Can Jim West pull off his trick?

Jim West has a post which he seems to think defuses one common argument used in debates about issues like gay marriage. He wrote:

If you apply the OT legislation concerning homosexual behavior – that is, a man shall not lie with a man as with a woman, than you have to stop eating shrimp and you have to stop wearing garments of mixed fabrics’.

The problem with this argument is that it fails to distinguish moral law from ritual law.  As such, and as a failure to understand genre, category, and purpose, these arguments are flawed and inappropriate.

Sounds good. Sounds scholarly… But will it work?

To be fair to Jim this is a longstanding and very convenient Christian approach to eating their cake and having it around still too. The problem, gay marriage apart, is that there are a ton of Old Testament laws Christians (even those who claim to be faithful Bible-believers) don’t want to follow. But even more they don’t want to be accused of cherry-picking the Bible – a horrible sin.

Along comes a fine upstanding, grey-bearded biblical scholar (or in view of recent discussion in various places, rabid scholarship hating religious person who happens to spend their life studying and teaching the Bible) and waves a magic wand and the nasty problem goes away. “You no longer have to obey ritual law because it has been anulled by the superior sacrifice of Christ on the cross.” They intone, “But you should still, of course, obey all the moral laws.”

Sounds good, but does it work?

Take Ex 21:22-25 :

22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine.
23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life,
24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Sounds like Christians for the death penalty are onto a good thing? “Oh, no!” interrupts the grey-bearded scholar (or possibly religious bigot in disguise) “That does not apply any more either, civil law is also abolished in Christ.”

Hmm. So, what makes the treatment of disorderly conduct, or slaves civil law and something else moral law? It’s quite simple really. Moral law is about sex and civil law isn’t.


Fairtrade: Coffee, Chocolate & Bananas

Photo by anthony_p_c

Some of you, I hope many, do not need to read this post. Sadly those who flick past will probably be mainly those who DO need to read it :(

When I posted a recipe for some nice Chocolate Muffins (which are actually a sort of moist and juicy cross between muffins and brownies, but that’s another story) on Repentant Carnivores Heather commented suggesting that I should have recommended that people use FairTrade chocolate and cocoa. To my reply that “I just assumed that people would (at least try to) use Fair Trade” she wrote: “Wow! You must move in very different Christian circles from me! I know relatively few Christians who think that such buying decisions have anything to do with their faith (even Christians who are very aware of and concerned about the Majority World)

Fair trade is a Christian issue:

God hates rapaciously greedy oppressors. The prophets and the Old Testament laws had loads to say about the evils of injustice and how God cannot tolerate people who oppress their neighbours. Jesus had some interesting things to say about who our neighbours  might be. Put these together and if our buying in the market (or even supermarket) is done at a price that does not allow the producers to live a decent life we are acting in a manner that God abhors. Whether or not there is any truth in claims that: “God hates fags” it is abundantly clear that God does hate rapaciously greedy oppressors.

The world trade system is rapaciously greedy: Unless it is moderated by consumer choice or government legislation the world trade system in which we operate is rapaciously greedy. (In this post we will ignore legislation, that’s someone else’s business.) Take coffee,  a high proportion of coffee is grown by small farmers,1 they get usually a tiny proportion of the price that the big coffee companies charge for the end product2 these prices hardly cover the cost of production.3 Buying “normally traded” coffee therefore is oppressive and unjust.

For Chocolate and Cocoa the issue is different, there much comes from large plantations, whose owners (Western companies or local elites) make good money, but pay a pittance to their workers, or even if many stories from reputable sources including the US State Department are to be believed use child slaves imported for the work from neighbouring countries. Buying “normal” chocolate products is therefore oppressive and cruel.

For bananas there is a third problem, here most production is from large estates, the monoculture practices of these companies require the use of dangerous chemicals, the companies have often bribed government officials and legislators to ensure that they can continue to expose their workers to these chemicals (and so not lose their commercial edge). Buying “normal” bananas thus endangers the health of the people who worked to grow your banana.

You CAN now (at least in NZ) often find FairTrade coffee at the supermarket – there is no excuse to buy anything else.

You CAN now (at least in NZ) often find cafes that sell FairTrade coffee – there is no excuse to go anywhere else.

FairTrade chocolate and cocoa are less easy to find, a few supermarkets stock them, but often you have to go to a TradeAid shop, or buy online: NZ, or search Google.

Some supermarkets stock fairly traded bananas.

If your supermarket does not stock these products do some Social Media Activism, “social media” is a hot notion among marketers, supermarkets want you to “friend” them on Facebook. Do so. And then post on their wall asking them to stock Fair Trade products. If enough people post on Pak n’ Save’s FB page, they will stock Fair Trade… it’s up to you!

  1. 70% from properties of less than 10Ha. []
  2. Typically less than 10%. []
  3. In 2010 the price was around US$2/pound  according to the International Coffee Organisation. []

Humour in every book in the (Hebrew) Bible

An ironically blond European Moses discovered (Paul Delaroche 1797–1859 Moïse exposé sur le Nil)

I have completed the first (of the three) sections of my response to David’s Funny Stuff in the Bible challenge:

I must confess I was hoping for more help with Leviticus, I am saddened by my listeners’ lack of appreciation of humour, you must be a sombre bunch. Indeed, for Deuteronomy my help camed from a Rabbi, much better at recognising and appreciating humour than most Evangelicals, sadly.

I was fully expecting to fail on Leviticus, however, that hurdle overcome, I am sure the rest will come tumbling out – I’m relying on Miriam to suggest some lighthearted laughs from Lamentations ;)

Theological education: some autobiographical reflections: Childhood

Apparently this is what Guardian Angels look like. (Photo by anslatadams)

It’s a wonder my faith survived (at least until now) the processes and adventures of my theological education.  Perhaps it is a tribute to sovereign and prevenient grace.

I was brought up in a Christian family. At first we were Brethren, then when the local hall closed (lease expired and a carpet seller wanted to move in) my parents having no car, we became Baptist. The church was middle of the roadish for Baptists in the UK at the time. So I remembered later (when I came to read John Robinson’s Honest to God for myself, and thought “how sensible, but surely everyone understands that God – being the creator of everything – can hardly live somewhere in the sky”) a blistering sermon one evening against Robinson and any notion of being “honest to God” about our faith.

However, the big crunch issue for me was Science. From almost as soon as I could read serious books (age 7 or 8 I guess) I was a huge fan of Science. Evolution and its more up to date, and excitingly still being discovered, cousin stellar evolution and the possible Big Bang enthralled me. These ideas made so much good sense, and they were based on evidence and open to discussion.

[Big bangs especially enthralled me, and each Guy Fawkes’ Day my friends and I tried for bigger and bigger ones, using cigar tubes and the gunpowder from fireworks. But that’s another story.]

At church, it seemed to me, I was expected to believe that God made the universe in one week (working on Saturday because making a universe with untold millions of stellar systems was a big job even for God). God even apparently planted fossils and other artworks so as to mislead us into believing that the whole process had taken him many many millions of years. I never understood why God did not want us to know what a big job it had really been, so my first niggles of doubt were born.

It was Religious Education (the only compulsory subject in the UK education system at the time) that planted the deepest questions though. We had an ardent but not very pastoral Anglican priest. He taught us all about some strange characters called J, E D and P  who apparently did Moses out of a job by writing the Pentateuch (but not being God, it took the four of them much more than a week). It was dull stuff, and I did not hear much of it. But one day somehow it got interesting. He spoke warmly about how God gave each of us our very own “Guardian Angel” when we were baptised. That stirred me up, I knew many of my friends were already baptised, and were even soon to be “confirmed”, but I was a Baptist, and not yet legally or in the eyes of the church an adult and so not baptised, yet. (Actually I was still not biologically an adult, but that is another story.)

So I asked the obvious question. “What happens to people who have not been baptised as Anglicans, but who go to other churches?” The reply shocked me. “I suppose God makes some sort of provision for people like that!”  Not that I really expected or wanted my own Guardian Angel, such imaginary creatures hardly fitted into my chrome-plated scientific worldview. But to be called, scornfully “people like that” and in front of a entire class of my peers!

That was it, I was at war with the Anglican Church, and all other forms of superstitious nonsense from that very day.

God as cold-blooded killer

I’ve been podcasting my way through the E100 (100 “essential” Bible readings designed to give a good overview introduction to the Bible). Today we got to Exodus 12: E100-19: Exodus12: A great festival, but a huge theological problem. I faced a dillemma, the podcasts are billed as 5 minute Bible, so I can’t go much over 5:30 for even a difficult passage. This chapter tells the story of Passover, vital stuff, not least (for Christian readers) as the NT takes it up as picture language to speak of what God does for us in Christ. But of course, in telling that it also (inevitably) tells of the killing of the first-born of every Egyptian household, even the animal ones (shades of the Ninevites in Jonah?). So how do I deal with that? How do you talk about God the cold-blooded killer in less than 5 minutes? Or at all?

At least, when many of your listeners are conservative Christians, who believe that the Bible is Word of God, and who do not understand that phrase as “liberally” as you do?

Helicopter gunships in Joel – a plea for help

Photo by Chris M0EEG

My problem is a variant of Lingamish’s, but with existential urgency. He asked about one sort of almost unpreachable text (the vengeance passages in the OT) whether he should not just cut the Gordian knot and hack them from Scripture. I am preaching this Sunday (tomorrow already :(

I have to preach on one of those passages where the vivid pictures cause people to read the Bible as a code book. You know, the helecopter gunships in Joel or the jewels in the priestly breastplate… passages preachers are tempted to read as coded messages. They are two a penny in some parts of the Bible.

My problem is pretty much the usual one, except my topic was announced last month “The Bible is NOT a codebook, it means what it says“. Great idea, right? But how does one of these passages work to preach it straight.


5 As with the rumbling of chariots,
they leap on the tops of the mountains,
like the crackling of a flame of fire devouring the stubble,
like a powerful army drawn up for battle.
6 Before them peoples are in anguish,
all faces grow pale.
7 Like warriors they charge,
like soldiers they scale the wall.
Each keeps to its own course,
they do not swerve from their paths.
8 They do not jostle one another,
each keeps to its own track;
they burst through the weapons and are not halted.

Joel 2:5-8

Is not a prophecy of helecopter gunships in the 20th or 21st century, but of locusts and/or an invading Iron Age army then how is it good news for people in Blockhouse Bay tomorrow?

My problem has greaqter existential urgency as I have a church leadership retreat all day today, so only have a few hours for sermon prep tonight and tomorrow morning, so please help me!
How would YOU preach Exodus 26? Or the beginning of Joel 2?