March 1, 2015

Sundays with Michael Spencer: March 1, 2015


Note from CM: In 2015 we will mark five years since the death of Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk. Today, we continue our “Sundays with Michael” series with another excerpt from a post that was originally published in February 2005. Last week, from this same post, we heard Michael critique approaching the Bible like a “magic book.” Today he suggests another metaphor to describe a common, inadequate way of reading the Bible.

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Another way of approaching the Bible is by collecting verses. The “grocery store” analogy is particularly helpful in describing how mainstream evangelicals approach scripture. The appearance of concordances and computer searching has allowed the emphasis on verses and lists of verses to develop to a high level. One need only find the proper book or software, and a search can be conducted to retrieve a list of verses relating to any subject, word or term. I compare this to going into a grocery store with a shopping list. I many need verses on marriage, parenting and forgiveness. I take my list, run up and down the aisles, and find the verses I need. (Or to be more true to today’s technology, I present my list to the man at the front, and he sends a runner to pick up my verses for me, while I simply meet him at the checkout.)

The idea that the Bible is a library of verses has been propagated through Bible study tools, but also through methods of preaching. Many popular preachers today NEVER engage a text unless it is a story with a lesson that speaks to a “felt need.”. They engage a topic that has been focus-grouped to gain the interest of the audience. (See Ed Young, Jr. for a good example) Then verses are marshalled to present an outline of principles. The Bible is the source of the verses, so it is routinely asked, “What does the Bible say about assessing potential spouses?” Since the collection of verses comes from the Bible, the conclusion seems sound. The “Bible” in this case is a humanly arranged collection of verses, out of context, with a variable degree of likelihood in relating to the truth.

While I am not saying that abuse of this method is universal, it is common. I could easily accumulate grocery lists of texts on polygamy, slavery, stoning rebellious children, demonic exorcism to solve physical problems, the need to exterminate unbelievers, and so on. All my lists would answer a “What does the Bible say?” question. And all could, potentially, seriously misrepresent the overall message that God has sent us in scripture, because the meaning of larger texts, especially books, has been ignored. I could even use the Bible itself to teach the very opposite of what the Bible teaches. In seminary, I was taught that the Bible was pro-abortion by a selective accumulation of texts. And no one laughed or cried, Orwellian as it was.

The use of the grocery store method is entirely dependent on how the accumulator understands the way verses relate to one another in larger contexts. For instance, the basic idea of old and new covenants would seriously affect how someone selected verses on worship and presented them as, “The Bible says we should worship by….” Some verse accumulation preachers are excellent. It is a method that can bear much fruit and be helpful, IF done in a context of actually understanding the larger framework of scripture. (Much like I could find lists of sentences in Walden on self-sufficiency that might misrepresent or well-represent Thoreau’s intentions in the book.)

Saturday Ramblings, February 28, 2015

Hello, imonks, and welcome to the weekend. Ready to ramble?

I hope you dressed up today!

I hope you dressed up today!

First, let’s get the heavy news out of the way.  Thursday is what the internet (or at least social media) was made for. dressFirst, we had #the dress. It seems, by some quirk of biology that I don’t understand (I grew up Baptist) two people can look at the picture at right and violently disagree about its color.  Is it blue and black? Or white and gold?  You can read the scientific details here.  What do you think, imonks? Do you have a dog in this very important fight?

Also on Thursday, a pair of Llamas, one white and one blackescaped from their owners and ran wild through the streets of Sun City, Arizona, on Thursday. Police and pedestrians chased them for a few hours before both were apprehended by use of a lasso. The white llama was released on his own recognizance. The black llama had bail set at 1 million dollars.

Another pair of Llamas, this time in Washington State, also escaped on Thursday.  They were caught more quickly, but not before creating a stir as to why so many llama couples were on the lam. B-33TAbUIAE-Ri8

Yes, this is silly, but hey, this is the Saturday Ramblings.  You want profundity you read that Chaplain Mike guy.  Anyway, you’re here so you might as well watch this video of the llama drama set to the William Tell Overture:

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They’ll know we are Christians by our language


I passed a church sign the other day. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stop and take a picture of it to show you, but I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since I saw it. The sign said:

God makes useful saints
Out of useless sinners.

Believe me, I understand black/white, in/out, saved/lost, saint/sinner thinking, having been a member of faith communities that ate that stuff up for years. There is a lot we could talk about here.

In fact, there is a lot that has been talked about, especially in so-called “emergent” and “missional” teachings. Missiologist Paul G. Hiebert’s writings on understanding Christian identity in terms of bounded and centered sets have had a profound influence on the discussion. Hiebert observed differences in how people in different cultures answered the question: “Who is (and isn’t) a Christian?” His concern was that missionaries, who had assumed they were acting “biblically” were actually reflecting the cultural perspectives of their backgrounds and churches concerning the answer to this question and that it was adversely affecting their ministries. Hiebert loved mathematics, and as he began to think about set theory, he developed his ideas and captured them in his missiological writings.

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Tokah: On the Sunday of Forgiveness

It is my second favorite day of the year, the Sunday of Forgiveness, also known as Cheesefare Sunday. We gather for the Forgiveness Vespers in the evening, candlelight dancing in front of paintings of those who have walked this … [Continue reading...]

Nostalgia. As bad as relevance.

Nostalgia. It's as bad for you as "relevance." Sunday in church, the pianist played a lovely arrangement of the old Maranatha! chorus, "I Love You, Lord." Then in response, we sang another chorus that has been a big part of my … [Continue reading...]

ECT on “Reclaiming Marriage”

 • • • UPDATE: In light of Eeyore's insightful comment, I have added another point to my remarks. First Things has published a statement by Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) called The Two Shall Become One Flesh: … [Continue reading...]

Music Monday: Lent with Wilco

I wander thro’ each charter’d street, Near where the charter’d Thames does flow, And mark in every face I meet, Marks of weakness, marks of woe. In every cry of every Man, In every Infant’s cry of fear, In every voice, … [Continue reading...]

Sundays with Michael Spencer: February 22, 2015

Note from CM: In 2015 we will mark five years since the death of Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk. Today, we continue our “Sundays with Michael” series with an excerpt from a post that was originally published in February … [Continue reading...]

Saturday Ramblings, February 21, 2015

Hello, imonks, and welcome to the weekend.  Ready to ramble? You may have noticed that Lent began this week.  For you Baptists, here’s an explanatory article.  So then, Wednesday was Ash Wednesday (Baptists, see here), and … [Continue reading...]

Wendell Berry: Lamenting Modern Christianity

Lent is a time for lamenting. The Book of Psalms teaches us that lamenting is a primary form of prayer in an unjust and unloving world. Through lamenting prayer, we cry out to God in the pain of our suffering and weakness, … [Continue reading...]