...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness Fri, 21 Nov 2014 18:41:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer no The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer (The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer) 2006-2009 ...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness Conversation Enders Fri, 21 Nov 2014 07:57:47 +0000 Twitter-CensorshipThis has certainly been the week where we have talked about words. We have discussed etiquette when commenting here. We have discussed Christians use of militaristic words. We have talked about Christian arguments. We have looked at the need to be careful when you speak. To be honest with you, I have not been that involved in the site this week. My daughter and I are on the West coast, where she is competing in the Canadian National Track Cycling Championships, and I am serving as the team driver.

There has been one thing however that has been on my mind concerning words, and that is how we put up stumbling blocks that end conversations could otherwise be about Jesus. Or in other cases say things that cause important conversations to never begin.

A young woman I know recently tweeted: “[Kid] next to me just stated that ‘there’s no proof for evolution anyway!'” She then used a hashtag that showed that she didn’t think very highly of this person because of the statement they made.

Strangely enough, I felt myself wanting to leap to the defense of the anti-evolution comment. But then I said to myself, how do I defend a comment that is indefensible?

The fact is, on social media I see Christians making comments all the time that make me cringe. The sad thing is that these comments are not conversation starters, but conversation enders. To give a parallel example, I have a friend who is big into conspiracy theories. He also runs as a candidate for political office. My (unspoken) thought for him is: “Do you think your advancing of political theories is ever going to advance your chances of gaining political office?”

I want to say the same thing to other Christians out there. “Do you think that your advancement of topic X, is going to do anything to help people to consider Jesus? Do you think it might hinder people from considering Jesus?”

That is not to say that we water down our message because it might be distasteful. I am not proposing that at all. But if our message becomes so obscured because of side issues, then are we really giving people a chance to hear the good news.

As usual your thoughts and comments are welcome. (P.S. – This is not a post about evolution, I could have used a number of different examples.)

]]> 84
Another Look: A Word about Words Thu, 20 Nov 2014 05:01:36 +0000 silence

Then [Job’s friends] sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.

• Job 2:11-13

• • •

My dear friend,

Christians believe in words and their power. And well we should. Our sacred book begins with God speaking and bringing order to a chaotic world. The Gospel begins with the Word made flesh. Our very faith comes through hearing the word of God. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus, went through all the land, teaching and proclaiming God’s word about the kingdom of heaven. Great is the company of those who bring the word!

But we often forget the word of wisdom:

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).

laurel_hardy9Fitly spoken, he said.

  • Spoken at the right time.
  • Spoken when appropriate.
  • Spoken after listening.
  • Spoken after having given thought to what I’m about to say.
  • Spoken with proper understanding of the circumstances.
  • Spoken with sensitivity to the other’s feelings and concerns.
  • Spoken after listening.
  • Spoken after having checked my motives.
  • Spoken with due humility, realizing I may not know the whole story.
  • Spoken in conjunction with a willingness to do something to help.
  • Spoken in as few words as possible.
  • Spoken with carefully chosen words.
  • Spoken prayerfully.
  • Spoken after listening.

Woe is me! For I am a man of unclean lips. I am utterly dependent on God’s Word to cleanse me. Only through grace and the Spirit can I give a word fitly spoken.

Until then, shh. . . quiet.

Job’s friends did more good in one verse of silence than in thirty-five chapters of words.

That’s something to think about today.

In silence.

Set a guard over my mouth, LORD;
keep watch over the door of my lips.

• Psalm 141:3

Originally posted in February 2011

]]> 30
Andy Zehner: How to win an argument . . . like a Christian Wed, 19 Nov 2014 05:01:13 +0000 lou arguing

Note from CM:  Andy and Damaris Zehner have been good friends for many years, and I have participated in any number of vigorous, vibrant conversations with them about matters of faith and life. iMonk readers have the privilege of reading Damaris regularly, today here’s a re-post of something Andy contributed back in 2011.

• • •

Chaplain Mike once wrote this nice post regretting what happens when Christians get “political.” By adding my own bit here I affirm what he said. Anything we do from a desire to score off someone else is wrong. But there’s another point I would add. It is too small a thing merely to avoid contentiousness. We do nothing good when guided by our ego, but even when ego is controlled we cannot be content.

i-despise-pinstripes0Doctrine and practice matter. The Old Testament is packed with proof — Cain’s vegetable offering, Nadab and Abihu’s unauthorized fire, the blemished sacrifices God despises in Malachi — that God doesn’t accept all that is offered to Him. God’s glory demands that He be worshiped in ways that are acceptable to Him. We latter-day believers worship in spirit and truth, but none of us knows how broad a license that phrase confers. “In spirit and truth” is not the same as “what works for me.” God allows us latitude in our practices, but when the fences are down the sheep will wander: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Tim. 4:3) We have a duty to stand firm for right doctrine and practice.

Before a church-league softball game years ago, I suggested to my teammates that we try to win the game. I said we’d honor our opponents by giving our best effort between the chalk lines. By their dropped jaws and incredulous stares you might have supposed I wanted to brush off their lead-off hitter with the old high, hard one or go into second with our spikes up. They seemed to think we did enough if we went through the motions, and that serious effort was unChristian. I suspect many Christians take the same approach — content to make the appropriate motions and noises without much care for the outcome — to discussions about religion and faith.

But here’s the delightful thing. Fervency for right doctrine and practice does not require us to compromise courtesy. We aren’t being pulled in two directions. It’s not a case of, “You put down your rock and I’ll put down my sword.” We aren’t required to give up anything except what impairs us. Fulfilling the call to be gracious makes us more effective in defending the faith. You catch more flies with honey.

My thesis is that we need to add a firm resolve to defend good doctrine and practice to the graciousness Chaplain Mike commended to us earlier. Let me back that up with a few principles showing how courtesy and humility go hand in hand with persuasiveness.

Speak the plain truth
Christian debate is infected with unkind and inaccurate hyperbole. Hyperbole is fun, but it isn’t honest. We need to stop using it. Contemporary worship services are not “cheesy rock concerts.” People who attend traditional services are not “corpses.” Liturgical services are not “hide-bound magic shows.” Old doctrines are not “medieval superstitions.” This sort of mischaracterization has no place in Christian discourse. Misquoting another person is false witness and sinful. Anyway, mischaracterizations don’t work. When we describe people in terms like these I’ve mentioned, they won’t recognize themselves and they won’t acknowledge the criticism as pertaining to them. The point we are making goes off track. If we care about persuading people and defending right doctrine we must give up what isn’t honest and accurate.

Speak graciously
CS Lewis says, in his Reflections on the Psalms, “It can be argued that if the windows of various ministries and newspapers were more often broken, if certain people were more often put under pumps and pelted in the streets, we should get on a great deal better.” But Lewis stops short of endorsing violent action. It would be an effective tool, but it is one we cannot wield. And neither can we accomplish anything good with aggressive speech.

The crowd came to be baptized, and John the Baptist called them a brood of vipers. Whatever John said to Herod Antipas got him imprisoned and beheaded. Jesus himself addressed the Jewish authorities as hypocrites, whitewashed sepulchers and blind guides. And the less said about Paul’s comment about the false teachers in Galatia the better. From these examples I would draw no lesson at all. Peter instructs the believers to always be ready to give an answer, but adds, “Do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.”

0626-piniellaListen and wait
Consider the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. James wasn’t the biggest name attending that meeting, but he made the vital contribution to the outcome by waiting until after Peter, Barnabas, Paul, and perhaps others, had finished speaking. James comprehended the whole debate before he spoke. And, clever fellow, he even brought Peter onto his side by citing Peter’s earlier statement in support of his own.

I have, on occasion, listened while another person stated his opinion, the preceded to find the obvious flaws in it and reverse himself without any input from me. If I had stuck my oar in, it would have been my ideas he reacted to and not his own.

More questions, fewer answers
My high school friend grew up as I did in a traditional denominational church. But he now declares hymns are unfit for church because, “They don’t know what a diadem is.”  When he said this to me in a recent conversation, I didn’t know how to respond. I should have asked him many honest questions: Who is this they you speak of? Is they the people who attend your services now, or an unchurched demographic you hope to attract in the future? How do you know what they know? Would it be possible to just explain that a diadem is a crown? Doesn’t the hymn you disparage for introducing an unfamiliar word in one line, “Bring forth the royal diadem,” clarify that word in the very next line: “And crown Him Lord of all?” If you reject this hymn as a means of teaching Jesus as King of Kings, how do you teach that important aspect of His nature? Are you only trying to update the vocabulary, or are you changing Christianity?

If I had asked and listened, I might have discovered that my friend is not as wayward as I suspected. Or I might have helped him realize for himself how slight his position is. Either way, our conversation would have been more pleasant and profitable. Some readers might think my questions are too provocative. But people like to talk. They don’t mind what you ask, so long as you listen to their answer.

Cite experts rather than your own opinion
As our conversation went round and round it became obvious my friend didn’t care about my opinion. But my opinion and his respect for it ought never have come into play. I ought to have preferred the more potent weapons and strategies that were available to me. History tells us that hundreds of French knights were slaughtered by arrows from English peasants’ bows at the battles of Crecy and Agincourt. Even as they fell in ranks, the French knights ignored the archers because their chivalric code demanded that a knight fight against another knight. Like the French knights, I suffered a defeat because I persisted in using the polemical weapons that preserved my dignity rather than those that would have succeeded.

My friend and his idea of church may be right or wrong. What is certain is that what he believes about church comes from Bill Hybels and the Willow Creek model. The fact that Hybels himself has disavowed much that he pioneered ought to matter to my friend. I should have avoided my own inferior thoughts and the desire to win my way, and instead quoted from Hybels’ Reveal report.

Avoid saying “They”
This one may be most important of all. Paul declares in the second chapter of Galatians, “When Peter came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” Paul’s reproach was, no doubt, effective because he said what needed saying to Peter’s face and not behind his back. If our goal is to win arguments and persuade people toward right doctrine and good practice, we must be talking to those people. And yet most political talk (both the political political talk on the radio and internet news channels and the religious political talk on this forum and around the coffee hour table) is commentary about people who aren’t even present.

We abhor confrontation, so we avoid saying tough things directly to the people who need to hear them. But I think we need to train ourselves to do that, or to stay silent.

Know what you’re arguing about, and concede as much as you can
Have you found yourself arguing a point which, on later reflection, wasn’t the thing you wanted to stress? When that happens, I can often look back over the conversation and find the moment at which I dug in my heels and began arguing for argument’s sake.

I have a friend who is Orthodox, and once we were going around about it. I was prosing on about the importance of a cultural context for Christianity and how I had labored among the Kyrgyz to free them of Russian symbols and practices that were hindering the development of a true Kyrgyz heart-language church. I continued by stressing that America deserves a church free from foreign overtones as much as the Kyrgyz did. At last I paused, well convinced by myself, and my friend asked the only real question between us, which was, “Do you have any doubts that I am a genuine Christian?” I answered, “No, none at all!” And that was all that needed to be said.

lou-piniella-last-game-chicago-cubs-823jpgjpg-9362491de24bea2a_largeKnow when to quit
Let’s be honest. Some people are thick. But that only raises our obligation. The thick-headed man deserves a compelling explanation just as much as the wise and logical man does. Unpersuasive arguments such as “Take my word for it!” need to be set aside. I need to try harder, not less hard, when the nut is hard to crack.

But there is also the possibility that I’m not the man for the job. An antinomian heresy was spreading in Kyrgyzstan several years ago and I confronted the leaders about their error. Our conversation led one of them finally to say, “I just can’t understand why you say we aren’t right.”  And I came to the point where I said, “I believe you. You can’t understand it.”  But I must see it as my own failing and not his. I let him down.

• • •

I hope I have made the case that we need to stay in the debate over doctrine and practice even as we give up methods that don’t work well anyway. Peter wrote, “Always be prepared to give an answer . . .” And I’m sure he intended that the answer we give be correct and compelling. When he added, “But do this with gentleness and respect,” he was stipulating both Christian virtue and pragmatic polemical strategy.

]]> 74
Another Look: Boot Camp Blather Tue, 18 Nov 2014 05:01:19 +0000 Sgt Carter 1

Note from CM: In July 2010, I wrote a rant that grew out of my attempts to comment on some other sites known for their strong views on a particular literalist interpretation of Genesis 1-2. Unlike the vast majority of the discussions here at Internet Monk, the “conversations” were nothing of the kind. I was shouted down and ridiculed. My commitment to the Bible, my faith and salvation were openly doubted and I was deemed a “dangerous” character. In their view, I was either “all the way in” or categorically on the outside. It appeared to me that I had entered a military camp and was being made subject to military discipline. The other commenters on the blog suspected me as a spy in the camp, and if not quite an enemy, at least an outsider who didn’t have a clue, likely to spill ignorance and doubt all over their tidy barracks.

That is NOT Internet Monk. However each of us, your gentle Chaplain included, has an inner fundamentalist that wants to forcibly conform others to the TRUTH™ as I see it. So this rant targets me too. If I ever let my secret “Sgt. Carter” get the best of me when we converse, I expect you to call me on it, just as I called the community out yesterday.

For today, let us consider the advisability of using the sword as we discuss God and life together.

• • •

Where does all this Christian militarism come from anyway? Why does every issue have to be framed as “The Battle for This” and “The Battle for That”?

Sgt Carter 2In one post that I read and to which I responded, a well-known teacher used the following language:

  • We must not make “friendly alliances.”
  • We must not “surrender ground.”
  • Now is the time to “take a stand.”
  • It is our duty to “be on guard” against views that are “hostile to the truth.”
  • We must “expose” and “vigorously oppose” such views.
  • Now is no time for “retreat” or “compromise.”

And the final dire warning:

  • To weaken our commitment to the biblical view of creation would start a chain of disastrous moral, spiritual, and theological ramifications in the church that will greatly exacerbate the terrible moral chaos that already has begun the unraveling of secular society.

That kind of talk can still push my buttons, but not at all in the way the writer intended! Instead of making me want to charge into battle, this voice of doom makes me want to yell back, “Whoa! Slow down, General Patton! Who died and appointed you commanding officer? Who gave you the right to define this conflict? Who put those warmongering words in your mouth?”

Here was your peace-loving Chaplain’s comment to all that boot camp blather:

You know, this whole debate between Christians — and I stress this particular part of the debate — could be a healthy thing in the church. But it never will be as long as people like ____________ keep using these military metaphors suggesting that we are war with one another. Either declare those who disagree with you heretics and your side the only legitimate Christianity, and be done with it, or find some way to engage in a positive discussion and debate. But this trench warfare where we hunker down in our own holes and lob grenades at one another from a distance across no man’s land is only destructive to the fellowship and mission of the church. Sometimes I despair of Protestantism and its unending warfare. Quote all the NT verses you want justifying your militant position. The apostles only engaged in this kind of attack when battling enemies of the Gospel. Either declare the other side enemies of the Gospel, or find a better way. Please.

I mean, come on. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, by the wars you wage against other believers for your interpretation of the Bible?” You’ve got to be kidding me.

Honestly, I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.

Gomer Pyle (3)Are some people simply temperamentally confrontational like this, so that they see everything in “war” terms? Do some people just love the adrenalin rush, the sense that this very moment is the point of crisis, the meaning and significance that it gives to them when they feel called to participate in some vital, do or die contest? Do some people just like to fight?

Is this just their public face, the rhetoric they take up when preaching or writing, or are they like this at home too, and when they deal with individuals or situations in their lives or in the church? How would you like a pastor with this mentality to visit you in the hospital?

How did the faith of Jesus and the apostles get turned into such a “take the hill” charge? How did the ministry of servanthood get turned into an onslaught against those whom someone defines as the forces of darkness (which includes the other churches in town)? Since when has God’s mission been about flexing one’s muscles, rising up to defeat opponents by cold logic and force of argument, berating and belittling them? Is anyone else getting tired and cynical listening to the constant drone of the “watchmen” sounding alarms, promoting fear, and issuing dire warnings of chaos to come?

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:
In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. (Isa 30:15)

What happened to humility? to holding one’s interpretations and opinions with some sense of modesty and reserve? to abandoning the self-important delusion that the task is all up to me? to being willing to have civil discussions and debates with those who have other opinions rather than just preaching to the choir and lobbing grenades out of our protected little bunkers at the “enemy”? to loving our enemies, for heaven’s sake?

What happened to keeping the central teaching the central teaching?

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen.

If we’re going to “take a stand” anywhere, it should be here. Along with the other core creeds of the church, this is the central teaching that defines our faith.

  • Not a particular interpretation of Genesis.
  • Not the doctrine of inerrancy, a teaching not found in any of the foundational creeds or confessions of the church — Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant.
  • Not a specific outline of eschatological events.
  • Not one’s particular approach to ecclesiology such as church structure, leadership roles, specifics about how the sacraments should be practiced, or worship styles.
  • Not positions on specific social, cultural, or political issues.

gomerpyle 1Of course, Christians may (even should) study matters like these and develop convictions about them. Fine. Just don’t make them the central teaching of the faith. Just don’t consider them beyond discussion and absolutely non-negotiable. Just don’t turn every issue into a “battle” against the world and within the family.

What happened to keeping the main thing the main thing?

The Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God. (Micah 6:8, GNT)

So many of the drill sergeants that are constantly in our faces telling us to shape up and get ready for battle base their harangues on “God’s Word” and the plain truth it tells us. Folks, it doesn’t get any plainer than Micah 6:8.

  • God has told us what is good. From his point of view. His opinion, not ours.
  • He has laid down his requirements for his people in plain and simple language.
  • First, do what is right (or just). Get right and be right (in Jesus) and do right (in the Spirit). Act right and treat others right.
  • Second, love lovingkindness. Make it your heart’s desire above all else to be known as a person of love. A person who shows constant, faithful, compassionate, merciful, patient, kind, and sacrificial love to family and neighbors, friends and enemies alike.
  • Third, walk humbly with God. As The Message paraphrase puts it: “And don’t take yourself too seriously — take God seriously.” Big God, little me. He must increase, I must decrease. More spotlight on him. I am content in the shadows.

Simple. Plain. Much easier to grasp than trying to determine the genre and interpretation of Genesis 1!

I don’t find it believable that this kind of person — a Micah 6:8 type of person — could possibly graduate from the evangelical version of boot camp, take up arms, and go full bore into battle. I don’t picture a person who is concerned foremost about treating others right, showing them constant love, and living out of a humble walk with God playing the part of an aggressive warrior. Do you?

It’s time we started fighting the real battle, the one that is raging within. The one against self-deception, self-exaltation, and exaggerated self-importance. The one that tells me I’ve got to protect my (God’s!) territory and view others with suspicion as threats to my well-being. The one that says “I am called of God to tar and feather you because you are wrong, wrong, wrong!”

gomer 2Of course, you know I am not advising against a healthy spirit of discernment. I am advocating against the basic lack of trust and confidence in God and truth and the image of God in the neighbor that turns us into such savage beasts in the ways we deal with one another.

The internet, unfortunately, makes it easier to engage in the kinds of fruitless battles that are the subject of this rant. The technology has made it possible for whole armies of faceless people to unload on each other and never have to face any consequences in real life. One blog can take on another blog. Preachers and “teachers” (and internet chaplain-monks at weak moments) have a worldwide platform from which to launch attacks. It’s Protestantism gone to cyber-seed.

But let’s not blame the transport for the troops that have boarded it.

Enough boot camp and battlefield bluster and blather. Enough I say!

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” (Matt 26:52)

Thus endeth the rant.

]]> 138
Let’s take a break today. I think we need it. Mon, 17 Nov 2014 05:01:36 +0000 Raging Bull 2

Today, we’re going to take a break from conversation here at Internet Monk. This is a “no comment” post.

Why? Because on Friday there were too many comments that simply do not fit with what we are trying to do here.

I was very busy Friday and Saturday and so did not follow the discussion closely. This is not unusual; I work and have a family and other responsibilities. So does Mike Bell, the author of Friday’s post about how he became an egalitarian. After checking in at one point he became distressed about how people were getting off topic, launching personal attacks, and failing to contribute to a positive, respectful conversation. And so he wrote:

I was so disappointed with the tone and tenor of the comments, that rather than sifting through them and finding the few that actually interacted with the content of the post and contributed to the discussion, I decided to save myself the hours it would take to do that, and deleted them all. My apologies to those who tried to contribute in a positive way. I have limited availability on Fridays so have to hope that those who comment will behave themselves. Unfortunately today this was not the case. I had also hoped that there would have been more interaction with the actual content of the post, but this too was not the case.

I respect and back his decision.

These things happen from time to time on a blog like ours, so I don’t want to blow this out of proportion. This is no crisis. But it does give me the opportunity to do something that we usually find necessary about once a year — to remind our readers and commenters about the basic rules of participation at Internet Monk.

At the top of the page under the “ABOUT IM” drop-down menu is a link that directs readers to a page called, “FAQ/RULES.” I encourage you to take this conversation-free day to go there and read it thoroughly. In the meantime, here is a pertinent passage from it, summarizing my own approach to overseeing discussions on the blog:

editorCM: Michael was a little more aggressive than I am in confronting commenters, putting them on moderation, and banning them. I am learning how to do this moderating thing, and I ask that IM participants be patient with me.

I welcome diverse points of view. The IM auditorium has seats on the right, in the center, and on the left. Why would I want to be part of a discussion that only includes people who agree?

The main things that tick me off are:

  1. Those who only care about spouting their opinions and don’t listen to others,
  2. Name-calling, hitting below the belt, or questioning someone’s salvation just because they disagree on some point of theology or interpretation,
  3. Those who try to hijack the comment thread and lead it away from the point of the post in question,
  4. Those who refuse to heed the warnings of the moderator.

I want to reinforce what Michael [Spencer] said above [in the FAQs]: “I do not have any commitment to absolute free speech on my blog.” This is not a place for people to say anything they wish. Like life, you may not think the rules are fair or get applied consistently all the time. And you’ll be right.

We have something truly special here.

Let’s try and keep it that way.

]]> 0
Preparing for the New Church Year (3) Sun, 16 Nov 2014 05:01:10 +0000 allsaintsorthodoxchurch3__75619

The freest time in our adult life was after we were married and before we had children. Having graduated from college, we were no longer bound by a school schedule. We lived in a small, iconic Vermont village where the pace of life was slow, the program of our church modest, and our income too low to allow the pursuit of costly activities. We had no TV. Extended family demands were few. We could schedule vacations almost any time we desired and we had few events to attend. Life was simple, our calendar was uncomplicated.

We moved to Chicago after our first child was born. It was a new life, and calendar demands began to accumulate as our family grew. I was in seminary and working part-time. My wife worked full time. We had to arrange childcare. It wasn’t long before I was back in pastoral ministry, and we started dealing with school schedules for our children.

After we relocated again, this time to Indianapolis, white space on the calendar became more and more rare. I was on staff in a much busier church, our children became involved in various sports and extracurricular activities, and for the next fifteen years, the numerous calendars that merged into and became “the family calendar” ruled our life.

The school year calendar has been the basic template. Each new year began in late summer/early fall. It progressed through fall break to Thanksgiving, and then into the holiday program season, culminating the week of Christmas and New Year’s. School resumed in winter and kept us busy until Spring Break, which was also the time for Holy Week and Easter events. As school concluded in May and June, end of school year programs as well as spring and summer sports put additional demands on our schedule. And then we had to make arrangements for what the children would do over summer break. A few weeks in midsummer was the only “free” time—the only time available to get away or at least breathe for any length of time before it all started again.

To this day, I find myself shaped by that calendar. I can’t help feeling that fall is the beginning of the year, and the summer its end. The winter holidays mark the annual half-way point. This is the basic pattern for families in our culture. For the vast majority of my life it has been the pattern I’ve followed. Year after year after year, this schedule has formed my life’s habits.

That is what calendars do.

Here is the practical wisdom of Church Year spirituality. Following the Christian calendar is one way of recognizing that human beings are creatures of habit. It relies upon the fact that when we repeat patterns over and over and over again, those patterns mold us. They shape the way we think, feel, and act. For this reason musicians continually practice their scales and athletes drill the fundamentals of their sport. Through regular repetition habits are formed, consistency developed, and excellence achieved.

Christian spirituality adds another entire dimension to this idea of habit-forming practices. Human beings live in this world as “embodied selves” (to use Dallas Willard’s phrase). Through Jesus’ incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and outpouring of the Spirit, the power of God’s Kingdom has invaded our world. Those who trust in Christ and receive God’s grace are made new in him and given his Spirit. Believers have been made alive, raised up, and seated “in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6). We have “obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Rom 5:2). As we walk in God’s grace through Word and Sacrament and the practices of the spiritual life, the habits we form and live out in our bodily, earthly existence are infused with God’s own transforming power.

The disciplines for the spiritual life, rightly understood, are time-tested activities consciously undertaken by us as new men or women to allow our spirit ever-increasing sway over our embodied selves. They help by assisting the ways of God’s Kingdom to take the place of the habits of sin embedded in our bodies. (Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, 86)

In this way we begin to see glimpses of the answer to our prayers: “May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

What could be a more practical way of forming Christlike habits than following a calendar that points us to Jesus, that allows us repeated opportunities to meditate on his life, death, resurrection, and exaltation? What could be more down-to-earth than letting the Spirit transform the way we deem and use our time?

What if we started seeing the beginning of the year as the time to get ready to welcome Jesus at his coming? What if we spent a few weeks preparing our hearts and lives for his entrance into our world? What if we found ways of building anticipation and expectation for his arrival?

What if, to mark Jesus’ coming, we threw a great celebration, a feast that lasted for twelve days? What if we shared gifts with one another, our neighbors, and the needy during those days to commemorate the grace and mercy he showered upon us?

What if we lightened the darkness of the winter months by remembering Jesus’ ministry? What if we traced his steps as he went through all the towns and villages of Galilee and Judea, bringing light and love, healing and hope to the crowds? What if we saw this time of year as the time for our own mission activity in his name, joining Jesus in reaching out to those around us with the Good News of salvation?

What if we decided to take forty days of intense spiritual discipline at the start of spring to get ready for Holy Week, as Jesus took forty days in the wilderness to prepare for his journey to the Cross?

And what if we saw Holy Week as the high point of our year? What if we started to think of Easter as so important that we decided to take fifty days to celebrate it, not just one special Sunday?

What if we decided to mark the Church’s birthday? What if we gave the Spirit’s coming the same kind of attention that we gave to Jesus’ birth?

What if we realized that the “ordinary” time which fills the rest of the year, when we no longer mark the “extraordinary” events of Jesus’ life, is actually the time for us to walk daily in the salvation we’ve celebrated during the first part of the year? What if we took seriously that living in the world and fulfilling our vocations is the way we bring God’s love and goodness to the world every day?

What if we brought our year to a close by honoring all the saints who’ve helped show us the way of Jesus, and by honoring Christ as the King of our lives?

And what if we lived like this, year after year after year?

]]> 24
Saturday Ramblings — Nov. 15, 2014 Sat, 15 Nov 2014 05:01:56 +0000 1956-Rambler-Custom-Cross-Country-Station-WagonSaturday Ramblings, November 15, 2014

Leaves are still on some of the trees, but we could get our first measurable snowfall here in central Indiana this weekend. That means we’ll have to call off our Saturday picnic and find somewhere warm to do our rambling this week.

I’m not sure I’m up for a big outing anyway. Doing this week’s posts on Genesis and participating in the daily conversations (along with a full work and call schedule) took a lot of energy. It felt like I wrote four term papers and defended them before the class each day. Not saying I didn’t enjoy it, it was just more intense than usual, and by the end of the week it was Fried-Day for me.

However, rambling around here is not an option, so hop in and we’ll try to find a coffee shop or some place where we can relax for awhile and consider some of the stuff that whizzed by while we were doing other things.


888,246 ceramic poppies marked WWI’s 100th anniversary at the Tower of London on Remembrance Day.

Volunteers have spent months installing 888,246 hand-made poppies – each representing a British and Commonwealth soldier who died during WW1.

It is thought about five million people have visited the artwork entitled Blood-Swept Lands and Seas of Red by ceramic artist Paul Cummins, from Derbyshire.

. . . The former head of the British Army said: “The great thing about it is that people are engaged with this.

“I think they have taken ownership of it and the reason why I think they have done that is that specific number, 888,246 – not a random number – that is the number of British and Colonial soldiers who lost their lives in the First World War.

“Every poppy represents a life lost and a family shattered.”

BBC News London

ESA’s Rosetta mission soft-landed its Philae probe on Comet 67P/C–G Wednesday.

ESA’s Rosetta mission landed its Philae probe on Comet 67P/C–G Wed. after a journey of more than 10 years.

“Our ambitious Rosetta mission has secured a place in the history books: not only is it the first to rendezvous with and orbit a comet, but it is now also the first to deliver a lander to a comet’s surface,” noted Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s Director General.

“With Rosetta we are opening a door to the origin of planet Earth and fostering a better understanding of our future. ESA and its Rosetta mission partners have achieved something extraordinary today.”

“After more than 10 years travelling through space, we’re now making the best ever scientific analysis of one of the oldest remnants of our Solar System,” said Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration. ”

“Decades of preparation have paved the way for today’s success, ensuring that Rosetta continues to be a game-changer in cometary science and space exploration.”

European Space Agency

Less than two days after its historic landing, Rosetta’s probe may be reaching its final hours, and the scientific team is racing to collect as much data as possible before Philae’s batteries run out. It’s do or die, and at this point there’s very little to lose in terms of its lifespan.

As the mission team announced on Thursday, Philae’s bumpy landing left it in a shadowy spot. Its solar panels aren’t being exposed to nearly enough light to keep the lander going, and it left Earth with only a 60-hour charge. In all likelihood, Philae’s batteries will die sometime Friday evening.

• Rachel Feltman, Washington Post

❀ Here’s a link to ESA’s Flickr page with more images


Philip Jenkins, a scholar and Episcopal layman, does the math and finds out that at the Episcopal Church’s current rate of decline, there will be no more Episcopalians by the end of this century. Excerpt:

If we extrapolate that rate into the not-too-distant future, then the number of people attending Episcopal churches on a typical Sunday will be negligible by mid-century, typical of a tiny sect rather than a great church or denomination. It won’t reach zero for a while, but in effect, the church will cease to exist. We might need a new vocabulary of religious decline. How about church evaporation? That mid-century date is really not far off. In fact, the baby baptized at my church last Sunday will by that point only be a young adult in her 30s. Non-attending notional members will persist for a few years longer, but by the end of the century, we should be talking total disappearance. In that scenario, America’s last Episcopalian walks among us today. At some point, young people contemplating a clerical career will have to consider just how long there will indeed be a church for them to serve.

. . . Without a doubt the percentage of young Americans affiliating with particular churches/denominations is declining across the board (see Pew’s big study for more). The trend for almost everybody is bad, though Mormons and Pentecostals, to the contrary, are growing. Catholics are growing, but this is only because of immigration; if not for Latin American Catholics moving to the US, the Catholic Church in the US would be shedding members at the same rate as the Mainline Protestants. It’s tempting for Christians in conservative churches to look at the rolling collapse of liberal churches and feel affirmed, but leaving aside the duty to basic Christian charity, the situation is much too serious for Christianity on the whole to warrant conservative Schadenfreude.

• Rod Dreher, “Has the Last Episcopalian Been Born?”


Joseph and Emma Smith’s Mansion House, Nauvoo, Illinois

Note from CM: Many news sources, including NPR, reported on the Mormons publishing an essay detailing Joseph Smith’s plural marriage practices, a revelation which many historians welcomed as a sign that the LDS organization is becoming more forthcoming about its history. Here is an excerpt from the essay:

During the era in which plural marriage was practiced, Latter-day Saints distinguished between sealings for time and eternity and sealings for eternity only. Sealings for time and eternity included commitments and relationships during this life, generally including the possibility of sexual relations. Eternity-only sealings indicated relationships in the next life alone.

Evidence indicates that Joseph Smith participated in both types of sealings. The exact number of women to whom he was sealed in his lifetime is unknown because the evidence is fragmentary. Some of the women who were sealed to Joseph Smith later testified that their marriages were for time and eternity, while others indicated that their relationships were for eternity alone.

Most of those sealed to Joseph Smith were between 20 and 40 years of age at the time of their sealing to him. The oldest, Fanny Young, was 56 years old. The youngest was Helen Mar Kimball, daughter of Joseph’s close friends Heber C. and Vilate Murray Kimball, who was sealed to Joseph several months before her 15th birthday. Marriage at such an age, inappropriate by today’s standards, was legal in that era, and some women married in their mid-teens. Helen Mar Kimball spoke of her sealing to Joseph as being “for eternity alone,” suggesting that the relationship did not involve sexual relations. After Joseph’s death, Helen remarried and became an articulate defender of him and of plural marriage.

Following his marriage to Louisa Beaman and before he married other single women, Joseph Smith was sealed to a number of women who were already married. Neither these women nor Joseph explained much about these sealings, though several women said they were for eternity alone. Other women left no records, making it unknown whether their sealings were for time and eternity or were for eternity alone.

•, Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo


[Philip Yancey’s most recent book is Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?]

Why did you choose to revisit the subject of grace?

Sociologist and researcher Amy Sherman has said that Christians tend to have three models for interacting with society: fortification, accommodation, and domination. To put that in layman’s terms: We hunker down amongst ourselves, water down our witness, or beat down our opponents. For many reasons, those aren’t New Testament models.

So what should we be? We need to create pioneer settlements that show the world a different, grace-based way of living.

We have been spoiled in the United States because of our religious heritage. There was once a common Christian consensus. A few generations ago, Billy Graham would fill the largest stadium in any city, stand up, and say “the Bible says,” and have the audience nod along. Today, belief in the Bible can’t be taken for granted, so appeals to the Bible won’t have the same power. The new paradigm, in this culture, is that you reach out with acts of mercy that touch people’s hearts, and hopefully they want to know why.

We hear nowadays about Christian groups losing university recognition or public prayers and Christmas displays being banned. We feel on the defensive and that we’re the outliers. But much of Christian history has been lived this way, like it was during the Roman Empire, when a small number of Christians modeled another way to live. In a culture like ours, we need to demonstrate first how faith in Christ makes a difference in how we live.

Amy Julia Becker interviews Philip Yancey at CT

VeteranHeard while rambling around this week . . .

Justus Belfield, a 98-year-old World War II veteran U.S. soldier, salutes on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2014.

Belfield had worn his Army uniform every Veterans Day since he and his wife moved into the nursing home outside Albany several years ago. On Tuesday, the former master sergeant wasn’t able to get out of bed to participate in the facility’s Veterans Day festivities, so he had the staff dress him in his uniform.

Belfield passed away the next day.

The week that was and is . . .

I always look forward to this week and the next two in November. Three of the most beautiful women in my life, my mother (this week), my wife (next week), and my oldest daughter (the following week) celebrate their birthdays. Seems like not too long ago I was driving our family around the southern end of Lake Michigan this time of year to visit my great-grandmother on her birthday too. She lived to age 103, and I remember well when I enjoyed the company of five generations of women who have embodied her name and example: Grace. This is a special time of year for me.

“An excellent woman, who can find? Her price is far above rubies.”

]]> 121
How I Became an… Egalitarian Fri, 14 Nov 2014 05:59:52 +0000 sistine-chapel-fresco-michelangelo

Update from CM: Comments are now closed.

Update from Mike Bell: I was so disappointed with the tone and tenor of the comments, that rather than sifting through them and finding the few that actually interacted with the content of the post and contributed to the discussion, I decided to save myself the hours it would take to do that, and deleted them all. My apologies to those who tried to contribute in a positive way. I have limited availability on Fridays so have to hope that those who comment will behave themselves. Unfortunately today this was not the case. I had also hoped that there would have been more interaction with the actual content of the post, but this too was not the case. The commenting section is still open. Feel free to add your voice, but do so in a respectful way, engaging the topic at hand.

• • •

While most of my other “How I Became” posts have told a story, this week I want to focus on one particular part of my journey into egalitarianism. This week we have been talking about the creation story, and this creation story has played a significant role in my taking on the egalitarian views that I have.

First a quick definition. For me, egalitarianism as it relates to the church is that individuals are given roles and responsibilities based on giftedness rather than gender.

I had grown up in a church that was complementarian. Through my journey I have learned that both complementarians and egalitarians have compelling and persuasive arguments. If one was to only read Paul, one might likely conclude that the creation story teaches that male headship. But, when I took a look at the creation story itself, a different picture began to emerge.

I found that I wasn’t alone in my thinking on the topic. Several years later I found this statement by the group Christians for Biblical Authority, and I found it mirrored many of my own thoughts.

1. The Bible teaches that both man and woman were created in God’s image, had a direct relationship with God, and shared jointly the responsibilities of bearing and rearing children and having dominion over the created order (Gen 1:26–28).

2. The Bible teaches that woman and man were created for full and equal partnership. The word “helper” (ezer ) used to designate woman in Genesis 2:18 refers to God in most instances of Old Testament usage (e.g. I Sam 7:12; Ps 121:1–2). Consequently the word conveys no implication whatsoever of female subordination or inferiority.

3. The Bible teaches that the forming of woman from man demonstrates the fundamental unity and equality of human beings (Gen 2:21–23). In Genesis 2:18, 20 the word “suitable” (kenegdo) denotes equality and adequacy.

4. The Bible teaches that man and woman were co-participants in the Fall: Adam was no less culpable than Eve (Gen 3:6; Rom 5:12–21; I Cor 15:21–22).

5. The Bible teaches that the rulership of Adam over Eve resulted from the Fall and was therefore not a part of the original created order. Genesis 3:16 is a prediction of the effects of the Fall rather than a prescription of God’s ideal order.

Christians for Biblical Equality

I remember having a conversation with a complementarian friend about this a number of years ago. “Ah,” he said, “but do you realize that Adam named Eve, like they both named the animals, showing his authority over her?” “Yes,” I replied, “but did you realize that he only did so after the fall? In fact the naming of Eve is immediately following the curses of Genesis 3.”

In my mind, male headship is not part of God’s creation plan. When men and women, husbands and wives are walking in God’s will, the question is not is it his way or her way, but is it God’s way. Paul seems to only pull out the headship trump card when thinks are going badly and when specific situations need to be dealt with. In a church like Philippi, he talks not of headship but of servanthood and humility. In his letters to the Galations he proclaims: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I could go on at length about why I favor egalitarianism over complementarianism. The arguments on either side have filled many books. For me it has come down to three things.

1. I believe that Paul’s commands were specifically addressed to deal with problem situations. For example, the fact that Ephesus was the location of the Goddess Artemis, and the influences that that would have had on the church, really helps to explain why he had to lay down the hammer in that region.

2. I believe that there is continuum in scripture between the fallen state of Genesis 3:16 (“Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”) and Galations 3:28 (“nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”)

3. Ephesians 4:1 urges us to “live a life worthy of the [heavenly] calling you have received.” My goal then is not to live according to the fallen state, but to live as a member of Christ’s kingdom, where there is neither male nor female. When you look at the ideal that Paul lays out in Ephesians 4, this is not an ideal of hierarchy, but an ideal of humbleness and unity in Christ.

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4:1-6 (NIV)

]]> 68
Fall, or Folly? (4): As It Was in the Beginning . . . Thu, 13 Nov 2014 05:10:45 +0000 Sunset at Montmajour, Van Gogh

Sunset at Montmajour, Van Gogh

Same as it ever was . . .
Same as it ever was . . .

“Once in a Lifetime,” Talking Heads

• • •

This has been an interesting week for me at Internet Monk. As I’ve studied, thought, conversed, and prayed my way through these posts, I’ve gained a new clarity in my understanding about what the early chapters of Genesis are trying to communicate. Ever since my days in seminary, when Dr. John Sailhamer blew my mind with perspectives on Genesis that I had never conceived of, much less considered, I’ve come back to these chapters over and over again. As I have, I’ve been particularly impressed with how so many western Christian traditional views of Genesis are divorced from the original Jewish nature and perspective of the text.

For example, the concept of “the fall,” not just of Adam and Eve, but of the whole human race through them, is one of those aspects of Christian teaching, particularly in the Augustinian tradition, that I find hard to square with the actual stories we read in the Hebrew Bible.

Many Christians have this notion that the day they sampled fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the world underwent a dramatic change. Before that moment, all was not only “good,” not only “very good,” but pristine, perfect. Adam and Eve were the only humans in the world. They were perfect and immortal. Animals were not predators or carnivorous. There was no pain or death or disease. No such thing as a natural disaster had ever taken place.

One bite, and the previously sanitary and fragrant solid waste hit the fan.

Memory of the Garden at Etten, Van Gogh

Memory of the Garden at Etten, Van Gogh

The very nature of human beings changed. Not only did Adam and Eve cover up and hide and make excuses, but at that very moment, seven deadly impulses began coursing through human veins. The hospitable natural world around them — in an instant — became fraught with dangerous conditions and creatures. Tigers grew teeth and big birds morphed into vultures. People began to age (although slowly at first — look at the ages in Genesis 5!). They developed sniffles and headaches and diseases because bacteria and viruses (which apparently before that had either been non-existent or beneficent) became hostile. Accidents started occurring — a broken limb here, a bloodied brow there. No one had ever known fear before or a whole host of other emotions which protect the human psyche. Nature began its never-ending cycle of death and rebirth through the changing seasons. Previously lush landscapes started turning arid. Trees fell. Fruit rotted on the ground. Naked vegetarians whittled spears and knives and began hunting for their supper and new wardrobes. For the first time, tears. Arguments broke out where never a cross word had been spoken. The first grave was dug. The first poet sat under a tree and in her melancholy asked, “What’s it all about?”

This absolute transformation of humans, animals, plants, nature, and the entire cosmos began to happen “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” when Adam and Eve tasted the forbidden fruit. People fell from the heights of immortality and perfection to the depths of depravity (at least in their hearts). Nature doubled over and groaned as the birth pangs commenced.

If that is anything like what happened in Adam and Eve’s “fall,” then their story is of extremely limited interest to me. It is a relic that merely informs me about something that happened long ago (and something rather inconceivable I might add) to two people with whom I have little in common.

That’s not how the Jewish people have read this story. Nor is it how many Christians, particularly those in the Eastern Church, have read it.

Broadly, they have read it as a story of wisdom, as an exemplary tale given first to Israel and then to the world.

We, all of us, are Adam and Eve. We are brought into the world not as perfect people, nor as depraved sinners because of some inherited sin nature which makes us totally corrupt. We are born simple. That is, human beings are personally, morally, and spiritually unformed, naïve, and susceptible to temptation and making bad choices. We are children who need to grow up. It is our duty to trust God and gain his saving, transforming wisdom, which “is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her” (Prov. 3:18).

Someone will ask, “Are you saying then, that people naturally have the potential to make the right choices and lead sinless lives?

I will answer: No. I believe in the universal sinfulness of humanity. No person who has ever lived, save Jesus, has been free from sin. No baby born from this day on will be without sin. The simple will always fall short. The simple will blow it regularly and often. The simple cannot avoid all the pitfalls life throws at him. The simple will invariably succumb to some temptation, fail some test, transgress some boundary.

On the other hand, sometimes kids amaze us with “wisdom beyond their years.” The image of God we bear is also visible in human experience. I’ve always been attracted to Scot McKnight’s description of people as “cracked Eikons” (“eikon” being the Greek word for “image”). Beauty and brokenness. Foolishness and wisdom. Good choices as well as bad. Responsibility as well as recklessness or rebellion.

If the point of the Adam and Eve story was that they inaugurated an entirely new situation in human experience, that they were transformed through their act into hopeless sinners and began passing that on to their children so that all people are born without any ability or capacity to do what is right or to engage in behavior pleasing to God and good for their neighbors, then why did the Jews not pick this up? Why does the Hebrew Bible continually call them to pursue wisdom and do what is right? Why does the Pentateuch, which begins with the story of Adam and Eve, end with Moses using words from that very story to tell the people that they should avoid the poor decision their ancestors made and choose the way of life instead?

For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity [good], and death and adversity [evil]; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it.

• Deuteronomy 30:11-16

Adam and Eve teach us that every human being is on this road from simplicity to wisdom, from being unformed to mature, from naïve to discerning. The full Christian answer to our human condition involves turning from our own ways to becoming united with God by his grace through faith in Christ and engaging in the process that the Eastern Church calls “theosis” — in which Christ becomes fully formed in us as “wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1Cor. 1:30).

Thistles, Van Gogh

Thistles, Van Gogh

What about the creation? Did the very world we live in, the very cosmos that houses us, undergo a dramatic transformation from “paradise” to “nature red in tooth and claw”? Yesterday, one of our commenters asked about Romans 8:18ff:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. (8:18-22)

The question is whether this passage supports the common interpretation that nature itself was transformed by the “curse” that God announced after Adam and Eve’s sin (Genesis 3:14-19). Although it is common for some interpreters to link this text with Genesis 3, it is by no means a universally accepted position. For example, C. John Collins, who sets forth fairly conservative interpretations of the Genesis narratives in his book, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary, doesn’t think this interpretation holds up.

He notes that there are no explicit allusions to Genesis 3 here. There may be allusions to other OT texts, such as the word “futility,” which looks back to Ecclesiastes. Collins observes that the key term in Romans is “decay” (Gk. psthora), translated in some versions as “corruption.” The passage that uses this term in the Greek OT is Genesis 6, which describes the world’s condition in the days of Noah. Collins draws out the implications of this:

Seen this way, the creation is “in bondage to decay,” not because of changes in the way it works but because of the “decay” (or “corruption”) of mankind, and in response to man’s “decay” God “brings decay to” (or “destroys) the earth to chastise man. The creation is “subjected to futility” because it has sinful mankind in it, and thus it is the arena in which mankind expresses its sin and experiences God’s judgments. No wonder it “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God,” for then the sons of God will be perfect in holiness, and sin will be no more. Paul here sees the resurrection of the sons of God as a blessing not only for themselves but also for the whole creation. (p. 184)

Human sinfulness definitely has effects on the world and creation as a whole. However, I don’t think Scripture supports the notion that the world changed in its very nature or workings in the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s transgression.

We and this world we live in have always been mixed bags. As it was in the beginning, it is now and will be until the day Christ makes all things new. Until then:

The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom;
And with all your acquiring, get understanding.

(Prov. 4:7)

]]> 84
Fall, or Folly? (3): Paul Reads the Story Wed, 12 Nov 2014 05:01:14 +0000 The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, West

The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, West

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

• Romans 5:12-14, NASB

[Paul] does not posit a perfect pre-fallen state, nor does he attribute later human sin to the sin of Adam. Rather, he sees Adam as a kind of beginning — the beginning of a death-bound mode of life.

• Peter Bouteneff, Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives

• • •

Christian tradition has held certain views about “the fall,” “original sin,” and the part Adam played in plunging humankind into ruin on the basis of a few words by the Apostle Paul in the letter to the Romans (5:12-21). There is also a short statement focusing on the resurrection in 1Corinthians (15:21-22, see v. 45). Other than these two passages and the seminal story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-4, the Bible is virtually silent about Adam and the nature and results of his first-recorded transgression.

The only other certain references to Adam in the OT are found in genealogies: in Genesis 5 and 1Chronicles 1:1. In the Gospels, Jesus never mentions Adam and Eve by name or refers to their sin. Matthew and Luke include him in Jesus’ genealogies and Jude names Adam in another genealogical reference. Paul writes of Adam and Eve on one other occasion in a discussion about men and women in the church (1Timothy 2:13-14).

This paucity of material may come as a surprise to some, since the Creation-Fall-Redemption template using the account of Adam and Eve in a prominent role has become part and parcel of the way Christians present the message of the Bible and salvation.

Given this background, why did Paul set his attention on Adam in Romans 5?

Death of Adam, Francesca

Death of Adam, Francesca

First, as many have noted, there was an explosion of interest in the paradise narratives in post-biblical Jewish literature in the intertestamental period. As Peter Bouteneff writes,

[D]uring the centuries under review, and especially during the first century of our era, several of the key, enduring questions surrounding the creation and predicament of the human person as treated in Genesis 1-3 were already on the table, even if they were not yet receiving clear and consistent answers. (p.25)

A vibrant discussion was taking place in Jewish literature in this period, raising questions (1) about Adam — was he a figure who stood for humanity in general or an individual? (2) about Eve — was she (a woman) ultimately responsible for the entrance of sin? (3) about the state of the first-created humanity — a dual legacy emerged, that of both a glorious Adam and a tragic transgressor, (4) about what the effect was of the first transgression on subsequent humanity — there is a whole mixed bag of opinions and interpretations, from denying that Adam’s sin played any causal role, to exonerating him completely and blaming Cain, to holding him responsible for subsequent human sin because he was the progenitor of all humanity.

One prominent voice was that of Philo, whose view Bouteneff summarizes: “The transgression is regarded neither as the greatest of sins nor as the cause of subsequent sin. Rather, subsequent sin becomes progressively worse, effecting an ever greater distancing from the noble protoplast.” (p. 29) But Philo also set forth allegorical interpretations of Genesis that paved the way for later Christian allegorical thinkers such as Origen.

Paul’s use of Adam must be seen in the context of this discussion. He didn’t make it up.

Second, it is clear that the primary reason Paul turned his attention on the one man Adam in the biblical story is because he began his thinking with the one man Jesus Christ.

His starting point was Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, who rose from the dead and was thereby declared Son of God and Lord of all, Jew and Gentile alike (Romans 1:1-5). For Paul, one Man now ruled the world, bringing life to everyone. As he sought to communicate this good news to both Jews and Gentiles, he thought through the biblical history and found a type (Romans 5:14) in Adam, one man who likewise had a worldwide influence by his actions.

And Paul is especially concerned to show how the world was filled with sin and death in the time before the Jewish Law was given at Mt. Sinai, making clear God’s religious, moral, and ethical standards (Romans 5:14). Adam and Eve set that “beginning” era into motion.

According to Paul, what did Adam do? As the first recorded transgressor, he initiated an ongoing process of sin and death that affects the entire world. Therefore, Adam is the perfect foil for Christ. “Putting Adam and Christ together in Romans 5 is merely a way of showing how the actions of one lone figure can have profound (though opposite) effects on many people” (Bouteneff, p. 40). Paul is not analyzing and explaining Adam’s story as much as he is interpreting Christ through setting up the well-known case of Adam as his antithesis.

It is important that we not take this comparison too far and draw conclusions from it that are unwarranted. Again, Bouteneff:

[Paul] does not posit a perfect pre-fallen state, nor does he attribute later human sin to the sin of Adam. Rather, he sees Adam as a kind of beginning — the beginning of a death-bound mode of life. (p. 45)

There is nothing here about drastic changes in the world or the nature of humanity after Adam’s sin, nothing about how Adam passed on a newly acquired sin nature to his progeny, or how his children bear original guilt because of the ancestral transgression. Nowhere in Genesis, the rest of the Bible, or in Paul is Adam blamed for any sin other than his own. Sin and death passed to all people, Paul says, because “all sinned,” which is fully consistent with what we read in Genesis 1-11. There is no denying the universality of sin and death, and that story begins with Adam, but we each bear our own blame.

All that Paul seems to want to say is that this epoch of human history is characterized and determined by the fatal interplay of sin and death — a partnership first established in power at the beginning of the epoch, through the one man Adam.

• James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1-8 (WBC)

• • •

The main adjustment that Paul must instill in Jew and Gentile alike is the establishment of Jesus Christ as not only a prophet and not only a prophet to the Jews but also universal Savior and, still more, the one in whom is founded not just Israel but all of creation.

This is part and parcel of Paul’s transformation of the scriptural message. Genesis becomes the story not just of the origins of Israel but of the beginning of universal humanity, and this in turn paves the way for stressing the universality of salvation in Christ for the Jew and for the Greek. Paul’s universalization of the Scriptures and his understanding of the Scriptures as revealing Christ are thoroughly interrelated. Together they constitute the cornerstone of his work in the establishment of Christian thought. (Bouteneff, p. 38)

]]> 87