Rediscovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Heiser’s Free Book)

Michael Heiser, The Naked Bible, is offering the first draft of his book FREE (329 pages) Subtitle: Rediscovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. I’ve really enjoyed the preface.

…My life has been spectacularly mundane…It‘s kind of like watching It’s a Wonderful Life…looking back I see the ordinary deeds of steadfast friends and passing acquaintances, frivolous remarks that provided unintended clarity…providence.

I’m a big fan of God acting in the mundane. Heiser continues:

…I came to suspect that the key to understanding [difficult] texts—and really the entire biblical revelation—was to approach them the way the ancients would have on their own terms. People who claim to be serious about the Bible often expend a lot of energy talking about how it needs to be interpreted in context—but then turn around and filter it through their own traditions. The context for correctly understanding the Bible is not…(p. 6)

…After reading the Old Testament and other ancient material from the biblical period closely, I discovered a number of items that didn‘t jive with traditional ways of formulating biblical theology. I had to make a choice. Was I willing to side with the Bible when its own content, illumined by a deep knowledge of the ancient world in which God moved people to produce it, deviated from what I had been taught in my modern evangelical context? Again, a special grace compelled me to think that choosing the Bible wasn‘t going to hurt my faith. God was the same God then as he is now. I wasn‘t going to understand the text by making its writers fit into molds created by theologians who lived centuries after its creation and who worked without access to its ancient cultural context. The Bible would be okay, and so would I.(p. 6).

…. I can say with confidence is that you‘ll never look at your Bible the same way again. And while we‘re on that subject, I need to say a few things about what the Bible is and isn‘t…. (p. 7)

Introduction: “The Bible–How Much Do You Really Believe It?”

…we aren‘t as open to the supernatural as we think we are. Many Christians are supernaturalists who think like skeptics. Ask yourself what would be going through your mind if a Christian friend confided in you one day that they believed they had been helped by a guardian angel, or that they audibly heard a disembodied voice warning them of some unforeseeable danger, or that they had seen an image of Jesus in some moment of crisis…

…our modern, rationalistic evangelical sub-culture has trained us to think that our theology precludes these experiences or this kind of contact. [Yes, Heiser recognizes abuse and excess.] (p. 11).

Whether we want to admit it or not, since we live in a modern scientific age, we are prone to think these kinds of experiences are misinterpretations of some other happenstance, or something that is treatable with the right medication. We would think it absolutely unwarranted to insist on scientific evidence for the virgin birth, insisting that faith is required. Why then do many Christians call on academic SWAT teams to explain away other ―weird passages? Aren‘t those important? Does acceptance of the supernatural extend only to the items referenced in creeds and confessions?

Think of this book as my offer to drive you home to the faith (13)

 Download his FREE book and enjoy. You may find it as fascinating as I did just to click (skim) through the entire document for the big picture.

Only two approaches to the biblical text are coherent (Schenck)

Ken Schenck has started writing a paper in which he states that

…in the end, only two approaches to the biblical text are coherent: 1) a historical-contextual approach and 2) reader-centered approaches that locate meaning (or “experience” of the text) in relation to specific readers and communities of readers. The spectrum of hermeneutical models currently in play are all varied combinations of these two broad categories, however they might self-describe.

I’m still chewing on this, but my first reaction is that it resonates with what I’ve been discerning recently as far as categorizing hermeneutical approaches. However, I’m not sure that I would try to argue that any reader-centered approach can claim to be fully “coherent,” unless you want to say that it is trying to making some kind of attempt at internal coherence (perceived coherence?).   Not that anyone will necessarily agree on the results of the historical-contextual approach, but we can probably admit that anything we do after that–any other approach or tradition that we subscribe to–is in reality some form of a “reader-centered” approach.   Any way you look at it, the big questions still remain:

….Are some reader vantage points more appropriate than others? Is there a specifically Christian vantage point from which to read Scripture as a whole? How proximate are the “original” meanings of individual biblical texts to the most appropriate holistic vantage points? To what extent does this paradigm cohere with evangelical fundamentals?…

Read more of Ken Schenck’s Bridging Lessings Ditch.

Bottom line: if you want your theological reading to “represents the current pinnacle of progress,” you’d better subscribe to my approach ;-).

The Western Captivity of African Christianity (Black)

UPDATE: Onesimus Online no longer exists.

Yesterday I introduced Bill Black’s blog, Onesimus Online, but I thought his posts related to The Western Captivity of African Christianity deserved a little more attention (especially for those of you that are skimming titles; I see Eddie beat me to it ;-).

… however well-intentioned our motives, we Western missionaries in general, and Western theological educators in particular, are engaged in nothing less than the colonization of the African church on a massive scale.

When the British sent out their surveyors across the savannahs and forests of Africa to map out their newly claimed territories, their apologists sold it in part as a vast humanitarian project to bring the ‘Three Cs’ of Christianity, Civilization and Commerce, as David Livingstone put it, to the poor benighted negroes of Africa. Of course the unquestioned assumption was…The resulting mess has completely warped African reality at every level and in every direction and will likely never be undone.

We missionary types don’t seem to have learned very much from the past two centuries of experience, because we are insisting on doing the very same things in our own spheres of influence. Oh, but we have the best of motives (for the Lord and the advance of his kingdom!). And who could ever accuse us of racism? We are all about partnership, all about taking into consideration the [fill in the blank with Kenyan, Ethiopian, Nigerian, etc] context, all about project sustainability, all about reducing dependency, all about working ourselves out of a job, raising up African leaders, etc, etc. We are up on the latest trends in globalization, we go to all the international conferences on servant leadership (whatever that means)…

…. my job is to teach Africans what the Evangelical [and thus ‘right’] position is for whatever the Bible addresses. But in doing so, I’m forced to make my African students into proper North American Evangelicals [one could just as easily insert ‘Presbyterian’ or ‘Reformed Baptist’ or ‘Pentecostal’ or ‘Methodist’].

…Not only are we forcing Western Evangelical categories on African students as the measure of all that’s true in the world, but we have simply assumed that our model of theological education itself is the baseline for all subsequent thinking on the matter…

…We theological educators in Africa are doing a bang-up job of reproducing North American Evangelicals for Africa, replete with our ways of thinking about and practicing Christianity. But in doing so, I’m not at all certain that we are either being true to New Testament Christianity or engaging effectively with the people of this continent as they really are…

Read the whole post: The Western Captivity of African Christianity

And again, (The Erosion of Inerrancy?)

…the fights (theological and hermeneutical) that have set the boundaries assumed sacrosanct by our best North American Evangelicals (or even British, though there is a huge difference even here) seem increasingly irrelevant over here.

…with the explosion of Christianity in Africa, Latin America and Asia, these presuppositions are increasingly exposed for what they are – presuppositions that unnaturally and unnecessarily limit what is understood as appropriate, to what is understood as appropriate if you have grown up in the West and been trained at one of its leading theological institutions. For that reason, systematic theology, for example, is difficult to teach in my present context as anything more than what certain Evangelicals understood at a particular time given their particular intellectual and religious contexts. To attempt to dress up Kenyan Christians in Evangelical clothes is attempt what the British did by insisting that Kenyans must adopt trousers, shirt and tie in order to appear civilized (never mind that…

…Africans can certainly wear western-style clothes, but we got to this point as a result of a certain amount of cultural imperialism that did violence to already existing cultures and perspectives. Anyway, the idea that the traditional Evangelical doctrine is eroding amongst Evangelicals may be true in the West, or at least a more or less valid observation. Our needs and concerns on this side of the world make such word play seem like yet another Western game. Playing ‘your’ game is a luxury ‘we’ can no longer afford. Anyone interested in playing our game?

And yesterday, What is your Game?

…Salvation too often means getting Africans to accept that our problems are their problems and that our solutions must be their solutions. For example, most Western missionaries assume that Christ has come to save us from our legal problem before a holy God; namely…

…while Western missionary Christianity misses the mark in terms of addressing African realities, the New Testament itself, along with the earliest expressions of Christianity as it spread throughout the Roman world, engages the pre-modern world view with dramatic and life-changing answers.

Eddie Arthur, Wycliffe Bible Translators, has a nice 14 minute video on the topic of missions, culture, contextualization, and African theologies (see also this post for more links).

Eddie Arthur of Wycliffe Bible translators talks about the importance and implications of contextualising the Gospel.

The New Testament is a short book; know its context (Keener)

…the NT is a short book, as far as scholarly disciplines go, and NT scholars ought to know its context better [Hengel]…It is simply naive to take a document written to a particular ancient setting, written in Greek, using figures of speech and cultural allusions that were shared assumptions by the ancient author and the author’s intended audience, and assume that we can read it without taking any of that into account.  I’m not saying that we can’t get many correct ideas from a translation without additional background, but you will also miss a lot.

Craig Keener, interview on Romans with Nijay Gupta. (Read the whole interview here.)

Ken Schenck has some harsh words for Carson, Beale, and Piper for their “innoculation” of the complacent

In Who’s a scholar, Ken Schenck (Dean of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University) has this to say:

…It seems like whenever a study or trajectory of real significance arises, some “conservative”–meaning someone resistant to change–then commissions a counter-study to address it. Such counter-studies, far from actually disproving the new development, more innoculates the complacent, who can now simply say, “You can see that the new book by D. A. Carson or John Piper shows that this or that is not in fact true but another liberal conspiracy to corrupt the masses.”

….Justification and Variegated Nomism…the “scholarly” excuse for ignoring genuine developments. Of course the volumes themselves are far more “new perspective” than old…

So also N. T. Wright introduces the actual ancient background of the New Testament into his interpretations of Scripture and it begins to make its way down into the masses. Commission a study! So John Piper produces a “scholarly” volume refuting it to innoculate the masses. Sorry. Just because you can write a book doesn’t mean you haven’t been caught with your theological pants down.

Another reactionary “scholarly” innoculation is D. A. Carson and Greg Beale’s Commentary on the Use of the Old Testament in the New. Sorry. The truth doesn’t care. The New Testament simply isn’t majorly concerned with the context and original meaning of Old Testament passages. [Jim West complains about this last sentence, but see Peter Enns’s chapter on the Christotelic interpretation of the Old Testament in the New Testament – Inspiration and Incarnation. ]

There have been a glut of new commentary series it seems this last decade, but most of them promise to fill Amazon with this sort of innoculatory rubbish. Books to allow us not to grow, not to wrestle truly with hard issues.

Oh where is objectivity to be found? Nowhere, of course, but there are better and worse examples of the attempt. It used to be that we simply ignored the experts. Now the anti-intellectuals have infiltrated them, across the spectrum of scholarly disciplines in America.

Read the whole post– Who’s a scholar. I have a lot of respect for John Piper. I appreciate many of his books and sermons, and he has done some wonderful things, and I think that he genuinely has the glory of God at interest. However, I have to agree with Shenk on this point, and I think the harsh truth needs to be told.

In a somewhat related issue (for those of you that aren’t already completely ensconced in the biblical studies blog world) Scot McKnight responds to Dan Wallace’s frustrations about biases against evangelicals in scholarship (more than 500 comments so far.) David Miller has collected some of the links to this issue and says,

… AKMA‘s comment (scroll down to #38) on the Jesus Creed is the most helpful I’ve read yet. There’s plenty of good advice in the comment thread for students interested in graduate schools too.

*For other posts on the same general subject see Biblia Hebraica, kata ta biblia, Exploring Our Matrix.
For my own thoughts on the intersection between faith and scholarship, see here and here.

Brady on reading the Bible deductively

Chris Brady – Targuman: Reading the Bible deductively (Gen 1)

…There are many things that the author(s) of Genesis does not tell us that we would really like to know…What this means for our practice of reading the Bible is that we must maintain a careful tension between reading the text carefully to find the subtle messages that the author is revealing to us and not reading too much into the text, particularly where it is silent on a subject. Thus the reference to the sun and the moon as the “greater” and “lesser” lights is both a powerful theological statement about the nature of these objects (they are mere creations, made by God) and a rejection of contemporary belief that shemesh and yareach were deities. But it does not tell us about any sort of divine battle or … I don’t know what it might be. We can only work with what we have in the text and while we can (and must) make certain conjectures it is imperative that the interpreter be honest about their limitations.

…our text never explicitly tells us anything about our central figure, God. We must deduce from other evidence whatever we might want to know about this figure…God is never introduced in any way. God is simply there, his existence is assumed and essential…What can we determine about God from the fingerprints left behind in creation? Read more

lingamish walks into the lion’s den (of hermeneutics) without his Alexandrian sword

I’m glad my last post encouraged David further to grab the hermeneutical bull by the horns: Exegetical Sketches: Alexander’s Sword. I think he’s been lurking in the bush planning his hunting strategy for some time now. David writes,

What I want to do in this blog series is give an overview of some alternative ways of doing Bible study in a Christian context. . . What [grammatical-historical interpretation] fails to address is the need for intuitive and populist ways to arrive at Scriptural meaning leading to appropriate localized applications. Biblical scholars use a variation of the phrase uttered by the farmer leaning on his fence who tells the city slickers, “You can’t get there from here.” Instead, the experts in essence say, “You can’t get there from here. But I can. So don’t even bother to interpret the Bible since its far too complex for amateurs like you.” This doesn’t mean that academics have no say. On the contrary, the seminaries and scholar are crucial through their indirect influence at the highest levels. But I want to forget about the ivory towers for a moment and focus on the trenches.

Here’s a brief summary of each method:

  1. Alexander’s Sword: Abandoning in-depth exegesis for relativistic readings anchored by tradition and divine guidance.
  2. Bad Boy Bible Study: Reenvision the Old Testament as a collection of bad examples and villains rather than a catalog of models and heroes.
  3. Parabolic interpretation: Shun allegory and look for the punch line.
  4. The Three Stories: Their story. Our story. God’s story.

I liked this quote:

…You can explain it as a sort of spiritual natural selection in which the religious system most adaptable to the environment prevails. While proponents of GHI (and I consider myself in that category) will argue that careful exegesis is the safeguard against improper hermeneutics, we also assume that application will be highly localized and distinctive rather than homogenous. With that in mind we should be concerned rather than consoled if we see believers in another culture or epoch applying the Bible in the same way as us…

Wander over to Alexander’s Sword and add your two cents (or whatever they call them in Mozambique; it’s kwachas in nearby Malawi). I’ve already thrown in mine.