23 September 2011

Good News

"Forty-two, forty-three, forty-four..."
"Y entonces...?"

Lisbeth, the seven-year-old Hispanic girl I tutor, narrowed her eyes as she thought hard about how to say the character "5" in English. Her little nose crinkled in frustration.
I was struck by the determination Lisbeth had to persevere through her homework, even though she knew very little English. I wondered what it was like for her in school. I imagined her sitting in class while her teacher and all of her classmates freely spoke English. Did she have any friends besides her brothers and sister? Was she lonely?

Snack time. Another youth leader brought a tray of animal crackers and fruit snacks. The younger Hispanic kids eagerly devoured their food, but the oldest stuffed his into his pockets. "Puedo tener mas, por favor?" he asked. At my approval, he took the leftovers and stowed them away. His shorts started sagging and I helped him adjust his belt so he could transport them home.

While the group of kids left the classroom to listen to a Bible story (none of which the Hispanic children could understand), Lisbeth and I continued with her homework sheet ("Tengo que traerle a escuela manana." [I have to bring it to school tomorrow] she said). I overheard one of the leaders from the main foyer talking about how Jesus forgives sin. If Lisbeth could even understand this, would it really be pertinent to her?

Lately, I've been contemplating the idea of "good news." I think that we evangelicals primarily think of "good news" in terms of Jesus coming to forgive sins. While this certainly is good news, I'm not entirely sure that this completely encompasses what is meant by "good news." I'm not even sure if this is what Jesus meant by "good news."
I love the passage in Luke 4 where Jesus goes to the synagogue and chooses a scroll that contains Second Isaiah.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor [Jubilee].

Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.

- Luke 4:18-19, 21; c.f. Isaiah 61:1-2 ff.

Luke uses this passage as a "thesis statement" for the rest of his Gospel. This is strategically placed at the beginning of his account to illustrate Jesus' main interests. And yet, I don’t think that this is a main interest of Western Christianity today. Whenever we find people talking about such things, we accuse them of dabbling in liberation theology. I understand the dangers of liberation theology, but I’m not ready to dismiss it in its entirety. Maybe they’re on to something that we're missing.

The proclamation of release from the bondage of sin may be “good news” for the person who’s struggling with habitual sin, but how is it “good news” for Lisbeth when her family is starving? In addition to her forgiveness of sin, Lisbeth needs to know that God wants to provide for her and her brothers and sister. She needs to know that God speaks her language. She needs to know that God hears her and her mother’s cries for help when everyone else gives a deaf ear and forces them on the fringes of society.

I'm convinced that Jesus' Gospel can be contextualized and translated into each person's/community's situation.

And that’s good news.

13 September 2011

Blender Theology

This past weekend I sat down and read the entire book of John in one setting. It was amazing to read it from start to finish, the way it was meant to be heard/read in the first century. Among many discoveries, one thing that stood out to me was the recurrence of many key words, such as life, truth, love, light, etc.

It got me to thinking: Do I really know what any of these key words mean?

I think that we use these words very carelessly today in Christendom. Public prayers, for example, are filled with them. "Dear Heavenly Father, thank you so much for your grace and your peace and your love... life, hope, faith, truth, joy, goodness... Amen." And then we utter "amen" in agreement without even realizing what they just said. What does that even mean? This is nothing short of the Christianize gibberish I griped about in this post a few weeks ago.

It's almost like our theology surrounding all of these words involves stuffing them all into a blender, pureeing them, and then pouring it back out for consumption.

As I continue to study John's Gospel, I'm looking forward to discovering what all these words mean. They had intrinsic theological significance to the author and recipients back then, and I think they have significance to the faith community now.

08 September 2011


Last night, while tutoring children in the area, one of my friends told the story about Bartimaeus being healed by Jesus. "Jesus healed him, and he could see!" she exclaimed. "Isn't that exciting?"

One of the little boys wasn't very impressed. He shrugged indifferently and said, "Oh, this is a normal story."
I think he meant that this was along the lines of a typical story he heard at church. But, I think he unintentionally made a profound point.

This is a normal story -- for Jesus.

I'm so thankful that the God I serve does these types of things all time. He continues to heal people, calls them from their lives of sin, and urges them to follow him.

Perhaps we need to rethink "normalcy."

07 September 2011

For God's Sake, Think! - Biblical Literalism

"Hermeneutics” is a fancy word to describe the process by which someone interprets the Bible. Every so often I blog about contexts behind certain biblical passages so that we can better understand God’s Word. I invite you to think critically about what the biblical writers are trying to communicate as I explain a passage’s background material.


Bart Ehrman has been a loud voice in New Testament study as of late. His recent book, Misquoting Jesus, claims that scribes actually changed the Bible so that it adhered to their own personal beliefs. People read Ehrman and think that he's the only voice on the issue, when in reality even secular scholars don't like him because of his poor scholarship. How did this man get such a loud microphone? I would argue that it's because he's voicing what our own culture is thinking. We're apprehensive about metanarratives and thus accept the other "marginalized," drowned-out voices from the Pseudepigrapha (books that were not accepted into the Biblical canon). Ehrman is voicing what we want to hear so we listen and accept it.

I would argue, however, that Ehrman does the same thing that he claims the New Testament does - he filters his scholarship through only one perspective. Not only this, but he adheres to the same kind of Biblical literalism he critiques.

Biblical literalism, both on the secular and religious sides, is possibly one of the most dangerous thoughts affecting Christianity today.

The interesting thing about Ehrman is that he began as a very rigid Biblical literalist. He attended Moody and then Wheaton, two schools that push the absolute inerrancy issue. It wasn't until he went to Princeton and came across a textual error in Mark that things went further downhill. He decided that, if the Bible is absolutely and completely inerrant, it cannot be true because he just found an error. Biblical literalism is always all or nothing.

It's really poor scholarship on his part to conclude this when there is such strong textual support for the NT. Here's why:
1. Spelling errors account for three-fourths of the errors. An error, yes, but not problematic.
2. Other errors include variance among manuscripts of synonyms and pronouns.
3. The only errors that are actually meaningful and vital account for 1%. Even then, they don't change our theology too much. For instance, a large portion of this 1% is the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Scholars are sure that this is not original. Without it, do we still know that Jesus is forgiving? Yes. It does not alter our picture of Jesus at all.

Ehrman is wasting his time on these.
The real issue is when we read the Bible and find literary inconsistencies. Christians plug their ears and close their minds, claiming that they must both be true and thus committing logical suicide. Secularists critically point them out and gather them up as further proof that the Bible is not to be trusted.

Like I said before, Biblical literalism on both sides is dangerous.

These two parties are completely missing the point. Literalism is a very modern phenomena that surfaced during the Enlightenment period. The creation story, for instance, was predominantly interpreted figuratively up until the Enlightenment. Augustine was a large proponent of interpreting Genesis 1-2 figuratively. Prior to the Scopes trial, Christians even accepted a figurative rendition of the gap theory so that the Bible could be consistent with scientific, evolutionary findings.

The Bible is a PRE-modern book. Let's read it as such. Let's be faithful to its historical setting. Let's be faithful to its ancient literary style.

We don't have to default to an "all or nothing" theology. God can still be the inspiration behind and imperfect, error-filled book. God can inspire fallible human writers and influence the theology behind their limited, human words.

God is bigger than errors... And his story about his interactions with humankind can still be treated as a beautiful, God-inspired text even if it contains some post-Enlightenment errors.

02 September 2011


When I traveled to Costa Rica and Nicaragua years ago, I listened very carefully to how translators would convert my group's words from English to Spanish. I find translation fascinating. The translator has to first interpret what the speaker is saying and then translate it into another language, all the while doing their best to keep the original meaning.
Occasionally, however, I noticed that the translations weren't always verbatim. An English speaker would say something that maybe (unintentionally) sounded a bit arrogant. Sometimes they would say something ambiguous or inconclusive. When this happened, the interpreter would make changes to the message in Spanish. He made the person sound better and communicated the person's intentions clearer. These translators were skilled with choosing Spanish words and phrases that did a better job at transmitting meaning to the recipients than their English counterparts did.

Now that I know enough Spanish to be dangerous, I find myself doing the same thing while translating. Although I know what the English speakers are saying, if I translate it literally into Spanish it won't make too much sense. I've learned to craft together Spanish words.

Sometimes, I feel like this is what my prayer life is like. I'm learning to think differently about prayer. I'm learning to understand it as encompassing more than just sitting still and mentally talking to God for a duration of time. There are sometimes, though, when I do verbally pray, that I feel at a lost as to what to say. I feel things that can't be conveyed into words. When I do use words, it seems like they're generic and ambiguous. I feel like I'm just talking gibberish (or, even better, just talking "Sunday School talk"... which is... gibberish).

It's frustrating.

It's during these times that I'm reminded that God's Spirit is praying with me.
"[...] The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." - Romans 8:26-27
I think I know what I may need, but God knows me better than I know myself. His Spirit translates my words so that convey meaning better than even I can articulate. God knows my heart, my desires, my fears, my doubts, my goals, and my frustrations.

I'm so thankful that God not only "speaks" my language but also translates it so that it contains deeper significance than I can clearly articulate.