Monday, October 31, 2011

Viewing the Bible Through Life Expectancy and Neurodevelopment

I was recently reading a book for a class I'm teaching. Part of it explored the changing life expectancy globally. Most people know that we have a much longer life expectancy now than ever before. What I think we often forget is how short it really used to be (and still is in certain parts of the world).

Here's a couple of stats from 1998 of life expectancy: Andorra: 83.47, Canada 79.56, Nigeria 41.00, Sierra Leone 37.00. That's a big of a discrepancy if I've ever seen one.

But this post isn't about public policy and public health. What I find interesting is looking at the life expectancy in years past. For the US, 77.2 was expected in 2001, 59.7 in 1930, and only 35.0 in 1789. That's a huge jump.

But then think about how life was in Jesus' time. I highly doubt medical care and lifestyle were better than 1789. I saw somewhere that 35ish was about the life expectancy is Jesus' time period.

The first thing this should impact is artistic depictions of Jesus and his disciples. They often appear to be in their 40s and 50s. I doubt it, just from the fact of life expectancy. Plus, biblical scholarship puts them far younger anyway.

And then Jesus dying at 33 doesn't make him seem so young, honestly. Not that that didn't minimize the sacrifice. These types of executions contributed to the lower expectancy.

However, beyond all of this, there are always questions about violence in the Bible. If we take life expectancy seriously, then we should pay attention to average ages. In 1800, the average American was 16 years old. He or she was 36.5 in 2000.

Let's see. Would the world be different being run by 16 year olds versus 36 year olds?

Plus, it is commonly known that the frontal lobes are not fully developed until around age 25. If you don't know the frontal lobes are responsible for executive functioning, like planning, judgment, self-control, etc.

So let's look back at the Bible in context. God is not talking to the modern American with the same education and amount of time to develop (and I'm not trying to imply we're better than those people in biblical times, by the way). God is talking to a people who are predominantly young with non-fully-developed brains. Suddenly, it makes a lot more sense to provide stricter, black-and-white rules that leave no room for ambiguity.

Laws needed to be quite directive because they were acting as the people's frontal lobes. We give our kids very absolute rules in order to protect them. As they get older, we nuance them more because they can handle it. Why do we view the Bible and God's rules any differently?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Utter Absurdity of Inerrency @JohnPiper

On October 15, I saw someone retweet something John Piper tweeted: "The prophets give no evidence of ever using "um" or "ah". These are weak, learned fillers and can be unlearned for Christ."

Now, I'm hoping this was satirical, but I don't know. I haven't seen anyone else write about this post, so maybe it was humorous. However, I'm sure someone somewhere believes it. And it demonstrates the absurdity of an extreme inerrency model of the Bible.

For those unfamiliar with interpretation terms, inerrency is the view that the Bible is completely true in every word. The pure form of inerrency holds that it was dictated from God. Therefore, each word (in the original texts) is holy.

If the words really were dictated by God, then this makes sense. However, there is absolutely no evidence of this nor does it even make sense why God would approach Scripture this way.

In contrast, infallibility holds that the message of the Scriptures is true, while certain elements, like exact history or science, do not have to be completely accurate.

Of course, these are gross generalizations of each form, but for summary purposes, there you are.

Back to Piper's tweet. It takes the idea of the Bible being dictated absolutely literally. If it's dictated, and the prophets are the voice of God at the time, then the lack of "um" or "ah" would indicate they were not used by these holy people. However, there are a few problems with this. Most of the writings about the prophets are clearly not meant to be transcripts of their prophecies. Further, even modern transcripts, which would likely be more accurate than ancient ones just due to our ability to record and listen again, rarely include filler words and sounds. The transcript can be accurate and still leave things out.

And then just the judgment that they are weak is absurd. Since Moses had a speech problem, did that make him weak?

When we start worshiping the Bible rather than the Living God, we very quickly lose sight of the message of the Scripture and focus on debating such worthless things as filler words. And dedicate whole blog posts to them...

Monday, October 24, 2011

My New Favorite Bible Translation @CommonEngBible @TBBMediaGroup @audrajennings

Ever since I got the Mosaic Bible two years ago, I have been a big fan of the NLT. However, the recently released Common English Bible has made me betray my beloved NLT and use the CEB primarily.

A lot has been written about the benefits of the CEB (and its downsides). Much of this has been written by scholars with much more education on the topic of translation than I have, so I'll direct toward those. However, what I can say is that it is quite useful. What I loved about the NLT was that it was easy to read while maintaining what I considered appropriate fidelity to the original texts. The CEB takes this a step further, really making the language accessible to people. While it is easy to read, it is also quite easy to listen to. It has been the primary translation used in our church for the last few months, and it has been quite appropriate for lectionary readings both as a group or individually.

Besides its pragmatic benefits, I like a lot of the philosophy behind the CEB. The fact that it was first released digitally (and free through YouVersion) shows that the publishers are really trying to interact with modern culture and also are not necessarily as focused on making a profit.

I like how it was developed interdenominationally and with laity through reading focus groups of people who approached it not only theologically but practically. Those who follow translations know that a very literally accurate translation may be quite unreadable to the modern English speaker...

The aspect of the CEB I appreciate the most is its break with using particular words all the time. As has been discussed elsewhere in the blogosphere and academia, language can lose meaning over time as we become numb to the power of particular words, especially religious words. Sometimes changing the word makes us pay attention to the passage and the meaning again. The CEB does this, not without controversy. However, I have found it to be helpful to re-engage the text and really explore what the Scriptures actually mean rather than what I assume them to mean based on preconceived notions of certain language.

If you haven't explored the CEB yet, I highly recommend you do. The physical Bibles themselves are pretty cheap, although again, it can be found for free digitally in some markets.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, October 23, 2011

We're Adopting!

After a lot of thought and prayer, Laci and I have decided to pursue adoption, which we’re really excited about and really feels like our calling. The process takes a while, but I wanted give you a heads-up about stuff that will be going on for us in the next several months.

The first stage we’re in right now is raising the initial funds, so we’re doing a few fundraisers, and if any of you want to help out with any of them, we’d definitely appreciate it. First, we’ll be selling some stuff at a craft fair in our hometown of Grand Terrace on November 5. If you have any homemade crafts you want to donate, that would be great. We’re also hoping to do a garage sale in the next month or two, so donations are also welcome to that. Finally, we’re planning on getting people together to go to TV tapings. If you haven’t been to one, they’re a lot of fun, and depending on our group size, they’ll actually donate to our adoption fund!

I know money is tight, so I’m not asking anyone to donate any money, but if you would like to go to a TV taping or something, that would be helpful and fun. And your love and prayers are always appreciated!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Loved As You Are @christianaudio @David_C_Cook

Brennan Manning has long emphasized the importance of grace and God's unconditional love. His speaking and books have touched thousands, if not millions. While I have heard wonderful things about him, I realized I have never actually read any of his works. So my first direct encounter with Manning was through his memoir, All is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir.

This book is an exemplar of the power of grace through all circumstances and actions. I was not aware of Manning's history and controversy, although the fact that he has kept and grown in his faith through it all makes me respect him even more so. I think his mantra that God loves us as we are, not as we should be is profound, simple, complex, and deeply meaningful. This reminder can remove shame, which inhibits change, and moves us toward openness and freedom to love God and accept love from God.

An element that particularly stood out over the course of this book was the clear way human relationships affect our relationship with God. The psychological community interested in spirituality have described this in terms of God image. However, Manning's experience with his mother, father, grandparents, siblings, church, and wife vividly demonstrate the power of how we may trust God more or less based on our ability to trust other. And even more so, how much we are willing to believe God loves us because others have or have not loved us.

While only God can love perfectly, this is an important reminder to consistently engage in loving acts and love people as they are. This helps them see the face of God, which is the ultimate evangelism. Manning has done just that for innumerable people.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).