as being the first Christian, not a Jew. And there is a lot in church history that has lead them to this way of thinking. For a time, New Testament scholarship interpreted Jesus more as a Greek philosopher than a Jewish sage.

Since the Holocaust, however, there has been a greater awareness of Jesus the Jew. And there has also been a greater appreciation for Judaism. I suppose that it would be difficult to point to any aspect of New Testament studies that has not been rethought in light of this new appreciation for Jesus as a Jew.

At the same time, some Jews have also begun to appreciate Jesus the Jew. Since most Jews do not read the New Testament the only exposure they have had to Jesus is through Christianity. And I don't think I need to explain why that has not always been a positive experience. But more recently, Jews have been studying the New Testament. I have a number of colleagues in the field who are Jewish AND excellent interpreters of the New Testament.

Even more recently has been the attempt by some Jewish scholars to help their fellow Jews better understand Jesus the Jew. Amy Jilly Levine has helped edit the Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford, 2011). It is a study Bible that provides the Jewish background and culture for the New Testament. Also published recently is Kosher Jesus (Gefen, 2012) by Shmuley Boteach who tries to portray Jesus as an observant Jew. Both Levine and Boteach hope that Jews will read their books and take a fresh look at Jesus.

The PBS website has posted some videos in which Levine, Boteach and others explain their take, as Jews, on Jesus. Below are two of the videos on the site. The first features several speakers. The second is an extended interview with Amy Jill Levine. There are other related videos on the PBS website.

Watch Jewish Jesus on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Conquest Narratives in Ancient Israel and the USA

The book of Joshua is an enigmatic book. It contains a series of conquest narratives with an extended section in which the conquered land is divided up among the victorious Israelite tribes. What to do with the book in a modern setting is not always an easy question to answer. Since the Holocaust we have become more aware of genocide and the evil legacy that it leaves behind, which makes it difficult to teach and preach these texts.

One way Joshua can be used is as tool for examining our own national origins. As citizens of a country with conquest and genocide as part of its history, Christians in the USA can use Joshua to help evaluate our nation's origins and history.

My colleague at Ashland Seminary, Professor L. Daniel Hawk, has been working on this topic for sometime now as reflected in his book Joshua in 3D: A Commentary on Biblical Conquest and Manifest Destiny (Cascade, 2011). His most recent publication on the topic is an article in Interpretation titled The Truth about Conquest: Joshua as History, Narrative and Scripture. Here is the abstract.

The Book of Joshua constitutes a vital biblical resource for interpreting modern narratives of conquest and colonialism. As a historical narrative, it reveals the fluid and complex character of national memory; as a national narrative of origins, it points to processes and motifs that shaped the identities of both Israel and the United States; as a scriptural narrative, it presents a revelatory vision that illumines contemporary narratives of conquest and evokes the stories of both colonizing and colonized peoples.

You can read that whole article online since Interpretation is allowing full access for a short period. I am unsure when it will go behind the subscription wall. In the mean time here is an excerpt.

The motifs and convictions that configure Joshua—God as founder of the nation and the divine warrior who fights for it; the conviction of set-apartness from other peoples; union via a common covenant; the contingency of national well-being on devotion and duty—comprise the basic building blocks of American national mythology. They derive from the typological hermeneutic of the Puritans, who saw themselves as the New Israel and read their emigration to the New World in light of the exodus: God delivering his people from oppression by a passage through water to the “New Canaan.” These motifs were taken up and transformed in the Revolutionary era by the Founding Fathers, who needed a centralizing genealogy to unite thirteen fractious colonies into a single nation. Biblical symbols and tropes channeled religious sentiment—the depth of feeling and devotion that characterized love of God—toward devotion to the nation—love of country. The Puritan sense of calling to preach liberty to the captives was transposed into a new key as a national mission to bring liberty and civilization to humanity. Puritan beliefs in God’s providential design and destiny found new expression in the conviction that America is uniquely destined by the inexorable progress of human history to be the harbinger of freedom and republican democracy. Combined with beliefs in the distinctive heritage and character of the Anglo-Saxon race, and reinforced in the nineteenth century by scientific racialism, these convictions fueled westward expansion and informed the narrative of Manifest Destiny that legitimized the growth of the American empire.

Do read it while you can. I think you will find Hawk provides some keen insights about Joshua and how the book can help us rethink our origins and history as a country.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Friday Book Giveaway Winner!

Congrats to Josh Leto. He is the winner of this week's giveaway. josh has won 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.

Josh, send me your details and I will send the books out. Remember, you have five days to claim your prize.

Still haven't won yet? Don't worry I have more books on the giveaway shelf. Check back in the future.