Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Song for the day

Dr. Russell More, President of Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist convention, this Sunday Morning, placed a link on Twitter to Iris Dement singing “Our Town.”  While he may not have meant it the way I took it, and I love Dement’s singing, I find all kinds of metaphors jumping out at me. The perfect song for the way I am feeling—but Christ is that love that hangs on to us in faithfulness.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

For the Church because of yesterday's decision ...

The prophet Isaiah when he came before the throne of God despaired because as he said:
Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.

But God gave him clean lips, taking away his iniquity and forgiving his sins. And while Isaiah’s prophecies begin with judgment on the nations, more than any other prophet he is the prophet of the Messiah- the one whose words ring with the clearest understanding of the suffering servant. Here is the promise of God that reaches even down to this time of having unclean lips and being in the midst of a people who have unclean lips:
He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face he was despised and we did not esteem him.

Surely our griefs he himself bore and our sorrows he carried; for we ourselves esteemed him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But he was pierced through for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our wellbeing fell on him. And by his scourging we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; each of us have turned to his own way; but the Lord caused the iniquities of us all to fall on him. (Isaiah 53:3-6)
This was part of the scripture text that the Court official to the Queen of Ethiopian was reading when Philip, one of the first deacons of the Church, joined the eunuch as he traveled home from Jerusalem. With this he led the man to Christ. “He preached Jesus to him.”

In the midst of a people of unclean lips, Philip preached Jesus to the Court official. He preached Jesus the God-man who was despised and suffered for the sins of the people.  Jesus was humiliated and he was “led as a sheep to slaughter.”  And a Court official came to know him—to be redeemed by him.
We are in the midst of a people of unclean lips. They are at the moment unwilling to let go of their sin and give their lives to Christ. But we are united to the Lord of life; we are, perhaps, set to walk a lonely path such as his. To be despised, to face humiliation. Yet, this may open God’s door for those who will be given new life and transformation.

This is often God’s pattern, to change his people who feel the sting of their own sin, and through them in their union with Christ, with proclamation of the good news of redemption, to change the wandering sinner.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:9-11)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Road trips & a Shepherd

I’m not sure what started me thinking about childhood trips and how they can affect later events. Perhaps I was thinking about pork chops, or more seriously, terrible car accidents or the lack of cell phones sixty years ago. 
But our journey as Christians is somewhat like a journey I made more than sixty years ago. We moved several times between California and Missouri. And our father and mother’s care and tenacity was to me like my later walk with Christ. His care and stubborn love in the midst of my own childishness and fears has never ceased.

There are three events that mark one particular trip. One childish, and two terrifying. The first—I hated meat—except for fried chicken and fried pork chops. We went the southern route and in Southern California I still remember sitting with my family by the side of the road, crying, because I didn’t want to eat my hamburger, I wanted a pork chop instead.
One serious part. We traveled through the Mojave Desert and ran out of water. It was hot, there was no air-conditioning then.  As little girls we rode in our cotton slips to stay cool. That was our mother’s idea as well as sucking on the ice that was left in the bottom of the cooler. And then the car started losing water because there was a crack in the radiator. We pulled into a rare filling station to find they had no water, only soda pop.  Our only help came when a car pulled up beside us and they had abundant water to drink and to put into the car.

The second serious part. At some point our car was fixed, I don’t remember the details after all of the years I just remember that we kept moving east. We traveled through New Mexico. It was there, in the rain, that we came upon a horrible accident.

On that busy highway few lacked any compassion, all were in a hurry. My father stopped; he had worked as a trucker a great deal of his life and was used to stopping to help. Truckers were once known as Knights of the road.
A woman was amazingly walking down the side of the road; her head was split open and one eye was hanging out. She was quickly put into our car, my father’s large red handkerchief wrapped around her head—the eye positioned in place.  My mother gave her the only pain pills we had, aspirin. We then drove forty miles to the nearest hospital.  At first the hospital staff did not take her seriously until they unwrapped her head.

I have often wondered what happened to her. Did she recover her sight in that one eye? How long did it take the police and ambulances to get back to the accident?  Did any other car stop and help?
We went on our way without any other events. Ahead of us was Grandma and Grandpa and their farm. We would purchase a farm within walking distance of them. There would be cousins, family gatherings and happiness for a little while which there generally is in all of our lives but I am writing all of this thinking of Pastor Dave’s sermon this morning on Psalm 23.  “I shall not want” the psalmist insists.   “He restores my soul.” “I fear no evil, for you are with me.” And truly the Lord is.

His care is like a mother’s care—his strength in the midst of pain and panic like a Father’s. Always the Lord is with his people guiding, binding up wounds, waiting with patience for us to lean into his will even when it is unwanted. Ahead is the fulfillment of his promises and his own glorious self.

Friday, June 21, 2013

From Maryland to Sacramento: about family

For the weekend, I am, again, encouraging you to read my granddaughter Melissa’s blog, A Free Form Life. Her latest posting, “Summer Comes in Rural Maryland,” contains such beautiful pictures. If you have followed this couple who at one time tried to live in New York in  order to perform dance, act and do art all to the glory of God, but were unable to, you will enjoy their new adventure in Maryland where they are learning to be farmers. Melissa is expecting our seventh great grandchild.

 The picture is of Molly and Adele enjoying the country.

 Below is a picture of my middle daughter Jenny who just graduated with an MA in Geography from the University of Davis. The day before she graduated she had to take her oral exams before her committee to enter the doctorate program. She passed. All those who are still home or close by of her family are in the picture, including Liz who is expecting our sixth great granddaughter. My granddaughter Katie is holding her daughter Rosalie, our fifth great granddaughter. Their oldest son Ethan is busy for the second summer in a row working at a fish cannery in Alaska. And of course as I have just written their oldest daughter Melissa is in Maryland.

Below is some music I hope you will enjoy. It is the latest from Beanscot's collection.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How shall we name sin: an exchange between the Covenant Network & Dr. Walter L. Taylor

Dr. Walter L. Taylor, pastor at Oak Island PresbyterianChurch, North Carolina, wrote a comment on the Covenant Network of Presbyterians site concerning their article, “A Man and a Woman”:  A Look at the Presbyterian Confessions in Context.” That is the article I wrote about in, “A Man and a Woman”: are the words important to the Confessions.” Taylor’s comment was:
“So, since you are saying that the man-woman basis of marriage is no longer required, what about number? You have not addressed that, which it seems to me is directly connected to the man-woman union. So, are you advocating polygamy now, because you have just destroyed any basis not to? This is sophistry that is blasphemy as well.”

Rather than allow Taylor’s comment to be posted Rev. Brian Ellison, Executive Director of the Covenant Network, sent him this message:

“Mr. Taylor,
We received your comment in response to "A Confessional Affirmation on Christian Marriage" by Dr. Kenneth Cuthbertson. I'm writing to explain why we will not be posting it.
For one thing, we strive to post only thoughtful, well-reasoned comments,  that are appropriate responses to the article posted. While Rev. Cuthbertson's original post addresses gender and marriage, you do not. You do not explain how supporting marital rights for two people who love each other regardless of gender has anything to do with polygamy. (This, of course, is because it has nothing to do with polygamy.)

Second, we do not post remarks that are offensive. Connecting LGBTQ persons' making of covenantal, loving commitments to one another with the practice of polygamy is, as you are surely aware, patently offensive to many of your sisters and brothers in Christ. While invoking this fear-filled idea is all too common when these serious issues are being debated, and while the Old Testament may bless and even instruct polygamy in many cases, legal or ecclesiastical recognition of polygamous marriages has not been suggested by any LGBTQ advocates I know. We wish to save you from the public embarrassment of causing offense to your sisters and brothers in this manner as a result of your comments being posted at our website.
Thirdly, and finally, we ordinarily do not publish comments that have already been posted on another website. I noted that you have already posted your comments on the blog known as "Naming His Grace"; the audience they receive there will have to be sufficient.

I hope this is helpful as you consider submitting other comments to our website in the future. We would be glad to include your voice when appropriate.

The Rev. Brian D. Ellison, Executive Director
Covenant Network of Presbyterians
3210 Michigan Ave., Suite 300
Kansas City, MO 64109
816.605.1031 office

Taylor has responded to Ellison’s e-mail with this:
Mr. Ellison,

I posted my remarks on Naming His Grace because I anticipated the response that you provided me. For all the talk that folks on your side of these issues make, I have not experienced you all as gracious or open to serious dialogue. What I have found is a grab for power. I have found it intriguing how folks like yourself scream for all voices to be included, and yet then in the name of that same inclusion exclude orthodox Christians. You have met my expectations. It has shown many of us what the PC(USA) will become at the hands of people like the leadership of the Covenant Network, a tight, narrow, leftwing denomination, committed more to the sexual revolution than to anything resembling the Reformed faith.

As for the issue you refuse to address, there is a profound connection between marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and the number of people involved in a marital union. The fact that marriage is for two people is directly connected to the fact that marriage is the union of one man plus one woman, hence, 1+1=2. To redefine the former is to undermine the second. To advocate the redefinition of marriage, and yet still cling to the age-old requirement of limiting it to two people is nothing but an arbitrary use of power on your part.
Furthermore, your comment polygamous marriage has not been suggested by any LGBTQ advocates you know is laughable. In many places, those who are advocating same-sex marriage are also crossing the frontier of advocating polyamorous relationships, even within the so-called mainline Protestant world. That you will not face up to this strikes me as downright dishonest.

Finally, I honestly think that you are afraid to publish my remarks because you know that I have a point that you simply do not want to deal with.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

"A Man and A Woman": are the words important to the Confessions

Dr.  Kenneth Cuthbertson whose article, “A Man and a Woman”:  A Look at the Presbyterian Confessions in Context,” is posted on the Covenant Network of Presbyterians site, has an interesting and but simplistic understanding of the history of several of the Presbyterian (U.S.A.)’s Confessions.  He provides a rather wooden view of the problems the confessors faced. And he throws away some of their words as though they have no real meaning.
Cuthbertson writes about the context of the wording of “a man and a woman,” in the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Confession of 1967.[1] He uses other confessions to make his point, that the terms man and woman are simply used to combat other kinds of historical problems and have nothing to do with reinforcing the definition of marriage as that covenant which exists between a man and a woman.

Leading up to the Westminster Confession, Cuthbertson refers to the rejection of celibacy for ministers, divorce and polygamy. He refers to King Henry VIII’s divorce of his first wife and of King Phillip of Hesse’s “bigamous” marriage which he states both Luther and Melanchthon agreed to[2] But Cuthbertson sees as the most important influence the rebellion of Muenster whose participants were neither pacifist nor biblical. Cuthbertson writes:

But, it is probable that the more significant historical event lurking in the background was the 1534 rebellion of Anabaptist radicals known as the Muenster Rebellion, during which its leader, John of Leiden, claimed direct divine inspiration in his legalization of polygamy and his own taking of sixteen wives.  From then on, Protestant leaders were haunted by fears of similar recurrences among sectarian enthusiasts.

One might question the importance of Muenster for the writers of the Westminster Confession, Muenster was after all a German event which would eventually lead to a counter group, the biblical Anabaptist, the Mennonites.[3] But beyond that what is not acknowledged by Cuthbertson is that the occurrences of the wording “man and woman” in the Confession, as well as the other words about marriage, while they may have been directed toward certain historical events were shaped by the author’s biblical faith and knowledge. The men who wrote the Westminster Confession were forming their thoughts and words from the word of God.
It wasn’t just the Roman Catholic’s ban on priests marrying, it was the Bible’s words that there would be false teachers who with a seared conscience forbade certain foods and marriage ((1 Timothy 4:1-4). Or the Bible’s words that “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord (Proverbs 18: 22). It wasn’t just King Henry’s divorce but Jesus’ words about divorce. It wasn’t just about King Philip’s bigamous marriage but the Genesis’ story of God’s creation of the first man and woman and Jesus’ reference to it as authoritative when speaking about marriage.

And finally anyone who reacted to the Muenster event was reacting to sexual sin within their Christian culture. (They were also reacting to some very crude political views.) Some, sadly, reacted by continuing the persecution to death of any with the label Anabaptist. The Dutch Anabaptists reacted by forging new and tighter communities, enforcing more biblical standards and encouraging pacifism.
And perhaps the Westminster Confession’s section on marriage carries these concerns. But the more important point is that the Confession was answering the historical context with Holy Scripture, and because it does answer historical sexual sin from a biblical point of view it has relevance for the Church. And man and woman are a part of that relevance. They are integral parts of what the Confession states.

Cuthbertson moves on to the Confession of 1967. He reminds his readers that the Confession came before the flower children and their new (but old) understanding of sexuality. It came before the sexual revolution was finished. It came before the LBGTQ revolution. So, according to Cuthbertson it does not address our contemporary issues. But he goes further.
Cuthbertson believes that the important part of the Confession of 1967 is that it addresses change and the need to change. Some of the quotes he pulls out of the confession concerning this are:

“In each time and place, there are particular problems and crises through which God calls the church to act.  The church, guided by the Spirit, humbled by its own complicity and instructed by all attainable knowledge, seeks to discern the will of God and learn how to obey in these concrete situations.” – C67, 9.43


“Confessions and declarations are subordinate standards in the church, subject to the authority of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, as the Scriptures bear witness to him.  No one type of confession is exclusively valid, no one statement is irreformable.  Obedience to Jesus Christ alone identifies the one universal Church and supplies the continuity of its tradition.  This obedience is the ground of the church’s duty and freedom to reform itself in life and doctrine as new occasions, in God’s providence, may demand.”  – C67, 9.03

These quotes are very important for the discussions the denomination is having about same gender marriage. The latter quote reminds the church that everything, confessions and declarations, are subject to Jesus Christ the Word of God—and this is very important—“as the Scriptures bear witness to him.” The Scriptures are the word of God written—they are the word of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  And part of that bearing witness to Jesus is Jesus speaking of the creation account of marriage between a man and a woman. Part of that bearing witness is Jesus reminding his listeners that he did not come “to abolish the Law or the Prophets.” One may not dismiss lightly the words of Scripture. To do so is to become “least in the Kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5: 14-19)
So to face the change that has come and is coming to our culture one must take seriously the word of God written since all of it bears witness to Jesus. It is after all his words.

The first quote that I have listed is God’s call to the denomination to act. We are complacent in allowing the decadence of our culture to enter the Church and bring ruin to God’s people. This quote is only pointing to one kind of change, the change that comes to and from a repentant people. God never calls the Church to a change that endorses sin, but rather a change that puts away sin. In this case too, a man and a woman are relevant to the problem. They are much more than descriptive words.
The world wants the Church to endorse sexual sin. God calls the church back to his holiness. The world wants the Church to leave the LGBTQ community to their own desires and devices. God calls the Church to lovingly and prayerfully guide those in the LGBTQ community to repentance, new life in Jesus and transformation—to his community of the redeemed.  

[1] Interestingly Cuthbertson does not use man and woman as it appears in another confession the Second Helvetic Confession in the very place he refers to it for a different reason the text is, “For marriage (which is the medicine of incontinency and continency itself) was instituted by the Lord God himself, who blessed it most bountifully, and willed man and woman to cleave one to the other inseparably, and to live together in complete love and concord (Matt. 19:4 ff). 5.246
[3] William R. Estep, “Menno Simons and Dutch Anabaptism,” The Anabaptist Story, revised, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans 1975) 108-129.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Who is Charles E. Carlson & why does he picket churches?

Although I am not a Christian Zionist but rather a Reformed Christian, this is asinine and it happens in Sacramento too much.  A friend, Victor Styrsky, who is the Eastern Regional Coordinator for Christians United for Israel sent a message around to some of his friends.  It seems Charles E. Carlson of Strait Gates Ministry is going to picket “Celebrating Israel’s Concert” at Trinity Life Center in Sacramento where Abe Daniel is the pastor.

Carlson attempts to make himself sound legit when he writes letters to the offending church and then pickets. But he is not, he is an anti-Semitic bigot.
I have written several blog postings which mention him and his organization. In one I point out that in his bookstore he offers books by Gorden Ginn a denier of the Holocaust.[1]He is also quoted on one of Stephen Sizer’s blog postings.*  Sizer quotes him writing that the Jewish immigrants to Israel, in fact all Jews, are not related to ancient Israel:

  The poll results state that 73% of those polled think "God's covenant with the Jewish people" continues today, and only 22% say it does not. It should be noted here that this is a Judeo-Christian give-away, since it is based on a false premise. The Pew Forum and all Evangelicals need to understand that there never was an Old Testament covenant with "the Jewish people." Most Evangelicals, radical or moderate, fail to properly distinguish the ancient tribe of Israelites from the Jews of today, and in particular, the Jewish inhabitants of the modern secular Jewish state of Israel. This error is the result of scriptural distortion that is encouraged by the State of Israel and its lobbies in the USA, and by the Israel-friendly press.
He has two articles on his web site about the 9-11 destruction of the WTC. The earliest one blames America’s friendship with Israel for such terrorism. Among other things he writes:

The international banks that office in NYC are among those who fund the wars, and Arabs know it. Arab and Islamic states believe they have been impoverished by internationalist Israeli-Patriot bankers, while being murdered by the Pentagon based Warmakers who control our government. They believe this because the record is clear that the acts of the Bankers and the Warmakers have combined to destroy Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine with Israeli personnel and US weapons;
In the later article Carlson has become a truther, that is, he believes that the destruction was an inside job although he admits he does not know who committed the crime.

Carlson has a weakness for blaming national and world events on the Jews and Christian Zionist. Writing of the many mass murders in recent national news, Carlson blames most on Christian Zionist. Writing of YWAM, Faith Bible Church, Ted Haggard and Matthew Murray, Carlson blames his killing spree on Christian Zionism and Israel. In a later article on Adam Lanza and his horrific killing spree in Newtown CT, Carlson does the same thing.  In fact with the article, “Reclaiming Judeo-Christians Still More Blood On Judeo-Christians’ Hands,” he turns the killing into a conspiracy, writing that “most of the killers are anything but dumb. A pattern is already emerging in the Lanza attack, which I predict will be kept secret from us. Whereas the incident will be used as political grist for various agendas by those who control our President.”  
So this is the man, Charles E. Carlson, he does not believe that the Jews are descendants of ancient Israel, he does not believe that God ever had a covenant with the Jews, he is willing to use holocaust denier’s material, he blames horrific tragedy on Christian Zionists, he is willing to believe that 9-11 was an inside job.

Carlson is picketing a church that, while I don’t agree with everything they teach nonetheless, possesses compassion, not denying the needs of other people. Carlson, who says he does not believe in war nonetheless is capable of causing great conflict both among Christians and among Palestinians and Israelis with his own teaching. He is so one sided that he uses conspiracy theories to bolster his views. May God protect all people from such a one as this.

* see

[1] Carlson’s bookstore is, as far as I can tell, is no longer connected to his ministry site. But it is still on the web.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Not killing, just terminating ... meat in a crockpot!

The Western nations and in particular the United States are developing a group of people who are not unlike the Nazi doctors of Germany. Their mindsets are formed and forming along lines that see the killing of the innocent and helpless as a service that renders the rest of society healthier.  These doctors, nurses, medical ethicist, aides, etc. are developing and promoting the kind of evil that grows an extremely sick society. They have begun their thoughts with those little humans who should be safely nestled in their mother’s womb. But such evil does not forever reside in hidden places.

Many abortionists and their staff have recently began formulating their dark concepts of human worthiness around the just born, or those who survive abortion. In an evil tomorrow such thoughts will engulf a whole society. We will all begin thinking that the other is a problem not a person. Let us end this now before our whole society is rendered unfit for the sake of a few elite.

The video below is by Live Action and you can read more about it on

A good book to read is The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide by Robert Jay Lifton.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The word of God & RKP's extra material

Ryan Kemp-Pappan is the supply pastor for Trinity Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City Oklahoma. He is one of a growing number of pastors and leaders who seem dissatisfied with the idea that the proclamation of the word is the most important privilege and duty given to a pastor. Alongside Bruce Reyes-Chow, Kemp-Pappan has decided to use extra-biblical texts for proclamation. On his blog, “Being RKP,” Kemp-Pappan has two postings connected to what he calls “A Heretic Summer.”
Kemp-Pappan starts his first posting with a document that is read by many Christians since it is in the Apocrypha and in the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Bibles. But he quickly jumps, in his next post, to an ancient text that is only acknowledged as acceptable reading for Christians in a compilation of texts published by the radical Jesus Seminar.

Kemp-Pappan’s first posting & sermon is, “Alone Again Or, and the text is Bel & the Dragon. This is considered an additional chapter of Daniel, and as stated above is in the Apocrypha. Daniel proves that the false god in this story, the dragon, is fake by using trickery. There are differing versions of the story and it was included in the Jewish Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, but not the later Masoretic text used by contemporary Jews since the 9th century.
Although Kemp-Pappan writes that the reformers cut Bel & the Dragon from the Protestant Bible to distance themselves from Rome the basic reason they eliminated the Apocrypha was to allow the Hebrew Bible, (Old Testament) to conform to the Jewish Masoretic Text.[1]

But the history of the Apocrypha is far more complex. While some in the early church supported some of the extra texts of the Apocrypha, they were disputed. Clement of Alexandrea and Augustine accepted the text, but Jerome and Origen did not accept them as canonical. As for the Reformation, D.A. deSilvia, author of “Apocrypha and Pseudepigraphs” writes:

Only the Protestant Reformation forced a decision. Martin Luther decisively separated the books or parts of books (e.g., the Additions to Esther and Daniel) that were not included in the Hebrew Canon from his OT as “books which cannot be reckoned with the canonical books and yet are useful and good for reading.”  … The rest of the Protestant Reformers followed his practice. The apocryphal books continued to be printed and recommended as edifying material, but they were not to be used as a basis for doctrine or ethics apart from the canonical books. The Roman Catholic Church responded at the Council of Trent (1546)  by declaring these books (excluding 1 and 2 Esdras, Prayer of Manasseh and 3 and 4 Maccabees) to be fully canonical[2]

Note then that these books were not officially declared canonical by the Roman Catholic Church until after the Reformation.

Kemp-Pappan uses the material in Bel and the Dragon to explore, “the far reaches of our faith.” He claims that members of his congregation “will be exploring sacred texts many … have not heard before. … [and] will engage sacred texts from other faith traditions in earnest,” as they “seek to boldly challenge … [their] faith and the institutions that fashioned it.”
Interestingly Kemp-Pappan uses the Dragon story to advocate for non-violence in activism although the false priests, in the story, and their families are killed for their deceit.

But going further in his next posting, Kemp-Pappan uses the Infancy Gospel of Thomas which is considered Pseudepigrapha. That is a work that has been attributed to a more well-known author of the past. The text is a later writing than the New Testament texts. But the Infancy Gospel of Thomas is also fantasy much like a bad fairy tale. Its quality is sentimental and destructive at the same time.  While Kemp-Pappan attempts to equate its fantasy quality with biblical miracles it cannot be done since the quality and intent are very different.
The miracles of Scripture are always embedded in the redemptive purposes of God.  But the miracles of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas center on the temper of a small God-child who even kills another child for bumping into him. The awe of bystanders is gained by the selfish intent of a brat rather than the self-giving love of a Savior.  

The fact is that most contemporary publishing of the Infancy material is done on the assumption that all birth narratives including the canonical ones are myth.[3] But the eternal purposes of God shine in the canonical narratives of Matthew and Luke while the Infancy Gospel of Thomas is void of redemption. The birth narratives of the Bible are linked with integrity to the history and promises of the Old Testament-they are awash with authenticity.
Kemp-Pappan attempts to use the story to help others understand their adolescent tensions and misgivings. He takes what can only be seen as an unbiblical sinful nature of the child Jesus and uses it to write/speak of human attempts at overcoming childishness. In this case Jesus becomes simply a model not just for good but also for the bad that we all experience within ourselves as we mature.

Hungry for the word of God, God’s people and those who are dying within the deadness of this culture will never find satisfaction in extra biblical material. As Paul writes to Timothy, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled they will accumulate for themselves false teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn back to myths. (2 Timothy 4:2-4)

picture by Christopher Juncker

[1] For more information on the Jewish Masoretic Text see
[2]D.A. deSilvia, “Apocrypha and Pseudepigraphs” Dictionary of New Testament Background, Editors Craig A. Evans & Stanley E. Porter, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press 2000) 59.
[3] This is pointed out by Philip Jenkins in his book Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost its Way. (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2001).

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Understanding the Biblical text in a literal or metaphorical way

Bill Tammeus, former faith columnist for the Kansas City Star,  thinks that understanding the biblical text in a literal way is a plague on the church. He is concerned that our children learn how to think in metaphorical ways. He is afraid they will be disillusioned as they mature and grow academically.  He mentions Jonah and the whale and the story of Noah as stories that must not be taken literally. In his Outlook article, “Help kids understand not all truth is literal,” linked to by ChurchandWorld, Tammeus writes:

But if children are never given a clue about the power of metaphor and layers of meaning before they are introduced to some basic science about the cosmos, they may — and, sad to say, sometimes do — feel misled about the Bible stories they’ve learned. Sometimes they think the church is telling them one thing and science teachers something completely opposite.

He clarifies somewhat with this, “If we are to take Scripture seriously, as opposed to literally, we must always ask what it’s saying about God, about us and about our relationship with God”. However, literal can mean taking the Scripture seriously too. At the same time, Tammeus’ very excellent questions can, must, also be applied to a literal reading of the text.

But, setting this aside for a second, Tammeus set off a long train of memories and thoughts in my mind. In the eighties, with most of my six children grown, I finished up, with some enjoyment, two BAs I had been working toward. At a secular university, working toward a degree in religious studies was sometimes irritating but philosophy was my great joy and my teachers were incredible in their outlook, care and abilities.
One teacher worked with me on a paper for the usual annual philosophy essay contest. I was writing on Plato’s Phaedo and how Socrates’ view of the forms did not agree with his view of the afterlife. The forms were impersonal, the afterlife very personal in a non-metaphorical way. I did win that year and another teacher, the head of the philosophy club, for the year, was kind with his required questions.

But the teacher who gave me my fondest memories taught several of the classes I took including the Philosophy of Science class. When we studied philosophy and evolution he asked me if I would give a talk on creationism versus evolution. Now I am not a young earth proponent, but I do believe in creationism and I do not believe in evolution except within a species.  It isn’t anything I will generally argue about because it doesn’t really interest me, still, giving the talk was actually fun. But the real fun came later.

When I decided to attend the same university for an MA in History I asked the same teacher to give me a letter of recommendation.  Among other things he wrote that I had given a very good lecture in his Philosophy of Science class. He did not write what the subject was about, and I believe that was a silent joke between the two of us. But why am I writing this long narrative of my college years?
Because I believe that Tammeus’ arguments are bogus. They seem to imply that if one is educated they will not take a literal view of the Bible but will instead understand most of the stories as layered and metaphorical. I will not argue with another Christian who believes in evolution and/or believes that the story of Jonah and the whale is simply a story. I might argue about Noah and the flood.  Nevertheless that isn’t my point. My point is that the Bible, which is certainly the word of God, is many things: inspired story, inspired poetry, inspired prophets, inspired gospel. It is full of real history as well as metaphor, it is full of insights and commandments, God’s revelation to his people.

Some conservatives see the literal where there is metaphor, (for example in Revelation) but on the other hand some progressives also see the literal where there is metaphor. For example some radical Christian feminist insist on making lady wisdom of Proverbs a feminine Holy Spirit when the reference is simply to a metaphorical image (a personification) of an attribute of God.
And there are layers, but many progressives miss the layers. For instance the Old Testament is first a history of God’s dealings with the Hebrew people. We must not miss that, it is their story wrapped in God’s revelation of himself. And that means there is something more. Woven, layered, pointing, is the story of God’s redeeming purposes, his plans for redemption—the glory of his eternal Son’s incarnation, death and resurrection.

Three days in the belly of the whale, the “sign of Jonah,” the sign for the generation of Christ. The sorrow and wrath of God on a generation that filled the earth with violence, but the mercy of God in the ark of safety. God is working in mercy and justice, kindness and holiness. We are called to redemption through Christ which opens a door to our willing obedience.

Picture from Ethan McHenry

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What does this mean? Isn't Jesus God?

I believe this may be a teaching moment. Or is it just confusion, or a misquote? The Presbyterian News Service put up an article, “Empirical hermeneutics: Dutch scholar employs intercultural contextual Bible study to explore how study of scripture produces transformation.” The experiment was, according to theologian Hans de Wit, to send out a Scripture text to various cultural groups to study and receive back their cultural perspective of the text. Putting all of the perspectives together would supposedly enlarge scholars understanding of the text and its transformative power.
The first one sent out was John 4 “― the story of Jesus encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well ―.” According to the author of the article, Jerry L. Van Marter, de Wit gave several descriptions of how various cultures reacted to the text. Including one rather odd statement which leaves me with the question, “what does this mean?”

de Wit’s group was paired with a group of South African Pentecostal bishops “who were very mad at us because they have a very high Christology and could only read the text as God, but not Jesus, redeeming the Samaritan woman.”

Does it mean that they believe Jesus is God and that is how it is that Jesus redeemed the Samaritan woman, but de Wit doesn’t believe that Jesus is God? Does it mean that they divide Jesus from Christ and it is only Christ who redeemed and not Jesus? Does it mean that the Presbyterian News got their terminology and quote confused?
If I had been the reporter I would have asked de Wit what he meant. And then because I was a religious news reporter I would have clarified it for my readers. And this is why I would have asked and clarified.

A high Christology means that the person holding it believes Jesus is God. Yes the Incarnation means that Jesus is fully God and fully human.  But one can never say that only the human nature redeemed but the God nature did not, nor can one say that only the God nature redeemed but the human did not. Jesus is fully God and he is fully human, and his two natures may not be divided nor merged. So what did de Wit mean? Was the quote correct? Does de Wit believe Jesus is God?
I believe, since de Wit has a background in liberation theology there is much more to this story and its theological content.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. … No one has seen God at any time, the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:1, 14, 18)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

An important debate- Muslim & Christian

Every two years there is a Muslim/Christian dialogue in Dubai in the  United Arab Emirates. It is one of the best debates I have watched, the speakers are intelligent and gracious to each other. This year it was on live streaming, and the issue debated is "How can we find forgiveness from a Holy God? The Christian speaker is Thabiti  Anyabwile, a Baptist pastor from the Cayman Islands. He has written many books including The Life of God in the Soul of the Church.   The Muslim speaker is Shabir Ally  "the president of the Islamic Information & Dawah Centre International in Toronto where he functions as Imam."

Two thoughts on this debate as it might relate to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This is a real debate; each person stands up for what they believe and yet they are friends. Secondly I am reminded of the differences between the orthodox and the progressives as I listen. Part of the reason is because Muslims do not believe in original sin and the other reason is because Ally is using progressive views of the Scripture.

The whole debate is about three hours long with questions and answers at the end. It is best to start at about.16:00 because the first part is a poor recording. It is long, but very worth the time it takes to listen.
Watch live streaming video from mcdialogues at