Category Archives: Christianity

Rights and being right

Some time ago, I stumbled across a story of a high school student, Chad Farnan, who is suing his high school history teacher, James Corbett, for making excessive anti-Christian comments in the classroom. Corbett was accused of saying such things as:

“Conservatives don’t want women to avoid pregnancies – that’s interfering with God’s work”

“When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth.”

“How do you get the peasants to oppose something that is in their best interest? Religion. You have to have something that is irrational to counter that rational approach.”

And more. You can read the initial article here.

A year and a half later, the court ruled that Mr. Corbett did indeed violate his student’s first amendment rights on one singular comment involving creationism. You can read about the court’s ruling here.

Neither the case in itself, nor the ruling particularly merits much of my attention; it merely seems another day in the life of litigious America. However, upon delivery of the ruling, Fox news picked up the story and did an interview with the Chad Farnan and his attorney.Here is the interview. (In case embedding the video doesn’t work, the link is here.)

I’m rewinding on a couple of Farnan’s quotes from this video:

“All kids have the right, no teacher has the right to discriminate against religion…”

“Kids don’t know their rights like I know now.”

It seems that Chad Farnan is couching his actions in terms of rights given by the government, at the same time does not object to being called a “devout Christian”.

I keep asking myself whether or not a devout Christian should invoke rights given by the government to be used against someone else. In other words, I keep asking myself if exercising one’s “rights” makes you right in a Christian sense.

What should Christian’s stand be on “rights” given by the government? How should Christians respond when someone violates those rights? Was Chad right in this situation?

What do you think?

Is it a great time to be alive?

ge_healthcare1

A few years ago, I came across a brochure for GE medical equipment that caught my attention.

This particular brochure, as you can see, welcomed newcomers to earth. GE’s television campaign at the time encouraged us to think that “It’s a great time to be alive.”

Really? Is it a great time to be alive when the proliferation of nuclear weapons by dictatorships bent on destruction of all who oppose them are becoming a reality before our very eyes? Is it a great time to be alive when the scourge of AIDS ravages the poor and needy among us? Is it a great time to be alive when our actions as consumers threaten our water supply, our power supply, and the other species that call this planet home? Is it a great time to be alive when religious extremism devalues and mistreats women, children, and dissidents in around a quarter of the world’s population? Is it really a great time to be alive?

And what about welcoming our children to earth with such optimism? More like welcome to everything that’s been screwed up for generations before you got here. Welcome to original sin. Welcome to a fleshly existence in which the only real hope is in what happens after you die. Welcome to where the lion eats the lamb.

So, what’s the deal? Is it a great time to be alive? Should we welcome our time on earth? Should we enjoy our stay? Or, is this place truly worthy of the distain we often heap upon it?

Which is it?

Brown – The Gospel According to John (pt 4)

In Chapter 7 of John, Jesus goes to the Feast of Tabernacles, and once again, Brown’s attention to exegetical detail illuminates the scene.

According to Brown, the Feast of Tabernacles at the time of Jesus was the greatest of the celebrations that Jews held. It was considered a pilgrimage feast, and all able-bodies males were expected to make the trip. (At first, Jesus refuses to go, but later sneaks in and amazes the crowd with his teaching – see pt 3 of this series for the “hidden” messiah John portrays.)

The focus of the celebration was twofold. First, it was a celebration of the Jews as the chosen people of God – of the people alone who had the tabernacle in which God dwelt. Within the celebration itself was much pomp and tradition that was reminiscent of the exodus from Egypt. Second, it was a agricultural feast in which the men of Israel entreated God (who dwelt in the Temple) to bless their land and their crops with bountiful rain so that they might have a good harvest. As the tradition goes, it was thought that when the Messiah came God would cause the very stones of the temple to gush forth water, which would supply the land to overflowing with water for their crops. Then, the excess water would cascade out of Jerusalem in great rivers that would reach the gentile nations. The gentiles, curious as to whence this issue of water came, would follow the rivers back to the Temple, and worship the one true God there.

Keeping in mind the idea behind the Feast of Tabernacles, many things within Chapter 7 make more sense. For instance, when the Jews wonder why the authorities are not arresting or killing Jesus in vs 25-27, they wonder if the authorities have perhaps concluded that Jesus is the messiah. Such speculation is absurd, unless John is “priming the pump” for the reader to remember the Messiah imagery within the feast. Then, when the Jesus states in vs 33-34 that he will go to where no one can find him, the Jews wonder if he will go to the Greeks (i.e., gentiles) and teach them. Again, an image taken from the mythology behind the Feast of Tabernacles.

Then, in vs 37-38, on the greatest day of the Feast, Jesus declares that any who believe in him will have rivers of living water flow within them. Once again, powerful imagery from the Feast being usurped by Jesus to describe himself. And when you remember that in Chapter 2 Jesus called himself the temple – the very  thing from which waters of life are supposed to flow – the imagery becomes overpowering. Jesus is not only the temple, but the messiah, and the God who tabernacled with men who causes rivers of life to flow. And since the Feast of Tabernacles is a pilgrimage feast, all the Jews will journey home to far away lands, tell of their experience with Jesus, and thereby bring others to worship God, too.

Fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles has come, hidden in the person of Jesus.

So, here’s the question I struggle with – was the author of the book of John really crafty enough to weave all this together? Or are we perhaps seeing what we want to see – imagery that isn’t really there? What do you think?

The Shack: A Myriad of Impressions (pt 3)

Today’s guest post by Tracy P.

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There has been a lot of controversy in churches surrounding William Young’s novel, The Shack. Some leaders are using it as a springboard for discussion and sermon topics related to God’s healing and redemptive love. Others are viewing it as heretical, and insisting that their parishioners should refrain from reading it.

The book is clearly fiction, and not an attempt by Young to lay out a systematic theology. Yet it is so vivid in its depiction of God, and so powerful in the way it illustrates His pursuit of relationship with the individual human that it is clearly compelling, as evidenced by its surprisingly widespread popularity.

  • Why do you think it is that so many seem to be wrestling with the compelling nature of the book on one hand, and its seeming unorthodoxy on the other?
  • Did you find yourself wanting to “fix” any element of the book so you could like it with a clear conscience? How would you rewrite it, and why?
  • Would you recommend this book to a Christian friend, or to a friend who was searching for his/her faith? Why or why not?

Brown – The Gospel According to John (pt 3)

One of the best points that Brown makes in his commentary is that the author of John portrays Jesus as a “hidden messiah”, who only erratically and confusingly presents himself.

To make this claim, Brown first points to God, who is very much hidden – no eye can see him, no ear can hear him. Jesus claims to do only what he sees God doing, meaning that his actions will be mysterious, too.

Next, Brown points to Jesus himself, who was born to a working-class family, grew up in a backwater community, and had stinky fishermen for disciples, all of which are not messiah-like.  Only through interactions with people like John the Baptist does Jesus start to become un-hidden as the messiah. Even when Jesus performs miraculous signs, people misunderstand the point of the signs, and he remains hidden as the messiah.

Lastly, Brown points to the ways in which Jesus purposefully does “hidden” or “confusing” things. He turns the water into wine, and no one but his disciples and the servants at the wedding know about it. He clears the temple and says that if the temple is destroyed, he can rebuild it in three days, which confuses the people. He tells Nicodemus he must be “born again”, which clearly confuses him. He hides from the crowd after he feeds the 5000. He sneaks into Jerusalem for the feast of tabernacles, and on and on.

Even at the end, he appears to his followers in a “hidden” way, before he goes into heaven and is “hidden” in the clouds, taking on the hiddeness of God.

If you are like me, you were always taught that Jesus is plain and clear, and that people don’t come to him because they love their sin. Never once was I taught about the “hiddeness” of the messiah.

What were you taught about Jesus – was he the obvious messiah, or a hidden one?

Does the idea of a “hidden messiah” make Jesus make more or less sense?

The Shack: A Myriad of Impressions (pt 2)

Today’s guest post by Tracy P.

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In the comments on the last post, there was a reference to the church’s role in defining for believers who God is.  In The Shack, Mack and Jesus talk about the church within a broader conversation about society and its institutions. Mack’s frame of reference towards the church and the people in it is somewhat cynical. Jesus responds to him in this way (p. 181):

Mack, I love them. And you wrongly judge many of them.  For those who are both in (the world) and of it, we must find ways to love and serve them, don’t you think? Remember, the people who know me are the ones who are free to live and love without any agenda.

  • What do you think the church’s role is in defining who God is for the Christian?
  • What do you think is the individual Christian’s role in defining who God is for the body of believers?
  • Is there any overlap between the two?
  • Is it wise or even possible for the mature Christian who finds his/her definition of God differing from the definition put forward at church to love and serve the church without any agenda?

Brown – The Gospel According to John (pt 2)

Since we will be following Brown’s commentary as I read, we’ll skip over the first 4 chapters of John (which I have already read), and jump right into Chapter 5, specifically, John 5:31-47.

This passage, however, deserves some background. John, like all good writers, is building into his main themes in the previous chapters. The theme of life, of the hidden messiah, and of the “prophet like Moses” are woven into chapters 1 through 4. In Chapter 5, they finally come to a head, because the Jews begin to persecute Jesus for healing on the Sabbath.

It is unlikely that Jesus gave the speech we find in Chapter 5 every time he was questioned. Instead, most scholars believe that the author of John (who might not be John!) compiled Jesus’ answers into this speech in order to reinforce the themes from the first 4 chapters.

In the last part of chapter 5, Brown points out how Jesus really unloads on his detractors.  As I read his commentary, I felt Jesus’ words sting me, too. In what ways do you see Jesus’ rebuke applying to Christians today?

In verses 31-35, Jesus points out that his testimony about himself is not enough. In Jewish law, a single testimony was not considered valid – testimony had to be corroborated by someone else to be valid. And, the more people, the more valid. So, Jesus points out that John the Baptist is his “second witness”, if you will. Jesus also points out that he has a third witness, God himself.

This is where Brown’s excellent exegetical work pays off. The Jews thought it was them alone who had ever seen God – through the experience that Moses had with God at Mt. Sinai. So, when Jesus points out in vs 37-38 that the Jews have in fact never seen God, it was greatly offensive. Any good Jew, Brown points out, would then retreat to the Torah, the law, to show how they have seen God and know him. It is the scriptures, the Jews would argue, that give them life before the whithering glance of God.

Jesus again counters – You Jews study the scriptures because you think that by them you can posses life, but these scriptures talk about me, and only by coming to me can you have life.

Interesting here that Jesus distinguishes between the scripture, which he obviously valued, and what it takes to have life. Do you think Christians retreat to the scriptures too often to show how they have life, rather than retreating to an experience of “coming to” Christ?

Ending the chapter, Jesus turns again to Moses. Brown points out that there is a lot of evidence that Jews believed that Moses went into heaven to constantly argue for their place as God’s chosen people. Without Moses’ intervention, it was thought, God would have destroyed them long ago. In this passage, Jesus boldly states that Moses is now switching roles to be their accuser – they have no double witness to confirm their testimony about themselves. The only retreat, then, is Christ.

Brown’s work here intrigues me, because it calls to mind the book of Hebrews, in which Christ now argues our place before God, taking the place of Moses. I’m left to wonder, though, two things. First, remember that two witnesses are needed to confirm a testimony. The thought was that an individual can lie, but truth can be discerned through the testminony of many. However, why should this apply to God? Why would God need an additional witness to discern truth? Second, I wonder about the role of scripture. If Moses was willing to abandon the Jews because they didn’t believe this stranger called Jesus, but clung instead to scripture which testified about Christ, what makes Christ less likely to do so when we cling to scripture as the rule of our faith? What is our alternative?