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The Great and Terrible Day of the Lord

May 14, 2012

When I was in college, there was an apocryphal tale going around about a prank pulled some years earlier. Apparently, there was a guy who was getting all worked up about the Left Behind series or similar literature and was obsessing about missing the Rapture. His wing decided to let him know what that would be like.

They got two whole dorm floors to participate: the top floor, where he lived, and the one right beneath. While this guy was sleeping, they emptied everyone off of the two floors, and, when the time was right, sounded the blast of a trumpet.

Shocked and startled, this poor kid woke up only to find nobody there at all. What he did find was carefully placed clothes and eyeglasses, jsut of the sort that you would expect from someone who had just been translated to heaven. He went room to room, and, finding nobody, ran down to the next floor, only to be greeted with more of the same. I’m not sure exactly how things turned out, but I am sure that this guy was panicking. Missing the Rapture is serious business–you face no less than 7 years of trauma, and, pretty much all the Christians are beheaded. Terrible news.

I think that this is one of the greatest pranks ever. So great, in fact, that it probably never happened. But it did get me to thinking….is Christianity really about making it into the Rapture?

I wrote a Bible study for a camp this summer that argues that being awake and alert is about more than being ready for Jesus’ return–that’s actually all that the Thessalonian church was thinking about! I think that being awake and alert is being attuned to what good Christ is calling you towards each and every day, not spiritually sleeping through opportunities to reach out.

I’ll go ahead and include the study below, because, hey, why not. Hope you enjoy:

The Day of the Lord

1 Thessalonians 5:4-6 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day (the day of the Lord) should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.

When I was in school, I always had a recurring dream during finals week: I would sleep through my alarm and I would miss my tests! I would arrive too late to take them, and I would fail my class! While this never happened to me I always worried that it would. It’s sortof like the time that I faked being sick in elementary school and slept through my dad leaving to take my brothers and sisters. Too late, I awoke and remembered that it was the day of our field trip! I couldn’t take back my choices; I missed out.

1 Thessalonians 5:4-6 is talking about a similar situation. Paul is writing about Jesus coming back and encouraging his readers not to be asleep and miss that great and glorious day. We aren’t supposed to be people that live in darkness, doing whatever we want to do and then jumping in to the light whenever it suits us. If we do that, we might miss Jesus coming back. Verse 4 tells us that such a coming is like a thief, and thieves don’t announce their arrival beforehand. Rather, Paul tells us to be children of the day, who live in the light at all times, awake and alert. If we do this, we won’t sleep through any opportunities to do good deeds.

Wouldn’t it be a tragedy if we decided to be lazy, to spiritually sleep, as it were, and we missed an opportunity to reach out to others? Sometimes in life, we only get one chance, and we need to be alert in order to take advantage of those chances as they come. This week, try to look for ways to be alert and to take every opportunity to show God’s light to others.

For further reading:

Matthew 25:1-13

Discussion questions:

Have you ever had a time when you were “spiritually sleeping” and missed an opportunity to show God’s light? How did you feel about that afterwards?

Why do you think that God wants us to be walking in the light at all times rather than just at the end of our lives?

How can you live today to be ready for Jesus to come back at any time?

 

On Airplanes

May 3, 2012

I love airplanes. I think they’re a relaxing way to travel. They certainly beat driving. Even if you spent the same amount of time driving as flying, when you fly, someone else is doing the work. That lets me diddle with my iPad or read a book or do something constructive. Couple this with the ability to get anywhere in the country in five hours or anywhere in the world in about 18, flying is awesome. I’m with Louis CK, who did a memorable bit on Conan O’Brien about how flying is amazing but everybody seems to just complain about either their lack of legroom or their delay or the fact they had to sit by a baby or the fact that the in-flight WiFi went out–but then they fly through the air and arrive at their destination within hours! The pioneers took lifetimes to do the same; we watch a movie and BANG–we’re there!

Airplanes also offer an interesting social dynamic perhaps unreplicated throughout society. I am currently sitting next to a lady that I have said about two sentences to. She seems nice, but what do I know about it? I’ve been next to her for an hour. I’ll be next to her for two more, but it’s not like we are likely to become friends. This fact remains despite the fact that we are sitting so close as to be in a dating relationship. In what other instance are you pressed against another human but don’t move away to respect their space? Only on an airplane, and that’s kind of weird.

Since we are so close, we are almost like a captive audience for each other. You’d think that people would want to converse to pass the time, but I find that almost to never be the case. As I look around, everyone is sleeping or flying with their headphones in (myself included). These are universal, cross-cultural non-verbal signals for “don’t talk to me.” But why don’t we want to talk to anyone? Are we so disconnected as a society that we would rather listen to recorded music and watch a Dolly Parton movie than speak to each other? I guess so.

But what is my role as a Christian? Do I need to share the gospel with this seatmate? Am I compelled to turn the conversation towards spiritual things? Even if they have headphones in? I don’t know; you tell me.

Science Fiction and the Bible

April 16, 2012

I was privileged to present a paper at the ORU conference on Science Fiction in the module entitled “Science Fiction and Theology.” I thought you might like to see it, so hopefully I am not wrong on that count. I’d appreciate some feedback as the terms and outline is still a bit rough…..so enjoy!

Perhaps nothing can capture the human imagination quite like a story. Throughout time, people have used narrative as a means of entertainment, but more importantly, also as a means of communicating truth about their experiences to their communities. As human history and culture have progressed, new and more complex forms of narrative have arisen. One of these genres is science fiction.

Science fiction stands apart from regular narrative in several ways. The first, and most important, is that it allows the author to bend the rules of reality in ways not normally afforded to storytellers. Not only can the author shape the plot and the characters, he or she can bend the entire environment at a whim, allowing for back story, allusion, or even allegory normally unavailable. Casting a story in deep space, for example, allows for different crises than a story set in rural Kansas would. As a result, the scope of enemies and conflict available to the writer expand. If the author wishes to speak about a prevailing problem in society, they might choose to re-craft society with that aspect featured prominently, such as Orwell’s commentary on government intrusion in his work 1984. Such societal commentary is allowed through clever manipulation of the environment of his characters, and enhanced through the plot and character development.

When science fiction began as a discrete genre, it is fair to say that the focus was not on character, plot, or message, but rather on producing works emphasizing fictional science. Isaac Asimov characterizes Jules Verne as one whose writings dominate this line of thinking. Verne’s works always include a detailed description of how the inventions and breakthroughs featured in his tales were plausible during the time period in which he was writing. There is an entire module at this conference devoted to the question of whether or not these types of explanations helps us produce hard science, and Verne was one of the first voices to say “yes.” He felt that a writer was being somehow disingenuous if he or she could not produce a verifiable way in which the science and discoveries of his time period could be extrapolated to the technology used in the story.

H.G. Wells takes a different viewpoint altogether in his writings. Far from explaining exactly how the science in his stories was plausible, Wells seeks to examine the results and consequences of the use of fantastic technology, pushing the genre more into the realm of fiction and less into the realm of hard science.[1] For example, The Time Machine doesn’t really give its readers a view into how the time machine itself was built. It more or less assumes that the time machine exists and constructs the narrative from there. The issues of societal stratification and others dealt with in the tome are brought to the surface by the fictional world that Wells created, but he didn’t necessarily need to show its plausibility with respect to the science of the time machine, he merely needed to do so with respect to society. This was somewhat of a departure from Jules Verne’s approach, but perhaps more narrative driven in that the links that he does retain with actual reality have more to do with the human condition than with human technology. Albeit a non-provable judgment, perhaps this commentary on the human condition is why Wells’ works have resonated unto modern times with their readers.

If Verne’s works can be classified as science-first, and Wells’ works classed as story-first,[2] then modern works could be classified along those same lines. It would be unfair to speak of these modern science fiction pieces as directly utilizing these philosophies, for there is no way to know that for sure. However, a quick overview of some contemporary science fiction will show that even today, authors and creators will either emphasize fictional science or emphasize the narrative that the science allows. Certainly, this is an aesthetic judgment and not an either-or classification. Perhaps it is better to think of science and narrative as two poles within the genre towards which a piece might gravitate.

Perhaps leaning towards the “science-first” pole is the serial Star Trek: The Next Generation. While its fans will no doubt correctly laud the famous characters and rich universe in which the plot plays out, there are some features of Star Trek that lead me to conclude that the fictional science plays a large role. Its nature as a television series provides viewers with a 45 minute experience, and, by and large, the show wraps up the conflict within that discrete time frame. Certainly, issues of character development and ongoing conflicts may persist, but the series seems incredibly engaged in mapping and exploring Gene Roddenberry’s fantastic fictional universe. Many episodes find the crew encountering an alien race which is never referenced again, or an unusual planet or stellar feature, and the show’s fans enjoy the detail in which these are discovered and catalogued.

Contrast that approach with the tack taken by Battlestar Galactica. Here I am referencing the 2004 Sy-Fy channel reboot of the older show, which was originally shown in 1978-79. Rather than taking the episodic approach of Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, or BSG, unfolded along a continuous timeline. It would have been difficult for a viewer to experience the series without first seeing the previous episodes; it can be compared to a 20 hour movie. The entire five-season series focused on one major conflict and unfolded the characters along one central plot strand. The fact that the show was set in a fictional universe set the stage for the types of conflict and dealt with some major themes about pessimism towards technology and the future of a humane society, but the fictional science is not ever discussed at length. It truly is a story-first science fiction series, and I think that has much to do with the amount of cross-over appeal that the show has garnered. People connected with the narrative of a small group of oppressed humans uniting in the face of incredible odds. The sci-fi setting could just as easily have been a prehistoric one, Columbian America backdrop, or Eastern European milieu; the story remained central. One cannot so easily say that about Star Trek, which is why I have classed it as leaning towards the science-first pole. There are clearly other works that could be classified and even much more to say about these particular examples that I have chosen, but time and space demands movement towards a conclusion. Perhaps even if you disagree with these examples, you can grant that science-first and story-first are two legitimate poles around which science fiction rotates.

I think that these poles are very similar to the poles around which hermeneutical approaches to the Biblical text also rotate. With any text (and I use text here loosely), including a science fiction book, science fiction television series, or Biblical book, the author intends to send a certain message. Coupled with that, the reader must decode the message, a process that naturally takes into account his or her own life experiences, biases, literary facility, and the like. This process is called literary criticism, or, when applied to Scripture, can fall under the category of hermeneutics.

Biblical interpreters disagree strongly about whether the Bible rotates around the science-first pole or the story-first pole. Of course, these definitions shift somewhat as the Bible is not a science-fiction book and in fact a book written with an undeniable religious purpose. The question is perhaps better worded as exploring how the Bible seeks to communicate that purpose.

Some interpreters see the Biblical text as written more like Jules Verne’s science-first approach. They see the Bible as containing discrete, propositional truths and that the major task of the interpreter is to glean and catalogue these truths so that they can later be systematized into something resembling coherent, logical theology. The process is not unlike an episodic television series such as I have described Star Trek: the continuing narrative of the Bible is often neglected and each portion treated separately. Some treat each book separately and the more zealous of these “science-first” interpreters will even seek to mine down to the verse level to find statements and facts.

Among the first to treat the Bible in this way was John Calvin, the famous Protestant reformer. His Institutes is a systematized, coherent theology based upon his reading of the Bible and his categorizing of the truths that he gleaned from different portions of the Bible. It seems reasonable to assume that Calvin would have granted that taking the whole nature of the Bible into account to create theology is an important process, but it is also likely that Calvin would have looked at the Scripture as a whole in order to access what modern inerrantists classify as its “self-correcting” nature. In other words, propositional facts from one portion of the Scripture can help to clarify and control those propositional facts from other portions.

This approach has lately been taken to an extreme with something called “text-centered hermeneutics” or “canonical criticism.” This view, championed by John Sailhamer and adapted from views offered by Brevard Childs, asserts that the Biblical text is the ONLY thing that matters in terms of Biblical interpretation. The human author is irrelevant. The historical situation of the audience does not matter. The only thing that matters is the text itself; the written words on the page. If the identity of the author matters, or if the history matters, the text will give the reader enough information to understand it. To me, this belief carries overtones of Verne’s insistence on plausible science—to them, the text itself forms a sort of “fictional history,” not in the sense of it being untrue, but rather in the sense that a true interpreter will see the text as the author intended it, as he created it, and without influences of history. Most Christian interpreters do see some degree of primacy inherent in the Biblical text, but text-centered hermeneutics removes all else to focus only on the text itself. Though admittedly an extreme minority position, this type of text-centered hermeneutics is gaining traction with conservative Christian scholars for its insistence on the primacy and authority of the Bible. Perhaps this group best represents the “text as science” portion of Biblical interpretation.

Dissatisfied with the limits that these “science first” approaches place on the text, and indeed even skeptical as to the ability of an interpreter to achieve the goals set by them, “story first” hermeneutics have made a resurgence. These interpreters do not see the Biblical text as mainly containing discrete, compact theological pithy statements but as an ongoing narrative, describing the relationship between God and his people. This school of interpretation is much more comfortable with ambiguity and perceived contradictions within the Scriptures, seeing instead the emotional impact and formative input that it has upon the reader as primary. For them, the text sets up a sort of story world within which the reader has full autonomy to dialogue with the text and even, for some, to impute meaning into it. Grant Osborne calls this process the “hermeneutical spiral.”

Taking these ideas a step further are Austin, Searle, and Vanhoozer. These writers discuss what they term “speech-act theory,” a way of looking at texts that gives the action of the reader an equal weight in terms of determining meaning as the speech of the author. In other words, the reader must complete the circle of meaning. Contrast this with the text-centered hermeneuts who find that the text alone is sufficient for meaning—speech-act theory highlights the role of the reader. As such, speech-act theory must also admit that a text has a wide variety of possible meanings, as it has an almost unlimited possibility of readership. Stanley Fish is among those who would even emphasize this aspect of text—the author has no idea what the text means even as it is written for the activity of the reader cannot be accounted for. The text merely gives an impetus, a stimulus, into the life of the reader and the reader completes the story by his or her own action. This is an example of an extreme “story-centered” hermeneutic.

What, then, is the proper approach to interpreting Biblical texts? Is the choice merely one of preference, as it is in science fiction? If one enjoys science first writing, then they can interact with those pieces, but does the Biblical text allow for such choosing? Does it demand of its readers to be understood in a certain way? I think that it does.

To me, both camps have certain failings. I am aware that this is a bit of a straw man as I have outlined the very edges of each pole of interpretation, but I still think that the examples are illustrative of the current in scholarship and even in modern Christian culture. The text-as-science interpreters have missed the original intent of the text by assuming it to be largely focused on systematic theology. However, if that was the intent of the text, why did the Bible include letters from one person to another, collections of poems, and historical passages? Why did it not simply read like a textbook? We do have extant examples of ancient religious documents that read much more like law—these are intended to be read with a “science first” approach, but I don’t think that the same can be said for the Biblical texts.

Similarly, extreme story-first approaches miss the universal nature of the Scriptures. If meaning is left up to the reader, then the Biblical text has no value or authority in the life of its readers. While some would concede this point, I disagree vehemently. The centrality of the Scriptures has been universally attested since their inception, and to throw that authority away and replace it with the autonomy of the reader would be to grossly misrepresent what the Christian community intends to do with the Bible—provide a central, unified, focused set of beliefs, practices, and textual experiences that all believes can share.

Therefore, I think it is important to plow a sort of middle way, respecting the authority that the Scripture has but conceding the differing impacts that it has upon believers. I think that we need to immerse ourselves in the “science” of the Scriptures where it invites us to but participate in the narrative of the Scriptures otherwise. In doing so, we will build the Scriptures more and more centrally into our own narratives, but not wantonly or casually. We should cautiously build in our responses the ones intended by the Bible, and in that we will have interpreted well. Interpreters can use didactic and theological passages when they are clearly intended as such. Exodus 34 contains one such revelation. In this passage, the Lord reveals his character to Moses and this revelation is repeated throughout the Old Testament as evidence of the Lord’s nature. As such, interpreters are safe to take a “science-first” approach with this text. However, if the interpreter takes the facts given in Exodus and utilize them as nothing further than a brick in the wall of their systematic theology, they will have missed the point of the passage. The reader MUST see how these facts had an impact upon the story of Moses and the greater story of the Old Testament, which is nearer to the story-centered approach. Further, the interpreter must utilize these insights in his or her own narrative and act in accordance with the teaching of the text—not overpowering it, but walking underneath it as a student of its truth. This coupling of science-first and story-first interpretation is difficult, requiring patience, humility, and experience, but I believe it to be the best way to understand the Bible. One cannot choose either pole; we must orbit around both to be truly ones who understand the message of the Scripture.


[1]Much of this information is inspired and adapted from Isaac Asimov’s introduction to the 1968 Del Rey Edition of H.G. Wells The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. (Wells, H.G. The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. New York: Del Rey Books, 1968. Pages 1-11)

[2]Stanley Galloway has presented a paper entitled “A Synthesis of Wells and Burroughs in Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters” and chooses Wells as a progenitor of Heinlein’s science emphasis. Certainly Wells did include science, just not to the extent that Wells did.

Easter Egg Allocation

April 9, 2012

It can be difficult to distribute all of your Easter candy. Here is a suggested breakdown from Hotdog Theology’s own extensive experience in siphoning candy from your children.

 

 

The Parable of the Painted Miniatures

April 6, 2012

It is no secret that I am a huge nerd. I have become very OK with this, and I think that makes my life easier in many ways. In fact, embracing my nerdity is perhaps one of the reasons that people even give me the modicum of respect that they do. Allow me to elaborate, using an example from Real LIfe:

I am a big fan of board games. I even wrote a whole post about them and considered making the theme of this blog about them. I decided not to, since I am probably the only person that I know who is quite so keenly interested in board games (or, bored games, if you are my sisters. Ba-dum ching!). One of the problems with being a board game fan is that, being a niche hobby, there aren’t that many game stores around for you to browse in. By contrast, if you’re a sports fan, you can consume content about sports any time you want. There are many sports-only TV channels. There are sporting goods stores, There are rec leagues and pickup games and pro teams and college teams and etc. etc. etc. Also, there’s not really a social stigma attached to being a sports fan–it’s pretty main stream. For board games, on the other hand, there’s usually a few small stores and maybe one or two websites for you to check out. That’s it. If you don’t happen to like the store or the website, too bad for you, because that’s all that there is. Oh—and board games = nerd, in many people’s minds.

These facts hit close to home, recently. You see, many of my friends in town really enjoy playing board games with me at my home. Stepping out into a game store, however, seems to be quite the task. I did have two intrepid friends make this journey recently. They forayed into a local purveyor to pick up a gift for a missionary friend of ours. Unfortunately, this particular game store is dark, creepy, and full of kids who want to play Magic the Gathering. It could quite easily be characterized as “wizard-y,” which is for sure the kiss of death to all coolness factor that board games could have had. My friends went in, got the game, and headed out as quickly as they could, afraid to talk to anyone or to attract to much attention to themselves.

When talking to one of them later about their experience, I was told that one of the major reasons for not enjoying the store is that my friends had “way more in common with those guys than they were comfortable with.” I found this to be quite hilarious, actually. He was admitting to being a gamer on the inside, but he was unwilling to let the gamer seep through to the outside, certainly not to the point where people could perceive this gamery sense about him.

Well, a few weeks later I heard about a new store opening in town. This newer one was operated by a friend of a friend, so we decided to head over and check out the grand opening. It was laid out quite differently. There was no “dungeony feel,” quite by design. However, the games themselves were extra wizardy. One of the employees was very excited about showing us a certain game in which you purchase small army men (which are fantasy themed, of course–trolls and elves and such; I couldn’t really tell through the glazed-over look in my eyes) and, not only do you purchase fantasy armies, but they come white and you paint them to your liking. Then, these custom-painted trolls battle it out on your tabletop against your friend’s hordes. After we left, I told my friend that everyone draws their line, and I draw the line firmly at painted miniatures.

But I’m not sure why either he or I was so put off by our experiences. In fact, we were associating with people who share largely the same interests recreationally that we do. We should have been excited to hang out there and spend time. The mere fact that the first game store felt wizardy and that the second game store featured people excited about painted miniatures shouldn’t have obscured that we actually really enjoy and appreciate about 90% of their product line. Why were we so ashamed to be seen in there, as though we were going to get some sort of uncoolness fungus that we would later have to wash off?

Unfortunately, I think that people act this way all the time. People are largely unwilling to act the way that God built them to act and prefer to blend in to the culture of the people around them. Fundamentally, this grows out of the need (or perceived need) to be liked, and we fear that if we are different from those around us, we will be rejected by them. Therefore, when your friends watch the NBA, you decide to give it a try. When they get into the Hunger Games, you whip out your Kindle to download them. If they listen to hipster rock, you check out a new Pandora station. Forget what you actually like–make sure that what you like is acceptable.

It’s even worse with behaviors. When your friends gossip, you gossip. When they make decisions about who is cool or not, you make your associations along these same lines. If they skip church, you do the same. And so on, and so forth. All of these behaviors arise from a need to be liked.

What’s funny about this is that it always backfires, and we know it. Studies have been done to determine what makes a certain person popular, and it almost always boils down to a few distinct factors: 1. Self-confidence 2. The ability to talk to anyone.

Isn’t that ironic? By segmenting ourselves off from certain folks to seek popularity, we actually make ourselves more unattractive to people. By being unwilling to actually own who we are, we reduce our own capacity to be appreciated by others.

So what’s the point of this whole discussion? Well, insofar as a point exists, I guess it’s that you should just be who you are. If you paint miniatures, go do that. Own that. Tell others about that. If you don’t, that’s fine, but don’t be ashamed about it. If you like American Idol, go for it. Use up all 12 text votes available. Put those Idol-themed blogs in your RSS. Just be honest about it. If you like to dance, dance! If you like to sing, do it! If you like sports, go play! Buy season tickets! Go whole hog. When you go all in, your friends and people around you will respect you for it. You’re finally being honest with yourself, and, by extension, with the world.

As discussed above, I love games. I draw the line at painted miniatures. I’m OK with that. Who are you? What do you do? Where do you draw your lines? In determining this, there is freedom. I encourage you to go out and be yourself. Be who God made you. And if you end up being lumped in with the wizardy kids, or with the dweebs, or the dorks, or the geeks, or the jocks, that’s OK. You’ll know the truth about yourself. Everyone else who matters will too. And God, who is the only one who truly matters knows already. LIke the Bible says, people look at your outward appearance; God looks at your heart. And you can’t fake your heart.

The Prophet in These Last Days

March 30, 2012

As per usual, I have let my loyal Hotdog Theologues down as I’ve been spending my valuable blogging time preparing to turn in stuff for my PhD courses. I know, I have my priorities out of order. In order to try to right this wrong, I am giving you a window into what really happens behind the scenes during high-level seminary training (doesn’t that sound fancy?).

We were sitting at lunch, discussing the relative merits of text-centered hermeneutics and Canonical approaches to Old Testament theology. Now, I know that not everyone is familiar with these terms, and sometimes I think that people come up with these terms in order to shield themselves from the “unwashed masses” and hide in their ivory tower, comfortable in the fact that the common man can’t possibly approach their theological insight. But the real magic is in the definition of the terms. It’s kindof like the Wizard of Oz, where he was just some wimpy dude hiding behind the curtain. We theologians are the same way–wimpy dudes hiding out in our libraries, lording our supposed knowledge over others.

But it doesn’t need to be that way. Here, let me demythologize* for you. Text-centered hermeneutics just means that the written words in the Bible itself are all that interpreters should care about. They shouldn’t look at the original author and what he or she meant. The original audience isn’t important. The time and history surrounding the area shouldn’t affect the meaning. The text is the center, and that is all we need to look at. John Sailhamer is a big proponent of this view, and his followers are often called “Hamerheads.”

*That’s a joke for all you Bultmann fans out there.

One of the guys at that lunch was defending this text-centered view by comparing it to a hypothetical situation where the Bible was written today. “Say that we wrote the Bible today and we talked about Tim Tebow. Would future societies need to use archaeology and uncover his jersey and figure out what was going on with Tebowing in order to understand our analogies or would it be enough to know that Tebow was some famous Christian guy?” He obviously thought it would be enough to know just a bit about Tebow, but I kind of quit listening to make some jokes in my head. Or to my neighbor. Or both. Some of our jokes are below. If you don’t get these jokes that’s OK. Just trust that they’re funny.

“These future people would need to lead the first search for the Historical Tebow!” –boom, roasted

You may have read that article online on Grantland where Bill Simmons noted that if God really did send a prophet to speak to the modern day USA, wouldn’t it be in the form of an NFL quarterback? And wouldn’t he confirm the ministry with signs and wonders like throwing for 40% and winning games? And tossing a ridiculous touchdown pass to take down the NFL’s most storied franchise in the playoffs (in OVERTIME)? Well, probably, yes, this person would be the kind of think that could communicate God’s truth to the masses. Probably better than Pat Robertson, right?

Well, if Tim Tebow was God’s prophet, God would start asking him to do Ezekiel style things. You know, like lying on his side for 16 weeks and throw touchdown passes. LET THIS LEFT ARM LIVE!*

*This joke shamelessly stolen from a collaborative effort with my colleague Kyle. I’m sure he doesn’t care.

And I’m sure you’ve seen that graphic circulating on Facebook that shows God answering Tebow’s prayers for a Bronco Super Bowl win by sending Peyton Manning. That is pretty funny.

So what does all this Tebow stuff have to do with text-centered criticism? Well, not much. But that’s OK, because that’s about what Canonical criticism deserves. Boom, Roasted.

He who rules from the grave

March 15, 2012

So I went to a pretty interesting high school. It definitely belonged to the most conservative brand of Christian school. Our senior year, we had a Worldview class, which consisted of discussing different philosphies and intellectual movements throughout history and weighing them by comparison to the Bible, or at least the Bible as interpreted by the authors of our curriculum. One of the segments of this class was called “Seven Men who Rule the World from the Grave.” This compelling video (of course we used a VHS video) consisted of seven people whose ideas continued to shape modern thought and culture, even after their deaths. You might have expected people like Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., Martin Luther The Original, Gandhi, Plato, George Washington, the Guy Who Invented the Wheel, or someone like that, but you would be mistaken. Instead, the seven chosen were Charles Darwin, John Dewey, Julius Wellhausen, Soren Kierkegaard, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and John Maynard Keynes. Bonus points are available if you know who all of these guys are without googling.

I suppose you could do worse than this list if you’d like to come up with seven prominent recent thinkers, but I think that one of them above the others has continued to increase in influence and prominence, even though he might not be the most famous. That guy is John Maynard Keynes.

I know that I am unlike other people in many ways, and one of those ways is a hobby-esque interest in economics and economic theory. I can see several of you falling asleep at your iPads right now just reading the term “economics,” but it really is fascinating to me to think about how jobs, money, and capital work together to form a neat little unit of goods and services…..and now the rest of you are asleep. Hm.

Keynes is credited with popularizing the modern economic theories that most hold as gospel today. Do you remember when President Bush started with the stiumulus extravaganzas? That’s Keynesian economics: in times of recession or slow economic growth, the best way to get things back on track is to increase government spending. Bush decided to spend at the family level, giving every taxpayer a small amount of money to use as they pleased. President Obama has taken a different tack, investing in large public works projects and similar spending ventures, mainly with the idea that increasing the amount of cash flowing in the economy will help get everything back on track. Similar types of policies are often credited with helping the USA out of the Great Depression in the form of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. In fact, Keynes and FDR were contemporaries. Ronald Reagan, often given near-deity status by Republicans for boosting the economy out of the doldrums in the 80s, borrowed to offset his economic policy. Though he believed in tax cutting rather than direct government spending, the net result is the same: the government helps offset larger amoungs of money in the economy.

The main thing about Keynesian economics is that it works. The USA has seen unprecedented decades of growth and wealth accumluation. But this growth comes with a downside….the bill comes due in the future. Someone asked Keynes how he planned to deal with this reality, and he replied something to the effect of “well I’ll be long gone, so it doesn’t much matter what is done.” Our nation’s current crippling debt and deficits are due in large part to the thinking of John Maynard Keynes, who really does rule the world from his grave through the force of his ideas.

Keynes’ philosophy can be found in more detail either on Wikipedia or in the Talmud.* No–seriously. Ecclesiastes tells us that there is nothing new under the sun, and, as is the Bible’s habit, it is right on. 2 Kings 20:19-21 tells about the portion of the reign of Hezekiah in which his life is extended. I’m sure you just read the story last night–the prophet Isaiah comes to Hezekiah and says, roughly, “Dude, you’ve had a good run. Real good. But all good things must come to an end. Get your house in order–God is calling you home.” But Hezekiah wasn’t pleased with that, so he asked God to look at his report card and give him a few bonus years for all the A’s that he had earned. God checks, and, sure enough, Hezekiah is granted fifteen more years.

*Full credit to Andrew for the Talmud joke.

Sometime later, Isaiah visits Hezekiah again. This time, he has more bad news. This time, he predicts that Hezekiah’s kingdom will be carried off into Babylon and that his successors would have the throne ripped from their hands. Hezekiah, roughly, says “That’s cool. Just pass me a sandwich. At least there will peace and prosperity in my own day.”

How Keynesian of Hezekiah to put off worrying about the future because his own day was secure. Perhaps this mindset isn’t really Keynesian after all, but rather “Hezekiahan.” I think we all share this mentality at times–instant gratification, credit card living, thirst for today and no looking to tomorrow. But the bill always comes due. For Keynes and Hezekiah, their successors paid the price. We, too, often make choices that others reap, and I’m not merely talking about tax policy or government spending. I’m talking about moral choices that we make each day with our eyes only on what it costs us.

If you overspend and your budget gets tight, that can cost your kids an event they wanted to do or some ministry project the opportunity to receive your gift. If you play too much Angry Birds and miss your class, you might never think about the opportunity you’ve cost your classmates or your professor by depriving them of your company. Hey, as long as you have peace and prosperity, so be it, right? Everything you do has its cost. The choice is in when the bill is paid. Next time, when faced with an uncomfrotable decision, make the hard choice now in order to ensure a prosperous future. It’s always better to pay now and reap later.