Monthly Archives: April 2007

Reviewing 2 Single-Malts

I’ll come straight out with it: I think single-malt scotch whisky is the most perfect, most divine, most satisfying distilled spirit to ever grace this planet. My “Bachelor (un)Party” centered around tasting and educating myself with a range of scotches… in moderation over a period of many hours, of course! I’ve had a sentimental attachment to certain distilleries’ offerings since then. One of my favorites is Oban, a potent whisky from the Western Highlands distilling region in Scotland. West Highland scotches tend to have an earthy/peaty quality in the aroma, and a taste that starts off sweet and leaves you with a dryish, peppery finish. A related single-malt is Talisker, about which someone said, “Talisker is not a drink, it is an interior explosion, distilled central heating; it depth charges the parts, bangs doors and slams windows. There’s nothing genteel about Talisker.” Wheee!

So last night, I said goodbye to my beloved bottle of Oban, finishing its last ounces off in a side-by-side comparison with a new single-malt that I picked up with some birthday money, a Glenfarclas. Below are my tasting notes, taken with assistance from a great site,

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Emergent (un)dialogue

I’m not a hardcore disciple of the emergent church. I think there’s a ton of beauty and a lot of honest intention among guys like Tony Jones, Tony Campolo, Brian McLaren, etc. I don’t always agree with them on everything, but they’re on the right track. So when someone takes cheap shots at them or at the movement, I feel obligated to throw in my 2 cents.

I spent some time Friday discussing “emergent church” stuff with another blogger. Originally, I stumbled across his post that sharply critiques the emergent church. The only problem was that I felt the complaints were based on poor reasons or misconceptions. So first, you should read the original post. … … … … Ok, have you gone and read it? Good.

I left him a comment, but he has to approve (censor?) it before it shows up with his post. So just in case I get censored and he refuses to publish contrary opinions, I have cut-and-pasted my submitted comment below. Please make sure you’ve read the original post, so you see I’m trying to be even-handed and not misquote anyone. I’m not trying to trash this dude, but I really do think that he brings up some discussion-worthy points, and it would be a shame to have his post canonized for lack of discussion.

Like I said, I’m not a die-hard emergent, but I think they’re doing a lot right, and I don’t like to see them get unfairly bashed.

Without further ado, my comments on the original post (you did read it, didn’t you?):

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Thesis #6

6. Faithful interpretation of scripture invites and presupposes participation in the community brought into being by God’s redemptive action — the church.

Scriptural interpretation is properly an ecclesial activity whose goal is to participate in the reality of which the text speaks by bending the knee to worship the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Through scripture the church receives the good news of the inbreaking kingdom of God and, in turn, proclaims the message of reconciliation. Scripture is like a musical score that must be played or sung in order to be understood; therefore, the church interprets scripture by forming communities of prayer, service and faithful witness. The Psalms, for example, are “scores” awaiting performance by the community of faith. They school us in prayer and form in us the capacities for praise, penitence, reflection, patient endurance and resistance to evil.

What does “participation in the community” entail? Does it require particular creedal or sacramental understanding? At what point does a community lose its status as an identifiably Christian community? How does the disunity of the church affect the interpretation of scripture?

Earlier on, in my T4 post, I confessed to having to fight off worries about affirming multiple meanings for a passage within scripture. And I think a large part of what was troubling me was the fear T4 –by itself– releases rogue christianizers to run wild with interpretations to suit their own agendas. T6 balances out those worries though.

On the whole, T6 fits right in with the collected theses. Some of the other ones have been “oh, yeah, that’s great, but I might not sense something missing if it wasn’t among the nine.” Not so for T6. Absolutely integral.
One thing where the authors could have been more pointed is where they say, “Through scripture the church receives the good news of the inbreaking kingdom of God.” More accurately, I think it’s through scripture the church receives the good news that they are the inbreaking kingdom of God. A community of believers in faithful dialogue about scripture is the only way the kingdom of God is going to break into our culture and society. I agree that scripture is essential to inform us of our role in reconciliation, in taking part in this inbreaking (an outward focus, basically). But an equally important role scripture serves is to tell us how to be that community in the first place (an inward focus). I know that being a community is an essential in the inbreaking, but it’s not just and ends to a means. Being community is intrinsically important, even if there’s –by some miracle– no reconciliation left to facilitate.

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Thesis #5

5. The four canonical Gospels narrate the truth about Jesus.The Gospels, read within the matrix of scripture from Genesis to Revelation, convey the truth about the identity of Jesus more faithfully than speculative reconstructions produced by modernist historical methods. The canonical narratives are normative for the church’s proclamation and practice.
How are the four portraits of Jesus related to one another? To what extent are historical investigations necessary or helpful in understanding Jesus? How is the entirety of scripture necessary to an accurate portrayal of Jesus? To what extent is a right understanding of the whole of scripture necessary to an appropriate understanding of the identity of Jesus?

Prima facie, Thesis #5 is a pretty easy one to accept. T5 echoes a foundational orthodox truth that many Christ-followers probably just “grow up with.” Many of us never even thought to question this truth until an author by the name of Brown wrote that little novel about some DaVinci guy and his code. Etymology, though not a be-all-end-all reason, points us to affirming T5 as well. The term gospel comes to us from Old English (that of Beowulf but not quite Chaucer, in use from ca. 450-1100 A.D.). The OE expression god-spell (roughly “good tidings“) became slurred into our current term gospel. And god-spell is a pretty accurate translation of the Greek euangelion (eu, good, -angelion, message). So, Christians calling the first four books of the canonical New Testament the “gospel” isn’t a newly invented conspiracy by the (ir)Religious Right or a bunch of pomo narrativists. The belief in a concise anthology of the stories of Christ traces back fifteen-hundred years, the element of story has been in our term for that anthology forever. I dunno, I guess I’m just an etymology nerd. And there’s beauty in the establishedness and archaity of one damn good story.

Matt’s post.

How are the four portraits of Jesus related to one another? Well, the obvious response is that they each point to Jesus. They each tell his story. They each convict me in areas where I’m failing to love as he did. To try to come up with something really deep isn’t necessary; I’ll do that when I’ve got my adulterous eyes and murderous mind completely held in check. To what extent are historical investigations necessary or helpful in understanding Jesus? Necessary? Not very. Helpful? Definitely, and so interesting! Also, if we want to paint a comprehensive context in which to introduce people to Jesus and his message, these investigations have lots of potential. But, telling the story of Jesus in history and in one’s own life is not something that requires a deep academic knowledge of the context surrounding Jesus. How is the entirety of scripture necessary to an accurate portrayal of Jesus? Since Jesus was such a good guy, we like to picture him always neatly and royally dressed. But a casual reading of a certain prophet whose name begins with “I” debunks this image. Now, Jesus’ appearance is a minor issue. But it’s an example of material outside the Gospels contributing to a more accurate depiction of Christ. To what extent is a right understanding of the whole of scripture necessary to an appropriate understanding of the identity of Jesus? Very. Christ’s work and his identity are still important, and do indeed open the Kingdom to us. But just focusing on Christ’s divinity and saving sacrifice really misses the point. Be a whole, a mature Christ-follower and get to know the big picture of God’s involvement among us.

Thesis #4

4. Texts of scripture do not have a single meaning limited to the intent of the original author. In accord with Jewish and Christian traditions, we affirm that scripture has multiple complex senses given by God, the author of the whole drama.
The authors and editors of the canonical texts repeatedly gave new contexts and senses to earlier traditions, thereby initiating the process of discerning multiple senses within the text. The medieval “fourfold sense” is a helpful reminder of scripture’s multivalence. The church’s traditions of biblical interpretation offer models and guidance about how the fuller sense of scripture should be understood. This does not entail a rejection of historical investigation of biblical texts. Indeed, historical investigations have ongoing importance in helping us to understand scripture’s literal sense and in stimulating the church to undertake new imaginative readings of the texts.

How, then, do we learn from modern historical interpretations of scripture while also drawing on the church’s premodern traditions of biblical interpretation? Should either modern or premodern traditions be privileged in the church’s reading of biblical texts? What criteria ought to be employed to provide some determinacy to the interpretation of particular texts?

First, I need to come out of the closet and confess that I’m still moving past a stage where theses like this one send up a red flag. Among the thoughts that I fight off: So… you just want to pave the way for anyone to interpret Scripture to fit their own agenda, and say that it is just as correct as an established orthodox interpretation, right? But I think this is a crappy attitude to have if you’re serious about living in vibrant community with other Christ-followers. Yes, people do suck; they have (min)interpreted –and will continue to (mis)interpret– Scripture to advance an agenda. But really, when I think about it, I have to affirm that the Kingdom is founded on principles of grace-permeated disagreements, of charity in debate, of trust for pure intentions, of hope for reconciliation. So should be our faith communities here on earth. Grace allows room for –but does not endorse– heretics. It’s uncomfortable, but the converse of allowing for multiple interpretations (i.e. ruling doctrine with an iron fist) is definitely antithetical to building the Kingdom on Earth. I remember beginning to deal with this tension when Matt brought up the topic of a theo-wiki approach, modeled for instance, by IKON over in Ireland. So, bottom line, I affirm T4. :-)

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Thesis #3

Sorry about the delay… here it is:

3. Faithful interpretation of scripture requires an engagement with the entire narrative: the New Testament cannot be rightly understood apart from the Old, nor can the Old be rightly understood apart from the New. The Bible must be read “back to front” — that is, understanding the plot of the whole drama in light of its climax in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This suggests that figural reading is to be preferred over messianic proof-texting as a way of showing how the Old Testament opens toward the New. Yet the Bible must also be read “front to back” — that is, understanding the climax of the drama, God’s revelation in Christ, in light of the long history of God’s self-revelation to Israel. Against the increasingly common contention that Christians should interpret “the Hebrew Bible” only in categories that were historically available to Israel at the time of the composition of the biblical writings, we affirm that a respectful rereading of the Old Testament in light of the New discloses figurations of the truth about the one God who acts and speaks in both, figurations whose full dimensions can be grasped only in light of the cross and resurrection. At the same time, against the assumption that Jesus can be understood exclusively in light of Christian theology’s later confessional traditions, we affirm that our interpretation of Jesus must return repeatedly to the Old Testament to situate him in direct continuity with Israel’s hopes and Israel’s understanding of God.

How is ‘figuration” related to traditional understandings of allegory and typology? How do we honor claims about the centrality of Christ while honoring the abiding significance of Israel? How do we deal with New Testament texts that appear to say that Israel has been rejected by God and superseded by the church?

The main part, the bold text, makes pretty common sense to me. Should it challenge me? I guess it challenges someone, and that’s good. Anyway…

About reading front-to-back: On its own, Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia is a wonderful manifesto against legalism. But even a rudimentary understanding of Jewish culture (gleaned from the OT) greatly illuminates Galatians, and makes its messages all the more pointed away from debunking legalism and instead pointing toward grace. Opposing legalism is great, but promoting grace is better. Just the basic issue of ‘Do you want to be known for what you oppose, or what you endorse?’

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Thesis #2

I’ve been trying to come up with some sort of witty comment to introduce today’s post. Oh well. This is the second day of the joint blogging project Matt and I are doing. From here on out, I’ll refer to the theses like this: Thesis #1 = T1. Here’s T2:

2. Scripture is rightly understood in light of the church’s rule of faith as a coherent dramatic narrative.

Though the Bible contains the voices of many different witnesses, the canon of scripture finds its unity in the overarching story of the work of the triune God. While the Bible contains many tensions, digressions and subplots, the biblical texts cohere because the one God acts in them and speaks through them: God is the author of scripture’s unity for the sake of the church’s faithful proclamation and action.

How are nonnarrative portions of scripture to be understood in light of the claim that scripture is a coherent dramatic narrative? How do we understand the character of the Bible’s unity in and through its polyphony? The character of God’s speech through scripture? Of God’s authorship? How do we understand particular texts that seem theologically or morally problematic — does God speak through all the texts of scripture?

I’ve gotta say that it’s harder to get started on this one… I suppose it’d be best to start by saying that I see T2 coincidentally expanding on my thoughts from T1 about ‘Scripture as truth.’ The comment stream from the T1 post touched on the “tension” mentioned above in T2. The varying creation accounts in Genesis represent one such tension. It probably also represents at least a couple voices of the “many different witnesses” from whom we hear all across Scripture.

What if the Bible didn’t contain all those “many tensions, digressions and subplots?” Would it be nearly as interesting to read? I’m not saying the Bible’s purpose is to entertain us, but really, aren’t we by very nature attracted to things that don’t quite make sense? It’s like Bambi and Die Hard all rolled up into one. If Scripture was nothing but Bambi stories, really, would you read it? And if it was all Die Hard, it might even fall victim to banishment due to all the criticism of excessive violence in culture these days. That there are the Bambi moments our hearts crave, balanced with the Die Hard plotlines that never fail to pique our interest points to the Author knowing his reader-base.

  • How are nonnarrative portions of scripture to be understood in light of the claim that scripture is a coherent dramatic narrative? I’m going to assume that something like the Psalms are what’s being referred to as ‘nonnarrative.’ I enjoy –as well as benefit from– the flashbacks in LOST (except Nikki & Paulo), don’t you? Well, I think these nonnarrative portions of the canon are like emotional flashbacks. We get a snapshot of how David was feeling when he was in that whole mess with Bathsheba. The passive Nonnarrative portions undoubtedly enrich the active story woven through Scripture. And it all clearly shows God’s hand moving among us.
  • How do we understand the character of the Bible’s unity in and through its polyphony? The character of God’s speech through scripture? Of God’s authorship? Can the polyphony, by nature of itself, point to God’s authorship? Kind of like what I was saying before… would you really have as easy of a time diving into Scripture if it was totally homogeneous in theme, literary structure, tone, etc.? So, I’m going to venture to say that the Bible draws its unity from the fact that everything bears the stamp of the Master Author, One who knows better than to write a book that is completely the same all the way through; Scripture’s unity comes from its intentional polyphony.
  • How do we understand particular texts that seem theologically or morally problematic — does God speak through all the texts of scripture? Good question. I have a foundational faith that just as God was active in the recording of Scripture, He was active in the canonization of Scripture. He was with those men early on, at the Council of Jamnia; and later on, the Seven Ecumenical Councils, etc. I have to trust that what occupies the pages of my Bible today is in there for a reason. At the moment, I don’t know if I have any other thoughts on that question. I’ll chew on it for a while, and I’ll go ahead and get the rest of this stuff posted now.

What God is doing….

“And this wise man asked me to stop. He said, “Stop asking God to bless what you’re doing. Get involved in what God is doing — because it’s already blessed.”


Bono Illustration courtesy Plain Joe Studios via Mike Foster

Do you chat using MSN?

If you have an MSN screen-name, you can use Windows Live Messenger to raise money for all sorts of causes across the globe. Microsoft has started this initiative called “i’m”, and basically, every time you start a conversation using i’m, Microsoft shares a portion of the program’s advertising revenue with some of the world’s most effective organizations dedicated to social causes.

If you’re a person of faith, this is such a perfect way to empower your normal day-to-day actions to “reach out to the homeless and the loveless in their plight” (cf. James 2:27).

To get started, you just specify which org you want i’m to contribute to in the Options menu in Windows Live Messenger. No additional personal info to provide. Then, any time you have an i’m conversation, Microsoft donates to the issues you feel most passionate about, including poverty, child protection, disease, and environmental degradation.

It’s simple. Do it. Go here to sign up.

My i’m conversations benefit the Red Cross. Who will you help?

Thesis #1

It’s Tuesday. So it’s time to share some thoughts and brew on some questions about Thesis 1 of this humble project Matt and I are engaged in (read his post Thesis #1 here). Just to review, we’re discussing an article, “Learning to Read the Bible Again: 9 Theses on Interpreting Scripture.” Here’s today’s thesis:

1. Scripture truthfully tells the story of God’s action of creating, judging and saving the world.

God is the primary agent revealed in the biblical narrative. The triune God whom Christians worship is the God of Israel who called a people out of bondage, gave them the Torah, and raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. This same God is still at work in the world today. God is not a projection or construct of human religious aspiration. Readers who interpret the biblical story reductively as a symbolic figuration of the human psyche, or merely as a vehicle for codifying social and political power, miss its central message. Scripture discloses the word of God, a word that calls into existence things that do not exist, judges our presuppositions and projects, and pours out grace beyond our imagining.

For ongoing discussion: How is the biblical story of God’s action related to God’s continuing work in the contemporary world? How is the affirmation that God is at work in the world to be related to widespread evil and human suffering?

To start, I see a few things that require affirmation; certain elements of Thesis 1 cannot be overemphasized. First, Scripture is true. We can argue till we’re blue in the face about (in)errancy, but at the end of the day, I have peace knowing that Scripture is true. Unbiased and complementary sources all throughout history tell us the people are real, the places are real, the events are real. (I say “unbiased” with the realization in mind that most historians have to pick and choose what they publish… but it would have to be the biggest conspiracy in history for all these nonreligious writers to collectively reinforce an invented history.) The second big piece: God acts in this world. I have to respectfully disagree with Thomas Jefferson and his fellow Deists when I say God is not the Distant Watchmaker. Woohoo for you, Russell, you might say sarcastically, that sure is a lofty affirmation. But it is! A being acting among us who is characterized by even half of what we know God to be is simply incredible. And I think the theses’ authors are on to something when they mention “the divine imagination.” How crazy that there was a “covenant between the Creator of heaven and earth and an old man named Abraham.” Or one of the ultimate ironies: “the formation of a nation of priests out of a band of runaway slaves.” I mean, left to our own devices, we just don’t come up with stuff like that. As Charlie Murphy said in the “Prince” skit on The Chapelle Show: “I mean, there are some great storytellers in this world, but who the *@&# can make that kind of [stuff] up?” And so God’s design and story being played out (not to mention that it all happens in our midst) is simply amazing! The Bible is not a tool for backing up one’s agenda. Scripture should indeed direct our action, but this whole business of taking the Bible piecemeal, quoting this passage here and that snippet there has just got to stop. I want to note that I know this isn’t always cut-and-dry though. Personally, I do indeed appeal to Scripture when explaining why we should do more to help the impoverished. But isn’t that a broad theme found all across the Bible? It’s in the Torah, it’s in the Minor Prophets, it’s in the Major Prophets, it’s in Jesus’ message, it’s in the Epistles. So just because God once smote some unrepentant practicing homosexuals doesn’t mean you and I are empowered to do so for the rest of time. Basically, the whole of Scripture should be our guide. Can Greenpeacers who destroy private property or extreme right-wingers who act hostilely against the abortion industry honestly tell me that their actions can be found all across the whole themes of Scripture? I personally don’t think so. How can use destruction be a mean to the end of living out our role that comes with being made in the Creator’s image?

Now for the thesis’ accompanying questions… this is where we dialog. So please don’t read my responses assuming I’ve got it all figured out.

  • How is the biblical story of God’s action related to God’s continuing work in the contemporary world? God is steady. He continues to create, judge, and save… just as he has for thousands of years. I think the biblical story is related to God’s presence among us today in that He has given us a pretty good idea of how He operates (don’t misinterpret that as meaning ‘we have God all figured out by now’), and it’s our job to come alongside what He’s up to. We are to take inspiration and direction from the lonnnnng narrative of God’s interaction with our ancestors with the goal of trying to keep up with what He’s doing today.
  • How is the affirmation that God is at work in the world to be related to widespread evil and human suffering? God is indeed at work. Want to know how He’s at work? He’s prodding me. He’s prodding you. “Hey, look at that genocide. Dude, I created those people. That’s not cool. Do something!” I don’t want to appear to take this issue too lightly, but it really doesn’t perplex or confuse me too much. I’ll leave you with a quote from Gary Haugen, former Principal U.N. Investigator in the Rwandan genocide, and now the director of the International Justice Mission: “There’s good news about injustice: God hates it. […] So what’s his plan for action? Surprise: Us!”