Thursday, February 22, 2007

No Absolutes?

I just came across a statement that said:
Good and evil do not exist (as absolutes, but can exist in a different context and for different reasons as Nietzsche).
(From a Wikipedia article about the book series "Conversations with God" -, a series that I preliminarily judge to be "evil", without knowing much about the books.)

I confess to being mostly ignorant about Nietzsche (except that I would've preferred him to spell his name like "Neatshee"), and I certainly do not subscribe to the notion that there are no absolutes.

But this concept struck me up-side the head.

Think about killing another human. It's clearly Evil to kill another human when it's "murder". But it's Good to kill another human in order to prevent that human from murdering innocents.

Same action: different contexts, different reasons, different valuations.

Hmmm. What are the implications of this concept?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Individual Bible Study

Rob Bell, in his book "Velvet Elvis", points out that prior to the 16th century or thereabouts, it was very rare for an individual to own a copy of any portion of the Scriptures, much less an entire copy.

Accordingly, individual Bible reading and study was essentially unheard of.

That which we encourage today, individualized reading, is a new invention.

I believe it's a good invention, but it's interesting to realize that it's a new invention.

However, I believe we have lost the advantage of not having our own copies of the Scriptures, for before that was common, the common practice was to get together with others and spend hours discussing scriptures. This sort of interaction would go a long way toward keeping the far-out ideas tamed, as you'd immediately have other knowledgeable Truth-seekers to analyze and critique your ideas.

However, lest you suddenly decide to do away with individual study in an effort to return to the "old paths", let me remind you that the Ethiopian eunuch had his own copy (at least of Isaiah), and was doing his own individual study. I would daresay that the eunuch was rather unique in having his own copy of a portion of the Scriptures.

Binding and Loosing

Ideas from Rob Bell's book, "Velvet Elvis":

In the days when Jesus walked this earth, the rabbinic practice of setting down rules of what is and is not allowed was technically referred to as binding and loosing.
To "bind" something was to forbid it. To "loose" something was to allow it. (p. 49)
Notice what Jesus says in the book of Matthew: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

What he is doing here is significant. He is giving his followers the authority to make new interpretations of the Bible.
[He is also saying that when they do so,] somehow God in heaven will be involved.
(p. 50)

Two Witnesses

Ideas from Rob Bell's book, "Velvet Elvis":

As mentioned in previous posts, ancient rabbis had different rules applying their understanding of the scriptures. These interpretations were referred to as a rabbi's yoke, and a student of the rabbi was said to have taken the yoke of that rabbi.

Very rarely, a rabbi would arrive on the scene with a new interpretation of the Scriptures. This was nearly unheard of; after all, the scriptures had been debated and studied for centuries; how is it some newcomer has more understanding than all his predecessors?

So when this happened, the new rabbi was often challenged on his authority.

Jesus came along and said things like, "You have heard it said that X, but I tell you Y". He's essentially saying that other rabbis have it wrong; this is the correct interpretation.

The existing power structure challenged him with "Where did you get your authority?"

And Jesus' usual response was "You tell me, where did John get his?"

Jesus' appeal to John's authority was important, because in the case of a new rabbi coming along with a new yoke, it was a protection to him if two other rabbis laid their hands on him, essentially validating him, witnessing to their belief that the new rabbi had such authority to teach a new yoke. John, who was an important rabbi in that area, had made just such a witness to Jesus, saying that he was not worthy to untie Jesus' sandals.

John was one of the two necessary witnesses to Jesus' authority to teach a new interpretation of the Scriptures.

The second witness came just after Jesus came up out of the waters of immersion, when a voice from heaven proclaimed, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Later, on the Mount of Transfiguration, the phrase "Listen to him!" was added during a second endorsement by the voice from heaven.)

Speaking of Rabbis

Once upon a time, in the land of the Trids, a mean giant often came though the land, kicking at the Trids, knocking them flying this way and that. It was a cruel thing to do, but the giant enjoyed it, and did it often.

One day, a rabbi passed through the town on his journeys. While he was in town, the mean giant came through, and kicked Trids this way and that way, left and right. The rabbi was appalled, and stood up for the Trids.

"Mr. Mean Giant, you ought not to do such things. It's cruel and wrong of you to treat these Trid people this way. If you must pick on someone, you should pick on someone your own size!"

The mean giant looked down at this itinerant preacher and laughed. He then scooped up the rabbi into his hand, and bringing the rabbi up to his face, looked into the rabbi's eyes and stated,

"Silly Rabbi, kicks are for Trids."

(Apologies to the under 30 group, who may not get this. Also, apologies to the over 30 group who will ....)

Interpreting the Bible

Ideas from Rob Bell's book, "Velvet Elvis":

In Jesus' day there were various schools of thought as to the proper interpretation of Scripture (just as there are today). One rabbi might say that X is acceptable, while Y is not, whereas another rabbi across town might say just the opposite.
Different rabbis had different sets of rules, which were really different lists of what they forbade and what they permitted. A rabbi's set of rules and lists, which was really that rabbi's interpretation of how to live the Torah, was called that rabbi's yoke. ...when you followed that rabbi, you were taking up that rabbi's yoke.

One rabbi even said his yoke was easy.
Rabbis would spend hours discussing with their students what it meant to live out a certain text. If a student made a suggestion about what a certain text meant and the rabbi thought the student had totally missed the point, the rabbi would say, "You have abolished the Torah," which meant that in the rabbi's opinion, the student wasn't anywhere near what God wanted. But if the student got it right, if the rabbi thought the student had grasped God's intention in the text, the rabbi would say, "You have fulfilled Torah."
(p. 47-48)

The Bible is Confusing

Ideas from Rob Bell's book, "Velvet Elvis":

* The Bible is open-ended.

God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33), yet the Bible is confusing.


Because the Bible is open-ended.
...we have to interpret the Bible. It is not possible to simply do what the Bible says. We must first make decisions about what it means at this time, in this place, for these people.
[T]he Bible is open-ended. ... It has to be interpreted.
(p. 45-46)

Scripture Must be Interpreted

Ideas from Rob Bell's book, "Velvet Elvis":

* Scripture must be interpreted.

For example, the Biblical injunction to "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy". What does that mean exactly? Defined by Genesis, the Sabbath is the seventh day, starting in the evening and going through the night, the next morning, and the next day until the following evening. But in our Western culture, it means the seventh day beginning at just after midnight between Friday and Saturday. Or, to many, it means the first day, as they've come to believe that the Sabbath is now the "Christian Sabbath" of Sunday rather than the seventh day.

But that's not all; in Jesus' day, one scholar might say that walking X meters is okay, but X+1 is work, and therefore forbidden. Another scholar might say that X+1 is acceptable, but X^2 is work.

There's a level of interpretation here as to what constitutes "work", what constitutes "holy", what constitutes "Sabbath", what constitutes "remember".

Even the things we think are obvious are only obvious because of our cultural baggage/lenses, and might not be so obvious to someone else.

And unless you're reading the Bible in the original language, you're relying on someone's interpretation of that language into your language. Here, Rob goes into an interesting discussion of the word gehenna, usually translated into English as hell, but which meant something entirely different to the citizens of Jerusalem in Jesus' day.

Scripture must be interpreted.

Bible Elitism

About a month ago a co-worker/friend loaned me a book to read, named "Velvet Elvis", by Rob Bell. After the introduction and first chapter, I have to admit I wasn't very impressed, and laid down the book and pretty much forgot about it (although I did blog about one highlight here).

A couple of days ago he asked me if I had finished reading it, which spurred me to pick it up again. I'm rather glad I did, because the second chapter has quite a few gems in it.

One of the things that resonated with me was a statement that seems to me to be the core of my conflict with the church I'm attending. Don't get me wrong; I'm not trying to be critical of the church; it's full of some great people. But anyone from a similar background who has come out of that background will understand this statement:
The idea that everybody else approaches the Bible with baggage and agendas and lenses and I don't is the ultimate in arrogance. To think that I can just read the Bible without reading any of my own culture or background or issues into it and come out with a "pure" or "exact" meaning is not only untrue, but it leads to a very destructive reading of the Bible that robs it of its life and energy.
(Pg. 54, emphasis added)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Bible Rap

Watch this video, and then tell me what you think of it.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

3 Meals a Day vs 6 Meals a Day

My mom was recently diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, and in her education about the disease has learned that 6 smaller meals throughout the day are better than 3 bigger meals, because the blood-sugar levels are maintained at a more even level that way rather than the big roller-coaster effect of having alternating periods of famine and fasting.

As I was reading Neil R. Lightfoot's book "Everyone's Guide to Hebrews", a passage sent me on a mental tangent, and I realized that perhaps this form of diet, applied to God's word, would be better for our spiritual bodies also.

Instead of going to church three times a week and hearing a 20-30 minute sermon, how about going to church fifteen times a week and hearing a 5-minute sermonette?

Note that I'm not saying this is practical; some of us live across town from church. But look at the idea.

Many twenty-minute sermons are composed of five minutes' worth of good stuff, and fifteen minutes' worth of filler, which seem designed more to put the listeners to sleep or to daydreaming than to exhorting, encouraging, or teaching them.

Also, let me make clear, sometimes the material needs twenty minutes, two hours, or two weeks.

But the general church sermon has been standardized to be twenty to thirty minutes long, and the average preacher tends to focus on filling up that time-slot rather than tailoring the time-slot to the material.

Perhaps it's time to re-think the sermon; rather than having three big sermons per week, punctuated by long periods of fasting from God's word, maybe we should look for ways to ingest smaller doses of God's word more regularly. I don't know how the mechanics of that might be worked out; it's just a brainstorm.

What are your ideas? Do you know how to work out the mechanics of such a plan?