Category Archives: Myths, Lies, & Half-Truths

The Facepalm Bible

Ladies and blokes, I give you… *drumroll please*… the Compass Study Bible. The latest in über-relavent and totally hip Bible translationry stuff. I know your hands are already reaching for your wallets, but wait! Before you start throwing cash around, allow me to wax the floor of your collective mind with a sales pitch.

*awkward silence, cringing, followed by a shuffling of feet*

Okay. I give. It’s not a sales pitch. More like a no-sale pitch.

Day before last, my Mom received an email from one of the publicists for this thing. The description (as given in the email) went on about how the concept for Compass originated with readers: “Through a series of focus groups and research, a need was discovered and reiterated by consumers for a new type of Bible that helped them find answers but didn’t tell them what to do or how to live their lives.”

*hand strokes chin* You don’t say? A Bible that helps me find answers, but does not tell me what to do or how to live my life? Sounds nice. Like no Bible I’ve heard of. Ever. This calls for more chin-stroking.

But wait, there’s more. Compass Study Bible “aims to provide a non-threatening package of God’s Word that becomes a companion to the work-a-day person.” Hallelujah. This is such a relief to hear. I am so fed up with threatening Bibles. (Looking at you, King friggin’ James.)

*prolonged throat-clearing* Alright then. Note to self: breathe deeply, chill out, and drink a tall glass of chocolate milk. Relax. Even your hair is clinched.

ImpliedFacepalm

I have no desire to sound like the Internet Theology Police. I have no desire to be a prig. But for God’s sake, is this really a thing? (Yes.) Am I losing my mind? (Probably.) Is it possible that we are actually giving these shenanigans a first glance, let alone a second? (Yes.)

Three observations before I head off to get that chocolate milk:

First, the opening spiel about “a need” being “discovered and reiterated by consumers” should set off smoke alarms faster than my brother’s cooking (sorry, dude). Since when were the whims and wishes of “consumers” a determining factor in our handling of Holy Writ? Should we expect to see an Adulterer’s Study Bible in future, or perhaps one for those who don’t particularly care to read about fiery lakes and damnation?

Second, I keep returning to the part about “a new type of Bible” that helps people “find answers” but doesn’t “tell them what to do or how to live their lives.” I am almost at a loss for words. To steal a phrase from Chesterton: if mortal muddle-headedness can go deeper than that, in this vale of tears, I should like to see it. It reads like a parody; the fact that it isn’t chills my spine.

Third, the minute someone starts talking about “a non-threatening package of God’s Word,” we ought to be awfully suspicious, if not actually hostile. Non-threatening? By this, I can only conclude that what is being offered is not really a Bible at all. It can’t be. Turn around and take a good long stare down the corridor of history, bub. You don’t get thrown to the lions or chopped into bits for holding to a faith that is non-threatening.

In Which Scorsese and Solomon Mix

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There’s a memorable scene in The Departed, in which soon-to-be police academy graduate Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is summoned to an interview with Oliver Queenan (Martin Sheen), head of the Special Investigations Unit. “I have a question for you,” says Queenan. “Do you want to be a cop, or do you want to appear to be a cop? It’s an honest question. A lot of guys just want to appear to be cops. Gun, badge, pretend they’re on TV.”

That scene flashed through my mind the other day as I was reflecting on Proverbs. Bizarre, I know – it’s not everyday Solomon and Martin Scorsese appear in the same thought-process – yet it struck me that, as believers, we should be asking ourselves a similar question (preferably with a Boston accent): “Do I want to be wise, or do I want to appear to be wise?” 

It doesn’t take a M.Div to realize those are two radically different goals. When we pursue wisdom, not for itself, but for the prestige it can bring us, we have effectively butchered the very definition of what it is to be wise. Wisdom, we should recall, begins with the fear of God – and God is not impressed with mere externals. He looks on the heart.

My buddies may regard me as the intellectual heir to St. Augustine himself, but if all I’m after is appearances, I’m asking God to work me over with a baseball bat. A little humble pie – right smack in the face. Looking the part of the wise man isn’t enough, and if I persist in thinking differently, it probably won’t be long before someone reaches up to tear the robe from off my back and reveal all that naked folly underneath. “Those threads you’re wearing? They aren’t yours, son. They don’t belong to you. You haven’t earned them.”

King Solomon:

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her. She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee. (Prov. 4:7-9)

More Than Doctrine, But Not Less

St. Theophan the Recluse:

Christian faith is not a doctrinal system but a way of restoration for fallen man.

Question: how does “restoration for fallen man” make any sense apart from doctrine? And how is one supposed to communicate the need for (and beauty of) this restoration without using doctrinal language?

As my pastor pointed out, “restoration for fallen man” is, in and of itself, a deeply doctrinal statement with massive implications. How did man come to be fallen? What does this fallenness mean? Can man truly be restored? If so, how? These are doctrinal questions in need of doctrinal answers. We help no one – least of all the lost – when we pretend otherwise.

Spurgeon understood this well. “The gospel,” quoth he, “is a reasonable system, and it appeals to men’s understanding; it is a matter for thought and consideration, and it appeals to the conscience and the reflecting powers. Hence, if we do not teach men something, we may shout, ‘Believe! Believe! Believe!’ but what are they to believe? Each exhortation requires a corresponding instruction, or it will mean nothing. ‘Escape!’ From what? This requires for its answer the doctrine of the punishment of sin. ‘Fly!’ But whither? Then must you preach Christ, and His wounds; yea, and the clear doctrine of atonement by sacrifice. ‘Repent!’ Of what? Here you must answer such questions as, What is sin? What is the evil of sin? What are the consequences of sin ? ‘Be converted!’ But what is it to be converted? By what power can we be converted? What from? What to? The field of instruction is wide if men are to be made to know the truth which saves. ‘That the soul be without knowledge, it is not good,’ and it is ours as the Lord’s instruments to make men so to know the truth that they may believe it, and feel its power. We are not to try and save men in the dark, but in the power of the Holy Ghost we are to seek to turn them from darkness to light.”

(Hark! What is that I hear? ‘Tis the sound of St. Theophan having his butt handed to him by the Prince of Preachers. C.H. didn’t even break a sweat.)

St. Paul:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

The Christian faith isn’t just about head knowledge. It cannot be reduced to doctrine. But to echo the words of Dr. Trueman, “it cannot be meaningfully separated from it either.”

Wilson, Wright, and Wrongs

Douglas Wilson recently took N.T. Wright to task for meddling with 1 Timothy 2:12 – a meddling which resulted (as Wilson puts it) in “extreme Pauline makeovers.”

… what I don’t get is the attempt by men like N.T. Wright to pretend that women’s ordination is a matter of biblical obedience, as opposed to floating down the Whig view of history on an inner tube, right over the falls of progress.

Predictably, Wilson’s rebuttal wasn’t well-received by some, and he was forwarded a “longer and more scholarly defense of Wright’s posish.” Wilson then wrote a follow-up post in response:

It is not really necessary to respond to the first part of his paper, which actually dithers in ways that actually reinforce aspects of the traditionalists’ case, and so let’s just leave that part be. But 1 Tim. 2:12 is the locus classicus, and that is where his grim business really begins. Of course, if you are an egalitarian farmer, 1 Tim. 2:12 is actually the locust classicus, with palmerworms, and cankerworms, and caterpillars joining in the feast, eating your whole crop of estrogen-reinforced ministry right down to the dirt. Thus far the reading of the prophet Joel (Joel 1:4).

This morning, Wilson wrote again on the issue. A discussion was raging in the comment section of his previous post, as to whether he had been “too cavalier and dismissive of Wright.” Here’s what Wilson had to say to that:

Every expositor is capable of error, obviously, but sometimes the error is of a kind that is followed immediately with a clap of thunder. When that kind of thing happens, and your children are frightened, you need to tell them that it is only the gods of exegesis laughing. When someone of Wright’s influence and stature starts telling us that blue is pink, when the apostle Paul plainly told us that pink is pink, nothing is gained by pretending that it wasn’t a howler. Not only is nothing gained, a great deal is lost if we pretend it wasn’t a howler. 

A great deal, indeed. Kudos to Pastor Wilson for pointing this out while others seem intent on looking the other way.

Why I Read Jane Austen

I’m sure we’ve all heard it at one time or another: the first response most men reach for when asked whether they’ve read Jane Austen: “No,” they say, with a tinge of smug self-confidence. “Jane Austen is for girls.”

It’s a simplistic and (as it turns out) completely inane statement, but the men in question will undoubtedly act as if they should be applauded for their formidable speech and debate skills. They’ve said all there is to say on the subject. Gavel down. Discussion closed. Talk about something else.

Let me be clear: I enjoy Tom Clancy as much as the next guy (probably more). Guns, swords, tactical operations, futuristic weaponry, secret agents – they all fascinate me a great deal. What I take issue with is the notion that Jane Austen conflicts with these other interests; that reading her work is somehow a less-than-manly pastime.

I believe this idea partially stems from ignorance and over-simplification. There are those who view Austen’s books as “just love stories”: 18th century equivalents of the dime-a-dozen romance novels that litter Barnes & Noble.

Anyone who has actually read Austen knows how silly this assumption really is. One might as well say that The Lord of the Rings is just about magical jewelry. Or that The Pilgrim’s Progress is just about a guy who has strange dreams.

The idea may also stem from the way many girls approach Austen – gushing over the romance and disregarding the irony, satire, and other substantial themes. As Gina Dalfonzo points out,

We Austen readers miss so much when we ignore the religious and moral bedrock of these novels. Sometimes we “use” the books rather than truly reading them… getting only romantic gratification out of them instead of thoughtfully taking in all that they have to offer. I’m not saying we shouldn’t enjoy the romance, but when we enjoy only that, we create an impression that that’s all these books are good for – and that’s an impression that’s hardly appealing to the average male reader.

Hardly appealing, indeed. So, ladies, take heed: don’t give us guys another reason to balk. If we’re convinced that sentimentality and sap are all Austen has to offer, it will only strengthen our reluctance to read her books.

Of course, sometimes men are just plain pig-headed and no amount of reasoning will change our opinion. We think we’ve got books like Pride and Prejudice pegged, and that if we read them, our machismo will shrivel up and die.

This is all wrong, of course. And guys who choose to dismiss Austen as mere “chick lit” unworthy of their “masculine” consideration are actually dismissing one of the smartest, most sophisticated writers in the whole pantheon of English literature. They’re missing out. Big time.

I’m no expert on Austen. Peter Liethart’s Miniatures and Morals addresses this entire subject in far more detail than I can here. But I’ll venture to throw in my two cents anyway. Without further adieu, here are just three of the many reasons why I read Jane Austen.

THE SATIRE
Contrary to what many would have you believe, Jane Austen was about as sentimental as a scalpel. Her writing is laced with irony and wry social commentary, and her insight into human nature is often pointedly accurate. Clever critiques of “follies and nonsense” make us laugh, but they also make us think. And that is exactly what good satire is all about.

Just one example of this satirizing can be found in Sense and Sensibility, where Austen illustrates the foolishness of Romanticism through the character of Marianne. Her feelings reign supreme, and her chief concern is to find a husband worthy of her grandiose expectations. She does meet such a man: he’s handsome, dashing, and “sweeps her off her feet” so to speak. But then his true character is revealed; and the very man who would most appeal Romantic sensibilities turns out to be a scoundrel.

According to Austen, the truly good man isn’t necessarily “interesting” or “attractive” at first glance – but the nobleness of his character will stand further acquaintance and the test of time.

THE MORALS
It can hardly be doubted that Austen herself was a devout Christian. Considering this, it should come as no surprise that her books reflect a strong sense of Christian morality and ethics. Charity. Honesty. Selflessness. Courtesy. Kindness. These are just a few of the profound lessons to be seen in her writing.

Professor Jerram Barrs observes,

In several of the books the main characters have experiences of a profound and permanent transformation, which reads like a conversion or deep repentance, when they “see” their own blindness, moral failure and lack of self-knowledge. This is true of both Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, of Marianne in Sense and Sensibility, and of Emma in Emma; also to a lesser extent of Anne Eliot in Persuasion, Catherine in Northanger Abbey and Edmund in Mansfield Park.

It is the individuals who fail to come to this realization of their own folly (who do not “repent”), whose lives come to ruin and disgrace, or increasing shallowness and perpetual self-indulgence: Wickham and Lydia, Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins, in Pride and Prejudice; Lucy Steele, Robert Ferrars, John and Fanny Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility; Mrs. Norris, Maria Bertram, Henry and Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park.

And as others have pointed out, part of the success of Austen’s novels is not merely that the people come together, but what sort of people come together: men and women who have been “hammered out a bit,” with faults that have been acknowledged and corrected. Says Dalfonzo,

… the books are not just about love triumphant, but about the formation of good character and good values.

THE HUMOR
Part of what makes Austen such a delight to read is her sense of humor – clever, sharp, often ironic, and always funny. When it comes to drawing a smile or a laugh from her audience, she puts many of today’s so-called “comedians” to shame. The manner in which Pride and Prejudice opens is alone a work of art:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

Brilliant. Just brilliant.