I read all the time. I do my Bible reading first thing in the morning, generally before breakfast and over coffee (on coffee days, at least). Thenn between checking my work email and getting ready for the day, I'll often read a few pages in whichever book I'm enjoying (which is sometimes difficult if I'm reading seven of them!)
I read when I'm in a long line (or even a fairly short one), or when walking in from my car on days that aren't too rainy (NOOK Color stands up to a bit of precip without too much trouble and certainly better than a paperback does), and before bed and pretty much anytime I've got time. And sometimes when I don't.
But the sad reality of life is that it interferes with my reading, and I'm forced to point my eyes in the direction of less interesting but more profitable things (if we're counting earning a living as profitable compared with reading!). Fortunately, this non-reading time often allows my ears to take up the slack.
It's true that I listen to a dozen or so audiobooks during the year, but they're not a consistent thing. I'll often listen to during my commute (which isn't long, so it takes a while to plow through) or at my desk, or while working in my kitchen (yes, I cook). But I also listen to a variety of podcasts and radio shows of varying frequencies. Here's a quick list, with subheadings:
Science: (I'm looking for more of these, so recommend away.)
Star Talk Radio (~weekly)– This is Neil deGrasse Tyson's radio show, dealing generally with subjects germane to astronomy or astrophysics, but also veering into other sciences and topical issues. Science funding is one of his hobby horses, and I have to say he's got me on his side when it comes to increasing government expenditures for science. (If they'd stop wasting it on the Department of Education, maybe we'd have some leftover…)
The Guardian Science Weekly Podcast (weekly) – This one covers a range of subjects, and I pick it up when the introductory blurb looks good and ignore it the rest of the time.
Love, Sex, Death and Books (in its own good time)– Dan Wilbur of Better Book Titles hosts this intimate (often quite intimate) show with an author or authors, and despite my initial misgivings of Dan as a host, it's a terrific podcast. Warning: content may be unsuitable for the easily offended. Look at the title and consider.
Baseball: (I won't even pretend I'm interested in other sports.)
Behind the Dish (weekly but should be more frequenterer)– Keith Law's excellent snark-filled weekly baseball show, this is my new "Move to the top of the queue" show. (Previous holder of that title: Baseball Today---dearly departed---whenever Keith was on.)
Baseball Tonight (daily) – The successor to the departed Baseball Today, how we miss it, and not entirely equal to it. Buster Olney may not be the host Eric Karabell was, but he's had some terrific interviews on the show thus far. (His interview about hitting with Joey Votto a couple of weeks ago was awesome.)
Rob Has a Podcast (bi-weekly-ish) – File this under guilty pleasures. This is where I get my Survivor/Amazing Race recaps and commentary, from none other than "the smartest player to have never won Survivor," Rob Cesternino.
Sci-Guys Podcast (couple of times a month) – All things science-fiction, from TV to film to books, this is another one I take in now and then depending on the topic(s). I also like to tune in for Short-Shorts with William Van Winkle (I knew him when…).
Unbelievable (weekly) – Justin Brierley's terrific UK apologetics show, typically featuring a Christian and non-Christian in dialogue on a range of topics. Always interesting.
Rethinking Hell (no discernable schedule but still awesome) – This one is dedicated to defending the Evangelical Conditionalist view of Hell (sometimes called Annihilationism).
Woodland Hills Church Sermon Podcast (weekly)– Greg Boyd's challenging teaching. Sometimes I don't want to listen, which normally means I should.
The Preterist Podcast (all too infrequent) - Dee Dee Warren ably defends the partial-preterist position on interpreting Bible prophecy. Especially recommended if you don't know what I'm talking about.
Any other podlisteners out there? Did I miss anything?
I've got a bit of a problem here: I can't stop reading new books. Oh, I'm fine with doing a bit of shift-reading of disparate titles, say a science title and a theology title, but this is getting ridiculous. Most of the time when this happens, I'll eventually focus on one book to the exclusion of the others, but it's not happening thus far. So here's the list:
This is the only title I'm reading from an author I know personally. I had the pleasure of serving in the music ministry at my church with Tyler on many occasions, and his book is important and worthwhile. I'm really not giving it the attention it deserves.
One of two science titles on this list, this book started off as a very promising read but has unfortunately bogged down as I think any title about String Theory will. Bummer, that, but I'll slog through. Definitely best read in shifts.
Remember when I mentioned science and theology pairing nicely for shift-reading?
Ender's Shadow, by Orson Scott Card.
This is my current read-aloud with the Pancake Eater. He recently read Ender's Game, so I thought I'd give him a slightly-edited reading of Bean's story. It's my third read-through of this one, which is interesting since I've read Ender's Game only four times in print. (Audio puts EG well over the top, though.)
This one really lends itself to shift-reading as each chapter stands alone. Plus, the title. Srsly. I'll try not to shift-read this one with the Holiness book. Probably makes sense.
BTW, I picked it up on the NOOK $2.99 and Under list. (Technically it's named "Under $2.99," but my title is more accurate.)
Farside, by Ben Bova
Another $2.99 and Under pickup. I've never read any Bova in print, though I enjoyed Jupiter on audio even though I hadn't read the rest of his Planet Series. This may be the next book to get most of my attention.
The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination, edited by John Joseph Adams
Another cheap ($1.99) pickup, this one's pretty much entirely awesome, an anthology of short fiction by a variety of genre authors. Perfect for shift-reading.
Yes, the $2.99 and Under list is working me over. Is it any wonder that only one book on this list actually used to be a tree?
Out of This World, by Clive Gifford
This was a free pickup from the NOOK Store, and I'm previewing it for the boy, as it's a young adult treatment of astronomy.
(Edit: Since I started writing this post I've actually finished this one. So this is the complete list of things I was reading when I started writing this.)
The Bible (ESV)
For the second straight year, I'm reading the Bible on my ESV app. I generally read before breakfast, usually five chapters of the OT and a Psalm (then moving on to other Poetical books as I finish them), subbing in the NT once a week for the OT. It gets my through the whole thing by early November most of the time.
I go through periods each year where I'm reading a handful of books, and then other times when I basically shelve everything in favor of a succession of individual reads. I find that I progress a little more quickly with the parallel reading than when I go serial, so I'll try to hold off on the switchover. (Usually it happens in the summer.) If anything's going to get shelved for the duration (and possibly permanently), it's usually about the time I switch to serial reading.
Anybody else have trouble with multiple-personality-reading-disorder? Or does the idea of parallel reading freak you out? How about shift-reading? I'm personally a huge fan of it, though it doesn't work so well with fiction. But since I'm about fifty-fifty on fiction and non-fiction, it works for me.
I'm thinking I may do a quick post on the Podcasts I enjoy, so you'll be able to see what I do with my brain while I'm not reading. (Hint: It's very similar to what I do with it while reading.)
Anyone familiar with my book reviews knows I'm a big fan of well-written books on science topics. And theology topics. And, well, most others. But science and theology are two of my interest areas. Most books on science don't really have anything to do with theology, and most theology books don't really cross over into science. But on the topic of origins, be it human origins or the history of the universe or life on earth, you're going to run into some theological topics.
I've previously written that Francis Collins and Karl Giberson's excellent The Language of Science and Faith was the best book I'd read on the topic of Origins. But I think I'm now going to give the nod to Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, by Loren and Deborah Haarsma, if only for the fact that it's so well organized and accessible.
The book is structured for group study, and I'd actually love to go back through it in that setting. The authors carefully examine all the major issues you'd want covered in a book on this topic: sources of knowledge, the age of the universe, the age of the earth, evolution of plants and animals, common ancestry, and evolution of humans.
But the key thing this book does is to take each scientific topic and present the range of views about them, critiquing them from a scientific point of view and analyzing their theological implications. For instance, in the chapter about the age of the universe/earth, the Young Earth, Old Earth, Gap Theory and other views were explored. The analyses are consistently thorough and engaging, and while I can’t objectively say it’s even-handed, it sure seemed like it to me.
I bought this book from the NOOK Store after seeing it recommended on the BioLogos site (I even found the specific blog post!) as a good place to start for reading about "Science and the Bible," and it definitely lived up to the billing. You might guess from the fact that their book was featured on the BioLogos site (and the fact that Deborah is a senior writer for that site) that the conclusions lean toward Evolutionary Creationism. You'd be correct. However, the book is adamantly opposed to evolutionism, the atheistic worldview proposed by Richard Dawkins and his ilk.
I really can't recommend the book highly enough, and it's one I wish all pastors would read just so they'd better understand the topic. I particularly enjoyed Chapter 6, which discusses non-Concordist views of Genesis (views which don't attempt to fit the Bible to the scientific evidence, as opposed to something like the Revelation Days approach of Fountains of the Deep). The description of the Ancient Near East cosmology common at the time of the writing of the Old Testament was really interesting.
I've seen that Peter Enns (another BioLogos guy) has a new book out titled The Evolution of Adam, dealing only with the theological implications of evolution on the doctrines dealing with the biblical account of the first humans (the Fall, Original Sin, the Atonement), and I may have to pick it up. Origins gave that issue a nice thorough overview, but it's only whet my appetite for more.
If you're interested in this book, you can download a sample chapter at the book's website. I also found a relatively short lecture from the authors, in which they discuss the major issues in the book in a kind of quick overview (okay, it's an hour, but that's short!). Check it out below.
Next up, it’s The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Boy Who Loved Batman.
Warning: Theology Book Review! If Christian Theology isn't your thing, I'm totally fine with you reading my previous two reviews of baseball books. If baseball isn't your thing, we probably shouldn't hang out.
My views on eschatology (And here's the litmus test, because I'm not defining that term. So I guess this post is for insiders only.) have been described as "weird," though I always insist that my views are in fact in the majority. Just not amongst contemporary American evangelicals. Their loss, I say.
The problem is that I find the whole Pre-Tribulation Rapture thing to be escapist nonsense, not really backed up by scripture. I try to be charitable to those who hold this view, but I can't help but think they take it because they haven't actually read about any of the other views. (I don't think I'm coming across as charitable here. But I seriously don't think this stuff is worth dividing over. Arguing over…definitely.)
I grew up under Dispensational Premillennial teaching (think Left Behind), and have vivid memories of watching (and having the excrement scared out of me) by the film A Thief in the Night. For years afterward, I'd worry I'd been left behind any time my parents were late getting home. Even now I typically remark "I thought I'd missed the Rapture again" when I have to wait on a Christian friend. (Though to be fair, I do my share of Rapture-scaring other people if they think the way I do. My bad.)
When I got to college and started studying my Bible, and more so since I've started reading the Bible every year, and not just my Bible but commentaries and theology books, I've found there's a lot more out there than the Tim LaHaye take on things. So I went from Dispensational Premillennialism (invented in 1830) to Amillennialism (the majority view throughout most of history, and the majority view currently except perhaps in America). But I never gave Postmillennialism much thought.
I suppose I should define some terms here. Dispensationalists look for a secret Rapture, followed by the Tribulation, then the Second Coming, then the thousand year Millennium in which Christ reigns from Jerusalem. Postmillennialists believe the Tribulation is in the past and the Second Coming will occur after the reign of Christ in the Millennium (it's a spiritual reign). Amillennialists believe basically the same as the Posts, but with the Millennium instead being an undefined period we call the Age of the Church. (I learned from Wilson that most modern Posts take an indefinite period for the Millennium, too.)
The main difference between the A's and Posts is that the Posts believe the Gospel will essentially win, and the vast majority of the world's population will become Christian. It's extremely optimistic, and that's why Douglas Wilson terms the view "historical optimism" in Heaven Misplaced: Christ's Kingdom on Earth. The altered term draws attention away from the Millennium, which he describes as "a thousand years of peace that Christians enjoy fighting over."
(I've neglected to even mention Historic Premillennialism here since it's somewhat lesser known, but as it's title implies, it's got more of a pedigree to it than Dispensationalism does. I've unfortunately sort of thrown out the Millennial baby with the Dispensational bathwater to this point. I'll have to read up on it eventually.)
Some weeks ago, I watched and very much enjoyed "An Evening of Eschatology," hosted by John Piper. It was a panel discussion with three Reformed theologians debating the various Millennial views. I'm not a fan of Reformed Theology in general, but I was most impressed with Douglas Wilson, so I requested his book through InterLibrary Loan.
Heaven Misplaced is a nice, short book setting out a logical and Biblical argument for the historical optimism position, and while I can't say I'm entirely convinced by it, Wilson's arguments are certainly persuasive. I find myself entirely in agreement with him on the subjects of Biblical interpretation. That is, that we should interpret the Old Testament the way the New Testament writers did. His chapters titled "And the Stars Fell from Heaven" and "666 and All That" should be required reading. Yeah, that good. You get a taste of some of it in the video, if I recall correctly.
As good as the Biblical evidence is for the Postmillennial view, it's tough to look at the world and be really that optimistic. Though I've said in the past that on my optimistic days I'm a Postmillennial Universalist. That's not most days, mind you. But I hope that way.
By the way, Wilson is a Calvinist, and therefore not a Universalist. Just wanted to make that clear. But the cynic in me thinks that hoping for the Post view is a kind of soft Universalism. "Okay, so most of the people who ever lived weren't part of the Elect, but at the end, most everyone will be." Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! I'm not actually implying that Wilson is anything but honest in his eschatology. It's just that I think the doctrine of unconditional election stinks, and I don't think the idea of the ultimate triumph of the Gospel in Postmillennialism overcomes the stench. (And yes, I'm familiar with the scriptures used to defend the odoriferous doctrine.)
But the core point he makes about the progress of the Gospel is a good one. Much of Jesus' teaching involved the Kingdom slowly growing and filling the Earth (Dispensationalists completely screw up the interpretation of the Kingdom parables). Is it so far fetched to think that the progress of the Gospel will continue to grow and succeed?
Do I really believe that, prior to the return of Christ, the earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea? Do I really believe that all the nations of men will stream to their Lord and savior, Jesus Christ? Do I really believer that Jesus Christ is the desire of nations? I really do.
I'm not totally there, but I'm certainly willing to hope he's right.
The other main point of the book, and of Postmillennialism, is that Christ is reigning now from Heaven and will eventually bring Heaven to Earth. That's where the title, Heaven Misplaced, comes from. As he puts it in the video I linked, "Heaven is not my home, I'm just a-passing through." (BTW, Rob Bell has made this point several times in his books, but he's too controversial to have people recognize he's right about it.) We don't hope to escape the Earth and flee to Heaven. We anticipate Christ returning from Heaven to make his dwelling with us on a New Earth.
If you've never read much on eschatology, or if your reading has been one-sided, I highly recommend Douglas Wilson's little book. It'll give you a different perspective.
I had to get this book through InterLibrary Loan because my library didn't have it. What it did have was Collision, a documentary following Wilson and Christopher Hitchens as they debated around the country. Highly recommended. Douglas Wilson is a smart dude and an excellent debater. He also has one of the greatest blog names in history (Blog and Mablog, definitely an inside joke for eschatology wonks.)
Next up is probably Jumper, a rare To Be Read list pick, and interesting science fiction.
Note: If you click through and buy this book or anything else linked to Amazon, I'll receive a very small amount of money. But you owe me that, don't you think? You were having trouble sleeping and I helped, after all…
Do not adjust your monitor! This is truly a Theology Thursday post for the second consecutive week. I used to be a bit more consistent in posting these, but I've found that this year I just don't have much to say.
Sometimes these posts just fly off the fingers. I'll read a passage, think a bit about it, jot down a note or two here and there, and then sit down and bang it out in fifteen minutes. Other times, I'll ramble for a bit, take a detour into some meanderings, then digress my way back to the main rat hole, then shelve the idea for a month or ten, then delete the whole thing and start again, then rename it, then shampoo it vigorously with Pert Plus, making sure to rinse and repeat, and then just end up posting a book review. I have some potentially awesome posts still waiting for that second shampooing.
I actually like to write theology posts soon after I've read a passage, but sometimes my schedule slips by a bit. A good-sized bit. In this case, I think I started working on this thing back in March or so, right about the time I read Love Wins. And certainly this post is germane to that topic, or at least to answering a common objection to alternate views of Hell (other than Eternal Conscious Torment). So, let's begin.
(Actually, I think this fits just fine, as my latest book review went with Luke 15. Here we're in Luke 16. Didn't plan that.)
One of the objections commonly raised to any expression of doubt in the doctrine of Hell as Eternal Conscious Torment is that Jesus clearly taught more about Hell than Heaven. Now, I don't agree with this. In fact, I'd argue he didn't teach about either very much. (For a quick rebuttal of one popular "teaching about Heaven" passages, refer to a previous post of mine.) But let's not get off track here.
Whether Jesus taught much about Hell isn't really the question. The question is, "What did Jesus teach about Hell?" If we eliminate all the passages about Gehenna, which may or may not be about Hell (read my take here), there's not much left over. But what is left over is pretty important. Of course, I'm talking about The Rich Man and Lazarus.
Now, some people think that Jesus is here telling a commonly-known tale, much like someone today might recite one of Aesop's Fables, without any implication of the story's being true. But I'll concede, for the purposes of this post, that Jesus was teaching about an actual case of two actual men. So, a quick recap (or go read it yourself):
A Rich Man and the beggar at his gates (Lazarus) both die after living very different lives. Lazarus is carried to a place of comfort, the Rich Man to a place of fiery torment (noted as Hades in the Greek). The Rich Man is in a bad way and, seeing Lazarus, asks Abraham (who evidently is in charge of the nice place) to have Lazarus drip some water down to him. Abraham replies that he had all the comfort he's going to have during his life, and that there's no way to go from one chamber to the other. The Rich Man then begs to have someone sent to warn his brothers of his fate, but Abraham replies that they have the Bible and should already know about it (and this is the point of the teaching, BTW).
So, what do we have here? Well, it certainly seems to imply that there's punishment for evil people. But, in fact, it also basically implies that it's about being rich or poor that lands you in one place or the other. It almost looks like karma, because there's no commentary whatsoever on the faith of either Lazarus or the Rich Man. But that's neither here nor there.
Those who take an Eternal Torment view of Hell will tell you that this story proves their point. But if we step back for just a minute, I think it'll be clear that it teaches no such thing.
You may be thinking, "Umm, Seth, it seems to totally teach that, bro. Serissly."
Yeah, but it really doesn't. The key thing to keep in mind here is that if we're talking about Hell, we're talking about something that takes place after the Final Judgment. True, there may be some kind of pre-Hell for the damned before the Resurrection, and this story is a pretty good indication that there is. And I do not have an issue with that. Whatever the state of the damned is before the Resurrection doesn't really matter to any of the views of Hell. Universalists, Annihilationists, and (insert clever "ists" term for people who hold the traditional view, ooh, maybe "Traditionalists") can all accept the idea of a temporary realm of torment between now and the Resurrection. (This is not to imply that all people agree on this, but it's well within the range of belief in each camp.)
There's really no argument that Jesus is referring to a post-Resurrection timeframe, is there? The Rich Man has brothers alive on Earth. Case closed. And not only is this before The Resurrection, but it's before Christ's Resurrection. I'm not sure it matters, but thought I'd throw it out there.
Jesus' Teaching on The Rich Man and Lazarus says not one word about the state of the unbeliever after the Final Judgment. I'm actually really curious if anyone disagrees on this point. Feel free to jump in, because I definitely want to be corrected if I'm off base. But let's stay on topic if we could. And by that, I mean this post is not about the couple of verses in Revelation and other places that also seem to imply a fiery Hell. Deal with this story and hit me with your best shot.
Now, let me be clear. The Bible seems to teach that there is some kind of punishment after death for the damned. The question is still, though, what is the result of that punishment? Is it never-ending? Does it end with the damned being consumed (my tentative position), or is it rehabilitative, resulting in salvation for all (my position only on my most optimistic days)?
Another thing to note here. If you come at this from a Reformed perspective (which I don't, despite attending a Presbyterian church – Evangelical Presbyterian, for the record), you really can't take a Universalist position. I get that. It doesn't make sense for God to elect some to life and some to destruction if the destruction is only temporary. Agreed. It's the starting premise that we disagree on. But again, different topic for a different day.
I'm going to have a tough time finding a topic for next week. So don't look for a three-peat. But maybe I'll rinse off my old post "Can a Heterosexual Be Saved?" (How's that for a provocative title? Any clue why I've sat on it for a year or so?)
When I read The Language of Science and Faith, the authors made the point that when we consider the cultural and historical context of a Biblical passage, we don't necessarily overturn the plain meaning (plain from our perspective), but we definitely enrich that meaning. As an example, they used the Parable of the Prodigal Son and referenced Kenneth E. Bailey's beautiful The Cross and the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants.
When I say beautiful, I certainly mean that the book has some lovely commentary on Christ's teachings, but it also contains the script for a wonderful play based on the parable, and absolutely stunning Arabic calligraphy heading each chapter. For those who don't know, Islam discourages sacred images of any kind, including sacred figurative art. But using the pen to instead make beautiful "pictures" with words was considered kosher (or should I say "halal"?).
This book pulls back the veil on the deeper meanings of the story, plain to the original hearers, which have been largely lost to Western ears.
Jesus spoke to a Middle Eastern peasant people. Even the educated would have had their roots in that peasantry. What lies between the lines, what is felt and not spoken, is of deepest significance. Indeed, it almost cannot be expressed because it is not consciously apprehended. What "everybody knows" is never explained.
The author has evidently spent a great deal of time in the Middle East (forty years), and in dialogue with Muslims has encountered the argument that the Parable of the Prodigal Son teaches Islamic doctrine and demonstrates that God needed no cross to redeem mankind. On the surface, from a plain reading perspective, this actually seems to be true. The son goes astray, and the father restores him without punishment.
However, now that I've read this book, I know that there was a lot of suffering involved. I'm torn here as to whether I should spoil the lovely surprises, but suffice it to say that the Father in this parable steps well out of his slotted role in his society, taking on much of the shame that the sons should have borne. And this is another thing the book brings out: the parable is about two lost sons. The one who strayed while breaking the law, and the one who strayed while staying home and being, for all outward appearances, faithful.
Another thing I found just fascinating was the idea of the village and communal setting to the parable. I could well imagine the drama taking place basically under one roof, but Bailey makes it clear that everyone in the village had a role to play, whether as witnesses of the interactions between the father and his sons, or as a tormenter of the one who would dare come back after wasting his inheritance in Gentile lands. (The father spared his son this torment by his imprudent actions. Imprudent in the eyes of the villagers, that is.)
One last thing I'd never considered is that the parable doesn't really have an ending. The father goes out to reconcile with his older son, but that reconciliation doesn't happen, and this is the true message to Jesus' hearers. The religious authorities were the older son, questioning the way Jesus was merciful to the younger son. I'm not sure why I never saw this. Yes, Christ is merciful to sinners, but he also wants to save those who think they're already good enough. They just need to see their need.
I looked for this book at the library and didn't find it. Checked to see if it was available for the NOOK. Nope. I ended up getting it on InterLibrary Loan from my alma mater, George Fox University. Cool! But I'd gladly have paid for it if it'd been available as a NOOK Book. Because it'd be worth reading again.
Next up is one of remaining Library backlog books, Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language. Probably next week though, as I haven't quite finished it.
(Warning: Theology Post!!! It's the return of the return of Theology Thursday! For this week, anyway.)
It's really my own fault. I know this to be true. I put that silly "Suggest a Topic" linky-do over there. I had to figure I'd eventually get a doozy. Naturally, it's from the same source as the Pacifism Post of 2011. So thanks, Jon, for reminding me of my limitations!
I delayed as long as possible, but I finally read 1 Corinthians in my yearly read-through, so I have to bite the bullet. The passage in question is 1 Corinthians 14:21-25, one of the most vexing in the entire Bible, and that's saying something. And Paul, in particular, can be quite vexing at times. Earlier in 1 Corinthians, he reminded us of why word processors are nice:
1 Corinthians 1:14-16 (ESV)
14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)
With a good word processor, these three verses might've just been omitted. Or replaced by a simple statement that he's glad he didn't baptize too many of them. But he said it, his amanuensis recorded it, and so we have a very vivid picture of Paul's fallibility, at least in his memory.
I do have a point here, though, and that's that Paul's letters tend to be brain dumps. And while the argumentation and theology in them is often beautifully expressed, sometimes it's a nearly hopeless muddle. And before you throw something at me, let me clarify: I mean that his writings sometimes take a lot of effort to unpack. I'm a firm believer in the perspicuity of scripture, and not just because perspicuity is such an awesome word. (It means that the central meanings of Scripture are basically easy to understand.)
But Paul sometimes did his best to put some perspiration in perspicuity. And this passage is a major bit of sweatin':
1 Corinthians 14:21-25 (ESV)
21 In the Law it is written, "By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord." 22 Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
Mmmkay. So tongues are a sign for unbelievers. But if an unbeliever comes into your church and everybody's speaking in tongues, he'll think y'all folks is crazy. So, which is it? I have a couple of thoughts, and you can add them to the vast highway pileup of other people's thoughts about this. And really it's two categories: 1.) Different kinds of tongues are in view, or 2.) It's a matter of interpretation (and I'll elaborate on this). Let's take them one at a time, shall we?
Different Kinds of Tongues:
I'm not sure anyone debates that the tongues mentioned in such places as Acts 2 are entirely different than those in view here. As I wrote a while back (wow, three years), I think that the gift of tongues on the Day of Pentecost was more of a gift given to the hearers than the speakers. So when Paul mentions tongues as a sign, he's talking about its utility as a "universal translator" when preaching to unbelievers. Which is then contrasted with what's done for the edification of the believers in the church.
Yeah, but I don't buy it. So let's check out the other option.
It's the interpretation, stupid!:
I won't reprint the lead-in verses here, but in 1-20, Paul admonishes the Corinthians to only use the gift of tongues when someone can interpret. Otherwise, as Paul says, you're only building up yourself. So that's the key here. Paul goes on and on about how prophecy is better than tongues, but he also basically says that tongues with an interpretation is as good as prophecy.
5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
So what I think Paul means is that tongues by itself could be confusing/distracting/offensive to an outsider, but that tongues with interpretation is equal to prophecy. Again, "tongues" in this section means "uninterpreted tongues" and "prophecy" means "a word from the Lord, whether in tongues—but interpreted—or prophecy."
I'll now turn you over to Jon, who can tell me why I'm wrong. Be kind to me, Jon, I used to be taller than you. I really think that next time you suggest a topic, you get to guest-author a post here. So I can stop embarrassing myself. Either that, or I get to suggest a topic for you…hmm…
(By the way, anyone can jump in here. I realize I'm probably wrong, and I didn't even Google the question. I just shot from the hip. Feel free to opine.)
As I mentioned in my book review for Kenneth Miller's Only a Theory, I've read quite a few books on the topic of origins and have gradually migrated from creationism toward something like theistic evolution. It's still not a subject I'm a big fan of fighting over, so I generally just keep my opinions to myself. But I do keep reading. It's how I roll.
My migration, though, has had more to do with science than theology. When I watch something like Dennis Venema's excellent YouTube videos on the genetic evidence for common ancestry between apes and humans, I don't have any particular issue with the science.
But then if I read something like Karl Giberson's worthwhile Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, I can recognize the science as excellent but the theology as lacking (in my mini-review of Saving Darwin, I noted that it failed to live up to its subtitle). Because regardless of what anyone might think, my views on the science of origins have implications for my theology of origins. And that's where I've been stuck for a while.
Well, I'm a bit further along now, thanks to Karl Giberson and Francis S. Collins's The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions. Approached like a Frequently Asked Questions for the whole topic of theistic evolution/BioLogos, it's everything I hoped it would be. I'm not saying that all my questions have been definitively answered or anything, but I at least have some confidence that the answers exist.
I should point out that for anyone looking for a detailed defense of theistic evolution, you're probably barking up the wrong tree. For that, I'd recommend Collins's The Language of God, or either of Kenneth Miller's Finding Darwin's God or Only a Theory. This volume is more about discussing a smaller set of scientific and theological questions surrounding the issue. But it actually would make a great jumping off point for any of the books I just recommended.
The book is extremely well organized and readable and should be accessible to non-scientific types. (Though I'm a bit geekish, so I can't say for certain.) I'd also recommend the BioLogos website, as they have a ton of resources available for reading/viewing.
The scientific creation story has been described in a highly negative way by both young earth creationists and atheists alike. The creationists don't like it because it disagrees with a literal reading of the creation story in Genesis. So, too often they make it seem as implausible and un-Christian as possible. On the other hand, some atheists fashion the story into a club to bash religion and make it seem as plausible and un-Christian as possible. With both sides arguing that the scientific creation story is un-Christian, it is no wonder religious believers find it unattractive.
Back when I started reading more about different theological systems within Christianity and about science and whatnot, a friend asked if I thought I'd lose my faith with all my questionings. I told him I wasn't worried about it, and I'm still not. I can read about science, Universalism, Open Theism, or any other range of topics, and I don't fear the answers, because I know who ultimately holds the truth. And it ain't me.
I listen to quite a bit of Christian call-in radio (Steve Gregg's The Narrow Path), and one question that consistently drives me crazy is, "Do people from Religion X follow a different Jesus / worship a different God?"
The reason this bothers me is that, assuming as I do that God and Jesus exist, they are who they are. In other words, neither of them amounts to the sum of theological propositions you can levy in their favor. So if someone says he believes in God or Jesus, I take him at his word. However flawed his ideas of God or Jesus might be. And I think Paul gives me a good example in this regard:
Acts 17:22-25 (ESV, emphasis added):
22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To the unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
Paul seems to be saying that the Greeks, with their pantheon of capricious gods, also worshipped the True God in ignorance. Now certainly he's not saying that worship of God as one of many gods is acceptable, but he is saying that God is who he is regardless of our conception of him.
Let me throw out a flawed analogy here. Johnny Goofoff and I had the same teacher in fourth grade: Mr. Hell (based on an actual and beloved teacher of mine). I was (with typical failings and episodes) a model student, and I found Mr. Hell to be funny and caring as well as firm and demanding. Johnny was a cutup and goof-off and found Mr. Hell to be a brutal taskmaster, always looking to find fault and punish him.
And yet when we talk of him, we're talking about the same man. Our perspectives on him are shaped by our experiences of him, but he's the same guy even if our descriptions and understandings of him are basically opposite.
Now, I don't believe this analogy fits, say, the differences between a Christian and a Muslim's perspective on God. But wait, there's more.
I have a son. Johnny has a son. We both tell our sons about Mr. Hell. They pass on the stories to their children. At no point is anyone telling their children about a man other than Mr. Hell. They may have very different ideas about him, to the point that someone might rightly say, "You're talking about a completely different guy," but there's still only the one man.
But what's really crucial is that none of the people now describing Mr. Hell ever actually knew him. They only knew about him. But the fact that they describe him differently doesn't change who he is. Neither does it change that they're describing the same person.
Does this make sense? I think it does. Then again, I often overestimate my ability to be clear.
Now, I must handle the one obvious objection, and here I'm stealing my friend Colin's thunder. What about the Aztecs? Were they worshipping God, cutting out people's hearts at their Temples? No, of course they weren't. Paul is pretty clear that the pagan gods are demons. Keep in mind that Ba'al and Chemosh and Molech and Dagon weren't considered "The One God" of their people. They were considered to be one god among many. In other words, I don't think it's a valid objection. The floor is yours, Mr. K.
With all the kerfuffle about Rob Bell and debates about the nature of Hell, I've seen a lot of blog posts insisting that, without Hell, we short-change what Jesus did for us. But where, exactly, do we get the idea that Jesus died to save us from Hell? Seriously, where?
I'm not trying to be flip here. I want to understand the Bible clearly, and that means reading what actually in the text and not importing any traditional understandings into it. And I could definitely be wrong. So I'm looking for feedback here if you think I've missed something.
I'll keep looking as I read through the New Testament this year, but here are a few things I've noticed so far:
Matthew 1:21 (NLT)
21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
I wrote in a previous post that "Jesus" is really "Joshua" (Well, Yeshua), which means "Yahweh saves." And what is he said to save his people from? Hell? Nope. Their sins.
Acts 2:40 (NLT)
40 Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”
Just to emphasize, this was right after Peter told them to be repent from their sins and be baptized. Again, no mention of Hell.
Acts 3:26 (NLT)
26 When God raised up his servant, Jesus, he sent him first to you people of Israel, to bless you by turning each of you back from your sinful ways.”
Again, we're saved from our sins.
Now I'll admit that this is by no means definitive. Paul and Peter do make some mention of future judgment in their writings. But they're writing to Christians. Everywhere we look in Acts when the Apostles are trying to reach the unsaved, they appeal to a salvation from sins and the need to submit to Christ.
I'll make sure to write about the references to judgment in the Epistles when I get to them. And who knows? I may find some compelling reason to think Hell is an important doctrine. I may even decide the Bible teaches Eternal Hell. But at this point I don't see it as likely.
Just for clarification, before someone brings up the "fact" that Jesus talks about Hell a whole bunch, let me just tell you my perspective on that. I believe that the references to "Gehenna" (translated Hell in the King James Version) are to be understood the same way Jeremiah used the term. That is, Jeremiah told the covenant breakers that they would all be slaughtered by the Babylonians and their bodies thrown into the Valley of Hinnom. (Greek for "Valley of Hinnom"=gehenna.) Jesus was warning his generation that they should fear the same fate. (Which happened in AD70.)
And yes, I understand Jesus made reference to the fire not being quenched and the worm not dying. But he was using imagery from Isaiah, talking about dead bodies, not immortal inhabitants of Hell:
Isaiah 66:24 (NLT, emphasis added)
24 And as they go out, they will see
the dead bodies of those who have rebelled against me.
For the worms that devour them will never die,
and the fire that burns them will never go out.
All who pass by
will view them with utter horror.”
True, Isaiah says the fire will never go out. Which he also said of Edom:
Isaiah 34:8-10 (NLT)
8 For it is the day of the Lord’s revenge,
the year when Edom will be paid back for all it did to Israel.
9 The streams of Edom will be filled with burning pitch,
and the ground will be covered with fire.
10 This judgment on Edom will never end;
the smoke of its burning will rise forever.
So either Isaiah is using poetic hyperbole, or the prophecy was just wrong. Because the fires are no longer burning. Keep this scripture in mind; I'll be pulling it out again when I get to Revelation.
I'm not trying to talk anyone out of belief in Hell. Or even Hell as Eternal Conscious Torment. You can decide for yourself what the Bible says. I'm just saying that beliefs need to be based on something other than tradition. If you find it in the Bible, go with it. Just make sure it's there. And feel free to correct me here, as long as you can object without being objectionable.