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Sinai and the Saints

IVP has just come out with a new book which could be very helpful to people trying to figure out how to understand the laws of the Old Testament, Sinai and the Saints: Reading Old Covenant Laws for the New Covenant Community by James M. Todd III.

IVP asked me to give an endorsement, and the first half of it ended up on the back cover.  So, I thought I’d include my full endorsement here, for any one who’s interested.

“Many readers of the Old Testament struggle to understand all those random, bizarre, strict, and oppressive laws.  What’s a Christian to do?  Start by reading James Todd’s Sinai and the Saints.  Todd offers his readers engaging stories, provocative insights, and a compelling interpretation that offers a way forward, one that makes sense of the Law, and helps people understand it in light of Jesus and the rest of Scripture.”

Here are the other endorsements that appeared on the back cover:

“The failure to understand the relationships of the old covenant to the new is probably one of the most important areas where Christians need good help–and they will receive good help here.”  – Peter Gentry, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Anyone grappling with how to approach the laws of Exodus to Deuteronomy from a Christian perspective will find this book an invaluable introduction.” – T. Desmond Alexander, Union Theological College.

I hope you can check it out.

 

Kierkegaard: A Single Life

As we were driving down the highway recently as a family, I informed my college-age sons that a recent album (Reflektor) released by one of their favorite bands (Arcade Fire) was inspired by Soren Kierkegaard’s work, The Present Age. In his interview with Rolling Stone, band front man Win Butler speaks of how relevant Kierkegaard’s writing is today, “It sounds like he’s talking about modern times…He’s talking about the press and alienation, and you kind of read it and you’re like, “Dude, you have no idea how insane it’s gonna get.”  This quote comes from Stephen Backhouse’s new biography of the Danish Christian/existentialist/philosopher entitled Kierkegaard: A Single Life.(p. 205).

I had to read Kierkegaard as a freshman in college in my Western Civilization class (I think it was Fear and Trembling-but it’s been 36 years), and while I found some of his ideas compelling, most of it went over my head.  But over the past few decades, I’ve come across his writings in various places, perhaps most recently in Metaxas’ biography of Bonhoeffer (see my blog and Backhouse’ discussion, p. 197), so when I saw this new biography from Zondervan, I happy picked it up.

I was not disappointed.  Backhouse is a Kierkegaardian scholar who can write for a more popular, non-specialist audience, moving easily between anecdotes of a man who life was largely tragic and encapsulations of his profound writings and philosophy.

While it took awhile for his writings to gain traction in broader circles, his impact goes way beyond Arcade Fire and Dietrich Bonhoeffer to include Franz Kafka, Karl Barth, Charles Williams (friend of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Dorothy Sayers), Thomas Merton, Albert Camus, Richard Wright, FDR, and Martin Luther King Jr (although the often-cited link between Kierkegaard and Frederick Nietzsche seems rather tenuous).  Backhouse’s final chapter detailing these influences makes fascinating reading.

Soren Kierkegaard’s goal to “reintroduce Christianity into Christendom” seem tragically appropriate today.  Here’s a journal entry, “A modern clergyman [is] an active, adroit, quick person who knows how to introduce a little Christianity very mildly, attractively, and in beautiful language, etc.–but as mildly as possible.  In the New Testament Christianity is the deepest wound that can be dealt to a man, designed to collide with everything on the most appalling scale–and now the clergyman is perfectly trained to introduce Christianity in such a way that it means nothing…How disgusting!” (p. 171-172).

Kierkegaard’s views profoundly challenge me as a seminary professor in my occupation of training “clergymen.”  God help us reintroduce Christianity into Christendom.

Encounter with an Ark

nate-note-dave-arkOn New Years Eve Eve, I dragged my family to see the Ark Encounter in Grant County, Kentucky, as part of a visit to my father in Lexington. The Ark Encounter opened to great fanfare and controversy in July 2016.

The organization behind this ark, Answers in Genesis, also created the Creation Museum, and their perspective on creation was a major theme of the Ark Encounter. While I believe God created the cosmos, I don’t share the views of the makers of this ark that creation took place over six literal days of 24 hours, but more on that topic below.

But let’s start with three positives things I saw.  

  1. The Ark itself is impressive.  It’s huge, based on the dimensions from Genesis 6 (we’re not exactly sure how long a cubit is, but it was roughly 18 inches).  It’s great to walk up next to it and experience the overwhelming size.  It’s hard to imagine how practically Noah would have been able to build it, but the organizers worked hard to explain how he might have done it.
  2. The experience is well-designed.  The organizers run a tight ship, so to speak.  They aren’t fully done developing the entire grounds, but it was very attractive overall. The Christmas lights were beautiful at night (we went at night because it was 1/2-price).
  3. The exhibits are engaging.  I was surprised that our 2 hours-plus wasn’t really enough time.   They worked hard to explain how feeding, watering, and waste may have been handled on the ark.  I’ll mention two exhibits that I particularly appreciated. The first: “Was the Bible Used to Promote Racism?” They acknowledge that the answer is “sadly” yes, which was really good to admit.  They go on to point out that humans are created by God, are made in God’s image (Gen. 1-2), are all loved by God (John 3:16), and are all descended from Noah, thus all member of the same human race.  Great points overall (see also my chapter on Racism in God Behaving Badly).  The second exhibit I’ll mention was “Help Me Understand” which speculated about some of the possible questions Noah’s daughter-in-law Rayneh, wife of Japheth, may have asked concerning the ethical problems associated with judgment, suffering, and death.  I didn’t love their answers, but the fact that they were asking these questions was really good.

Because of these positives, I’m really glad we visited it.  But now, I’ll share three negative things I saw.

  1. The scientific arguments presented in the exhibits were based on essentially anecdotal evidence proving that the earth was only about 6000 years old. They created straw man arguments that they could then easily shoot down. The reality is that the vast majority of reputable scientists around the world in a variety of fields (geologists, biologists, astrophysicists, etc.) believe the earth is 4.5 billion years old. To explain the fossil record, the Ark Encounter exhibits had to theorize that all those fossil layers were laid down after the flood, a view which doesn’t take seriously the amount of time, pressure and energy it takes to create a fossil.
  2. The biblical arguments presented in the exhibits don’t take the Bible seriously, despite their claims to the contrary.  Their interpretation of a “day” (yom in Hebrew) as literal 24 hour period of time from Genesis 1 doesn’t even make sense in Genesis 1-2.  In the context of creation the word yom is used as a 24 hour period (Gen. 1:5b), a 12 hour period (Gen. 1:5a), and a week long period (Gen. 2:4b).  The genre of Genesis 1 is not narrative, but poetic, formulaic prose which does not require a literal interpretation.
  3. The view presented in the exhibits of other Christians was not respectful or gracious. Believers who didn’t share the hyper-literal views of the organizers of the exhibit were made to appear either as ridiculous or not as genuine Christians.  While I strongly disagree with their interpretations, I respect how hard they are working to honor the biblical text.

ark-does-bible-promote-racismIn spite of the criticisms I have of it, I firmly believe that the designers, builders, and organizers of the Ark Encounter are my brothers- and sisters-in-Christ and therefore are worthy of my upmost respect.

Justifiable Rape? (Part 2): Lot’s Daughters

200px-gentileschi_artemisia_-_lot_and_his_daughters_-_1635-1638In my last post I asked, “Is rape ever justifiable?” specifically in light of the story of Lot and his two daughters (Gen. 19:30-38).

On Facebook my post received even less attention than my usual posts.  Hmm.  I guess people don’t want to talk about these types of stories.  For me it’s not an option since I teach the Old Testament (and while it’s hard when it comes to stories like this one, I still believe all Scripture is profitable for teaching–you can quote me on that).

If you’re curious, I discuss this story in more depth in Prostitutes and Polygamists (150-152).

Here are three reasons to view the behavior of Lot’s daughters negatively.

First, by getting their father drunk they took away his ability to give consent, which means we could call what took place rape.  It’s never good to get someone drunk to have sex with them. This message cannot be stated loudly or often enough, particularly on college campuses.

Second, sex between a father and a daughter was particularly abhorrent and lesser forms of incest were to be punished with death (see Lev. 20:11-21).  Once again, in a world where sexual abuse within families is tragically not uncommon, this passage should never be construed as a license for incest.

Third, their father could have arranged marriages for them from the nearby town of Zoar as he apparently did in Sodom, since both of Lot’s daughters were to be married (Gen. 19:14).

Here are three reasons to NOT view their behavior negatively.

First, the first command in the Bible was “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28), so one could argue that they were simply being obedient to God’s initial commission.

Second, other unorthodox forms of sexual behavior seem to be permitted or even encouraged elsewhere in Scripture.  The practice of levirate marriage, a man impregnating his brother’s widow in order to perpetuate his line was codified in the law (Deut. 25:5-6).  One could argue that Lot’s daughters were acting in the spirit of this practice (before it became law).  Tamar is praised by Judah for being “more righteous” than he after she tricked him into sleeping with her to perpetuate the line of her dead husband Er, the son of Judah (Gen. 38; see also my discussion of this incident in Prostitutes and Polygamists, pages 95-101).

Third, their scheme spared their father the shame of being responsible for getting his own daughters pregnant.  I heard this argument from a female scholar who was presenting a paper at a recent Society of Biblical Literature meeting (in San Antonio). I need to think more about this point, but I initially found it a compelling argument.

I’m still troubled by this incident, but the fact that Lot’s daughters would have been experiencing shock and grief after the deaths of their mother, their fiancees, and almost everyone else they knew should cause us to view their desperate, but improper, actions with compassion.

What do you think?  Was their behavior justifiable?  Do you see other reasons to condemn or defend Lot’s daughter’s actions?