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The new album uses the titular Bible passages as the merest inspiration, a canvas upon which Darnielle paints very contemporary–yet timeless–portraits of grief, despair, resignation…and inexplicable faith, hope, and love. An example of this is the bouncy “Genesis 3:23″ in which the original verse (”therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken”) provides a proper motif for a more contemporary exile story of a man who breaks into the house where he grew up to confront the ghosts he has carried with him since he left.

Break the lock on my own garden gate
When I get home after dark
Sit looking up at the stars outside
Like teeth in the mouth of a shark

Continue reading….

Manifold Witness

Manifold Witness

Over at my personal blog (The League of Inveterate Poets) I’m blogging through John Franke’s new book Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth. Thought that though this blog has been dead for some time, some who still have it in their feed readers might be interested in this book.

I have two chapters posted so far:

Manifold Witness Chapter 1

Manifold Witness Chapter 2

bookAt the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR) meeting this year, I acquired the book mentioned above (for free). Its title testifies to its relevance for the Conn blog, so we’ll do a multipart review, one post for each chapter. For my part, my parents-in-law work with Chinese immigrants, my younger brother works with Latinos/Latinas in IV in southwest Texas, and I live in NYC–just south of Washington Heights no less–and am constantly confronted with the causes and impact of immigration. So how Christians should think through this topic, particularly as citizens of a functioning republic, is something that’s frequently on my mind.

Immigration tends to be a polarizing issue both inside and outside the church no matter what your ethnic or citizen status and in my opinion, like politics, it is one for which we by-and-large lack the theological tools and ecclesiological framework to really address the subtleties of the problems involved, how to solve them, what the Church’s role should be, and how that should differ from the State’s (or really, States’). Therefore in my opinion serious books by Christians with expertise in Biblical studies, Theology, though especially Sociology, Politics, and Law are very much needed: people who not only understand the difficulties attendant in applying the ancient texts to modern circumstances which don’t overlap well, but also people who understand the modern circumstances well enough to know what kind of answers we should be looking for in the first place. (more…)

Monday I returned from the SBL. My main reason for going was to visit friends, though I hoped to be inspired to new thoughts by some sessions. The latter was hit-or-miss (though mostly miss), though one of the more interesting sessions was on Kent Sparks’ recent book God’s Word in Human Words, which was heavily attended.

I’ve not read the book, though after the session think I’ll probably need to. The main point though, as most of you probably know already, is to present a case for a Christian approach to the Bible that takes much more seriously the advances of Biblical scholarship–i.e. by acknowledging that the Bible contains myth, composite texts, imbibes the historical/hermeneutical context of its day, and trying to find a sensible way of understanding “what the Bible is” and “what it’s purpose is” that makes sense of that.

Fascinating session for me on one front. All three respondents emphasized how good the book was, how necessary it was to fill an important gap, highly recommended it, etc. The only “major” criticism was Sparks tone which the respondents felt was a bit too forceful, though Sparks responded that he considered being softer, though felt that it would actually undermine the forcefulness with which he wanted his argument to be received, particularly by an evangelical audience that was prone to look for excuses to dismiss his argument altogether. I thought that was totally understandable. The sad thing is that some people will choose to dismiss him still because they’ll think he’s being a pretentious jerk and therefore not worth taking seriously (which is wrong: all the respondents said he presented the issues very judiciously). But honestly, this is an awfully lame criticism: it basically says that Christians are too sensitive to give an author the benefit of the doubt and hear what he has to say, and if that’s true to an extent, I think the blame falls more on the readers than the writer. Writers can’t constantly be worrying about that sort of thing and readers ought to know how to read judiciously and give a writer the benefit of the doubt and/or read through the tone.

Of the three respondents, two (Stephen Chapman and Bill Arnold) openly argued that from their perspective, it is a bit strange that Sparks holds onto inerrancy since the way he wants to use it empties the term of its practical value. That is, if you’re willing to admit there are both errors of fact and intent, as most scholars do, does “inerrancy” make sense as a descriptor? Bill Arnold then made a further observation from his Arminian standpoint that I found very interesting: he said that the whole question of trying to “save” inerrancy is strange because it’s never been a major issue for Arminians. According to him, they believe in Biblical authority, infallibility, etc., but they don’t think that for the Bible to ultimately accomplish its purpose for the church requires it to be perfectly “true” in the modern sense, nor that if it contains historical errors that it impugns God’s credibility. The Bible is true and effective in the sense that it accomplishes by God’s Spirit what He intends, not because it is subject to verifiability under a microscope. This point was fascinating to me because I didn’t realize the extent to which the pursuit of inerrancy was so varied. Arnold’s attitude very much reminded me of the one I often encountered while doing my MA and the Jewish Theological Seminary: for them, the starting assumption of why they read and use the Bible in religious life is that it’s from YHWH and is for His people; given that, the “problems” become puzzles to be solved rather than threats to faith.

I’m totally with Chapman and Arnold here. On the one hand, for a long time I’ve felt that if I’m willing to admit certain historical and textual problems, then continuing to call the Bible “inerrant” not only didn’t make much sense, but also made me sound duplicitous to those I explain my views to. Sparks defended his use of the term inerrancy, though his argument ultimately devolved into the claim that the Bible was inerrant in the sense that God superintended its writing, editing, etc., and was ultimately what he intended. For me, that’s perfectly fine: I’m jokingly fond of saying “I think God inerrantly inspired an errant Bible,” although that obviously doesn’t actually say anything about the factual content of the Bible (which I’m aware of when I say it). Rather than a claim of inerrancy, it is actually a claim about God’s providence; it’s a theological claim more than a bibliological one (if that’s a word). So incidentally, I don’t actually think Sparks, Chapman, or Arnold actually differ in what they actually think the Bible is, they’re differing only in the words they’re using to describe it.

A couple of points that I thought were important to draw from the discussion. First, people often refer to taking this line on the OT as a “low view of the Bible.” If anything, this session pointed out that the “low view”/”high view” distinction is a false one: the goal of the Christian is to properly understand God’s word, how it works, and how it applies to the Church throughout the ages. As such, there are right and wrong decisions, right and wrong beliefs, but not high and low ones. People like Arnold, Chapman, and Sparks aren’t saying the Bible is “low”; rather, they’re saying if these things are true, given that the Bible is God’s word, this is how we should read and use it.

Second, it is a category mistake to say–as some ignorant systematics profs have–that context can never be allowed to trump the Bible, or that choosing claims of scholarship is directly opposed to taking the Bible on its own terms. The fact of the matter is that interpretation always requires importing a context–whether we supply it unconsciously from our own life experience, whether we construct it from our own imaginations, or whether we try to supply it from our analyses of the worlds that gave birth to the documents. No matter what we do, we always sit in judgment over the texts we read; no matter we do, we are the arbiters of their meaning–even if along the way our study is attended by the work of the Holy Spirit.

It’s no secret on this blog that I’m a McCain supporter.  I believe that he has an appropriate understanding of the benefits of public policy on behalf of the common good, and its limits as a tool to re-engineer society.  He has personally sacrificed for the United States, is demonstrably competent, and knows how to work with those who see things differently to accomplish important goals.  I don’t agree with everything he says, but I think Sen. McCain is right for the challenges of the presidency – domestic and international – and I will vote for him.  But I’m not his disciple. 

 

Perhaps that is why I’m struggling so much as I watch Sen. Obama’s approach to attaining elected office.  Much of the time, it’s unclear to me whether he’s running for president or messiah.  When I listen to Barack Obama speak, I hear a sermon.  Healthcare benefits and entitlement checks will flow like milk and honey.  The lion and the lamb will lie down together and we’ll be a people of peace, respected around the world.  We’ll power our land with earth, wind, and sun.  We’ll all pay less and get more (well, most of us).  We’ll all come together in unity, and he will lead us. 

 

I find this rhetoric deeply unsettling.  It is working (well) in ways that go way beyond political differences and move into the realm of faith.  I clearly recognize that some Obama supporters are thoughtful people who weigh issues and prefer his approach (including some of my fellow bloggers with whom I heartily disagree but nonetheless respect and love).  But, if he wins the election, it will be because he has deeply stirred the religious passions of a staggering number people who view him not as a politician, but as a savior.  For a nation that has clung so tenaciously to the concept that church and state are separate, we seem to be teetering on the edge of a remarkable remake of state into a form of church, with Sen. Obama as its charismatic leader.

 

Authentic church is built on authentic community.  Its members come together in a common commitment to the gospel, and seek to serve their Lord and one another in love.  Christianity calls for death to self in favor of following Jesus, with the sure knowledge that it will require sacrifice.  Service is expected of everyone, and giving flows from redeemed hearts.  Although faith in Jesus affords believers tastes of the fruits of redemption in the here and now, the fullness of his promises is reserved for the age to come.     

 

As envisioned by Obama, however, the church of state offers benefits without sacrifice.  There is no personal repentance, no call to service.  The prayer of the church of state is “what’s in it for me?”  Tax “cuts” for just about everyone, including the great numbers who pay no taxes.  The so-called “rich” – the new unclean out group if ever there was one – are the appointed scapegoats.  Omitted from the narrative is that they already pay most of the taxes.  The top five percent of taxpayers (those making adjusted gross income of $154,000 and up) pay sixty percent of the total federal tax dollars collected from individuals.  The group in the next five percent pays an additional eleven percent of the total.  By contrast, the bottom fifty percent – those earning $32,000 or less – pay only three percent of the total.     

 

It’s worth noting that the senator is not setting his proposed requirements for massive additional revenue (because like it or not, someone has to pay for all this) as a challenge before redeemed hearts.  Rather, his plan is to simply take more from those who have it because he wants it for his purposes.  It matters not that they may have gotten it through hard work, personal sacrifice, and careful planning, and that they may have their own plans.  It also matters not that even if he takes it all, it will never be enough.  In the church of state, the gospel call to give freely is replaced with a legal mandate to take, and the gospel call to sacrifice is replaced with a secular decree of entitlement.    

 

He also brings of promises peace, unity, and green.  But the gospel call in all these areas presupposes life-giving unity with Christ.  Part of the Christian hope is that as these benefits well up in the hearts of believers in community, they will spill over into our spheres of influence, and move us towards provisional acts of redemption in creation.

 

But in the church of state, Christ is not the center of these promises, Sen. Obama is.  He is expected to raise our international stature by pitting talk against action as if they are somehow mutually exclusive.  He is portrayed as the great red and blue unifier, as if our polarized society will somehow disappear with his Robin Hood-like redistribution of the wealth.  He is also the great green-earther, as if solar, wind, and geothermal power are simply waiting to be harnessed for our clean and economical use at his say-so.   

 

All the while, he is attracting impressive numbers of acolytes.  I recently asked an Obama follower why he was so enthusiastic.  He replied that Obama makes him feel calm.  He also told me that he didn’t mind paying yet more in taxes – he felt that it was somehow a way for him to give back.  When I pointed out that he could not only give back on his own, but direct it to his causes, he shrugged.  Michael Smerconish, a popular conservative talk radio host, recently declared his support for Sen. Obama.  Amid a string of surprisingly vague reasons for his choice, he indicated that Sen. Obama, if victorious, will give us hope.  In support of that, here’s what he said:  Wednesday morning will come and an Obama presidency holds the greatest chance for unifying us here at home and restoring our prestige around the globe.”    

 

Am I the only one bothered by this?  I hear these things, and the category they trigger isn’t politics, it’s religion.

 

Why does Sen. Obama engender such hope among so many?  Could it be that even though rampant secularism has taken hold in the United States, it cannot quash the human need to worship?  Could it be that although Christian faith is on the wane, religious impulses are alive and well and still seeking haven in a gospel, albeit a secular one that requires nothing from them?  For, there is no “ask not what your country can do for you” here, there is only follow me and I will give you _____.  The problem is that – at least for now – the United States of America is not the church, and Sen. Obama is not the messiah. 

 

 

In keeping with my past post to the Ehrman v. Craig debate, I offer another link. This one is to a Prof. Christine Haye’s (Yale) undergraduate lectures for her course Introduction to the Hebrew Bible. These really are an excellent, lucid presentation of the major issues facing contemporary readers of the HB (Hayes is a brilliant communicator). But more pertinent to my previous post, these are the kind of lectures undergraduates at most universities receive, and which the vast majority of Christians have yet to seriously face or engage. What’s more, unlike some lecturers, Hayes doesn’t antagonize or degrade her believing students; rather, she by and large just states what she thinks and why.

One additional note. I think like Ehrman’s presentations, Hayes’ offers a helpful entry point for considering possible directions forward. The fact is that for the most part there are 2 kinds of responses to these issues: total abandonment of the faith in light of the arguments, or total repudiation of the arguments in favor of a preconceived doctrine. In my opinion, for the same reason the first isn’t necessary and the second is irresponsible: the doctrine needs to be able to fit the data. Granted, we shouldn’t adopt everything in the academy whole hog, but there’s a lot we should. Moreover, the incarnational analogy is a helpful posture for approaching such issues, but it needs to be emphasized that the analogy doesn’t actually solve any problems. It tells us not to be surprised when we find challenges, but cannot actually tell us what to do once we find them. Ps. 18 describes Yahweh as a fire-breathing being being dwelling in a temple who opens the ceiling of earth to descend upon a cherub with arrows ablaze, and its not the only place in the HB–or in other ancient Near Eastern literature–where we meet such strange descriptions that don’t fit neatly into our creeds. We may be prepared to see this as God permitting the ancients to describe him in their own ancient ideas, but that kind of concession raises at least as many questions as answers, probably more. We have much more to do.

At any rate, enjoy!

It’s time for a brief break in the polemics!  Since its introduction in late 2007, I have eagerly followed the progress of the Amazon Kindle, an e-book reading device and so much more.  Although e-readers have been around for a while, the great leap forward in the Kindle (and a few competitive devices of which the Sony E-reader is the most notable) is the employment of electronic ink, which creates a screen reading experience that mimics print on paper.  This is not like reading a computer monitor or cell phone; it’s like reading a book. 

Before choosing Kindle over Sony, I did my homework.  No question about it, the Sony is nicer looking, and it was at the time $100 less expensive.  (Amazon dropped the price on Kindles from $399 to $359 a few wees ago, reducing the gap.)  But the benefits ended there, and were outweighed by 1) Kindle’s ability to download books over free built-in cell phone technology wherever a Sprint cell signal can be had.  That’s right; no need to connect to the computer, and the ultimate in bibliophilic instant gratification.  Sitting at the airport, and stuck?  No problem.  2)  The price of most books through Amazon is $9.99, even brand new releases.  The Sony’s offerings through mobipocket and elsewhere are priced in relationship to the physical book, and considerably more expensive.  3)  The Kindle allows the user to take electronic margin notes; the Sony does not.  4)  Amazon permits the downloading of any Kindle book’s first chapter for free.  5)  There is rudimentary web capability (emphasis on rudimentary) on the Kindle, including instant access to Wikipedia, and the ability to access web-based email – at least gmail.   6)  There are thousands of free books available on other web sites, including many classics.  7)  Amazon will Kindle-ize and send to one’s device a PDF file of any size for a dime.  (Did you really want to print out the HTFC report?) 

I took the plunge last month, and asked my husband for one for my birthday.  I’m delighted with it.  Yes, I agree with a few of the commonly-cited criticisms like the size of the page advance button and the overall uninspiring look of the device.  The grey and black screen is limiting; charts and illustrations don’t reproduce well at this point in the device’s development.   But, what I’ve gained is the ability to carry around a small library in my purse.  Which brings me to the point for this post.

Amazon’s Kindle offerings at this point are substantial, but they are geared to best-seller style reading.  The real utility of this device for us would be the market for theological writing.  I still recall standing in the WTS bookstore (back when that was not only expected but encouraged!) with a $40, c. 200 page paperback in my hand, and saying “absolutely no way.”  The problem is that the Kindle’s current offerings in theology are quite shallow.  Keller’s new book is available, but that’s because it’s a best-seller.  But, imagine the possibilities if commentaries were Kindle-ized or if small-run but important works were Kindle-ized?  The academic market, and more specifically, the theological market represents incredible potential for the Kindle.  We all know what some of these books cost, how heavy they are to carry, how much space they take to shelve, and how much money they cost to move.  The Kindle takes care of all that! 

As the number of users grows, the book offerings will diversify!  So, take a look, and let me know what you think.  Is this device going to be part of our future?

 

 

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