Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Adam's Rib

Ok, this is one of the weirder things I've read recently.

Normally I'd skip right by this, but this past weekend I was at a beautiful wedding where the pastor spent an inordinate amount of time talking about Adam's rib and its significance.

It was an interesting thought that I'd never heard before: God didn't take from the man's head, or from his feet, but from his side. I expect that gentleman wouldn't find this short article to be very convincing.

EDIT: New link. Old one broke.

I read such weird stuff.

The Bible commands us...

Disclaimer: here's a fundamental set of assumptions that I've been operating under for the past year just to try them out. I've thought about it enough that I'm comfortable sharing it in public, but not so much that I'd put it in a theology textbook quite yet. Here goes:

If you hang out in Christian circles for very long, you'll find that there's a never-ending discussion about which Biblical commands are "universal" and which ones are merely "cultural." This came up in a recent discussion I had, and I thought both readers of my blog might find my response interesting. That particular discussion had to do with a discussion over 1 Corinthians 14 and whether women could be in teaching ministry over men (I know, it's 2009) and honesty requires me to admit I was making my point perhaps a bit too forcefully. Still, the issue framed a major difference in the way we viewed Scripture, and I thought I'd write about it here. My friend Adam G. said:
I guess one thing that those on the opposite side from you . . . find a little scary is that if you dismiss the issue as purely a localized, historically-restricted, cultural issue being addressed, then that may become a slippery slope of saying that *everything* of theological significance with which you disagree is just Paul addressing a cultural issue.

Somewhat tongue-in-cheek here, but I think that Adam radically underestimates the degree of heresy that I'm willing to promote. We're working from completely different paradigms of how we're supposed to understand the Bible. I don't just believe that the stuff I DISAGREE WITH is localized, history-restricted, and cultural. I think EVERYTHING is localized, history-restricted, and cultural.

  • "Do not murder?" Localized, history-restricted, and cultural.
  • "Take a little wine for your stomach?" Localized, history-restricted, and cultural.
  • "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him?" Localized, history-restricted, and cultural.
  • "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you?" Localized, history-restricted, and cultural.

The Bible isn't one big rulebook that we categorize in order to find commands. Each one of these statements is given at a specific time, by a specific person, to a specific person, for a specific situation. Each one of these commands is localized. Every one is given at a specific point in history. Every one of them is cultural.

ON THE OTHER HAND... (i.e., don't hang me yet)

I think EVERYTHING in the Bible is universal. I take Paul pretty seriously when he says ALL Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. So I think the dietary commands are universal. I think the Levitical purity commands are universal. I think the "eye for an eye" commands are universal. I think the "no tattooes" and "don't wear gold jewelry" and "don't wear cloth with two types of thread" and "don't have sex with farm animals" commands are all universal. I think the "women should be silent" stuff is universal. Every command God gives in the Bible applies to us today. Every description of God's preferences and personality is just as true today as it was the day it was written (since God does not change).

Here's the catch: it just doesn't necessarily apply to us in the way it applied to its original recipients (which, I need not remind remind you, we are not). As far as I can tell, I'm living in harmony with every one of the commands listed in this post, and I write this as I wear a gold ring, a comfortable poly-blend cloth shirt, and digest a carnitas burrito.

Look, if someone inspired by God went out of there way to say a certain behavior is wrong, and God saw fit to put that in the Bible, then why in the world would you say it doesn't pertain to you? That it doesn't, in some way, express God's heart?

The question that must always be asked about any command, though, is this: What's actually being revealed about God's heart, here? The dietary commands: does God really dislike pigs, or is he trying to get Israel to avoid (then-common, now-extinct) occult practices tied into the consumption of certain meats? Take the "eye for an eye" commands, for example. People get bent out of shape about how they enable vengeance, but pretty much all interpreters agree that they actually exist to prevent, not allow, the escalation of conflict. If everybody followed "an eye for an eye" we could never have a situation like this:

Neither woman is interested in getting even... each wants to get even, plus a little. Limiting their retribution means that the situation can't be escalated. God's heart is ultimately that we forgive (Jesus had a bit to say about this), but the short-term goal is to prevent escalation.

So in my opinion, the question "Are the instructions in this passage universal or cultural" is a false choice. Rather, when faced with any Scriptural command, we should immediately ask two questions:

1. In what ways is this command limited?
2. In what ways is is it universal?

And we should acknowledge that each command we find is both.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What's in a name?

So the blog is titled "Forty Monkeys, Ten Minutes" because I misremembered the punchline to an old Dilbert comic.

But "Forty Monkeys" just sounds so much easier on my ego than "Three."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Case for Intelligent Design: Part 1 of 3.

I know an awful lot of Christians who care very much about the debate over creation and evolution, which is fine. I respect that. What boggles me, though, is how many people who detest biological evolution are willing to live with it in their ministry plans. They attend weekly worship services or a part of ministries that are the accumulation of years, decades, or centuries of accumulated evolution without undergoing real "Intelligent Design."

There's a pretty influential industrial designer named Dieter Rams. He designs stuff... physical possessions that cost far more than I'd be willing to spend. Regardless, in industrial design circles, he's kind of the man. He's famous for writing The Ten Commandments of Design, and for designing this radio. You can find these all over the net; here is the copy I'm working from.

So what if we assumed, just for the sake of discussion, that Good Design didn't just function for making stuff to fill your home, but also for making ministry decisions that really impact lives? What if design wasn't just an attribute of our objects, but also of our ministry? What would that look like?

So without further ado, I present the first three of Rams' Ten Commandments. Feel free to substitute his use of "product" with your ministry arena... "youth ministry,"
"Sunday morning worship," "small groups ministry," whatever. Take a look... what do you think?
1. Good design is innovative.

It does not copy existing product forms, nor does it produce any kind of novelty for the sake of it. The essence of innovation must be clearly seen in all functions of a product. The possibilities in this respect are by no means exhausted. Technological development keeps offering new chances for innovative solutions.

What if your youth ministry did not copy existing forms, but also refused to produce novelty for the sake of novelty? What would it take to make your class really innovative?
2. Good design makes the product useful.

A product is bought in order to be used. It must serve a defined purpose – in both primary and additional functions. The most important task of design is to optimise the utility of a product.

All of my theologian friends know that Paul declares all Scripture to be God-breathed... much ink has been spilled on that one. What's less clear to many, though, is how all Scripture can really be "useful," or that Paul would consider the utilitarian function of Scripture to be one of its highest attributes. The Bible isn't just a good book full of truth... it's also USEFUL! I am sick unto death of useless ministry. One of the things I love about my church is that we don't have much of it. But how do we ensure that the stuff we design is useful? What makes something useful?
3. Good design is aesthetic

The aesthetic quality of a product – and the fascination it inspires – is an integral part of its utility. Without doubt, it is uncomfortable and tiring to have to put up with products that are confusing, that get on your nerves, that you are unable to relate to. However, it has always been a hard task to argue about aesthetic quality, for two reasons.

Firstly, it is difficult to talk about anything visual, since words have a different meaning for different people.

Secondly, aesthetic quality deals with details, subtle shades, harmony and the equilibrium of a whole variety of visual elements. A good eye is required, schooled by years and years of experience, in order to be able to draw the right conclusion.

Ain't that the truth. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder... a worship set that one person loves feels overproduced to the next; a room setup that one finds inviting another finds pretentious. "Without doubt, it is uncomfortable and tiring to have to put up with products that are confusing, that get on your nerves, that you are unable to relate to." But how to gain the "years and years of experience" without going through them? How do you accelerate that process other than to make lots and lots of mistakes?

That's plenty long, for now. In parts 2 and 3 we'll tackle the rest of Deiter's 10 Commandments, but I can't be the only one thinking that he has far more to offer than how to build a better toaster. I'll end with a quote from my Reader:

If it’s a good idea and it gets you excited, try it, and if it bursts into flames, that’s going to be exciting too. People always ask, “What is your greatest failure?” I always have the same answer — We’re working on it right now, it’s gonna be awesome!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Warning: Implied Political Commentary

First off, allow me to say that this happens on both sides of the aisle... the Republicans did the same thing with the Patriot Act. So it's not an indictment of a specific party so much as an example of the degree to which our system is broken.

Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee mocks the idea that members of Congress should read the bill before voting on it.

I love the implied corollary that even if they took the time to read it, members of Congress wouldn't be bright enough to understand it.

Can't say I disagree.