Week 6, McLaren's Commentary "Plotting Goodness"

Chapter 6. Plotting Goodness

Genesis 12:1-9           

Galatians 3:6-9          

Mark 11:15-19

From Brian McLaren’s commentary on this text (used with permission) found HERE.

 

This chapter sets up a contrast between what I call “true faith” and its alternatives. And then it sets up a contrast between “true aliveness” and its alternatives. This line of demarcation doesn’t run between religions, or even between individuals. It runs within us all.

I was first exposed to a fresh approach to the pivotal passage of Genesis 12:1-9 by the British missiologist Lesslie Newbigin. Newbigin said that the fundamental heresy in all monotheistic religion comes from a misunderstanding of election, or God’s choosing of some people. They are chosen, Newbigin said, not for blessing to the exclusion of others, but for blessing so they could extend that blessing to others. I think Newbigin got it right.

This understanding undermines what I have called “the 6-line narrative” or “the soul-sort narrative” that many of us were given - the idea that the Bible tells us how God is going to sort some souls out for heaven and others for hell at the end of life. It presents a radically different narrative - what my friend Rabbi Michael Lerner presents as “tikkun olam,” the opportunity for us to join God in the blessing of the world.

The phrase “plotting goodness” comes from my friend Bart Campolo, who not only uses it but embodies it.

Week 5, Anna's Thoughts
apples_7820cn.jpg

What if Eve is the hero of the story?

 

This week, I’m in Montreat for a conference, and tonight the preacher (the Rev. Traci Blackmon) focused on Psalm 23.  While there were many points to her sermon, she pointed out that the first four verses of Psalm 23 speak about God, and then the Psalmist (David) transitions to talking To God, as we often do when we are in the midst of a valley/crisis time.

 I hadn’t ever noticed that.

 I love it when the Biblical Stories are turned inside out and they take on whole new meaning.

 And there are so many opportunities to do that, but there are also moments when we have to wrestle with texts that might not ever be violence free and might always pose complications and problems.  I like the way that McLaren talks about this,

“The words ‘God must be better than that’ will come up several times in the chapters to come.” and he describes the way in which the text paints a portrait of God.

 But I also wonder if the portrait of God in the Biblical text isn’t a portrait of us as much as it is of God. 

As you think of the texts you’ve read from these chapters (and before), what portraits are painted for you?

Week 5, McLaren's Commentary

Chapter 5. In Over Our Heads

Genesis 4:1-17; 6:5-8; 7:1-5; 8:1; 9:7-17

Psalm 51

James 4:1-8

It’s becoming clear that in my reading of the Bible, violence is a serious problem. It wasn’t in the approach to the Bible I was taught. Perhaps that’s because in the version of Christianity in which I was raised, there was a long and unacknowledged tradition of violence - from European colonial powers, from American settlers (aka colonizers or land thieves), from a history of slavery and racism and apartheid/segregation. Perhaps many of us didn’t notice the theme of violence in the Bible because we were busy hiding our own violence from ourselves. Whatever the reasons for our ability to miss it, the Noah story - especially when compared with its Babylonian antecedents - puts human violence front and center.

 

Neither traditional conservatives nor liberals have been very comfortable with the power of storytelling in oral cultures. As I’ve worked on this book, I’ve grown to respect how different the ancient mind was from our mind today. This chapter is one of the few where I try to be explicit about this different approach to the Bible that I believe we must become comfortable with. It’s not simply a matter of a new interpretation of this or that story; it’s a new way of interpreting altogether ... a new way of understanding what we mean by the word “interpretation.” My shorthand for this way of interpretation is “the wisdom of storytelling.” My work on this project has deepened my respect for that unique kind of wisdom.

The words “God must be better than that” will come up several times in the chapters to come.

 They suggest that the Bible records a quest not unlike the quest of scientists. Just as they aspire to develop theories, test them, and then replace them in their quest for a more complete and accurate understanding of the universe, people of faith develop beliefs and stories, test them, and then replace them in their quest for a more complete and accurate understanding of God.

 The Bible, then, is indeed a revelation of God. But it doesn’t reveal God in one final official portrait. Rather, it shows us sketch after sketch, portrait after portrait, by artist after artist. As we see those sketches and portraits change over time, we begin to understand that the glory of God is so great that no single portrait could ever perfectly and definitively contain it.

 Several people are doing helpful work on this subject, including Adam Hamilton, Rachel Held Evans, Peter Enns, Derek Flood, and Steve Chalke.

Week 4, McLaren's Commentary

From Brian McLaren’s commentary on this text (used with permission) found HERE.

Chapter 4. The Drama of Desire

 

Genesis 3:1-13

Psalm 32

Philippians 2:3-11

 

Readers with a lot of religious background will bring many assumptions into the Genesis 3 text. Many will assume a traditional understanding of The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which posits “Good” and “Evil” as two fundamental and pre-existing (philosophers would say “ontological”) categories in the universe. Others will read into the figure of the serpent a lot of later theological data relating to the Satan, devil, Lucifer, etc. Readers are free to make these assumptions if they must, but I try to read the chapter more “cleanly,” without importing those familiar assumptions.

 

My reading in this chapter suggests that the categories of “Good” and “Evil” are not pre-existing, eternal categories. Initially, there is no evil; there is only good. Evil is created when by humans when we defect from or rebel against the good world and good Creator behind it. We choose to disassociate from and objectify “the other” and classify “the other” as evil. In this way, we break out of our fundamental relatedness with God and God’s good world. While God says, “It is good,” we say, “No, we judge this or that as evil.” This break in relationship is the essence of evil.

 

I intentionally choose to use words like evil and wrong in the text rather than the word sin. This is not because I am trying to soft-pedal or minimize sin, but rather the reverse. In many religious communities, the word sin has come to mean an infraction, often trivial, that puts us in danger of God’s wrath, from which we must be saved. Such a perspective trivializes sin and renders God an unmerciful perfectionist. In We Make the Road by Walking, sin is an act of foolishness, selfishness, and rebellion that puts us and others in danger. God wants to save us from the danger. God’s wrath is not against us; it is against what is against us. God is not a merciless perfectionist judge out to punish us; God is a compassionate and wise parent out to protect us.

This choice to disassociate, objectify, and classify one of God’s good creatures as evil gives the judge or accuser permission to exploit, desecrate and even destroy it. Almost anyone who has ever destroyed anyone or anything would say they were dispensing with something evil, so the diminishment or desecration are preconditions for destruction. Before a man sexually exploits a woman in lust, or a coal or oil company ecologically destroys a mountain and watershed in greed, or an ethnic group or nation colonizes and humiliates another in pride and hate ... the wrongdoer rejudges or revalues the person, watershed, or ethnic group as something less than “good” in the way the Creator valued it.

 

I doubt this alternative way of understanding sin will appeal to people who have been trained to see God as a stern father and humans as naughty boys and girls who need threats and punishments to keep them in line. Nor will it appeal to people who want to say, “Everyone is good, everything is fine.” But I think this a healthy and wise way to think about the moral “magnetic field” in our universe ... the moral ecosystem that I believe Genesis is trying to convey in its rich imagery and stories.

 

Again, this thinking is influenced by the work of Fr. James Alison and others in the field of “Mimetic Theory.” It also reflects the interest of “Integral Theorists” and “macrohistorians.” And it exemplifies a literary way of taking the text reverently and seriously without taking it literally.

This brief chapter can’t explore all the possible meanings of these rich, multi-layered stories. For example, there’s a way of reading the text that makes Eve the hero, not the villain. And there are fascinating questions that tease our curiosity. What is going on with God preferring blood sacrifices over vegetarian ones in the Cain-Abel story? Some will infer that there were instructions given about sacrifice that we aren’t privy to. Others may read this story as early evidence that God “chooses favorites,” setting up religions of favor and religions of disfavor. If that’s the case, it’s interesting to note that being favored by God marks one to become a victim, not a victor. It’s also interesting to note that the blood of the victim cries out ... which has a power of its own in the story. And the victor - who is also the murderer - suddenly finds himself fearing that he will become a victim too, and in response, God protects the murderer Cain in a way that the victim Abel wasn’t protected. All of this is to say that superficial readings of the text are all contestable, and there is more going on here than meets the eye of rigid interpreters with a narrow perspective.

The focus on desire and imitation will be a theme throughout this year of exploring the biblical library. It’s important to remember that we’re not saying desire and imitation are bad. We’re saying they are morally significant. We can imitate destructive models or constructive ones; we can live by destructive desires or creative ones.

 

This emphasis on desire will make many readers think of Buddhism, which also takes desire very seriously. Non-buddhists often misunderstand, I think, the way Buddhism speaks of desire. The desire that is to be avoided is what I’m calling “the desire to acquire,” desire that plunges us into a state of ingratitude and discontent and greed, desire that plunges us into rivalry with others. In this way, the Bible and the Buddha agree: acquisitive desire leads to great suffering.

 

In Buddhism, the alternative is often communicated as detachment, which isn’t, as I understand it, the utter absence of desire: it’s the presence of a higher desire ... the desire to know contentment, the desire to be free of greed, the desire to live in harmony rather than rivalry with others, the desire, in an ultimate sense, for enlightenment.

 

Jesus articulates this slightly differently in a different context. But the similarities are not insignificant, nor is the fact that both leaders did not set up a system of doctrines to be mastered and taught, but lived a way of life to be learned and practiced by positive imitation.

Week 3, Anna's Thoughts

In this chapter, McLaren encourages us to look for patterns, to see the places in history and the Bible where God is present and working- from Creation to the Logos to the Spirit. Our scriptures spoke of Wisdom and its place in our world.

72215704_9af9e75cf4_o.jpg

It’s not at all unusual for people to inquire as to how they can best know what God’s will is for their lives. How to make faithful decisions, and the best I can give them is encouragement to look for the patterns. Where in your life have you made good decisions that you could later tell had God’s hand in it. What were the circumstances, what did it feel like, look like?

Where in your life have you made decisions you later understood to be contrary to God’s desire for your life? What were the circumstances? What did it look like, feel like?

In the Bible, in the patterns, we see that God is faithful, consistent, in reaching out to us and calling us to garden- to turn swords into plowshares and care for our neighbors.

God is like a spider, building a web tenderly and faithfully each and circle, a web of love for creation and for the created. You. And Me.

Week 3, A World of Meaning

Chapter 3, A World of Meaning

Psalm 145:1-16

Proverbs 8:1-36

John 1:1-17

 From Brian McLaren’s commentary on this text (used with permission) found HERE.

We Make the Road By Walking takes a narrative approach to the Bible, which means it invites biblical stories to unfold and interact in sequence from beginning to middle to end.

However, I didn’t want to wait until Advent to introduce Jesus. So I decided to link the creation stories of Genesis with the new creation story in John’s Gospel. My assumption is that when the writer of John’s Gospel uses the term “logos,” he is not seeking to define Jesus and his message by assumptions inherent in the Greek term - whether as used by Plato or Heraclitus or any other Greek philosopher. Rather, he is presenting Jesus as an alternative logos. The pattern, logic, or meaning of the universe proclaimed by Jesus, in other words, confronts rather than conforms to Greek assumptions, especially the assumption of Heraclitus, that the logos of the universe is “polemos,” or hostility, conflict, and violence.

 

For example, in Fragments 53 and 80 (Thanks to Paul Nuechterlein for this reference), Heraclitus says:

War [or violence] is the father of all and the king of all; and some he has made gods and some men, some bond and some free.... We must know that war is common to all and strife is justice, and that all things come into being and pass away through strife.

 

No, John claims: the “logos” is not strife but life, not war but love, not fighting but friendship, not enslaving but servanthood, not stealing but self-giving.

 

Here’s how Rene Girard describes John’s logos:

The Johannine Logos is foreign to any kind of violence; it is therefore forever expelled, an absent Logos that never has had any direct, determining influence over human cultures. These cultures are based on the Heraclitean Logos, the Logos of expulsion, the Logos of violence, which, if it is not recognized, can provide the foundation of a culture.

The Johannine Logos discloses the truth of violence by having itself expelled. First and foremost, John’s Prologue undoubtedly refers to the Passion. But in a more general way, the misrecognition of the Logos and mankind’s expulsion of it disclose one of the fundamental principles of human society. . . .

This revelation comes from the Logos itself. In Christianity, it is expelled once again by the sacrificial reading, which amounts to a return to the Logos of violence. All the same, the Logos is still in the process of revealing itself; if it tolerates being concealed yet another time, this is to put off for just a short while the fullness of its revelation.

The Logos of love puts up no resistance; it always allows itself to be expelled by the Logos of violence. But its expulsion is revealed in a more and more obvious fashion, and by the same process the Logos of violence is revealed as what can only exist by expelling the true Logos and feeding upon it in one way or another. (Things Hidden, pp. 271, 274)

 

In the end, the chapter presents a choice between four common ways people understand the logic of the universe:

1. Life is a war, a survival-of-the-fittest competition to the death.

2. Life is compliance, a keep-your-head-down-and-do-what-you’re-told story of power, domination, and submission.

3. Life is a machine that runs on cold and objective utility, not meaning or morality.

4. Life is a story that includes conflict, compliance, and mechanism - but has a higher or deeper purpose and meaning rooted in goodness, pregnancy, creativity, and love.

 

My friend Cassidy Dale simplified these four down to two in his book The Knight and the Gardener (available for free online). The knight is the warrior who seeks domination and uses whatever mechanisms he can master to pursue his agenda. The gardener works with a good and fertile world - and faces its inherent challenges - to promote and enjoy aliveness.

 

Obviously, the two stories overlap, interact, and sometimes vie for dominance in the biblical library. But the “good news” is not a call to arms, nor is it a call to compliance, nor is it a call to objectification and mechanization. It is a call to aliveness, creativity, pregnancy, and love.

Week 2, Anna's Thoughts

As I ponder this chapter and McLaren’s commentary on it, I am struck with how the same thing can mean different things.

One story can mean different things to different people.

If eating of the fruit of the tree isn’t our fall, what does it mean that we might not be “fallen” people after all?

With hands that can be caring or clenched- it’s all in how we use them.

The same is true for so much in our lives. I know that I have been blessed with a voice that projects, but sometimes (too many times) I forget to use my “inside voice” and allow my voice to railroad over other voices that need to be heard.

And how hard it is, at times, to see ourselves as created in God’s image.

Did you see the video last week of James Corden calling out Bill Mahr for his fat shaming?

How are you doing now that we’re on the second chapter? I’m finding that the questions at the end aren’t ones I can run through- They are so thought provoking, I’m taking notes on them in a journal.

I think that each week I’ll try and post McLaren’s commentary on Monday and then my own reflections on Wednesday. What would be most helpful to you?

Peace,

Rev. Anna

Week 2, Being Human

Chapter 2. Being Human

Genesis 2:4 - 25

Psalm 8

Mark 3:1-6

From Brian McLaren’s commentary on this text (used with permission) found HERE.

Here, in contrasting the two creation narratives in Genesis, I try to make explicit the formational/ critical/literary approach to the Bible which this book follows.

 

If readers are interested in the value of multiple stories, they will enjoy the TED talk by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie called “The Danger of a Single Story” (http://www.ted.com/talks/ chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story).

 

I emphasize the goodness of creation because our industrial-extractive-consumerist economy has cheapened creation, desecrated its goodness, and reduced deep inherent value to cheap monetary value. Sadly, a distorted conventional form of Christian theology has provided theological justification for this cheapening.

 

The interpretation of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil draws from the work of James Alison (beginning with The Joy of Being Wrong), who in turn draws from the work of Rene Girard (beginning with Things Hidden). There are many other interpretations of this primal story too, but this interpretation resonates throughout the whole Bible, so it’s the one I chose to highlight.

 

Rather than critique the traditional language and doctrine of “the Fall” - a term found nowhere in the biblical text, I simply tell the story without that language. Of course, “the Fall” is so deeply embedded in many Christians’ minds that they will either assume I intended it, or be shocked and concerned that I didn’t state it explicitly. I hope many readers will be able to hear, feel, and receive the story in a fresh way, and that they will be convinced, as I have been, that this alternative approach is a better, fuller, fairer, wiser, and more fertile interpretation.

 

If readers feel it is important to use the term “Fall” in grappling with this text, I would still caution them against bringing with it the unhelpful assumptions I discussed in Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? and in A New Kind of Christianity

The image of a hand reaching out to grasp the forbidden fruit in Genesis 2 is echoed in the story of the man’s withered hand being healed in Mark 3. Just as we live in the tension between two trees, the tree of aliveness and the tree of judging, we also live in the tension between the open hand and the clenched fist, the hand extended to accuse, steal, or wound and the hand outstretched to comfort, give, and serve. As I finished this chapter, I couldn’t stop thinking of Jesus’ nail-scarred hand and the man’s “withered hand” being restored in contrast to the grasping hand of greed, the clenched fist of hostility, the hand grasping a stone to hurl at another in judgment. I could imagine these images inspiring some creative artistic expressions in response to this chapter.

Week 1, Awe and Wonder

Awe and Wonder

Genesis 1:1-2:3

Psalm 19:1-4

Matthew 6:25-34

From Psalm 19:

The heavens are telling the glory of God;

and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours forth speech,

and night to night declares knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words;

their voice is not heard;

yet their voice goes out through all the earth,

and their words to the end of the world.

One of the great joys I have each week is talking to my five-year-old nephew on the phone. One of the things I love about him (and most children I know) is his ability to be amazed. We live in a world that values experience, being able to anticipate, and understanding what someone else is saying. Those aren’t bad qualities, but sometimes it leaves us jaded or too sophisticated to say, “Wow!”, for both the height and depth of humanity.

In the movie Pretty Woman (a movie with very few preachable examples) there is this exchange:

Edward Lewis: It's just that very few people surprise me.

Vivian Ward: Well you're lucky. Most of 'em shock the hell out of me.

The texts today remind us of how to keep a sense of awe at God’s handiwork- not just “Wow!”, but “Wow! If God can do that, what else should I place in God’s hands?”

From Brian McLaren’s commentary on this chapter:

Chapter 1. Awe and Wonder

We face a great challenge as Christians today. The compositions in our biblical library took shape in a radically different context from our own. Not only that, but our theological systems through which we typically interpret the Bible - Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, or Pentecostal - all rose in “the old universe.” “The new universe” is a conception of reality that has been revolutionized in just a few generations in at least seven key ways.

Astronomy - Thanks to Edwin Hubble and other astronomers, we understand ourselves to live in an ever-expanding universe where motion and change have been the norm since the singularity we call the Big Bang.

Cosmology - Thanks to cosmologists, geologists, and others, we understand ourselves to live in a 14.7 billion-year-old universe, in which life has only existed for a relatively short time, and our species has only been around for a blink of the eye.

Physics - Thanks to Einstein, Heisenberg, and others, we find ourselves in a universe where neither matter, energy, nor time are absolute, a universe of previously unimagined complexity in which uncertainty and mystery surround us.

Biology - Thanks to Darwin and Crick and others, we live and move in an evolving universe in which we are deeply related and connected to all living things by our DNA and our shared evolutionary history.

Neuropsychology - Thanks to researchers in medicine and especially brain studies, we wake up each day in a world in which souls/spirits and bodies can no longer be defined apart from one another, a world in which to be human is to be embodied.

Anthropology - Thanks to Richard Leakey, Rene Girard, and others, we see ourselves as members of human cultures that can trace their evolutionary roots back to Africa, our actual “Eden,” and we have come to see ourselves as evolving primates whose evolution is now cultural as well as biological.

Philosophy - Thanks to Thomas Kuhn, Nancy Murphy, Paul Ricoeur, Ken Wilbur, Steve McIntosh, and many others, we have come to see how we are constantly moving from one period of intellectual coherence into another, and so the assumption of a fixed and final philosophy has been abandoned.

Rather than trying to drag us back into the proto-astronomy, cosmology, physics, biology, neuropsychology, anthropology, and philosophy of the Bronze Age in which Genesis arose, and rather than trying to contain us in the modernist Enlightenment age in which the Bible was most recently re-interpreted, in this chapter I try to let the ancient creation narratives stand alongside our own today - in dialogue with each other.

I also try in this chapter to introduce a way of talking about God that is flexible rather than rigid, through phrases like, “God, whatever God is” and “God, the Creative Spirit,” and by presenting 13 various ways theologians and mystics describe the relationship between Creator and creation without needing to narrow the options to one.

For more on the idea that Genesis 1 describes the universe as a temple, with human beings the “image” of God within it, see John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One (IVP Academic, 2009) .

I hope the Genesis 1, Psalm 19, and Matthew 6 passages resonate with one another to convey the image of a caring and good Creator who loves and values creation, and whose glory is seen through it.

Many chapters that follow contain creative tensions that can engender lively conversation. This one contains very little tension, but hopefully it invites readers into a generous and appreciative space that will be hospitable for all.

https://brianmclaren.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/wmtr-commentary.pdf

What are your thoughts? I look forward to seeing your thoughts and questions in the comments section.


From Brian McLaren's Commentary on WMTRBW, Part 1

Part 1: Alive in the Story of Creation

mclaren-matrix.jpg

Brian McLaren writes:

This seems like a good point to describe the approach to the Bible taken in We Make the Road by Walking. Many people think there are only two ways to read the Bible: their way and the wrong way. But there are many approaches to the Bible, as this matrix shows.

 

Of course, many of us move back and forth from one category to another, depending on our mood or context.

While some people read the Bible as an academic, political, or intellectual exercise only, many of us - as indicated by the shaded circular space that overlaps all four quadrants - read it with personal investment, seeking guidance and wisdom for how we live our lives. We aren’t simply seeking information from the Bible: we’re seeking inner formation. We may even dare to hope for an encounter with God. So the shaded circle represents a formational approach, as opposed to merely an academic, doctrinal, or analytic approach.

Our primary aim in this book is to help people in any of these four quadrants seek aliveness together. It will be helpful in different ways to people inside and outside the shaded circle too, especially if they are willing to approach the Bible with an open mind and heart.

While this book can be helpful for people in any quadrant, it has its own center of gravity in the shaded section of the upper right-hand quadrant. Because we will take a formational/critical/ literary approach, we will read the Bible with complete freedom to ask questions about its sources, development, internal tensions, biases, accuracy, cultural context and genre. And we will read the Bible as a library containing poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and other genres. We won’t presume agreement among writers; we will allow them to make statements and counterstatements, both to agree and to argue. Nor will we assume that the ancient composers held to modern standards of historical or scientific accuracy; we will allow them to speak from within their own contexts with their own literary protocols which clearly favor deep meaning over factual accuracy.

 

For that reason, we will give the Bible the benefit of the doubt when it comes to meaning. We will work with the hypothesis that where the Bible does not convey accurate or objective history, it still can facilitate the greater goal of helping us seek meaning. If we engage it with vigor, intelligence, honesty, humility, and imagination, with our hearts open wide to the Spirit of God, we can be inwardly formed into better people, and we can be equipped to do more and greater good in our world.

Our formational/critical/literary approach sets the stage for how we will deal with the miracle stories that are common in certain parts of the Bible (and surprisingly rare in others). Some people believe that all the miracles happened just as they are described in the Bible. Others would say that miracles are impossible, so none of them happened; the Bible is just plan dishonest or wrong when it speaks of miracles. The truth is, everybody has opinions and convictions on the matter, but nobody knows for sure.

That’s why in We Make the Road by Walking we will leave room for our fellow students both to question miracle stories and to believe they record factual history. We will remember that miracles in the Bible are called signs - meaning they signify. And they are called wonders - meaning they are intended to fill us with awe and wonder. We will assume that one of the meanings of a miracle story, whether or not it describes an actual event, is to challenge us to believe that what seems or feels impossible could actually, with God, be possible. We will allow our faith to be challenged and our imagination stretched by these stories, taking them seriously whether or not we take them literally, seeking the actuality of their larger purpose even if some of us question the factuality of their details.

In regard to the violence attributed to God in the Bible, our formational/critical/literary approach frees us from the need to defend this violence in any way. It also frees us from the opposite extreme: the need to throw out the Bible because it contains this violence. It allows us to trace how violence and the idea of God are in tension in the Bible. And it allows us to see how God and violence are gradually disentangled through the course of the biblical narrative, leading to a gracious, loving, and radically nonviolent vision of God. In a formational/critical/literary approach, we can allow the latter vision to critique the former.

 

In regard to differences or tensions within the Bible, we won’t try to avoid them, nor will we try to explain them away or figure out which version was right. Instead, we’ll take them all seriously and see what meaning might be conveyed by each version. We can do so because a formational/critical/literary approach assumes that the greatest literature was never intended to produce universal certainty or even unquestionable clarity. Instead, great works of literature - including our holy texts - raise questions that need to be pondered, point in directions that need to be explored, surface tensions that need to be grappled with, and inspire the imagination to help us experience true aliveness from one generation to the next.

 

Readers of the Bible often don’t realize that when preachers and authors say, “The Bible says,” they actually mean, “Our community and its authority figures interpret the Bible to mean....” Often, those preachers and authors themselves aren’t aware that they are part of an interpretive community. To them, their way of reading the Bible is the obvious way or the only legit way - whether it is the way of Dispensationalism, Calvinism, Thomistic Catholicism, Franciscan Catholicism, Liberation Theology, German Higher Criticism, the Jesus Seminar, or whatever.

People hold their views about the Bible passionately. Sometimes people get angry at those who read it differently. In We Make the Road by Walking, we will try to create an atmosphere of respect where we can all hold our opinions with an open mind and heart. We’ll make room for one another to be honest about where we are, what we think, what we question, what we don’t question, and why. We will make this table a safe place to differ graciously, and we will place achieving mutual understanding above achieving agreement. We will work to create and sustain this kind of conversation space because respect, honesty, and learning go hand in hand. And even when we disagree about details, we will gladly agree about one thing: with sincerity, with passion, and with faith, we are seeking aliveness. Together.

This first section sets the audacious goal of giving an overview of the whole Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures in just 13 chapters. Obviously, deciding what to include and emphasize and what to leave out was a monumental challenge. Those who would want to criticize my choices, of course, are free to do so, but it’s important to remember that whoever designs a curriculum is making choices.

Because this is an explicitly Christian telling of the Biblical story, it is heavily Christ-centered. But Christ-centered tellings run the risk of abusing Jesus’ Jewish heritage. Some tellings are supersessionist, replacing Jews with Christians as God’s chosen or elite people. Tellings may also be typological, seeing value in the Hebrew Scriptures only to the extent that they elucidate Christian doctrines. In obvious and subtle ways, Christians are made out to be good guys, and Jews, not so good.

The results of these approaches have ranged from destructive to tragic. That’s why I’m advocating a different approach that might be called “integral.” I emphasize the value of the Hebrew Scriptures in introducing themes that point to aliveness and matter to us all. These themes Jesus will himself embody and proclaim. In this way, I would hope that readers/hearers would in these chapters see Christianity and Judaism as colleagues, not rivals, as a daughter and mother who love one another rather than resent one another’s existence, as has too often been the case in the past.

In short, I try to tell the story of the Hebrew Scriptures in a way that many Jews and Christians (and I hope Muslims too) can appreciate and affirm.

For the whole commentary: https://brianmclaren.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/wmtr-commentary.pdf

Introduction to the 2019- 2020 Bible study

Welcome! On this blog we’ll be going through the 52 chapters of Brian McLaren’s We Make the Road by Walking.

This will be a virtual Bible study- we won’t have official gatherings, but each week I will post reflections on the chapter and your participation will come through the comments- your questions and your thoughts- what you found interesting or intriguing or challenging

We’ll be starting in September, so all you need to do right now is get a copy of the book and email me at apstraight@oldstonechurchwv.com so I can send you announcements.

See you soon,

Rev. Anna

61mp5ONYkJL._SX323_BO1%2C204%2C203%2C200_.jpg