Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Bible Meme

I wasn't tagged, but I saw this over at Luther Punk and liked it so I tagged myself.

1. What translation of the Bible do you like best?

I like the NRSV, though I do have complaints about it. In particular, I think the way it makes singular subjects plural in the psalms in order to remove gender-specific language robs the psalms of their Christological potential (context be damned, it's a dominant idea in Church tradition!).

Even so, I think the NRSV reads better than the alternatives.

2. Old or New Testament?

There are parts I love in both and parts I don't like in both. I guess if I had to say which is my favorite, it would be the New Testament. The gospels have it.

3. Favorite Book of the Bible?

Genesis. I sometimes wonder if the theological shadow Genesis casts over the rest of the Bible is justified, but when I read Genesis the sheer power of its stories compels me to think it couldn't be otherwise. Religious implications aside, I believe Genesis is one of the greatest literary achievements in human history.

4. Favorite Chapter?

I really like the story of Jacob wrestling. What is that? Genesis 38? No, 32.

5. Favorite Verse? (feel free to explain yourself if you have to)

Revelation 21:5 -- The one seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new."

This is the anchor of my faith. I don't always know what to think about life after death. I don't understand the Atonement. What I cling to is that God (whoever God is) is making all things new. My understanding of all other articles of faith revolves around this.

6. Bible character you think you’re most like?

My namesake, Andrew. Andrew is like a shadow, but not quite. He's right at the fringe of the "Big 3" disciples, but isn't quite on the inside. I try to imagine the Transiguration from Andrew's perspective -- Peter, John and James go up the mountainside with Jesus. They come back all glassy-eyed and can't explain what they saw. So Andrew experiences this great faith moment the way most of us experience faith -- he doesn't quite see.

7. One thing from the Bible that confuses you?

Only one?

If I could get God to give me an understanding of one, and only one, thing in the Bible, I think it would be this: Why was the Tree of Knowledge and Evil in the garden in the first place? I think if I really understood that I could work out most of the rest.

8. Moses or Paul?

I don't know if I'd want to hang out with either one of them. Moses has always got the weight of the world on his shoulders and isn't afraid to let you know it. Paul, on the other hand, tends to be really abrasive, especially if you don't agree with him, and I don't always. But I'm a little freaked out by people whose faces literally shine from having been in the presence of God, so I guess I'd have to go with Paul.

9. A teaching from the Bible that you struggle with or don’t get?

Only one?

I guess I'd have to go with the big one -- final judgment. What's that about anyway? I mean, I get that things can't be left the way they are, and I get that some people won't appreciate things being put right, but it seems pretty clear that the Bible (especially the New Testament) wants to push it further than that. I just don't know what to make of it.

10. Coolest name in the Bible?

Israel. Human nature is to want to call the people of God "the golden shining stars" or something like that, but the Bible calls them "struggles with God." How cool is that?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Page 123 Meme

I've been busy letting my blog slip into oblivion but Tom in Ontario tagged me with an interesting meme (apparently several days ago -- I'm slow lately).

So the deal is:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.

Here it is:
Corn farmers can benefit from locking in a sale price while their corn is still in the ground--or even before they plant it. Might the farmers get a better price by waiting to sell the crop until harvest? Absolutely.
Wow, with scintillating reading like that, I can't believe I've managed to stay silent so long. ;-)

I don't do tagging, so just enjoy.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Proclaiming Truth and Justice

There was an interesting piece on NPR yesterday (via BBC radio) about the crisis in Kenya. The BBC had a bishop from a Pentecostal church in Kenya as their guest and various other guests and callers were questing him as to the role of religious leaders in recent events.

What I found interesting about this was that the other Kenyans addressing the bishop were basically asking why the religious leaders (Christian and Muslim) weren't proclaiming truth and justice but were instead calling for dialogue. The bishop said that they were being pragmatic and seeking long term solutions. It seemed like a very reasonable response. What was less clear was whether it was properly a Christian response. Is it the role of the Church to seek pragmatic, long-term solutions? Or is it the role of the Church to proclaim truth and justice?

I am obviously very far removed from the situation in Kenya. I don't know what any of these people are facing. It sounds as if the religious leaders would be putting themselves in a very precarious position if they openly proclaimed truth and justice. They lack freedom of speech. I cannot judge them.

What I can do is try to apply the lessons I observed to my own situation. It was breathtaking to hear the voice of the people crying out to a representative of the Church, asking him to proclaim truth and justice. The American mainline protestant denominations are very big on seeking social justice these days. The question remains as to what the Church's role should be in seeking justice. What I saw yesterday is that it is not our place to enter into political compromises and negotiation. Our place is to proclaim truth and justice in word and deed.

I was reminded of a story Jim Wallis tells about Martin Luther King Jr. King had just returned from receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and was meeting with Lyndon Johnson. Johnson told King that he didn't have the political capital to push for voting rights legislation. He told King to wait. King responded that he could not wait. He went to the streets and proclaimed truth and justice. The Voting Rights Act was passed the next year.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Christ Present in the Church

A number of years ago I was at a men's retreat and the Saturday evening schedule featured a presentation on the Four Spiritual Laws by a man affiliated with Campus Crusade for Christ. This being a retreat sponsored by a Lutheran church, I was aghast. (If this story sounds familiar, it's because I've blogged about it before.)

After the presentation, I went up to the man (who happens to be a graduate of a theological school in Germany) and said, "That doesn't sound very Lutheran." He responded, "No, it isn't, is it?" He went on to explain how the Lutheran "strategy" for evangelism revolves around the sacraments. We faithfully offer the sacaraments in church, and baptize anyone who happens to wander in. But what about the people who don't wander in? How do we reach them?

This event has really stuck with me, but the importance of the gentleman's question didn't really sink in with me until today. This morning I was reading chapter 3 of The Evangelizing Church wherein Richard Bliese talks about the Babylonian captivity of Word and Sacrament. Bliese highlights the Lutheran tendency to use the slogan "word and sacrament ministry" as a way to avoid the work of being an evangelizing church. If sermons are being preached in our communities and we're baptizing our children, then we're being faithful, right? But we've forgotten (or, could it be, not noticed) that the gift of salvation is also a call (the point of Kelly Fryer's chapter 2 of the book).

So what do we do? Do we simply turn to the Four Spiritual Laws as the man from CCC suggested? Or can we actually stick to our guns regarding word and sacrament while still becoming an evangelizing church? Those who know how I feel about the Four Spiritual Laws can guess my answer.

The key to retaining what is of value in our Lutheran heritage while still reaching out to a lost world lies in recognizes the truth that is at the heart of our theological position on Word and Sacrament. In the preaching of the Word and the practice of the Sacraments, Christ comes to us.

We've all heard this before, but I wonder if the depth of it sinks in. I've even said it before. In a post titled What if the Gospel? I wrote two years ago I said, "To me, the Gospel is that in the person of Jesus Christ the kingdom of God has begun to break into this world. In Christ Jesus, God has begun to fulfill his promise of new heavens and a new earth." And yet, when I read last night the definition of the gospel offered in The Evangelizing Church it struck me like lightning from heaven, as if it were something I'd never heard before. Never mind that I had read these very words several times before. Listen:
The heart of evangelical theology and preaching is that Christ is present among us--concretely and unmistakably. Jesus' word and presence are real, direct, graspable, and available for us--today! If faith means anything, it means grasping hold of a sermon or a forgiving word from a friend and declaring, "Amen, I believe these are Jesus' words for me." Clarity on this point is vital for evangelizing. We do not act as if Jesus Christ were present in the Christian community. The gospel message is that Jesus, actually, is alive and is really present with us in Christian community as he promised. That's the good news. It's the great gift of salvation.
Did you notice the emphasis here on "Christian community"? If you look at the history of the Christian church at nearly any time and place there will be a whole lot of very visible public figures acting as if the gospel is something different than this entirely, but the gospel of Jesus' presence survives -- not because of a core group of people preserving this as a minority position, but because it's true. Because Jesus really is present in the Christian community the Church lives on and accomplishes its work.

But here's a last thought. By our actions, by the way we organize and conduct ourselves we can either tap into the power of Jesus' presence or be an obstacle to be overcome. Bliese writes, "The church needs to be evangelized in order to evangelize the world." If we want to bring Christ to the world, we must begin by bringing Christ to each other.

The Silence of the Blogs

I read an article a few months ago about how there are nearly twice as many abandoned blogs on the web as active blogs. Apparently most blogs have a very short lifespan. I have had a dead blog for some time (besides this one), though I mean to get back to it some day. This one hasn't actually been dead. It's just been very ill. That is, I haven't had anything to say. (My own health has been good, BTW.)

My last post was an introduction to a series of post about Old Testament quotations in the gospel of Matthew. It was part of my preparation for a class on that topic. As it turned out, I put off the blogging too long, and the momentum of the work for the class overtook me. The class went really well, but I didn't have time to blog it. If anyone really wants to see what I was going to say, let me know and I'll try to pick it back up sometime. In the meantime, I made the foolish move of committing to teach back-to-back classes, and I'm now in the midst of leading a class based on the book The Evangelizing Church, which I'm currently reading for, I think, the fourth time. More to come on that, unless I get distracted in the next few minutes.