In Print…

It is official, something I wrote has been published…in print…in an actual book. How did this happen you ask? Well it helps that it’s not my book and that I had no idea that the book was being released until about a month ago.

A couple of years ago I was doing a google search on one of my professors, a gentleman named Mabiala Kenzo. He is a brilliant theologian who specializes in narrative theology, post-colonialism, and the works of Paul Ricoeur. One of the sites that I found was A New Kind of Conversation. The site was essentially a kind of blog where a group of theologians, philosophers, counselors and writers (including well-known author Brian McLaren) were interacting with questions about the relationship between post-modernism and the Christian faith (particularly evangelical Christianity). The really cool bit about this was that every post had an open comments section where anybody could interact with what these authors had posted. Like all blogs the unregulated posting sometimes wandered pretty far off-topic, but there was also a lot of insightful and interesting interaction as well.

So the long and the short of it is that I contributed a number of comments to the discussion and about a month ago I got an email from the book’s publisher asking for my home address so that they could send me a free copy of the finished book. It arrived today and it looks like all of my comments were included (woohoo!). I did get siced by the editors in one post, but it was just for using “dunno” instead of “don’t know.”

You can check out the full conversation on the web site or buy the book in your local book store or on amazon. Why buy the book when I can read it online for free, you ask? The joy of the book is that the original posts and subsequent comments have been edited and organized into a much more coherent whole. The book also includes some very helpful sidebars and definitions to some of the more technical language that’s being used.

So there you are, a little bit of shameless self-promotion. Setting that aside it really is a good book and some of the essays and comments are very worth the $20 or whatever it costs in stores. I leave you with the bibliographic info.

Penner, Myron Bradley and Hunter Barnes ed. A New Kind of Conversation: Blogging Toward a Postmodern Faith. Paternoster: Colorado Springs, 2007.

Brevard Childs…

Brevard Childs died on Saturday. For those of you who don’t know of him, he was one of the great biblical scholars of the 20th century. He was a pioneer in the fields of Biblical Theology and Canonical Criticism and a long-time professor at Yale Divinity School. You can find the full obituary here. May his memory be for a blessing.

The Tale…

There is no H in the standard western musical scale. There are only 7 notes, which we we name with the first 7 letters of the alphabet, A to G. I don’t remember where I heard it, and I don’t remember who said it, but a well known thinker once said that because of the finite number of available notes, scales and keys the world would soon run out of original music. That was a couple hundred years ago. What this thinker failed to take into account was the near infinite potential for new combinations of and variations on old themes.

There are also only a finite number of tales in the world. I don’t know how many there are, but it is a finite number. Every story you’ve ever heard, like every song you’ve ever heard, is a variation on a theme. It is an author riffing on a scale. Some people find this troubling, even disquieting. I do not. I love it. I love that I can see an author taking a well known tale, a cultural pillar, and interact with it, caressing it, re-telling it in a way that makes us perk up our ears again.

I watched El Laberinto del fauno (English title Pan’s Labyrinth) tonight, and that is exactly what Guillermo del Toro does in this wonderful film. Not only does del Toro weave his own fantastic vision in and out of an ancient tale, he weaves it in and out of The Tale. I call it The Tale because it is, I believe, the most important tale that the world has ever known. We have known this tale for as long as tales have been told (it is found in the Ba’al cycles and the OT) and in many different cultures (Persian, Greek, Hebrew, Babylonian, etc.). It is the tale of the innocent suffering servant. It is the tale of one who is prepared to sacrifice his or her own blood in order to stave off the darkness, in order to drive away the night once again. This is The Tale that strikes at the very heart of our fear and our hope. It has been told a thousand times, ten thousand times, ten thousand times ten thousand times. It is a tale that God himself once told. It is the tale, of course, of Christ. If you’d like to see this tale told again in a wildly creative, disturbing and beautiful way please watch El Laberinto del fauno. That, my friends, is how stories should be told.

Degrees…

We are each, so I am told, separated from every single other person on Earth by no more than 7 degrees. By how many degrees, I wonder, are we separated from the lives we might have lived and the people we might have been.

A couple of days ago Jinny and I got in touch with an old friend from high-school and college named Kerry (via facebook of course). For whatever reason this set me to reminiscing this evening. I met Kerry in high-school while I was involved with a youth program called Bible Quizzing. Bible Quizzing is exactly what it sounds like, a youth program based on Bible memorization and competition. It is every bit as hip as…well, as the word hip I guess. Nevertheless it was a formidable force for good in my life and I am deeply grateful that God nudged my path in that direction. I was involved with Quizzing from the beginning of the 7th grade until one year after I graduated from high-school (one year, incidentally, longer than most people are generally allowed to keep participating). In my second to last year the strangest, and in retrospect most wonderful, thing happened. Three of my friends who had always kind of looked down on Quizzing decided to join up.

Trevor, Trevor and Jon were all my age and the four of us were very nearly the oldest group of teens in our entire district (which was and is made up of all of the Christian and Missionary Alliance churches in Saskatchewan and Manitoba). We were a ridiculous lot to be sure. It is important to note that my friends did not join up due to a sense of confederacy or brotherhood. They joined for the same reason that teen-aged boys do everything. They wanted to meet girls. And they did. Which is actually the point of this story.

Trevor S. met nobody, he ended up marrying somebody from our church. Good guy but not a factor in this particular story (sorry Trev). Trev P. and Jon, however, both met girls. Trevor met Kerry and Jon met Carrissa. Trevor and Kerry dated for years and that Kerry is the same as the Kerry I started this post with. She’s a wonderful woman who has always made me laugh and pushed me to be a better Christian than is my wont. She is, in fact, almost directly responsible for my current theology of Scripture and my leanings towards post-evangelical/post-liberal theology (but that’s a story for another day). Jon and Carrissa have now been married for about the same amount of time as me and Jinny. Through our newfound friendships with Kerry and Carrissa my friends and I met John (aka Potsy). John became (and remains) one of my very best friends and stood up for me at my wedding (and I for him at his, and both of us together for Scott at his).

That was a long paragraph with a lot of names in it. Very few people who read this blog know or care about any of those people (my friends don’t really read my blog, they’ve had enough years of my BS already). The thing that I want to emphasize is that the simple decision that Trevor, Trevor and Jon made to join Quizzing had a profound effect on my life (and on theirs as well, but that’s a good deal less important to me). Indeed without that decision I doubt very much that I would be married to Jinny today. The existential moment when I decided to actively pursue Jin was the direct result of some good old fashioned teen dating drama involving people I knew only because of that Quizzing decision. That existential moment, just in case any of you are curious, occurred on the toilet as all good existential moments do.

And so I wonder by how many degrees I am separated from the me that I might have been. What might that me be like? Without Jinny I have some suspicions that he’d be something of an annoying, selfish bastard. Even more than the me that I am is I mean (how’s that for an unnavigable sentence?). Every moment of our lives we step into a new room with new doors. Each door we walk through leads to another room with one less door. Most people are relatively comfortable with this concept because it implies that we all choose our own fate. What we forget is that each door we walk through limits not only our own future choices, but the future choices of every other person in the world, regardless of the number of degrees of separation.

My life, your life, Trevor’s and Trevor’s and Jon’s and John’s and Kerry’s and Carrissa’s lives and all of the other lives of all the other people you know and don’t know are connected. Meta-data, intertextuality, chaos theory, call it whatever the hell you like, we touch each other. We are determined by each other. And we are determined by God. By how many degrees am I separated from my theoretical spacial/temporal other self? I have no idea but I thank God for each and every one them.

Silly Usage…

I was going to call this post “Useless Words” or “Silly Words” but at the end of the day words can’t actually be useless (agreed upon usage is all that meaning really is anyways), and I’m not sure it’s fair to call any given word silly. It isn’t the word’s fault that people don’t know how to use it consistently. That being said the phenomenon I’m thinking about is real. There are a great many words in the English language that are no longer sensible in their popular usage. I’m not one of those people who thinks languages should be static, unchanging, immovable. On the contrary I think the evolutionary nature of language is what makes it so fun and fascinating. What annoys me is people who say that a word means one thing but use it as though it means something else. I’m going to pick on two particular words today. I’m not going to pick on any particular person or publication, this is a general observation on my part. If you think I’m wrong or being overly general, feel free to disagree in the comments.

Scientist. I’m sick to death of the ubiquitous “scientists say” or “according to leading scientists” that we hear on television and read in newspapers. If I were to ask the average writer who uses this word what he or she means, my guess is that I would hear something about observable, empirical, reproducible evidence, about unbiased research and perhaps even something about facts or truth. All of those things are well and good so far as they go. I’ll set aside in depth comments about competing epistemological points of view and the role of scientific method in the search for truth. My real complaint today is that when news outlets (and people in general for that matter) talk about scientists they are not referring to people who observe the world in a particular way and then comment on those observations (which is what scientists do). The rhetorical subtext of the common use of the word “scientist” is far more closely related to older uses of the word “priest.” That is, it refers to a gatekeeper at the fortress of truth. Instead of being just a person using particular methodology a scientist is now someone who holds facts in his or her hands and dispenses them to us mere mortals who can never understand the universe in a meaningful way. I wonder if we wouldn’t be better off scrapping “scientist” and speak of people who do research according to scientific methodology as physicists, chemists, sociologists, biologists, etc.

Literally. This one annoys me far more than “scientist.” That’s mostly because when people use it they often mean exactly the opposite of what the word means. Just this evening I heard a woman say that her friend had a baby who’s head was flat, “literally like a wall.” How can a boy’s head be literally like a wall? Was it made of rock or brick? What this woman meant, of course, was that the child’s head is similar to a wall, in that it is decidedly flat in much the same way as a wall. This use of “literal” and “literally” is particularly dangerous when people read the Bible (and other sacred texts I’m sure). People who insist on the literal truth of the Bible don’t really mean to say that every single word in the Bible contains only denotative (and not connotative) value. That would be ridiculous. Take the simple example of Jesus’ words concerning the person with a plank in his or her eye attempting to remove a grain of dust from the eye of another. How can these words possibly be literal? No person could ever place an actual plank into his or her eye. It is a metaphor and must be read metaphorically. Somewhat might object and say that so called “biblical literalists” only mean that the Bible should be taken at face value. If someone can tell me what “face value” is, precisely, then perhaps we can have a conversation about that. All I know is that nobody can read the whole Bible literally.

But it’s late now, and scientists say that a person should try to get at least 8 hours of sleep. Plus I’m so tired I could sleep like the dead…literally.

Triumph or Triumphalism…

I play electric guitar in the band at my church. Yeah, I know, it kicks ass, but let’s set that aside for a moment shall we? Just a little while ago our worship pastor introduced a new song to the congregation called My Savior Lives by the Desperation Band out of New Life Church. It’s got this great little riff right at the beginning that I get to play very loud and very distorted, which is a lot of fun for me. The first time I really thought about the words of the song, however, I realized both the danger and the beauty available in the simple lyrics. I’ll quote the meat here.

Our God will reign forever, and all the world will know his name.
Victory forever, is the song of the Redeemed.

I know that my Redeemer lives, and now I stand on what he did. My savior, my savior lives.
Everyday a brand new chance to say, Jesus you are the only way. My savior, my savior lives.

The king has come from heaven, and darkness trembles at his name.
Victory forever, is the song of the Redeemed.

Like all modern worship music the actual song goes on a good deal longer but it pretty much just repeats the above over and over again. As I’m sure you’ve noticed the theological…well I was going to say crux but I suppose that wouldn’t be quite accurate. The theological key to this song is the resurrection. Though I tend to harp on the vital importance of the Cross in Christian theology, the empty tomb cannot be minimized. It is central to the Christology and to the anthropology of our faith. The most notable biblical argument concerning resurrection is of course Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15. This passage is also the inspiration for My Savior Lives (check out vv. 1-2). It’s a beautiful passage about hope, meaning, drive, and finally triumph. When Paul co-opts Hosea 13:14 and turns it on its head saying “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (15:55 NASB) he reaches down to us struggling with our most basic fears and pulls us up out of the darkness to stand alongside Christ. Triumph is a wonderful thing, and as Christians we must embrace it.

But there is danger here. The danger is that we begin to sacrifice real triumph, the power and victory of the Cross and the empty tomb, for the emptiness of Christian triumphalism. What’s the difference? Triumph is about grace and the gift of new life offered to all of humanity through Christ (1 Cor. 15:22). Triumphalism is about winning, about pushing an earthly agenda, a political agenda, a social agenda that raises up “Christians” while pushing down everyone else. I put the quotation marks around Christian in that sentence because this brand of church-ianity reminds me an awful lot of some things Jesus said about the Pharisees in Matthew 23.

When we sing songs like My Savior Lives we have an opportunity. We can set aside the temptation to think in terms of earthly victory, of political agendas, of the kinds of victory that can be measured in dollars or votes or asses in the pew. We can move beyond triumphalism. We can live instead in the hope and grace of triumph, knowing that we serve a God who wants more than anything that death might die.

Thoughts About Thinking About Faith…

I ran across the following quote via Steven Harris who gets it from this interview with a gentleman named Liam Goligher.

Liam is concerned that the works of these theologians [advocates of the New Perspective on Paul, e.g. NT Wright] are overly complex, and that it seems it simply isn’t possible to popularise their teaching. To him, theology should be capable of a simple explanation that even a child can understand, whilst, of course, it can also be explored and discussed at much greater levels of complexity.

I don’t know this man, and have no idea about what his credentials may or may not be (though I did see at another site that he uses the title Dr.). That being said this sentence is absurd and dangerous.

It’s absurd because theology has always been difficult and complex. The writings of the OT prophets and poets, the theology of James and Paul and Peter and the author of Hebrews, the teachings of Christ himself…they’re all complex. There is a reason why there is so much disagreement concerning the teachings of Scripture. Those teachings are sometimes very dense and require prolonged analysis and consideration, and developing a systematic theology from the Bible necessarily involves some intellectual heavy lifting.

It’s dangerous because it suggests that anyone speaking in complex sentences and using polysyllabic words is somehow a less able or devout Christian. NT Wright is a great man, a great thinker and as far as I can tell a great Christian. He even writes some great devotional material that I think more Christians should read. Goligher’s opinions above don’t make me second guess Wright’s faith or theology, they only make me think that Goligher is in over his head when he’s reading Wright’s academic works.

There are a great many academics in the world who believe that complex discussion about hermeneutics, the Historical Jesus, the Historical Paul, textual criticism, literary theory, etc., is important and are also devout Christians. This world doesn’t need fewer people critically engaging complex issues, it needs more. This isn’t intellectual snobbery. I don’t think that you need to read Greek and Hebrew in order to be a thoughtful Christian, but being able to read ancient languages and complex theology doesn’t preclude faith either.

Having faith like a child isn’t the same thing as thinking like one.