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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Tag: Scripture

The Expanded Bible Review

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The Expanded Bible I recently got a copy of The Expanded Bible, New Testament, published by Thomas Nelson. It's text is a modified New Century Version, and the "contributing scholars" are Tremper Longman III, Mark L. Strauss, and Daniel Taylor. I'm new to Strauss, but I've appreciated Longman's writings and thoughts as a biblical scholar for a long time. I first learned about him through Dan Allender (who happens to be a promoter on the dust jacket). Taylor, as far as I've known, is more of a writer than a biblical scholar, but has always worked with biblical material, is contibuting editor to Books & Culture, etc. I had my introduction to Taylor at the Calvin Faith & Writing Conference years ago.

In any case, this is a very interesting resource, and I've already found it quite useful. What these writers/ scholars have done is take the New Century Version and then expanded it within the text to include alternative translations for words or phrases, literal translations of the words, the traditional translation (read KJV), comments, references and textual variants. Rather than have some of these within the footnotes, or expanded explanations (as in a Study Bible), these are included within the text. Doing this allows the reader to see the translation decisions that need to be made, or the possible other meanings, textures of the text, etc. It also allows the reader to see both the formal equivalence possibilities (favoring a more literal translation) and functional equivalence models (favoring words that convey meaning rather than being literal) - choices which most translations make and you never see.

What I appreciate about the Expanded Bible is the ability to really see what's going on a little better without a) having to go to multiple translations or b) having to go back to the original language. Particularly for those who do not have training in Greek or haven't studied the textual variants or semantic range of words or idiomatic renderings, this can be a great help for Bible Study or teacher preparation.

One thing that may be lacking here is a more helpful explanation of textual variants as well as translation in general. There is a good, short explanation of the difference between a formal and functional model, but more information in the introduction could help those who pick this up and haven't been introduced to the issues. What I find in most churches is a relative lack of knowledge about how the bible has been contructed, about additional manuscripts, scribal errors, the decision-making process of most translators (older, harder reading, etc.)

However, overall, I think this is a great addition to or prequel to a Study Bible. It allows you to get into the text with more texture without getting into someone else's decisions about what the correct reading is, or someone else's interpretation. With any translation, many decisions have been made. With a study bible, there is lots of commentary on interpretation.

I would not probably use this Bible as a normal "reading" bible. I would find all the symbols and extra information distracting, but in the right uses, it can be really helpful. I think an Old Testament Version would be great.


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Odds & Enns

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On his blog, Peter Enns has been sharing portions of a paper he delivered to the faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary in response to his book, Incarnation and Inspiration that got him into trouble and now into suspension.  In a recent post on the authority and cultural expressions of Scripture, first speaks of the mixing of Jesus divinity and humanity in his person.  Enns says that these are "essential" to who Jesus is, and that the combination is important.  I would be wrong to try to pit the humanity against the divinity or to raise one above the other.  Interesting, I was just relistening to a podcast recently by Seattle's Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Seattle  entitled "The Supremacy of Christ and the Church in a Postmodern World."  Driscoll was making a similar argument, accusing the Emergents of raising the immanence and incarnation of Jesus too high and accusing the New Reformers of raising the transcendence and exalted Jesus too much.  In any case, Enns argues that the authority of Scripture comes from its divine origin, in other words - in God's words, but that it is encased unescapably in humanity, or cultural expression.  Here is a short passage from his post:

What I argue in I&I is that Scripture works in an analogous (not identical) way. Scripture is God’s word because it is of divine origin. That is the locus of authority, and no discussion of its humanity in any way compromises that authority. What a study of Scripture’s humanity does do is help us see the manner in which the divine author speaks authoritatively into particular ancient cultures. How this authoritative Scripture translates to different times and places, in both its timeless affirmations and contextualized particularity is (I trust this is not too reductionistic) the task of theological study. It is my firm experience, however, that evangelical lay readers, those to whom the book is addressed, are not accustomed to understanding the nature of Scripture this way.

This is one of the issues that I find so fascinating about how we understand Scripture, and one that I've mentioned in various ways here on my blog.  One of the ways it has been raised among some like myself is how much we can "purge" the human side, the cultural side, and get to pure propositional truths.  Again, don't read what I'm not saying, and from what I'm reading of Enns, he's not saying either but being accused of.  I'm not saying there isn't truth, or objective truth for that matter or that God's truth isn't propositional in any way.  What I am saying is that our access too it is always enculturated, always incarnated, always spoken through word and cultural and interpretation from God into human cultures and persons.  God communicates, he doesn't philosophize.  God relates, speaks, and loves rather than providing pure platonic visions of himself.  God is God, "I am who I am" and not philosophical categories and platonic idealism or Kantian pure reason.  God is interactional and in his divine goodness has chosen to speak, act, and even come incarnationally.

God is still who he is.  He is still the King and the authority.  What he says goes.  What he wants, will be.  There is no other name under haven by which we can be saved.  But let us be careful not to turn scripture - or God for that matter - into pure philosophical Kantian metaphysics.  We need to find a way to accept the way God has communicated with us - not through theological treatise, but through narrative of his relationship with his people - and then figure out how it speaks to us today, and what God really intends and who he is.  That's much harder work than black and white propositions, I know, but that's the work.  Driscoll is right (although I don't like saying that) that we need to balance the transcendent and immanent God as he is.


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Response to Henry 2

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[this is a response to a comment by Henry to my post 1972] Thanks again for your comments, your thoughtfulness, and your graciousness.  I appreciate you engaging these thoughts, offering questions, and even challenges.  (By the way... do I know you?)

On your question about why others are not commenting on my blog.  I'm not sure.  The blog gets hit fairly regularly each day, but not many people are commenting.  So... to you readers out there, I'd love to hear from you.  Let me hit a few things that Henry mentions.  Here's the first:

You say that truth is personal– that “knowing Jesus is knowing the truth”– OK, I can agree with that in a general sense, but what does “knowing Jesus” mean? How do we discern, from that, what the truth is? Lots of people “know Jesus” in their own way, and they come to vastly different conclusions about what it is Jesus is saying. Again, you say “I know Jesus and I trust what he says.” So do I, but what if we disagree about what it is he’s saying? Where do we go then? We can try to deconstruct our faith all we want, looking at it through modern lenses or ancient lenses or contact lenses, but in the end we need some agreement as Christians in order to engage the world effectively.

This is a great question, and a hard one because I want a more solid answer.  I think our desire and inclination is for something more solid, something proveable, something "objective" that you can point to, hold onto, and that is incontrovertable.  It's not necessarily "wrong" to look for that, either.  Thomas wanted proof, and Jesus provided his hands and side, but he did say, "blessed are those who do not see, and yet believe."  Faith requires trust when solid proof isn't there.  That's one angle.

The other angle is this:  God provided several things.  He provided thousands of years of revelation that is coherent, connective, embedded in history, historically reliable, and surprisingly consistent as ancient documents go.  God has also provided thousands of years of personal commentary and interpretation by people of faith.  He has then provided for us communities of faith within larger collectives (denominations, etc.) within larger historical trajectories (reformed, anabaptist, catholic, eastern orthodox, etc.) within larger cultural environments (eastern, western, American, African, etc.) all who find their grounding in Greek and Latin initial understandings of the Jewish and Greek original scriptures.  (Here is where the Patristics are important, as you mention in the comment.)  So, God has provided historical context, contemporary communities, written revelation, and thousands of years of reflection.  In addition (and don't miss this), he has provided the Holy Spirit, of whom Jesus said this:  "when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears..." [John 16:13]  That's what God provides.  But because we so often desire to make sure, to nail it down, and to be sure we're right, we try to go further than God went into philosophy, science, and archeaology.  I don't mean to be glib, but why do we try to get more than God has given us?  Partly, we want to be right, and we have a hard time when others disagree.  But really, should we have any less conviction or faith because someone else disagrees?  They can still be wrong.

Let's take your example of working with couples who might be considering abortion, helping them to possibly take responsibility.   That's great work.  (By the way... let's throw as much money at working with real people instead of legislation and see what happens!)  It's important work.  I'd say protecting life is biblical and part of the trajectory of Christian history.  That should be a strong conviction that's worth protecting.  There's good reason and interpretation within the Scriptures.  That's probably as much as we're going to get, other than the power of God working in people's hearts.

What many (including me) are advocating for in terms of deconstruction is a recapturing of God's own self-revelation through Scripture and the Spirit's leading in Christian community.  Some would say it's important to "rescue" the concept of God (or theology) from metaphysical philosophy.  A lot of our systematic theology and Doctrine of God comes from the trajectory of Kantian metaphysics more than from the self-revealing God does within the narrative of his interaction with his people.  Often this "god of metaphysics" trumps God's own self-revelation because it's cleaner, easier to "box in" and rationalize.  What then happens, in my view, is that we create a god in the image that works for us based on philosophy rather than engaging with the one true God of the Scriptures who has already revealed himself, albeit without full self-disclosure.

Here's the thing:  I'm ok with others disagreeing and us hitting the Scriptures more deeply for an understanding of who God is.  I'm less ok with our constructions of God so that we can maintain a rationally defensible position or hold to political or moral decisions that may not themselves be biblical.  If they are, awesome, let's see it in the Scriptures.  If not, let's reconsider the things we've "known" or agreed upon if they are less than biblical.  And if God doesn't speak much about it... maybe it's not as important to God as we think it is.


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The Place of Christians in the World 3

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Speaking of the eyes with which we look at the world, I want to quote another thing from McLaren in The Other Journal Interview.  He says the following:

...the headlines of the newspaper tell us what the crises are, and that God is very concerned about the crises of our world, and when you are touched by those crises and you open the pages of the Bible, you begin to notice things that you wouldn't notice otherwise.

In other words, as you read culture and find out what humans are struggling with, what we are longing for, where our brokenness is showing up, it gives you new eyes into the Scriptures.  You go to the Scriptures with eyes seeking a God who interacts with these realities that we deal with today: poverty, injustice, violence, power, war, identity, etc.  The Scriptures come alive as we reach back into the living Word and God speaks to what we deal with today.  But the reverse is true as well:

If you read the Bible, you begin to notice certain themes, and that enables you to see certain things that others migh miss when you read the headlines...

In others words, the Bible gives us eyes to see our world in new ways.  As William Placher would say, "how the world looks from a Christian perspective."  A Christian world-view gives us a different slant on the world, the headlines, and the crises.  We bring an understanding of history and a future hope to the present crises in a context that includes a powerful, loving God who is unfolding his developing story.  Being able to speak that history, hope, and our place in the story gives us a voice and content to speak into the world.  So, as we hear and apply the Word, the Spirit forms us (spiritual formation happens to us).  We then "speak" and "act" upon the world as agents of God and his Kingdom.  We herald his voice - we announce the good news - we participate in the unfolding of a new reality.  God, then, does his constructive work on and in the world by creatively speaking his Word into our hearts through the power of the Spirit as he constitutes the present incarnation of the body of Christ in the world, the church.


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How Deconstruction Saved My Faith 3

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McLaren, in the interview I mentioned earlier, talks about how this deconstruction works.   I mentioned that the emerging church is a kind of "back to the Bible movement," even though many see it as unorthodox.  It may be, in some ways, but that might not be bad.  Reforming - including Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and many contemporaries - is about going back to the Bible, deconstructing how culture has influenced us, and "reforming" to the word of God - which is the norming norm (to use Grenz/ Franke language).  Here is one way that McLaren says it:

...mentioning different lists of names isn't that important, but what's really important is that this stuff has been simmering in the biblical text itself, and we've been very well trained not to see it.  We've been trained to look for certain things and not for others... "What you focus on determines what you miss."

Deconstructing your faith is not about losing your faith - or at least it doesn't have to be.  It's about discovering where the things we believe come from and how we ascertained them.  It's about discovering what "eyes" or through which "glasses" we see the world, the bible, and ourselves.  Then, it's about trying to figure out what God is really saying both contextually and extra-contextually.  That's just normal exegesis - discovering what is enculturated and what's not, and how God incarnates himself in our own culture, in these times.  When we admit and understand our cultural, theological, and personal biases, we can compare those to the biases of others, and we can try to understand what God speaks outside of those, as well as to them.  Then, we begin to reconstruct our faith - keeping some of our biases, and shedding others.

Although he doesn't get into the technical side of this (and I would nuance this much more), I like how Olson says it in "How to be Evangelical without being Conservative":

For me Scripture (including Jesus Christ as the interpretive center) trumps tradition, reason, and experience.  To be more precise about how I do theology, I recognize Scripture and tradition as the two sources and norms of theology (with Scripture primary adn the Great Tradition of Christian belief secondary) and reason and experience as interpretive tools to help us sort out and understand Scripture and tradition. [p. 145]


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Response to Henry

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Henry asks some great, probing questions.  [see his comment under "How Deconstruction Saved My Faith 2] And just as an aside... Henry... I really appreciate how you've written these questions and challenges to myself and to the emerging postmoderns in the church.  You show your concern, raise real issues, and do so in a way that is not condemning, hostile, or out of fear.  How I wish more people would approach conversation in such a careful and honorable manner. I've struggled with your questions, too.  I address a few of the issues you're asking about in a limited manner in the follwoing posts:

The question really is, what can we know for sure?  What is true?  What doesn't change?  And how do we know what is truly true?  What is orthodox, and aren't there certain, base objective truths?  I hear in some of your questions some of the key concerns that some are raising around the Emergent church like the virgin birth, the atonement wars, the wideness or narrowness of salvation, etc. 

The first thing that I would say is something I've said briefly before:  truth is personal.  Not relative, and not "this is my truth" personal, but instead, truth is personal because Jesus is the truth, and he is a person.  Knowing Jesus is knowing the truth.  Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me."  I believe that.  Do I know it for sure?  I know Jesus, and I trust what he says.  I trust that the Scriptures are God's word and that it's true and that it tells me about Jesus and that I can encounter him through the Scriptures.  That means I also trust the virgin birth.  I trust that my sins are atoned for and covered by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Can I say those things are objectively true?  You see, here is where I get stuck.  I believe - have faith - that it's true.  I put my trust in it.  I believe it is "objectively" true, I suppose, but more and more I don't really care much about objectivity.  I don't really care much about proof.  I don't mean to be glib, but what I mean is that what I think is objective, someone else will likely see differently.  Is there an unmoveable reality out there that is truly true?  Yes.  Do we have access to that truth in a way that is "descriptively" true for everyone?  If we did, we wouldn't be having this discussion because it would be clear.  But I don't think that means I can't say someone is wrong.  You see, because we cannot ascertain what is true on our own because of our cultural embededness, our biases, and even more - our sinfulness, we rely on the personal nature of God as he speaks to us in individuals within communities of faith.  The community of faith - throughout the ages, and in our current context - is really important as we discern what God has said and is saying.  

I really like what Franke and Grenz say on this matter in which the Holy Spirit speaks in the context of our culture through the trajectory of Christian history and creates our current reality as he interacts with us in a living way.  (that's a bad simplification... but it gives a broad brush).  That is alive and relational and faith-based and dependent upon the God of history who continues to live and speak today.  He doesn't speak in contradition to himself, but He does help us to interact with a changing world.  There is, then, a historical theological continuity combined with a contemporary constructive creativity consistent with his character and unfolding plan.  We discern this in conversation with God through faith, engaging his Word within the living community which is the body of Christ.  It is this living body, grounded in the Word and birthed out of Christian and Jewish history that gives us the boundaries and rules of engagement.  And here is where the deconstruction (or reforming) comes in.  The body, because it is always embeded culturally, doesn't always get the picture of what God is saying right, and so our theology develops as our relationship with God develops as we continue to deepen in our understanding of his revealed Word as we live into new historical, cultural situations.

Does that make truth relative and not objective?  I don't think so.  Relative to God's working with a fallen community, maybe.  Certainly our ascertaining the truth is always positioned, encultured, and understood within the eyes of our times, families, language, etc.  I just don't think the categories of "objective" and "relative" are all that helpful anymore.  I'm more concerned with how we hear God, how we read the Bible with an understanding of our cultural, linguistic baggage, and really hear God's living word through the Scripture, how we find more faithful understandings of his revelation, and how we can trust him more and hear his voice more clearly. 

You ask what my gold standard is:  God's self-revelation primarily through the Scriptures (sola scriptura) and secondarily through his body, the church, as we hear, speak, and live the Word together.  I know that's not as easy to nail down, but faith and trust rarely are. 

I think things like the virgin birth, the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Trinity, the missio dei, and many more things have been clearly spoken, heard, and lived out by the church throughout the ages.  But I also share the concern of many emerging leaders that we have attached many cultural, philosophical, and historical items to these that are inappropriate and have functionally become a part of the core for many Christians - especially evangelicals and fundamentalists.

What I think a lot of the detractors of the emerging church miss is that much of the movement (not all of it... there is much wrong with the emerging church movement) is a back to the bible movement.  The problem comes when going back to the bible challenges our current biases, our current comfortable ways of life, our preferable politics, our desirable economics, or our (forgive me here) mostly upper classs suburban cultural mores. 


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"Lining Up" at Westminster

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I've been writing a bit lately about the issues of "who's in" and "who's out" and drawing firm boundary lines within evangelicalism. There are some these days who are tightening up the theological borders, while others are in favor of open borders and new cultural expressons of our faith so long as we maintain our core identity (see posts on The Future of Evangelicalism). In the midst of this has come the controversy surrounding Westminster Theological Seminary and Peter Enn's. Apparently, Enn's published a book (which I have not read) called Inspiration and Incarnation, using an incarnational analogy to describe inspiration and Scripture. He was recently suspended by the board from his position for this book because it apparently went against the Westminster Confession of Faith.  What I'm gathering Enns means by incarnational analogy (again, without having read the book), is that there is a co-mingling (as in Jesus' incarnation... the human and the divine) of humanity and divinity in the project and development of the Scriptures. My hunch is that the rub here is around inerrancy and defining what "God-breathed" means. If there is too much "humanity" and culture in the Scriptures, then that might soften our understanding of it's authority, it's special nature, and inevitably create a slippery slope away from inerrancy. Again... I haven't read it, but if that's what it's about, I can see the issues here. The interesting thing to me just on first blush is that even though Jesus was human, even though Jesus was "enculturated" as a Jewish man in first century Palestine, born into the home of a carpenter - we don't tend to worry that Jesus is somehow tainted or less than perfect, or diminished in his God-hood. So, why would we worry about an incarnational theology of inspiration? Maybe there's a lot more too it.

In any case, what bothered me were a couple of things (you can find this info at Christianity Today in an article entitled "Westminster Theological Suspension." There's also a good deal of discussion on Scot McKnight's blog). 

First, it was interesting how split both the faculty (12 for 8 against) and the board (9 for 18 against) were on their decisions to support Enns or not.  Clearly, this is not a cut and dried issue, and one that took 2 years to get through.  Apparently there were not "personal" issues involved.  I guess this was theological.  And yet it came down to such a split vote in both places within Westminster?  Just ask yourself this question... "What does this tell us about the state of evangelicalism?"  I won't answer that for you.

Second, even though this was supposedly a theological issue, CT said this, "...the board failed to give Enns an opportunity to be heard" and that that boards staement said, "while theological ocncerns were mentioned, there was little board discussion of theological specifics."  Hmmm.   That's a head scratcher.

Well, obviously I don't know enough about the story, but it's disturbing none-the-less.


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