Monday, October 15, 2018

From the Vcc newsletter on 10/15: How Sages Validate the Bible

I would like to talk about how we validate the Bible without arguing or demeaning others. A hint: it doesn’t begin with just knowing what it says, but instead it begins with the collection of writings, genres, and even methods of study. We will discuss the history as well as the content of the Bible.

It is important to know what the Bible actually says versus what we believe about it, or what we have been told. Yet there is so much more to validating the Bible in the mind of worldly people than what we think of in the church. For most of us in the church we have been taught to prove the Bible through reason, debate, and proofs. While these things really help build our faith, they generally do very little for post-modern people whose idea of truth is fundamentally different than church folks. For most of them the greatest test of the Bible is you, your life, your attitude toward them, your family, and other believers. Is the Bible life-giving or something harsh, critical, judgmental? Too often we use the Bible and what it says to win an argument, and all that tells non-Christians is they don't need to know anymore about your God or your Bible.

Having the right attitude begins with the very character and nature of the Bible. The Bible is a collection of 66 writings, written over a span of 1,500 years, in four languages. It is a very large body of work, with a lot of cultural assumptions, and time specific events. It is full of history, poetry, wisdom literature, apocalyptic literature, stories, parables, Hebraic law text (which are very different in spirit than Western law codes), and many different writing styles. This ought to humble us and make us recognize that becoming biblically literate is more about being acquainted with the heart of God for his people than knowing all of the content. I have spent the last 30 years of my life learning the content, and I have a long way to go. One of the things I like to teach people who want to become acquainted with the Bible is the big story: the overarching narrative that runs cover to cover, the story of the kingdom of God and the redemption of creation. Once we know that story, our biblical literacy begins to rise, and our attitude can be aligned with the spirit of the whole rather than an attitude expressed in a single text.

Learning about the numerous genres of literature, the complex cultural and historical nature of the text, and magnitude of the Bible itself should make us more patient with people who don’t share our good vibes about the Bible. When people speak half-truths, when they disparage the Bible because of a single text taken out of context, there is nothing to get angry about. They are not stupid, and they are not necessarily doing the work of the devil. It is likely that the Bible has been quoted at them to correct, malign, or to judge them or someone or something they believe. Respecting the giant and complex nature of this text may make us cautious about how we wield a sword around others and help us understand how they might be confused, hold onto misrepresented truth, or feel beat up by the Bible unjustly.

Last, but not least, knowing more about the different kinds of literature, history, and how cultures all fit together in the Bible can help us grow and even be helpful to others. This is why I cannot stress enough the need for courses like Introduction to the Bible and How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth. Since we, as Christians, are putting so much stock in the Bible it only makes sense that we know its origins, how it is put together, the different kinds of literature, the central theme, and how to read for understanding. So that we might rightly apply the word for the purpose of giving life rather than using it to hurt those we disagree with.

Next week I want to focus on how we deal with the relationship between science and Christianity.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

from the VCC Newsletter on 10/8: Sages in the Information Age

Last week I mentioned  you can learn virtually anything on the internet these days, there is very little that is hidden, but for us to become the sages of wisdom this generation needs requires us to be very authentic and transparent about what we do or do not actually know.

Today I want to focus on sages as role models. Having information does not automatically come with the wisdom to process the information. For example, someone who knows a lot about his or her medication should not dispense it to others. In addition, someone should not perform surgery, even an M.D., because they watched hundreds of TED talks and Youtube videos. Most of life is not as serious as surgery nor as consequential as medication, still most of us have made more than a few costly mistakes with too many zeros at the end.  We all need sages, those who have made their own share of mistakes and can help us process the information. We need teachers, not to dispense information, but to help us make sense of the myriad of information at our disposal. We still need pastors, not to tell us what the Bible says, but to help us make sense of each chapter and verse. Yet many people today do not trust the experts but are instead looking for noble sages. These persons don’t need to have all the answers. They are the people we trust because they are living the life we want to live; we trust the way they process the information we bring to them. Sometimes they are our parents, and sometimes they are just trusted persons we perceive as being thoughtful, intentional, genuine, and full of peace and joy.  In other words, they reflect the fruit of the Spirit.

In that same spirit, Sages avoid the trap of comparison. When they need to compare or contrast things in life they pick lessons from nature, old stories, fables, and parables to avoid pitting persons against one another. In doing so they rarely make statements about groups of people or assumptions about another person's motives. This unwillingness to rush to judgment gives the us confidence that there is no agenda but only an honest pursuit of truth.

So let’s talk about how that plays out in real life. Sages evaluate science, politics, religion, philosophy, justice, and wisdom, not on the basis of their own experience nor from the vantage point of their own beliefs, but from honest discussion on the merits of what is presented. They rarely make value judgments and avoid labeling persons or ideas. It’s not because they lack their own assessments or opinions, but they demonstrate the validity or invalidity based on the issue at hand. They can logically follow the reasoning and point out the strengths and weaknesses of whatever is being considered. If the discussion is evolution they do not dismiss evolutionists as stupid or evil, nor make assumptions about their agenda. Sages reason through the strengths and weaknesses of the discussion and point clearly toward alternative views without making hurtful or demeaning statements. If the topic is political they do not leap to party ideology nor dismiss people’s views on individual discussions by party affiliation. Sages consider the discussion based on the merits of people’s opinions.  Recently someone I know found himself in a conversation about abortion. He is ardently pro-life. The person he was talking to was undecided but trusted his judgment. After a long discussion about the rationale for and against abortion, the young person thanked him for not getting upset, for hearing him out, and for not making the discussion political. Later, that young person told others he was pro-life, not because of political or religious affiliation, but on logical merits. Within earshot of my friend, he proceeded to make several of the points earlier discussed. What was most impressive was how the other young people listened to their peer and thanked him for not being political, demeaning women, or being dismissive of their viewpoint. They felt heard, not lectured, and they agreed the merits of the discussion leaned pro-life.

Next week I would like to talk about how we validate the Bible without arguing or demeaning others. A hint: it doesn’t begin with just knowing what it says, but instead it begins with the collection of writings, the genres, and even methods of study. We will discuss the history as well as the content of the Bible.

Monday, October 1, 2018

From the VCC newsletter on 10/1: Sage Advice for the Religion of None

Sage Advice for the Religion of None

Last week I spoke about the post-Christian transition in our society, and the move from organized religion toward superstition (or unorganized religion).  In it I stated the two main reasons were, one, the rejection of authority, and two, a lack of critical thinking.
Rejection of Authority
One of the primary issues for the deterioration of authority is the general lack of integrity, transparency, and honesty exercised by authority figures. In the past, those in authority had the luxury of controlling information, so they could reject anything that posed a threat to their authority and the status quo. Because they controlled the information they also controlled the narrative. Today with the free exchange of information and ideas anyone can become an expert in anything. Those in authority, teachers, doctors, lawyers, politicians, clergy, etc., are no longer the dispensers of truth. Instead we have entered an age where leaders can be fact-checked. Even while they are speaking. Even while they are asking for allegiance. If those listening find a lack of clarity, honesty, or integrity in the information, suspicion begins to creep in.  This suspicion is then reflected on the institutions the speaker represents .

Our new role of leaders in the church has ceased to be providers or dispensers of information.  Instead their roles have become that of “biblical sage.” The very concept of a sage is one we lack in modern society. For all of our technology and information, we are not known for wisdom and maturity. We live in an age where there are few fathers, few loveable daddies, and way too many sperm donors. It’s like this: when my kids were little they looked up to me to give them answers about life. As they grew they began to hear other voices and tested them to see what was true. All too often, when I didn’t know the answer, I gave them plausible answers. I stated them as fact, and they believed me. Eventually the competition of other voices caused them to challenge my plausible answers with facts, or different opinions. If my answers started coming up empty, it gave rise to even more complicated questions. My authority was at stake in their lives, most of which was dismissed as growing up. But the truth was this: because I didn’t do research, and instead gave plausible answers, my kids began to doubt my authority and knowledge, and eventually they sought information from other sources that seemed equally as plausible (the internet, teachers, friends, etc). Truth became more subjective than objective and even my role as sage came under fire. I clearly lacked wisdom. While all of this may sound normal, the problem reaches farther than just parenting. The same people who don't do the research at home, don’t do the research for subordinates, laity, students, and anyone else under their authority.

Moving forward, the greatest need is not for the church to reassert its authority nor prove the authority of the Bible, but for the body of Christ and the leaders to be honest, integrous, transparent, and diligent in our handling of God’s Word and the discharging of duties as father’s and mother’s of the faith (2 Timothy 2.1-8). Telling people, "I do not know" is better than giving plausible answers that can be fact-checked and found wanting. But eventually, we must be able to give an account for the hope we have (1 Peter 3.15-16). We are called to be childlike, not childish. We must mature in our faith and become the sages of wisdom among a vast sea of “experts.” The biggest part will be making sure our answers and our character line-up with the advice we give and the things we say we believe.

Next week I want to continue this thread on authority with more ways for us to engage the world as sages of wisdom.