Monday, April 27, 2009

Why Should God Care Less? part 5

This carries on from the post below:

So I get very nervous when I meet evangelicals whose first line of faith is ‘Propositional Revelation!’ And I want to say to them ‘You’re god is way too small.’ It’s not to say I’m against proposition, but if there’s no room for metaphor and image then your god is way too tiny. Metaphor expands horizons. That’s why the prophets use metaphor over and over again. This thing in which we are involved is ENORMOUS! It’s huge. And you caught some of that with that video. Singing those songs about creation and just seeing the glories of this ... it’s too big, isn’t it? It’s too big for us. And then you hear the Psalmist – the wonder of creation. How glorious this is. That’s what metaphor is really good for dealing with.

Now, so I’m arguing for this: metaphor is used in the Bible as a striking way of telling the truth and often the most important truths are going to be told in metaphor. I simply want to do that because in my theological education, theology was kind of like an atomic table of God. Euclidian theology. The geometry of the trinity. Eh, and it all gets reduced this kind of mathematical statement. Pardon me, but a pox upon all such houses. Because really what’s going on with that Euclidian geometry is, well we don’t have time to talk about it, but if you know some philosophy, they’re basically responding to the critique of creation as a way of finding the truth from Parmenides and Heraclites. And that’s not the Biblical view in Genesis 1. Creation is good, good, good, good, good. It’s not to be disparaged. And often these ways of talking about God I think, actually, at bottom, imply some denigration of the goodness of the material world. But that’s another thing. We can have questions and answers about that later on. [someone’s cell phone rings] Who wakes up at this time of the morning? It’s a cell phone, isn’t it? It’s a cell phone. Those of you sitting around that person, feel free now to pounce upon them. [laughter]

O.K., so let’s go to Genesis 1 and quickly work through some of this. We’re going to do what we’ve done with The Simpsons, what we’ve done with Blake, what we’ve done with Isaiah. Let’s look at the form! And the first thing you get, as we heard in this wonderful presentation. Wasn’t it amazing? Did we actually say thank you for that? No. [Clapping and cheering] It’s really moving. You read Genesis 1 in a new way, don’t you? You know, I think that’s part of our task – is to read these things anew every generation to find new ways in telling the same truth. I think that’s the real exercise. It’s one thing to exegete. That’s the easy part. The difficult part is reframing these in a new incarnational moment for every generation. That’s the hard part. It takes a lot of work. Let’s do this now for Genesis 1. First of all, the repetition. And God said, and God said, and God said, and God said, and God said, let there be, let there be, let there be, let there be, let there be, and there was, and there was, and there was, and there was, and there was, and God saw, and God saw, and God saw, and God saw, and God saw .... You’re familiar with this, aren’t you? You’ve sung choruses over and over and over again. [laughter] Now, in terms of content, maybe some of you know the book of Samuel. Maybe some of you know the books of Kings. Or even the narratives in Genesis chapter 12 about God’s call of Moses. Let me be provocative. I defy you to find me one piece of biblical historiography that has this kind of repetition. I defy you. What’s that telling you? At the very outset it’s telling us this, folks, whatever you do, don’t read Genesis 1 as straight forward historiography. It’s just not that. You’d laugh at people who misread Blake or who misread The Simpsons, don’t become a laughing stalk by misreading Genesis 1. That doesn’t mean it’s not true! I’m not saying that. But clearly, the form! In terms of genre, this repetition is telling us this is not straight forward historical narrative. It is some other kind.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Why Should God Care Less? part 4

This carries on from the post below:

Is it true? … ah, very quiet out there. And, partly, that‘s because I’m Australian and you know I’m sneaky! Well, it’s kind of yes and no, isn’t it? If we think The Simpsons are about people who run about with very serious kidney and liver ailments, then no, probably not true. But why is it so popular? Because it is profoundly true, in other ways. Now what helps us make that distinction? Form and content – it’s the genre. You recognize from the form it’s a cartoon. So you’re thinking, it’s going to be over the top. There’s going to be some ridiculous, unreal elements to this. But at the same time, it does that usually in the service of making another point. So, the form: cartoon. The content: you know people don’t look like this; the kinds of things that go on are too extreme. You recognize that and you don’t read it, as it were, too concretely – you’re able to distinguish between, kind of, the extreme stuff, and the real point it’s trying to make. A very powerful way of communicating. Why do you think political cartoons are so effective?

Now, we can make that distinction. Well, o.k., that’s great for The Simpsons but we’re talking about the Bible here. Well, yes we are, we’re talking about literature. What about this one: ‘Tiger, tiger burning bright, in the forests of the night.’ Is it true? Well, not if you think Blake’s talking about the propensity of feral cats to ignite spontaneously during their nocturnal wanderings! [Laughter] You like that, did you? I had practiced that so it’s really not quite as astounding as it sounds [laughter]. And it’s not going to help to keep saying: ‘Blake says it. I believe it. And that settles it!’ It’s not going to help anything. The question is: have we understood the genre? Now, you look at the form – it’s poetry. Dut da dut da dut dad a, dut da dut da dut da da. That immediately alerts you to metaphor, symbolism. To be open to these kind of things. And then the content. You KNOW tigers do NOT spontaneously combust. You know that. And you know what? Blake actually hopes that you know that. He’s assuming you know that. And for someone to say then that Blake is actually arguing for the fact that tigers explode in forests, you’d laugh. But you’d be amazed at how many Christians do that with Genesis 1. Hm.

Well, what about the Bible? Yup, it’s in the Bible too. There it is folks; Isaiah prophesies that one day the trees will grow hands. Well, it’s ridiculous, isn’t it? Did you know that most of what the prophets write is poetry? So be really careful about how you interpret it that stuff. Doesn’t mean it’s not true. In fact, if you think about it, when there’s some really important things you want to say …. (for instance) as a guy you find this really nice woman… wow! Eh? Thank you Lord! And, you know, you take her out to dinner and what do you start saying to her? “Oh I’m really, I just love the way that radiation in the 55 kilohertz band width just strikes off those retinal cells and they just cause this chain …” What’s she going to do? She’s going to throw her soup at you and you deserve it. You don’t hear people going: “E equals M C squared da na da na da na!” That’s not on the radio. [laughter] And the reason is, and our culture doesn’t really understand this, knowing e=mc2 will not give you a better marriage. Now that’s a trivial example but our culture thinks that scientific knowledge is the way to learn what it means to be human. They need to listen to the radio. That’s not what being human is about and yet we are convinced that we can discover what it means to be human by reducing ourselves to these kinds of things. Now we write poetry about the things that matter most to us. Why? Because equations constrain. They confine. Metaphor opens up horizons and there are some things that are just too big, they are just too alive to be captured by mere proposition.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Why Should God Care Less? part 3

This carries on from the post below:

... Now, how could I have missed this? Well, the problem was, I didn’t know how to read the book of Genesis. We’re going to spend a bit of time that morning to unpack some of that. And I think though certainly familiar, it’s been transforming. Now the problem with ancient documents is this: they’re written in another language. And you know people where you talk about Genesis 1 and you are really walking on thin ice. You can lose your eternal destiny according to some people if you misread Genesis 1, is that not true? There are all kinds of bun fights that go on about the meaning of this text. Well, it’s interesting though, that the people who have these arguments ... (uh, by the way, bun fight is an Australian term. It doesn’t mean what bun means here. Ok? [laughter] Just to kind of clarify that. And it’s in the singular. Not plural.) People read Genesis 1 off the page in English and they say, ‘well, that’s what it says.’ But of course it wasn’t written in English, it was written in Hebrew. And that’s significant. Why is that so important? Well, you probably know this, but it’s worthwhile to be reminded, that there’s no such thing as a generic word. Every word is culturally bound. They have to be. That’s the kind of world God made. God did not make some kind of Socratic world of forms and essences. He made particular trees, particular plants, particular people, particular languages .... We don’t have time to talk about that but western philosophy, for two thousand years, has been diametrically opposed to what God has actually created. And Heigl represents the pinnacle of this. He really can’t deal with the particular and Kierkegaard recognized that so that’s why on Kierkegaard’s tombstone he has written ‘That individual.’ It’s his last shot at Heigl. These world encompassing maps that explain everything. Kierkegaard recognized ultimately how, and maybe he wouldn’t have used this language, but I would, how demonic they can become. And you see it happening in church systems too. In the name of efficiency we turn people into generic persons. And then people feel de-humanized. God did not make a world like that. He made a particular world with particular people - that means particular cultures. And this culture is from a long time ago.
Now I’m an Australian. I’ve been here for 9 years. I still don’t understand Canadians. I’m working on it. I used to think that Canadians and Australians were pretty similar. In fact I think that we’re rather different in all kinds of ways. Actually sometimes it’s good. You’re polite. It’s great. But from an Australian’s point of view sometimes we think you’re dishonest. You’re being polite and we think: ‘You’re not really telling the truth, are you?’ And I’m not making a value judgement on that, it’s just what happens when two cultures meet one another. Well, if we have that kind of interaction and we live in the same time frame, imagine the problems we’re going to have understanding a culture that’s 3 thousand years distant from ours. Now, you’ve done some training on this, you understand these issues. It’s really important to take those very, very seriously indeed. Sometimes we only give them lip service. We need to take it more seriously than that. So, very different culture, long time ago, different language, how do we understand this? Well there are some clues. There are some tricks we can use and it’s to do with the question of genre, form and content and the first place to go when talking about Genesis 1 is ... The Simpsons. [Laughter] And you knew that, right. Uh, I once mentioned that in church and really got into trouble for talking about The Simpsons on Sunday morning. I was talking about the book of Daniel actually and mentioned The Simpsons in that context and it was very quiet in this very large Pentecostal church in Vancouver and, uh, I should have picked up the signals but then I’m Australian so I’m not very sensitive; I’m not polite. So I said ‘You don’t watch this show?’ [laughter] Well, the point that came after was ‘how in the world do you expect to share the gospel with people when you don’t understand their language?’ Got a bit of a blast about that. Well, this is not the right thing to do. But any case: The Simpsons. Now here’s the question: Is The Simpsons true?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Why Should God Care Less? part 2

This carries on from the post below.

... So, according to Revelation, the new Jerusalem is coming down out of heaven. There’s also some interesting things that happen: notice, God’s home is ...? Among mortals. It doesn’t say we’re going to dwell with God. So the one who is making the move here is God, not us. His dwelling is going to be with human beings. If I was going to be with Him, that’s the kind of language I would use. ‘One day I’m going to be with Jesus,’ that’s not what Revelation says. One day God is going to be with us. A few other things about this particular story that are interesting: notice that there’s no temple. Now when I was a young lad there was all this talk about rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem and I don’t know if that’s maybe part of some of your heritage, it would certainly be part of mine. It’s a bit of a shock to realize that God apparently could care less about a temple because there isn’t one in this new Jerusalem. That’s rather striking, it’s hard to imagine. Jerusalem apart from a temple, and yet, finally there will be no temple. There’s also some other things about this picture that are strange and that is, this city is quite extraordinary. 1,500 miles a side or 12 thousand stadia John tells us. That number 12, 000 is significant; reminds you of the 144,000 doesn’t it? That’s kind of alluding to the complete fullness of God’s people, namely Israel, or the new Israel. But it’s huge! And it’s shaped like a cube! I always think of the Borg [laughter]. Imagine living in the inner city. ‘Wanna go to the suburbs? Yeah, pack several cut lunches ‘cause it’s a 750 mile trip’. Well, what’s intriguing about this is if you know something about the 1st century you’ll realize that this is about the size of the known world. They believed the known world was about 1,500 miles square. So here’s John’s picture – you’ve got a new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven, there’s no temple in it, it’s cube shaped and it’s the size of the known world. Now what’s he trying to tell us?
Surely you know how to read Revelation; a lot of it is symbolism. So you have to ask yourself: ‘O.K., there’s something I don’t understand in Revelation. Where do I go?’ And usually the answer is back to the Old Testament. So the question is, what do you know that’s shaped like a cube in the old testament? And most people go for the Ark of the Covenant, which is pretty close. It’s as hot as you can get in one of those ‘you’re getting warmer’ games without actually being boiling. Where do you find the Ark of the Covenant? You find it in the Holy of Holies. And you can see from these texts here: 20 cubits long, 20 cubits wide, 20 cubits high – it’s the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s temple and probably based on the pattern of the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle.
So what’s John telling us? He’s telling us the entire cosmos is going to become the Holy of Holies. So I was quite moved when you had that fabulous piece of video work there with that ... how did you get that synchronization there ... all those images of creation. Their destiny is to become the Holy of Holies. I was brought up thinking that my destiny was that I was going to leave this place, that it was all going to get burnt up, and I was going to be on these clouds playing a harp (hopefully electric), and getting to look like some high church Anglican for the rest of my life. Which as a Pentecostal is a little troubling, huh. [Laughter] But now my Dean is an Anglican who once was a Pentecostal and he apparently likes these kind of things so you probably can survive. He’s a pretty nice bloke by the way, and still into that stuff, so, it’s ok. The whole cosmos is going to become the Holy of Holies. God is going to dwell with us in this restored creation. That’s the destiny; that was not my eschatology. And I think that’s why my sense of evangelism and my sense of Christian life were so dislocated. I didn’t really quite understand, at a profound level, why I was here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Why Should God Care Less? part 1

The following number of posts will be a recorded lecture by a professor of Regent college. This particular professor gave 4 lectures on a study of creation and revelation that profoundly changed my outlook on how it is I read the Bible and my understanding of God's design when it comes to creation and how He views it all. I intend on posting these in segments as they are lengthy but full of excellent stuff worth commenting on. Please do dialogue and let me know what you think of what is said. I have obtained permission to post these lectures. Please note that when the word 'I' is used, it is referring to the lecturer, not myself. So you have a little background, he was speaking to a gathering of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship staff workers from across Canada in Ontario - very thought provoking type people. Also, he makes reference to slides and images on a screen behind him while he speaks at times. There are also obvious humurous tongue-in-cheek moments that are not always noticed in typed words. I hope that you will enjoy the following. Enjoy!

I grew up as a Pentecostal, and this is actually an Australian accent, as you probably realize, I’m not speaking in tongues; though you may doubt that at some point. I don’t know what your experience was, but, my experience was pretty much: what happened on Sunday really had nothing to do with the rest my Christian life in the work place. I was talking to a couple of Regent board members about 6 months ago, maybe a bit longer, 18 months ago, and uh ... you’ve turned that light on me haven’t you? And the Lord said ‘let there be darkness’ and there was. [laughter] Thank you! Good. Ah, this is more important than me, so, I want you to see those images. I asked them, as we were preparing for this meeting, how many of you here on a Sunday morning have anything that has the slightest bit to do with your weekly work life? And one person out of the ten said ‘sometimes’. Now that’s a tragedy. But that was my Christian background. We were waiting for the eschaton; waiting for the rapture. And I remember (some of you have heard this story) when I was about ten or twelve years old, living in Western Australia, the Six Day War was on. Some of you remember the 6 Day War? Israel, Egypt, Armageddon? That kind of stuff? Well, I went to bed one night in the middle of that war and just FULL of eschatological anticipation. I wouldn’t have called it that back then at ten, but that’s what it was. Now I’m old enough to recognize it. Well, in the early hours of the morning, wee hours of the morning, we weren’t that far from a major trucking route, apparently some very large articulated vehicle felt the need to blow their air horn. Bah raaaaah! Well, there I was! I was just ready to go, and [laughter] talk about leaping for the Lord. A very disappointed boy woke up on the wrong side of the ceiling the next morning.

That’s what I grew up with. That being Christian was about eventually leaving this place. Then I went to seminary and began to do some study and discovered some other things were going on. Notably, when I read the book of Revelation, I discovered this: What does the new Jerusalem do? You can read it, right there in front of you. Check your Bibles, I haven’t fiddled with the text. The new Jerusalem does what? Comes down out of heaven. Now this is a bit of a shock. You do understand of course that Pentecostals own the title to the book of Revelation. We let you read it provided you pay a poll tax, eh. Now the same applies to Acts chapter 2, that’s our chapter but the one about sharing things with one another, that can belong to somebody else but we’ve got Acts chapter 2, that’s ours. Now, it’s a funny thing isn’t it, how you can read a text and it can be your text that defines who you are and never really see what it says. So what would have happened was, here I am whizzing up into the air and I would of waved at Jesus as he comes down ... heading in other directions.

Now, I’m convinced folks, our eschatology has a huge amount to say about the way we do evangelism. Because it says a great deal about how we view creation. I was talking to Ray about what it means to him to be a first nations person and worshipping, and there are some people in his tradition that get very nervous about feathers and smoke. And I think that grows out of a very faulty, perhaps even pagan, view of the nature of creation. I think if they had more of a Christian view, they might not get so upset about those things ... though I understand it's a little more complex. People who've grown up with certain associations connected to those objects, well, it'll be unsettling for them. But for a generation whose not grown up with those kind of associations, then there's a sense in which these things are pure. It can be then used in the service of worshipping God.