Category Archives: Bible

Why N. T. Wright

At the potluck this past Sunday, I was finally asked the question I’ve long been waiting to be asked: “Do you read anyone other than N. T. Wright?” The answer is yes, I read a lot of other people. That answer naturally leads to another question: “Then why do you reference N. T. Wright so often in sermons?” It’s a great question. If you think you don’t like how often I reference N. T. Wright in sermons, please believe me when I tell you that I like it even less. The problem is he routinely provides insights into scripture and the Christian faith that I haven’t encountered anywhere else. Furthermore, quite often these insights provide a new way of looking at a scripture that solves a lot of exegetical problems while preserving the original gospel message.

Last Sunday’s sermon on Holy Communion was a good example. In, The Day the Revolution Began, Wright wrote:

“I have made the point elsewhere, but it bears repeating: when Jesus wanted to explain to his followers what his forthcoming death was all about, he did not give them a theory, a model, a metaphor, or any other such thing; he gave them a meal.” [1]

In hindsight, this is a blindingly obvious point, but it is one I had never heard before. I’ve read a lot of biblical commentaries on the last supper, I’ve read a great many books about Holy Communion, none of which have made this point. I wanted to share that insight with you, and so I was once again stuck referencing N. T. Wright. When several biblical scholars/theologians make the same point, I don’t feel the need to cite my sources [2], but when I’ve only found something in one author, I do. That’s the main reason I so often end up referencing Wright. Another reason is that because he’s Anglican we often share a set of core beliefs and a basic interpretive framework (John Wesley was an Anglican priest until the day he died). It also doesn’t help that Wright’s a prolific author—sometimes I feel that he can write faster than I can read and digest what he’s written.

[1] N. T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (New York: Harper Collins, 2018), Kindle Locations 2995-2996.

[2] In part because it’s often impractical if not impossible to track the point back to its original source.

On Scripture

Note: This is a long post and the main point is at the end. Feel free to scroll down to the last paragraph, but if what you read there angers you, please come back up here and start from the beginning.

Jenny has been looking at websites for different denominations and was struck by how often the words inerrant and infallible are used. The United Methodist Church’s official position doesn’t refer to scripture using those words. [1]  (We’re in the company of the majority of the church universal here because nobody used them, at least with their current meanings, until the late 1800’s.) Below is a big chunk of what the church officially has to say about scripture in The Book of Discipline. It’s not a short read, but I think you will find it is worth your time.

United Methodists share with other Christians the conviction that Scripture is the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine. Through Scripture the living Christ meets us in the experience of redeeming grace. We are convinced that Jesus Christ is the living Word of God in our midst whom we trust in life and death. The biblical authors, illumined by the Holy Spirit, bear witness that in Christ the world is reconciled to God. The Bible bears authentic testimony to God’s self-disclosure in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as well as in God’s work of creation, in the pilgrimage of Israel, and in the Holy Spirit’s ongoing activity in human history.

As we open our minds and hearts to the Word of God through the words of human beings inspired by the Holy Spirit, faith is born and nourished, our understanding is deepened, and the possibilities for transforming the world become apparent to us.

The Bible is sacred canon for Christian people, formally acknowledged as such by historic ecumenical councils of the church. Our doctrinal standards identify as canonical thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament.

Our standards affirm the Bible as the source of all that is “necessary” and “sufficient” unto salvation (Articles of Religion) and “is to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice” (Confession of Faith).

We properly read Scripture within the believing community, informed by the tradition of that community.

We interpret individual texts in light of their place in the Bible as a whole.

We are aided by scholarly inquiry and personal insight, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As we work with each text, we take into account what we have been able to learn about the original context and intention of that text. In this understanding we draw upon the careful historical, literary, and textual studies of recent years, which have enriched our understanding of the Bible.

Through this faithful reading of Scripture, we may come to know the truth of the biblical message in its bearing on our own lives and the life of the world. Thus, the Bible serves both as a source of our faith and as the basic criterion by which the truth and fidelity of any interpretation of faith is measured.

While we acknowledge the primacy of Scripture in theological reflection, our attempts to grasp its meaning always involve tradition, experience, and reason. [2]

So where do I come down on biblical inerrancy and infallibility? I would not use those words in referring to scripture, but on the other hand, I also would not describe scripture as errant or fallible—that’s a bridge too far. With the UMC, I readily affirm that the Bible consists of “the words of human beings inspired by the Holy Spirit.” More importantly, I believe that in the Bible we encounter Jesus Christ, the infallible, inerrant Word of God who was with God and was God from the beginning. [3]

[1] I did a search using the Kindle edition of the 2016 Book of Discipline. Inerrant was not used at all. Infallible was used, but only to say that The Book of Discipline is not infallible—which is a point so obvious that it could have been left unsaid.

[2] “Section 4—Our Theological Task: Scripture,” in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 2016), paragraph 105.

[3] John 1.1

Disciple Fast Track Bible Study

Disciple Fast Track is a comprehensive Bible Study covering the majority of the Bible in 24 weeks. It is a reworking of the original Disciple Bible Study that reduces the time of the study by 8 weeks while still keeping most of the original content. The study includes 12 weeks studying the Old Testament and 12 weeks studying the New Testament, daily Bible reading assignments of 3-5 chapters per day, and a 75 minute weekly meeting with the group. Disciple is a great way to get a really solid overview of the Bible, whether you are new to reading the Bible or have read it for years. If you are interested in taking Disciple Fast Track, please let Pastor Jenny know in person, by phone/text, or by email at The study will have it’s initial meeting on Sunday, September 9, 2018, at 7 pm.

When the World Falls Apart

God is our refuge and strength,
a help always near in times of great trouble.
That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart, …
— Psalm 46:1-2a (CEB)

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with Psalm 46 in and I wanted to share the translation of the above passage from the Common English Bible (CEB) with you. I think it might help some of you to hear it that way. The KJV translates it “the earth be removed,” and the NRSV says “though the earth should change,” but the CEB translation of “when the world falls apart” speaks most forcefully to my deepest fears. I am trying to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and not be afraid.

Of Aid for Immigrants and Romans 13

Yesterday, a parishioner asked Jenny and me if there was a United Methodist Organization working with the refugees and asylum seekers who are being detained and separated from their children. Indeed there is, please see the link below.

On the related issue of the interpretation of Romans 13, which has been cited to defend the current administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents, I’ll just follow the lead of another pastor and point out that the man who wrote Romans 13 was executed by the state for his steadfast refusal to submit to the governing authorities when doing so was in conflict with his obedience to Christ.


Why Are We Even Talking About Homosexuality?

I don’t remember who it was exactly, but in one of the first two appointments I served, a parishioner, commenting on the discussion of the issue of homosexuality at Annual Conference, asked: “The Bible is so clear homosexuality is wrong, why are we even talking about this?” It’s a question that deserves an answer. Especially in light of the fact that we have already had people leave our congregation over this issue and that a special called session of General Conference will gather to discuss and debate removing the Book of Discipline’s prohibitions on the ordination and marriage of gay and lesbian men and women in 2018.

Jenny and I are not looking to change your mind about this issue. We believe that we seldom change our minds on significant issues like this based on a discussion, a debate, or even a book study. But we do want to help those who hold to a traditional interpretation of the biblical teachings on homosexuality understand how others who claim the name of Jesus Christ can affirm gay and lesbian persons. For those who are on the other side and affirm gay and lesbian Christians, we want to help them understand how they can hold this view without merely relegating the Bible to the status of an ancient and notably dated, book to be gleaned for inspirational quotes but otherwise ignored.

With those goals in mind, We’re currently reviewing God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships by Matthew Vines. Early in his book, Matthew writes:

Like most theologically conservative Christians, I hold what is often called a “high view” of the Bible. That means I believe all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for my life. While some parts of the Bible address cultural norms that do not directly apply to modern societies, all of Scripture is “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, NRSV). [1]

Nonetheless, Matthew has come to the conclusion that:

Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships. [2]

That’s the view we’ll be trying to explain, and in the process, we hope to answer the question: “Why are we even talking about this?” Again, we’re seeking only to promote understanding, not to change minds (see the second paragraph above). The reason we won’t be studying and discussing a book on the traditional view: we all grew up and are already familiar with the traditional view.

We’ll have more on this possible book study soon. In the meantime, please don’t go anywhere—we would miss you just as we miss those who have already left.

[1] Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-sex Relationships (New York: Convergent Books, 2015), Kindle, 2.

[2] Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-sex Relationships (New York: Convergent Books, 2015), Kindle, 3.

Abuse is Grounds for Divorce

I’ve always viewed abuse (either physical or emotional), as grounds for divorce but had difficulty succinctly explaining why. A few days ago, in a series of tweets, Rachel Held Evans shared a pithy explanation that I’ll be referencing from here on out:

First of all, Jesus’ teachings on divorce were intended to protect women from exploitation, not create new laws that would further exploit them.

Second, Jesus’ whole posture toward the law was that its purposes are thwarted when it is used to perpetuate human suffering. This is why he healed on the Sabbath. It’s why he stopped the religious leaders from stoning the woman caught in adultery.

I truly see no difference between sending a woman back to an abuser “because the Bible says so” and surrounding a woman for a stoning “because the Law says so.” And I have no doubt that Jesus would prioritize a woman’s life over a legalistic interpretation of Scripture again. — Rachel Held Evans

The only thing I would add is that the abuser is sometimes a woman and the abused is sometimes a man.

Rachel Held Evans. Twitter post, May 4, 2018, 11:56 a.m. to 12:01 p.m.,

A Follow Up on the Way Forward

In response to the last post, I was asked: “Is this direction good or will be more division?” My answer is twofold, I think that in the long run, this will be a good direction, but in the short run, there will be more division. There is already a great deal of division, and we are already losing people on both sides of this debate. In my experience, those who want to uphold the traditional interpretation of the Bible tend to leave loudly in anger, while those who want to be more affirming of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters tend to leave quietly with sadness. For this reason, to merely continue to hold onto the status quo is not really feasible. Something needs to be done, and the way forward that the bishops have chosen maintains the vital unity of the church (something for which King Jesus himself prayed).

We have been through this before. In 1844, the church split over the issue of slavery and was then reunited when, after the civil war, all the biblical citations that could be mustered in slavery’s defense become moot points. More recently, we argued about how closely we would adhere to Jesus’s strict teachings on divorce—I have a colleague who was encouraged to surrender custody of his child so that the churches he might be appointed to would not guess that he was divorced—but that is no longer a live issue. We all seem to have arrived at the understanding that regardless of Matthew 19:3-12 and Mark 10:2-12, divorce does not disqualify someone from full participation in the church. Until 1956, we disagreed over the ordination of women, with many citing 1 Timothy 2:12 to support their opposition to the practice, but, at present, I know of only one United Methodist who even questions it.

I give the examples above because they are reminders that we have had fierce arguments over divisive issues in the past, but a new consensus always eventually emerged. I think the same is true of the issue of homosexuality. This proposed way forward makes space for a new consensus to emerge.

The Gospel As Royal Summons

I recently stumbled upon a quote that ties quite nicely into my coming sermon on the Ascension:

It [the Gospel] is a royal summons to submission, to obedience, to allegiance; and the form that this submission and obedient allegiance takes is, of course, faith. — N. T. Wright

The Greek words pistis (a noun) and pisteuo (a verb), translated into English as faith and believe, would often better be translated as allegiance. This ties into the meaning of “gospel” in the time of Jesus and Paul as the announcement of the reign of a new Emperor. Understanding the word “gospel” in the way it was used in Roman times makes it clear that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not primarily good advice we might want to follow, or an opportunity for a wonderful religious experience, or even a proffer of salvation, but rather a proclamation of the news that Jesus Christ reigns. Understanding “gospel” this way makes it easier to grasp the nature of the required pistis and pisteuo as an allegiance that subsumes belief and trust.

N. T. Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul” in Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978-2013 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013), 278.

The nature of the gospel as news is discussed in at length in Wright, N. T. Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good. New York: HarperOne, an Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2017.

The Resurrection of​ the Whole Cosmos

In yesterday’s post, titled “Seven Stanzas at Easter,” I said, “Jesus’s body was the first example of incorruptible physicality—the stuff of the new creation.” Jesus is the first, but not the last and only. As N. T. Wright puts it, in the quite biblical viewpoint of the early Christians, “God was [and still is] going to do for the whole cosmos what he [God] had done for Jesus at Easter.” [1] This is the ultimate end to which the biblical story points, this is the ultimate end for which we hope. We will be like Jesus, our resurrected bodies (and indeed all the new creation) will be made out of the same kind of incorruptible physicality that his was and is.

[1] N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 93.

Scripture as a Single Story

The Breakfast Club book study is gearing up for a discussion of Eight Life-Enriching Practices of United Methodists by Hal (Henry H.) Knight. Hal has a great penchant for explaining and summarizing. Here’s a great summary of the nature and purpose of scripture:

The Bible, for all its diverse components, can be seen as a single story, beginning with creation and culminating with a new heaven and earth, telling all that God has done in creation and redemption. Scripture shows us our world from God’s perspective, which is very different from our normal way of looking at things. It tells us who we were created to be, provides a diagnosis of our problem, and shows what God is doing to bring us and our world new life. — Hal Knight

Henry H. Knight III, Eight Life-Enriching Practices of United Methodists (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), 47-48.