Saturday, December 6, 2008

Birdwatching I

Scot McKnight (see his jesuscreed blog on beliefnet) recently published The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How you Read the Bible. John Meadows recommended it, so I picked up a copy and was helped and challenged by reading it. I propose we spend a couple of conversations discussing it. I'd recommend you read it, but will provide a short summary of each section so that you can participate in the discussion without having to read the book ("Covenant Thinklings, where you can talk big without actually having to do any work!").

To get us into things, here's an assignment from the book:

Read chapter 19 in Leviticus (the subhead in your Bible may say something like "Various Laws." After reading through the chapter, make a list of the "laws" that you think are still "for God's people today," the ones that "no longer apply," and the ones that make you say, "Huh? No idea what to do here" (which likely means that it "no longer applies," so maybe you only have to make two lists after all!)

Now: on what basis did you assign various "laws" to the first or second (or third) list? It would probably be best to pick one example from each list and tell us how you made the call.

Appropriate humor is to be encouraged.


John the Musician said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John the Musician said...

Wait....where can I find this so called leviticus?

OH! That's one of those old testament books isn't it? =OP

Phew after reading that chapter I'm so glad that I'm not a christian, that's some scary stuff. I think the commandment "You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him," is out dated.

As a disclaimer for anyone who doesn't know me, most of the previous statement is in jest.

smokin joe said...

ok...its Sunday morning -- I finally have a little time and I am headed for Leviticus 19 ... great idea Brian. As the governor of California has been known to say, "I'll be back."

smokin joe said...

great, thought-provoking reading for a Sunday morning. I find myself stumped over 2 or 3 of the commands ... but first, here are those that would consider currently valid moral guides in some fashion:

be holy.
respect parents.
Do not turn to idols
'Do not steal.
Do not lie.
Do not deceive one another.
Do not swear falsely by my name
Do not defraud your neighbor
Do not hold back the wages of a hired man
Do not curse the deaf or stumble the blind
fear your God
Do not pervert justice
do not show partiality or favoritism
Do not slander
Do not do endanger your neighbor's life
Do not hate your brother
Do not seek revenge
Do not bear a grudge
love your neighbor as yourself.
Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly (partially).
do not mistreat the alien—love him.
Use honest scales and honest weights,

I struggled with the ones about rebuking one's neighor, and the commands about sorcery, mediums and spiritists (I have a number of friends who might be considered in one of those categories)

John M. said...

The point here, I hope I'm not rushing this Brian, is that when we read the Bible we "pick and choose". We decide what is for now and what was for then.

What does that say for the authority of the scriptures -- especially as we apply them to our live? By what process do we arrive at our decisions about what statements apply to "us" and what was only for "them"?

Btw, this picking and choosing dosen't just apply to "obscure" (for most Chrisitians) books like Leviticus, but also for numerous New Testament passages as well.

Joseph, awesome list of commands that do apply to us. Can you all see the reflection of Jesus word in Joseph's list? I can spend the rest of my life working on that list alone!

John M. said...

Sorry, I left off a couple "s's" in my last post. (It bugs me when other people do that!) But I think you can intuit what I was trying to say.

Brian, I forgot to say "thanks" for picking up on my book recommendation.

smokin joe said...

I missed this one ... it should probably still be current:

"Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute"

There are a couple that I am ambivalent about ... I think they depend on how they are defined:

"observe my Sabbaths" (a good principle, in myho, but not binding in the strict sense)

"Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary." (x2)

These require some definition ...

"Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists"
"Do not practice divination or sorcery"

what exactly constitutes sorcery and divination? Are Charismatic Christians who run after the latest "prophetic" word sometimes guilty of inadvertent divination? Is there such a thing as "Christian" magic? I personally think there is alot of it.

While I would agree that Christians should be cautious about spiritism, I seek out several people who are involved in aspects of that world in order to be a positive example of Christ and to influence them toward the Love of God -- but not to seek their spiritual power.

Here is one that stumped me pretty good:

"Rebuke your neighbor frankly"

who is my neighbor that I should rebuke? I can think of a number of people my circle of acquaintences that probably are doing wrong things or headed in the wrong direction but I do not think that I have the influence with them to get away with a rebuke.

great exercise Brian ... it has got me thinking ... I realize I have not addressed "why" I am picking some and not others ... I assume Brian will take us into that with the material from McKnight's book.

John the Musician said...

One thing I've noticed that I've been doing more of lately (which may or may not be a good/bad thing) is that I've been giving more importance to the direct commandments of God. For instance, God gave the Big 10, where as we can see some of God's men gave lists of more numerous and detailed things not to do and to do. In my opinion, it seems that all of the commandments can be common sensically derived from the Ten, but it seems that at the time Leviticus was written, someone (possibly mosses) felt that more detailed accounts of how to behave should be put out before the people, possibly because they were struggling with these very same things.

Some would say that this is the word of God and that God himself told mosses to write these things, some would say that this is the word of God and that mosses was putting more detail into these commandments to specifically address some of his people's weaknesses. I tend to lean towards the second. It seems to me that often you can bring back every thing that is said in the bible to a basic principle that God has given us, such as, Love God about all and love your neighbor as yourself.

It seems to me that a lot of the "story" was written in order to give numerous examples by which to reference and use in our struggle to achieve a holy life.

Brian Emmet said...

John M is jumping the gun just a bit--we will get there--but for now let's keep paying attention to how we each go about "picking and choosing" among the commands of Lev 19. While it is true that we all do some pickin' and choosin', that cannot be the end of the discussion; otherwise, we end up with "Well, this is what the Bible means to me" as our final interpretive authority.

Lev 19:19 is a definitive command: "Keep my decrees: do not mate different kinds of not plant your feilds with two kinds of not wear clothing woeven of two kinds of material." None of us think this "applies today," bit it is immediately adjacent (before and after) to commands we feel do "apply today." So why do we think so?

John the Musician said...

The simple answer seems to be that these "do not's" are so commonly practiced that it would be inconvenient to do otherwise. But also, shouldn't we be looking at the reason behind these commandments? Do not wear clothing made of two different types of material? Um... ok? Why? Or could the whole thing be metaphoric for don't try to mix me with other gods... but then that would oust the other very literal commandments in the chapter.

Brian Emmet said...

Good point: this section of Leviticus is part of the "Holiness Code," applied to Israel as God's unique people representing him in the midst of an unholy world. Just as God's people are not to "mix" with the Gentiles, so their clothing, fileds, etc. are not to be "mixed." The law is a reminder of identity... but applies uniquely to Israel.

So, are the laws in Lev 19 that we feel are still applicable today affirmed elsewhere, esp. in the NT? Will it work to say that the only OT commands that carry forward to the church are the ones affirmed in the NT?

John M. said...

Brain, good observation regarding the carry-over into the New Testament. Looking at Joseph's list, it seems that most of those are either spelled out or implied in the N.T.

Brian Emmet said...

One of the problems with my proposal--the only parts of the OT that are "binding" today are the parts that are specifically reaffirmed by the NT--is that it essentially removes the OT from Scripture--we no longer need it. It would become a repository for stotries and history, very little of which would apply to us today.

Which is the de facto position of many, many Christians and churches!

My proposal--and it's certainly not original to me--also assumes that the main purpose of Scripture is to provide "binding" laws and principles. McK criticizes the approaches to Scripture that view it as either a collection of laws or a grabbag of promises.

smokin joe said...

Hi Brian: I got my copy of McKnight's book and started on it yesterday (while on the stationary bike). Although I am only in chapter 2, so far I like it. One of the strengths of the book in my opinion is that it is not overly academic -- probably because he has been involved with college students who often are only spiritual novices, he has developed an ability to communicate weighty theological issues in simple laymen's terms. I think he is right on track with his observation of how we all "adopt and adapt." I am looking forward to getting further into the book over the holidays.

As far as looking for the 'living' or 'eternal' principle behind the specific commands, I think there is a clear principle behind cautions about seeking out or practicing divination or sorcery.

The problem with divination or ‘channeling’ as a medium is not that it is inherently evil in my opinion, but rather it is the two-fold danger of looking to some other source rather than God for wisdom and direction; and a secondary danger of being deceived by what one person called ‘lower astral spirits.’

The reason that I feel these injunctions need definition and qualification is that there is a tendency among charismatic Christians to make everything a ‘black and white’ issue: good versus evil with no inbetween. In most charismatic thinking, all charismatic Christians are ‘good’ and all new agers are ‘bad.’ However, my experience tells me otherwise.

I have been watching and discerning ‘charismata’ and the so-called ‘prophetic’ movement for a long time. More recently, I have been spending time with friends who are involved in shamanism or who are new age ‘energy’ type seers and who regularly tap into spiritual perceptions from the other world. I find, to my enormous surprise, that many of the new agers are really good people with good hearts, and many of the charismatic ‘prophets’ are angry and very judgmental people (and even fearful) who are using their charismatic gifts in ‘magical’ or manipulative ways.

My working definition of magic is (from Max Weber): using spiritual or psychic powers to manipulate one’s environment for one’s personal advantage. My working definition of godly spiritual power is: surrendering to God and allowing his power to work for his will and the greater good.

By that definition, many, many Christian Evangelicals and Charismatics are practicing magic and divination; And at least one new age medium that is a personal friend is groping her way towards a deep surrender to God and attempts to lovingly serve those around her.

That’s why I believe that the injunctions regarding divination and sorcery need to be carefully examined and qualified before we try to proclaim them or apply them. However, it could be useful among Charismatics (and I am one) to do some serious heart-searching and introspective inventory in Lev. 19. Blue parakeets.

John M. said...

Joseph, maybe you are touching on the mystery of God saying, "Depart from me I never knew you." to those who had cast out demons and done other supernatural acts in Jesus name.

Brian Emmet said...

I see echoes of OT prohibition against magic, sorcery and withcraft in the admonishment in Hebrews to avoid 'the worship of angels.' I understand 'angels' to mean created, incorporeal beings, both godly and fallen. I think Scripture is fairly clear that it is impossible for us to engage the supernatural without using it as a tool for control. We want to discern the spirits, not so we can catalogue, understand or control them, but primarily to avoid them: the good angels do not require our assistance, the bad ones desire only our ruin. This does not deny God's sovereignty, and he can certainly use the supernatural experiences of the kind Joseph's friends are experiencing to draw people to himself... and Christians can certainly misuse the power of God, as Joseph pointed out. I think the final word on this, for both pagans and believers, was spoken by the Father about the Son to the disciples: "THIS is my Son, my beloved; LISTEN TO HIM!" After all, that is the sole goal of any good angel, that we would listen to Jesus; the bad ones strive to keep us from this at any and all costs!

smokin joe said...

I basically agree with you Brian, about God saying "this is my son, hear him!" ...

My point about Charismatics is not that they are sometimes misusing the power of God -- my point is that we ASSUME that it is the power of God misused -- whereas I think they are often using the same power that other non-Christian spiritists are using ... call it the 'latent power of the soul' or pychic ability or inspired intuition whatever you want ... it is often NOT the power of God.

However, this is taking us away from the purpose of this discussion. Perhaps we can return to it another time in another post?

I just finished chapter 3 of Blue Parakeet and I really enjoyed McKnight's discussion of the shortcut of going to 'masters' ... in my case, master Paul ... and viewing scripture through their systematic template.

This was what I was trying to say about a year ago about Jesus vs. Paul ... but without intending to subordinate the writings of Paul to a lesser standard of inspiration. McKnight expressed so clearly and so well balanced....

I have been sitting at the feet of Jesus for the last 5 years in scripture ... and loving it!

However, this

Brian Emmet said...

I agree that some charasmatics may at times be accessing powers other than those of the Spirit.

And yes to the helpfulness of McK's identification of 5 somewhat faulty or incomplete ways of reading Scripture: as a collection of laws; as a collection of blessings and promises (and both of these assume that there is tons and tons of 'unnecessary filler' wedged in and among the laws and/or blessings; the Rohrsach/inkblot ("here's what this means to me") and the Maestro (the kety to understanding all of Scripture is found in 'maestro' Paul or 'maestro' Moses, etc. Like you, I find myself saying to myself "Huh--I had never thought about it like that!" while reading "Blue Parakeet." I missed one of the five ways, didn't I...or were there actually only 4?

John the Musician said...

I'm tracking along with you guys, but I don't have anything further to add as my youthful outlook on the scripture perhaps doesn't allow me the same understanding as you folks.

John M. said...

John the Musician, you should steal your Dad's Blue Parakeet book and read it. I think you'll find it easy to access and quite engaging. Any book named "The Blue Parakeet" can't be all bad!

John the Musician said...

Lol he said he was gonna leave it around the house in case I have any spare time, but it's no where to be seen! I'll see what I can do though.

John M. said...

Fair enough. Looking forward to seeing you in January at the retreat.

smokin joe said...

when I read his comments, i went out to the car and got the book and handed it to him -- no excuses now!

Brian Emmet said...

Amen to that! John, when we may expect your summary and synthesis of Chapters 3, 4 and 5?

Brian Emmet said...

I'm actually wishing that McKnight had addressed the topic of same-sex marriage instead of women in ministry. My hunch is that the women issue is being resolved in favor of the egalitarian position... of course, that issue arguably effects a wider swath of church and general culture than the same-sex one.

"God spoke in David's day in David's our day in our way"--how does this work in practice around an issue like "gay marriage"? "That was then and this is now" is also one of McK's signature lines--how does that apply here? He also has what I found to be an insightful and provocative summary of the Story of the Bible: oneness--> eikons --> broken eikns --> covenant community --> Christ restores oneness --> consummation. It's his reinterpretation of the more familiar creation--fall--redemption--consummation. But it's not clear to me how or if homosexual behavior fits into the restoration of Original Unity ("the reconciling of all things to himself through the Cross" is how Paul puts it to the Colossians).

Can anyone 'splain it to me?

John the Musician said...

I pass.

I'll get those synopsis's out to you folks asap, i.e. not till I get my lazy ass moving. =OP

John M. said...

Brian, I wish I could. It seems pretty clear [to me at least] that in God's orginal eikons that sexual identity was clear: Humankind in God's image = Male and Female uniting in "one flesh" union to produce offspring.

When it comes to broken eikons...
How much deviation from the orginal creation does God's grace allow, condone, redeem? Or is that even the right question -- I don't know.

The scriptures appear to be clear on the face of things, but when you begin applying McKight's perspective it gets quite muddy. How much of the OT prohibitions are actually cultural/ritual prhibitions, and was the homosexuality referred to in the N.T. "promiscuous" relationships, and homosexual prostitution that would put committed monogomous relationships in a more acceptable catagory?

It is interesting that the original intent was for there to be no divorce (it wasn't this way from the beginning), but God made provision for it under the Law. There are still beilievers and groups who forbid remarriage after divorce (although the Church at large allows for it), but the actual issue of divorce itsef, though not encouraged is certainly accepted and mostly condoned. Is this a double standard, condoning divorce and not homosexuality? I'm not making a case here, just asking questions.

Have you read far enough to read the cultural re-intrepretation of heterosexual activity outside marriage made in good faith to Scott by a believing college-age girl? Given McKnight's approach to scripture it's quite compelling. He dose't really comment on it except to say that the Church historically and currently contiues to forbid pre-marital sexual activity. His implication is that he would read this one with the traditional intrepretation. Perhaps he would take the same position on homosexual sex.

Maybe we should engage him on the hmosexual issue. Joseph, I elect you to email him about it after you've read the book. He frequently publishes emails he receives and refers to others, but I don't see an address puslished on his website. Do you [Joseph] know how to email him?

smokin joe said...

Hi John. I have exchanged a few emails with Scot. He once gently exhorted me when I got a little too sarcastic on his web site … he really encourages Christian civility. I think he has also gotten much busier keeping up with email and blog traffic while working full time as a college professor and author. I already emailed him about our discussion, and I would not be surprised if he pops in at some strategic point. He likes to encourage dialogue and he keeps his own commentary to a minimum to allow room for others.

By the way, in this morning’s post, he is summarizing another book that touches on this subject of tolerance, respect and faith in the Holy Spirit in a book about how to live in the gray areas between the “black and white” of fundamentalism and liberalism. I really like what he had to say this morning… sounds like another book to read!

The Third Way as the Sweet Spot.

Adam Hamilton's book, Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality, and Politics,
"…Here's what I believe: anyone who wants to live in the Third Way seeks to love God and love others, seeks to follow the Spirit, and adopts a posture of sensitivity to others.

And here is where the Third Way avoids legalism: it trusts others to do the same and can live, in trust and respect, with the decisions of others who also live in the Spirit, who also love God and love others, and who also adopt a posture of sensitivity."

I had a great conversation last night with John the Musician and Michael Tomko in ventrilo about interpretation of scriptural truth for/in our current culture. Michael has not started reading Blue Parakeet yet, he is just finishing up Leslie Newbigin’s The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society which I had started in August, but laid aside after a couple of chapters in order to focus on my study load during the semester. I believe Newbigin’s book has some important things to say alongside McKnight’s book… so -- thanks to Mike -- I will pull it of the shelf later this week and finish it.

Regarding Ventrilo, I think the best bet might be to just indentify Sunday nights after 8 or 9 pm as audio “hang-out time” for whoever is able to show up, rather than setting up appointments. As long as there are at least 2 or 3, it should be a sufficient quorum (sounds like scripture doesn’t it?). Remember Brian, you were the one who kept saying that we needed to 'hear' one another's voices -- don't start complaigning about not having 'face-to-face' time or we will have to set up web cams with skype! :-p.

John M. said...

Joseph, I really like Scott's take on "The Third Way". I think it's the way of the Kingdom compared to the polarization that comes with religion and politics.

The book title, "Seeing Grey in a World of Black and White" is interesting. I've been thinking about that very topic. I realize that many things I used to see as completely black and white, I now see as shades of grey. I now see many nuances where I used to see only one possibility.

In fact I was thinking about C.S. Lewis' book title, "Shadowlands". I think we need to learn to follow God in the shadowlands. Most Christians are very uncomfortable there, because religious legalism can only see black and white.

The more comfortable we can become in the grey areas the more effective we will be in bringing God's presence and God's Kingdom to those who live in the grey zone.

In the past I have seen "grey" as a negative quality. It occured to me recently that if something is grey, that means there is already some light present. Then I thought of the first chapter of the Gospel of John about Jesus being the light that "gives light to every man" (v.9). Taking this at face value would mean that every human being has some degree of "light" in them. We need to try to find and unveil the light that is already in them and expose them to more light.

When we can find no light we can take comfort in verse 5, "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it."

John the Musician said...

Don't ask me why, but I was thinking about the story of Tamar I think it is, who's husband died. She married the next brother in line and he died as well. The custom said she should marry the third brother, but the father wouldn't allow it. She literally seduced the father in order that she could receive what was rightfully hers... That seems pretty gray morally.

Where are chicks like that these days!

Brian Emmet said...

OK, John, we won't go asking about why Tamar had come to your mind!

I wish McK had gone into a bit more detail about whether or not there are some truths that are true for all people, in all times, in all places--perhaps he might feel that this is a poor way to construct the point. But clearly, he does: John M asked about the section where McK discusses premarital sex, and McK seems quite clear that sex outside of marriage is "impossible," in the sense that sexual intercourse is the physical marker of a marriage. When we sleep with someone, we have married her (I'm talking to men here)in some real sense. So something like "Don't murder, don't torture children for fun, don't take advantage of someone who is blind or mentally impaired"--McK seems to admit the possibility that there are some things "we can't not know," things whose "truthiness" is durable across culture.

Otherwise, I think we run the risk of turning the whole of Scripture into a flock of blue parakeets! But who gets to identify the bp's--couldn't one man's 'blue parakeet' be another's garden-variety sparrow? Does disagreement alone identify a bp?

John M. said...

Interesting isn't it that God doesn't spin things to make Himself or His followers look good. His story tells the whole story without any white-washing. Inclusion in the story, like a good novel, means simply that it is part of the story, not necessarily in the voice or endorsement of the author.

That said, there are a lot of what appears to be morally grey areas in the O.T. That's why Scott's book is important. He's willing to acknowledge those areas without glossing them, and he's proposing a way to process those "blue parakeet" passages.

John the Musician said...

Actually I've recently been reading a book about "Acedia" which is a sort of condition or 'demon' that early monastics struggled with. I believe the latin or greek means something like "Lack of care" and I've been wondering if maybe I should "get married" in order to bring some feeling back into my life. I'm guessing that's probably a bad plan though =OP

By the way are we up to the Wiki story bible yet? I found that concept by Scott to be very enlightening. Everyone has there piece to add to the story.