Biblical Illiteracy and the Canaanites

USA Today recently reported that the Bible was proven incorrect through genetic research that revealed descendants of the Canaanites still existed in spite of what they reported was the Bible’s “claim” that they were exterminated.

The article is fascinating and frustrating. On the one hand, the genetic research is incredibly interesting; it is fascinating to see where the descendants of the Canaanites ended up. Especially given, as the article correctly points out, how little we have in the way of historical records about them.

HOWEVER.

The reporter didn’t do his homework. The verse cited, Deuteronomy 20:17, does not claim the Canaanites are destroyed. Instead, it is a command to wipe them out – one which the Bible clearly points out the Jewish people, under the command of Joshua, did not follow. The story of the walls of Jericho gets the most press with the narrative recorded in Joshua 6. In that instance, they did kill and destroy everything following a dramatic story of marching, trumpets, yelling, and walls collapsing.

But just a few chapters later, a different type of story is recorded. In Joshua 9, the story of the Gibeonites is described. They were Canaanites as well who managed to trick Joshua and the others into thinking they were from far away. Scripture notes that Joshua did not go to the Lord about it, but instead agreed to a treaty and made a promise to not wipe them out. When they realized the deception, that they were actually from nearby and one of the cities they were to wipe out, Joshua honored his promise and did not wipe them out. In fact, the story ends with this comment:

“So Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them. That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water carriers for the assembly, to provide for the needs of the altar of the Lord at the place the Lord would choose. And that is what they are to this day.” (Joshua 9:26-27)

So, to sum up, not only does the Bible NOT claim that the Canaanites were totally destroyed; at the time of its writing, it notes their continued existence. Which ultimately points to the importance of carefully researching scripture before jumping to conclusions.

Rob Bell’s “What is the Bible?”

What-Is-the-Bible 2Rob Bell’s latest book, What is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything, is both insightful and maddening. Bell has always intrigued me; he’s an incredible communicator with an often times unique perspective on the Bible. His goal with this latest book is to convey all of the excitement, passion, and thrills that come with reading the Bible – something he observes (correctly) that so many miss.

Bell does a great job of paying attention to the Jewish culture, both during Christ’s time and during the times the Old Testament books were written, as well as the Roman culture and other ancient middle eastern cultures and religions. He eloquently paints a picture of the connecting threads throughout all of scripture pointing to an exciting message from God. I loved his observations about Abraham’s covenant with God, the struggle Jonah went through, as well as the writing styles and priorities of ancient writers. I also thought his notes on how modern day Americans process and interpret scripture through our cultural lens conflicts so often without us even realizing it with the culture and writing styles of those who wrote these books so long ago.

But Bell is also maddening.

I feel so pretentious for even writing this, but his books have grown increasingly intellectually lazy. He makes bold claims about meanings of words, culture, theories, and explanations – and footnotes none of it. He doesn’t cite anything! Even half of the scriptures he quotes he does without even giving a reference; and the other half of the time he only mentions the book and maybe the chapter. I found myself doing keyword searches to try and find what verse he was quoting and what translation it was to find the context because of his tendency to prooftext and play fast and loose with his scripture quotes. Some of his theories I was able to find in commentaries, however, they tended to be alternate understandings of a passage’s interpretation rejected by most scholars.

His theology on salvation, revealed in his book Love Wins, returns in the third section of this book. Because of his conviction that ultimately all are saved regardless of their faith in this life, the sacrificial nature of Christ’s death and resurrection is at the very least minimized in this book if not removed all together. He contends that the sacrificial system at large, and therefore the perspective of interpreting Christ’s death through that lens, is purely a human creation made in response to pagan sacrificial systems. His chapter on whether or not scripture is authoritative was also troubling to me; while he believes scripture does have authority, he seems to view it as equal to a number of other sources, which is a dangerous approach at best. From his perspective, he is genuinely advocating for scripture’s authority; and his love of the Bible comes through on every page of the book, however, in his assertion of a variety of other authoritative sources he ultimately both reduces scripture’s power and opens the door recklessly putting faith anywhere and everywhere.

Ultimately, I was fascinated by the book, but because of his pattern of making claims without citing evidence or sources, his loose use of scripture, and his reckless theology when it comes to salvation and authority, it’s not one I would recommend to others. He’s given me a lot to think about, and he does bring the scriptures to life in a way that few can do – but unless the reader is well versed in scripture and theology, it becomes too easy to accept the dangerous theology sprinkled throughout the book.

Boarding School Syndrome review

Boarding-School-SyndromeDr. Joy Schaverien’s Boarding School Syndrome: The Psychological Trauma of the ‘Privileged’ Child takes an honest and powerful look at the long term psychological impact boarding schools have on children. Having spent my teen years in a boarding school, I was particularly fascinated by her observations, based on years of counseling and diagnosing adults who attended boarding schools as children. Rather than try to summarize the book (there’s just way too much), I want to share a few of my reactions as a former boarding school student. You can read a strong summary of the book’s content and a list of the many symptoms and issues that can result in boarding school experience here.

Over the last decade, I have become increasingly aware of just how widespread and prevalent sexual and physical abuse was in all of the boarding schools run by the mission my family was a part of, which has been a horrifying realization. Dr. Schaverien primarily interacts with former boarding school students from other systems and organizations, and it was shocking to realize through her research that this sexual and physical abuse seems to be a common reality in ALL boarding schools. The combination of predators being attracted to environments where children are cut off from their parents most of the year and dangerous students with inadequate supervision around younger students consistently creates environments where abuse flourishes.

Dr. Schaverien deals with the question of why children do not report abuse throughout her book, which I appreciated deeply. She points out a combination of factors; for the child who does not have the words to express what is going on, it is a confusing situation. Children think their experience is normal; they may not like it, but it must be normal because it is what they know. Adding to that is the knowledge that their parents sent them, reinforcing the idea that this is both normal and the adults in their life are okay with it (after all, to a young child’s logic, how could their parents possibly not know?). Consequently, the abuse is normalized, and even minimized – “I didn’t like what happened to me, but it’s not nearly as bad as what happened to so-and-so.” What I was particularly struck by is her observation that it is typically around forty years of age that people will begin to recognize or speak out about the abuse they received as a child; often times as they see their own children growing up and realize just how little and unprotected they themselves were at that age and finally begin to realize just how wrong the treatment was.

That jumped out at me; I’m 41. It has really been the last five years that I have wrestled with what I witnessed as a teen and what I can do about it now. As a student at a boarding school I witnessed things that made me deeply uncomfortable and upset – but did not know how to react. It wasn’t until my early twenties as I was studying to be a teacher, and then youth pastor. taking classes on creating safe environments and protecting children from abuse that I realized many of the things I witnessed were legally considered abuse.

I found her comments and observations on former boarding school students relationships with others, the tendency to be closed relationally, abandonment issues, the sexual confusion resulting from growing up in schools forbidding any kind of physical contact (even healthy, necessary contact), issues with food, and a whole host of other ramifications to be incredibly fascinating, and enlightening in what I have seen in my fellow classmates. I think her book is critical reading for anyone who has been a boarding school student, or who has had family members attend boarding school at some point in their childhood. It is written for psychologists to give insight on how to work with boarding school students, so it is not a light read, however it is incredibly beneficial and makes a great contribution to a segment of the population that is largely ignored.

Caleb and Micah’s Mission Trip Report

On June 25th, the student ministry took over both worship services at our church, Brandywine Valley Baptist Church, to share their favorite moments and what God taught them during the mission trips to Maine, Detroit and Peru. I was particularly proud and excited to hear what Caleb, my 13 year old son, would share about his trip to Maine, and what Micah, my 15 year old son, would share about his trip to Detroit.

I actually led the mission trip to Peru, so this was the first year that McNutt’s were on all three student mission trips. It hit me a few days before the trips were to leave that I have incredible youth leaders; it never even occurred to me to worry about sending my sons with the leaders on either the Maine or Detroit trip. My trust and confidence in them is that high! Our volunteers love God and their calling to work with young people – it’s an incredible team to be a part of!

Forgiveness and Abuse

forgiveness

Back in May I did a sermon on Colossians 3:12-17 and the call to Christians to forgive one another. If I’m honest, it was one of the more difficult sermons I’ve ever done. The first half was easy; the message of Colossians is pretty clear – but it is not a simple one to live out and my struggle is that too often sermons on forgiveness come across as too simplistic. God told us to do it, so just do it. And for many of the offenses in life, that is simple enough. But what about the deeper wounds? The scars that are still painful years or decades later? So I spoke about the physical and emotional abuse I experienced as a student at a boarding school for missionary kids in the early nineties. The years long process of navigating forgiveness and healing that I pursued in my early twenties.

You can listen to the sermon here; we had some technical issues so there is no video from that week. It’s the May 7th, 2017, sermon entitled “Out with the Old, In with the New, Part 2.” You can also find it on iTunes.

My notes are below; they are shortened versions of what I actually said, and in places probably only make sense to me:

Unshakeable | Out with the Old, In with the New (part two) Col. 3:12-17 | May 7, 2017

We are working are way through Colossians, the letter written by Paul while he was in prison in Rome. Epaphras founded church in Colosse, when a dangerous heresy erupted in the church, he made the journey to Rome to get Paul’s help and advice.

  • COLOSSIAN HERESY:
  • God/spiritual is good, matter is evil. This translated to either sin or extremely legalistic lifestyles trying to control the flesh.

Colossians 3:12-17 (NIV) (read the passage)

Do you see the end goal in this section of the letter? Unity. Paul is challenging them to recognize that in Christ, a body of believers should demonstrate a divinely powered unity to each other and the world around them. But how does he get there?

“THEREFORE”

Paul has been beating the drum of spiritual maturity, of unity, of being a new creation in Christ throughout Colossians.

Chapter 2 – zeros in on legalism, the demands of following all sorts of rules.

Colossians 2:22-23

22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Chapter 3 continues this thought …

Colossians 3:1-3

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

Last week Nate focused on 3:8-11; where Paul tells the Colossian Christians to stop interacting with each other in the ways of the world; anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, to stop lying to one another – if we have put on this new self, this new life, if we are becoming like Christs, then that should not mark how we treat anyone, let alone members of the body of Christ.

Colossians 3:12-14

The fundamental attitude is bearing with each other and forgiving one another. For Paul, this is the natural outgrowth of the previous five virtues.

The ‘bearing with each other’ is funny; normally it has a negative connotation, but the Greek here indicates a positive meaning. He’s acknowledging that the body of believers in Colossians are a wildly different group. We saw that in verse 11 last week:

Colossians 3:11

11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

He’s saying, you are an incredibly diverse group … but Christ in us erases that. As Christ changes our hearts to be like His, these differences disappear; we bear with each other in a joyful way. WE are a diverse group! We have different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different politics, different views on so many things – and yet, because of Christ we find ourselves here, worshipping together in spite of our differences!

Natural result of all these virtues, in spite of us being imperfect, sinful people – is that we will forgive each other and pursue unity.

Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Forgive = charizomai (Greek); means forgiving others as an act of grace, freely offered, often not ‘deserved.’

This is a reoccurring theme throughout the New Testament. This idea that because we have been forgiven by God, our natural response should be to forgive others.

Matthew 18:21-35 The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

Peter asks how many times should we forgive, 7 times?

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

10,000 bags of gold; 100 silver coins

  1. 33: “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?”

British lottery winner. The reality of what he had won had not sunk in yet.

Ephesians 4:32

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

We are to forgive as God forgave us.

  • Paul is essentially saying that it is utterly inappropriate for one who knows the joy and release of being forgiven to refuse to share that blessing with another.
  • Perhaps more significantly, it is incredibly presumptuous to refuse to forgive someone who Christ Himself has already forgiven.

What is it to forgive? To stop feeling anger, to stop blaming, to stop wanting revenge/payback, to release them of whatever it is you may feel they owe you – however small or big. It’s not pretending it never happened, it’s letting it go, releasing its hold on you. It is an act of grace, given regardless of whether or not they deserve it.

In some cases, forgiveness is an easy grace to extend;

  • To those who apologize
  • The offense was minor, a simple misunderstanding
  • When we are self aware enough to recognize we are overreacting

Sometimes forgiveness is far more difficult;

  • 27 years ago moved to Tambo
  • Graduated 24 years ago, spent next several years filled with rage at even the thought of what went on there.
  • Reached out for help in my early twenties, about two decades ago.
  • I chose to forgive. Does not mean I condone what they did, does not mean I will pretend it didn’t happen, does not mean that they are pardoned from real world consequences to their actions, it does not mean that I have to allow them to hurt me again – but I released its hold on me.
  • Did not happen overnight. I had to choose to forgive over and over, until gradually, it became more natural.
  • This past Christmas, two and a half decades after the fact, after a five/six year investigation, the mission finally acknowledged and gave a hollow apology to me. The decision to forgive happens over and over.

Why share that? Because I don’t want to oversimplify what I’m preaching. We live in a world full of sin and failure. Large percentages of our country have been wronged, abused, assaulted in horrible ways – yes, much of the conflict that happens in a church body can be forgiven through simple steps, but there are other times where it is critical to bring in stronger help, to process and walk through the pain that was inflicted.

Sometimes we can forgive simply through prayer and going to the person.

Sometimes to forgive, we need to enlist the help of others, and recognize that it will be a daily process of committing to that decision.

Junia: The First Woman Apostle review

juniaDr. Eldon Epp, a professor of Biblical literature, has put together a thorough and well researched case for the existence of a woman apostle in scripture in his book Junia: The First Woman Apostle. The verse in question?

“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” Romans 16:7, NIV.

The debate originally centered around the name Junia; is it a woman’s name (Junia) or a man’s name (Junias)? The issue was largely uncontested until two hundred years ago when two scholars, separately, came to the conclusion that the verse clearly points to this individual being an apostle, therefore it must be a man, making it imposible for this Greek name to be translated in a female form. They proposed that the actual name was Junias, a male rendering of the Greek, a theory that was quickly accepted throughout the church and Bible translations were updated to reflect it. However, in recent decades it has become clear that there is no such male name in the Greek, while Junia, the female form, was in fact a common woman’s name through every class of society (slave, poor, wealthy, royalty). Consequently, in recent years Bibles have been corrected to reflect this feminine spelling. At this point, the debate has shifted to question whether or not Junia was an apostle, or simply known to the apostles.

Epp uses his expertise in ancient literature to trace the use of this name and language through every major grouping of Greek texts we have from over the centuries as well as how these texts were understood to make the case that Junia was both understood to be a woman from the beginning, and recognized as an apostle. To say he is thorough in his exploration is an understatement. Making the case for the name being feminine is far easier now than it was fifty years ago; it is widely accepted now in Christian scholarship to be the case.

From there, Epp then tackles the issue of whether or not Junia was recognized as an apostle, or simply known to the apostles. Much of his argument centers on the contention that until the last few decades, this was never even a question; from the time of Chrysotom the two individuals mentioned in this verse were universally accepted to be apostles. Paul does not use the title lightly, and through an examination of the original Greek, Epp makes the case that while there may be some lack of clarity in the English, there was no uncertainty in the Greek. So much so, that it was not even questioned until recently when it became clear that the name Junia was in fact feminine, leading him to conclude that rather than allowing the scriptures to speak for themselves, complementarian theologians are instead rewording the intent of scripture to match their own theology. He cites C.E.B Cranfield’s assertion that this approach is “mere conventional prejudice” (Kindle location 738).

Overall, it is a fascinating exploration of controversial topic. Published by Fortress Press, it is an academic book and not a light read. So much so that a third of the book is footnotes and bibliography. Epp is systematic and thorough in his approach, with each of the ten chapters focused on a different aspect of his case for Junia being a woman apostle. Consequently, there is some repetition as he reiterates different pieces of evidence in support of each point he makes; on the positive side, this allows each chapter to stand on its own, but it does get somewhat repetitive at times. Regardless of one’s opinion on the translation of Romans 16:7, Epp’s book is a strong entry into the discussion.

Us Versus Us review

us versus usAndrew Marin’s Us Versus Us: The Untold Story of Religion and the LGBT Community is a powerful examination of the relationship between the LGBT community and the church. Based on extensive research and surveys – the largest of its type – administered by his organization, The Marin Foundation, Marin presents startling and convicting results. The big result? 86% of the LGBT community were raised in faith communities, leading to the title of the book; Marin contends that for too long the debate on sexuality has been framed as an “us versus them” approach, when the reality is that most of us originated in the same place – it is actually and “us versus us” debate, which has only resulted in damage.

Each chapter is committed to examining the major findings of the research; beyond the 86% statistic, he also found that 54% of those in the LGBT community left their faith communities by the age of 18, 76% are open to returning to faith and its practices, 36% of the LGBT community continue to pursue faith beyond the age of 18, 80% regularly pray regardless of faith association (or lack thereof), and finally, he examines the impact of coming out on religiosity.

For years, Marin has powerfully advocated for building bridges instead of walls in the conversation between the church and the LGBT community. He writes that “we have allowed the people comprising the conversation to be characterized by caricature” (Kindle location 128), pointing out that we define positions and camps, focusing the conversation on opposition. Instead, he advocates for “the lost art of loving in disagreement” (Kindle location 135).

What do we do with these results? For Marin, the answer seems obvious. The pattern for many churches in America has been incredibly painful for those in and out of the congregation; somehow we have not been able to emulate Christ’s approach, which in His divine perfection somehow combined His sinless reputation with the ability to have sinners flock to Him. Throughout the gospels Christ avoided closed door conversations; when people asked him yes/no questions in an effort to nail down where He stood, He answered with parables, with stories, with questions of His own. The result? Instead of shutting down the conversation He continued the dialogue and built bridges.

Do I agree with all of Marin’s conclusions? Not necessarily; we differ on the interpretation of some of the data. But the work he and his team have done is essential. Every pastor/church leader should read this book. It is a powerful insight into a group often dehumanized and vilified by churches in America, and the longing for community and spiritual hunger present there.