Category: Bible Study

Noah's ark as genocide

Sermon: A Beautiful Useful Mess (Scripture)

This sermon was from May 6, 2018, continuing a series going through the Mennonite Confession of Faith.

Readings: Confession of Faith article 4; 2 Timothy 3:14-17

Intro: An Embarrassing Book

When Ann introduced this confession of faith series back in January, she mentioned how she was embarrassed by some parts of the confession of faith [Ann helped write it and spoke about that experience]. All I could think about at the time was “crap, I just signed up to talk about the Bible.” If the confession is embarrassing, just wait until we read what the bible has to say sometimes. And with the confession we can at least always say that it was just humans who wrote it. With the Bible, we’re claiming that all this embarrassing and often extremely problematic content was breathed out by God.

I’m convinced that if somebody simply rewrote books of the Bible in modern language and published it under a different name, most Christian bookstores would refuse to carry it because of all the violence and sex and sometimes swearing. Game of Thrones would be tame in comparison.

We definitely wouldn’t be marketing that book for kids, like this one, my first Bible, the “Kid’s Application Bible”.

Poster for Hidden Figures

The Gospels, Hidden Figures, and Strength in Diversity

Poster for Hidden FiguresDuring January of each year, our church brings in a biblical scholar to teach through a book. This year is Matthew. In the first adult Bible Study last week, Tom Yoder Neufeld covered many introductory topics, including his explanation of the layers that go into each Gospel: Jesus, the oral history, the compiler, and so on. He also talked about how there was an effort in the early church to compile into one Gospel, which was soundly rejected. That left me thinking: Why? If the goal is strictly to convey the story of Jesus, doing it as a single story would have made a lot of sense. I don’t think that’s the whole goal, though.

Hidden Figures

This weekend, we went to see Hidden Figures. It is a fantastic movie from any objective measure, now picking up some Academy Award nominations, but one particular theme stood out to me and two scenes that really captured this theme.


Unprotected Texts by Jennifer Wright Knust

Unprotected TextsUnprotected Texts by Jennifer Wright Knust seeks to make a biblical analysis of various topics related to sex. In general, it’s academically rigorous but very accessible and I would recommend it, although some sections definitely dragged on more for me than others. The topics themselves were definitely interesting. Some I had learned more about in my own studies, particularly the current cultural controversies. Others tackled questions I hadn’t even thought to ask. The chapters:

  1. The Bible and the Joy of Sex, texts like Song of Songs that view sex as a good thing
  2. Biblical Marriage, the complicated and varying definitions of marriage in the Bible
  3. The Evil Impulse, particularly Jesus and Paul’s call to celibacy
  4. Sexual Politics, the inconsistent rules against certain types of sex
  5. Strange Flesh, the one consistent sex rule: no sex with angels
  6. Bodily Parts, circumcision and genital emissions

Some people are probably squirming just reading that list since a small portion of the Western church (and culture in general) are actually willing to talk about sex. That makes this book extra important if only for its willingness to be honest and comprehensive about what the Bible actually says: a fair bit, but probably not what you think or as clearly as you think.

Giza Pyramids

Lazy Slaves?

I couldn’t help but see some present day parallels with the Old Testament text in my daily lectionary reading for today:

10The slave bosses and the men in charge of the slaves went out and told them, “The king says he will not give you any more straw.11Go and find your own straw wherever you can, but you must still make as many bricks as before.”

12The slaves went all over Egypt, looking for straw.13But the slave bosses were hard on them and kept saying, “Each day you have to make as many bricks as you did when you were given straw.”14The bosses beat the men in charge of the slaves and said, “Why didn’t you force the slaves to make as many bricks yesterday and today as they did before?”

15Finally, the men in charge of the slaves went to the king and said, “Why are you treating us like this?16No one brings us any straw, but we are still ordered to make the same number of bricks. We are beaten with whips, and your own people are to blame.”

17The king replied, “You are lazy—nothing but lazy!

Tissot - the Golden Calf

Syrian Refugees and the Israelite Exodus

An interesting story about some Syrian refugees in Toronto has been making the rounds, discussing how many are beginning to feel hopeless stuck in their hotels waiting to be processed. The article specifically refers to the hotel used as a case as a “budget hotel.” This probably means small rooms crammed with large families, bland and repetitive food, being unable to talk to anybody without knowing English, and being unable to even take your kids outside because it’s not like you could pack winter boots with you from Syria (it’s been a mild winter, but they would still need some winter clothing).

Some people are responding by basically telling them to shut up and stop whining. They’ve made it this far, escaping war and probably years in refugee camps with worse conditions. I can sympathize with that a little bit. In the big picture, another maximum 2 months crowded in a budget hotel is not a huge deal after years it took them to get there. But that also doesn’t really do justice to what they’re going through. Take a moment to imagine you’ve escaped war, took a long journey, spent 3 years in a refugee camp, got the exciting news that you have been approved to come to Canada where you can finally create a life for your children… then you get here and you’re stuck in a 200 square foot room with those four young children 24 hours a day, eating the same bulk processed food every day, your kids can’t play, you can’t talk to anyone except other refugees, and you have no idea when you’ll be allowed to leave.

Poussin, Nicolas - The Victory of Joshua over the Amalekites

Barbs in Your Eyes

There are many “texts of terror” in the Bible, mostly in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) but you can find some challenges in the New Testament, too. The biggest challenge often comes when noticing that God apparently orchestrates genocide against the Canaanite people at the hands of the Israelites. One of these texts appear in Numbers 33:55-56, including the rationale for the extinction (NIV)

55 “‘But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. 56 And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them.’”

Christians in the modern Western world tend to read this prescriptively: God is ordering genocide because God is afraid that these other people will corrupt Israel. I’ve discussed elsewhere how we can talk about whether or not God actually did command this and why if so, but I want to step past that for a different aspect of the text this time.

Gerard van Honthorst - Adoration of the Shepherds (1622)

Christmas Without Incarnation

This past Christmas I noticed something: a lot of Christians talk about Christmas without talking about the incarnation, at least not in any meaningful way. This can be from conservatives or liberals (usually the terms theologically, not politically). For conservatives, it most often appears by way of talking about the incarnation as nothing more than a first step in getting to the cross where the real work happens. That’s a problem. The cross was a big part of what the earliest Christians wrote down as “the Gospel” but there’s a lot of other stuff in there, too.

I’m going to focus on the liberal side today, though. Liberals do this more by abstracting away the Christmas narrative into a good inspirational story. To be clear, there are a lot of important details in the Gospels about the birth of Jesus that provide important social commentary. The shepherds being included is a big deal because they were generally not welcome in the upper echelons of society, much like we look down on many blue-collar professions today. The magi were from farther East – probably something like modern day Iran – and were astrologers, a profession explicitly forbidden in the Law and probably associated with another religion.

Movie Theatre

Bringing Balance to the Force

A Facebook conversation with a fellow Star Wars nerd reminded me of one of my annoyances in the prequels. If you’ve seen the movies, you probably remember the prophecy that somebody – who turned out to be Anakin – would bring balance to the Force. That’s it that we ever hear about the prophecy itself. One thing I never got is why the Jedi would assume that “bringing balance to the Force” meant anything good for them. They, practitioners of the light side of the Force, have been in power for centuries or millenia (I’m a little fuzzy on my pre-history). Wouldn’t it be logical that balance would mean the light finally losing its power to the dark? I’ve never been able to think about what else it could possibly mean. We left the conversation by essentially saying that the Jedi probably didn’t have any idea what the prophecy meant, and yet they assumed repeatedly that it would be great for them.

Reading the Bible

Which gets me to a key point that applies to biblical interpretation and faith in general: we, those in power, tend to assume that everything in the galaxy is working to help us out in particular.

Holy Shift Tour Logo

Holy Shifts and Sexual Ethics

Today’s daily lectionary reading was Deuteronomy 22:13-30. I won’t copy the whole text here, but these are the key points:

  1. The onus is on a woman to prove her virginity. This is already problematic that her life is dependent on her virginity, but it becomes even more problematic when you consider that the test isn’t reliable; women don’t always bleed the first time she has sex. If she didn’t bleed on her wedding night, she is killed.
  2. If it turns out she has been falsely accused, the man is whipped and pays a fine to the bride’s father. In other words, slandering your wife in a way that risks putting her to death carries less of a punishment than maybe having had sex before the wedding night.
  3. If a man has sex with an engaged or married woman in the town and she is not screaming for help, they are both put to death. The assumption here is that if she isn’t willing, she would scream for help. What if she simply goes into shock and doesn’t know what to do? What if he’s strong enough to keep her mouth covered? Who determines whether she screamed loud enough to prove she didn’t want it?
Political Spectrum Horseshoe

Liberal and Conservative: Insufficient Labels

The labels of “conservative” and “liberal” Christianity are becoming less and less useful. For that matter, the labels of “conservative” and “liberal” politics aren’t really even that useful. To demonstrate, in my seminary and the church I was attending at the time, I was definitely a “conservative”; in many of my interactions now, I am definitely a “liberal.” My views haven’t substantially changed, just who is doing the judging.

Ways I am a “Conservative”

I have a very high view of Jesus. I see Jesus as Lord (meaning practically following his teachings and example), as fully God, and as fully human.

I have a high view of the Bible. I believe it is useful for teaching Christians about following Jesus. I believe it is completely true and trustworthy in accomplishing its self-identified purpose of pointing us to Jesus.

I believe in spiritual forces, both good and evil, active in the world today. I believe this spiritual warfare is happening around us.