silly philosophers

Ok.  I know that you have all been waiting on the edge of your seats for my post on existential readings of the Bible.  I thought that the delay would only heighten the sense of anticipation.

I don’t pretend to have even a working knowledge of existentialism.  I read the Wikipedia article here, but didn’t understand it.  So, here’s my ever so learned understanding of what it is.  Existentialism is a philosophical outlook in which an event (person, text, situation, and so on) doesn’t necessarily have value or importance in and of itself.  Or put in slightly different terms, an event doesn’t have a significance or meaning of its own.  What matters is one’s experience with that event.  We bring meaning to it through our experience of it.

For example, this week I had the opportunity to visit The Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site (now that’s a mouthful).  It was a great opportunity to visit and learn and ponder and mourn.  It is something of an understatement to say that I admire those nine students who pushed through every imaginable obstacle in order to attend Central High.  But of course, they were doing more than simply exercising a right to attend the school of their choice; they were standing up to injustice and oppression in all its brutal ugliness.  At times, I had to remind myself, “they were only high school students!”

Ok, now a strict existentialist would say that historic event doesn’t hold significance in and of itself, what matters is my own experience in the engaging of that little slice of history.  My feelings of pride or shame (funny that I could feel both) are what give that event meaning.  I don’t have direct access to the event – I didn’t live it – and therefore the only possible significance it can have for me is the meaning that I invest in it.

I know…  your eyes are starting to roll back into your head.  Or maybe you are thinking, “that’s preposterous!” Of course, the event has significance in and of itself.  Who would think even for a minute that the only meaning it has is the one I bring to it?  It is an insult to every person who lived through that deluge of hatred to suggest that the only meaning it has is the one that the observer brings to it.  No, it was a real event in history.  The facts matter.  Each detail is significant in and of itself.  And we can only come to understand it by going back in time (so to speak) and placing ourselves as best we possibly can in their shoes.  To see their lives.  Understand the culture of racism at the time.  Think their thoughts after them, and as best we can to identify with what they went through.

It was a real event.  It has a significance all its own.  Our lives are enriched by doing the hard, hard work of making ourselves familiar with everything about it.  Not just the surface details, but really digging into the history of what happened there.

And now…  I have lost track.
Am I talking about The Little Rock Nine?
Or the Bible?
Or both.

Stay tuned for further adventures in “Existentialism and the Bible.”

not easy

Laziness…  not a nice word.  So very negative.  I think “lack of motivation” has a kinder, gentler ring to it.  Either way, both describe modern man’s approach to the Bible.  We don’t mine the deep riches of the Word, because we don’t want to do the hard work of understanding it.

Hard work?  I hear all the time from students and adults alike that they have such a hard time knowing what the Bible is talking about.  Which I find difficult to believe.   Most Bible’s I pick up are in English.  And while the Bible writers weren’t all literary geniuses, they were at least able to construct sentences.  They even make Bibles for every possible reading ability.  I’m not exactly sure what level the NIV weighs in at, but it has to be somewhere around the 8th grade.  If they could just do Cliff Notes, or comic book, or put it on DVD…  oh wait, I guess that’s been done.

I think the real problem is that we want our religion to be simple, easy to understand, not requiring much mental energy to really grasp.  There is even a (semi-)theological reason for seeing Christianity as being simple.  If Christianity is anything, it is universal – meaning it is available to all.  Regardless of ethnicity, wealth, gender, education, social class…  therefore, if it is going to be universally accessible, it must be necessarily simple.

The pressure to make issues of faith simple is considerable.  More and more, people in the pews want simple and practical answers that they can walk home and put into practice that day with guaranteed results.  So it seems that all the time there is someone who is trying to reduce Christianity to its lowest common denominator.  What is the one thing that will insure that my life with God works out ok?

You know like, “love God, love others.”  What else do we need to know?

If that’s all we needed to know, then why don’t we tear the page out that has that verse on it (chances are it won’t spill over onto the next page), and then cut out the other words on the page…  don’t want to be bothered by a WHOLE page of words.  Maybe even paste it to an index card and laminate it.  In fact, that’s a great idea!  “All you need to know from the Bible on one handy index card.”  I could sell them for a buck fifty in Christian bookstores nation-wide (even internationally…  it can’t be too difficult to translate one verse).  Even better, a nice font, cheesy graphic,  charge two whole dollars.  I’m guessing that I would retire a bazillionaire within a year.  Who in the world needs to bother with the other 783,133 words in that big giant book we call the Bible?

Here’s a news flash…  Yes, the Bible is long, dense, complicated, and hard to understand.  And so is life.  If we are going to have a faith that actually addresses all the bewildering twists and turns of life (and death, and eternity) then I would fully expect the book that explains that faith and the God of it to be (at least) as complex.

Set the sound bites and simplistic reductions to the side.  Grab a Bible.  Possibly even a Bible dictionary or commentary (crazy, I know).  And dig deep into this book that we say (once again…  at least explicitly) are the very word’s of God Himself.

But who has time for all that…  American Idol is on in two hours!!!

so many words

The first obstacle I mentioned for our rightly understanding the Bible isn’t so much a problem with how we read the Scriptures, but with how we view them.  Most Christians would turn to words that have been historically used to affirm a high-view of the Bible’s unique authority in matters of faith and life.  Words like… inerrant, infallible, inspired, or God-breathed. I would draw  on one or two of these fitting adjectives myself.  The problem isn’t with what we say we believe about the Bible, but rather that our attitudes and actions betray that we hold an implicitly low-view of the Word.

If we truly believed that the God of the universe who holds all things in his hands reveals himself in the words of sacred Scripture, then it stands to reason we would make it one of our highest priorities to know these words.  And not just with the sort of passing familiarity that might characterize any number of human relationships known simply as “acquaintances,” but with the sort of intimacy that one might have with a closest confidant, mate, or dear friend.  If, in fact, God has chosen to reveal himself in Christ, and if that Christ is first and foremost encountered in the pages of Scripture, then in our reading of the Word, we are confronted with the person and character of God Himself.

In case one thinks I am exaggerating the importance of the Scriptures for the life of the Christian, imagine for a moment how limited our knowledge would be of the Triune God without it.

We would have no history of God’s saving activity with the Israelites, God’s chosen community.  No millenia spanning perspective of the ills of the world, human brokenness, and God’s desire to make right all that has gone wrong.  No record of the promises (covenants) to restore humanity through Abraham’s Seed.  No strong condemnation of society’s tendency to use and abuse power at the expense of the least empowered.  No clear boundaries set for what constitutes an appropriate way of life for His image bearers.  No record of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  No understanding of the significance of the life and work the Christ.  No account of the sending of the Spirit to create and indwell the Church.  No Paul.  No peek into the future (limited as it is) in which Christ returns to usher in the age eternal.

Please understand, I’m not succumbing to what many have called bibliolatry (Worship of the Bible).  I am well aware that it is the God whom the Bible reveals that we worship, and that there are tendencies within certain streams of Christian tradition to elevate the status of the Scriptures precariously close to idol-like positions.  What I am saying is that without the Bible, we have no real knowledge of who this God we worship actually is.  We are entirely dependent on the Scriptures to know with any precision the nature and person of God.  It is through the Scriptures alone that we see God’s activity and faithfulness throughout history.

And yet, borne out of our common humanity is a certain loathing for God’s Word that makes seeking God in the Scriptures feel more like drudgery than delight.  Instead of approaching the Scriptures with a sense of wonder and awe, we find ourselves either indifferent toward or bored with this book that we say (at least with out mouths) is the authoritative Word of God Himself.  All in all, it is our implicitly low estimation of the Scriptures that devalues not only the way in which God has chosen to make himself known, but also the One who has graciously done so.


I’m still working on the posts related to how we read/misread Scripture, but I had to pass this along.  You likely already know this (I mean, who doesn’t follow every step Coldplay makes), but Chris and company are giving away an album.  It is of the ‘live’ variety.

Ok, so what are you waiting for?  Click on the image above or here to get your very own!


I realize it has been a shockingly long time since I last posted, and I have a number of excuses for that being the case.  I am keenly aware that none of them hold any water.  And even if they did, my vast readership isn’t mildly interested in my petty excuses.  Suffice it to say, I’m back for a bit.

Last week, I had the great privilege of attending a conference at my favorite institute for graduate-level theological studies.  My cohort in ministry accompanied me to the conference and you can read all about his take on things here.  I think I can summarize my own take-away from the conference in a single sentence:  Let the Text speak for itself.

Now that statement is LOADED, and one might mistakenly think that I’m advocating for a simplistic reading of the Bible.  I’m not.  In fact, far from it; even the opposite.

When I say, the text should be allowed to speak for itself, I’m saying that we should work hard (and it is hard work) to understand what the Bible is actually saying.  And in doing this several problems get in the way of our being able to do that.

1)  low view of Scripture
2)  laziness
3)  existentialism
4)  agenda
5)  culture
6)  conditioned readings

Unfortunately, none of these topics were directly addressed at the conference.  If they had been, then I might actually have something helpful to share here.  Instead, you’ll have to decipher the semi-coherent ramblings of an incompetent mind.

Nevertheless, these are all problems in how we approach the Bible that I’ve known about for some time and I’m going to wax barely-literate on each in turn.  I realize that all of the above issues are hopelessly intertwined with one another, but in the interest of clarity I’ll be addressing them as if they were distinct factors.

So for the next few weeks, you’ll probably find yourself in one of two boats – either ‘mildly interested’ or ‘intensely bored’.  Either way, I’m mainly doing this as a discipline for myself.  I find that ideas tend to crystallize better in my own mind when I am forced to organize my thoughts in print.

But returning to the conference for a moment, it was the impetus for this extended reflection and I deeply appreciated their efforts made in calling pastors to preach the Word faithfully.  Those leading the conference were characteristically thoughtful and engaging.  If my teaching ministry can incorporate even one or two of the principles put forth there, it will have been time well spent.

solo deo gloria