“TAKING THE BIBLE AS IT IS”

Familiarity breeds contempt, the saying goes. A dubious adage if taken universally, it certainly captures an aspect of human experience. Perhaps more accurately, if less sagely, it could be said that familiarity transforms our relationship to things (and vice versa). For me, one of those transformative familiar things is a compilation of ancient texts, the Bible. Raised in the WASPy heartland of evangelicalism in Canada, the Bible has been part of my moral and imaginative vocabulary since I was a child. It has indelibly shaped the way I see the world. While I may no longer hold to the certainties ostensibly derived from it, and acknowledging its limitations, I am in fact quite grateful for the education evangelicalism gave me. Part of that gratitude stems from evangelicalism’s earnest attempt to maintain the sense in which a text from the past, the Bible, can speak to us in the here and now. Though it scarcely needs to be added that evangelicals are not alone in this. Just this week, on the bicentenary of her death, Jane Austen has been honoured with a place on the ten pound note in the UK. Several essays have been duly published in various newspapers and magazines that attest to the lasting influence her novels continue to wield. Continue reading ““TAKING THE BIBLE AS IT IS””

“A WHIP OUT OF CORDS”

So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.

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Perhaps you’re familiar with this episode. If you grew up like mein white, Anglo, evangelical Protestant Christianityit likely featured in the sermons you heard and Sunday school lessons you learned. I rather like the image of Jesus that the Gospel of John gives us here. But not for the reasons given in my Sunday school classes. There Jesus was depicted as disrupting the legalistic priests who, in the minds of my well-meaning teachers, clung to the letter of the law when they should have been agents of God’s grace. That reading of the New Testament has a long history, but it is now regarded by a wide range of scholars as deeply mistaken (not least because it reinforces anti-Semitic stereotypes). Continue reading ““A WHIP OUT OF CORDS””

HOLY WEEK: READING AND REMEMBERING

This Holy Week past I read the Gospel of John on the assumption that there is something to be gained by doing so in the form we currently have it. That may seem rather obvious. It’s certainly not a novel approach. And it’s worth observing that it doesn’t negate other readings. Those remain possible, fruitful, relevant. In my case I had started reading the Gospel of John because it was part of the liturgical schedule at church. What I mean by reading John’s Gospel as we have it is reading it in its final editorial form, as it has taken its place in the Christian New Testament. Biblical scholars remind us that this Gospel was probably first written for a particular community at a particular moment in time. This must certainly be the case in a general way, i.e. for the early Christian community (as scholars Richard Bauckham and others suggest), or in a more specific way, i.e. for the Johannine community (as scholars John Ashton and others suggest). Still, the challenge of understanding what the Gospel of John says remains complex. Continue reading “HOLY WEEK: READING AND REMEMBERING”

PHILIP YANCEY’S AMERICA

When asked about evangelical support for Donald Trump in a recent interview, prominent evangelical writer Philip Yancey replies with astonishment. How, he wonders, could Trump be an evangelical hero? But surely (hopefully?) Yancey isn’t ignorant of how race, class, and gender figure into this equation. The reality is that a much more specific subset of evangelicals consider Trump a hero, and presumably a larger subset see him merely as a temporary political ally. Philip Gorski suggests Trump support among evangelicals derives from those whose religion is a form of national identity, which Gorski calls “Christianism”. Such Christianism is often “restorationist”, as Max Perry Mueller observes, which helps to explain why evangelicals might resonate with the phrase “make America great again”. Continue reading “PHILIP YANCEY’S AMERICA”

SPEAKING OF GOD

This past Sunday I gave a talk at church on the Apostle Paul’s visit to Athens as recorded in the seventeenth chapter of the New Testament book of the “Acts of the Apostles”.  This is the fourth time I’ve spoken at church in the past two years or so. I had a little fun with my talk by trying to summarize the book of Acts as if it was tv series, which I punned by calling it “Better Call Paul”. This was, of course, done in my own layman’s terms, and certainly without any pretense to knowledge of the relevant historical-critical scholarship or deep theological insight. That said, I felt confident enough to speak because I’m partial to the view that being Christian means knowing, living, and retelling the stories about God recorded in Scripture. Continue reading “SPEAKING OF GOD”

RELIGIOUS AND ATHEIST DIVERSITY

Religion is sometimes held to be untrue today because there are so many different and often conflicting claims made about it. To even speak of “religion” in such reified and monolithic terms offends contemporary ears. In an address to the 2009 American Academy of Religion conference in Montreal, then president Mark Juergensmeyer pointed out that after 100 years of studying religion scholars were still not agreed as to what, if anything, the term “religion” meant. While scholars may not agree as to its meaning, it seems to be the case that religious diversity exerts a kind of negative pressure on those who study and practice a given religion today, as a fact which such a religion must face as mark against it. Religious diversity, in other words, is very often felt to count as an automatic blow to any and all religion whatsoever. But this wasn’t always the case. Continue reading “RELIGIOUS AND ATHEIST DIVERSITY”

IMMORAL ATHEISM?

It is disappointing to see a Christian fulfill what I would have thought was a tired stereotype: asserting that a rival belief or argument is ultimately based on immorality. Aside from being a conversation-stopper, in today’s world it seems to exude the bunker mentality of a subculture that does not want to sincerely engage with the world around it. Jim Spiegel has written a short article in Christianity Today that implies “New Atheists” are atheists because they cannot overcome their irrational passions. He even goes so far as to suggest that unbelief might be best fought by traditional family values, a conclusion derived from another scholar who claims that many prominent atheists in history had what amount to father issues. Continue reading “IMMORAL ATHEISM?”