Archive for January 22nd, 2008

strawmanSaw an interesting and disturbing post over on Slice today. It’s a profile of Phil Wyman, a pastor in Salem, Massachusetts. Apparently Mr Wyman was kicked out of his denomination for confusing reaching out to Wiccans with trying to help Christians embrace these poor, misunderstood people. Seeing as how I’m not God, I won’t claim to know Mr Wyman’s spiritual state, but it would appear that he’s got some pretty whacked-out beliefs.

All in all, it’s pretty creepy stuff.

Almost as creepy as the Slice post title (emphasis mine):

Evangelicals and Wiccans Together? Emerging Pastor Fascinated by Witches/Pagans

Nowhere does the word “emerging” appear in any of the links provided on that post. Nowhere does any derivative of that word appear. Nowhere does any reference to any emerging leaders appear. Nowhere does any allusion whatsoever to anything even remotely emerging appear.

Even in the post itself, even the author could only muster a sixteenth-hearted (it wasn’t even close to half-hearted) attempt to somehow tie Wyman to emerging beliefs.

So tell me again, why should I take anything that she says about emerging seriously?

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In response to some questions (and requests), I am going to repost some older articles on scriptural context and interpretation in the coming days, following on the heel’s of yesterday’s repost.

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It is interesting how the Spirit works – I don’t know about you, but I cannot count the times that I have read a passage of scripture, a chapter in a book, or listened to a sermon and *BAM* within the next day or so I find that I need exactly what I heard/read. What if I hadn’t taken the time for personal study and devotion? It is a sobering thought.

Interestingly, when I hear/read scripture being misused (particularly by literalists), I often bite my tongue, waiting for that ‘leading’ or ‘tugging’ that seems to then happen when I see the exact passage misused multiple times by multiple individuals in multiple forums.

Today is just such a day, and the passage(s) in question are the three gospel accounts where Jesus states that ‘the poor you will always have with you’. These are located in Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, and John 12:8. Where these scriptures seem to be (mis)used is in casting aside calls to be ‘missional’, particularly relating to serving the poor and addressing poverty at home and abroad. Usually, the misuse is along the lines of “We should be far more concerned with eternal issues, rather than temporal ones. Besides, Jesus said that ‘For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.’”

So, what is Jesus’ point here?

First off, let’s look at the context. All three accounts are of the same event in Bethany, where Jesus is eating at the house of Simon the Leper with Lazarus, Mary, Martha, Judas and at least some of Jesus other disciples. There, a woman (identified by John as Mary) took expensive perfume and anointed Jesus with it (two accounts accentuate her use of it on his head, the other account accentuates the use on his feet – possibly indicating that she was anointing the head, heart, hands and feet, as with a miqvah.)

Then, Judas criticizes Mary’s actions by saying ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages!’. However, John also includes this statement about Judas’ motives:

He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. (John 12:6)

So, we can already see that the question being put to Jesus isn’t really a genuine one in the first place. It was one that was self-serving with the appearance of appealing to service to the poor. And so, Jesus answers:

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:7-8)

As I’ve discussed on a number of occasions, Jesus was a master rabbinical teacher, using PaRDeS and Parable as his key methods. As such, this teaching contains (at the very least) P’shat and Remez.

The P’shat (or ‘plain meaning’) is often expressed in contrast and placed second (like with ‘you have heard it said X, but I say to you Y’). In John 12:8, the emphasis (or plain meaning) is after ‘but’. The key is ‘you will not always have me’ and not ‘you will always have the poor’. So, to give the proper interpretation to Jesus’ words, you would see that he is agreeing with the sentiment (you will always have the poor), but making an exception based on his physical presence and the significance of Mary’s anointing with the perfume to be used in his burial. This is not a callous statement that ‘we will always have the poor, and therefore we have no responsibility to do anything about it’ – that is 180-degrees apart from His teaching!

To emphasize this, we need to look at the remez (the ‘hint’). When Jesus says ‘You will always have the poor among you’, he is actually quoting from Deuteronomy 15:11, which states ‘There will always be poor people in the land.’ If you will remember, to understand remez, we must look at the verses immediately before and after the one quoted. Jesus’ audience, who had the Torah memorized, would have been able to do this instantly -

If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward your needy brother and give him nothing. He may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. (Deut 15:7-11)

So, if it wasn’t obvious from the P’shat, the Remez should not only put the lie to those who misuse Jesus’ words, but show us, once again, that – while the eternal destination is not unimportant – our temporal responsibility is to care for both the physical and spiritual needs of those less fortunate.

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While I probably could have gone on and discussed the brilliance of Jesus’ approach, and the modern social-science derivatives (such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs), this was just looking at the scriptural interpretation. Perhaps I’ll pick it up and continue at some point in the future…

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(Note: I’m not a fan of either of these presidential candidates — nor any of them, for that matter. So I’m not interested in a political discussion. The political realm just happens to be where this example lies.)

In Monday night’s Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama got testy with each other. There was one exchange though, that gave me a serious case of déjà vu:

Obama: I was helping unemployed workers on the streets of Chicago when you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board at Wal-Mart.

Clinton: I was fighting against misguided Republican policies when you were practicing law and representing your contributor … in his slum landlord business in inner city Chicago.

See the difference? Obama claimed to be working with actual people. Conversely, for Clinton, the important thing was to be anti-Republican, (apparently, the highest calling that any human being can aspire to).

Then I got a flashback.

A bit over a year ago, I wrote an email to one of the group-written incarnations of Slice asking why my comments kept getting un-approved, despite the fact that they were civil and not particularly strident. I contrasted my comments to stuff like:

RICK WARREN IS NOT A CHRISTIAN!

– and –

Houston will be a desert before I accept a liar, a slanderer, a self-promoting name-dropper, and a blasphemer of the Holy Spirit as a brother in Christ. (regarding Warren)

I marveled that such anti-Biblical skubala was permitted on a site on which comments were carefully screened.

Put down your coffee before you read the next sentence. I don’t want to be responsible for the spit-take all over your computer screen.

The response that I received was that comments at Slice were not carefully screened. Rather, the only comments that were disallowed were apologists for the emerging church and Rick Warren, and comments that were truly malicious.

Since my actual point was totally ignored (the anti-Biblical nature of some comments), I re-iterated it again. The response that I got this time stated that even guessing who is saved is unbiblical.

I responded that I was glad that this was her stance, pointed out that this was not the stance of all the writers at Slice, and then asked the following:

Does this mean that you place a higher priority on being anti-emergent and anti-Warren than on being pro-Biblical?

“Surprisingly”, I didn’t receive a response to that note.

Sure, being pro-Biblical will inherently mean that we’ll be “anti” some stuff. But the latter follows the former. Talk about getting the cart before the dead horse that you’ve been beating.

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