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Teaching Trees in the Garden of Eden

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Kim Davis, three goats and a cow

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Screenshot 2015-09-13 08.53.36

I made the mistake this morning of clicking on a Huffington Post link that read, “Kim Davis is about to get a BIG surprise in her hometown.” Let’s just say my human curiosity took over. The substance of the article was that a LGBTQ group paid for a billboard with an old meme that reads, “Dear Kim Davis, The fact that you can’t sell your daughter for three goats and a cow means we’ve already redefined marriage.” The HuffPo article ends with the sentence, “We hope you understand the Bible a bit better now, Kim!”

To be clear from the outset, I’m not going to tackle the propriety or impropriety of the recent issues surrounding Davis. For the moment, I’m more interested in the three goats and a cow meme itself – and what it suggests. A few observations:

First, there is no verse in the Bible that speaks to selling a daughter for three goats and a cow. Not one. It just isn’t there – period. There is a principal of paying a dowry in the Bible (eg. Exodus 22:16-17), but I’m not sure anyone finds that to be particularly appalling in and of itself.

Second, there IS a verse about selling your daughter in Exodus 21:-1-11 in the section about Hebrew slaves. And on its face, that is a bit alarming, but like so many other things it is important to put in context. Slavery in the Old Testament does not directly correspond to the institution of racial / chattel slavery we are more familiar with in our culture. In fact, the slavery of the Old Testament was more a function of the social / judicial safety nets of that time. People might voluntarily enter into a 6-year season of servitude to pay off a debt, for example. Financial damages in a legal dispute might be paid for by becoming a short-term servant in someone’s house. Even conquered peoples were only permitted to be held as servants for a period of six years… In that time and place, God’s law actually erected significant boundaries and limits to this non-racial version of slavery.

But back to the matter at hand. I would submit for your consideration that these verses in Exodus 21 promote protections for women in that ancient culture. If you look at the verses concerning female slaves, it is clear that the master was agreeing to take on and support someone’s daughter with the intent of grafting them into the family through marriage. The master might take the daughter in marriage, have her “redeemed” by a relative, or arrange a marriage with a son. And if none of those three things happened, the woman was supposed to go free with no obligation to the master.

This may still sound incredibly backward to us now, but that is because we have forgotten how brutal the world and ancient cultures could be. The Mosaic laws concerning slaves were meant to limit the rights of masters and to enhance the well-being of impoverished and abandoned women. The most fundamental safe-guard to a woman in that culture was the institution of marriage. The message to masters was clear – take care of the female slave by providing a loving spouse, or set her free.

No matter how you slice it, this has NOTHING to do with supporting this woefully ignorant meme about “three goats and a cow.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather than arguing for the redefinition of marriage, these verses underscore its importance and place in God’s redemptive program. I hope you understand the Bible a bit better, Huffington Post!

Five reflections on 20 years of marriage

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People Skills

Today I celebrate 20 years of marriage and it only seemed right to briefly meditate on what I have learned and am still trying to learn. I could write and write for hours on this topic, but I thought a handful of reflections would be worth sharing as a way to encourage one another:

1. Marriage is fragile – treat it accordingly: One of my most flawed assumptions going into marriage was that the emotional strength of our mutual commitment to one another could be taken for granted as an abiding axiom. But I was so wrong about that. The normal trials of life – not to mention the exceptional trials of life, put our emotions and our commitments to the test. And the truth is that at all times – especially during those difficult times we have to be gentle and careful with one another. This is not easy to do when frustration is high and disagreements and disappointments run deep. We’re often the hardest on those we love the most. That’s why keeping the fragility of the relationship in view is so important. If you’re carrying a precious glass vase in your hand, you do not make thoughtless and careless moves. You constantly hold it with an understanding that the wrong move could cause a break.

2. Marriage is also anti-fragile – stress can be good: This is a category coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book, “Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder.” His thesis is that we can categorize different things in life as fragile (likely to break under stress), robust (likely to withstand stress), and antifragile (things that grow stronger with the right amount of stress). I love this paradigm as it relates to marriage, because there is a sense in which the right kinds of stresses result in a more bonded marriage. Conflicts, tribulations, and crises can be real opportunities to gain relational depth if we will allow them to bend and shape us instead of breaking us. And be prepared – the paradox of life is that the greatest blessings also bring the greatest challenges. I’m talking about children, of course. Almost nothing else can bring the depth and connectedness that children can – but believe me when I say they will kick you and your relational weaknesses in the face. But this isn’t bad. It is anti-fragility at work. Embrace the stress like you embrace a good workout.

3. Fragile + Antifragile = get marriage counseling: It’s inevitable – you will find yourself out-matched and out-gunned by the normal conflicts and stresses that come with married life. We would all love to think we’re incredibly well-adjusted folks with the people skills to navigate the complexities, but what an epic delusion. We’re all basically broken and stupid in our own ways. So put life’s twists and turns plus your mutual foibles in a bottle and shake ’em up – you’re going to need help. It took me too long to figure this out and when I did I had no idea what was awaiting us… Actually, that’s not quite right. I knew – we all have our box on the shelf. The box we don’t open. The hurts, the problems, the stuff – lots of stuff. You’re going to have to face your box o’ stuff. Notice I said your stuff. Not just your spouse’s stuff… yours. And man, who wants do to that? No one – that’s who. But weighed in the balance of the alternatives, it is worth doing. 100%. Getting real with yourself is always tough, but always good. Get after it sooner than later. Pay attention to the signals, don’t ignore them – and most importantly, get professional help. After all, you’re fragile and anti-fragile, my friend.

4. The Goldilocks Zone of expectations – shift happens: If your relational expectations of one another are too low, there is a real danger of creating cynicism and distance. But if they are too high, you will create a false idol that leads to a vicious cycle of disappointment. You’ve got to find a not too hot, but not too cold place for your expectations to live. Our spouse is our life partner, our best friend, our confidante and lover. But if they become a god who is supposed to fill-up all of your emotional, intellectual, physical desires… you’ve got trouble with a capital “T.” If you’re feeling relationally adrift, there may indeed be problems. But the problem may very well start with expecting too much from the other person – and not enough from yourself. If you want to raise the bar on your marital Goldilocks Zone, start by raising the bar on yourself. Guys, help out around the house, bring home some flowers, do something thoughtful and spontaneous. Ladies, give your man an extra squeeze and flirtatious glance – tell him how much you appreciate him. The bar can be raised – the Goldilocks Zone can shift, but it is an on-going and never-ending project that likely starts with YOU.

5. Grace upon grace – Jesus matters: Marriage is one of the most wonderful, enjoyable, maddening, and difficult gifts of life. And I don’t believe this bundle of paradoxes is a mere human convention – I think it is something God embedded into humanity as a way of bringing a taste of heaven to earth. The Apostle Paul enigmatically said that marriage is the embodiment of the relationship between Jesus and the church. This means that marriage is inherently redemptive and life-giving. But the Gospel teaches us that new life is predicated upon dying first. Death precedes resurrection. Gospel love is not a mystical experience of self-fulfillment or enlightenment. No, no. True love entails an act of radical self-giving. And that’s what it takes to stay married and to enjoy its benefits. It is about a life of grace – of living in unmerited and even de-merited favor. And the more you realize how much grace you need and that is available in every way, the more you’re able to give. To my mind, this makes pursuing Jesus central to experiencing marriage as it is intended to be. People can manage to be married and stay married without Jesus, I get it. In the parlance of theologians, marriage is a creational ordinance that is not restricted to Christians or religious people. But what I’m saying is this – the mysterious depths of marriage are best plumbed in the light of the One who created it – by the God who is love. With Jesus jointly in view, the possibility of seeing dimly through the veil of heaven is ours.

Tripping over Genesis

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step-98822_640

I’m always intrigued by people who maintain that the Bible must not be read “literally” because it is really just (take your pick) – fable / allegory / metaphor / myth. Engaging in this kind of literary interpretation may appear to be enlightened, but it is almost never backed by any real conceptual substance or textual-historical analysis. No one stops to define allegory or distinguish it from metaphor or fable. Even fewer stop to show how these specifically apply. Unfortunately, use of these terms becomes a convenient way of disengaging with thoughtful and rigorous examination of the Biblical texts.

This uncritical approach is nowhere more evident than the way people read the very beginning of the Bible, Genesis. With a blithe wave of the hand, a so-called literal reading of Genesis is dismissed as Neanderthal and ignorant. And at a couple of levels I do understand where this comes from. The science and history of origins has become a major focus of modern culture for at least a century now. And frankly, many fundamentalist Evangelicals have promoted a one-dimensional approach to the Bible that is often unhelpful. So while I profoundly disagree with such dismissive contempt for the Genesis text, I can appreciate where it comes from…

But that is why I am writing this relatively short blog today. I write extensively about all of these subjects in my book, so if you want more information, please get a copy! For the moment I want to ever-so-briefly function like a museum docent. By calling our attention to a few features of the way the Genesis text is setup, we can leave behind superficial perspectives of it. Sometimes it helps to see the way a text, like a painting or gothic cathedral, is put together to appreciate it more. Let’s take a look together, shall we?

First of all, I want to point out that Genesis is an intricately and densely layered text – meaning there are a handful of textual outlines that work in concert together. While there is a sense in which it reads as a relatively straight-forward historical narrative (not a moral fable), there is much more than meets the eye at first glance. Let me point out just a few of these outlines with short reflections along the way…

1. Major literary segments:

A. Genesis 1:1 – 2:3, Exalted Prose (Poetic) Narrative / Prologue

B. Genesis 2:3 – 11, Primeval History of Humanity & Nations

C. Genesis 12-50, Redemptive History Through Abraham’s Family

***Reflection: One of the biggest canards I hear over and over again is that there are two different and conflicting creation stories in Genesis. Not true at all. As will be discussed below, Genesis 1:1 – 2:3 functions as a different kind of literature than 2:4 and following. It has a distinctly different and deliberate structure that is all its own. A markedly different literary structure begins in Genesis 2:4. This is nothing but a signal in the text. It is meant to alert us to a shift in voice – so that we will use different literary tools in our analysis. The point of this outline is critical because it colors the way we handle Genesis 1 in conversations about the science of origins. It also influences the way we read the narrative of the primeval flood account in contrast to the narrative of Abraham. For the moment, let’s just observe that calling the whole text fable or allegory is radically insufficient and intellectually lazy.

2. Historical demarcations:

***A trigger phrase is used over-and-over again in Genesis to bracket different parts of the story. That phrase is “These are the generations of…” Here is the list for your quick review:

A. Heaven and Earth, 2:4-4:26

B. Adam, 5:1-6:8

C. Noah, 6:9-9:29

D. Sons of Noah, 10:1-11:9

E. Shem, 11:10-26

F. Terah, 11:27-25:11

G. Ishmael, 25:12-18

H. Isaac, 25:19-35:29

I. Esau, 36:1-37:1

J. Jacob, 37:2-50:26.

3. Parallelisms between old (pre-flood) and new (post-flood) worlds:

Screenshot 2015-07-12 08.19.31

***Reflection: Without delving too far into the theology of it, the Genesis text pivots around the idea of the death of the old world and the resurrection of a new world. The Noahic flood and covenant highlight the fusion of God’s judgment and mercy on humanity in order to continue the original project of merging heaven and earth.

Finally, I want to call out two literary devices that are used in the way the texts are structured.

4. Genesis 1 Song: 

My personal favorite is the way Genesis 1:1 – 2:3 is setup as “exalted prose narrative.” It uses a parallel system of triplets and couplets as a way of calling attention to the fact that it is highly stylized – not be seen as a newspaper or diary-like account of history. It also makes use of a lyrical refrain, “And God saw that it was good,” to point us to the day where this benediction is not given. Take a quick look at these textual maps of the 7 days of creation in Genesis 1.

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Now check out where the missing refrain of “And God saw that it was good” appears:

silent day

Or if the couplet / triplet matrix is making you dizzy, look at it this way:

Screenshot 2015-07-12 08.40.12

***Reflection: It couldn’t be more clear the Genesis 1 functions like a song or a poem. Think of it as the overture to a stage musical. That is not to say that it leaves behind historical concerns because the Bible is quite clearly a religion of space and time – of God acting in history. Nevertheless, making Genesis 1 the battleground for a “literal” 6 day creation is somewhat wrong-headed in my view because it ignores would shouldn’t be ignored. The structure of the text itself is drawing our attention to some basic framework issues concerning God and the universe – and His plan for it. The reason there is no benediction refrain on Day 2 isn’t hard to see… God’s plan was to merge heaven and earth together – and He was using humankind to do it.

5. Noahic Chiasm:

Everyone is familiar with the flood story of Noah. But not everyone is familiar with the way it is structured as a literary chiasm. It uses thematic symmetries to point to a central idea. Take a look:

Screenshot 2015-07-12 09.01.49

***Reflection: The center of the chiasm is that “God remembers Noah.” At the very apex of judgment – at the moment of despair, God’s mercy breaks through. This is no accident. This becomes the heart of the story of the Bible. In fact, it points to the cross of Jesus Christ.

My time is out and I’m sure your patience for this exercise is officially exhausted. Hopefully the point is clear enough. Interpreting Genesis “literally” is a rigorous exercise – one that requires time and energy. Merely calling Genesis a fable or myth doesn’t hold water. It is disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst. Let’s stop tripping over Genesis and start interpreting it.

We Are All Theologians Now

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Theologians

One of the most fascinating post-Obergefell dynamics is the number of negative posts I have seen on social media about the Bible. Most of them highlight difficult passages of the Old Testament, but a fair number highlight tough sections of the New Testament as well. The logic of the criticisms can be grouped into a handful of categories:

1. The Bible was written by flawed humans, therefore it is flawed and not of divine origin.

2. The Bible was written a long time ago, therefore it is naive, outmoded, and irrelevant.

3. The Bible condones various atrocities, prejudices, and dubious ethics, therefore it is unenlightened and unreliable.

Now for the record, I think this whole storm of Biblical criticism is fantastic because it is an opportunity for clarification and discussion. And in that spirit I would like to offer two relatively brief trains of thought. First, I will briefly respond to the listed objections, and second, I will offer some thoughts on how to approach the Biblical text more fruitfully.

1. Response about flawed humanity – The very beginning of the Bible makes some startling claims, but one of the most critical is that humans are made in the image of God. In fact, even though it goes on to teach that humans fell away from God, that did not change the fact that they were made in God’s image (Genesis 9:6). Being made in God’s image means a lot of things that we can’t get into here. But one of the things it most certainly points to is that humans function like pointers to and symbols of the Creator. In other worldviews, humans are not understood from this vantage point. So to understand how God’s self-revelation can legitimately be passed through humans, one has to first understand the special place of dignity, symbolism, and communication that humans have in the Biblical program. In other words, by the Bible’s very own testimony about the nature of humanity, God’s self-disclosure via humanity is not only possible – but by design. Much more could be said about this, but it is a critical starting point. One may not agree that humans are made in God’s image – but one cannot accuse the Bible of being internally inconsistent on this point.

2. Response about age of Bible – Let’s start with a point of agreement. The Bible actually makes claims about the nature of its age and progressive revelation over time – and goes so far as to admit that many features of its revelation were temporary in nature (Hebrews 1:1ff). One of the most obvious is that the sacrificial system of the Old Testament was symbolic of the need for substitutionary atonement… pointing to the need for God’s ultimate Presence and Provision. Other examples abound, but the principle is correct at one level. Many dynamics and instructions of the Bible were not permanent and were for a special purpose at a particular time. But now to the disagreement… Yes, the Bible is old, so what? The age of something doesn’t de facto speak to its irrelevance. Do I even need to prove this point with examples? Are the works of Shakespeare worthless because they are old? Or are certain aspects of his work ageless? Isn’t it amazing that the Bible was endured and thrived for over 2,000 years? Doesn’t that kind of perseverance among disparate communities over the face of the earth deserve a little respect? A little curiosity? I think so…

3. Response about questionable and inconsistent ethics – Now here’s where things get juicy. Some issues are easier to navigate than others, to be honest. There are some gritty parts and pieces that don’t go down easy. We’ll get to those in a moment. But let’s start with an observation – these kinds of passages trigger all of us to engage in the enterprise of interpretation and theology. And that’s a good thing, but it is also a rigorous and complex thing. Simply highlighting a particular issue as if there is no credible or compelling explanation for its existence is naive and superficial. If there is one thing I have learned in life, sometimes hard questions get hard answers. Not everything is self-evident or emotionally comfortable. So when we come to these kinds of issues we should give the texts and ourselves a little air to breathe. Reading texts in their full context – and even in the their full Biblical context takes some time and thought. If you don’t have time for that, that is fine. But perhaps vociferous criticism along these lines should be dropped in favor of more self-effacing ignorance or agnosticism.

Unfortunately, none of these responses really solve any of the particular squabbles people have about apparent sexism, inconsistent moral standards, condoning of atrocities, etc. And trying to respond to each one or a particular example is beyond the scope of this post. But I thought it might be interesting to put a few interpretive principles on the table for people to chew on. Maybe some light can be shed by sharing a few tools of the trade, if you will…

A. Scripture interprets Scripture – One of the things that makes the Bible so interesting is that it has very dense motifs, themes, symbols, and structures that are echoed over-and-over again. It becomes apparent with some study that the Biblical writers were often leveraging material that earlier or contemporary Biblical writers used. So to understand a particular issue or passage, it isn’t enough to simply point to one verse. That verse lives in a holistic textual and interpretive ecosystem that deserves attention. An atomistic approach just isn’t legitimate in this kind of literature.

B. Distinction between descriptive and prescriptive – In almost any kind of literature we have to distinguish between observations about what happened (descriptive) versus instructions about what should happen (prescriptive). So for example, polygamy happened for various reasons we won’t get into here. That is a descriptive fact of the Biblical texts. However, polygamy is not given or condoned as a moral prescription. In fact, monogamy is the consistent prescription of the Bible. We’re not taking time here to unpack this issue in detail, we’re just highlighting the interpretive principle.

C. Explicit interprets implicit – There are some places where explicit prescriptive instruction is given about a behavior or about the interpretation of another Biblical text. We see this a lot with the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. His letters almost work like a running commentary and explanation of the Old Testament narrative. In the absence of explicit teaching or commentary, certain implicit principles are certainly present and legitimate. However, explicit instruction and interpretation always carry the day when an implicit principle is in doubt.

D. Later revelation interprets earlier revelation – The Bible’s own testimony about itself is that its revelation was progressive over time. One of the reasons it offers for this dynamic is that humanity matures over time. This is important because as noted earlier in this post, certain instructions were temporary in nature. The Mosaic covenant included civil laws for the nation-state of Israel. But even Moses predicted the breaking of Mosaic covenant and the coming of a prophet greater than himself. So the specific civil codes for the nation-state of Israel were never meant to be eternal or ageless. This raises many difficult and awesome questions because after all, Jesus said not one “jot or tittle” of the law would pass away until heaven and earth pass away (Matthew 5:18). But again, this is a theological problem with huge cash value for people willing to dive into it. Jesus was often enigmatic and scandalous – heck, that is what got him killed. I don’t see these things as prima facie reasons to give up in frustration. No, these are the high pay-off areas where interpretive diligence carries serious weight.

E. Jesus is the interpretive key – Jesus taught that the whole Old Testament pointed to Him (Luke 24). The other apostles echoed this teaching in their writings. Seeing this isn’t always easy at first because it means becoming familiar with a way of reading ancient literature most of us have never learned or experienced. But I’m telling you, when you start to see how it works – it is stunning. Hey, don’t take my word for it. Take Jesus’ word for it – this was His teaching, not something I’m making up.

F. Be open to letting your sensibilities be shocked and reshaped – Tim Keller once quipped, “If your god never disagrees with you, you might just be worshiping an idealized version of yourself.” It doesn’t even seem like further commentary on that is necessary.

And that is probably a good place to stop for now. Perhaps I will tackle some of the more difficult passages people like to cite in future posts. Stay tuned…

 

Why Christianity?

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whyarrow

If you’re curious about the nature of my faith and the contents of my book, but don’t have a lot of time and patience for either – here is a brief synopsis to chew on. I’m recycling this from a Facebook conversation, so it may not be the most compelling or cogent. But for whatever it is worth, here it is…

First, let’s all admit that we all exercise faith in our various belief systems. It isn’t like I have faith and you have a corner on reason. That is not true. I start here simply b/c even the most die-hard atheist is a person of faith in some extraordinary ways. Faith is simply part of the way we know things. When a jury makes a verdict “beyond a reasonable doubt,” that is a negative formulation for faith. The collective evidence confirms the verdict despite the inability to witness something directly.

Second, belief systems are inherently exclusive despite claims to the contrary. So when a spiritual pluralist says that all religions are approximations of the same unknowable reality – that is an absolute claim that exclusively rules out systems that claim the contrary. And that is fine – but like #1, I want to point out that we’re all on a level playing field here – everyone is making some sort of absolute claim – even if it is in the negative – eg. “there CAN’T be one way to God.” Guess what? That is an absolute and exclusive claim. So what to do?

Religious choices:

*Atheism – Agnosticism* Atheism in a strict sense fails b/c it reaches beyond its own system of knowing. Agnosticism is more intellectually honest than atheism, but I believe there is sufficient evidence / reason to move off of this position.

*Nature mysticism* fails in my view b/c it ignores phenomenal / historical realities and reference points in favor of mere subjectivism. I don’t believe this kind of mere subjectivism is coherent with the “fleshly” life as we know it, so while I think there are mystical elements to life and this world, I find mysticism to be too reductionistic b/c of what it ignores.

*Generic spirituality* which affirms transcendence in some way(s), but eschews formal religion is attractive in many respects. And if it weren’t for the enduring strength and compelling revelation of the Old & New Testaments, that is where I would stand.

*Religious Adherents* believe that God – being spirit – has to engage in some form of self-revelation. The major religions have different views of how this works. But suffice it to say that one of the many ways God does this in Judaism/Christianity is through the prophetic / apostolic record called the Bible.

But why Christianity? The Bible is an incredibly unique book relative to other religious literature. It was written over a great span of time by multiple authors to a historic community of faith that exists to this day. I don’t see that as a minus, I see it as a plus. The message is grounded in the historical experience(s) of a community over hundreds of years. It wasn’t produced by the ephemeral musings-meditations of a single enlightened person. (Funny thing – you don’t have to have perfect people to deliver the message. I don’t know where that non sequitur comes from – but it is a favorite go-to criticism for many people.) The overall integrity of the preservation of the literature itself is almost a historical miracle. Islam cannot make these claims. Neither can Mormonism.

Beyond the unique characteristics of the Biblical literature in contrast to other religions we come to the message itself. Personally, I believe that the hard edges – the warts in the story – the ugly and even startling parts speak to its veracity. It isn’t white-washed – it isn’t putty in my hands. It is so consistent with our world – things are kind of messy and broken. Beautiful, yes. But a mess. And the sweep of the narrative – I find breath-taking, startling, unsettling – and yes, reasonable. Now at this point many people will simply throw their hands up and say, “to each his own.” And I get it. But my passion is to make sure they have a chance to really hear the message in its totality and coherence before they walk away from it as rubbish. Because sadly, I think it is very misunderstood. And the common theological difficulties and conflicts people point to as ridiculous – those are some of the most gratifying / satisfying pieces of the puzzle to put together.

But in the end it is about Jesus. Jesus isn’t another Buddha. That wasn’t His claim or His life. I find Him to be compelling – his teachings are crazy profound – especially His teaching on love. But more than what he taught about love – how He demonstrated that love in the ultimate act of self-giving. Self-giving to renew me and you – and humanity. That is good news to me and something I am thankful for. Something I feel compelled to share…

My happy-sad meditation on the SCOTUS decision

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An American flag and a rainbow colored flag flies in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, April 27, 2015, as the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

It is official – SCOTUS has upheld the right of gay people to marry. My Facebook thread is blowing-up with posts from friends all over the country. Some are celebrating it as a massive stride for civil rights and others are mourning it as another immoral step towards national judgment. As for me… I have mixed emotions. I’m very relieved and happy on the one hand, and terribly saddened on the other.

Let’s start with the sad part. I’m sad because as a Christian I think human sexuality has specific boundaries setup for human flourishing. I have written about this in my book, so I won’t belabor it here. Suffice it to say that I believe human flourishing actually suffers when God’s boundaries for living life are ignored and even disdained. This principle is not strictly tied to sexuality or marriage. Loving God and loving our neighbor has a God-given shape and rhythm. When that is respected, understood, and practiced we have the best shot at experiencing true happiness and freedom. So when the prevailing culture and laws step away from God’s design, my view is that humanity’s potential for happiness and fulfilling its purpose is harmed. And that is sad to me.

But now for the happy. I’m happy because Christians really need to wake up and come to better grips with their political theology, if you will. Let’s get this straight – the United States is not a Christian country. Our country doesn’t have a Christian constitution, doesn’t recognize Jesus Christ as God, and doesn’t see the critical failure a secular government. Yes, it is true that there was a certain Judeo-Christian framework that our country leveraged and assumed. That is undeniable. But it is also undeniable that our country was born out of an age of revolution that believed that “natural law” was self-evident enough for the purpose of governance. Our founders embraced a grand experiment in disjoining the function of the state from the role of the church / religion. It was believed that a common-sense morality apart from any religious mooring was robust enough to sustain a secular system.

In my view, the wrong-headedness and false promise of a strictly secular government is simply playing itself out. If we’re honest, the issues that divide us as a nation are not fundamentally socio-economic or even racial. Our divisions are rooted in disagreements about basic morality. I’m not merely talking about sexuality here. I’m talking about the morality of things like income disparity, environmental responsibility, the penal system, educational standards and approaches, the list goes on and on. In every single case you can trace the division back to what someone believes to be principally “right” and what someone else believes to be principally “wrong.” To borrow and edit a phrase from Presidential politics, “it’s the morality, stupid.”

And that’s where secularism will fail to sustain peace and prosperity… because morality or so-called “natural law” is not sufficiently self-evident to govern. Morality is simply an outworking of the Great Commandment(s) – to love God and neighbor. And that is by God’s design, not the imaginations of men and women. The state needs the church and the church needs the state. Until Christians grasp this we will continue to kick against the goads and find the parameters for human flourishing eroding at every turn.

There may be some who read this post with great alarm – that I am advocating for a theocratic state. But that is not the case. I don’t believe theocracy is the answer. At the risk of being too self-serving I will now hide behind chapter twelve of my book. And perhaps I will blog on it another time. But for now I will simply say this – this particular SCOTUS decision is good in at least one respect. It points to the fly-in-the-ointment in our cultural experiment. It underscores how very important Jesus is to the conversation.

A “literal” approach to Genesis Chapter 1

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Screenshot 2015-06-13 09.59.50

Everyone is a pajama philosopher

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philosopher-socrates

Most of us don’t have degrees in philosophy or theology, but all of us have a philosophy and a theology. All of us have a framework of beliefs about the nature of reality, ourselves, and the world around us. Some people call this framework a “worldview.”

I would humbly submit that many of us are not very aware of our system of beliefs, how we arrived at them, or whether they serve us well. But we have significant beliefs nevertheless. Even those who scoff at philosophy as being impractical and overly abstract are exercising their own underlying belief system. Their pragmatism, if you will, is rooted in what they believe about what the world is and how it works.

So what do you believe and why? Is your worldview giving you the fullest perspective on reality or is it truncated in certain respects? Take this brief assessment to start the journey as a fellow pajama philosopher!