What is Marriage?

“Marriage based on needs and affection will struggle to endure when the needs change and the affection fades.” Collin Hansen

wedding ringsThis morning I watched a video shared by a friend that captures well what it means “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance”

And then I read the article “The new purpose for marriage” by Collin Hansen that describes why this is exactly what we are losing as our culture rushes to embrace new definitions for marriage. In his article Collin says that “marriage requires far more of ourselves than the new definitions betray. Love demands 100 percent of each partner. Marriage based on needs and affection will struggle to endure when the needs change and the affection fades.” Unfortunately, I believe that too few really understand what is at stake as we rush forward to embrace new definitions for marriage.

Kiss the Son: the “corrupted” text of Scripture

kiss the feet2Often today, people justify their lack of trust in the bible with the claim that the text of the bible has been “corrupted” and we can no longer be sure about what it originally said. I wanted to take a moment to look at one of the more challenging texts where there it is truly reasonable to assume that there really may have been textual “corruption” so that we can understand what kind of issues biblical critics are really talking about and why there is so little merit to their claims. These textual issues are not big, earth shattering changes. They are typically very minor issues that hardly affect the meaning of the text. The vast majority of known issues affect only spelling. With that being said, let us look at one of the more difficult verses.

In the NIV, Psalm 2, verses 11-12 read:

Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psa 2:11-12 NIV)

The BHS[i] lists a number of variant texts in Hebrew, Greek, and Syriac for verses 11/12; the division between these verses is in question and although this Psalm is among those in the DSS[ii] (Dead Sea Scrolls) collection, the end of this Psalm is missing so the DSS offer no help to resolving this problem.

Here are some of the possible alternative readings in Hebrew  followed by the MT reading for comparison:

עבדו את-יהוה בשמחה        (“serve the Lord with gladness”)

עבדו את-יהוה ביראה           (The MT reads “serve the Lord with fear”)

 

וגדלו שמו ברעדה…              (“make his name great. With trembling…”)

וגילו ברעדה                         ( The MT reads “rejoice in trembling”)

 

ברעדה נשקו ברגליו             (“with trebling kiss his feet”)

נשקו בר                              ( The MT reads “kiss a son”)

 

Here are some possible variant translations:

1) Serve the Lord with Gladness, Make his name Great. With trembling kiss his feet lest he becomes angry and you are destroyed in your way.

2) Serve the Lord with Gladness, Make his name Great. With trembling kiss [the] son lest he becomes angry and you are destroyed in your way.

3) Serve the Lord with fear, Rejoice in trembling. Kiss [the] son lest he becomes angry and you are destroyed in [your] way.

4) Serve the Lord with fear, Rejoice in trembling. Kiss his feet lest he becomes angry and you are destroyed in [your] way.

Here is how this reads in an English translation of the LXX[iv].

“Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice in him with trembling. Accept correction, lest at any time the Lord be angry, and ye should perish from the righteous way”

The biggest argument against the MT[iii] (Masoretic Text) reading stems from the use of the Aramaic בר (bar) for “son” rather than the Hebrew בן (ben). The two primary problems that are raised because of this usage are 1) בן  is already used in this Psalm in vs. 7 and changing to Aramaic in vs. 12 would be inconsistent and 2) this Psalm is believed to have been authored early enough that should it should be free of these kinds of Aramaic influences. That being said, Peter Craigie argues that MT reading is original and believes the change from Hebrew to Aramaic was a tool used to draw attention to the change in context between foreign and domestic audiences. One additional problem exists because of the lack of the preposition ל (or ב)  that would be typically used with the object of נשק (to kiss). In Hebrew if I say, “Kiss Me!” it is lit. “Kiss to me!” (נשק לי); one would expect “kiss to the son” (נשקו לבן) if that had been what was intended. The lack of the preposition and definite article and the use of Aramaic here make this reading difficult. I prefer option 4 above because it is only a slight emendation to the text i.e. נשקו בר becomes נשקו ברגליו, it means essentially the same thing, it is in harmony with the Messianic nature of the entire Psalm, it deals with the issue of the unexpected Aramaic, and it reflects a very common type of copyist error that has frequently been identified in other manuscripts. That being said, I do not think that the MT reading is without merit; it could be original.

Overall, it is important to recognize that, even in a difficult passage like this one, the best manuscript evidence offers readings that are remarkably similar. Most differences we see in manuscripts are far less difficult i.e. a change in spelling, the use of a synonym or a contraction, etc… The next time you hear someone challenge the reliability of Scripture based on the claim that there are “thousands” of variant texts and we do not know which ones are correct, realize that, in the vast majority of these cases, most of these variants say exactly the same thing! When there are truly difficult passages, like the one above, even then the differences are not critical. A real examination of the challenging texts of the bible leads to the conclusion that the preservation of the original text of the bible has been remarkable despite what critics may tell us.



[i] BHS (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia) is the standard critical text of the Hebrew OT and lists most of the variant readings in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, etc… It was produced before the majority of the DSS were published and so does not cover those variants well. The BHQ deals with these newer manuscript discoveries.

[ii] The DSS are the earliest witness we have of the Hebrew text of the Bible

[iii] The MT (Masoretic Text) is the standard Hebrew text.

[iv] The LXX is a 2nd century BC Greek translation of the OT.

Gender Neutral or Inclusive Language: What’s the difference?

What is a gender neutral translation and does such a translation really exist?

gender neutral2Gender neutral bible translations are translations which attempt to remove all gender distinctions found in Scripture. A gender neutral translation will refer to Jesus as the child of God, God the Father as a parent, etc… Translations like this are unfaithful representations of God’s word and should be avoided. Fortunately, these are also extremely obscure translations that are, for practical purposes, unknown and have had almost no impact on the English speaking church.

Unfortunately, the term “gender neutral” has been frequently used in reference to bible versions that are truly NOT “gender neutral.” Too many Christians believe that “gender neutral” translations are a far bigger problem than they really are because reckless  accusations have been made about some translations being “gender neutral” when the real issue of debate involves their use of “inclusive language.” This has caused the debate surrounding the use of  “inclusive language” in bible translation to become unnecessarily heated and too often irrational. No matter where we stand on this issue, we all need to recognize that the stated goals of “inclusive language” translations are good; all they have attempted to do is to ensure that when the authors of Scripture intended to address both men and women, that modern English speakers understand that both men and women were being addressed. When Scripture speaks specifically of men or specifically of women, the gender designations are retained even in “inclusive language” translations. Recognizing that the motivation for these translations is good, doesn’t require one to agree that the solution these translations present is good. It just means that we begin the dialog in a much healthier place.

The real questions we need to be asking are:

  1. Is there truly a need for inclusive language in English today?
  2. Do scholars agree on the inclusive nature of all passages translated with inclusive language?
  3. Is the solution employed by inclusive language translations to avoid a potential misunderstanding appropriate?
  4. Do inclusive language translations have the potential to create other misunderstandings?
  5. Are the philosophical assumptions underlying the drive for inclusive language compatible with Scripture?
  6. When should we adapt our bible translations to changes that are occurring in the English language.

 

What is inclusive language?

Before we discuss the issues involved in the inclusive language debate, it is important that we truly understand what “inclusive language” really is. Many times people entering into a discussion about “inclusive language” do not even realize that “inclusive language” is used in every major English translation (even the KJV). The question in bible translation is never about whether we should be using inclusive language but rather when should inclusive language be used and how should it be expressed in English.

Many languages, like Hebrew, Greek, Spanish, and yes even English use an inclusive masculine i.e. a masculine noun that is used in reference to males and females. Usually, but not always, the inclusive masculine is used when the referent is plural i.e. it refers to a group of both men and women. Here are some examples in English: “There were 480 students in the freshmen class this year”, “The mailman’s convention was held in Chicago last April,”  “Man alone is created in God’s image.” In all of these examples, we understand that both men and women are included even though the noun used is masculine in form. In some languages, like Hebrew and Spanish, all nouns are either masculine or feminine and every reference to a mixed group of men and women works like the examples above but in English it is sometimes more common to use neuter terms that represent groups of both masculine and feminine referents. For example, if I were to say in Hebrew or Spanish “I have five sons” it could either mean “I have five sons” or “I have five children” but if I say in English that “I have five sons” it means only that “I have five SONS.” Almost every English language translation uses the inclusive language term “children” when translating “sons” unless the context indicates that author really meant ONLY sons because to do otherwise would be very misleading to most English speakers.

 

Our Language is changing

The English language is changing and we use inclusive masculines in English today much less frequently than we did just a generation ago. For example, a generation ago instructions on a student’s test might have read “when a student completes his test, he should turn the test over and raise his hand” but today the same instructions today might read “when a student completes his/her test, he/she should turn the test over and raise his/her hand” or “when a student completes their test, they should turn their test over and raise their hand.” A generation ago, the first choice would have been considered unnecessarily redundant and latter choice would have been considered poor English because it mixes singular nouns with plural pronouns. However, today it is quite common to see both of these forms used in order to avoid using the inclusive masculine. Whether we agree or disagree with the reasons for these changes to our English language, we do need to accept the reality that our language is truly changing.

 

Now let’s look at some of the key issues

With some understanding of what “inclusive language” is and what it is not, let’s return to our original questions.

  1. Is there truly a need for inclusive language in English today?
    • The answer to this question is a clear, yes. Inclusive language is used in every English translation; the real questions are: “when do we need inclusive language?” and “how should inclusive language be expressed in English?” These are the real questions where valid disagreements exist today.

     

  2. Do scholars agree on the inclusive nature of all passages translated with inclusive language?
    • In the vast majority of cases there is clear agreement about the inclusive nature intended in the original text but in a handful of cases there is significant disagreement. It is these cases that should raise the greatest concerns. One example is found in Acts 6:3 which reads in the NIV 2011 as “Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them.”  There are two questions related to the use of inclusive language in this verse. First, in the first century culture would women really have been involved in choosing the church’s leadership? Regardless of our views about women in leadership, given what we know about the first century culture, it is very unlikely that women would have be participants in that decision at that time in history. A faithful translation should communicate what the author’s point of view was and not what we would like it to have been. Second, even if some evidence did show that this was a possibility, the translation should leave this question open unless the evidence were so overwhelming that no other conclusion could be reached. The use of inclusive language in the NIV 2011 translation of this verse settles the question for its readers about whether both men and women were being addressed but that is a question that is not clearly answered in the text itself and the NIV 2011 interpretation is rejected by many scholars. The views we hold about a woman’s role in ministry should not influence our translation of the text.

     

  3. Is the solution employed by inclusive language translations to avoid a potential misunderstanding appropriate?
    • Maybe or Maybe not. This is something that needs to be evaluated on a case by case bases. We need to be asking questions like “Do English speakers really no longer understand the inclusive masculine terms used in older English translations?”, “Would potential misunderstandings be better addressed through teaching rather than emending the text?”, etc…

     

  4. Do inclusive language translations have the potential to create other misunderstandings?
    • Yes. First, one of the common way to make a passage “inclusive” is to change singular masculine pronouns to plural neuter pronouns. And while a change from “he” to “they” might avoid a misunderstanding related to gender, it could create a misunderstanding related to number. Second, using inclusive language, rather than the inclusive masculine, forces the translator to decide for the reader which verses are inclusive and which are not; sometimes (as mentioned above) there is considerable debate about the inclusive nature of a particular passage and when the translator makes a wrong choice, he has miscommunicated the intention of the author. Third, our understanding of the masculine inclusive in English mirrors the understanding of the Hebrew and Greek speakers to which our Scripture was first given. Moving away from the masculine inclusive in English moves us one step farther away from understanding culture in the way the original writers understood it. These issues are some of the many aspects that should be weighed when considering whether to use inclusive language.

     

  5. Are the philosophical assumptions underlying the drive for inclusive language compatible with Scripture?
    • Probably not. The driving force for adopting more inclusive language terms in English has largely come from the most radical elements of the feminist community. For those who would like a better understanding of the reasons why some feminists want to see these changes made to the English language, there is a a good (neutral) article on Standford University’s philosophy website that outlines many of the reasons that feminists have actively sought to change the English language and includes a large number of reference for further study. For the bible translator there are two questions we should be asking before adopting translation practices that require more extensive use of inclusive language. First, are the philosophical assumptions about men and women and the relationships between men and women held by these more radical elements of the feminists community in harmony with Scripture? Second, has the language already changed so much that its original understanding has been lost? If the answer to the first question is “no” then we should tread very carefully before adopting the language choices suggested by these groups. The tougher question to answer pertains to the second question i.e. “when has language changed to the point where the original understanding has been lost?” and this is a question we need to wrestle with before changing our bible translations. Regardless of the reasons why our language is changing, when it truly changes, we do need to update our translations so that they are truly understood.

     

  6. When should we adapt our bible translations to changes that are occurring in the English language?
    • Words like “conversation,” “meat,” and “gay” are just a few of the words used in the 17th century English that are understood very differently today. In the 17th century “conversation” referred to ones behavior, “meat” described any kind of food including bread and vegetables, and “gay” meant “fine.” Most modern English speakers understand these words very differently today but because these are common words that most believe they understand, passages in older English bibles that use these words will likely be misunderstood. When a word no longer communicates the same meaning to modern speakers that it did to those in generations past, it must be updated. However, we should refrain from moving to quickly to adopt our bibles to the current trends in English usage. Sometimes, meanings of words change only temporarily as a new “fad” quickly develops and then is forgotten just as quickly; sometimes (as is the case with gender inclusive language) the motivation for the changes is theologically troubling and misunderstandings might be better addressed through teaching while a memory of a prior understanding still exists in our modern culture. Translators need to remember that teachers and translators always need to work together to ensure that Scripture is correctly understood. No translator can, by himself, resolve all potential misunderstandings. Often attempts to resolve misunderstandings by adapting the vocabulary of a translation simply creates other misunderstandings; translators should tread carefully.

     

    I believe there are very legitimate concerns related to the use of “inclusive language” in bible translations today that should engender vigorous debate. Unfortunately, too often this debate has turned ugly and the real issues are replaced (on both sides) by issues that are only imagined. The name calling and misrepresentations that have too often characterized this issue have no place in this discussion. Let us all take the time to understand the real concerns held by those on both sides of this issue and begin a discussion that reflect God’s grace, love, and truth.

John Piper says “that kind of knowing wrecks churches”

broken-churchJohn Piper in a message about the introductory chapters of the book of Luke says that Luke by choosing the Greek word “asphaleian” (Lk. 1:4) is saying “I want you to know [the doctrine I am about to teach you] nailed down, solid, unshakable, sure, immovable like a mountain not like a cloud. He doesn’t want you, or Theophilus, to know things in any old way, he wants you to know that that way, the safety of them, the security of them, the bolted down, shut door, never changing truth of them. They are safe from being stolen out of your head. They are safe from being changed by the culture. They are safe from ceasing to be what they are. They’re safe from becoming unimportant or irrelevant. They are safe to be what they are forever! Theophilus, these things that you know about the truth will always be the truth. I want a mountain of truth in your head, not clouds floating around ready to be blown away. This is the kind of knowing that we want to have. The other kind of knowing, that’s different; that kind of knowing wrecks churches.”

Jesus the Son of God, the Son of Mary – John Piper (TGC13) from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Deciphering the Missionary code

Encryption2Jamie Wright posted an insightful, eye opening, and somewhat humorous article that deals with the deception that too often takes place in the mission’s field and the “missionary code” that is used hide what is really happening. Jamie’s article focuses on missionaries who are doing little more than vacationing in a foreign country but sending support letters that describe their “ministries” as almost beyond miraculous. My own recognition of the “missionary code” began in 2008 and many of my own personal experiences mirror the kinds of “coded” examples given by Jamie in her article but the motivation for speaking in “code” was a little different for the missionaries to whom I had spoken. They were not using the “code” to hide their lack of work, they were using the “code” to hide the kind of work they were engaged in; work that most of their supporters would not have invested in if they really knew what was really taking place.

What is the code?

Jamie describes the “Missionary code” as “Christianese on steroids.” Here is an example from Jamie’s blog post.

Random guy: “Wow, you’re a missionary? That’s cool. What do you do?”

Shady missionary: “Well, I partner with the local church to make disciples.”

Random guy: “Oh. How do you do that?”

Shady missionary: “I create inroads through intentional relationships.”

Random guy: “Soooo, you invite… people… to church… in another country?”

Shady missionary: “That. Plus, I initiate interest by engaging in Christ-centered dialog with locals.”

Guy: “… *blink blink*… Wait. What does that even mean?”

Shady: “It’s hard to understand from a limited North American perspective, but the Holy Spirit is hard at work in Peru/Italy/Cambodia/PickACountry, and I’m merely there to be a vessel. My job is really to just stay available to the call.”

Guy: “…Aaaand you get paid for that?”

Shady: “The Lord says a worker is worth his wages.”

Guy: “Of course He does.”

Random Guy walks away with a super unclear idea about what the missionary actually does, but has heard, in no uncertain terms, that the missionary has been “called” by God to this mysterious but important job. That’s the Code at work.

Jamie is right, we need to ask our missionaries lots of questions but we also need to make sure we are asking the right questions. Cracking the code can often be difficult because too often we do not know what questions to ask. In 2008 when I first realized that I needed to be asking questions, not only did I not know what questions I should be asking, I didn’t even know that I didn’t know. Because I was asking the wrong questions, the answers I first received seemed a little off but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong. Unfortunately that is where most stop asking questions.

Most missionaries will be able to answer your questions without resorting to evasive language and obscure ideas. But if they can’t? That should be a serious red flag and you should feel emboldened to push back until you clearly understand what they’re doing with their time. Jamie’s article provides a number of great examples of the “Missionary code;” I would like to add a few additions to the list she has already provided.

~ When a Christian missionary tells about the hundreds or even thousands that have come to faith Christ through their ministry, ask what it means to come to faith in Christ?  Ask if these new believers attend a Christian church, an Islamic Mosque, or some other place of worship? Ask if these believers identify themselves as Christians (or followers of Jesus), or do they identify themselves as Muslims or Hindus, or Buddhists? Ask if these followers of Jesus believe that Jesus is the Son of God or merely a prophet?

~ When a Christian missionary affirms their own personal belief in the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, ask whether they believe these are essential for the believers to whom they minister or whether they are only essential for them personally? Ask them if the spiritual leaders within their ministry affirm these same doctrines?

~ When a Christian missionary tells us about those, who through their ministry, have come to trust Jesus as their Savior, ask them what it means to trust that Jesus is their Savior? Ask them if these believers believe that Christ’s atoning work on the cross was necessary for their salvation? Ask them if these believers even believe that Christ died for their sins?

~ When a Christian missionary tells us that they are ministering in culturally sensitive ways, ask them how they define “culture.” Ask them if they see a distinction between cultural expression and religious expression? Ask them if they see Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism as expressions of cultural or religious systems.

~ When a Christian missionary tells us that the do not want to extract new believers from their “culture,” ask them if they believe that believers in Christ should leave their non-Christian religion? Ask them if they believe that one can remain in their culture and not identify as a member of its dominate religion.

I truly believe that most Christians would be truly shocked if they knew how some prominent leaders of Christian missions agencies would answer these questions and what their money has been supporting. Because these leaders speak the “missionary code” so fluently, these views have remained largely unknown to those who have not been in directly involved. Until very recently even many missionaries themselves were unaware of the direction that the leadership of their own agencies had taken. One of the most influential leaders and thinkers in missions over the last few decades has been Charles Kraft. While speaking about Kraft’s influence of modern missiology, his Fuller Seminary colleague Charles Van Engan said that “One might say that there is missiology before Kraft (BK) and missiology after Kraft (AK).”  Here is how Kraft has answered some of these questions in his own words.

“The issues that we deal with, even the so-called religious issues, are primarily cultural, and only secondarily religious… [The Muslim] doesn’t have to be convinced of the death of Christ. He simply has to pledge allegiance and faith to the God who worked out the details to make it possible for his faith response to take the place of a righteousness requirement. He may not, in fact, be able to believe in the death of Christ, especially if he knowingly places his faith in God through Christ, for within his frame of reference, if Christ died, God was defeated by men, and this, of course is unthinkable.” Charles Kraft

Are you surprised at his answer? Don’t be, these views are not unique to Kraft, they are shared by many of the most prominent thinkers in the missiology today and they dominate the missiological journals today. These are the views held by many of the men and women who are training our next generation of missionaries. The western church has unknowingly spent hundreds of millions of dollars funding ministries that promote these views because we haven’t taken the time to stop and ask the hard questions before we write our checks. It is time we begin to ask the kinds of questions that should have been asked long ago.  

 

Why the silence?

First, many of those engaging in this kind of ministry are so adept at using the “missionary code” that they have even fooled their fellow missionaries. Until very recently, many good missionaries involved in healthy and vibrant ministries were unaware of the involvement of their own missionary organizations in ministries that had stepped outside of Christian orthodoxy. Because of the autonomy (described in Jamie’s article) of most missionary organizations, few knew the details unless their own ministries were being directly impacted.

Second, there can be very negative consequences for those who dare to speak out. Satirically speaking Jamie says that revealing the code “will probably get me killed by the Knights Templar or something” and while satirical, it isn’t that far from the truth. Those who speak out often have at lot a stake; speaking out often means leaving (or being forced to leave) the ministry where they have invested their life and/or leaving the churches that they have called home. In the last year, some large missionary organizations have actually put out “gag orders” prohibiting their missionaries from even speaking about this topic in public. Because speaking out can mean that one must go against the direct instruction of their organization’s leadership, speaking out can be one of the most painful and heart wrenching decisions a missionary can face. Because I am not a missionary the stakes are not has high for me but I do know personally what it is like to be given a “gag order” from leadership that would prefer to ignore this issue and then have to make the painful decision to uproot my family because my conscious would not allow me to keep silent. I have a great deal of sympathy for those missionaries who, by speaking out, stand to loose so much more than I did.

 

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church attributes the work of Satan to the hand of God!

jefferts-schoriIn Acts 16:16-40 we are told about a slave girl who was able to foretell the future through the power of an evil spirit that had possessed her. This slave girl kept following Paul and shouting “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved. (Act 16:17 NIV).” Paul eventually cast the spirit from this slave girl and her owners, who were no longer were able to profit from her divination abilities, had Paul thrown in jail.

The presiding Episcopal bishop Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, ignoring the context of this passage, the biblical prohibitions against divination (Duet. 18:10-14), and examples where Jesus himself faced similar circumstances and responded much as Paul did (Lk. 4:41), has concluded that the work of this demon was in fact a spiritual gift given to this slave girl by God and that Paul, in his sin, destroyed this slave girl’s spiritual gift. The following is an excerpt from her sermon, the entire sermon can be read below.

Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God.  She is quite right.  She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves. But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so! “

This is not the only serious error in her sermon. Much of her sermon alludes to the acceptance of universalism; there is no discussion of the fallen state of mankind nor our need for a savior, and homosexuality, like divination, is lauded as something good. She talks about many good things, but the message of the gospel has been entirely lost. It appears that this Bishop has walked away from the Christian faith; hopefully she has not already brought the entire Episcopal church with her.

========== Here are the contents of the entire sermon ============

All Saints Church, Steenrijk, Curaçao [Diocese of Venezuela]
12 May 2013

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

The beauty of this place is legendary.  It is beautiful – and fragile, for its beauty depends on a dynamic balance among the parts of this island system.  Many people don’t notice beauty around them until it’s gone.  When we go somewhere that looks very different, often it takes a long time to appreciate that it has beauty, even though it’s a different kind of beauty.  Some people never do learn to value the different kinds of loveliness in the world around us.  One of the gifts of this remarkable island is its diverse mixture of desert and tropics on land and sea – and even more so, the beauty of its different peoples, languages, and heritages.  Yet the history of this place tells some tragic stories about the inability of some to see the beauty in other skin colors or the treasure of cultures they didn’t value or understand.

Human beings have a long history of discounting and devaluing difference, finding it offensive or even evil.  That kind of blindness is what leads to oppression, slavery, and often, war.  Yet there remains a holier impulse in human life toward freedom, dignity, and the full flourishing of those who have been kept apart or on the margins of human communities.  It’s a tendency that seems to emerge along a common timeline.  Formal legal structures that permitted human slavery ended here and in many parts of the world within a relatively short span of time.  It doesn’t mean that slavery is finished today, but at least it’s no longer legal in most places.  Even so, slavery continues in the form of human trafficking and the kind of exploitation that killed so many garment workers in Bangladesh recently.

We live with the continuing tension between holier impulses that encourage us to see the image of God in all human beings and the reality that some of us choose not to see that glimpse of the divine, and instead use other people as means to an end.  We’re seeing something similar right now in the changing attitudes and laws about same-sex relationships, as many people come to recognize that different is not the same thing as wrong.  For many people, it can be difficult to see God at work in the world around us, particularly if God is doing something unexpected.

There are some remarkable examples of that kind of blindness in the readings we heard this morning, and slavery is wrapped up in a lot of it.  Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God.  She is quite right.  She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves.[1]  But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!  The amazing thing is that during that long night in jail he remembers that he might find God there – so he and his cellmates spend the night praying and singing hymns.

An earthquake opens the doors and sets them free, and now Paul and his friends most definitely discern the presence of God.  The jailer doesn’t – he thinks his end is at hand.  This time, Paul remembers who he is and that all his neighbors are reflections of God, and he reaches out to his frightened captor.  This time Paul acts with compassion rather than annoyance, and as a result the company of Jesus’ friends expands to include a whole new household.  It makes me wonder what would have happened to that slave girl if Paul had seen the spirit of God in her.

The reading from Revelation pushes us in the same direction, outward and away from our own self-righteousness, inviting us to look harder for God’s gift and presence all around us.  Jesus says he’s looking for everybody, anyone who’s looking for good news, anybody who is thirsty.  There are no obstacles or barriers – just come.  God is at work everywhere, even if we can’t or won’t see it immediately.

The gospel insists that Jesus has given glory to the growing company of his friends and disciples so they can be all be one.  When we recognize the glory of another human being, we become her advocate, and we begin to see him as friend.  The word that’s used for glory has echoes that speak of awe, and gravitas, and deep significance.  The glory we’ve received is something like a grand ceremonial garment, maybe even a shining face like Moses’, that says to those around us, “here comes the image of God.”  The world begins to change when we see that glorious skin shining on our brothers’ and sisters’ faces.

The great loves in our lives come from a deep recognition of the glory in another human being and a desire to share that glory.  When Jesus speaks of oneness, he’s moving in that direction.  What would the world be like if we could love not only our lovers, but every human being with that kind of starry-eyed passion?  The glory is there to see in all of us.  Certainly God sees that glory.  Most of us have eyes that can see that glory in one or a few other human beings.  Learning to see that glory all around us is a good part of what the Christian life is all about.  Slavery, war, and discrimination are only possible when we fail to see the glory in those people.  Why does Jesus tell us to pray for our enemies, except to begin to discern their glory?

We live in a time when we need to see the glory of God in every other human being, and also in the rest of creation.  This fragile earth, our island home, is also shining with the glory of its creator.  If human beings are going to flourish on this planet, we’ll need to learn to see the glory of God at work in all its parts.  When we can be awed at the beauty of a sunset or the delicate complexity of an orchid or the remarkable diversity of a coral reef, we’ll be much more wary about using it for our own selfish ends.

Looking for the reflection of God’s glory all around us means changing our lenses, or letting the scales on our eyes fall away.  That kind of change isn’t easy for anyone, but it’s the only road to the kingdom of God.  We are here, among all the other creatures of God’s creation, to be transformed into the glory intended from the beginning.  The next time we feel the pain of that change, perhaps instead of annoyance or angry resentment we might pray for a new pair of glasses.  When resentment about difference or change builds up within us, it’s really an invitation to look inward for the wound that cries out for a healing dose of glory.  We will find it in the strangeness of our neighbor.  Celebrate that difference – for it’s necessary for the healing of this world – and know that the wholeness we so crave lies in recognizing the glory of God’s creative invitation.  God among us in human form is the most glorious act we know.  We are meant to be transformed into the same kind of glory.  Let’s pray that God’s glory may shine in us and in all creatures!

Crawling Through The 10/40 Window – The Gospel Coalition Blog

Reposted: Crawling Through The 10/40 Window – The Gospel Coalition Blog.

For more than two decades, much of the Christian world has been turning its gaze toward the 10/40 Window. Increasingly the North American evangelical church, the richest church in the history of the world, has been redirecting its missionaries and other missions resources toward the darkness within the this area of the globe. The goals are highly commendable, but are these methods prudent?

Argentine-born evangelist Luis Bush coined the phrase “10/40 Window” in 1989. The Joshua Project currently defines the 10/40 Window as those 69 countries that sit between 10 and 40 degrees north latitude in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. This is the heart of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. It has been estimated that 90 percent of the 4.4 billion people living in the 10/40 Window are unevangelized; yet only 10 percent of our global missionary force serves there.

Why Not the West

According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, in 2010 the U.S. sent out 127,000 of the world’s estimated 400,000 missionaries. It is wonderful to see U.S. churches accepting their role as senders. However, missionaries sent from the United States may not be the answer to opening the 10/40 Window.

In the current geo-political environment the United States and its citizens are not favorably viewed by a majority of the governments in the 10/40 Window countries. Of the 10 countries in the world that are classified as hardest for U.S. citizens to receive visas, seven of those are located in that area. In much of the 10/40 Window, missionary visas are simply not granted to foreigners.

The U.S. Department of State has issued travel warnings and recommends U.S. citizens avoid travel in 23 of the countries. The Open Doors World Watch List also counts the top 10 most dangerous countries for Christians in the world within the 10/40 Window.

Women account for a disproportionately large percentage of U.S. missionaries, with single women outnumbering single men 4 to 1 on the mission field. While our culture views the involvement of women in missions as a blessing, much of the rest of the world disagrees with us. In fact, many of the cultures contained within the 10/40 Window are hostile to women—especially Western women.

The United States and its missionaries are simply not welcome in much of the 10/40 regions. But this doesn’t mean Americans should fold up our missions tents and ignore the billions of unsaved in these parts of the world. Jesus promised us hard times: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11). John Piper echoed this same sentiment when he wrote, “If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full.” Nobody said missions was easy. Still, there may be a better approach.

Sending from the Global South

In recent decades we have seen an eruption of evangelical churches in Latin America and Southern Africa. New churches and individual conversions are emerging in the Global South. Many of these newer churches now have a generation or two of spiritual maturity and are sending out their own missionaries.

As churches in the Global South have developed, many U.S. missionaries and churches have changed their approach to these regions and are beginning to transition into supporting roles. Churches in Latin America and Southern Africa are now seeking theological resources, biblical training, and assistance in forming seminaries. In many of these countries, U.S. missionaries are focusing more on discipleship and theological training.

Already missionaries are going out from these regions. But why not send more? Compared to those from the United States, missionaries originating from the Global South can gain easier access to countries in the 10/40 Window. For instance, Latin American passports can gain access to countries that U.S. and Western European passports can’t. It may be time for our churches to embrace the shifting landscape. Rather than sending missionaries from our home country, we can send to the 10/40 Window our brothers and sisters from the Global South.

Embracing Evolving Dynamics

The lives of our U.S. missionaries are no more valuable in God’s eyes than our Latin and African brothers and sisters. But the issue is not about danger or ease of passage. This is about wise use of the resources God has given us. Churches in the United States possess wealth unmatched in Christian history. Those vast resources could be effectively used sending U.S. missionaries into the Global South and providing discipleship and theological training to our brothers and sisters in Latin America and Southern Africa. Let’s give the churches in the Global South the training, resources, and financing they need to reach the 10/40 Window. Churches in the United States and churches in the Global South can partner together to evangelize the billions of lost souls in regions that need to be evangelized with ferocity.

After decades of taking the lead, we in the Western world may need to take a more supportive role and let our brothers in the South handle the face-to-face evangelism. What matters most is that we work together as a global church to find a way through the 10/40 Window in order to share the gospel with billions of the lost who are not being reached. In the end, what matters most is not who was sent but that God will receive the praise and the glory.

Mike Pettengill is a full-time missionary serving in La Ceiba, Honduras, with Mission to the World. Mike is a team leader of a 12-person mission team. To learn more about the Pettengill’s work in Honduras visit Pettengill Missionaries.

 

Christian Unity

Andrew Wilson published an article on the theology matters blog explaining why need to understand how to interpret the Bible properly and why principles of proper biblical interpretation are often ignored today. As Andrew points out, good men genuinely seeking to understand Scripture do frequently come to different conclusions about its interpretation in specific areas but those differences are far less significant than the general agreement that they all share. The Christian faith of godly Christian men throughout history is far more easily characterized by its unity than by its differences. When we begin interpreting the Bible by seeking to understand the message that the author intended, we end up arriving at amazingly similar conclusions. But when we begin by looking for the message we want to see in Scripture, even interpretations that are in opposition to the author’s intent become possible. In the latter case, it is no longer God’s inspired word that is authoritative in our lives; when we ignore the authors intent, we have deluded ourselves into believing that we alone decide what is good and what is evil and we have believed Satan’s lie that we too can become like God. (Ge. 3:5)

If you would like to read Andrew Wilson’s article, it can be found here.

A biblical and scientific Adam

adam0518As the battle between Darwinism and the Bible rages, some evangelicals have backed away from maintaining that Adam and Eve were real, historical individuals created in the way Genesis 2 relates. In a just-published article from the Westminster Theological Journal, Westminster Theological Seminary professor Vern Poythress brilliantly explains why such a surrender is wrong biblically and scientifically. Poythress, with both a Th.D. and a Harvard Ph.D. in mathematics, is well-positioned to write about both theology and evolutionary theory.

Adam versus claims from genetics

Did Adam and Eve exist? Does science say otherwise? The human genome project has produced voluminous data about the information contained in human DNA. Various news media and scientists tell us that this information demonstrates our ape ancestry. How do we evaluate these claims? Evaluation is important for theological reasons. As the claims based on genetics have mounted, the theological discussion about Adam has heated up. From people with biblical and theological training we hear the argument that we must revise our understanding of the Bible and theology because we have to accept that evolution is an established fact.[1] In response, we hear the opposing argument that the Bible and theology call on us to retain the conviction that Adam was a historical individual whose fall into sin resulted in guilt and sin for all his descendants.[2] On both sides, people with training in biblical studies have understandably avoided discussing in detail the character of the scientific claims, and yet these have obviously greatly influenced the side that has abandoned the traditional understanding of Adam.[3] It is important to undertake a theologically informed evaluation of claims coming from genetics.

We cannot within a short compass examine all the claims and all the evidence in detail. But we can summarize some of the main points, and direct readers to more extensive information.

I. Ninety-nine percent common DNA

We may begin with a commonly cited statistic, the 99 percent identity between human DNA and chimp DNA. In 2005 the Cornell University News Service reported: “Chimpanzees and humans share a common ancestor, and even today 99 percent of the two species’ DNA is identical.”[4] In 2010 the University of California at San Francisco News mentioned the same figure: “The genetic codes of chimps and humans are 99 percent identical.”[5] In 2005 the National Institutes of Health News reported, “Our closest living relatives share perfect identity with 96 percent of our DNA sequence.”[6]

But assessing these claims is more challenging than it may appear. Note that the NIH report mentions 96 percent instead of 99 percent. Why? The same NIH report also includes the figure of 99 percent further on in its description, so none of the figures is an error. It turns out that the 99 percent figure arises by using a number of restrictions: (1) ignore repetitive portions, (2) compare only sequences that can be aligned naturally with one another, and (3) consider only base-pair substitutions, not “indels” (see below).

Comparisons of this kind get technical, because there can be several kinds of correspondence and noncorrespondence between DNA strands. Let us lay out briefly some of the issues. At the level of molecular structure, DNA contains a “code” composed of four “letters,” namely, ACGT (the letters stand for four distinct bases, adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine). The DNA code uses a particular sequence of letters, such as ATTGTTCTCGGC, to specify the exact sequence of amino acids that are to be used to construct a protein.[7] Human DNA and chimp DNA align when one finds the same sequence of letters in both kinds of DNA:

001adam.jpg

A variation is called a “substitution” when there is a different letter at some one point in the sequence:

002adam.jpg

(The T does not match the G in the middle of the sequence.) A variation is called an “indel” (short for insertion/deletion) when one of the sequences has extra letters:

03adam.jpg

If the comparison focuses only on substitutions within aligned protein-coding regions, the match is 99 percent. Indels constitute roughly a 3 percent difference in addition to the one percent for substitutions, leading to the figure of 96 percent offered by the NIH.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Psalm 126

A song of accent

When the Lord returned Zion’s captives[i],

it was like a dream[ii].

At that moment our mouths were filled with laughter

and our tongues with shouts of joy.

Then the nations said “The Lord has done great things for these people”

The Lord has done great things for us, we were happy.

Lord return our fortunes

as streams flowing in the desert[iii].

The ones sowing seed with tears

Will gather the harvest with shouts of joy.

They went away in tears, carrying bags of seed.

They will return, with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.



[i] This psalm has traditionally been understood as a celebration of the people of Israel who were returning from captivity. Some translators have suggested amending the text from שיבת (captive/sojourner) to שבות (captivity, captive, adversity, fortune) with an understanding of God returning the fortunes to the people (NIV 2011, ESV, TNK, NRSV); however, there is little textual support for such an emendation. Both the Aramaic targums and the LXX suggest that the understanding of “captives/captivity” is original. Some have suggested this should be understood as “a turning” as it is used in Aramaic. In this translation I have followed the traditional understanding (KJV, NIV 1984, JPS, NKJV, NASB)

[ii] Lit. “we were as ones dreaming”

[iii] The challenges to understanding this verse are similar to verse 1 except that written form here is שבות (captivity/captives/adversity/fortune); however, there is a marginal note in the MT that amends this to  שבית (captives/captivity). The Aramaic Targums and the LXX support a reading of captives/captivity aligning with the marginal notes of the MT. Some versions translate this very literally i.e. “restore our captivity” (NASB) but the meaning of this phrase (even in English) is unclear and does not seem to fit the context. The key to understanding this verse is likely in its comparison to “the streams in the Negev” but unfortunately the significance of this imagery is itself unclear. What is well understood is that the Negev is a very dry and arid place that receives very little rain. Most water comes from rain that comes to the higher mountain regions and flows in torrents into the lower desert regions of the Negev; the force of these torrents is frequently so powerful that it reshapes the landscape (even today it is not uncommon for these torrents to wash away modern roads in the Negev). In ancient times, survival in the Negev required one to store these waters in cisterns during these infrequent torrential flows, so that there would be water when the streams were dry. If the author of this psalm is alluding to the restoration of Israel’s wealth, the imagery could invoke the life sustaining blessing of these streams of water, a blessing that was needed for their very survival. The author could also be alluding to either the returning of Israel’s captives or its wealth with the imagery being seen as the captives (or wealth) of Israel to returning like the flood waters return to the Negev each year.