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  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
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Entries in Bible (16)

Friday
Nov292013

Hermeneutics and homiletics - On Malcolm Gladwell's story of David and Goliath  

A good friend of mine @JohannGrobler alerted me to a fascinating TED talk given by one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell on the Biblical narrative of David and Goliath.  You can watch it on Youtube below.

It is fascinating to watch Malcolm share his perspective on this well known Biblical narrative.  He is not only a very creative and astute thinker - able to find a novel angle to well known data, and then develop a point that opens up new possibilities for thought - he is also a very engaging and effective orator.  I enjoyed watching the talk a great deal!

What Johann wanted to know was whether what was said about David (that he was probably more agile and skilled than Goliath as a warrior) and Goliath (that he was so large because of a cancer that causes unnatural growth (acromegaly). One of the side effects of this disease is short sightedness and double vision) were true.  Well, my answer to Johann's question is quite simply, I am not sure!  Unless we have medical evidence on Goliath's condition and corroborating testimony to substantiate the suggestions made about David by Malcolm Gladwell, Gladwell's theory is as plausible (or unplausable) as any other theory.  We cannot have absolute certainty on the theory without substantive evidence to support it. 

I can say, however, that I found what Gladwell said sensible and very interesting. What he suggests is certainly not outside of the realm of possibility. He does offer some second tier evidence to support his hypothesis.  To support his claims about David's skill he cites historical documents and data about the effectiveness and accuracy of sling shot users in the ancient world.  To support his claims about Goliath he cites some studies from contemporary (modern) medicine - although I am sure in both cases there is probably equally significant evidence and cause for reaching different conclusions.  That is the nature of academic debate.  Simply because and article is published, or a point is substantiated, that does mean that it is more true than another point.  There are some very bright and intelligent people who believed all sorts of crazy things (with medical evidence to support their claims).

What struck me as most significant about this talk was the manner in which Gladwell has adapted the disciplines of hermeneutics and homiletics so effectively in making his point.  What he is doing is very similar to what millions of priests, pastors, rabbi's and imman's do every week.  He has taken a narrative (in this case the Biblical narrative of David and Goliath) and interpreted it creatively in order to argue a particular point - the point here is found in his conclusion, i.e., that we must not be too simplistic about our accepted view of dominant narratives, and that giants may not always be what they seem (which implies that underdogs may also not always be what they seem).

Homileticians use this approach frequently, they communicate and idea by using 'foundational knowledge' as a connecting point with the audience.  Then they draw on other authoritative sources (in this case history and medicine) to introduce new knowledge that will support the reasonable acceptance of desired truth.  In Biblical studies we teach our students to understand that the text always has a historical context, that the 'players' in the narrative have depth to them (they are seldom what the narrator or author of the text has presented).  The intention is to use whatever data is available to unpack the deeper and more subtle truths about the elements of the story (the characters in the story, the plot lines, the intention of the author or narrator (what did he or she include or leave out, what was emphasised, what was underplayed - Gladwell does this a number of times in his talk), what was the situation of the recipients of the narrative (what did the author assume about them, their needs, their religious and social framework etc.).  The process us called hermeneutics - the science of interpretation.

I am grateful to Johann for pointing me to this great talk, and for raising the question that allowed me to view Malcolm Gladwell's talk with a more enquiring mind than just accepting admiration.

Saturday
Dec012012

Should we have the right to read the Bible?

I was deeply challenged by the quote below from Stanley Hauerwas:

Most North American Christians assume that they have a right, if not an obligation, to read the Bible. I challenge that assumption. No task is more important than for the Church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America. Let us no longer give the Bible to all children when they enter the third grade or whenever their assumed rise to Christian maturity is marked, such as eighth-grade commencements. Let us rather tell them and their parents that they are possessed by habits far too corrupt for them to be encouraged to read the Bible on their own.

North American Christians are trained to believe that they are capable of reading the Bible without spiritual and moral transformation. They read the Bible not as Christians, not as a people set apart, but as democratic citizens who think their “common sense” is sufficient for “understanding” the Scripture. They feel no need to stand under the authority of a truthful community to be told how to read. Instead they assume that they have all the “religious experience” necessary to know what the Bible is about. As a result the Bible inherently becomes the ideology for a politics quite different from the politics of the Church.

Note, it is not an issue of whether the Bible should be read politically, but an issue of which politics should determine our reading as Christians. All reading is embedded in a politics, and avoiding politics is not something for which we can or should strive.

Stanley Hauerwas, Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America (via lukexvx)


At first I was shocked when I read this quote - of course it applies as much to South Africa as it does to North America - and, I am passionate about getting people to read the Biblical text!

But, then as I thought about it I began to wonder, what does it mean to allow people to have access to this powerful text when all we do is overpower it with our own ideas, our need to support our ideologies, and our misuse of the text to abuse others. To use the Bible in this way is more harmful than good. It disregards the God who gives us this book of love, wisdom, and challenge.

Perhaps if the Bible were more scarce, if the text was seen to be precious, we would treat it in that way! We would listen to the text, rather than choose its words to express our own thoughts.

I agree with Hauerwas' sentiments, perhaps there are better ways to recapture a respect for the text and reeducate readers of the text?

Saturday
Aug042012

A Biblical mandate for advocacy on poverty and corruption - ABLI presentation

Yesterday I had the great honour of speaking in the Plenary and conducting a workshop session at the African Biblical Leadership Initiative (ABLI) forum in Uganda.

I was invited to present on our campaign 'EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption'. A number of the participants asked me to upload the slides from the presentation.

You can view the slides online below (please note that the first slide is blank, there is content from slide two).

If you would like to download a copy of the slides you can download them in PowerPoint format here.  They are in PPTX format and the file size is about 7.5MB.  If you use the slides please just attribute their source.

I told three stories to make the point that Christians have a responsibility, a ministry, to advocate for justice (speaking out against corruption and working with and for the poor).

Story 1 was called Philip's story.  It asks a powerful theological question:  If God has made the earth plentiful.  If Africa is so fertile and rich in natural and human resources, then why is he, and so many other Africans, stuck in abject poverty?

I used this wonderful video from NURU international.

Story 2 is a Biblical story.  I give some Biblical and Theological input on God's Economy (the oikos [household] nomos [management]).  The etymology of the contemporary English word 'economics' derives from two Greek words that mean the 'management of the household of God'.  The basic point here is that God desires a different standard of equity, justice and the management of the earth's resources so that every person can have a share of God's loving provision to flourish and live in blessing.

Some participants challenged a statement that I made in which I said that the prosperity 'gospel' is  not Biblical.  I stand by that statement.  I do not believe that God is an 'investment banker' where if one follows certain deterministic principles God is contractually bound to make one rich.  Moreover, it is simply not possible for the world to all live at the same standard of consumption that is expounded by prosperity preachers.  We can sustain that level of consumption of the natural resources of the earth.  If every person on earth lived at the standards of the average first world citizen the planet would depleted in a few short years.

However, I also do NOT believe that it is God's desire that the poor should remain in poverty.  I also do not believe that all wealth is evil and wrong.  I believe that what God wants is greater equity between the poor and the rich. In God's economy no child should have too much while another child has too little.  Of course there would be some who have more (e.g., persons who pursue business) and some who have less (persons such as myself who follow a life of service in the academy or in ministry).  However, no one should have too little and no one should have too much.

I do believe that part of the ministry of the Church is to develop the nation.  We should be involved in economic development.  We should be encouraging entrepreneurship.  However, we should also be encouraging responsible stewardship.  We should be encouraging simple and responsible living.

Aman, and a visiting Bishop from Zambia, both put their finger on the problem.  They both suggested that the problem is the terminology that we use.  For me, and many 'westernised' Christians the word prosperity has connations of excess (i.e., how does one get a bigger house, a better car, a higher salary than the good one already has).  However, for most poor persons prosperity means being able to meet the needs of your family and live with a reasonable measure of economic and social freedom.

Just to give some credit, I used a slide from my colleauge at the University of Stellenbosch, Dr Marius Nel, in this section.  It traces the development of the Historical Jesus scholarship.  I basically ask the question 'which Jesus shapes your faith?'  In short, the kind of Jesus that one finds preached by popular television preachers does not resemble the Jesus of the Bible very much.  If you want to find out what the Jesus of scripture cared about do yourself a favor and JUST read the red letters of the Gospels (the words of Jesus) for a month or so and see what Jesus thinks about, talks about, and cares about.  You may be surprised that he cares more about justice, economics, gender relations, systems of power in society than you thought.

Story 3 is our story.  I used the 'EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption' campaign as an example of  advocacy on corruption and poverty. In this section I drew on the great work of my colleague, Amanda Jackson, on advocacy.

I used this video.

I hope there may be something of use here.  Please let me know what you think.  God bless, Dion

Friday
Aug032012

The ABLI Forum in Uganda - The Bible and politics

The relationship between the Bible and politics has been somewhat controversial over the centuries.  There are those who say that intention of scripture is to direct our spiritual lives, as a result, for example, many South Africans were told not to mess with politics during the apartheid era.  Then there are those who understand that faith is a fundamentally political - since our faith addresses every aspect of our lives it has a significant impact on every choice and action that shapes life.

I am currently in Uganda to speak at the African Biblical Leadership Innitiative (ABLI) Forum.  It is a wonderful group of people who gathered here!  I am meeting many of them for the first time.  Others I have known for some years.  It is such a blessing to be with these sisters and brothers - we share many common objectives and ideals.

The vision of ABLI is to empower leaders (African and elsewhere) with Biblical truths that will foster integrity and justice in the world.  ABLI is working to raise up leaders so that nations will be transformed by God’s truth, love and justice.  The ABLI forum meets each year just before the meetings of the African Union and it focuses on sharing and discovering a Biblical approach to Good Governance, Conflict Resolution, and Economic Life.

I have the privilege of representing ‘EXPOSED – Shining a light on corruption’ and the Unashamedly Ethical campaigns at ABLI - this invitation came via our coalition partners Micah Challenge.  I have opportunities to speak and conduct a workshop with the leaders of the Bible Societies from across the world.  This is a significant opportunity to encourage our sisters and brothers to heed the challenge of Micah 6.8 ‘What does God require of you?  To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God’.

Among the thoughts that have shaped my input for this wonderful group are these:

Both religion and politics are concerned with how we should organize societies. Yet the tendency for Christians has often been to begin with the politics and work back- wards to find religious rationale for our political beliefs. As a result, most people read the Bible not to challenge our deeply held beliefs, but to affirm the decisions we've already made with our lives. 

- Tim Suttle God’s Politics.

As you will see on this blog, I tend to agree with the perrennial view of the Bible, namely that it is critical in shaping our individual and collective lives for justice, peace, mercy and wellbeing (rather than just a source document from which we pluck a few verses to support our individual choices and actions).

Of course such a view is seldom popular, since it does challenge the establishment somewhat.  It would seem that much of popular Christianity has a view of Jesus that is something between a personal therapist and a stock broker.  I think the loving way of Jesus is far more revolutionary and transformative than that!

When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food they call me a communist.

- Dom Helder Camara

I found this quote from NT Wright quite helpful:

The chief political concern of the Scriptures is for God's wise and loving ordering of his world to be operative through humans who will share his priorities, especially his concern for the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. This concern was embodied by Jesus in his inauguration of 'God's kingdom' through his public career and especially his self-giving death, which together set the pattern for a radically redefined notion of power.

 —  N.T. Wright, New Testament Scholar at University of St. Andrews

I believe that the central political question is the management of public power in order that there should be an economically viable life for all members of the community. Thus justice is front and center and some texts, especially in Deuteronomy, are for the distribution of wealth in order that all may be viable. Obviously such justice is marked by mercy, compassion and generosity. The purpose is to create a genuine neighborhood for all the neighbors.  

 —  Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament Scholar, Columbia Theological Seminary

And of course no post would be complete without quoting something from Stanley Hauerwas!

The chief political concern of the Bible is to worship God truly. 

—  Stanley Hauerwas, Theologian and ethicist at Duke Divinity School  

I agree with this last quote wholeheartedly - the chief political concern of the Bible is to declare and celebrate the worth of God in every aspect of creation.  We do so by establishing systems that express God's ways, God's eternal shalom in our economic, political and social policies, as well as in the Church's work of mission and evangelism.

Children's Choir singing at the opening ceremony at Lake Victoria

Please could you pray for my family, Megan, Courtney and Liam?  I have had a lot of travel in the last few weeks.  Please ask the Lord to protect and bless them, to keep them healthy and to continue to provide for all our needs.  Please could you also pray for our EXPOSED, Micah Challenge and Unashamedly Ethical teams in South Africa and elsewhere in the world?  Please pray that the Lord would give them great love and boldness to stand for His standards of righteousness and justice in the Church, Business and Government. Frequently such a stance comes at great personal cost.  Please also pray for me as I travel and have chances to speak and to meet with sisters and brothers.  Please pray that God gives me wisdom, humility, conviction, passion and most of all His love for this world and the people and systems He loves and wants to transform. Please pray that I serve our sisters and brothers well at ABLI, and here in Uganda.

Thank you so much for your partnership in the work of God’s Kingdom!

Sunday
May012011

Prayer and the Bible / Prayer and the Holy Spirit - notes and slides from the Methodist Prayer Convention in Sibu Malaysia

I had the privelage of doing two of the plenary talks at the Methodist Prayer Convention in Sibu, Malaysia, yesterday.

Some of the participants in those talks asked for copies of my notes and the powerpoint slides.  Unfortunately I cannot access my FTP server from the Hotel, so I've uploaded the notes to my dropbox folder and shared the files - I'm fairly certain this should work.  The PowerPoints are about 2.5MB each and the PDF outlines of my notes are only a few hundred KB.

You can download these files from my Dropbox folder by clicking the links below (you will just need to set up a free DropBox username and password in order to get the files).

If you have any problems downloading the notes please drop me a line and I will try to get them to you by another means.

God bless,

Dion

Saturday
Apr302011

Day 2 of the 2011 Methodist Prayer convention in Sibu, Malaysia

Last night more than 3500 people packed the main hall of the Kingwood Hotel conference center for the opening of the Methodist Prayer convention. Bishop Hwa Yung and Graham Power spoke about the global prayer movement. What was most significant for me was the 'concert of prayer' in which the entire gathering prayed together around critical issues in the world for almost an hour!

Today we continue with the conference. I shall be speaking at the Tamil Plenary sessions at 9.00 on the Bible and Prayer, then Graham and I speak on Unashamedly Ethical and Transform your work life over lunch to a group of 400 business people, after which I will speak at the evening plenary on the Holy Spirit and prayer.

Thank you for your ongoing prayers for us.

Please could I encourage you to pray for the people of Syria today - they are facing extreme oppression as they protest for democracy. Also please remember our sisters and brothers in the United States of America who have faced the ravages of nature as tornadoes devastated parts of the South.

Sunday
Oct102010

Christian leadership - An interview with Kate Turkington on Radio 702 / Cape Talk Radio

Yesterday I was phoned by the producer of Kate Turkington's radio program on Radio 702 / Cape Talk Radio to ask if I would be willing to do an interview on her show on some of the characters and characteristics of Christian Leadership.  You may stumble upon this page today, or in the months that follow.  Please feel free to add your own thoughts, insights and convictions in the comments below! I'd love to hear from you!

What is certain is that there are a wealth of resources on what it means to be a Christian and a Leader.  I have chosen a few points that are important to me - some of them were written up in my most recent book 'Transform your work life:  Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling' (with particular reference to one of the great Christian leaders in contemporary South Africa, Graham Power of the Power Group, Global Day of Prayer and Unashamedly Ethical).

So, here are a few pointers:

An unwavering commitment to the person of Jesus and the ways of Jesus.

If one declares one's self to be a Christian in leadership he or she should naturally display a clear devotion to the person of Jesus Christ, and the ways of Jesus. I would suggest that a Christian leader should bear some resemblance to the character of Jesus (Phil 2:1-5 and Gal 5.21-23).  Moreover, a Christian leader should seek to devote his or her life to doing the kinds of things that Jesus came to do (to establish God's Kingdom of justice, mercy, grace, equality, provision and wholeness - c.f. Lk 4:33 and Lk 4:19ff).

A Christian leader should display integrity and courage.

All of the great leaders of the Bible (among whom I would count Jesus, David, Joseph, Moses and a host of others such as Esther) displayed great integrity and courage.

Let's talk about courage first - it was Christ's courage that cost his life.  It was Moses' courage that highlighted one of the central themes of the Bible (God's emphasis upon social justice), he set a nation free and courageously led them through very trying conditions in the desert.  David faced Goliath and many other enemies in his lifetime.  Esther won over a foreign King and saved her people.

Integrity is another hallmark of a great Christian leader.  The Bible is clear that we should not say 'yes, yes' with one breath and 'no, no' with the next (Matt 5.37 and 2 Cor 1.17).  Jospeh showed incredible integrity in not giving in to the seduction of Potiphar's wife. He was not swayed by the might of the King, and eventually he went on to save many nations - even his own brothers who had sold him into slavery. Of course David made a number of indiscretions in his life and faced grave consequences for that!

A Christian leader should seek to be a servant of God's will and the needs of the people.

One of the most shameful characteristics of contemporary leadership is that it is selfish and self fulfilling.  It is all about the leader.  However, the real reason for leadership is to serve a greater cause.  Christian leaders are called to live like Jesus did, as servant leaders (see Luke 9.46-50; 22.24-30; Mark 9.33-37; 10.35-45; Matt. 20.20-28).  Of course Jesus himself was a leader who recognized that his life should be lived for others - he served the will of his Father first and foremost, and sought to uplift others and bring out the very best in them (John 13.1-7).

In our time I have seen a few people like this.  Bishop Desmond Tutu was willing to sacrifice himself for what he believed God wanted for the nation of South Africa.  He would place himself in difficult situations, facing powerful groups and people, and even placing himself between waring groups, for the sake of peace and transformation.  His servanthood and sincere love for others won them over, changed first their hearts and then their minds, and later won the day!  

Nelson Mandela is another man who has done this in our nation. After all that he had been through in his lifetime he would have been justified (socially) if he was filled with revenge.  Yet, he held the needs of the nation as higher than his own.  He exemplified forgiveness and reconciliation and inspired others to do the same.

A Christian leader should be skillful, self controlled and humble.

The leaders of the Bible were all equipped for the tasks they were to take up.  Some received divine empowerment, others were trained in courts or under Godly mentors.  Some had previous life's experience that they could apply to their new tasks.

A person who is skilled and secure in what they are to do will have a powerful personal life.  They will be resolute and secure, not pandering to the needs of others, or selfish ambition and vein conceit (Phil 2:5).  I'm afraid that there are many leaders who have dismal private lives, and it shows clearly in their public life!

A Christian leader should do all that she or he can to lead first within their home, displaying the deepest and most sincere character traits in those relationships, and then from that strong base to lead in the broader community.

Some of the greatest weaknesses that we see in leaders who make mistakes in the Bible (David, Saul, Judas) etc., are mistakes that result from a lack of self-control, a lack of humility, and personal ambition and desire.  Christian leaders should have the needs of the people and the will of God as their primary motivation.

Finally, on my list, I believe Christian leaders should live by faith.

It takes faith to achieve great things for God and God's people!  A Christian leader will require faith in God's ability and God's sovereign Power and Will.  Many leaders in the Bible (Joseph and Moses, even Paul) had to rely on God to do things that seemed impossible!  Their faith in God, which arises out a deeply intimate relationship with God in Christ, gave them both courage and sustanance for the journey of leadership.

Well, that's my list for now!  I hope to be able to record the show this evening and put a copy up here after the fact.

Please fee free to add your thoughts, ideas and insights in the comments below!  I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday
Sep302010

The Bible and Christian Ethics - lectures at the University of Stellenbosch

This week I had the privelage of teaching at the University of Stellenbosch on two days.  The topic of the lectures was Scripture and Ethics.

The Bible is a critical source that informs our moral and ethical decision making processes, and helps us to justify why we have taken a particular course of action.  My lectures were based on two chapters that I have written.

Reading the same Bible and reaching different ethical conclusions:  The Bible and Christian ethics" by Forster, D (2009:131-156) in What is a good life? An introduction to Christian Ethics in 21st century Africa. Kretzschmar, L; Bentley, W; van Niekerk, A (eds). Kempton Park, AcadSA Publishers.

And,

"Why you can't simply trust everything you read" by Forster, D (2008:25-46) in What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists. Forster, D; Bentley, W (eds). Cape Town.  Methodist Publishing House.

When we need the Bible most... Complex ethical dilemmas and Christian scripture

Sadly, the Bible is often abused in moral and ethical decision-making processes.  I often hear people quoting a single verse to justify a stance on something (whether it be politics, sexual choices, wealth etc.)  An overly simplistic approach to ethics and an ignorant application of the scriptures can be extremely hurtful and damaging in complex ethical decisions.

In this set of lectures we began by examining the complexity of ethical decision-making.  We used a story that a student shared with me when I was still a lecturer in Ethics and Systematic Theology at the University of South Africa (UNISA) some years ago:

Moral problems tend to have straigthfoward answers (right or wrong), whereas ethical dilemmas seem to have a mix of both good and bad.  No matter what choice you make it will not be entirely good or entirely bad.  The complexity is to work out what decision is best under the circumstances.  This process of deciding is often complicated when one asks the question 'What would God want me to do in this situation?', or 'What does the Bible say I can and cannot do in this situation?'

The example used in class came from a student that I taught at UNISA.

Example:  Is it ever right for a son to have sexual intercourse with his mother?  What does the Bible say?  The answer is, no, it is not acceptable for a son to have sexual intercourse with his mother.  The Bible will not allow that.  This is a clear moral problem.  It is easy to resolve since the choices are either right or wrong, good or bad.

However, in this instances the young man was at home with his mother.  A gang of thugs burst into their home, stole various items and then held a gun to the young man’s mother’s head.  The told him that if he did not have sex with his mother they would kill her.  What should he do?  Does the Bible make some allowance for him to break a law on sexual purity because the value of his mother’s life is more important in Biblical terms?

This last point is an ethical dilemma.  There is a conflict of values – the value of sexual purity in conflict with the value for life.  Which is more important in Christian ethics?  How does one use the Bible to inform such an ethical decision making process and choice?

Well, here are the slides from the lectures.  You can download the original Microsoft Powerpoint slides from this link (5MB).  These slides have notes and references in them. 

However, if you simply want to click through the slides then please use the slideshare window below.

In order to illustrate the complexity of using the Bible in Christian ethics we used a very contentious subject, the Christian (Biblical) perspective on persons with a same sex orientation, and in particular persons in an active homosexual relationship, to consider an approach to ethical decision-making.

I would highly recomend that you read the chapters referenced above.  They give a detailed technical outline of both the content of the lecture, but also the Analyse, Ask, Evaluate and Act model that is presented here.

Thursday
Jul152010

Too familiar to take seriously?

I read the Bible - it is a valuable and helpful discipline. I find courage, challenge, comfort and insight within its pages. I have a copy of the Bible on my iPhone (in fact I have three copies; the NRSV, NIV and Greek New Testament). I follow the discipline of taking time for daily devotions (prayer, reading scripture and quiet mediation upon scripture). But, I also try to read the Bible during the day when I can find the time.

The quote below challenged me! I need to spend much more time being challenged and changed as I wrestle with the grace filled teaching of the Bible. Here's what Thomas Merton said:

"There is, in a word, nothing comfortable about the Bible -- until we manage to get so used to it that we make it comfortable for ourselves. But then we are perhaps too used to it and too at home in it. Let us not be too sure we know the Bible ... just because we have learned not to have problems with it. Have we perhaps learned ... not to really pay attention to it? Have we ceased to question the book and be questioned by it?"

- Thomas Merton from his book 'Opening the Bible'

I'm afraid that sometimes I become too familiar with this sacred text. How do you use the Bible? What do you use it for? I'd love to hear your feedback and thoughts!

Wednesday
Feb102010

Ancient laws, contemporary controversies

My friend Prof Cheryl Anderson, who I first met at Garrett Evangelical Seminary in beautiful Evanston Illinois - right on the Northwestern University Campus, in 2005, has just published a fantastic book entitled 'Ancient laws, contemporary controversies:  The need for inclusive Biblical interpretation.' (Oxford University Press, 2009).

Cheryl is a Professor of Old Testament who has done some wonderful work on contextual hermeneutics.  Her approach to reading the Bible responsibly is well worth studying!

Cheryl, thanks for sending me a copy of the book!  It looks fantastic!  I can't wait to read it!  It will help me to gain a better understanding on how we treat the text with integrity when there are so many elements of it that we no longer accept as morally or theologically binding (e.g., slavery, incest, polygamy etc., are no longer deemed acceptable because of shifts in culture.  We can't simply dismiss them without having some clear reasoning for passing over these elements while holding on to others)!  Anyone who is serious about the Bible, as I am, should read this book!

Here's the link to the book if anyone reading this blog would like to buy a copy.

Here's a description of Cheryl's project:

The Ten Commandments condone slavery, and Deuteronomy 22 deems the rape of an unmarried woman to injure her father rather than the woman herself. While many Christians ignore most Old Testament laws as obsolete or irrelevant-with others picking and choosing among them in support of specific political and social agendas-it remains a basic tenet of Christian doctrine that the faith is contained in both the Old and the New Testament. If the law is ignored, an important aspect of the faith tradition is denied.

In Ancient Laws and Contemporary Controversies, Cheryl B. Anderson tackles this problem head on, attempting to answer the question whether the laws of the Old Testament are authoritative for Christians today. The issue is crucial: some Christians actually believe that the New Testament abolishes the law, or that the Protestant reformers Luther, Calvin, and Wesley rejected the law. Acknowledging the deeply problematic nature of some Old Testament law (especially as it applies to women, the poor, and homosexuals), Anderson finds that contemporary controversies are the result of such groups now expressing their own realities and faith perspectives.

Anderson suggests that we approach biblical law in much the same way that we approach the U.S. Constitution. While the nation's founding fathers-all privileged white men-did not have the poor, women, or people of color in mind when they referred in its preamble to "We the people." Subsequently, the Constitution has evolved through amendment and interpretation to include those who were initially excluded. Although it is impossible to amend the biblical texts themselves, the way in which they are interpreted can-and should-change. With previous scholarship grounded in the Old Testament as well as critical, legal, and feminist theory, Anderson is uniquely qualified to apply insights from contemporary law to the interpretive history of biblical law, and to draw out their implications for issues of gender, class, and race/ethnicity. In so doing, she lays the groundwork for an inclusive mode of biblical interpretation.

Friday
Nov022007

What the world really looks like! It's all a matter of perspective

In my first New Testament lesson of each year at the University I use a simple illustration to help the students understand why we need to study the bible, and particularly why we need to find tools to help us understand the bias with which we read the text.  For example, if I were to ask you, what God's gender is, most people would say 'Male' because the Bible speaks of the first person of the Trinity as 'Father', but if I ask you what race God is, many would say that God is a caucasian (white) person.  However, there is no evidence in scripture that God is 'white', or in fact even male!  The fact that the Biblical writers refer to the first person of the Trinity as Father has much more to do with their culture (and the role and respect accorded to fathers) than it does with God's gender!  Yet, because of the dominance of western perspectives on the text we just assume such approaches, as male dominance, and race bias, uncritically.

So, let me ask you, what is the image below a representation of?  No, it is not a map of the world.  Rather, it is a North American / European view of the world, i.e., it is Eurocentric.  It emphasises the size of Europe and North America, presenting them as larger than Africa and South America.
However, this is what the land mass of the world actually looks like (see the map below)!  Look how small Europe and North America are actually in comparison to Africa and South America (the Peters Projection is a representation of 'actual land mass' of the continents).  Amazingly this map is referred to as a 'distorted map', even though it is a more accurate representation of the land mass of the world...  Even reality does not always change perspectives.


Bias is powerful!  We need to be aware of it, lest we put words into God's mouth.  A few months ago I posted a little guide for exegesis (first written by Tim Attwell, edited by myself):  

Basic principles of Exegesis for preachers and teachers 2007.pdf

Perhaps it will be of some use to you.

Today, however, I found another representation that could change the way we see the world.  It is a map that shows what the world would look like if we viewed it from the perspective of population - so the larger the 'land mass' the larger the population of that area of the world...  It is quite interesting!


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Monday
Oct292007

Robot Arm writes copies of the Luther Bible [Pic].... How times have changed!

I picked up the following story from Boing Boing.

Here's a picture of a robotic arm doing what Monks did way back in the scholastic era - writing copies of the Bible out by hand!

My, how times have changed.... I have often thought of getting my New Testament students to write out the New Testament just to be sure that they are reading it!!!

When I candidated to become a minister we had to read the whole Bible from cover to cover. It was quite a worthwhile experience (except for Numbers...).

For more great images of this 'monkbot' at work (please check out the great font it is writing in) go to the flickr page.

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