In these glorious Antipodes a storm has blown up in the conventional and the social media — not the series of sub-tropical storms that have been wreaking havoc with our homes and power poles, but a storm of opprobrium. It concerns (as you might expect)1 a rugby player. This rugby player expressed a theological opinion concerning the eternal destiny of some other people. Since rugby players are quasi-divine, naturally, his opinion on this matter is of huge importance….
Many of my Christian friends are (rightly) concerned about issues of tolerance and the possible suppression of religious views that dissent from the majority opinion (especially when those dissenting views are our own). In this respect several decades of liberalism have made us unprepared for such a resurgence of the Spanish Inquisition. But then no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!
I am more interested in the theological question, is Israel Folau correct that gays are going to hell?
On what grounds might we say this with theological authority? If sin alone is the grounds then we are all doomed, if unrepented sin, I suspect likewise… Or is there a scale of sins with some (mine and your’s perhaps?) being venial and others (on whose unacceptability to God we agree) being mortal – ah, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!
You might expect this since rugby players here play the quasi-divine role that billionaires and film stars play in the USA, or royalty in some more conservative places. [↩]
The fluorescent cross on Mt Roskill is like a church on the hill visible for miles…
Back in the day you wanted to be the church on the hill. Visible from all around the neighbourhood, ideally with a big fluorescent cross to make things more obvious – the church was the centre of the community. It was the place people went when disaster struck. There for hatch, match, and finally dispatch services, but also an ever present comfort in time of trouble.
It’s biblical, Jesus talked about a city on a hill, a light that should not be hidden under a bushel.1 So one of the features of the property that God2 has given to us – aside from the miraculous decision to add a big primary school slap next door – is its location. Just at the very top of the hill, on the edge of the ridge above the new Lakes development. Wow! A church there fronting on the new roundabout, with even a modest spire and that fluorescent cross will be visible almost all the way to the Kaimais.
Today, in NZ, the church is no longer the centre of the community, people no longer default to churches for hatch, match, or dispatch. When they need a bridge over troubled waters it’s the insurance company they call, not the pastor. Or WINZ, or the doctor… For a church to be accessible today it does not help to be slap on the top of the hill. Fluorescent lights will be ignored.
As one of the Windsor Park people3 at our meeting last night neatly expressed it, the website is today’s hill top. If people want to find us (and Google tells me that in January people did, 800 times) they can easily get directions from GoogleMaps, and quickly decide if they like the look of us by a quick gander at the Church website.
But before they do that we have to earn their interest. We won’t earn it with flashy buildings (the Warehouse and the Casino will always outflash us) but by being a place they come to for other reasons, by being people they have learned to trust.
So, there’s no need for us to build the church slap on the roundabout, not even on the street frontage at all. Rather there in prime position we need something that invites people in, that offers the hope of rest and peace in a busy and dangerous world…
Whatever one of those might have been, we must never hide our lights under them. (Matt 5:14-15) [↩]
Aided by some very generous giving, and a seesawing property market here in the Bay of Plenty, and the wonderful work of Christian Savings – back in the day when they were still just Baptist Savings. [↩]
There has been far too much nonsense written contrasting reading on various types of screens1 with reading from paper. Some of the nonsense has been ‘research based’, though most of the research has been deeply flawed or trivial. At last there is a study that collates the data. They examined over 800 studies of which only 36 directly compared screen and paper!
As I hear it, key findings from this elephantine literature review, and so even more mammoth research effort include:
reading is faster on screen
comprehension is deeper on paper
subjects’ estimates of how much they absorbed were reversed (they thought they absorbed more from the screen)
most studies investigated linear texts, but hypertexts may be better suited to some tasks
Like so much research, none of this (except perhaps the recognition that people cannot effectively self-assess their information absorption) is a surprise. Once again, research underlines what sensible people have been saying ad infinitum. At this stage of technological development screens (of various sorts and this variability still needs to be properly investigated) and paper books have different advantages and different affordances.
Thinking of my current reading tasks:
marking student essays: clearly better on screen as reading is faster (this is a particular advantage for me as I am a very slow reader)
marking a PhD: paper is clearly better (as here I need better comprehension and retention)2
reading journal articles and book chapters in preparing a course: paper is better for better comprehension (except I find the material online, so waiting for paper delivery would be stupid, even if I had a POD machine)
reading a SF novel for pleasure: screen is better as I have no need to retain information
Except: for the PhD the case is more mixed as I have a deep and abiding revulsion to sitting chained to a desk (probably stemming from my sad experiences of education in childhood). The paper copy of the almost 500 page thesis weighs in at 1.25 Kg and is A4 by several cms thick, even printed doublesided, physically this is no easy task and hand strain limits the time I can spend reading. I also have to drop the brick and lift my laptop every time I want to make a note (how much easier to swap windows on my laptop).3
Usually conflated as if screens were all one type of reading and it was the electronic imprint that mattered not the size or reflective vs. light emitting character, let alone how many other functions the device permitted… that mattered. [↩]
I realise this last does not apply to most of you who learned to write easily and quickly with a pen or pencil, but my hand writing is extremely slow and very difficult to decipher later, quite aside from the advantage of cutting and pasting into my report. How I look forward the the time when NZ Universities finally enter the digital age! [↩]
Wayne Stiles has produced (with a little help from family and friends) an excellent video (first of a series of three) for Passion Week. Well worth the 16 mins to watch. I’ll be using the first few minutes today at church.
Jonathan of ξἐνος and of Robinson offers a feast (in five, count ’em, parts) for the regular festival called the Biblioblog Carnival. Although it is April he is apparently mad as a March Hare!? The carnival is full of good stuff, including a link to nice clear simple and (even better) slightly humorous post on hell by none other than ‘Christ Almighty!’
Jonathan himself in his apologia pro carnivalis sua1 makes interesting comments on the past and present of Bible blogging. Here I’ll just add that I am finding that (at least on ‘hot’ topics) Facebook seems to be the locus of the sort of discussion we used to get on blogs. Though (is it the hot topic or is it the hot medium) sadly with more heat and less light.
Pardon my Latin, the language has been dead to me since the 1960s, and I can not be bothered looking up the proper forms. [↩]
Christian Smith (American sociologist of religion, who coined the phrase “moralistic therapeutic Deism”) published TheBible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture with Brazos Press back in 2011. His list of ten characteristics of “biblicism”1 was recently cited by Scott McKnight as part of a brief affirmation of the thesis of the book. This made it onto my Facebook screen just a few days after we spent Saturday recording for the first episode of Deep Bible.
Several Evangelical scholars reviewed Smith’s book largely to rebut his claim that these ten features are characteristic of Evangelical (or at least of academic Evangelical) Bible reading. Though they have also criticised his thesis.2 This thesis considers the ten marks of Biblicism in the light of the phenomenon Smith calls “pervasive interpretive pluralism” (hence forth “PIP”) claiming that this fact of multiple readings makes these tenets impossible.
Getting the PIP (pervasive interpretive pluralism)
This post is not a review, or even a notice, of Smith’s book (I have not read it) nor is it a review or response to his critics, rather it is my response to his list, in the light of recording the first episode of Deep Bible. You see one of the core problems with the Bible today for Evangelicals (and other Bible-centred believers, like Baptists) is PIP. You do not have to look far to get the PIP, perhaps all the current (and past) hot button topics among Christians reveal that interpretative pluralism is indeed pervasive. Take the discussion between “Egalitarian” and “Complementarian” camps, they read the same Bible passages, but come to different conclusions. Even the arguments over “gay marriage”, are fueled by different hermeneutics leading to different conclusions.3
Therein lies the rub at least for those who live and have their being in church as well as breathing the more rarefied air of the academy. For, in church (at least in the pews)4 most or all of the terrible ten are believed as gospel truth, and hermeneutics is either an unknown concept or code for “attempting to avoid the plain sense of Scripture”.
Hence the importance of PIP for Deep Bible episode one.5 My contribution offers two strands of practical everyday response to PIP.
Radios and telephones
First, I suggest we need to recognise and distinguish two ways in which God uses Scripture to communicate with us, let’s call them the radio and the telephone. Sometimes the Holy Spirit uses a Bible passage (or even verse or phrase) to give a particular message to a particular person (or group). When this happens it is a bit like the Spirit inspiring Jeremiah with the message that God watches over his word to fulfill it (Jer 1:12) that message came from a pun on the Hebrew word for an almond branch (Jer 1:11). The message has nothing (at all) to do with almonds or branches or trees. God just used the (bad?) pun as stimulus. When God gave Barbara and I a comforting message about our move to New Zealand (following the traumatic shock of being evacuated from Congo and losing contact with so many of our friends and colleagues) that comforting message had nothing to do with the message of the book of Jonah, but God used the familiar story to make his point – and, as with Jeremiah’s pun, it worked for us. That experience is God making a personal telephone call.
OTOH when God inspired the writers of Scripture to reveal truth about the world and especially about its Maker, Sustainer and Redeemer that message, like a radio broadcast is intended for anyone who has the equipment and listens in.
Failure to distinguish these two sorts of meaning leads to much of the most pernicious misuse of Scripture, and so is responsible for much of the PIP that we get today. For we live at a time that prefers the immediacy of “the spirit”6 to the work of rightly handling the word of life.
Let’s just agree to disagree
Another cultural tendency also impacts the PIP. Tolerance is a virtue (it is perhaps both the most important, under practiced, and yet over-rated virtue today). In the face of multiple interpretations of Scripture this core virtue of the pomo world kicks in, and we find ourselves tempted to “agree to disagree“. Agreeing to disagree is fine and desirable when we have really discussed, understand where the other is coming from, still respect them, yet despite this disagree.
It is not so fine or desirable when it is almost our first response to differing understandings of what the Bible teaches. Because it suggests that the Bible can (rightly and properly, and not merely because of human sinfulness) teach different things to different people. If the Bible can mean anything, then it actually means nothing!
In everyday life we accept restrictions and limits on what texts can mean. Two key and common restrictions are the meaning of words and phrases (literary restraints on possible meaning) and authors’ intentions (historical restraints on meaning). Much of the rest of the Deep Bible series will consider these two sorts of limit and how we can move between these towards deeper and fuller (yet more restrained) understanding of the Bible.
He seems to use the word as a shorthand for what is wrong with self-consciously “Evangelical” readings of Scripture. [↩]
Though in this case one side sometimes denies that this is the case, it is more charitable to recognise that both are reading and trying to follow Scripture. Though in this case for both sides the big picture rather than the interpretation of individual passages is usually the driver. [↩]
Or even the comfortable padded seating that serves the “same” function today. [↩]
I plan to consider the terrible ten in another post, as I was surprised to find that I was more positively disposed towards the statements than DeYoung! [↩]
Sadly often without the discernment needed to distinguish “the Spirit” from “my spirit”. [↩]
Facebook reminded me that seven years ago today I was at SBL, and discussing then (via Facebook) with Stephen Garner (who was in Auckland) the values and value of such face to face meetings in this time of digital communications. I still rather like this reflection:
“Ah, yes, ‘being there’ ;)
photo from Bill Heroman via Facebook of Mark Goodacre, snapping Chris Porter, snapped by Sarah Mayo Heroman at #sblaar16
So far paradoxically the only reason for ‘being there’ rather than watching streaming video (with the capacity to ask questions like Dimdim et al.)1 has been meeting people I correspond with daily or weekly on the Internetz, but have not yet encountered in the flesh.
The papers that have been interesting would mainly be better read, with time to reflect and engage,2 David Clines’ Presidential Address was inspiring, but sitting on the floor at the back of the room3YouTube would have been as inspirational… So the deep irony is that SBL is great because I meet people’s fleshly avatars, but that the format means most get met and left, as I or they rush off to the next timetabled timewaster!”
This photo from Fortress Press via Facebook shows some typical SBL behaviours
Meanwhile back in 2016
I think that was the last SBL I attended, the reasons have not been (so much) lack of enthusiasm, for there is an enormous energy boost to delivering a paper to experts in the field and having them listen with more than polite interest, and even engage (briefly, though often positively, with the ideas). Rather now that my airfare and hotel bill (even staying at Day’s Inns and youth hostels US hotels are expensive) are no longer paid for me I have difficulty justifying the expense. I’m sure many of my friends would not agree with this negative assessment, they are extroverts for whom fleeting but vital people contact does not seem to be a reward they receive in the same way at a distance.
But this introvert wishes that a small fraction of what is spent on SBL4 could be siphoned off as a tithe to pay for enriching academic publication platforms to actually encourage engagement.5
Dimdim may still exist, I have not seen it mentioned recently, but such online meeting rooms abound today, and are still often badly used – the effort to attend seems to correlate with the effort made by the organisers far too often! [↩]
Though, of course that would require a change to academic publishing to allow come form of commenting feature, or at least authors’ emails. [↩]
As I was, the room was rightly packed for a highlight of the show. [↩]
Using the initials of the Society as the moniker of the biggest such jamboree for biblical scholars pars pro toto to refer to the whole “conference” parade. [↩]
I cannot now find, and of course I did not bookmark, the depressing post I read earlier this week concerning how few people actually read peer reviewed articles – the author and some of the reviewers excepted – but the number was shockingly small. [↩]
Review of Craig S. Keener and John H. Walton, eds., NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan/Spokane, WA: Olive Tree Bible Software, 2016).
Comment on 2:6 and start of “sidebar”
This review has been affected by circumstances. Firstly Zondervan did not manage to get a hard copy of the work to me, but gave me access to the Olive Tree Android app on my phone. This means I am only commenting on how the phone app works and how the content appears in that format. Second, various life circumstances got in the way and the review is rather later than planned.
The package is intended as a digital representation of a Study Bible and so includes the text of the NIV. However a phone’s small screen does not allow the notes and text to conveniently appear together on the same screen. Bible references in the body text are linked, and touching the linked reference provides the NIV text in a popup. However, the references at the head of each article are not linked in any way to the Bible text they comment. (I was focusing on Amos in preparing this review, so for example the 1:6-8 that precedes and heads the comment on that passage is not a link.) This seems a near significant flaw. However, the Notes and the Bible text are synchronised, so clicking the “library” icon and selecting the NIV opens the Bible in the right place and the reverse, opening the library and selecting the Study Bible opens the notes for that passage (but this needs four touches instead of two to make the back and forth journey).
As just mentioned, Bible references in the text are most usefully links to a popup window. Cross references to material elsewhere in the Study Bible Notes are also links, though in this case the main window jumps. This is probably the best way to handle this, though on one occasion it was most disconcerting when the back button on my phone seemed to have ceased operation. Which meant that my curiosity having got the better of me (causing me to follow such a cross reference) I had to use the Bible browser to re-enter the reference of the passage I was studying in order to return to it.
Pictures and diagrams appear in the text, and when clicked expand to near full screen (and if reading in portrait mode one can turn the phone to see a landscape mode image).
Material that would (I assume) appears as sidebars in the codex edition appears as a block in the body text when the reader reaches the insertion point. It would have offered a more consistent interface to make such blocks links.
So, for example, a lengthy article on “Economic Changes and Social Classes in Eighth-Century BC Israel” appears after the notes on Amos 2:6 while the notes on 2:7 appear only after scrolling through a number of screens of “sidebar” material.
End of sidebar
The content of the notes is useful, explaining issues that many readers will find helpful. The focus is indeed on cultural questions, though occasionally other aspects are mentioned and “cultural” is happily interpreted broadly. This raises questions about such “specialised” Study Bibles, by not mentioning text and translation issues, questions of genre, history, geography, intertextuality… the resource gives an impression of providing a full background to the passage being read, yet in fact may miss vital information. Perhaps in my home group the other members should be armed with an array of otherly-specialised Study Bibles.
Having said this, happily the writers have understood “cultural” in the broadest way, and so when one is reading the string of rhetorical questions in Amos 3:3-8 the probable impact of the series is discussed. While studying Acts in home group I found the notes useful on several occasions – this is probably a better test of the content than my explorations in Amos or Ruth (the books I had planned to base the review on) as I am less familiar with the first-century background.
The scholar in me cried out for references to indicate the source of the information and ideas that were presented. They were probably omitted for much the same collection of reasons as I only provided a bare minimum in the Amos commentary.1
Start of comment on 2:7
I now believe that decision was wrong, and while perhaps in a paper codex Study Bible copious footnotes could have been a distraction in this electronic version they could have been a popup indicated merely by a small icon in or beside the text.
In summary: The work is potentially really useful to most readers of the Bible as a quick easy source of one important sort of background whose lack often impedes full and accurate understanding of biblical texts. The app is a worthwhile addition to any Bible-reader’s phone. It is a pity though that publishers still seem to expend more effort on the design of print codex editions of such works than on the information architecture and interface design of the electronic editions.
The introduction, with its disparaging remarks about Thomas the Tank Engine is a powerful reminder of how far we have come in my lifetime. The first book (in which Thomas did not even appear!) was published on my birthday but three years before I was. Thomas himself is just a couple of years older than I. Back then it was “normal” that women were almost absent from the public space, though the second world war had recently made huge dents in the Kinder, Küche, Kirche ideology so beloved by Adolph Hitler and other male chauvinists across the ages. (Yes, I am looking at you American “Christian Complementarians”.)
That such attitudes still survive (and not only in such classics as Thomas) is a powerful reminder that the battle for gender equality is far from over.
If you are not ideologically-minded and are in a hurry (as many looking for children’s videos are ;) then please skip Thalia’s fine introduction and just point your children to her recommendations – at least you will have done something to stem the waves of male chauvinist indoctrination the US politico-entertainment complex swamps our psyches with each year.