Here’s one of my favourite versions of the Christmas story:
1And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:
2And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
3And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.
4And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.
5And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.
6And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.
7And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
8And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
9And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
10And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.
11And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
12Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.
13And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.
14And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.
15And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.
16And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.
17And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
- Revelations 12
Have you ever felt that conflict inside you where you believe that God can do anything, but that he can’t?
And then someone tells you that you are a bad Christian because you have that conflict and you don’t “Have enough faith?”
This is reality people. Anyone who says otherwise are lying to themselves and to you. I can totally at once believe that Jesus is Lord of the Universe, as well as my personal Saviour and friend, (to use a myriad of Christianese jargon) and I can also not believe that things will change. Simple as that.
And you believe it, too.
To work through this, to move, ultimately, to hope, I’m trying to concentrate on a few things:
Thomas is known as the doubter, because of John 20:
24Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”
26A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”29Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
But no one ever remembers this line, from John 11. Jesus is heading back to Judea, where it is quite possible that he will be killed (he doesn’t -not yet anyway):
16Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Thomas is the first one ready to die for Jesus. No one remembers that one. He didn’t bring the show like Peter; he just decided that he was going all the way with Jesus.
In Acts 12, Peter miraculously escapes prison and goes to a house of people that are praying for his release. When he shows up, people don’t even believe that’s its him, that this must be his angel. (whatever that means)
They were praying precisely for what happened, and didn’t believe it when it did happen.
Finally, one of the most profound prayers in the Bible, found in Mark 9:24:
I believe; help my unbelief.
Jesus had just told the man that he (Jesus) could do all for those who believe. That was his answer. Jesus healed his boy – even revived him from the dead.
If Jesus will do that for that man, with that prayer, I can come with the same prayer and the same hope.
Hope is a tough thing to focus on, but I’m trying.
First Flip Video Entry:
One of my classes this semester is a Text and Interpretation class on Revelation. I haven’t really been that interested in the class, as there is nothing new or particularly shocking being lectured (for me, that is). At most, the thing that has piqued my interest is the literary component of Revelation – it’s various chiastic and repetitive structures that scream Hebrew Literature. I’d be more interested in the idea that Revelation is the summation of the entire OT (and NT) with its 640-odd references to the OT, but I just can’t invest the time to read interpretatively the entirety of the Bible to really understand Revelation at a deep level. Interesting stuff, but nothing that has really hit me in the head to change my mind.
Until today, I’ve been what you could call a preterist. That is, I believed that Revelation was primarily written to be a polemic against Rome for the persecuted Church in Asia Minor. Everything that is in Revelation concerning Powers, Oppresion and Evil can fit well into Roman Empire. My professor has been trying to get across to the class that Revelation is timelessly written, with next to no temporal prophecy involved, framed within Rome as the ultimate evil to which we wage holy war with our weapons of praise, suffering, and witness. After class today, that has changed.
In Revelation 17, we learn of the woman, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots. Rome, right? Babylon is code for Rome, right? Wrong. Throughout all of the OT, and all of our salvation-historical narrative history, Babylon was code for something older: Babel, the first worldly power that tried to overthrow God. Babel/Babylon is then every world power that has been mentioned in the OT: Tyre, Sidon, Assyria, Persia, Macedonia, Babylon, Rome, Egypt, etc. On top of that, its crucial to see that Revelation’s Babylon is a mother of harlots – more Babylons. So here’s the thing, this isn’t the first Babylon, and it certainly isn’t the last. Rome is irrelevant.
This is far more polemical than before. Instead of acknowledging (though condemning and judging) the powers of Rome, Revelation casts aside Rome as just another temporary world power.
Revelation is about being a faithful witness through persecution by the powers of the World, which will lose in the end to the power of God.
Revelation just got interesting.
If you recall, the first point of Bebbington’s quadrilateral is biblicism: a particular regard for the Bible (e.g. all spiritual truth is to be found in its pages). But that was then, and this is now. My interpretation of the first point of the quadrilateral is biblicism, a particular regard for an ahistorical, context-free reading of the Bible. Here’s why I think so.
I see over and over (especially within the more ‘spirit-filled’ churches) a push for young evangelicals and new Christians to not exercise the brain in interpreting scripture, but to rely on ‘what the Spirit is telling you through the text.’ To answer the critics who will attack me (though not in the comments – that would be ok), I’m not trying to bash the Spirit – what I am bashing is the idea that individualism rules over biblical interpretation. Ours is a communal faith that requires us to learn from our elders and teachers; reader-centric, ‘Spirit-filled’ readings of the Bible strip us of the accountability we need as responsible Christians.
This individualist interpretation is rooted in the idea that the stories, letters, and songs found in the scriptures were written to us, right now, today, in Canada/U.S./England/Paraguay/Wherever you may be. This is wrong. Two of the best classes I have ever taken in any educational context were Survey of the Hebrew Scriptures with Dr. Stan Walters and Survey of the New Testament with Steve Thomson. I learned two things above all else from these men: that the Bible wasn’t written to us, but merely for us; and that the Scriptures are our holy texts, not the stories held within. Let me hash out these ideas:
The Bible wasn’t written to us, but merely for us. Many people hear that the Bible is ‘God’s love letter to Christians.’ That’s nice, but it’s tripe; the Bible is so much more than that. The Bible is an amalgamation of 2500-odd years of storytelling, meticulously written to be presented to very specific followers of the (now fully-revealed) Trinitarian God, whom we serve. To really understand what God was telling them, and from which we can derive what God is telling us, we need to know their contexts. I once read that text without context is pretext. How very true. This is not an easy thing to do, but I’ll get to solutions further down the page.
The Scriptures are our holy texts, not the stories held within. To go along with the above point, it is imperative that we remember that the texts we take as our Scriptures are more than the sum of the narratives held within: even the grammar of it all should be Holy to us. As I’ve studied 2 years of Greek and now into my 2nd year of Hebrew, I am finding that both languages are ridiculously complex, compared to lazy, boring English. Not only that, but the authors of both the OT and the NT are working in genres that are so much more complex than what we regularly deal with in our contemporary settings. Hebrew Parrallelism is pretty much mind-blowing, and don’t even get me started on the 14-odd translatory values of the Genitive case in Greek.
So why does this sound so new? Context? Grammar? Here’s what I think happened – I think that these were understood en masse by Christians in the early days of Christianity. These things were taught as tools for the interpretative process until the centralization of power by Rome’s new pet religion and the Dark Ages led into a knowledge choke-point for the people. Scholarship has been playing catch-up ever since, and really only gaining ground since archaelogy hit the ground running. Since then, it seems most pastors tend towards using the Bible as proof-text to help their congregations get through life, without really wrestling with the hard questions found within. In turn, they intuitively teach their congregations that reading the text emotionally (what they would call, ‘in the Spirit’) is how one finds the 3-point sermons of living life in Canada in the 21st Century.
Solution? It’ll be hard, but I think that those who are trained in this stuff (pastors, I’m looking at you) need to disseminate it in real, educationally-viable ways. We need to walk away from easy proof-texting to tell people how to live life and step into the dirty ground of teaching how to fully read a bible, with helps like commentaries and dictionaries and study bibles (NOT the Life Application Bible) – which will lead into some really hard questions, but I think will also lead into deeper, richer faiths for Evangelicals everywhere. For all those non-pastors out there, start by picking up a good commentary (e.g. Anchor Bible Series, NIV Commentary) and just using that as a help – a written mentor to help show you how to really read the Bible for all its worth, without having to rely on our fickle emotions of the time to influence how we think the Spirit is talking to us.
Next on the docket for Evangelicalism: the regard for Christ’s atoning work…as fire insurance.