Tuesday, February 28, 2006
How we read the Bible determines what we get from it. Now that's a pretty common sense idea. But how often do we think about it this way? Some read it as a literal word from God and others as a simple human word. Some read everything as if every part has the same meaning -- therefore an obscure passage enumerating legal traditions in Leviticus or Numbers has the same meaning as Genesis 1 or John 3. For others the Bible is a piece of literature that can be cherry picked for information. What we don't like we discard, what we like we use. But is it that easy?
I've been teaching a series in an adult bible study called Reading the Bible Responsibly. We've talked about important things like historical and literary criticism. We've talked about translation theory and textual criticism. Now we're looking at actual texts -- Genesis 2 tonight. If we read the text flatly, I believe we will miss the point of the Bible and we will not truly hear a word from God. Genesis 1 and 2 are important words to those of us who are Christians. But, if I try to make it speak science or history, I will miss out on what it is trying to teach. When it comes to the Resurrection, the Bible is very circumspect on what happened. What it says is -- he was dead and now he's alive! That is the good news -- how it happened and the nature of Christ's being is never discussed. In fact there seems to be a difference of opinion on this matter -- what we know is this, God has raised him from the dead and in him we are made alive. That seems like the important message. Whether the body literally disappeared or not doesn't seem that important -- though the four gospel texts seem in agreement that the body disappeared. -- But it is also clear that resurrection is not the same thing as a resuscitated body. The two are not the same -- see John 11.
So, let's read the text with open eyes, minds, and hearts. That will bring to us a word from God!
Monday, February 27, 2006
"At the heart of Christianity is the heart of God -- a passion for our
transformation and the transformation of the world. At the heart of
Christianity is participating in the passion of God." Marcus
Borg, Heart of Christianity.
Marcus Borg has eloquently and succinctly summed up the Christian faith. It is about transformation and it is about participating in transformation. As a Christian, I am deeply committed to Jesus. Without him there is no Christianity. He embodies the revelation of God's love and mercy. He shows us that God is concerned about every individual person. He shows us that people are more important than rules.
I believe that Paul is correct, that "in Christ, God is reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:17). Paul speaks of the transformation of the mind as well -- (Rom. 12:1f). These are powerful reminders that God is in the world, actively transforming the world in Christ. And because the church is the body of Christ, God is using the church to accomplish this task. What a call to responsibility this is!
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Jesus said to his disciples after sharing the parable of the sower, "let anyone with ears to hear listen" (Mk 4:9). On the day of Transfiguration, when God said from the cloud, "this is my son, the Beloved, listen to him" (Mk 9:7), what he was saying was: Don't listen to the self-help gurus and the culture critics. Don't listen to the political pundits and religious hucksters. Listen to Jesus, because he brings you the Word of God.
History shows us that Christians haven't listened very well to Jesus. All that hostility shown by Christians this past Christmas proves how far we are from understanding Jesus' mission and message. We want to see and experience the glory of the kingdom of God, but too often we're in such a big hurry that we forget to follow Jesus' instructions. Maybe that's why he told the disciples, don't say anything about this just yet. They still had to figure out that there would be no triumph without the cross.
The transfiguration of Jesus is a pivotal event, but it is only a way station on a road to the cross. It is a reminder to us that Jesus' understanding of power differs from ours. There are voices calling Christians to take power and dominate society. Let's make this a Christian nation so we can transform it into our own image. This is a very seductive vision, and Christians have tried it before with disastrous results. We need to remember that power corrupts even Christians, so if we believe that political power will usher in the kingdom of God, we will be wrong. It's not possible to impose God's will on society, which is why Jesus didn't seek political power. Instead, he called people to embrace their neighbor with God's love and to break down the walls that separate us from each other. As we listen to God's witness, we are reminded of the question: "What Would Jesus Do?" This question was quite popular a few years ago -- appearing as it did on T-shirts and wristbands -- but it's still a question worth considering. If we were to listen to Jesus and do as he would have us do, wouldn't the world be much different?
Saturday, February 25, 2006
The real issue though is one of xenophobia. We are afraid! The only way to deal with these fears is to confront them and then take steps to build bridges to those who are different. I've tried it and it works.
Friday, February 24, 2006
On February 12th my congregation in California was one of four hundred plus churches across the nation that observed Evolution Sunday. Days before this event, which coincided with Charles Darwin’s 197th birthday, the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based proponent of Intelligent Design, opined that our observance was “the height of hypocrisy.” Discovery Institute officials charged us with sharing in a bit of “old time Darwinist religion.” Yes, I gave a “pro-evolution” sermon, but I’m not sure what this “good old Darwinist religion” is, but I would object to this characterization of my efforts. I expect the same would true of other preachers who chose to observe this event. Yes, we affirmed evolution as a scientific fact, but I wouldn’t call this Darwinist religion nor would I call it hypocritical.
While I can’t speak for my fellow preachers, nor the 10,000 plus signatories to the Clergy Letter Project’s “Open Letter on Religion and Science,” my sermon, and probably many others preached that day, affirmed evolution and recognized Darwin’s contribution to the theory, but it also celebrated God the creator. I sought to build a bridge between Christian faith and the science that explains the universe we live in. Whatever the challenges and modifications made over the last century and a half to the theory of evolution and Darwin’s theory of natural selection, evolution remains the acknowledged explanation of earth’s development and the diversity of its flora and fauna. While some proponents of evolution insist that it is a blind and purposeless process, this is not true of all its proponents, especially those of us who are theists.
I had my congregation observe Evolution Sunday because I’m concerned about the growing divide between the religious and scientific communities. I also spoke on this topic out of concern for the gospel of Jesus Christ, which can appear irrational and anti-intellectual in light of the vitriol expressed by some Christians against evolution.
Despite the overwhelming evidence presented in our nation’s public schools and in myriads of nature programs on TV, nearly half of Americans reject evolution. School boards and legislatures across the country are changing curriculum standards, often under pressure from religiously-motivated groups (despite disclaimers from the Discovery Institute). Whether or not Intelligent Design is creationism under a new name, its proponents seek to undermine evolution by “teaching [a] controversy” where no controversy exists.
As for the Darwinist campaign to use religion to promote evolution in the schools, I’m neither aware of it nor part of it. Evolution Sunday simply gave me the opportunity to speak of the harmony that can exist between theology and science if each will respect the competency of the other in its field of enquiry. Conversation and cooperation are essential, but they can’t happen as long as partisans on both sides of the issue propose either/or positions. The “Open Letter on Religion and Science,” which I signed, affirms that “the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests,” and that this statement is compatible with the biblical witness that God is creator.
Building a bridge between biblical faith and evolutionary science, which the letter calls for, requires us to face the question of biblical interpretation. If Genesis must be read as a modern historical and scientific statement, then the bridge will fall. But, we needn’t read Genesis in such a literal fashion to be faithful to its message, which is that what exists is from God and that this creation is very good.
As a Christian, I affirm God’s intimate involvement in the creation of the universe, but I reject a “God of the Gaps” solution. I also recognize that such beautiful examples of God’s handiwork as the Grand Canyon, Crater Lake, and humankind can have natural explanations. Therefore, on Evolution Sunday, we joined the Psalmist in declaring that the “heavens are telling of the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1).