Monday, February 27, 2012

Reflection: Read the Bible, and don't leave it with others to do it for us

I have been thinking how important it is to read the Bible. Here is my reflection.

"If we don’t read the Bible ourselves (individually and as a faith community together), then our faith is in the hands of a few people who are engaging/charismatic speakers/writers/bloggers/intellectuals."

Prayer by Tim Gombis - Grant us the grace to take up the cross

Here is a beautiful prayer written by Tim Gombis on the weekend.

"Father, grant us grace to take up our crosses and follow Jesus in the way of suffering and death.  We know that the only way to resurrection and victory is through suffering and the cross, but it is difficult.  We love our pleasures.  We love the trivial pursuits that take up our time and fill up our days.  We also love our sinful practices, those secret sins to which we return again and again, even though we know that they are the way of death.  Give us wisdom and discernment to understand that we need to give ourselves over to death in order to experience life.  Help us to put to death our sin that we may share in the life of Christ by the power of the Spirit.  Amen."

(Click here for the original blog post by Tim Gombis.)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Culture and rhetoric of ancient warfare (by Dr Christopher Wright)

The warfare in the Book of Joshua is thought of by some Christians as unacceptable because of its brutality.

In his book The God I Don't Understand Dr Christopher Wright says the following.

"The kind of warfare described in the conquest stories should, first of all, not be called 'holy war' (a term never used in the Bible). It is called 'a war of Yahweh'. That is, it was a war in which the God of the Israelites won the victory over their enemies." (page 87)

"Within that context, the concept of herem (or 'ban') was applied. This meant the total dedication of all that was being attacked - human, animal,  material - to God himself. In a battle or war in which herem was declared, there was to be no material profit for the Israelites, since no plunder was allowed. However, the rules of herem varied, as the Old Testament narratives show. Sometimes women and children were spared (Num. 31:7-12, 17-18; Deut. 20:13-14; 21:10-14); sometime cattle could be kept (Deut. 2:34-35). But in the cases of nations living within the land of Canaan itself, the general rule was total destruction." (pages 87-88)

"Now we need to know that Israel's practice of herem was not in itself unique. Texts from other nations at the time show that such total destruction in war was practised, or at any rate proudly claimed, elsewhere. But we must also recognize that the language of warfare had a conventional rhetoric that liked to make absolute and universal claims about total victory and completely wiping out the enemy. Such rhetoric often exceeded reality on the ground." (page 88)

"Admittedly this does not remove the problem since the reality was still horrible at any level. But it enables us to allow for the fact that descriptions of the destruction of 'everything that lives and breathes' were not necessarily intended literally. Even in the Old Testament itself this phenomenon is recognized and accepted. So, for example, we read in the book of Joshua that all the land was captured, all the kings ere defeated, all the people without survivors (such as Rahab) were destroyed (e.g. Josh. 10:40-42, 11:16-20). But this must have been intended as rhetorical exaggeration, for the book of Judges (whose final editor was undoubtedly aware of these accounts in Joshua) sees no contradiction in telling us that the process of subduing the inhabitants of the land was far from complete and went on for considerable time, and that many of the original nations continued to live alongside the Israelites. The key military centres - the small fortified cities of the petty Canaanite kingdoms - were wiped out. But clearly not all the people, or anything like all the people, had in actual fact been destroyed by Joshua." (page 88)

"Even in the Old Testament itself, then, rhetorical generalization is recognized for what it is. So when we are reading some of the more graphic descriptions, either of what was commanded to be done or of what was recorded as accomplished, we need to allow for this rhetorical element. This is not to accuse the biblical writers of falsehood, but to recognize the literary conventions of writing about warfare." (page 88)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A reintegrated view of sin (N T Wright)

Tom Wright has the following to say about "sin" (in Romans 5:12-2) in The New Interpreter's Bible Volume X.

"Part of the problem, of course, is that traditional Christianity has frequently operated with a truncated view of sin, limiting it to personal, and particularly sexual, immorality. These things matter enormously, of course, but there are other dimensions, of which the last century has seen so many examples, which are often untouched by traditional preaching. Equally, those preachers who have focused attention on structural evil within our world, on systematic and politically enshrined injustice, have often left the home base of Pauline theology in order to do so, not realising that there were resources there from which to launch not only critique but also promise and hope. This passage [Romans 5:12-21] invites us to explore a reintegrated view of sin and death, rebellion and consequent dehumanization, as the major problem of humankind, and thereby to offer diagnoses of our world's ills that go to the roots of the problem and prepare the way for the cure." (page 532)