Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Luke 14:28-33: A new interpretation?

I'm preaching on Luke 14:25-35 this coming Sunday and my companions as I preach through Luke have been the commentaries by Green and Marshall. (I find usually reading more than a couple of commentaries for the purpose of preaching a waste of time). However on the subject of the two parables in Luke 14:28-33 I find them both unconvincing and have subsequently come up with my own interpretation. It probably isn't new or unique, but it seems so satisfactory to me I am surprised neither Marshall nor Green even mention the possibility. I'd appreciate your thoughts, whether you think my alternative reading has any merit, and whether you know any other commentators who have suggested something similar.



What they say

Jesus is talking about the need to hate our families and take up our crosses to be his disciples. He then tells two parables, one about understanding the need to estimate the cost of a building project before starting it to avoid ridicule and one about the need to surrender to and enemy that has greater forces than you. Jesus concludes by saying, "in the same way [as in the parables] any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." Both NIV and NRSV subtitle the section "the cost of discipleship."

For Green Jesus uses these parable to "highlight the importance of considering the conditions he has placed on authentic discipleship" and "by extrapolation [he] insists that such assets as one's network of kin . . . are an insufficient foundation for assuring one's status before God." (Green, NICNT p566)

For Marshall, the parables show "just as one should not attempt a venture without having sufficient resources to complete it . . . so a disciple must be continually ready to give up all he has got in order to follow Jesus. The connection of thought could be smoother, and this confirms that originally independent saying have here been joined together." (Marshall, NIGTC p594-95)

Effectively then, for both Marshall and Green the parables serve as warnings to potential disciples to weigh carefully if they will be able to see their discipleship to the end. In other words, "don't become a disciple unless you are ready to give everything else up." But Marshall does note that this interpretation of the pericope is not very smooth, leading him to doubt the integrity of the passage. Might I be so bold as to suggest it is not the passage that lacks smoothness but that particular reading of it? A reading that renders Jesus warning people off becoming his disciples instead of inviting them to do so?




A better way?

Because we come to this passage with a "cost" mentality we see the parables as primarily about having the resources to see things through, and Jesus demanding that we be willing to give up everything to follow him. But the parables in question do not address resources, in the sense that there is no question or possibility of change in the resources of the characters in the parables. Under the previous reading this becomes a very fatalistic message: either you have what it takes to be a disciple or you don't. But in each parable it is a case of the character realising the true extent of his resources and acting accordingly.

But Jesus does not conclude the thought by saying "in the same way everyone should take stock of their resources for discipleship before following me." He says "in the same way you should give up everything you have." The parables are not about what we can achieve with our resources, but what we should give up.

In v28-30 the character gives up a tower (representing security, stability, wealth?) he cannot build, and in v31-32 a king gives up a kingdom (representing power, autonomy, sovereignty, wealth?) he cannot hold on to. So what point could Jesus be making? Is it not that those things which might come between us and being a disciple of Jesus (our excuses - cf Luke 14:18-20) are not things which we can hold onto or maintain in our own strength anyway? By giving up our social and material possessions to follow Jesus are we not just giving up what we were bound to lose anyway?

In both parables those who "give up" are held up as examples of the wise, and then we too are called to "give up" in order to become dsciples. Suddenly the flow of thought couldn't be smoother, and suddenly rather than trying to put off less committed disciples with a high price Jesus is actually encouraging us to follow him because what he is asking us to give up is beyond us to acheive or hold onto anyway.

In the words of Jim Elliot, martyred missionary, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."

Let me know what you think :-)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

America through the eyes of others


Images like these have a powerful effect on my perception of the USA (both borrowed from James).





It is funny, because so many of my favorite musicians, authors, bloggers and theologians are American. But the overriding mental image I have of the USA is governed by the reactionary racist greedy obnoxious and unbelievably imbecilic. There is something in the idea that it takes 10 positives to overcome a negative, but the idea that a pastor feels OK to put something like that on his notice board must cancel or someone wears a t-shirt like that (and it looks official - is it really?) counts for more than one negativity point. Vinoth Ramachandra puts it so well,


Democracy in the US is now largely a sham. The US Supreme Court has interpreted the US Constitution in a way that removes all restrictions on campaign spending. What this amounts to is that rich American individuals and corporations can buy presidents and congressmen. The support of a billionaire now counts vastly more than that of an ordinary citizen, making a mockery of the principle of “one man, one vote”.

how any sane person can vote for Romney/Ryan simply baffles me! One belongs to the class of tax-dodging parasites. The other proclaims himself to be an unashamed devotee of Ayn Rand’s militantly atheist creed of glorified selfishness and ruthless greed. And they both have absolutely no understanding of the world beyond the U.S. One cannot imagine deeper depths of moral bankruptcy and intellectual sterility to which the Republican Party can sink.

I am not saying you have to vote for Obama, he is certainly not perfect, and maybe there are good reasons to vote for the other guy, but I'll be honest if it does go against Obama most of the rest of us on planet Earth will just be thinking it is the racists and the greedy rich who have got their way because that is the message you have sent us. Feel free to disabuse me of that notion, but if you do it with abuse, you'll be proving my point.

America, sort your life out, and then maybe you'll have more success when trying to help the rest of the world.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Hurtado on Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician Woman



Hurtado writes,
Since the assigned lection a few Sundays ago on Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30), I’ve intended to comment on what appears to me a surprisingly widespread mis-reading of the passage.  Essentially, the “dogs” (who Jesus says here must wait till after the “children” have eaten before they can be fed) are taken with an extremely pejorative connotation as feral mongrels, and the scene is read as if Jesus is pictured insulting the woman and treating her with contempt. 
Read the rest, you'll be glad you did, first on the how we should understand the dogs in question (not to mention the connection to the gentile mission), and second as to how the parable connects with the woman's own life. This was a real ah-ha! moment for me. Those two posts justified wading through the other 100 worthless posts clogging up my reader. ;-)

For a totally different discussion of Moses' use of canine imagery and women try this old Xenos post.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Doctrine of Errancy


Andrew Wilson throws down a bold and extraordinary challenge to the critics of inerrancy. As one such critic, I'm grateful for the provocation. I know there are more subtle, nuanced and persuasive views of inerrancy out there but Wilson gives a good grass roots sketch of the motivation for the doctrine. He starts like this,

There are a bunch of reasons for [holding to inerrancy]: theological (what would it say about God if his word was incorrect?), anthropological (isn’t the idea of the pot telling the potter that he got it wrong somewhat problematic?), even Christological (Scripture is affirmed as both divine and human, like Christ, and to use the latter to argue for the flawed nature of the former could pose substantial problems for our view of Jesus - which is evident when you find people saying that Jesus, in his humanity, made a mistake about the historicity of Adam).
To which I would rather briskly reply,
  • it is not God's words that contain errors it is our Bibles (and yes we should distinguish between the two), 
  • when I observe inaccuracies in the Bible I am not telling God he got it wrong but observing what is actually in the Bibles I have access to (rather than deciding before hand what the Bible looks like and then twisting it to fit) - these Bibles have all been through a long and imperfect human process of transmission, collation, translation, interpretation, and editing for marketing purposes
  • and no the scriptures are not divine and human in the way that Christ is.  No orthodox theologian has ever suggested they are, Christ is unique in that respect.(Peter Enns has wondered if the two natures of Christ is a good analogy for scripture in his book Incarnation and Inspiriation, but it isn't a good idea, mainly because you can hardly use a theological mystery to analogically explain a literary reality, analogies are supposed to work from the known and understood to the unknown, not the other way round, and as Wilson rightly points out it also causes Christological problems downstream).
But Wilson's main point and challenge is this:
But inerrancy also matters because it rules out what I call “the option of errancy” when interpreting Scripture. Put simply, this is the idea that if you don’t believe Scripture is inerrant, then when faced with a biblical “difficulty” (whether a genuine challenge or, more commonly, something you as an interpreter don’t like), you can always say that the Bible is mistaken on that point. You may claim that you don’t want to use it - and that may be true - but if needed, you know the option of errancy is sitting in your back pocket, like a Presidential veto, as a last line of defence.
Wilson assumes that my reluctance to hold the doctrine of inerrancy is because without it I have a get out of jail free card on the Bible. Rubbish. If you need something to stop you from discounting portions of scripture you struggle with, it is not a doctrine of inerrancy you need it is a fuller submission to God. Signing the Chicago statement won't help you one bit. Believers in inerrancy are just as good and sometimes better than others at avoiding the bits of the Bible that don't suit them.

I do have a doctrine of errancy. I don't call it the doctrine of the errancy of scripture. It is the doctrine of the errancy of humanity, of the Bible's human authors, of the scribes and copyists and translators, of the church and of those who read, interpret, and preach the Bible; but that even despite all those errant human beings being part of the process the God of grace speaks to his people through that collection of scriptures known as the Bible in as fresh and liberating a way today as he ever did. It is a doctrine of the scriptures that are given not to tell us how many Israelites walked the wilderness or how many angels were at the tomb but teach us about God. Most of all it is a doctrine of the God of grace who reveals himself even through our broken and errant humanity and seems to delight in doing so. It is a doctrine of a the God who speaks, loud and clear, faithful and true, even into the errancy of our feeble minds and unfaithful hearts. 

Let me know what you think :-)

[You might also enjoy these older posts, 2 Reasons why Inerrancy is Meaningless and Beyond Inerrancy. For all Xenos posts on the issue click here. And if you still think you believe in inerrancy try this on for size.]

Has Bulkeley Really Retired?

One could be forgiven for thinking that rumours of Tim Bulkeley's retirement have been greatly exaggerated.  For only seconds ago it seem I was serenading him on the occasion of his escape from the workforce and yet in the space of a few short jiffies he is appearing on television under an unconvincing pseudonym and launching a book in a radical new interactive medium.

The video goes like this,

But he didn't feel it covered it properly so he released this too,




And his book looks like this if you buy it from Amazon:
Not Only a Father


But go here and you can change what it looks like by covering it in comments, I have already added a few but I like what Tim has written so much I can only be sycophantic and not give any helpful critique. :-(

But the most important thing is to enjoy that nice calming deep blue that adorns the cover, because that was my contribution to the book - colour consultant. Without my input it might have been beige *shudder*.


So that is the evidence your honour, one can only conclude that the man is just as hard at work as before and he was only tricking when he said he'd retired!