May 26, 2020

A Few Random Thoughts I’ve Had and Heard Lately

from Nadia Bolz-Weber:

“…we heard UCC pastor Lillian Daniel say that she doesn’t go to church to have her needs met. She goes to church to have her needs changed. The Gospel of Jesus Christ will never meet your needs, but brothers and sisters watch out. Because it WILL change your needs. And that is about the most beautiful thing I can tell you.”

* * *

CM’s random thoughts…

Ordered my first “clergy shirts” the other night. Not quite as sacred as “Mormon underwear,” but a definite step toward holiness.

I’m doing a funeral this weekend for a man who was a veteran of WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam. No matter what your positions may be on matters of war and peace, there’s a survivor one must admire.

Goodnight, Yankees. And goodbye A-Rod (if they’re lucky and someone wants him).

Seriously, if I weren’t genetically incapable because of my Chicago roots, I would root for the Cardinals. Great baseball city, and dang but that team just knows how to win.

* * *

From the Al Smith Dinner, at which Gov. Romney and President Obama traded jokes instead of jabs:

President Obama: “Everyone please take your seats, or else Clint Eastwood will yell at them.”

Gov. Romney: “As President Obama surveys the Waldorf banquet room, with everyone in white tie and finery, you have to wonder what he’s thinking: so little time, so much to redistribute.”

President Obama: “Early today, I went shopping at some stores in midtown. I understand Gov. Romney went shopping for some stores in midtown.”

Gov. Romney: “Usually when I get invited to gatherings like this, it’s just to be the designated driver.”

Why can’t campaigns be like this more often?

* * *

CM’s random thoughts…

In all the talk about the early chapters of Genesis, why do I so rarely (if ever) hear anyone talk about how these chapters fit in with and prepare the reader for the message of the Torah, which is the book they introduce?

Biblical inerrancy is not a necessary doctrine. The Bible is authoritative. The Bible is a reliable witness. The Bible tells the truth. This is enough.

Now that I’m working with a church regularly, I think it may be time to pick up my guitar again. Wrote my first Scripture chorus in ages last night, on Galatians 2:20.

Some days, I feel so overwhelmed, all I can think of is taking a nap. Especially on days like the one Steve Martin (the actor/comedian/musican) tweeted about recently: “On my drive home today the stop signs weren’t working. It was chaos!”


  1. CM,
    I’m sympathetic to your position. “Biblical inerrancy is not a necessary doctrine.” There are texts in the Bible that I cannot accept as inerrant, or even find provisionally acceptable. I don’t believe, for instance, that God ever commanded the execution of adulterers, or homosexuals; and I most emphatically do not believe that God ever commanded the Israelites to undertake the herem against other nations, even though the Bible says that this was an express order from God, and subsequently says that Israel would be punished for not faithfully carrying out the herem against the nations (see Deuteronomy and Joshua). But given that I cannot accept these passages as inerrant, or God-given, how then can I accept them as authoritative or reliable? These are not peripheral texts, I mean the ones about the herem; they are central to the Old Testament narrative about how God was forming a holy people, they are in the middle of the the Pentateuch, the Torah, they have the full sanction of prophetic utterance as related in the OT, equivalent in importance to any other section of the Law. How then do you find an interpretative framework that makes them morally intelligible and maintain the integrity of the Scripture as authoritative, reliable and truthful without resorting to the intellectual trick of merely stating that they are allegorical, which they certainly aren’t presented as? Do you believe God ordered the herem? And if not, how do you separate the idol (what else could you call it) that ordered the herem in the Pentateuch from the true God in the Pentateuch? And why weren’t the Gnostics right when they said that this god (of the herem ) was not in fact the true God of Jesus Christ?
    I don’t want to believe the Gnostics, but the problem is I don’t know what to believe that isn’t overly subtle and arcane once we discard the doctrine of inerrancy?
    Can you help me, CM?

    • I’ll bite. Before dealing with whether or not the text is true or perfectly accurate (inerrant), perhaps it would be more helpful to start with a doctrine of inspiration. Who is the books ultimate author? How did it’s composition come about? If you can accept a somewhat traditional understanding of inspiration, then the next step, imo, is, as Luther said, “Give the Holy Spirit the honor of being more learned than you.” I actually agree that many of the Levitical commands seem unnecessarily harsh and hard to reconcile with the God who “does justice and loves mercy.” However, I am even more skeptical at my own ability to be the ultimate arbitrator of what is good or evil. Once the Bible is wrong, then my intellect becomes the highest authority. This kind of skepticism, though it seems quite reasonable, is a position of doubt. All Christians doubt some things at some point, but the one things I doubt more than God is myself. I’m willing to trust his word even if it doesn’t make sense, or even seem wrong, because there’s always room for one of two things: Either I am misinterpreting/misunderstanding the intent of the passage, or I have a blind spot in my moral reasoning that I need to allow God to speak into. This approach does not require you to accept the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

      Good luck with your inquiry. I hope you find some answers you can live with.

    • First of all, I don’t have a complete answer to your question. I don’t understand all of the Bible. I’m not afraid to say, “I don’t know” if someone asks me about something for which I have no answer. In most cases, I know some possible solutions, but on many occasions I have to admit my own limitations.

      One thing we’ve tried to do here at IM is look at some of those hard passages. For example, we’ve considered the possibility that the Bible reflects development in God’s people’s own understanding of God. At one time, they viewed him as “Divine Warrior” who literally fought for them against human enemies. David prays down curses on his enemies in Psalms, and I take those as representing real human feelings of someone in his time and position, but not necessarily models for the content of my own prayers. Jesus tells me to love my enemies and pray for, not against them, and discouraged his disciples from taking up the sword. Paul tells us that the real battle is not and never has been against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual powers arrayed against God.

      I am finding books by John Polkinghorne, Kenton Sparks, Peter Enns, Scot McKnight, J. R. Daniel Kirk, Christian Smith, and N.T. Wright currently helpful in enabling me to think through these things. You’ll find references to some of these in archived articles, and they are easily found on Amazon and, in some cases, on their own websites.

      At this point, after decades of studying the Bible, I’m pretty much where Luther was — where is Jesus in all of this? That’s where the authority and truth lie. Christ and the Gospel is the hermeneutical key and those texts that most clearly proclaim Christ and his Kingdom are where I put my emphasis.

      • Clay Knick says

        Preach it!

      • Chaplain Mike,
        You seem to be saying that there is a canon within the canon of Scripture, a measure within the measure, that frames the essential truth about Jesus Christ, salvation, et al. But what is the extent of this inner canon, where are its boundaries, and how do I escape purely subjective and ultimately arbitrary criteria in establishing such boundaries and limiting such extent? How do I not end up at the Quaker Inner Light? How do I know where Jesus is within the canon on a Scriptural basis? And how do I distinguish that from where I’m not within the inner canon and merely setting up an idol on the periphery of the temple?

        • Robert, please follow this link and read my post, “First Things First”, where I say,

          “I am suggesting that there is indeed a ‘canon within the canon.’ Certain books in the Bible are designed to be given greater priority in the life of the Church and the Christian. They are more foundational. They give ‘the message,’ and the rest of the books set forth outworkings and applications of the message. The other books are superstructure, built upon the message.”

          This is no arbitrary, personal, “I like this book better than another” standard. In addition to the argument I set forth in that post, we have the tradition and practice of the Church over the centuries to guide us. That begins with the practice of Jesus and the apostles. Look at the things they preached and taught. Did they seem overly concerned to defend the “herem” commands of God or his instructions to stone rebellious children? What did they emphasize? What did they preach?

          Note that Jesus had no hesitation in saying, “You have heard it said…but I say to you.”

          It is surely true that The Lord’s Prayer is more significant than “the prayer of Jabez,” isn’t it?

          The requirement that an elder be the husband of one wife says something about the development of marital ethics after the days of rampant polygamy, Levitical guidelines for all kinds of strange (to us) marital arrangements, and the harem practices of Israel’s kings, doesn’t it?

          • I remember having a revelation in nursing school (I am a lifelong Catholic, for those who don’t know me) when I noticed how incredibilty PERFECT for physical health so many of the old laws were, primarily Leviticus but also others.

            For example, kosher meant that dairy was not cross infected by E-coli and its relatives, caused death. Shellfish filter toxins, meaning that raw sewage dumped into water lived in these creatures, again potentailly causing death. Ritual washings saved many a Jew from all sorts of pathogens and nasty diseases, and lepers kept apart was an excellent means of infection control.

            Finally, the “impurity” of a woman during/after menstruation meant that she was returned to her (probably sexually frustrated young) husband just about PRECISELY the time that she was likely to be most fertiled……making the likelihood of being frutiful and multiplying increase.

            To this nurse, it is similar to reading medical texts from previous centuries…sometimes they were WRONG, but mostly they just didn’t know enough. They were still trying to cure disease and prevent illness and death. Therfore, to me,, the older books of the Hebrew bible may have some information that is outdated in its METHODS, but not in its PURPOSE of bringing us closer to God.

  2. How could you say that;

    “Biblical inerrancy is not a necessary doctrine. The Bible is authoritative. The Bible is a reliable witness. The Bible tells the truth. This is enough.”??

    Yes, we can debate whether the stories of Genesis were meant as more literal or more allegorical, but either position does not detract from the stories as being authoritative…where would you draw the line between what in scripture is authoritative and what isn’t?

    And who would make that decision?

    • Here’s my question: IF the doctrine of inerrancy IS true, then when the Bible quotes an extra-biblical source, like some of the early Christian hymns in the epistles, would that make the quotations inerrantly accurate records of the potentially flawed texts, or would the hymns themselves be inerrant via proxy, or even divinely inspired?

    • Even people who believe in inerrancy don’t treat every single text as authoritative. Otherwise, there would be a lot more people not eating pork and shellfish, etc. We all make decisions about what parts of Scripture are authoritative. This happens regardless of the inerrancy issue.

      Not to get all theological here, but everyone reads Scripture through some hermeneutic framework. No one is reading the Bible without having a set of interpretive rules and meta-narrative in the background. As far back as Irenaeus you can find references to the “Rule of Faith”. What this is referring to is the big picture ideas contained in the Gospel and the truth about Jesus Christ. In a sense, you could say this exists outside of Scripture, but I think it’s more accurate to say that it’s a truth that Scripture testifies to.

      • Even people who believe in inerrancy don’t treat every single text as authoritative. Otherwise, there would be a lot more people not eating pork and shellfish, etc.

        This brings up a good distinction: the difference between authority and inerrancy. Inerrancy simply means free from error. You could say that the Levitical code is a flawless record of the instruction God gave to the Jews and still hold that they are not binding on you as they weren’t given to your people group specifically. There are times in scripture where God is outlining moral absolutes, and there are times when he is giving specific instructions to specific individuals.

        It does seem like many inerrantists can be monolithic and uniform in their interpretation of scripture, but truth be told, this doctrine doesn’t quite solve a ton of hermeneutical issues. The problem with God’s law is, if Jesus even did write a detailed, comprehensive moral code to solve all of our dilemmas, we’d still get it wrong and argue over what he meant, because our hearts are deceitfully wicked. Perhaps he left his summary 10 commandments so that we’d actually have LESS to argue about!

    • Your questions don’t make sense to me. Did I not say the Bible is authoritative?

  3. “…UCC pastor Lillian Daniel say that she doesn’t go to church to have her needs met. She goes to church to have her needs changed.”

    Wow. Nicely said!

    • Randy Thompson says

      Yes indeed. Very nicely said!

      • (Reminds me of the old agnostic saw that queries….)

        “Why pray if it doesn’t change things, since God already knows what will happen….”

        (and the beautiful answer….)

        “Prayer doesn’t change God, prayer changes ME.”

        • “Prayer doesn’t change God, prayer changes ME.”

          That’s a nice sentiment, but it doesn’t always line up with the Biblical witness. Prayer does seem to make God change His mind quite a bit in Scripture. Honestly, to, I don’t think anyone will continue to pray if they genuinely believe God is unresponsive. I know I wouldn’t.

          • I was reflecting on just that in worship today. But somebody used the illustration of God as Father, and I thought, maybe it’s like this: There are some things He was going to do anyways, because he’s our Father and cares for us. But there are other things that, like our earthly fathers, he’d do for us if we asked, but otherwise probably wouldn’t.

            But if you look at the Lord’s prayer, pretty much everything Jesus prays for is going to happen anyways. So to a certain extent, there is the aspect of prayer that is us trying to align ourselves with the will of the heavenly father, even if as far as we can get is “not my will but thine be done.”

            The Bible does speak of God “changing his mind” as a result of intercession, but I have to think it’s some sort of anthropomorphism, because God can’t exactly be responding, or reacting, to our pleas, as if he didn’t see them coming. He does respond to our cries, but at the same time, he already made the arrangement for provision because he knows what we need before we ask.

  4. Clay Knick says

    I love this kind of posts, Mike.

  5. If I may add to the discussion. I think the first question is “what does inerrancy mean” in reference to the Bible? It is a static document, so the lack of error is, I assume, in reference to the truth claims it is revealing. No one thinks the world is a plate on pillars (perhaps not even the ancient Jews) but we can understand the point even if in a real sense it is nonsensical (upon what do the pillars sit?).
    If Genesis is about the theological declaration “God created the world and all that is in it” then reading Genesis as an explanation of the process (which trumps science’s explanations) means that we are erroneous in applying the text. The text may be inerrant (i.e. True: God did create), but using it for that purpose makes it sound errant (false: it wasn’t seven days and it wasn’t as magical a process as implied by Genesis).
    My termometer may be inerrant for measuring the temperature but less helpful for measuring how tall I am. The error is in us….
    also I think the OT writings on cleaning the land were symbolic, written AFTER the fact and an explanation that the ideas of the pagans caused the overthrow of Israel. One thing I noticed in study was while the Law was clear about wiping everyone out, the actual narratives made it look like not wiping them out was fine. Archealogy finds that the time lines do not match. Perhaps something the Jews knew as well?