Theology vs The Bible-- 1.0

From my earliest days, I was immersed in the Holy Scriptures. My parents would read the bible to me each night when I was really young and then somewhere around age 8 I started reading the bible daily on my own. By the time I was 10, I was reading several chapters a day and by 13, I was reading anywhere between 10-30 chapters each day. Needless to say, I'm a bit of a fanatic when it comes to reading the Bible. Perhaps a bit crazy as well.

Because of all of this Bible reading, from an early age I've been acutely aware of the inconsistencies in the way we read and understand the bible, especially as it relates to how Christian theology and the scriptures do not line up all of the time. As a kid around the age of 7, I remember learning the story of Samuel and how Hannah took Samuel o the temple of YHWH at Shiloh. As a keen observer at the age of 7, I noticed the immediate inconsistency with what we had been taught. The temple was built by Solomon several decades after the time of Samuel. Up until this time, there was supposed to be a tabernacle as described in Exodus. However, when we come to the book of Samuel, hardly any mention is given to a tabernacle. But here in 1 Samuel 1, we have a temple at Shiloh.

As a child, some adult gave me the explanation that temple and tabernacle are used interchangeably. That sounded like garbage even when I was a kid. As an adult who can now look this stuff up, I now understand that there are various textual traditions in the scriptures. One tradition creates a priestly line that must be descendants of Aaron, another tradition believes priests can be any Levite, other traditions allow for lots of people to make sacrifices before YHWH. One tradition centers on the temple at Jerusalem whereas other traditions allow for worship and sacrifice at other locations. One tradition makes it out to have God living in a tabernacle until the day that YHWH descends in a pillar of smoke on Solomon's temple whereas another tradition has a temple in Shiloh before the Solomonic age.

All of this to say that our traditions and theology do not always align with the bible and even the bible contains many voices, sometimes in contention with one another. In our humanity, we create constructs to understand God and talk about theological ideas. These constructs each have their failings. As such, our scriptures present to us a diversity of constructs and voices by which to discuss and contemplate the interaction between heaven and earth (a phrase which in itself is a construct).

In the future, I want to continue to explore these various contentions in scripture and between the scriptures and theology.


The Prophet Jeremiah

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am fascinated with the OT prophet Jeremiah. I even see some parallels between this OT character and a certain contemporary controversial figure. Jeremiah is one of the most complex characters in the Bible never described or displayed in some monchromatic manner. This character has depth and shape and is complicated. Here is a quote from Louis Stulman in Order Amid Chaos: Jeremiah as Symbolic Tapestry:

Jeremiah is represented in his book as a son of a priest, a messenger and spokeperson for God, an actor, a litigant, a gleaner, a sentry, a righteous sufferer, a covenant mediator, an iconoclast, a writer, a surrogate city, and impregnable wall of bronze, a confidant of kings, a prisoner and exile, a 'prophet to the nations', an 'assayer and tester of the people's ways', and a proponent and opponent of God. Moreover, Jeremiah appears as a champion of Torah teaching, an intercessor forbidden to pray, homo sympathetikos, a subversive poet, the voice of God and the voice of the poor, a madman, a survivor and witness, a symbol of destruction and hope and a 'prophet like Moses'. He is portrayed as compulsive, embittered and disillusioned, writhed in pain, vengeful, explosive, tormented and tormenting, conflicted, stern yet compassionate, volatile, penetrating, sanguine, sensitive yet detached, timorous, powerful, and powerless. (Page 143)


What is Government?

Two blog posts in the past month from very different voices (Tony Jones and Travis Gilbert) have me thinking a lot about the nature of government the past few days. Over my life, I have given much thought to the idea of government, what is considered a legitimate government, and how Christians are to respond to government(s).

Americans tend to assume that government refers to the nation-state. Thus, the government is the United States of America or Great Britian or Russia or Iran. We remember that other types of governments used to exist such as the city-state of the ancient world, but for the most part government has come to mean nation-state. We understand that local government do exist, but believe in a hierarchy of government where the city is in a county, and a county in a state/province/district, and a state in a nation.

However, I have always seen government in terms of power. Who is in charge? Who is ruling this place? Because of this, I see many types of government in our lives everyday-- sometimes in cooperation with one another; often in conflict and in competition with one another.

Anyone living in the inner-city knows that there are at least two forms of government: 1) is the local gang or mafia; 2) is the supposedly "legitimate" government of the city in the form of police, judges, and jailors.

When I was a child in school, I knew that several authorities or governments existed when I was at school. One was the principal and teachers. Second was the very powerful peer groups. Third was the bullies on the playground and in the locker room.

Today, I watch and feel the power of corporations on my life. I am governed and ruled by Verizon, AT&T, the electric company, etc. Sometimes these various companies cooperate with the United States government and even with one another. Sometimes they are at odds with the US government and with one another. But these companies often have more power, rule, and control over me than any nation-state or local government.

In addition to all of this is the question of what makes a government legitimate. If my government doesn't recognize your government and I'm theoretically supposed to submit to my government and you are to submit to your government, then what are we to do? I dwell on this because my friend Travis brings up the argument that we are to submit to all earthly authorities except when their authority is in opposition to God. This creates for a very complex situation. First, when will any government not be in opposition to God in some way? Every government is always asking its citizens to do something that opposes the ways of God. Second, how are we to respond when we do feel like we should resist or disobey? Is this an active disobedience that results in some sort of action against the government (perhaps violence)? Or is this a peaceful resistance or non-participation? Something in between?

Finally, if you are a Christian who believes violence can be okay and even God's will for a particular moment, then how do you respond to the revolutionary war, or the civil war here in the United States? One could make the case that Christians should not have rebelled against England because it was the legitimate government. However, at what point did the colonialists become a legitimate government that Christians should submit to? Also, if the colonial powers did become legitimate, were Christians supposed to submit and against the English army and the Christians in that army? Were Christians from England then supposed to submit to their government and kill Americans? (Questions adapted from blog reply to Travis.)

The nature of government is very complex. Even more complex is the Christian's relationship to government. The Bible presents very different voices on this relationship. Jesus seemingly cooperates with government while also using rhetoric that questions the legitimacy of these human governments (essentially asking, "Are they real?"), Paul seems to support submission to government in Romans 13, uses his Romans citizenship in Acts, but also makes trouble with various local governments. Peter tells us to submit to earthly authorities and to honor the king. John's Revelation is a stark contrast that places the kingdoms of this world in sharp opposition with the kingdom of God. Even participation in the economy of Babylon makes one a follower of the beast.

Very complex indeed!


Original Sin, Capitalism, and Socialism

Suprisingly to some of you, I hold a decently historical and orthodox view of original sin. Overall, it seems to me that humans are born in a state of sin that is inherited in some way-- I'm not tied in to any particular theory on transmission, in fact they all seem a little off and crazy.

Recently, I've been discussing the ideas of capitalism and socialism with a highschool senior in my former youth ministry. Our discussion have made me take a longer look at the ideas of capitalism and socialism and how each looks at the idea of sin.

From what I can tell from my research, capitalism seems to believe that humans are totally depraved (meaning that every aspect of our existence is affected by selfishness) and sort of sees an original sin idea at the heart of humanity.

Socialism, on the other hand, seems to take the opposite view that individuals are mostly good and want the good but that institutions (such as corporations and the power classes of society) are corrupt.

Many American Christians lean towards a capitalist view, and even make the claim that capitalism has a better theology because it takes into account sin and depravity whereas socialism seems to be naive about human nature.

Here are the two problems that I see: both individuals and institutions are depraved. As well, both are need of redemption. Throughout the Bible God works in two directions: from the bottom up and from the top down. God works through individuals such as prophets to bring repentence to individuals. God also sends these prophets to governors and kings. God sends missionaries to save jailers but also sends these same missionaries to emperors. God seeks to set up governments and laws, transform whole cosmic states such as death, and take on the means and ways of the empire (crucifixion at hands of Rome). God also heals individuals on the road, plays with children, and has three really close friends among the disciples.

The problem with capitalism that I see is that it not only believes in original sin and depravity but also succeeds by thriving on such sin and depravity. It is a philosophy and system built around greed and selfishness and self-interest. It seems to take a non-ethical view of entities (corporations) and believes that the State/government is meant to protect the right of the individual and corporation to amass wealth while promoting self-interested competition. Rather than seeking any means of redemption of the depravity and sin in the world, this system thrives on it. Without such depravity, the system would stop.

The problem with socialism that I see is that it does not accurately view the individual, dismisses any potential for the corporation, and views the state as ultimately good if it redistributes wealth fairly.

Christianity and salvation must have a vision to redeem all of this. Although, we will fall and fail in our attempts to redeem, we must see ourselves as part of the missio dei to redeem all things and see our part as ambassadors of the kingdom of God. This requires a rejection of the socialist system because it leaves no room for redemption of the individual (because it basically sees the individual as good), and leaves no room for the redemption of the the corporation (because it basically sees such entities as inherantly evil). This also requires a rejection of the capitalist system because it does not want the individual, the state, or the corporation to be redeemed. It, instead, thrusts its uninhibted appetites of self-interest on the whole world.

We must believe the entirety of the gospel--that God seeks the redemption of the individual as well as creation. This is done from the bottom-up, as well as from the top-down. It involves the person, the corporation, and the state.

What are your thoughts?


Render Unto Caesar...

In Mark 12:13-17, Jesus is put to the test by the Pharisees and Herodians by these questions: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?" Jesus then takes a denarius (one day's wage-- the sum of money one gets for giving his body to work for a whole day) and asks, "Whose head is this, and whose title?" Jesus then says, "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's."

This text often gets quoted in our modern day by Christians wishing to make a case for obedience to the government. However, such an interpretation is to miss the larger point of what Christ was teaching. Jesus uses a particualr type of Aristotlian argument and rhetoric here-- everyone in that day knew that whatever bears the image of someoe belongs to that one. Knowing his audience, Jesus also knew that the people believed themselves to be made in the image of God. What Jesus does with his words is deliver a stinging critique on our lives... although we are made in the image of God, we are giving ourselves daily in the work of Caesar. For that daily work to the empire, Caesar gives us his coin for a day's wage. If we are giving ourselves to Caesar in the first place, then why not give him his money back.

Jesus subversively is telling the crowd, why do you work for Caesar and his empire? Why do you work for his economy? Why are you participating in the world of Caesar?

In other passages, Jesus helps the people imagine a different world wehre everyone has their own vineyards and where everyone is invited to the banquet table and where everyone is given the same day's wage for their service to God. The parables are these new imaginations and dreams for the future. Jesus imagines an alternative world with an alternative vision for economy, commondity, and community.

If we work for the empire and recieve its wages, then we must pay its taxes. But Jesus is asking, "Why are you working for Caesar in the first place? You bear the image of God, not Caesar's!"