Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Women in Ministry: Redemptive Trend

posted by xscot mcknight

The 17th and 18th criteria in William Webb’s paradigm of the redemptive trend — or how we move the Bible’s message into our world in a progressive, redeeming way — deal with Extrascriptural criteria. No matter how biblical we think we are, extrascriptural factors play a role in much of what we do. Here are his criteria:
Do you think a change in pragmatics renders a text cultural, or does it create the need of “creative re-application”? And, does science work with you so that, once you learn something as solid in science that we will see more and more of the Bible as cultural?
#17: Pragmatic basis between cultures: a component of a text may be cultural if the pragmatic basis for the instruction cannot be sustained from one culture to another. It becomes more transcultural if the pragmatic basis can be sustained.
Example: leaving the corners of your field unpicked so the poor can avail themselves of relief. Lev 19:10. If you live in the inner city of Dublin or Chicago, I doubt a farmer miles (kilometres) away leaving his filed unpicked is of much use.
Washing feet, obedience and submission to children, obedience and submission to kings/presidents, even congregational obedience — since congregational govt has softened this one.
Women and obedience to husband: influenced by lack of education, lack of social exposure and experience, lack of physical strength, economic dependence and marital-age difference (5-15 years norm). The only pragmatic concern that remains is physical strength, and he contends that it is insufficient to sustain the original pragmatically-based guideline to obey and submit. It becomes a non-hierarchical respect instead of obedience.
#18: Scientific and social-scientific evidence: a component of a text may be culturally confined if it is contrary to present-day scientific evidence. If the two conflict, there is a good indicator the text is culturally confined.
Examples: geocentric vs. heliocentric models; flat earth vs. round earth.
Women: women are seen as reproductive gardens and if no children the problem was the female and now we know it is an equal contribution. Women as poor leaders (Isa 3:12): today women are effective leaders in all kinds of capacities. Women as more easily deceived (some interpret 1 Tim 2:14 this way): both patriarchalists and egalitarians agree this is not an accurate interpretation of the text. (Webb engages a recent defense of the patriarchal view.) Webb thinks times have changed on this one because the original factors that gave rise to the problem are no longer present: women are not more easily deceived. 1 Tim 2:14 inculcates finding leaders who are not easily deceived, male or female.



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Ted Gossard

posted January 31, 2007 at 5:17 am


It’s refreshing to go over this material of Webb’s again. And to do so more slowly. Much wisdom here, I believe. Thanks, Scot.



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John Frye

posted January 31, 2007 at 7:36 am


This is very helpful, Scot. Thanks for taking the time to converse about these weighty issues.



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RJS

posted January 31, 2007 at 9:16 am


No question = no conversation?



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Mark Goodyear

posted January 31, 2007 at 9:40 am


Ahh. I love good logic. Like a fresh of breath air. When did Christians lose the art of logic?



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John Frye

posted January 31, 2007 at 9:49 am


How ’bout da Bears?!



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John Frye

posted January 31, 2007 at 10:04 am


Seriously, is Webb saying that if science uncovers evidence that would make a biblical statement inapplicable to a current known reality, then we are probably considering a culturally-confined text?



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RJS

posted January 31, 2007 at 10:07 am


Scot,
It seems clear that we all explicitly or implicitly consider pragmatics – looking at the intent rather than the specifics when is it obvious that the specifics are cultural.
The disagreements come when specifics could be (in fact, have been) applied directly – that is sustained across cultures. How do we determine that women and obedience to husband, silence in church etc. is a pragmatic issue rather than a voluntary submission as part of a God ordained order in creation? Certainly this idea of submission and obedience has been the norm on some level or other across cultures and across centuries. It has even extended to cultures where lack of education, lack of social exposure and experience, economic dependence and marital-age difference are not at issue.
The rational for applying the pragmatic criterion in this case seems particularly weak.



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RJS

posted January 31, 2007 at 10:29 am


So to your first question: A change in pragmatics renders a text cultural, and creates the need for “creative re-application.” But it is not clear to me that the pragmatic argument actually applies to the case at hand.



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Scot McKnight

posted January 31, 2007 at 10:38 am


RJS:
Example: if footwashing assumes the pragmatics of a sandal culture and dirty feet, and if that culture no longer obtains in the Midwest — esp in the winter –, then we see the footwashing text as a culturally-shaped directive.



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Michael Kruse

posted January 31, 2007 at 10:42 am


Scot, I don’t know if you have more posts in mind on this book but it strikes me that a criteria that asks how a particular issue relates to the overarching narrative revealed in scripture is missing. Webb comes at this to some degree through some of the criteria (#4 for example), but never really asks it quite this way. What is teleologcial reason for a prescription or proscription in light of the biblical narrative?



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Mark Goodyear

posted January 31, 2007 at 10:44 am


So by implication the fact that women can become CEOs and Presidential candidates in our culture suggests that they do not need to submit to male leadership?
I often hear patriarchal folks turn that argument on its head. They respond with something like, “Our culture is going to hell in a handbasket–just look at what the women are doing!”
But Webb seems to imply what works within a culture contains some truth that is deeper than the cultural dictates of certain passages in the Bible.



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gymbrall

posted January 31, 2007 at 11:09 am


a component of a text may be culturally confined if it is contrary to present-day scientific evidence. If the two conflict, there is a good indicator the text is culturally confined.
Scripture must be in a constant state of flux. Maybe we could publish redacted copies of The Bible alongside science periodicals and journals ;)



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Scot McKnight

posted January 31, 2007 at 12:01 pm


Mark,
I think Webb is arguing that there is ongoing development of what is already there rather than something new. The redemptive trends within taking on new life over time. Like slavery.



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Mark Goodyear

posted January 31, 2007 at 12:18 pm


That makes sense. And it supports a view of a dynamic (but still perfect and complete) God who shares his dynamic (but still perfect and complete) truth.



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j-dubb

posted January 31, 2007 at 2:17 pm


Just a comment for interest sake…
When Webb published his book, there were a bunch of supporters of the school he teaches at who wanted his head on a platter. At the very least they wanted him banned from teaching any hermeneutics courses…
I am certainly glad that the powers that be disregarded their requests.



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Rich Schmidt

posted January 31, 2007 at 2:43 pm


Do you think a change in pragmatics renders a text cultural, or does it create the need of “creative re-application”?
Shouldn’t the answer to that question be “Yes”?



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Julie Clawson

posted January 31, 2007 at 3:51 pm


It seems like looking at pragmatics from a historical standpoint is helpful in interpreting cultural issues, but I am wary about allowing it to be applied for today. It is easy to say that something worked pragmatically for a given culture, but that doesn’t make it right. With some issues (footwashing) its no big deal (as I speak heretically within a denom that sees footwashing as a sacrament…) – but when it comes to how we treat people (women, minorities…) there are deeper moral issues involved. Just because something works pragmatically for the dominant culture doesn’t mean that its the way God intended life to be or that we shouldn’t fight to bring about justice. (not that anyone was saying that, just thinking through implications here).



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Sam Carr

posted January 31, 2007 at 4:07 pm


I’m not sure that I see the force of Webb’s logic for ‘redemptive trend’ thinking as much as I do just for good exegesis. In other words, most of his points make good sense for any exegete of a biblical text to struggle with and to focus on struggling with.
Something like foot washing is a pragmatic reality even today in many rural areas of the developing world. The issue is one of hospitality, not sacrament! When looked at as a sign of serving and as a sign of welcoming anyone, poor as much as rich, disadvantaged equally with the powerful and treating all persons as guests and as equals and equally deserving of our service, here is a transcultural element cloaked in cultural practice 2k years old. It certainly is already, in Jesus teaching, the redemptive trend.



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Molly

posted January 31, 2007 at 5:17 pm


Re. comment 7, in regards to the submission/obedience seen across cultures:
Would this fall into an expected norm given the pronouncements made in Genesis 3 regarding the state of humankind from the Fall onward (you will desire him and he shall rule over you)?
I ask that because we see sin stretching across culture, yet we don’t use that as “proof” that sin must be a God-given positive attribute, that because it extends through cultures and time, it is a good thing. We know that it extends through cultures and time because it is a mark of the Fall—NOT a good thing at all, just a fact of life on planet earth.
Would it be fair to suggest that the “norm” of patriarchy might fall into that same catagory—a thing that just is part of life on a Fallen planet, as opposed to a “proof” that patriarchy is God’s divine intent?



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RJS

posted January 31, 2007 at 6:57 pm


Scot (#9) (and Molly #19)
I agree that there are obvious pragmatic elements in scripture, such as foot washing (although this is a sacrament to some) and leaving the corners of a field un picked. Such passages are cultural and require creative re-application in our culture. The fact that there are obvious pragmatic elements leaves open the possibility for less obvious cases as well.
However, it is not clear to me that this criterion actually applies to the question at hand. The instructions could apply to the culture of Paul – and be transcultural as the same conditions exist in most or all cultures.
I like Molly’s observation. Perhaps this instruction appears transcultural because hierarchical interaction is a part of the Fall. Certainly the presence of sin in the world has its most significant impact in relationships between people. The NT should be viewed in light of instruction in healing these relationships. Perhaps the specifics may be pragmatic, even if transcultural?



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RJS

posted January 31, 2007 at 8:15 pm


With respect to the question: does science work with you so that, once you learn something as solid in science that we will see more and more of the Bible as cultural?
This sure opens a can of worms – especially when applied to “soft” sciences as to “hard” sciences. The Bible isn’t a science book and isn’t intended to teach science. But neither is science a touchstone to evaluate the Bible – especially in its core message.
Perhaps Michael (#10) has it right – what is missing here is a criterion that asks how a particular issue relates to the overarching narrative revealed in scripture. Scripture is a coherent whole telling us the story of God’s interaction with his creation and providing instruction on how to live in relationship with God and with others. Is there a criterion that evaluates passages in light of this integrated coherent theme?



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Scot McKnight

posted January 31, 2007 at 8:18 pm


RJS,
I do think Webb’s got an overarching scheme that filters everything, as we all should have, but I do think the science factor provides a knowledge filter that opens up to us other possibilities for seeing what an author was saying.
Take Gen 1. If science truly does tell us something against what we’ve received, maybe we have been wrong all along — and such knowledge pushes us to think of other possiblities. That is how I see Webb operating.



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Cheryl

posted January 31, 2007 at 8:44 pm


Hey Scot,
You know how I like to extrapolate from a premise, how about this one:
Using the creation story for an example. Let’s say science can prove evolution satisfactorily enough for 95% of the population. We can still say that the creation story is about God’s majesty in nature, His being there with us from time immemorial, etc.—ways that affirm the nature of God without having to believe the literal story.
How do we then treat the verses that could possibly have direct implications for today from those (non-literal) stories? For example, “Be fruitful and multiply” leading some to be anti-contraception. Or “Have dominion over the earth” leading some to be not too concerned about the environment. And the whole “women’s place” argument as proven by Eve being created from Adam?
While the New Testament writers might have had more science available to them than the Genesis writers, don’t you think it’s a safe bet that they actually held to the literalness of the creation story (and others in the OT) and were influenced by that?
What I’m getting at is this—how far CAN you extrapolate when you accept the veracity of science over and against the literalness of scripture?
(BTW, I don’t have an agenda in asking this. I really want to know what you think.)



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Michael Kruse

posted January 31, 2007 at 8:52 pm


Anthony Giddens writes that the idea of “risk” and “risk-management” only began to emerge in the modern sense in about the fifteenth century. Up until that time, future events were largely viewed as controlled by the fates or the gods. Christianity had put in place ideas like a monotheistic god that ordered the universe but was separate from it. Human beings could there for exercise a measure of control over future events by reasoning out cause and effect, and then assessing various courses of action based on the probability of the best outcomes.
From a risk perspective, $1,000 received today is worth more than $1,000 received one year into the future. Waiting a year entails greater risk of actually getting the money. Therefore, to compensate me for my risk, I may add interest to the principal owed me. You can pay me $1,000 today or $1,070, or $1,100, or $1,500, a year from now depending on my assessment of the risks and willingness to assume them.
The emergence of this thinking is evidenced at least as far back as the eleventh century but when explorers began to head out to sea in the fifteenth century, the costs escalated and greater precision was brought to bear on calculating and compensating for risk. Insurance enterprises were born and capital markets became extremely sophisticated, all before the Reformation. The prosperity of the modern world would have been unthinkable without this transformation to risk assessment and management.
The upshot was that we were forced to go back and revisit the biblical prohibition on usury or interest. Our engaging the Word altered our very understanding of how the world works, which pushed us back on Scritpure to examine more closely the theological and ethical implications. In that sense, the Word is a living breathing document through which the Spirit instructs us.
I think this ties in with these criteria but shows that engagement with the Word itself often creates new realities that were never before imagined.



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Scot McKnight

posted January 31, 2007 at 9:11 pm


Cheryl,
This is pretty complex, and I’m not sure I’m the one to answer all of it. But I will say this: if evolution is true and if the Church has traditionally thought Gen 1 is a record of creation in a scientific sense, then evolution would lead us to consider if Gen 1 is “mythic” retelling of Ancient Near Eastern creation stories — I have no axe to grind on this — and then we read Gen 1 in light of how it compares with and contrasts with those ANE stories. YHWH/Elohim is the one who created; not these other gods; etc..
I’m not sure that early Christians read those stories literally; we can read literality into their readings — say Matt 19 — but I find such claims that they read them literally to be our reading into those texts of such a literary reading. Hope that makes sense.
In other words, the redemptive trend begins right there — countering the culture.



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RJS

posted January 31, 2007 at 9:12 pm


An interesting example Michael. Does the evolution of culture over 2000+ years, the diversity of culture throughout the world, and the increase in knowledge and understanding require that we engage with the Word to apply it in transcultural context? Many of us do so without a qualm in areas of economics (charging interest etc.) and church practice (head covering, jewelry, food, etc.). Why is the issue of women in the church or women in authority such a hot potato?



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RJS

posted January 31, 2007 at 9:14 pm


Cheryl, I don’t think that the intent of the author, or understanding of the author, is a good criterion for interpreting scripture – especially with respect to the “common knowledge” or culture of the day. It is a bit much to ask anyone, Paul, John, James, Luke, or Scot … to evaluate each sentence for timeless truth. We all work from allusion to a common base. It seems to me that, unless we hold to a “dictation” type of inspiration, the message of the gospel is told in the form of the day, but the forms, allusions, and understandings of the day are not part of the timeless message any more than a bottle or a cork is part of the wine contained therein.



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Cheryl

posted January 31, 2007 at 9:21 pm


#27 RJS,
I realized after I asked Scot my question, I actually had embedded another question about intent into it.
My only real question was the last one.
#26, Thanks, Scot.



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Michael Kruse

posted January 31, 2007 at 9:35 pm


“What I’m getting at is this—how far CAN you extrapolate when you accept the veracity of science over and against the literalness of scripture?”
It seems important to remember that Webb wants us to look at ALL the criteria, not just the ones that lend themselves to an outcome we may desire.
IMO, some have erred in trying to deconstruct the Word because it didn’t lead them to the “right” conclusion. (ex. they believe it teaches patriarchy and sense we all know that can’t be the case they frame the teaching in a way that gets to another postion.)
However, some have, IMO, tried to narrowly interpret or restrict the Word to saying things it may not truly say because of a percieved threat to something they have built up as paramount. (ex., must have literal reading of 24 hour days or godless evolution will be taught and the authority of the Word undermined) Both start with an outcome and work backward to a hermeneutic that will result in the predetermined conclusion. If the hermenuetic can’t take you where you don’t want to go, it isn’t a hermenuetic. It is a rationalization.



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RJS

posted January 31, 2007 at 9:35 pm


Scot,
My guess is that the author(s) of Genesis knew that they were recasting ANE myths into a framework with YHWH/Elohim as the one and only personal creator God, much the same way the Church has recast pagan holidays into a Christian context. Whether he (or they) felt that the myths reflected reality or not is largely irrelevant. On the other hand from the distance of many many centuries I think that the early church did regard the stories as literally true – at least in many instances. But I don’t think that the beliefs of the NT authors on these issues are relevant to the interpretation of Genesis or the interpretation of the NT.



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Cheryl

posted January 31, 2007 at 9:51 pm


Scot and RJS,
I got distracted by a terrified cat flying around the house with a plastic bag wrapped around its legs, so I had to stop thinking about this for a moment. :)
But I’m not sure if my example was addressed, or I didn’t ask my question correctly. If it was answered, I’m missing it. Sorry.
If there are verses/commandments in a “mythic” story—even if the story’s theme is truthful—are those verses not contextually mythic as well since they are only parts of a construct?



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RJS

posted January 31, 2007 at 9:56 pm


“What I’m getting at is this—how far CAN you extrapolate when you accept the veracity of science over and against the literalness of scripture?”
One of the key issues here is discernment as to what is actually science and what is wishful thinking, unjustified extrapolation, or argument from analogy. So science can tell us that people don’t generally rise from the dead and that conception generally requires two humans, one male and one female. Science can tell us nothing about a one-off miracle such as the virgin birth or the resurrection of Jesus, except that these are not “normal,” something we all agree on anyway.
On the other hand, science can tell us a great deal about causes of disease, genetic variations, cultural evolution, etc. This understanding must feedback into some of our understanding of scripture.



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RJS

posted January 31, 2007 at 10:02 pm


Cheryl,
Oh – like “be fruitful and multiply” for example. Good question. Lets take the definite sometimes. I have to run, but will think about it.



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Cheryl

posted January 31, 2007 at 10:10 pm


#33 RJS,
Yes, that’s exactly the kind of thing I was referring to the first time and just didn’t phrase it well… the ideas that have come to be “scriptural” doctrines for some which sprang from ideas/phrases/commands/verses in a probably-mythic story.
I look forward to your thoughts about it.



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alice shirey

posted January 31, 2007 at 10:27 pm


#34 – Thank you, Cheryl, for putting words to something I’ve wondered about and pondered in my own heart for many a year!
I always think about this exact issue when people get all wound up about the word “helper” related to the creation of woman. There is a part of me that thinks … “Oh for Pete’s sake! THAT is what you are basing this whole thing on?!?!?!?!?! One WORD in the midst of a creation narrative?!?!?!?”
Then I feel guilty and refuse to ask anyone the questions that brew in my soul.
So, thank you for asking the previously unaskable. (Is that a word? If not, it should be …”



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Cheryl

posted January 31, 2007 at 10:50 pm


#35, Alice,
Well, you’re welcome. As you know, Scot’s site gives us a place to ask all kinds of questions in our pursuit of wisdom and understanding. The asking (and sometimes, the answers) are helping me to frame my beliefs more so than I have in years.
The only thing about asking the “unaskable” (we’ll say it’s a word ;)) questions is being willing to bear the fallout! If Scot’s willing to take on his share of the fallout for providing the safe forum, we might as well take our share and ask the hard questions and offer unpopular answers.



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Michael Kruse

posted January 31, 2007 at 11:17 pm


#32 RJS
I have read a great deal of Kenneth Bailey’s work and one of the great gifts I have picked up from him is to learn how much teaching was done (and still is) through the crafting and re-crafting of stories.
Bailey spent years in places like southern Egypt and in Syria living in small remote villages. Most everyone was illiterate but each community had a “stock” of oral stories that each generation memorized and passed on with great care. It was by entering into those stories and seeing the interplay of the characters and issues as a unit that they taught the cultural truths that were to be passed on.
He also points out that teachers (like a rabbi in Jesus’ day) would occasionally alter pieces of the stock story to realign the players in the story. The students would then reflect on and discuss the implications of this shift, or maybe add their own revisions to counter the teacher’s revision. But the stock story was always preserved and teachers would sometimes create their own stock stories for their tribe of followers.
All this is to say that I think it is exceedingly difficult for us 21st century Westerners to get ourselves into this story teaching mentality from which these stories emerged. We keep trying to read them like a science report or history narrative seeking to document precise historical facts. (That is not to say there are no historical referents in the stories or that miracles were fictional.) Frank Lloyd Wright once said “The truth is more important than the facts.” I think with many of these Genesis texts the story is more important than the facts.



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Rich Schmidt

posted February 1, 2007 at 2:27 am


#35 Alice,
Anytime someone tries to misuse the “helper” bit to portray women as subordinate, I always think of how many times God is called “my helper” in the Psalms. It’s the same Hebrew word, too. A helper is one who is stronger than you, and thus able to help. But Eve is a helper “suitable” for Adam — on his level.
Just a thought, though it’s unrelated to the question at hand…



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samlcarr

posted February 1, 2007 at 3:01 am


Michael #32, and Cheryl,
Let’s not be too hasty as far as Genesis is concerned. What we do have is two millenia of atrocious exegesis and that’s not the text’s fault at all. I agree with Scot (#25) that the authors certainly did know what they were doing when they wrote their accounts. One problem is that we have absolutely no clue (or little) as to what the ANE historical/mythological framework was that they were reworking – we are unable to even date the original composition(s) with any certainty! There’s an interesting conversation on Genesis developing at OST
that looks very promising.
But, getting back to the issue, the very fact that when Jesus was asked about divorce he went back to creation and particularly to ‘made them male and female … shall cleave to his wife and they twain shall be one flesh’ (KJV – love that word ‘cleave’) which presupposes equality of creation as well as equality of coming together. This implies that any cultural practice that amounts to less is based on a heretical reading of Genesis.
If we need an overarching integrator, we don’t need to go beyond Jesus Himself!



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Michael Kruse

posted February 1, 2007 at 9:34 am


#39 Sam
Sam I wasn’t too sure which part I need to be less hasty on but you referred back to Scot’s #25. Scot raised and issue there that helps me illustrate my point. Scot wrote:
“if evolution is true and if the Church has traditionally thought Gen 1 is a record of creation in a scientific sense, then evolution would lead us to consider if Gen 1 is “mythic” retelling of Ancient Near Eastern creation stories”
I differ here. Try this. There are only three places in Gen. 1 where the Hebrew bara is used, meaning “to create” in the absolute sense. The first is in verse 1 where God created the material world. The second is in verse 21 where God created the nephesh or “soulish” creatures with the breath of life. The third is in verse 27 where “God created (bara) man in his own image.” Every other reference to things coming into existence says “let there be” or “made” or some other vernacular depending on translation. They all have the connotation of superintending the fashioning or fabricating of something that came into being from something else. (evolution?). Yet at three particular points in the story we have a direct intervention by God into the process.
A step further:
Gen 2:7
“the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
Over what time period did God do this? Did he form the man “out of the dust” through a variety of evolving species over hundreds of millions of years until the day of his choosing he “breathed life” into one of these creatures thus creating (bara) man?
I have no problem with the idea that in an instant God might have gathered dust together and formed a man. My point is that the story does not claim this for itself.
Imagine a child comes to you asking “Where did I come from?” What would your answer be to a three year old versus a thirteen year old? The story to the three year old is likely to contain analogy, imprecision, and to emphasize how special, wondrous, and important the child is. The story to a thirteen year old is likely to contain description of anatomy, science, and a host of other factors that would be beyond the scope of a three year old.
I think we have to keep in mind that the ancient Hebrews were without the concept of living on a globe hurling through space, orbiting a star among billions of stars in the universe. For them, there was the earth (the place where people live), the waters above the earth, and the vault of atmosphere in between the waters above and the land below. How do you present a scientific explanation of “where we came from” to a preliterate, pre-scientific people like the Hebrews? Like the three year old, you tell them a story.
Finally, Genesis 1 is remarkable precisely because of its matter-of-fact chronological unfolding of creation, thus introducing the concept of linear time into a world that saw time as endless cycles. Linear time is so ubiquitous to us today that it is hard to appreciate how revolutionary this idea was. But it is also a story with great poetry and symmetry. This linearity of time lead to other assumptions about reason being able to understand the mind of God, that led to formation of science, and that has ironically led some to conclude the Bible is not “true” because Genesis 1 is scientifically incorrect in their view.
Thus, I go back to my claim that the story has historical referents but it is like telling the story to a three year old. The story is more important than the facts.



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gymbrall

posted February 1, 2007 at 10:20 am


Michael Kruse said:
I differ here. Try this. There are only three places in Gen. 1 where the Hebrew bara is used, meaning “to create” in the absolute sense. The first is in verse 1 where God created the material world. The second is in verse 21 where God created the nephesh or “soulish” creatures with the breath of life. The third is in verse 27 where “God created (bara) man in his own image.” Every other reference to things coming into existence says “let there be” or “made” or some other vernacular depending on translation. They all have the connotation of superintending the fashioning or fabricating of something that came into being from something else. (evolution?). Yet at three particular points in the story we have a direct intervention by God into the process.
So, God creates (bara) the earth, the fish and fowl, and man, but he makes (asah) everything else (beasts of the field, plants, stars, etc). Then in chapter two, he tells how he formed (yatsar) man, then he makes (asah) the beast and the fowls of the air by forming (yatsar) them from the ground and brings them before (preliterate) Adam to be named and Adam names them, and that is what they are called. And then he makes (banah – literally builds) Eve. And these events are linear as well- the making of Adam, placing him in the garden, making the animals and having Adam name them, and then making Eve. And we know that we can rely on the text for fine detail like this because of Matthew 22:31-32 and Mark 12:26-27.



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samlcarr

posted February 1, 2007 at 11:38 am


Michael, sorry for my lack of precision. In the context of this post, the central question is about interpreting scripture and (in part) whether a redemptive trend could take precedence over particularly cultural practices and teachings. If the creation in Genesis is a story, then how does that affect its relevance as far as determining the relation between the sexes (for example)? Would it make any difference to its weight if it were story?
The reason for being ‘less hasty’ as far as deciding on the Genesis account’s literary structure and function, especially from the standpoint of the original author(s), is that our own knowledge is so limited and I think it’s fair to take that ignorance into consideration before concluding that the text is more story and less hard fact or mainly myth, or allegory, or whatever. This does not force us into literalism, it should just make us pause and be a just a bit watchful of our exegetical efforts…



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Michael Kruse

posted February 1, 2007 at 12:27 pm


Gymbrall #41
I am not going to digress into a tit-for-tat exegesis of these the two creation accounts with you. I gave my some sample ideas to show why there need not be an either/or characterization of the stories in terms of literal or mythical. They could be either of these but you can not get to either of these conclusions with out bringing “something” from “outside” the text to evaluate the stories. We need to be conscious of what that “something” is.
You wrote:
“And these events are linear as well- the making of Adam” concerning chapter two. I don’t know why you conclude that but I differ and most scholarship I have read going back centuries does not take this angle. Two different stories with different aims. One highlights humanity as the pinnacle of creation and the other highlights who God is intimately in relationship with humanity and caring for human needs. That is my best take.
As to Eve’s formation, why can this not be an allegorical expression of a more complex reality that would be incomprehensible to preliterate pre-scientific people? I would suggest that you are reading back into the story an interpretative model common to 21st Century Westerners. We all do. Your interpretation may be correct! But it is not the only valid interpretation of the text. You can not discern between these possibilities without bringing major presuppositions about the text you are reading. One tool to help us decide us is to understand the culture the created the story. Another is science. There are other tools as well.
As to Jesus quoting these stories, I could say “Self sacrificing love may seem to be powerless but in the end it converted Darth Vader.” Maybe not the best example but it still gets the point across. The stories need not have been actual people or events (though they might have been) to convey the truth Jesus was teaching.



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samlcarr

posted February 1, 2007 at 12:37 pm


Both Gymbrall and Michael, you folks have thoughtful and detailed knowledge of Genesis. How bout putting in your 2 cents at OST (linked above #39), to enrich that discussion (i’d love to hear more) and to not digress too far from Scot’s post here.



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Michael Kruse

posted February 1, 2007 at 12:57 pm


Thanks Sam. I am clearer now.
Luke 15:11-32 is the Parable of the Two Lost Sons. It is been called for ages the “Evangelium in Evangelio,” the gospel within the gospel. (I did a post a year ago called “Evangelium in Evangelio” An Amplified Version where I tired to creatively incorporate Kenneth Bailey’s observations about the story.) The story invites us into the roles of the various characters in the story and from that exercise we learn truth about God that is greater than any collection of facts about who God is.
Now did any of the people in this story exist or did these events actually occur. No. But does it powerfully communicate truth about who God is and his character? Absolutely! Enough to be called the “gospel within the gospel.” The story is fiction but it is the inspired Word of God and is authoritative in instructing us about our relationship to God and his great love for us.
You wrote:
“If the creation in Genesis is a story, then how does that affect its relevance as far as determining the relation between the sexes (for example)? Would it make any difference to its weight if it were story?”
I think there is a hidden assumption that we all carry from our culture that if the stories are not totally factual or historical that lessens their validity. We live in a much less story-filled reality. What I am suggesting is that a divinely inspired and preserved story has every bit as much weight (if not more) than a factual account, especially in a story oriented culture.
“…our own knowledge is so limited and I think it’s fair to take that ignorance into consideration before concluding that the text is more story and less hard fact or mainly myth, or allegory, or whatever. This does not force us into literalism, it should just make us pause and be a just a bit watchful of our exegetical efforts…”
Amen! And that was my point gymbrall. We need to carefully examine the exegetical assumptions we bring to the text and understand the context of the host culture.



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Cheryl

posted February 1, 2007 at 1:17 pm


#45 Michael,
I’m following you on most of what you are saying, but for me, it’s still missing the big question.
Most people would agree that the parables, the fictional stories that Jesus taught are pointing to truths, and it’s not important for the characters to be real.
However, many people DO believe the creation story to be literal, and consequently, they spin other “truths” out of it, based on the literality of the story: i.e. subduing the earth, dominion over animals, being fruitful and multiplying, woman’s place, etc. They take the big truth about God’s character and add to it the truths of the things that “literally” took place within the story. IF the creation story is literal, then that progression and application of thought would seem an accurate way to spin little truths out of a bigger truth.
BUT, while the creation story could be mythic, it does not then imply that it fails to teach about God’s character. Where the rub comes in is when the “elements” of the story become little truths unto themselves, as in the examples listed about. Isn’t “undeserved” weight given to the non-literal pieces and parts of the story?



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Michael Kruse

posted February 1, 2007 at 1:43 pm


#46 Cheryl
“Isn’t “undeserved” weight given to the non-literal pieces and parts of the story?”
What I am unclear about is why the story being all historic fact should affect the ability to spin “…little truths out of a bigger truth” one way or the other. I agree that some hold this to be the case but I don’t quite follow the logic as to why it matters.
Some teach that creation order indicates some type of subordination. It may be true but the stories are silent on the issue. It has to be inferred or interpreted through lenses brought to the story (ex. a particular understanding of 1 Tim. 2). I don’t see historicity having an impact on the ability to extapolate some creation order hierarhcy that God intended to communicate through the story.



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Cheryl

posted February 1, 2007 at 1:58 pm


#47 Michael,
I’d say the logic matters if something is impacted by that “spinning out” process, and then scipture is used to back it up.
Some examples:
• The subordination of women might not matter to you, but it matters to lots of women. :) And if they dare raise the question about the validity of gleaning that “truth” out a mythic story, then the “seriousness” of their adherence to Biblical principle is often questioned.
• I saw an interview with Bill Moyers just two or three days ago, and he was interviewing an evangelical whose primary argument AGAINST the need for humans to try to do something about global warming in specific and caring for the environment in general, was based on the scriptures from Genesis about man having dominion over the earth and subduing it. It’s a pretty common thought process.
• Men and women who chose not to have children (or with Catholics, who want to use contraception) are sometimes chastised for not obeying the Biblical mandate to “be fruitful and multiply.” As if they chose to make their own decisions about the size of their family is somehow anti-scripture.
Off the top of my head, that’s = my answer as to why it matters… because a lot of the basis for scripturally-based attitudes are wrested from a probably-mythic story, and they’re still impacting real people, right here, right now.



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samlcarr

posted February 1, 2007 at 2:07 pm


Cheryl,
I guess it still wouldn’t matter if the story were known to be mythical as opposed to happenings in history. This is part of what i meant by bad exegesis, for the text itself does not support these readings. if anything the contrary. If we see a sequence of higher order beings being sequentially created, then the pinnacle is not Adam but Eve!
people often use a text to support their presuppositions…



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Cheryl

posted February 1, 2007 at 2:15 pm


#49 Sam
Good thoughts.
Reminds me of the old joke… “And on the sixth day, God created man. And His creation was good. Then later in the day, God thought, ‘I can do better.’ and created Eve.”
:)



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Cheryl

posted February 1, 2007 at 2:35 pm


#49 Sam, and also Michael,
A bit of a follow-up…
I do see what you are saying about the exegesis issue and approaching it with presuppositions. I guess where I see how it does matter is this. It’s one thing in a mythical story to put mythical words into God’s mouth, in order to frame the structure of the real theme—God’s character. It’s quite another thing to say that God DID SAY these things, for then, they ARE truth from the real mouth from our real God. Needless to say, the latter would, indeed, carry much more weight.
Does that help you see where I’m making the distinction as to why it matters or not if it is a mythical story?



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Michael Kruse

posted February 1, 2007 at 2:43 pm


Cheryl #48
“The subordination of women might not matter to you, but it matters to lots of women.”
Cheryl, I am the poster boy for egalitarianism (or more accurately non-hierarchical complementarianism) in these discussions at Scot’s site. :) My whole point is that what you, I, or anyone else thinks about women’s subordination is irrelevant. The goal is for the text to speak for itself. We start with what the text teaches and move from there. My comments were simply meant that you can not come to any conclusion about subordination from these texts without bringing assumptions about the nature of the story, the intent of the story, culutral context, etc. I am unclear how you came to the conclusion that the matters concerning subordination do not matter to me.
I am read your three examples and your conclusion that if the stories are myth that would somehow preclude the type of extrapolations being made. Am asking “Why?” This seems self-evident to you but it is not to me. That is what I am struggling with, not whether or not the extrapolations are important or in error.



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Cheryl

posted February 1, 2007 at 3:07 pm


#52, Michael,
I know your stance on women here, so I was just lightening up the topic a bit. :) And I’m right there with you on all of us bringing our own views to the texts.
I think perhaps my #51 post clarifies what I’m asking/thinking as much as I know how. If that doesn’t help, I don’t know what else to add.
Thanks for your responses.



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Michael Kruse

posted February 1, 2007 at 4:00 pm


Cheryl #51 and #53
“…I was just lightening up the topic a bit.”
Gottcha.:)
“It’s one thing in a mythical story to put mythical words into God’s mouth, in order to frame the structure of the real theme—God’s character. It’s quite another thing to say that God DID SAY these things, for then, they ARE truth from the real mouth from our real God. Needless to say, the latter would, indeed, carry much more weight.”
I thinking am beginning to track. I think I am reading:
Literal Historical Account = “Mouth of God”
Myth/Story = “Mouth of Humans” (Thus lacking authority)
Why can’t both be by the “Mouth of God?”
If good is comminicating into a story-filled culture why would he not formulate a story his hearers could enter into to get a handle on the realties he wanted to reveal? Why would we conclude that myth is not from “the mouth of God,” or at least that God was not able to superintend the formation of a myth that accurately teaches what he wants to reveal of himself? These is my questions back.
If God inspired and preserved the myth then it is still every bit as authoritative.



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Michael Kruse

posted February 1, 2007 at 4:03 pm


#54
The last paragraph was supposed to be “If God is communictating..” not “good.”



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RJS

posted February 1, 2007 at 4:13 pm


Cheryl,
I am traveling and have had little time to respond here – but I see that others have carried the ball quite well.



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Rich Schmidt

posted February 1, 2007 at 4:24 pm


Historical or not, it’s still Scripture. It’s still “inspired by God and useful for” etc, etc (2 Tim. 3:16). And it still must be interpreted in order to be applied.
Nothing in the Bible is history just for the sake of history. Everything that’s included is included for a reason, to make a point, to shape us in certain ways, etc. That interpretive task is real no matter how close to “objective history” the story is.



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RJS

posted February 1, 2007 at 4:32 pm


By the way, I agree with Michael here. Myth need not mean human story. Myth can carry the word of God (as a story) just as easily as any other form of written or oral communication. In all cases, in all forms, scripture must be interpreted in order to be applied.



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Cheryl

posted February 1, 2007 at 5:29 pm


#54 Matthew,
Don’t most myths come about in this way? Ancient people observed natural phenomena and desired an explanation for these things. They juxtaposed their suppositions about how that phenomena “came to be” with their revelation of one God and came up with these stories. If this is the case, then the spiritual truths they understood—God’s faithfulness, protection, majesty—were then projected onto THEIR reasonings about the way the world works, and poof! There’s a myth.
The Hindu gave us a story about beings who were non-gendered, with four legs, four arms and two heads, and were complete unto themselves. The gods thought they were getting too powerful and split them in half so that they would spend their time focusing on finding their missing half, rather than trying to be gods. The belly button is supposed to be where the benevolent god sewed up the site of the split. This story not only accounts for the experience of loneliness, and gods being worried about human power (Tower of Babel, anyone?), but also the origin of the belly button.
What I’m getting at is that the Hindu took observable behavior and their understanding of several gods and created a non-scientifically provable story that maintained the integrity of both. Why do we have such trouble believing that it’s possible that ancient Israelites did the same thing?
I guess if you believe the pieces of a story are as valid as the conclusion, then you’re right in that it doesn’t matter if it’s history or myth. Could you write it this way:
(little myth truth) + (little myth truth) + (little myth truth) = (big revealed truth about God)?
But if people are taking what they know of the character of God, and applying their observations of phenomena they’re trying to explain, then it might look more like this: (man’s need to explain phenomena) + (ditto) + (ditto) + (revealed character of God) = (myth that teaches truth).
In the former, the little truths can’t be denied if they are indeed truth. In the latter, the only really important factor is the character of God, and as science reveals more about the observable phenomena, we can adjust our beliefs accordingly, while never forgetting the most important part.
Had the Hindu story wound up being a story about one God, we might be believing their version today, or at least have it be equally credible, but with different ideas about women, for example.
I could be off base here, but I thought it was worth considering.



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Michael Kruse

posted February 1, 2007 at 8:02 pm


#59 Cheryl
“Don’t most myths come about in this way? Ancient people observed natural phenomena and desired an explanation for these things….”
Historically, I think we find many cases of this. But I would point back to my lengthy epistle to Sam in inn #40. How do you answer the question “Where did I come from?” when it is posed by a three year old? We tell a “myth” that is true but not scientific. The Hebrews were people of stories and it makes sense that God would communicate to them in terms of story. God wrote/inspired his own myth to counter the distorted myths created by the human means you described.
Jesus said in Matthew 19:4-6:
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ [Gen 1:27] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? [Gen 2:24] 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” NIV
Whatever the creation stories were the internal elements of the stories were authoritative in giving instruction for our ethical behavior.
Jesus’ parables are not sermon illustrations or analogies. They are carefully crafted alternate realities that the hearer “steps into,” wonders around, takes on different roles, and explores the contexts and connections to discern truth. Teaching did not generally come from a set of propositional statements and build into a legal framework or systematic theology. I suspect the story approach is a big piece of what was happening with the creation narratives. Ken Bailey found this same pattern of teaching very much alive and well in the remote areas of the Middle East when he was doing his research thirty years ago.
Now, I can’t know the heart and mind of specific individuals but here is my deeply held suspicion. Many of those who so stridently hold to a literalist position are fearful that if their literalist position is comprised than people will claim that the stories are human creations without authority and the whole integrity of the Bible will be lost. Thus, (consciously or not) they are beginning with end result they need (ex., authority of scripture, woman’s subordination, etc.) and reasoning back to a hermeneutic that is unflinching about literal interpretation. Similarly, because some people don’t like the outcome that has traditionally been taught from the creation accounts (ex., woman’s subordination) the have latched on to snippets of data that might suggest that the story is not literal and then proclaimed it to be human myth because this facilitates getting to the outcome they desire. Again, it is working from the desired outcome back to a hermeneutic.
I suggest that a valid hermeneutic begins by entering into the host culture’s context, language, and patterns of communication and shedding ours as best we can; that we learn what the text meant in light of that; and then we begin to reflect on what this means for our lives today and be willing to submit to its teaching. None of us can fully escape our context but that is our task if we want to be faithful to the Word.



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Cheryl

posted February 1, 2007 at 8:39 pm


#60 Michael,
Good stuff! I think it’s admirable to enter another culture “as best as we can,” but is that even possible in such a way as to arrive at accurate intent? We see how often on these posts how many times we have to clarify what we meant, and we share a common culture!
And EVEN IF we could fully enter that culture, that opportunity would only exist in the rarefied air of scholars and theologians. As I asked on another post, what does that kind of exegesis mean for the “common” Christian’s approach to personal Bible study?
Thanks for sharing.



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Michael Kruse

posted February 1, 2007 at 9:44 pm


#61 Cheryl
“And EVEN IF we could fully enter that culture, that opportunity would only exist in the rarefied air of scholars and theologians. As I asked on another post, what does that kind of exegesis mean for the “common” Christian’s approach to personal Bible study?”
A most excellent question. Just a few quick observations.
1. We Protestants have gone off the deep end toward individualistic study and interpretation in response to what was once an over emphasis on Church tradition. The Word was meant to be read and studied in community. That does not preclude personal study but I am persuaded that it is the Word studied in community that is paramount.
2. There are varying levels of community and at the broadest level all those who have come before us share in our community (or maybe more accurately we in their community). The writings, teachings, confessions and creeds that broad numbers of them found instructive are not scripture but they need to be consulted.
3. We do need specialists around who can help us crack the issues of language and culture. Our communities (not necessarily each and every individual) need to be more adept at working these issues and we need specialists who can guide us.
4. “The rarefied air of scholars and theologians” concerns me as well because exegeting the Word through understanding the language and ancient culture is only a piece of Christian formation. There is also the ongoing daily application in the context of the everyday world about from the four walls of church edifice. That application and reflection throws us back on the Word for deeper interaction. Unfortunately, most of Western Christendom shields (diverts?) most of us from really struggling with the Word the way we need to, while simultaneously removing scholars and theologians from practical application. I think we need to rethink our entire approach to Christian scholarship, leadership training, and engaging the Word as a community.
5. I see nothing in Scripture that teaches that Christian formation and interaction with the Word is individuals making simple common sense application of self-evident texts. That is the Enlightenment/Modernist in us talking. It is hard lifelong work done in community in response to a divine grand narrative that has elements of ambiguity and uncertainty.



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Cheryl

posted February 1, 2007 at 9:57 pm


#62, Michael,
Wow! I’m impressed! I especially love the summation of the last sentence. And even more rare, I can’t find a thing I disagree with! :)
I do have an observation, however… even if we did all of this, we’d still have this issue.
An individual approaches scripture and makes assumptions based on their own reading, the teaching they sit under, and their culture >>> this individual then joins a community with the same general assumptions >>> this community employs specialists who have exegeted (?) in a way that scripturally supports their general assumptions >>> this community forms a religion >>> this religion presumes to “speak best” for God.
It’s all sort of incestuous in a way, which, of course, can’t be healthy.
I really appreciate your thinking on this.



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molly

posted February 3, 2007 at 12:40 pm


Michael, that was…wow. Thanks.



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Michael Kruse

posted February 3, 2007 at 5:33 pm


#64 Molly.
Your are welcome. Glad it connects.
#63
Cheryl I forgot to post one further observation. In “The rise of Christianity,” Rodney Stark points out that a plague in the second century and another plague in the third century were central to Christianity winning over the Empire. (Each plague claimed a quarter or more of the Empire.) Why? Because when the Romans fled the cities in terror, leaving even loved ones to their fate, Christians stayed behind, joyously and fearlessly taking care of others. The witness of their faith in the face of how the little the Romans trusted their gods was a profound witness. Episodes of joyous and fearless martyrdom all so played a role. What does an empire do with a band of people that takes care of everyone and fears no one but God?
I don’t know where I first heard it but there is axiom that says, “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” I think that goes for reforming the Church as well. The danger comes in the hubris and potentially thinking that what we are offering is “the better” when in fact it is just another version of the bad.



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Anonymous

posted February 3, 2007 at 8:27 pm


My Bible Tells Me So « adventures in mercy

[...] Michael Kruse, in a comment on Jesus Creed: …Just a few quick observations. [...]



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