Monthly Archives: September 2006

Hauerwas: Making the World Credible to the Gospel

I had a hard time falling asleep last night, so my typical cure is a theology book. I picked up Willimon and Hauerwas’ book Resident Aliens, a self-described “provocative Christian assessment of culture and ministry for people who know something is wrong.”

Unfortunately, it’s a very compelling, beautifully written book that left my head spinning . . . in a good way.

For someone who has been wrestling with ways to humbly share the good news of the Gospel, Hauerwas and Willimon are solid food. Take this quote for instance. Building on the theology of Karl Barth, they state:

“The theological task is not merely the interpretive matter of translating Jesus into modern categories but rather to translate the world to him. The theologian’s job is not to make the gospel credible to the modern world, but to make the world credible to the gospel” (24).

What a refreshing way to consider Christianity. We go into the world to bring God’s reality and to transform the world.

And if I may backpeddle a little, they also have quite a bit to say about theology and the ways we can botch things up. For example, I was taught in college that Bible study is a three-part process where we understand the ancient world, distill the basic truth, and then recontextualize it into today’s world.

I’m not a fan of this approach for no other reason than the sheer impossibility of such a task. But Hauerwas and Willimon have much more to say:

“The theology of translation assumes that there is some kernel of real Christianity, some abstract essence that can be preserved even while changing some of the old Near Eastern labels. Yet such a view distorts the nature of Christianity. In Jesus we meet humanity, but an invitation to join up, to become part of a movement, a people. By the very act of our modern theological attempts at translation, we have unconsciously distorted the gospel and transformed it into something it never claimed to be–ideas abstracted from Jesus, rather than Jesus with his people” (21).

That is a mouthful, earful, and pageful, but I think this insight is so important. Isn’t it tempting to boil Christianity down to doctrines and principles? It is far too easy to make the Bible into a book of rules that can be clearly followed.

The fact of the matter is the Bible and Jesus are far more concerned with revealing God and uniting us with God. The Bible tells us about God, but it cannot be reduced to simple abstract truth about God.

I love that last line of the quoted section: “Jesus with his people.” That’s so simple and beautiful that we’re bound to mess it up.

Ehrman’s Stand-Up NT Lectures

I’m breezing my way through Dr. Bart Ehrman’s lectures on the News Testament through the learning company and have hit the mid-way point. Here’s what I think so far.

First the mundane: Ehrman is a scholar and a teacher . . . he is most definitely not a comedian.

Imagine you’re watching a baseball game. Randy Johnson is hurling fast balls past the batters at a blistering 95 MPH. And then, as if in an instant, Johnson turns into a squirrelly little 13-year-old little league pitcher who laboriously toes at the dirt, carefully sets his foot in position, initiates an ungainly wind-up, and then lobs a wobbling dud of a pitch that lands with a thud right in front of home plate. After that unreal moment, Johnson quickly returns to the mound.

That’s what Ehrman’s attempts at comedy feel like: long, drawn out, and painful, oh so painful. Perhaps someone like Garrison Keeler could give him some pointers, but until then, drop the jokes please. You’re killing me!

As to Dr. Ehrman’s actual content, I have mixed reviews.

On one hand he’s approaching the Bible as a historian, so he’s trying to find reliable historical information. This means that he sicks upon any contradictions or inconsistencies in the New Testament. So far he’s been pretty rough on the Gospels and the book of Acts. He still sees value in them, but he casts a dark shadow over their historical accuracy.

On the plus side, I felt he did a very good job of literary analysis. He talked about the themes in each book and how each author portrays Jesus. That is helpful for anyone because it shows the Bible isn’t just some strange book about God, miracles, demons, lepers, and commandments. The books of the NT are ancient literary treasures that artfully tell the story of Jesus and the early church.

Of course I would no stop there. Ehrman strikes me as a bit jaded and frustrated toward conservative scholarship. He apparently had enough of that at Wheaton. So when he encounters problems in the Bible, he seems to really hammer the point that discrepancies cannot be reconciled.

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Fall Colors in Shaftsbury, Vermont

The fall colors are coming slowly but surely. You can see the yellows, oranges, and reds up in the mountains and the vines and small trees (especially in wet lands) are turning a brilliant red. It’s hard to capture such faint smatterings of color, but I think the below pictures give a little taste of what’s happening in southern Vermont.

The first is a tree in Shaftsbury just north of North Bennington, the other is a wet land in Shaftsbury to the east of route 7A.

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Rabbits at Christianity Today

Someone on the CT web site actually wrote an article about rabbits, their wonders as house pets, and the cruel ways they are treated today. The article also provides a commentary on today’s culture.

As the owners of pet rabbits, we certainly agree with the article and found it to be true of our experiences. Of course our rabbits have been bad of late, so they’re locked up in their cage. They usually do have free reign of the house though.

Here’s the more entertaining part of the article:

“Few have had the thrill of watching a bunny do the binky—a supreme tribute from rabbits to their creator, as if to shout, with their whole bodies, “God, life is good!” Have you ever witnessed this spur-of-the-moment dance, in which rabbits leap up, spin in mid-air, and land facing the opposite direction—sometimes several times in a row? And how many of us have received the soft little kisses with which these affectionate and social creatures are happy to groom, comfort, and even, if necessary (as is often in my case), wake up their human companions?

Have you seen the way rabbits, upon hearing the soothing voice of their owner, forget the sixth sense inside their heads that warns them, “Be alert, you are, first and foremost, a prey animal! Don’t tease hawks with your white belly!”—and flop over on their side, rolling back their eyes in bliss? How many Playboy bunnies have heard the chatter of a euphoric rabbit’s teeth? Who among the lapin stew epicures has put a rabbit in a trance—his belly up and his lip twitching as he frolics in bunny dreamland, all trust and no fear? And how many touch-starved loners have received the consoling warmth of the velveteen body, propped against their backs or legs? How many pet store owners know the chasm that separates rabbits from rodents? Do they pay attention to the remarkably loud thumps rabbits make when scared or angry?”

And just because you probably are wondering about our rabbits Eva and Bailey:
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Philly Inquirer on Theology

I have to give the Philadelphia Inquirer a hat tip today. There is a tremendous editorial on Pope Benedict’s speach on theology and reason that has been used as grounds for protest and violence.

The author, Christopher Levenick, notes that Benedict’s speech was more about Europe than Islam.

Levenick goes on the summarize the major points of the address, and makes this brilliant observation about the Pope:

“Second, he reflects on the place of reason in Christian theology. Theology, he proposes, must be genuinely intellectually rigorous. A faith that lacks intellectual rigor will either harden into fanaticism or soften in sentimentalism. In either event, it will cease to be authentically Christian. This is not to equate theological rigor with the strict canons of the scientific method. Rather, it means that theology must proceed from the conviction that faith is deepened through, and disciplined by, the human intellect’s unflinching pursuit of understanding.”

Good work.

Weston: A Nice Place to Visit . . . But You Can’t Find Coffee

To see the village of Weston is to like it. A few classic Vermont stores, a beautiful playhouse, an idyllic town green, a bubbling brook and a handful of old homes create cheerful community that is an absolute delight.

During the late weeks of September we enjoyed the transition from Summer to Fall with red, orange, and yellow leaves among the stubborn green leaves who clung to the sinewy branches. The surrounding mountains peeked out behind fog, and the grass exhibited a bright, healthy shine in the midst of intermittent rain.

We pulled into town and parked by the playhouse. A small company of trees and a solitary gazebo adorned the town green that dotted the middle of the circle that encompassed the majority of downtown Weston. Immediately after leaving the central circle, one stumbles upon several shops and galleries, including the Vermont Country Store along Route 100.

I have heard much about the Vermont Country Store, but have known next to nothing about. They have a slogan that rings something like, “Purveyors in the Practical and Hard to Find.” I needed to find out for myself what this icon is all about.
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