Posts Tagged ‘ Bible ’

In the world – not of it

Fine quote from Archbishop Charles Chaput:

„For forty years, Catholics have heard a steady chorus of how we need to be open to the world, learn from the world, honor the good things in the world, and be more humble in our approach to the world. All of this is true. God created the world, and He loves it, and He sent His only Son to redeem it.
But at the same time, God wills that the world should be converted and sanctified, not worshiped. In his Gospel, Saint John describes the “world” as everything that is aligned against God. Jesus shed His blood on the cross because that was the price of redeeming the world—from its sins and our sins. The cross was real. Christ’s suffering was real. And if the world isn’t a holier place today than yesterday, it’s because we Catholics have chosen the unreality of the world and its distractions over the reality of the cross.
We’ve assimilated. We’ve been too comfortable and accommodating. We’ve listened to the world too politely when it lies about abortion, or contraception, or divorce, or the death penalty, or our obligations to the poor, or the rights of undocumented workers, or the real meaning of pluralism, or our international responsibilities—and we haven’t shouted out the truth.
The world is a powerful and attractive teacher, but while it can often give us what we want, it can’t give us what we need. We need God.“

(from ‚The Church as Mother and Teacher‘)

Protestant Catholic

A brilliant insight from Helmut Richard Niebuhr (American Christian Ethicist and Theologians; 1894-1962) concerning the interdependence of Catholicism and Protestantism:

„The Church is protestant and catholic. This is not only to say that there is much historic Protestantism in those institutions called Catholic churches, and much historic Catholicism in the institutions called Protestant. It is also to say that the principle of protest against every tendency to confuse the symbol with what it symbolizes and the subject with the object, is a constituent element in the being of the community, even apart from the institutional organizations. The Church as the people of God, whether under the Old or the New Covenants, is always the party of protest against religion in the religious human world. It protests against every effort to bring the Infinite into the finite, the transcendent into the immanent, the Eternal into the temporal. The only finite symbol of God it tolerates is the symbol of emptiness—the empty Holy of Holies, the empty tomb. But protest has no meaning apart from what is protested against. The Church cannot be protestant without being catholic. The principle of catholicity—as the principle of incarnation rather than the principle of universality—is as much an ingredient of churchliness as is the principle of protest. Unless the Infinite is represented in finite form, unless the Word becomes flesh over and over again, though only as oral preaching, unless the risen Christ manifests himself in the visible forms of individual saintliness and communal authority there is no human relation to the Infinite and Transcendent. Negative and positive movements—the one in rejection of all that is little because God is great, the other in affirmation of the apparently insignificant because God is its creator, redeemer and inspirer; the one away from the world that is not God, the other toward the world of which he is Lord— must both be represented where the Church exists.“

Tozer: Exposition must have application

„There is scarcely anything so dull and meaningless as Bible doctrine taught for its own sake. Truth divorced from life is not truth in its Biblical sense, but something else and something less. Theology is a set of facts concerning God, man and the world. These facts may be, and often are, set forth as values in themselves; and there lies the snare both for the teacher and for the hearer.

The Bible is among other things a book of revealed truth. That is, certain facts are revealed that could not be discovered by the most brilliant mind. These facts are of such a nature as to be past finding out. They were hidden behind a veil, and until certain men who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost took away that veil, no mortal man could know them. This lifting of the veil of unknowing from undiscoverable things we call divine revelation.

The Bible, however, is more than a volume of hitherto unknown facts about God, man and the universe. It is a book of exhortation based upon those facts. By far the greater portion of the book is devoted to an urgent effort to persuade people to alter their ways and bring their lives into harmony with the will of God as set forth in its pages.

No man is better for knowing that God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth. The devil knows that, and so did Ahab and Judas Iscariot. No man is better for knowing that God so loved the world of men that he gave his only begotten Son to die for their redemption. In hell there are millions that know that. Theological truth is useless until it is obeyed. The purpose behind all doctrine is to secure moral action.

What is generally overlooked is that truth as set forth in the Christian Scriptures is a moral thing; it is not addressed to the intellect only, but to the will also. It addresses itself to the total man, and its obligations cannot be discharged by grasping it mentally. Truth engages the citadel of the human heart and is not satisfied until it has conquered everything there. The will must come forth and surrender its sword. It must stand at attention to receive orders, and those orders it must joyfully obey. Short of this any knowledge of Christian truth is inadequate and unavailing.

Bible exposition without moral application raises no opposition. It is only when the hearer is made to understand that truth is in conflict with his heart that resistance sets in. As long as people can hear orthodox truth divorced from life they will attend and support churches and institutions without objection. The truth is a lovely song, become sweet by long and tender association; and since it asks nothing but a few dollars, and offers good music, pleasant friendships and a comfortable sense of well-being, it meets with no resistance from the faithful. Much that passes for New Testament Christianity is little more than objective truth sweetened with song and made palatable by religious entertainment.

Probably no other portion of the Scriptures can compare with the Pauline Epistles when it comes to making artificial saints. Peter warned that the unlearned and unstable would wrest Paul’s writings to their own destruction, and we have only to visit the average Bible Conference and listen to a few lectures to know what he meant. The ominous thing is that the Pauline doctrines may be taught with complete faithfulness to the letter of the text without making the hearers one whit better. The teacher may, and often does, so teach the truth as to leave the hearers without a sense of moral obligation.

One reason for the divorce between truth and life maybe the lack of the Spirit’s illumination. Another surely is the teacher’s unwillingness to get himself into trouble. Any man with fair pulpit gifts can get on with the average congregation if he just “feeds” them and lets them alone. Give them plenty of objective truth and never hint that they are wrong and should be set right, and they will be content.

On the other hand, the man who preaches truth and applies it to the lives of his hearers will feel the nails and the thorns. He will lead a hard life, but a glorious one. May God raise up many such prophets. The church needs them badly.“

(A. W. Tozer; Of God and Men)

Literalism and apocalypticism

A (typical) quote from N. T. Wright that I forgot to publish:

„Yesterday’s literal statement may become today’s metaphor; tomorrow things may reverse again. Nobody takes all the Bible literally, and nobody takes it all metaphorically, whatever they may say; we are none of us as wooden as our slogans suggest. In order to interpret any passage, particularly any passage of apocalyptic, the way of wisdom is to go through it one step at a time, deciding what is literal and what is metaphorical on the way. When Daniel says “I saw four beasts come up out of the sea” (Daniel 7.2), the “beasts” and the “sea” are metaphorical (the “beasts” are human empires, and the “sea” is the source of evil), but “four” is literal. When he says that “the little horn was making war on the holy ones and prevailed against them” (7.21), the “little horn” is metaphorical (referring to an actual human ruler), but the “war” is literal. And so on. This, of course, requires caution in serious Bible study, something that is not always much in evidence.

Though I dislike technical terms in general, I find it helpful to use the word “apocalypticism” to denote the worldview in which certain people come to believe that their group is set apart from the rest of humanity, that it is righteous and all others are sinners, and, more particularly, that an event will soon occur which will sort things out once and for all. The sun and the moon will be darkened, literally not metaphorically; the Lord will descend from heaven and snatch the saints up in the air, literally not metaphorically; the Mount of Olives will be split in two, and rivers of fresh water will flow down to the Dead Sea, literally not metaphorically. And of course if you believe this sort of thing about yourself and your group, certain social practices follow: a tight drawing of boundaries within the group, a rigid exclusion of those outside, a carelessness or even downright rejection of most of the concerns of ongoing society, a focus on particular styles of worship and holiness. As history both ancient and modern will show, such groups are often internally fissiparous, fragmenting into smaller groups that then reserve for one another their bitterest anathemas.

My point is this: the duality between heaven and earth is very different from the dualisms of sectarian religion. The mindset that tends towards apocalypticism normally thinks of the heavenly realm, or the spiritual realm, or simply the non-physical realm, as always good, and the  earthly, material, physical world as always bad. Hence the readiness to imagine the present physical world being blown apart in some great Armageddon, and the sublime confidence that “we” – whichever group that might be – will be rescued from the ruin in a “heavenly” salvation that has left earth far behind.“

Wenham on Rituals

In my studies for the Book of Numbers-Bible Study for the youth group (www.generationacts.de) on Tuesday nights, I am currently reading the Tyndale Commentary on Numbers, written by Gordon J. Wenham. The things he writes on the meaning and importance of rituals in the Bible (and in general, really) in the introduction were very helpful. That’s why I decided to post some of it here:

„In the preface I alluded to the great gulf that separates the mentality of our age from that of Numbers, a gulf that makes it very hard for us to appreciate much of the book. We are moved by the tragedy of the spies and Moses‘ exclusion from the promised land, and we can enjoy the comedy of the Balaam story, but these narratives comprise a relatively small proportion of the whole book. Most of it concerns various rituals and organizational details that are dull to read, hard to understand, and apparently quite irrelevant to the church in the twentieth century. Of course, these problems are not confined to Numbers: the situation is similar in Exodus and Deutoronomy, and even less narrative is to be found in Leviticus.

Yet the sheer bulk of ritual law in the Pentateuch indicates its importance to the biblical writers. This judgment is confirmed by modern anthropologists; for them the key to understanding a society’s fundamental values is its ritual system.

Rituals reveal values at their deepest level…men express in ritual what moves them most, and since the form of expression is conventionalized and obligatory, it is the values of the group that are revealed. I see in the study of rituals the key to an understanding of the essential constitution of human societies.

In short, if we do not understand the ritual system of a people, we do not understand what makes their society tick. It is not without purpose, then, that more than half of the Pentateuch, alsways considered the most authoritative section of the Old Testament, consists or ritual regulations, instructions about building the tabernacle, laws on sacrifice and festivals and so on. If we can understand these arrangements we shall be near to grasping the very heart of ancient Israel’s religion and its values, at least according to cultural anthropologists.

But it does not come easily to us. Moderns have a built-in antipathy to ritual and symbolic gestures. We prefer to do without it, and when others use ritual, to ignore it. Victor Turner, who has probably done most in recent times to open up the interpretation of ritual symbolism, candidly admits that when he first studied the Ndembu tribe in Zambia he ignored their rituals. But

Eventually, I was forced to recognise that if I wanted to know what even a segment of Ndembu culture was really about, I would have to overcome my prejudie against ritual and start to investigate it.

Most Old Testament scholars share a similar aversion to studying ritual. (…) This gives a clue as to why we find ritual as such, and the Old Testament law in particular, so dull and uncongenial. Not only do we not realize its significance, but we minimize the importance of form and organization in both our religious and secular callings. (…) Yet ultimately we cannot get away from both ritual and organization. If hand-shaking is on the decline, kissing is on the increase. (…) House groups claiming to dispense with formal liturgy and professional ministers soon establish their own idiosyncratic way of conducting worship and a recognized leadership, for without organization they withe away. Thus, however much ritual and organization are anathema to modern man, they re-emerge despite the most strenous attempts to eliminate or minimize them.

It is no good, then, ignoring rituals as if they were of no consequence. Every society has them, though the outsider is always more aware of them than the native. (…) What then is the essence of religious ritual in the Bible? It is a means of communication between God and man, a drama on a stage watched by human and divine spectators. Old Testament rituals express religious truths as opposed to verbally. They are the ancient equivalent of television; the ancient equivalent of radio was prophecy and prayer. These were the recognized modes of communication between the human and divine worlds in Bible times. Like words, rituals are a two-way channel of communication. On the one hand they are dramatized prayers, expressing men’s deepest hopes and fears; on the other hand they are dramatized divine promises and warnings, declaring God’s attitude towards man.“

Question: is the Christian religion a failed religion?

I am reading Brian McLarens book „everything must change“ now. To find out his opinion on what needs to change in the church. Also to not be dependent on somebody else’s opinion on this book. As he writes in the first chapter: „…you can Google my name and find websites and blogs from fundamentalist groups who consider me the son of Satan or on the wrong side of both the „culture war“ and „truth war“.

Now I personally wonder, why he doesn’t clearly give his standpoint on the „hot-button issues“ as he calls them (My guess is that this shows his frustration, that there are more important questions that are not being asked.) . In my eyes, there would be more evangelical Christians listening to him, if he would just – at least in a short sentence – put these things straight. Now a friend of mine had the chance to talk to Brian personally recently. So if you might have wondered: he did say that homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle and that salvation comes alone through faith in the propitiary death of Christ on the cross (he said that literally). Maybe that helps some people to listen in on his message to the church.

I think that he got too popular to pass off what he says on the basis of some well-intentioned criticism. Because maybe, after all, he has something to say that we might benefit from…so what is this book about?

To sum it up, the book deals with two questions. One: what are the world’s biggest problems, and two: how would (or does) Jesus adress these problems, or which solution does he give for them. These are good questions to ask, and they haven’t been asked enough among evangelical Christians. Can one be a Christian, and not care about issues as poverty and social injustice? Doesn’t God show – especially in the OT – that he does care about it? Do we (the church) then have a responsibility towards these things? Or is our mission confined to the spiritual realm?  Before anyone judges Brian Mclaren for asking these questions, I would be very interested to hear some of their answers!

In  this category, I want to just quote some of the things from „everything must change“ and comment on it. I don’t want to do deep analysis, but pick some things that might be of interest. After all, my desire is to promote thinking, learning and growing for myself and all who will read it.

In part 1, chapter 5, MacLaren writes: „More and more reflective Christian leaders are beginning to realize that for the millions of young adults who dropped out of their churches in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the Christian religion appears to be a failed religion. And for a reason not unlike the one expressed by the young healthcare worker from Khayelitsha: it has specialized in dealing with „spiritual needs“ to the exlusion of physical and social needs. [comment: That statement would be hard to prove/disprove. Is that really the reason why many young people leave the church? I doubt it – especially here in Germany.] It has specialized in people’s destination in the afterlife but has failed to adress significant social injustices in this life. It has focused on „me“ and „my soul“ and „my spiritual life“ and „my eternal destiny“, but it has failed to address the dominant societal and global realities of their lifetime: systemic injustice, systemic poverty, systemic ecological crisis, systemic dysfunctions of many kinds.“

Some statements: First, I agree that it would be wrong to disconnect the spiritual from the physical and social. Biblical Christianity does definitely know nothing of that kind of mindset. Second, the point that it is not only about ’spiritual‘ things, but that it is about ‚me and myself‘ is a very good one. Maybe someone has asked you this question before: if someone desires to be saved from sin, death and hell to a blessed life with God and eternal bliss in heaven – is that not very selfish? So the observation is very good. Someone said that one of the principles that young converts need to be taught is: „nothing that is selfish is Christian“. And it is true – the Jesus of the Bible will bring us salvation from selfishness and set us free to seek the welfare of others more than our own. The constant focus on self – even it is spiritual needs – is wrong and sinful.

As long as a Christian, or a church, just focuses on himself/itself, he is in a state of spiritual immaturity as were the Corinthian Christians, who were in need of Paul’s exhortation to seek the benefit of others, which is the essence of true love.

Thirdly, is he right when he says that the church failed to address the issues mentioned above? I disagree! The Bible emphasizes the spiritual realm (man’s relationship with God) as the basis of the physical realm (man’s relationship with man). So when I adress a spiritual issue in someones life, I am addressing his physical life as well. His spirituality is supposed to touch every area of his life. So all evangelizing and all teaching and disciple-making that equipped people to be faithful spouses, honest politicians, fair employers has been successful in dealing with systematic injustice etc. Because any evil system will be attacked through the Gospel message which will in turn destroy that system as individuals who make up that system and keep it running let the spiritual message penetrage their hearts.

Question: Is everything spiritual?

Last night I watched ‚everything is spiritual‘ from Rob Bell together with my wife. In this DVD-message, Rob Bell talks about the creation account and what part we as human beings play in that account. Besides sharing some mysteries from the world of physics in order to cause us to marvel at the Maker, he comes to this conclusion:

a) Man is the only part of creation that was created 100 % spiritual (as God and the angels) and 100 % physical (as animals, plants and all matter).

b) Thus, since every human is both spiritual and physical, it all comes down to having your eyes opened to who you are and which realms/realities/dimensions you should think/believe/think in.

To make it short: while a) is true, b) is not a correct conclusion. The simple fact he overlooked was the fall of man! The Bible makes it clear that, while we were created originally as Rob Bell describes it, we fell from this kind of life, which is the reason people do not experience the spiritual dimension of life. If it was just as Rob Bell put it, the death of Christ wouldn’t be necessary.

Paul teaches pretty clearly, that we are born (spiritually) dead, and Jesus points to the necessity of being born from above, or, again. He said that we have to be born again, by the Spirit, in order to SEE the kingdom of God, that is, the spiritual reality/dimension. So my conclusion: this teaching gives a very good introduction…to Genesis 1 and 2. But to stop there is to not cross the line between Judaism and Christianity.