Posts Tagged Bible

Glenn Beck warns of the coming Muslim Anti-Christ.

Whew, boy. Just when you think he can’t get any wackier, Glenn Beck surprises us again. Recently he has been courting an ‘expert’ on Islam, Joel Richardson. He has even gone so far as to buy into Richardson’s idea that the pending anti-Christ will be a One World Muslim leader, head of the upcoming Caliphate that will be headquartered in Turkey, brought about by the Muslim Brotherhood, who were pulling all the levers behind the peaceful revolution in Egypt.

Now, Beck is not saying that this fellow, the much anticipated 12th Imam is the anti-Christ. But he could be.  He doesn’t know for sure – he can’t see the future. Well, not all the time. But as his blackboard will show, all the signs are there.  So, grab your Bibles (or your Books of Mormon) and your shotgun ’cause things will be heating up soon. And don’t forget to buy your “Survival Seed Bank” and put what money you have left in the safe and secure hands of the good people at Gold Line.  Just in case you make it through the coming global collapse. (You can definitely trust Glenn’s sponsors. He wouldn’t take their money if he didn’t believe in them.)

Gosh. I wonder if Glenn could call upon the archangel Moroni to come to our defense. Perhaps it is not too late.  Thank All…uh, um….God, that at least deep and spiritual thinkers like Glenn and Joel Richardson are here to sound the alarm.


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The Bible in Five Acts

directors-chair.jpgI very much enjoyed N.T.Wright’s book on Biblical authority, “The Last Word.” In it, he illustrates an innovative way of looking at scripture in its entirety, a way which avoids many of the pitfalls that we encounter when trying to corroborate writings that appear to have diverse, even opposing points of view. He calls it the ‘Bible in Five Acts’ and the following is a more in depth description that I found on the NT Wright web page:

Let me offer you a possible model, which is not in fact simply an illustration but actually corresponds, as I shall argue, to some important features of the biblical story, which (as I have been suggesting) is that which God has given to his people as the means of his exercising his authority. Suppose there exists a Shakespeare play whose fifth act had been lost. The first four acts provide, let us suppose, such a wealth of characterization, such a crescendo of excitement within the plot, that it is generally agreed that the play ought to be staged. Nevertheless, it is felt inappropriate actually to write a fifth act once and for all: it would freeze the play into one form, and commit Shakespeare as it were to being prospectively responsible for work not in fact his own. Better, it might be felt, to give the key parts to highly trained, sensitive and experienced Shakespearian actors, who would immerse themselves in the first four acts, and in the language and culture of Shakespeare and his time, and who would then be told to work out a fifth act for themselves.[5]

Consider the result. The first four acts, existing as they did, would be the undoubted ‘authority’ for the task in hand. That is, anyone could properly object to the new improvisation on the grounds that this or that character was now behaving inconsistently, or that this or that sub-plot or theme, adumbrated earlier, had not reached its proper resolution. This ‘authority’ of the first four acts It would consist in the fact of an as yet unfinished drama, which contained its own impetus, its own forward movement, which demanded to be concluded in the proper manner but which required of the actors a responsible entering in to the story as it stood, in order first to understand how the threads could appropriately be drawn together, and then to put that understanding into effect by speaking and acting with both innovation and consistency. would not consist in an implicit command that the actors should repeat the earlier pans of the play over and over again.

This model could and perhaps should be adapted further; it offers in fact quite a range of possibilities.Among the detailed moves available within this model, which I shall explore and pursue elsewhere, is the possibility of seeing the five acts as follows: (1) Creation; (2) Fall; (3) Israel; (4) Jesus. The New Testament would then form the first scene in the fifth act, giving hints as well (Rom 8; 1 Car 15; parts of the Apocalypse) of how the play is supposed to end. The church would then live under the ‘authority’ of the extant story, being required to offer something between an improvisation and an actual performance of the final act. Appeal could always be made to the inconsistency of what was being offered with a major theme or characterization in the earlier material. Such an appeal—and such an offering!—would of course require sensitivity of a high order to the whole nature of the story and to the ways in which it would be (of course) inappropriate simply to repeat verbatim passages from earlier sections. Such sensitivity (cashing out the model in terms of church life) is precisely what one would have expected to be required; did we ever imagine that the application of biblical authority ought to be something that could be done by a well-programmed computer?

I think this is a neat way of looking at the Bible; as God’s dramatic achievement that has yet to play out – a play in which we all have important roles. Wright’s idea puts a more relevant twist on an old theme. People like George McDonald Fraser, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, CS Lewis, Tolkein, and lately Frederick Buechner and John Eldridge have all made the connection between the message and the medium, especially as it pertains to stories of mythic dimensions. We are all recieving our own stage directions and it’s important to make sure that we are listening to the director himself and not some of his flunkies. It is a good idea to spend some time making sure that the ‘back story’ hasn’t gone through any unnecessary and dangerous ‘re-writes’ that may have been made to meet the agendas of some of its self-appointed sponsors.

To point this analogy in another direction – too many cooks spoil the broth. God’s given us the ingredients, the untensils, even the kitchen to work in. Play with it, have some fun. Just remember that Jesus has spelled out certain basics, that if ignored, could result in a ruined recipe. But we can take joy in the fact that God is forgiving and will gladly help us to pick up where we left off.

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N.T.Wright on the Enlightened Church

bishop wright

We are all children, grandchildren or at least stepchildren of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, and have cause to be both grateful for the consequent privileges and anxious about some of the consequent problems.

So says N. T. Wright, in his little yet important book “The Last Word: Scripture and the Authority of God – Getting Beyond the Bible Wars“. In a brief chapter devoted to the challenges that the church has faced from the Enlightenment, Wright talks of how Modern thinkers have successfully proposed that all the Earth’s sordid history had been making its way to this pivotal point, the point where humanity had finally come of age. From that point on, through the auspices of science and philosophy, mankind would thrive as it never had before. War, suffering and disease would soon be things of the past.

This meant that the Enlightenment was offering its own rival eschatology, a secular analogue to the biblical picture of God’s kingdom, inaugurated by Jesus. Christianity had declared that God’s Kingdom had been decisively inaugurated by Jesus himself, particularly through the death and resurrection. This sense of a one-off historical moment in the first century, however, had been so muted in much Christian theology – eschatology being replaced by systems of salvation and ethics – that the Enlightenment’s cuckoo-in-the-nest move was made all the easier, and has in fact often gone unremarked. It was this eschatological takeover bid which caused Enlightenment thinkers to pour scorn on the Bible’s picture of the coming Kingdom, in a move which is still taken for granted in many circles today; first, to misrepresent it (“All the early Christians expected the world to end at once”) and then to rubbish it (“They were wild fanatics, and they were proved wrong.”) This “we-know-better-now” move, so characteristic of various strands within Enlightenment thought (and now forming part of the mental and emotional landscape of most modern Westerners), disguised the fact that the Enlightenment’s alternative was equally wild and fanatical: the belief that world history, up until now a matter of darkness and superstition, had turned the decisive corner – in western Europe and North America in the eighteenth century! – and come into the light, not least through science and technology.

The Enlightenment proposed a new perspective and a new solution to the problem of societal evil. Not to be outdone, the church caved in;

Much would-be Christian thought (including much would-be “biblical” Christian thought) in the last two hundred years has tacitly conceded these huge claims, turning “Kingdom of God” into “the hope for heaven after death” and treating Jesus’ death , at the most, as the mechanism whereby individual sinners can receive forgiveness and hope for an otherworldly future – leaving the politicians and economists of the Enlightenment to take over the running, and as it turns out the ruining, of the world. (This political agenda, by the way, was of course a vital part of the Enlightenment project: kick “God” upstairs, make religion a matter of private piety, and then you can organize the world to your own advantage. That has been the leitmotif of the Western world ever since, the new philosophy which has so far sustained several great empires, launched huge and horribly flawed totalitarian projects, and left the contemporary world thoroughly confused.) Scripture itself, meanwhile is muzzled equally by both sides. It is squelched into silence by the “secularists” who dismiss it as irrelevant, historically inaccurate and so on – as you would expect, since it might otherwise challenge their imperial dreams. Equally worrying, if not more so, it is squashed out of shape by many of the devout, who ignore its global, cosmic and justice-laden message and treat it only as the instrument of personal piety and the source of true doctrine about eternal salvation.

In an attempt to “prove” the Bible true to those “Enlightened” critics its defenders strove to demonstrate it’s historical accuracy by redefining what a “literal” interpretation meant:

There is a great gulf fixed between those who want to prove the historicity of everything reported in the Bible in order to demonstrate that the Bible is “true” after all and those who, committed to living under the authority of scripture, remain open to what scripture itself actually teaches and emphasizes. Which is the bottom line: “proving the Bible to be true” (often with effect of saying, “So we can go on thinking what we’ve always thought”), or taking it so seriously that we allow it to tell us things we’d never heard before and didn’t particularly want to hear?

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Millennialism: Pre-Messianic Christianity

For hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus the Jewish people waited, some patiently, some not so patiently, for the coming of the Messiah. The prophets foretold of the power that he would wield as he restored Israel to its proper place at the head of all nations. Those that had subjugated and persecuted God’s chosen people would be dealt with in a swift and decisive fashion.


In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him and his place of rest will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea.

He will raise a banner for the nations
and gather the exiles of Israel;
he will assemble the scattered people of Judah
from the four quarters of the earth.

Ephraim’s jealousy will vanish,
and Judah’s enemies will be cut off;
Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah,
nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim.

They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west;
together they will plunder the people to the east.
They will lay hands on Edom and Moab,
and the Ammonites will be subject to them.

The LORD will dry up
the gulf of the Egyptian sea;
with a scorching wind he will sweep his hand
over the Euphrates River. [
He will break it up into seven streams
so that men can cross over in sandals.

There will be a highway for the remnant of his people
that is left from Assyria,
as there was for Israel
when they came up from Egypt.

Isaiah 11: 10-16

John the Baptist prepared those who would listen for the imminent appearance of the Messiah. He also warned them that upon his arrival they should be prepared for judgment followed by harsh punishments and great rewards. He singled out the religious ruling class for particular admonishment, as he saw them as being unfair in their treatment of God’s people.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Matthew 3:7-10

checking the books

This righteous anger and outspokenness on John’s part led many to wonder if perhaps he was the Messiah. John was quick to correct their mis-perceptions, letting them know that the one that followed him was not to be trifled with. His talk of the One Lord coming to reward the faithful and wreak vengeance on the sinful was music to the ears of the poor and wounded Jews, who had suffered for so long under the domination of so many foreign and pagan lords.

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

John 3: 15-17

John publicly identifies Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah who has come to save his people. Yet Jesus looks and acts quite unlike what the Jews had come to expect. John himself doubts Jesus’ authority;

When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” Matt 11:2-6

compassionate jesus

Jesus does not respond with a clear yes or no, instead describing the nature of the ‘true’ Messiah as contrasted with that of prophecy. Not long after this, as described in Matthew 16, Jesus asks the apostles who they think he is;

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus is obviously pleased with their response, particularly Peter’s. He indicates that Peter realized his divine nature through revelation, not by what any man had said. The inference here is that it was commendable that Peter had made up his own mind about Jesus instead of relying upon the current wisdom obout what the Messiah would be like.

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

And then he does something strange. He tells the apostles to keep his authority secret.

Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

Many have suggested that Jesus did not feel the time was right to announce his true identity. Perhaps instead he knew that his message was in most ways contradictory to what the people expected of the Messiah.

He follows this up with a mysterious prediction that very soon he will return in divine glory to fulfill the prophecies. He even stresses that it will be within the lifetime of some of his listeners.

“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

There has been plenty of controversy as to what Jesus actually meant here. His literal second coming obviously did not take place in the first or second centuries. Two millennia later it still has not occurred and various self proclaimed prophets have read the signs and announced that the time was at hand. This is in spite of the fact that, although he tells us what signs would presage the event, he also says that no one could predict this time with any accuracy.revelation

From Thomas Darby to Charles Taze Russel, Hal Lindsey to Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye many Christians have become excited about the prospect of the End Times and Armageddon. As plain as the meanings of the apocalyptic scriptures are to these people, many others do not see them in quite the same light. Anticipation of the Messiah’s coming as warrior King at the command of legions of angels as they assist him in battle against the forces of evil is something that the millennial Christian has in common with conservative Judaism.

Jesus’ pacifistic teachings were hard to swallow for a people who had waited so long for justice to be served. They could not accept this ‘weak’ way as The Way to salvation, a Way that enables the follower to experience peace and joy even when oppressed and persecuted. Some objected because they had so much to lose if they risked following this ‘messiah’. Many more, envious and bitter with those who had been ‘blessed’ with more than they had, relished the idea of violent retribution. This Jesus of Nazareth did not meet their expectations of the Messiah and he was soundly dealt with.


The same branches of Christianity that seem to have the most difficulty with Jesus’ simple yet ‘soft’ message of love, sacrifice and grace are also those who are most inclined to take the apocalyptic scriptures literally. To zealously look forward to an exacting final judgment followed by the harsh and brutal punishment of most of the world’s people may be preventing much of the Church from effectively serving the Kingdom. Is Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, or not? Has he come to free us from bondage by showing us his Way? Or will we continue to wait for someone who more closely feeds our ‘righteous’ hunger for vengeance and retribution? It was while nailed to the cross that he said, “It is finished.”

off the cross


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Hangin’ with a Harlot: Jesus on Inclusion

woman at wellIn the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel, an exhausted Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. Under the relentless Palestinian sun he and this woman have a conversation. Not only is she a Samaritan, generally reviled by the Jews, but also a lowly woman and one of of ill repute at that. Nevertheless he proceeds to engage her in a theological discussion;

“Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem. You worship guessing in the dark; we Jews worship in the clear light of day. God’s way of salvation is made available through the Jews. But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. “It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

The woman said, “I don’t know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.”

“I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”

Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.

The Message

Reading this the other day I was (like his disciples) shocked by the implications of what Jesus was doing here. He was essentially flipping the bird to conventional wisdom and established customs by hanging out with someone who was pretty much a first century ‘untouchable’- you know – one of ‘those’ people. He was also telling her that in his eyes she was just as good as anyone else. OK, she might need to get her act together, but she had no reason to feel ashamed in front of anyone, not even the religious upper class. In fact, there was going to come a time when it didn’t matter how she even went about worshipping God just as long as she was honest, authentic and compassionate. Wow!

Are we there yet?

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The Biblical Squint Test

christmas tree

(Sorry for being out of season, but…..)

We were talking on one of the earlier threads and there was some disagreement over the true meaning of certain scriptural passages. (I must be kidding, right? Here?) It seems like we kept going around and around and around. I was suddenly reminded of another familiar situation where I keep going around and around and around. Christmas.

Or to be more precise, decorating our home for Christmas. I’ve always loved this time of year, I probably even loved it more when I didn’t have a faith (but that’s another story). But I am not crazy about getting everything down from the attic, setting up the decorations and then having to clean up. I especially don’t like having to trim the tree. It is a lot of work.

I used to spend a considerable time making sure that every single strand of tiny lights was evenly distributed on each branch, like my father had taught me. Soon enough I learned how to stand about six feet away and toss the lights on like a fisherman casting his net. I’ve always preferred the little tasteful white lights, like the ones we had growing up. My wife, though, hails from a tradition that celebrated with gaudy multi-colored lights. She was raised Lutheran and I Catholic. In the spirit of ecumenicalism we agreed to blend both types of lights. 25 years later I can’t even think of not having it both ways.

Some people accuse me of wanting to have it ‘both ways’ when it comes to how I relate to God. I can see value in most all faith traditions and I hesitate to say if someone is not with God even though they may respond to him differently than I do. I consider myself to be a Christian but there have been times when I have been challenged on this. Apparently some think that I can’t hold to this more tolerant point of view and still maintain a faith in Jesus.

Usually our arguments will boil down to the essence of where we disagree – Holy Scripture. Someone may place more emphasis on a certain verse than I do. I might be inspired by something completely different. With both of us concentrating on what we each holds most dear, we usually end up stalled and, at best, agreeing to disagree. But that can be so unsatisfying.

When decorating our Christmas tree, each family member would devoting his or her efforts to specific parts of the tree. When the children were small they concentrated on the low hanging branches. I would be teetering on the stool near the tree top while my wife would finesse the all important mid section. Even then, some would stray more towards one side of the tree over the other. Many times the kids would hang balls and ornaments in the ‘wrong’ places, out near the ends of the branches where they sagged or too far inside where they could hardly be seen. This would drive me nuts but over time I learned to bite my tongue, for the sake of familial harmony.

When all was hung, when the boxes were empty, we would take a few steps back to review our handiwork. After a few moments my wife Bev would say, “Well? Does it pass the squint test?”. To my surprise, it always did.

Standing in close to the tree all I see are the individual ornaments of different shapes, colors and sizes and where they are placed. The occasional broken branches and bare spots are starkly visible. I am painfully aware of the ‘mistakes’ of my children. Though they should be fixed so that they make more sense, I just accept their placement.

But when I move back a bit, take in the whole thing and, softening my focus just a little, I can make out the image of a beautiful, colorful and blazing bright Christmas tree. All the intricate and and glistening ornaments, each of them with their own story of Christmases past, working together to create this wonderful creation. Even those deep and dark crannies where the lights do not reach suggest mysterious areas worth further exploration.

A cooperative effort between God and his children, a Christmas tree speaks in a slightly tone to each person that meets it, evoking memories and feelings that cannot always be expressed. The ‘imperfect’ yet natural shape, the ‘inaccurate’ placement of the balls, the ornaments that range from big and shiny to small and fragile – each element works together to present a perfect whole. A little different every time, each observer can agree that the shape is always the same, and the spirit that this shape evokes can be shared by all.

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