Monthly Archives: February 2009

The Sins of Scripture II: Ecotheology

John Shelby Spong’s first sin of Scripture is the environmental havoc that we have wrecked on this planet. I agree with him here that it is a tragedy how we have treated our fragile environment, and share with him a desire to see humans correct this awful behavior. What I don’t share with Spong is a conviction that the Bible as it stands encourages this sort of behavior, nor do I believe that an entirely new concept of God is necessary to effect this change.

Spong believes that the Bible’s command to be fruitful and multiply is at the heart of the overpopulation. I think not. I think that the heart of the problem is irresponsible sexual behavior, a thing which Spong shows no desire to curb in human beings. Instead, he’d rather throw birth control at the problem.

Now don’t get me wrong. Birth control is a part of the solution in my point of view. But only when combined with solid morality. That means that sex is reserved for marriage. Spong seems to join critics of Christianity in believing that the only solution to this problem is to surrender to our urges because of better available birth control technology.

Spong wrongly believes that a solution to the pollution problem lies in reinventing God. As commenter Bradford pointed out:

To him [Spong] the bible is sexist and homophobic, and we should not judge sin or reprove the sinner; no, we shouldn’t judge at all just love and tolerate and never say sin is wrong especially if it disagrees with anything a woman wants to do with her body or any alternative lifestyle one wants to live.

Spong has already created an idol for himself; a deity who doesn’t judge anyone and for whom sin is not a problem. Reinventing God is Spong’s solution for every problem. So what sort of deity does Spong conceive of? The answer is a nature deity, or rather, Nature Itself. Spong would worship Nature Itself as a deity rather than a deity outside of nature. In Spong’s mind, a deity outside of nature–in whose image we are made–creates the impression that we are somehow above or around nature. That we owe the environment no allegiance since we are above it.

This is a wholly false picture of Christianity. True, we are created in teh image of God, and therefore outside of nature. But God owns everything; ultimately we are just stewards. Therefore, in that frame of mind, we should be responsible stewards and turn the planet over to him in the same condition that he gave it to us.

It isn’t necessary to invent an entirely new concept of God that denigrates him to become part of his own creation. He transcends creation according to his Word, and we should revere him that way. It is only necessary to properly frame our understanding of God’s relationship to man–that we are stewards over his creation, and that he is coming back and expects to find it in the same condition it was left in.

With Spong’s weak and judgment-impaired deity, it is no wonder that he needs to create a new concept of God to give us incentive to control the environment. They say that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of both knowledge and wisdom (Ps 111:10; Prv 1:7). Since no one can fear Spong’s “god,” it is no wonder that Spong has neither knowledge nor wisdom.

The Sins of Scripture

It wasn’t long ago that I tossed aside my copy of Why Christianity Must Change or Die after reading only to chapter three, never to pick it up again. Author and former Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong remains a person of interest to me, if only to answer the question, “Why does he still call himself Christian?” Spong denies all of the essential truths of the Christian faith, yet calls himself a passionate believer.

I’ve started to read another Spong book, The Sins of Scripture, figuring (incorrectly) that I would agree with Spong on a few points. I’m curious to see how he presents the Bible, because the inside flap promises a new way to read Scripture. It is this curiosity that will keep me reading to the end, even though I already have the desire to throw the book into the fire where it belongs.

In chapter two, a chapter that would make any atheist proud of Spong, the former bishop dissects a claim that cannot continue to stand: the claim that the Bible is the inspired word of God. He says:

My religious critics say to me that there can be no Christianity apart from the authority of the scriptures. They hear my attack on this way of viewing the Bible as an attack on Christianity itself. I want to say in response that the claim that the scriptures are either divinely inspired or are the ‘Word of God’ in any literal sense has been so destructive that I no longer want to be part of that kind of Christianity! I do not understand how anyone can saddle God with the assumptions that are made by the biblical authors, warped as they are both by their lack of knowledge and by the tribal and sexist prejudices of that ancient time. Do we honor God when we assume that the primitive consciousness found on the pages of scripture, even when it is attributed to God, is somehow righteous? (18)

He goes on to ask a few questions between pages 18 and 19 that I thought I’d address, as they are seriously misguided. I wonder how someone like Spong can study the Bible so much and yet learn so little about it, or the claims of the religion that he claims to hold dear.

The questions, along with my answers:

  • Do we really want to worship a God who plays favorites, who chooses one people to be God’s people to the neglect of all others?
  • When we portray the God of the Bible as hating everyone that the chosen people hate, is God well served?

It is true that God preserves for himself a people out of each generation, and he lovingly predestines those people to conform to Christ’s image (Eph 1:4-5, 11; Rom 8:29-30). It is further true that God chose the Israelites first, and that he hated others.

But this fundamentally misunderstands the Biblical definition of “hated.” In the sense the word was used, it described only people that God did not have a covenental relationship with. It revealed nothing of his disposition toward such people.

The rest of the Bible is pretty clear that God loves all people; cf. Jn 3:16; Acts 10; Gal 3:28, 5:6.

  • Will our modern consciousness allow us to view with favor a God who could manipulate the weather in order to send the great flood that drowned all human lives save for Noah’s family because human life had become so evil God needed to destroy it? Can we imagine human parents relating to their wayward offspring in this manner?

This question betrays Spong’s concept of sin. Spong obviously doesn’t view sin with the same seriousness that God views sin. Sin isn’t just a sickness. Sin means death for the human race. The Bible teaches that the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).

The verses preceding the Flood story paint mankind as corrupt and vile. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). In light of this, I don’t see how any serious student of Scripture can see the Flood as anything short of a deserved punishment that man brought upon himself.

  • Can we really worship the God found in the Bible who sent the angel of death across the land of Egypt to murder the firstborn males in every Egyptian household in order to facilitate the release of the chosen people?
  • Can the Bible still be of God when it portrays Joshua as stopping the sun in the sky for the sole purpose of allowing him the time to slaughter more of his enemies, the Amorites (Josh 10:12-15)?
  • Can the Bible be the “Word of God” when it has Samuel order King Saul in the name of God to “Go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (1 Sam 15:3)?

The God that Spong is describing has no absolute right to judge his people as guilty of sin, and therefore no absolute right to pass judgment on his people.

  • Is it the “Word of God” when the Psalmist writes about the Babylonians who have conquered Judah: “Happy shall he be who requites you with what you have done to us! Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rocks” (Ps 137:8-9)?

All I have to say to this question is: Just because it is in the Bible, doesn’t automatically mean that it is condoned by God. The Psalms express the full range of human emotions, from happiness to despair, from joy to sadness. But that’s just what they describe-human emotion. This isn’t divine righteousness like the passages described above; this is a very human emotion. Anyone should be able to see the distinction.

In all, I think Spong paints God as a lightweight. One who doesn’t sit in judgment over sin, but instead tolerates and accepts it as human behavior. This isn’t the God that I worship.

Why Magick is Forbidden

According to Exodus 22:18, we are not to permit a practitioner of witchcraft to live. This verse causes some well deserved tension from the community of pagan sorceresses. Many pagans have the chapter and verse memorized, and I’ve seen websites throw it out there as an example of the Bible’s intolerance toward unbelievers.

I’m not here to advocate the death penalty for witches. Instead, I’m here to remind everyone that what was written in former days exists only for our instruction (Rom 15:4), and that we are not to take the penalties outlined in the Bible on ourselves to enforce (cf. Rom 12:19). Instead, I want to use that verse as we are meant to now, for instruction, and expound on why I think that magick is a sin.

Let’s take a look at a spell:

I adjure you, Evangelos, by Anubis and Hermes and all the rest down below, attract and bind / Sarapis whom Helen bore, to this Herais, whom Thermoutharin bore, now, now; quickly, quickly. By her soul and heart / attract Sarapis herself. . . . (Love spell to help a woman attract another woman, from Hans Dieter Betz, ed., The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1986, 266.)

Let’s set aside the issue that this is from one woman to another woman. I don’t want this to turn into a gay/lesbian debate. We’ll focus on the magick itself and why that is offensive to God. First of all, the idea of a magic spell is to accomplish some end by appeal to a supernatural entity. The desired time frame for the effect is now. This creates two offenses to God: appealing to another deity (Ex 20:3; Deut 5:7) and seeking your own will above his (Lk 22:42).

Spells often contain exhortations to pagan deities or other spirits. This is in direct violation of Exodus 22:20 and 20:4-6, which forbid invoking any deities but Yahweh. At first, the Bible seems to put the stamp of approval on the existence of other deities, but making it clear that God only is to be worshiped. However, the book of Isaiah tells us in at least two places, 43:10 and 44:6, that there are no other deities in existence. God is the first and the last. That means that these appeals to other deities actually go to thin air.

What if a sorceress invokes the name of God in her magick? Is she in the right? I say no for a few reasons. First, God has made it clear that prayer is the vehicle by which to contact him. If the preferred method of contact was magick, God would have made that clear in his word. Instead, he has made sorcery and necromancy clear violations of moral law. Second, true prayer seeks the will of God above the will of the seeker, as Jesus prayed in Luke 22:42. If Jesus, the Son, prayed for the will of the Father, how much more should we, servants of the Son, pray for the will of the Father? Third, spells often contain phrases like “now, now; quickly, quickly.” The obvious aim of the spell is to accomplish something right now. Prayer, on the other hand, seeks to accomplish God’s will in his time, which often means having to wait for the desired effect until God is ready to grant it. It may be months or years before a prayer’s effect manifests, and even then it may not be exactly what you want. Like my second point, prayer seeks God’s will and not the will of the seeker.

God wouldn’t want us to put a sorceress to death anymore; as I’ve outlined above. So what are we to do? Preach the gospel and pray for her. God will work it all out (Rom 8:28).

The Nature of Sin

I’ve been reading on the nature of sin in John Stott’s Basic Christianity, and it has set me thinking. Then I read this post by a good friend, and I knew that I must post something on the nature of sin.

Sin is fun. Let’s face it: sin is more fun than the Christian lifestyle. But the pleasure sin brings is only for a season; and then the consequences set in. Yes, there are consequences for every sin, some more severe than others. No matter how much fun sin might be, it never outweighs the consequences.

At its heart, sin is loving self more than loving God. A healthy life is lived to please God, a selfish life is lived to please yourself. Only others-centered people are able to please God. The greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven are the servants, after all.

Despite what atheists think, good works are a central tenant of Christianity. The love of God will manifest in the life of the believer, and it will do so as the fruits of the Spirit, and inevitable good works will follow.

Which brings me to an interesting point. Why do some people draw close to God, while others don’t? It is a simple matter of lifestyle choices. The closer that one draws to God, the more aware of sin one is. This can become extremely uncomfortable for the sinner who loves his sin more than he loves God. As the sinner exposes his sin to himself, he becomes squeamish, realizing that in order to continue the journey closer to God, he must rid his life of this sin that he loves so much. Either he must continue down this road, shedding the sin, stall where he is and keep the sin, or turn tail and run the other direction, away from God.

The third option is what the atheist does. He invents 1000 intellectual objections to God, while the real reason he rejects God is that he couldn’t stand to see himself from God’s point of view. He couldn’t part with his sin.

Why are some able to draw near to God? Because they love God more than they love their sin. Those that can’t draw near to God love their sin more than they love God. These people want to live life their way instead of God’s way, assuming (pridefully) that their way is better.

Make no mistake: living in sin is much more fun than the Christian lifestyle. However, the long term consequences spell disaster for your life. It will lead to an early grave, for the wages of sin is death. Scientific studies prove that religious people have less stress, less depression, and more self-discipline than the nonreligious. Maybe this God guy knows what’s best for us after all!