April 24, 2007
As the Good Lord Said (and I Think He Was Right)...
Perhaps I'm old-fashioned, but I believe a preacher ought to think long and hard, and then think again, before he quotes a Psalm and then begins his next sentence with: But, as if to say, yeah, the Bible's probably worth reading, but let me hit you with some real knowledge.
It's even worse when, in his rush to augment the wisdom of the psalmist with that of Zig Ziglar (no, I'm not making that up; click the link above and see for yourself), he gets the verse's location wrong. That's Psalm 37:23 that you meant to improve, doc, not Psalm 37:25.
Posted by Woodlief on April 24, 2007 at 07:18 AM
It's a message for those who believe "God helps those who help themselves" is actually in the Bible. The next step in that thought process is salvation through works instead of the free sacraficial gift of a gracious, merciful and loving God.
Posted by: Tom at April 24, 2007 9:36 AM
This kind of thing is, unfortunately, rampant in the church these days. More often than not, the voice from the pulpit says, "I think..." or "So-and-so says..." rather than "God says".
How does the children's song go? God said it, I believe it, that settles it.
Finding a church (and a pastor) who truly believes in the inspired nature of Scripture is a difficult task.
Posted by: Diane at April 24, 2007 10:27 AM
Posted by: UberGoober at April 24, 2007 10:43 AM
I think I like the way Dr Cooper ends his message best, as though the apostle Paul's teachings are a valuable resource in backing up the good Dr's.
Posted by: kipp at April 24, 2007 12:53 PM
So let me get this straight; you all believe that people should read the Bible literally and that it is not up to interpretation? Believing that the Bible is divine is a stretch for me anyway, but if I did believe that it would be even more of a stretch to refrain from actually thinking about what it says. Rebuking the preacher for adding a "but" after quoting a Psalm and for getting the verse wrong (barely) seems kind of petty. I mean that's grasping for straws there. How about addressing the blatant hypocrisy of those who claim to follow the Bible's teachings but do not act in accordance. That's much more relevant.
Posted by: C.L. at April 24, 2007 2:02 PM
The hypocricy of an individual (or even a group for that matter) has no bearing on the truthfulness of the truth, but reflects an inability or unwillingness to believe it. I grant that hypocricy is wreched (as did Jesus). But if a hypocrite is closer to the truth than an ubeliever, the unbeliever is still in worse shape for being at greater distance from truth. This does not justify the hypocrite, but makes the unbeliever's argument all the less tenable and her position more tenuous. For the author of this post (not that I speak for him, understand), it seems the issue is that what is revered as Holy Writ is being treated as casually as an Archie comic (or "Selling 101"). The disconnect for the thinking person, whether the Bible is accepted as authoritative or not, is that the holy is reduced to the familiar.
Posted by: UberGoober at April 24, 2007 3:23 PM
I think you're absolutely right that we ought to think when we read the Bible, and I didn't mean to suggest otherwise. We also have to decide what our presuppositions are. I, for one, begin with the belief that Scriptures are theopneustos, as the Greek scrolls read, or, God-breathed. It's the only way I can make sense of this faith that I didn't choose in the first place -- if there is a God who can create Heaven and Earth, then he can probably manage to preserve a consistent account of his existence despite man's stupidities and vanities over the ages. I think a fair reading of works on Biblical exegesis bears out the belief that the Scriptures are pretty consistent both internally and with regard to other historical documents.
But one may choose to reject the theopneustos claim, and read the Bible as a set of man-made documents, likely filled with flaws and errors. The challenge, then, is to decide what mechanisms will be used to weed out the wheat from the chaff. This is a cottage industry, of course, from the scribblings of madmen to the academic scrutinizing of the Jesus Seminar (whose presuppositions seem to boil down to: if we don't think Jesus would have said it, then we're crossing it out. Either way, one has to settle on the rules one will use for deciding, once we've cast loose from the theopneustos mooring, what in the Bible is to be believed, and what is to be rejected.
With all that said, the reason I pick on the preacher is because he heads a church whose statement of faith reads, in part:
"We believe in the Bible as God’s only inspired, inerrant and authoritative revelation of Himself to man in written form."
Hence my admonition that such a man ought to think twice before overlaying the gospel with pop marketing clap-trap that flies in the face of the very essence of Biblical teaching. That last claim may be worth a blog post of explanation, though I don't know if I have the heart to inflict it on all of you...
Posted by: Tony at April 24, 2007 4:28 PM
I just don't understand the reasoning here. It seems to me that you all are saying that there can, by definition, be no clarification or explanation of the Bible since it can not be related to our subjective lives. I'm not saying that comparing a psalmist with Zig Ziglar is the best method, but why would that be an issue? If people are going to be criticized for their applications and interpretations of the Bible, then where will it ever end? How can anyone ever talk about the Bible if it can't be compared to our subjective experiences?
And also Tony, maybe Dr. Cooper doesn't operate from the same presuppositions as you. Perhaps his idea of faith is such that he feels comfortable with looking at the Psalms in a different way than you. After all, there isn't one single religious philosophy that can positively claim to be the answer.
The reason this thread caught my attention is that it brought to mind the reasons that I, as a non-Christian, am turned off by the faith. It uses a book, riddled with contradictions, to disprove others. It is filled with people holding only their own subjective faiths proselytizing to others about their short-comings.
Posted by: C.L. at April 24, 2007 7:31 PM
I don't think anyone has said here that the Bible can't be compared to subjective experience. It speaks to our experience as humans and sinners and hopeful creations. Otherwise it would not have captured the imaginations and dreams of millions of people for centuries. Nor has anyone said that there can be no explanation or clarification of Scriptures. Both are in order.
Unless one is willing to posit that no explanation or clarification can be closer to true than another, however, then there will be disagreements, and it follows that some of us will be wrong, and others right. The alternative is to claim that there is no truth, that each of us is equally close to truth in his own personal subjective space. Though many philosophy and english departments lag behind on this count, I believe we have largely exposed that philosophical point of view for the nihilistic dead end that it is.
I think you're absolutely right that Dr. Cooper doesn't hold my presuppositions. My concern is that the statement of faith that he claims to adhere to would, when brandished honestly, blow large holes in the mindset that says, "If it is to be, it's up to me." If words have meaning, this is so. If not, then seven equals nine, and a duck, for that matter, and nobody has any business suggesting otherwise. My critique of Dr. Cooper begins with his own statement of faith. It is a strange subjectivism indeed which denies even that much internal consistency.
There's no point in addressing the "book riddled with contradictions" claim here; there's any number of intelligent texts that do a fine job of refuting it, available to you if you have an interest. And as for "people holding only their own subjective faiths," it seems that this is precisely what you've been advocating here, that Dr. Cooper and anyone else be given rein to posit whatever he likes about the meaning of the Scriptures, with no criticism. That's not a recipe for rational discourse or discovery, however, but rather anti-intellectual nihilism.
Posted by: Tony at April 24, 2007 9:40 PM
I accept your point that criticism of Dr. Cooper, any other religious leader, or Joe Blow off the street is part of a rational discourse. To disallow any criticism of their points of view is akin to disallowing any criticism of the Bible, which I do not advocate.
My simple point of view is that Dr. Cooper's simple statement did not seem worthy of attack. Does not someone wanting to further their spirituality have to take some steps in that direction, or do you believe that it is solely God guiding them? To say that God is always the catalyst is an easy argument to make because it requires only faith. I believe that Dr. Cooper's article only points out that man has to take some step too in order to further his spirituality. If man did not have to work hard to further his faith, the man who God chooses to act upon would be very lucky indeed.
And yes I would be very interested in literature about the discrepencies in the Bible. While you're at it give me some material about the throwing together of the Canon at Nicea.
Posted by: C.L. at April 25, 2007 1:06 AM
"...the man who God chooses to act upon would be very lucky indeed."
One might even say - "chosen"
Ephesians 1:4 "even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world..."
Posted by: David P at April 25, 2007 8:29 AM
You're absolutely right -- Paul enjoins us to press on to the goal, while Christ says that his burden his easy, his yoke light, suggesting that there is work to be done, fields to be gathered. I think this is what Dr. Cooper has in mind. The problem for a pastor is that he is charged to provide Biblical teaching, i.e., to think through the full meaning of the Scriptures as best he can, and deliver them, with context, with interpretation, with all the things you rightly favor. To assert that "If it's to be, it's up to me," however, goes beyond saying that the Christian is enjoined to labor. It posits a self-reliance (played out in pop pseudo-spiritual form, by the way, in things like The Secret) that is clearly contradictory to Scriptures.
I'm not aiming to be a Pharisee (or Sadducee) here; this the power lies within me doctrine is pernicious and ugly. I've seen sick and hopeless people enjoined by their pastors and fellow worshippers to just throw off their illnesses and depression. I've heard pastors proclaim that Jesus wants you to have a nice car and no bills. I've seen people look at the sick and broken the way Job's companions eyed him after the afflictions came, as if the wounding is our own fault, because, after all, "If it's to be, it's up to me," the corollary being, "If it ain't so, it's because of something I've failed to do."
Christ came to the sick, the broken, those enslaved to their own hatreds and fears and lusts. He came, in other words, to the very people who didn't have the luxury of PhD's and modern civilation, as Dr. Cooper enjoys. Christ came to the people who couldn't help themselves.
Notice, by the way, how this health-and-wealth gospel only takes root in comfortable, wealthy nations. The poor and oppressed and sick know better.
I hope you understand that my anger isn't with you. I appreciate your grappling with this. My anger is directed at people who would eviscerate the gospel. The beauty of this story of Christ's miracles and death and resurrection is that those of us who are or have been hopeless have a savior, a redeemer. Perhaps the Dr. Coopers and Zig Ziglars of the world don't need that, but millions of people -- the oppressed in China and the Sudan, the children in cancer wards, the addicted and forgotten and abandoned -- need something more than "If it's to be, it's up to me."
And on Nicea, I wouldn't call hundreds of scholars coming to an agreement on anything "a throwing together." Have you ever been to a faculty seminar? The fact that the Nicene Creed came out of that ought to be miracle enough for you. But that's the beauty of direct access to Scriptures (in the original Greek and Hebrew, no less, and multiple copies at that), isn't it, that one can judge for oneself what is true and what is the invention of man?
Posted by: Tony at April 25, 2007 8:32 AM
And I likewise enjoy the exchange.
First, you say:
"I've seen sick and hopeless people enjoined by their pastors and fellow worshippers to just throw off their illnesses and depression."
There are also those who have denied medical assistance and solely relied on the power of God to heal them. I would dare say that those people have a relatively low survival rate. Several examples include Bob Marley (though not Christian) relying on his Rastafarian beliefs to cure toe cancer. Didn't work. The Pentecostal snake handlers are another example of those relying solely on God to fix their illnesses.
There are different degrees of this "if it's to be, it's up to me." I argue that those who are believers should rely on God, but they should also rely on themselves as rational beings to decide to go to God in the first place and then to do things that will help them when trials present themselves (save for retirement, go to the doctor). Any of those things that do bring success, since non-believers do them also, require acts of man, not of God.
I think you are projecting something onto Dr. Cooper that he is not responsible for. You are interpreting his essay as if he believes in denying God's force in people's lives. I think he is merely stating the obvious, but I guess others believe he is stating something far more irresponsible.
On Nicea, I am no Biblical scholar. When a group of guys censors what is and what is not in the Bible, then that book ceases being the holy word of God. Each book may be words of God, but they are not gathered together as the total words of God. The council had authority over what was in the Bible; how do they know what was the word of God by the time they put the Bible together?
If I remember correctly, there were many texts claiming to be the unfallible word of God.
Posted by: C.L. at April 25, 2007 10:33 AM
This bit, sadly, may not be so:
"Notice, by the way, how this health-and-wealth gospel only takes root in comfortable, wealthy nations. The poor and oppressed and sick know better."
From what I understand - guys like Benny Hinn are huge hits in poor 3rd world countries. Unfortunately, greed is a human sin found in the hearts of the poor and wealthy alike. And when someone is desperate - promises from a huckster like Hinn can sound pretty good and exciting. So good, in fact, that you may be willing to drop your family's food money into the passing bucket so you can "reap your spiritual reward" later.
Posted by: David P at April 25, 2007 2:11 PM
Have you ever read Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell? It totally blew my mind. I am not sure what you would think of it, after reading this discussion, but I for one was extremely challanged by it. Would love to know your thoughts on it, if you ever get the chance to read it.
Posted by: Danielle at April 26, 2007 10:25 PM
Late to the party, but I'll throw in my three cents:
Here's the debatable line: "But I contend that we have to take some steps on our own for the Lord to have something to direct." I believe he was a little clumsy in expressing himself. If we don't take any steps, then it won't matter if we're pointed in the right direction or not. The "faith vs. works for salvation" debate has been going on for several millenia. Some believe we're just playing out God's cosmic play, while others accept free will and the need to start our first step towards the Lord as our choice. Our works should flow as a result of our faith.
For those who may not know, Church of God is Pentecostal. Besides following scripture as the inerrant Word, you also have an acknowledgement and dependence of the Holy Spirit guiding you in the interpretation of scripture. The statement of faith you cited is fairly standard for all CoG's. My inclination is to cut Dr. Cooper a little slack in that some of what he says may have come from Holy Spirit inspiration.
I would hope Dr. Cooper has a few men of strong theological and doctrinal training, to help him when he does make a mistake in saying something that does not line up with scripture (as well as him being receptive to the correction). A pastor who does not effectively use a support system like that will not be long for the pulpit.
Posted by: Marc V at April 27, 2007 11:52 AM
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