Putting Marduk in the Right Perspective

517I9RrDE7L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Admitting I am a geek about certain things is a necessity up front. When given the opportunity, I thoroughly enjoy pouring over varying ancient religions, looking for comparisons with Christianity and deviations as well. So while the title may be off putting, excitement bubbled up in me like the waters of the deep when Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology arrived on my doorstep. The chance to expand my understanding of the Ancient Near East, particularly in light of religious texts and concepts? What is not to love?

I wasn’t overly familiar with Jeffrey Niehaus before this book, doing most of my exploring under the guides John Walton and Alexander Heidel. But I had encountered his name in a few articles and looked forward to his two cents on the matter. His book is laid out in a particular fashion, that I sometimes found distracting, unfortunately. His premise, however, I think is sound. Niehaus essentially asserts that most ANE religious texts follow a particular outline, as seen below (30):

NiehausSchemaHis primary argument is that this process occurs in numerous ANE texts, including the Bible. In fact, he suggests that this is inherent in the entire Biblical narrative, and that the ANE texts illustrate a fallen example of how this concept played out in the pagan world (32, 177-181). With this in mind, Niehaus structures each chapter around a single concept (Chapter 2, “God and the Royal Shepherd”), and then unpacks how each of the major cultures explored this idea. Throughout, he maintains his thesis, and constantly reminds the reader how God was the real fulfillment of each part of the ANE process.

Undoubtedly, the material he covers is vast and informative, and I would recommend this book at every college student or pastor who is likely to encounter this material. Universities are filled with people who choose to focus on the similarities of the Bible with its ANE parallels, and consequently ignore the drastic ways in which the texts differ. Niehaus brings this concept to the forefront in an expert way. I do wonder if the text would be better suited to be broken out by culture, with a concluding chapter drawing everything together. Boyd Seevers’s Warfare in the Old Testament is put in such a format, and I found it easier to follow.

Despite this complaint, this book is worth the time. It is a short introduction to some of the major themes that scholars debate, and is handled in a gracious way. The book has earned a permanent spot on my shelf, and I suggest any interested readers do the same.

 

Advertisements

Risky Business: Re-Telling Genesis by Recasting the Discussion

yhst-38174537758215_2228_40572942What would Genesis look like if it was a story told in the 21st century? Would the sky still be called “firm,” or would the light exist before the Sun? Professor Karl Giberson tries to answer those questions by, as he puts it, re-telling the Genesis creation story using the most up-to-date scientific understanding at his disposal. Giberson does an excellent job of relating current science and the direction it is going in, while maintaining a constant anchor in the Christian perspective by continually returning to God’s purposes throughout his relaxed study. If Hawking’s A Briefer History of Time were to become amalgamated with C.S. Lewis’s Miracles, this book is how I would imagine it.

Giberson’s writing style is gracious from a layman’s perspective, and his analogies offer deep insight into the void that is often scientific explanations. In light of the many praises I have for the book though, there are two rather substantial items which plagued my reading throughout every page of the book. I’m somewhat reticent to criticize the good doctor, as I greatly admire the open dialogue going on over at BioLogos (who were the primary supporters of this book) and of the work going on at Paraclete Press (who published the book). But, I would be remiss to be anything less than honest. And perhaps a reader more enlightened than I can help put my mind at ease regarding these matters.

The first is Giberson’s area of expertise. While I appreciate his early days in interdisciplinary studies (he majored in Philosophy and Physics as an undergrad), he is first and foremost a scientist. This certainly doesn’t disqualify him from studying the word of God or speculating about it either, but it does raise questions as I read: how much Hebrew was researched in this analysis? Was there comparative work done with other Ancient Near Eastern creation stories to see if the premise of approaching Genesis from a scientific lens was plausible? Perhaps such questions shouldn’t have nagged at me, but they did nonetheless.

And I’m glad they did, because they exposed what I think to be the ultimate issue I had: what if Genesis isn’t a scientific story? This has been discussed at length in books and blogs alike, which makes me wonder how this topic seemed illusive in Giberson’s retelling. In the end, I simply can’t align with the professor’s basic premise. I don’t think Genesis is a scientific story, which means I don’t think retelling it in “modern terms” will help the origins discussion.

In my opinion, the only way to really bridge the divide between those who love Jesus while favoring evolution and those who love Jesus while favoring creation science is by recasting the debate entirely. Folks like John Walton are already engaged in that process, so I don’t feel the need to elaborate further here in a book review. But I had to make my positions clear. Until I can see Genesis 1-11 as a scientific narrative, I can’t get behind Giberson’s efforts. I get what he’s trying to do; he’s trying to redirect the discussion by pointing out that Genesis is about more than science. Which is a point on which I am in full agreement. But you can’t make such a case by building the foundation of your argument on evidence from science! That undermines the position from the very beginning, and effectively caused Seven Glorious Days to fall flat in my mind.

I certainly commend him for trying a different approach, but in the end it just felt all wrong both inside and out.

What you believe

What you believe matters.

That is, if it causes you to do something about it.1

My old pastor used to say, “it’s easy to say I believe in the resurrection, because I’m not tested on it today.” This is a lesson I’ve taken to heart over the last few years, and I’m always glad for the opportunity to revisit it.

This past Wednesday, our college group was talking about why Christians should care about the environment (we used global warming as our starting point) and it brought about some good discussion. And I think the best thought that came out of the night was this: it doesn’t matter what you believe about climate change, do you believe your actions affect other people? Even in third world countries?

A friend came up to me afterwards and told me he had spent most of the talk trying to poke holes in my argument, and in my opinion, he found a couple of good ones that he should have brought up in the general discussion. It was a good moment because it reminded me that sometimes what I say is not necessarily how to live (or appear to be living). In fact, sometimes I say “we should be like this because Jesus said this,” and then I turn around and don’t do it. Paul deals with this very thing in his letter to the Roman Church, which means I’m in good company.

And this is one of the many reasons why we need good company and solid relationships in our lives. We all have blind spots. Acting like we don’t won’t change the fact. No matter how self-reflecting you may be, you still don’t see everything. That’s not something to be ashamed of. But it is something we must admit. After all, we’re designed to be relational.

I need someone to tell me where my blind spots are. We all do. Which is why I’m part of a community. One might say, I believe it will make a difference.

What community are you a part of?


1I am aware that there is often an argument about knowing versus believing (and many variations of the like). This post is less worried about being semantic, and more concerned about day-to-day living. Frame the discussion however you like from there.

Reading Genesis

I encourage you to watch the powerpoint presentation above, filling out this handout as you watch, BEFORE you read this post.

This week we looked at how important it is to ask ourselves, “how am I supposed to read this?”

I don’t read an engine manual the same way I read a Stephen King novel, and rightfully so. Neither do I read a Robert Frost poem as though it were an article from the NY Times. Everyday we exercise our judgment regarding how  we read something, yet often the Church uses this notion selectively when applying it to the Bible.

Throughout Church history, different groups have said, “you should read X passage metaphorically because we believe Y,” (feel free to insert any other form of reading in place of metaphorically). We, as a people, tend to want to read the Bible a certain way to prove a certain point (this is ironic since often this is the accusation hurled at scientists by the same people). This is something we must move beyond.

I’m not saying that the Church has always been wrong (I, for instance, take Jesus literally when he says “no man may come to the Father but by me”), but we have to be willing to have our lives rearranged according to God’s purposes.

I encourage you, over the next couple of days, read Genesis 1-11 and ask yourself this question: “what is the Bible teaching me about who God is?” I think this is a far more valuable question than, “does this prove or disprove my scientific theory?”

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

What is the goal?

I’m taking this discipleship class through Liberty University, and so far greatly disliking it. That comes as a surprise to me because I desire to know more about being a disciple of Jesus and how to teach others to be His disciples as well. Every time I think about Jesus’ new command, that we “love one another,” I am moved more to know this Ruler of God’s Kingdom. Surely, in Him is life.

Part of my discontent is a disagreement of purpose. It can summarized in simple terms: there are those who think disciples are a select few of Jesus’ followers, and I am not one of them. I can’t really distinguish discipleship from knowing Jesus, which in mind means all Christians are called to discipleship. Not just the ones who have time. Not just the ones who are eager. Everyone. I think the Great Commission is clear about that (and there are other places that I think support this, but for brevity sake I’ll just say I write about this more here).

This disagreement leads into the next one: the ultimate goal of life. How do we define the goal of life? I think most Christians define it in one of two ways:

Method A (Conservative Theology)

1. The goal is the final bliss of heaven, away from this life of space, time, and matter.
2. This goal is achieved for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, which we cling to by faith.
3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating the disembodied, “eternal” state through the practice of a detached spirituality and the avoidance of “worldly” contamination.

If you read that and say, “that’s not how I think at all,” then you probably fall into the second one:

Method B (Liberal Theology)

1. The goal is to establish God’s kingdom on earth by our own hard work.
2. This goal is demonstrated by Jesus in his public career, starting off the process and showing us how to do it.
3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating the final kingdom-on-earth by working and campaigning for justice, peace, and the alleviation of poverty and distress.

Whether you actively think about these kinds of things, the chances are that one of the two methods of discerning the goal of human life influences how you live day in and day out. Examine how you interact with people, how you use your money, what you think when you see corruption and brokenness in real life. Somewhere in that, what you believe is betrayed in your response.

Both of these ideas have good points, but neither of them are complete. People smarter than I have written about this in great detail (and even provided the presented format above). What I am becoming more and more convinced of is that there is another method of how to live.

What if the goal of this life was to be something greater? Not something heroic, but rather something subservient? What if we could see in the Bible a description of what our role was always supposed to be? And what if that role was made possible again through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? I think, if this other method were true, then how we live is vitally important. And our responsibility to other Christians is not to provide fire insurance or propose an easier path, but rather to teach Christ’s commands, and with our brothers and sisters in Christ, to pick our crosses daily and follow Him.

This isn’t something new. And many churches around this world would say they partake in this very thing.

To this, I have two questions:

1. If this is how churches really act in this present age, what will Jesus say about the manner in which we sow the seeds of His Gospel? Will we be the good and faithful servants? Or will our weaknesses and self-seeking purposes be exposed?

And, 2. what would the world look like if every Christian was truly a disciple of Jesus Christ? Such a world would be a wondrous place indeed.

Lord, I am not of strong character. And yet, You have promised me a hope that does not disappoint, a character that is more like Yours. Mold me into the image of God that I was always intended to be. Season my words with grace, that those words may be holy and belong to You. Teach me your ways, that I may forgive as You have forgiven me, that I may sacrifice as You sacrificed for me, and that I may love as You have loved me. Your mind is far above, and Your heart knows no limits. Bring Your justice to this world, Lord, be it through us, or be it not. And in all things, may we give You glory. Amen.

More Than An Apple?

The LORD God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die." (Genesis 2:16-17)

I recently had a discussion about what exactly the "fruit" in Genesis represents. Since I don’t think God puts things into the Bible idly, the discussion took some time.

I’ve heard different theories. The apple represents something sexual, or perhaps the "flesh" similar to the representation of Communion. Overall though, I’ve held that people just read too much into it. The point of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was to test Man. What good is obedience or love if it comes because there are no other options? A forced obedience is not obedience at all. But a perfect love should produce obedience. What is it to serve the God whom you love?

Then God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; (Genesis 1:29)

Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:9)

But as I’ve given it some thought, I do wonder if there is not more to this fruit than meets the eye. What does it mean when you read fruit in the Bible? A friend reminded me that digging deeper doesn’t always mean fishing for something that’s not there.

"So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits." (Matthew 7:17-20)

"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither {can} you unless you abide in Me." (John 15:4)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

[For] you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth, trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:8-10)

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:11)

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. (James 3:17)

And I could go on. In just these few examples, I see something that may or may not be there. The act of eating brought forth death in the Garden. The willful disobedience separated us from our Creator. But He did not abandon us to our own machinations. He provided a willing Sacrifice for us all.

But that brings me to my question: is the "fruit" of the Tree there because, despite our disobedience, we were given Hope? A Tree was part of our Fall, and a Tree was part of our redemption. Is the fruit a part of our Spirit there just as becomes a part of us once our debt had been paid? With that single act of disobedience, a Kingdom was brought about; a Kingdom superior to that of Eden. This life better than Paradise? Emphatically yes. For now we bear the fruit of our Lord! No longer should the buds blossom only to die before it brings forth life! (See 2nd Kings 2:19-22) Here, every day we have the choice to abide in Him or to be cut off.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this. But perhaps, we need to reexamine the Life, the Source, we have here on this earth. And perhaps we who were made "Sufficient to have stood," will stand tall.