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Scratch My Face With Anvil Hands

Posted on November 6th, 2006

I have fallen in love with a church here in New York. It is, in fact, the same church that I have been attending regularly since I first got here, but it has taken the better part of the term to realize how wonderful it is.

Up until a week or two ago, I said that the church was alright and nothing special. My exact words were that “I don’t love the church” and I explained that it was because “the speaker is great, and the music is good, but that’s all I can really say about it.” I also pointed out a lack of engaging people to compel me to become more involved with their community.

Since then, though, I have come to a complete reversal of my opinions. The speaker is still very amazing; while there are some stupid people walking around with PhDs, Dr. Keller is certainly not one of them. And the music is incredible; some weeks there is a string quartet, other weeks have a brass ensemble, and so on. But I saw, for the first time, how well things are thought out there. It is very much a mature church, despite being fairly young.

Going back to Dr. Keller, the senior pastor, his sermon today was very interesting. Here’s a summary of just one part of it:

The Bible is often criticized because it has parts which people find offensive. (I find many parts hard if not impossible to believe.) Therefore, many people do not regard it as the authority that the Church says it is. Instead, most people will pick and choose what they want from the Bible and disregard the rest. In other circumstances, they will bend what is written in the Bible to suit their own purposes. (There is a sufficiently large number of examples of this, so I will leave it to you to look them up if you’re interested… slavery in the US is one.)

The Bible, however, must be offensive. Well, at least culturally offensive. Because there are many cultures in the world, there have to be differences between these cultures. So each one of these cultures would find something they don’t like in the Bible. Take, for example, the Biblical teachings of sex and forgiveness. People in the West are generally appalled at what the Bible demands of our sex life, but they find the notion of forgiving other people charitable and wonderful. But there are people in the Middle East, just to name one place, that would be abhorred to read about forgiving, while they can agree with what is written about sex (and could even say that the Bible could be even more strict about it).

So this goes to say that no one culture would find what is written in the Bible completely unoffensive. This suggests that no culture would make the Bible what it is today. (Otherwise, why would they put stuff that they didn’t like in there?) So, with a few dot dot dots here, Dr. Keller concludes that this is one argument that the Bible is from God, and should have every bit of the authority placed in it by the Church.

Here’s my little extension on this. If the Bible is God’s word, then we should find God a little bit offensive too, right? I think that some people can’t swallow the idea of an offensive God and abandon right then and there. After some thought about it, though, I think that God has to be offensive (much like the Bible is). If God was everything that I could have possibly wanted, and if God agreed with everything that I thought, then He would be my wonderful unoffensive God. Would He be your wonderful unoffensive God? Not unless you think exactly the same as I do. So, in the same way that God is culturally offensive, He is also personally offensive.

God isn’t a genie or a robot. He’s not going to do everything we want and say everything we want Him to say. Thinking that He is all that is just a manifestation of ourselves, and this would suggest that He is in MY image and likeness (not even OUR image and likeness). And that’s awfully cocky of us to think.

2 Responses to “Scratch My Face With Anvil Hands”

  1. Donella Says:

    As I was reading your post, I found myself agreeing with the first part (some parts of the Bible are offensive) but being confused by the second part (the offensiveness is necessary).

    While there are many worthy teachings in the Bible some verses leave me wondering why they’re included. For example, Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 14:34 and a bit further on. If every word of the Bible is true regardless of the time period/culture, how do you make sense of a verse like that? And if you have to apply the context of the time period/culture the Bible was written in when reading it, how do you know where to draw the line?

    It’s good to hear you found a church you like. Or like the church you found.

  2. Justin Says:

    I fear that I am treading on some very thin ice over perilous waters with this response.

    I’m not sure what more I can say to clarify my thoughts about the offensiveness of the Bible, but I’ll try. Each of us have our own moral standards, which invariably differ from those of our society, which invariably differ from those of other societies. Because of this, each person (and, more generally, each society) will find something in the Bible that we don’t like to read. And because we believe that the Bible is, in one way or another, from God, the only way I think that we won’t find anything offensive is if we have precisely the same moral standards or understanding of the text as God does.

    Onto the second, more touchy point. I think it is often a dangerous move to focus on specific verses or a small portion of the Bible. Doing so had led to attempts to justify the subjugation of many groups (race, sex, age, etc.) on many different levels. So I think it’s important to take the verses and apply it to the context of the Bible, not necessarily to just the context of the time period or culture. I don’t believe that it’s sufficient to just look at why something was written the way that it was; the Bible is one large story — God’s story — and we need to see how the verses fit in with the large story.

    And when we look at the Bible as being all about Jesus (which can be done if we see the First Testament as the why Jesus came and the Second Testament as the story of Jesus’ coming and the results of it), it becomes more of a story of what God has done for us and less about what we need to do for God. So when we zoom in on a particular verse or chapter or book, we need to remember the scope of that verse, chapter, or book in relation to the entire Book, which is about God’s love for us.

    Now, this is not to say that we can do whatever we want. Part of being a Christian is loving God and loving God has a lot of implications. If we love God, then we would want to do what God wants us to do, and that’s something Jesus said quite clearly. So through our love for God, we would love and forgive each other.

    Anyhow, to your example. I don’t think I’m educated enough to really address that verse in Corinthians specifically. There could be some historical reason about the people in Corinth that would give some hint as to why Paul wrote that. This is clearly not a central tenet of the Church (as women are pretty free to speak in churches), so I think the most that I can say is to not sweat the small stuff 🙂

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