Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bible Translations and Pitfalls of Direct Transferability

My pastor Cor recently started an excellent conversation about the Bible's teaching on gender on his blog. I posted some comments from where I'm at in addressing complementarianism and my thoughts on an interesting blot post on the subject by Richard Beck, but was vastly overshadowed by a colossal and amazing comment by a fellow named Aaron. He successfully does what I usually only try to do with divisive Biblical debates like this one: demonstrate how the truth is not merely an unsatisfying midway point between two extremes, but transcends and incorporates them both in ways only God knows. Seriously, take ten minutes and read it fully before continuing here.

I might post on my thoughts that were inspired by Aaron's comment, but for now I'll focus on a fascinating paper he referred to: "Ideological Challenges for Bible Translators", by Roy E. Ciampa. His final definition of "ideology", though wordy, is worth noting and similar to how I've heard other sources define "worldview", or even "blik":
The complex set of individual and socially-shared conscious and unconscious loyalties (whether philosophical, interpersonal, emotional or whatever) that are influenced and reinforced by my cognitive mapping of my world and which lead me to prefer certain ways of seeing myself, my context and the broader world around me, to perceive some things as problematical and not others (which other people might consider problematical), and to prefer particular ways of addressing the problems which come to my attention.
Ciampa goes on to explain how ideology can affect even the translation (saying nothing of the interpretation) of the Bible: his own assumption that the translation and preaching of the Bible is automatically good; Tyndale's substitution of more Protestant words like "congregation" for "church", "elder" for "priest", "repent" instead of "do penance"; the pressure on KJV translators to minimize conflict between Anglicans and Puritans, and so on. He then warns, "There are many different ways in which the text of the Bible has been and can be used to promote injustice and oppression, and these reflect a translator’s ideology or his ideological blinders."

The main such ideology he addresses in the rest of the paper he calls "direct transferability", or
the idea that readers of Bible translations should feel that the Bible (and God, through the Bible) directly addresses them in their particular circumstances. Approaches to Bible translation that, in Schleiermacher’s terms, move the biblical writer toward the reader (domestication) rather than forcing the reader to accommodate to the biblical writer (‘foreignization’), are most susceptible to the problems I am concerned with here.
Though direct transferability is often seen as highly desirable (and natural) in Bible translation and reading, Ciampa considers it dangerous as it allows us to sever the Bible's teachings from their original contexts and situate them in our own, without even know we're doing it. To illustrate the danger, he gives four examples of groups of people from the New Testament that get improperly mapped onto modern groups without any consideration of the difficulties with drawing such parallels.
  • Slaves from the Roman system of slavery get mapped onto African slaves from the transatlantic slave trade (which, along with some clever hermeneutics, allowed southern Christians to justify slavery from the same Bible that northerners used to denounce them).
  • Husbands and wives from the Greco-Roman world (where the husbands were better-educated and often much older and more experienced outside the household than their wives) are mapped onto husbands and wives today.
  • References to "the Jews" (e.g. in John 5:16-18 or Acts 17:5) are mapped (with their negative connotations) onto Jews in general today, even though in context these phrases could not have meant Jews in general (since Jesus and most of His followers were Jewish) and referred to Jewish religious leaders opposed to Jesus and Christianity.
  • Paul's condemnations of men who practiced sexual exploitation of their male household slaves or prostitutes are mapped onto modern homosexuals—even though "most classical scholars agree that the ancient Romans did not have a concept of sexual identity or orientation (hetero-/ homo-/bi-sexual). Rather, they had a concept of gender identity, one that identified maleness with the dominant position in sexual intercourse." The term "homosexual" appeared in English Bibles for the first time in the early twentieth century.
This danger is interesting because the usual debate you hear about Bible translations is whether they are more "word-for-word" (with the Hebrew/Greek text rendered into the closest possible English representation of it) or "thought-for-thought" (trying to capture the meaning of the original text in English, which may mean replacing some cultural idioms with English ones). But both approaches are susceptible to direct transferability. With thought-for-thought translations, the principle of "dynamic/functional equivalence" (trying to make the response of the modern reader the same as that of the original reader) can facilitate this. Ciampa says:
Ideological/ethical challenges arise (among other cases) when a translator does not give very careful attention to parts of the translation that refer to source text social or cultural realities that will be interpreted in the translation as references to target audience social or cultural realities. That is, the text is expected to function in the same way in the receiving community as in the community of the original receivers, due in part to lack of awareness of the differences between the two audiences and the implications for what we might call “dys-functional equivalence.” Tremendous power is exerted, in particular, whenever a Bible translation is taken to refer to groups in the target culture. This is what I refer to as the “mapping of identities.”
But even with word-for-word translations that focus on "formal equivalence", this is a reminder that no matter how close your translation is to the original wording of the text and how well you avoid injecting your own thoughts into the authors', you still aren't translating the unwritten cultural assumptions and values in the authors' backgrounds. In fact, the goal of keeping translations as direct as possible works somewhat at cross purposes with making this background information known to readers.

Ciampa gives a few suggestions for Bible translators in avoiding the problems of direct transferability:
  • Deliberately "foreignize" the translations of terms that people might improperly translate to their own context. (For example, δουλος, which is often translated to "slave", may be translated to "bondservant" or "bond-slave" to distance them from the modern definition)
  • Incorporate paratextual guidance for reading the text, such as warnings about references that are commonly transferred directly to modern contexts, in a preface or footnote. (I think study Bibles somewhat already do so, but this information is important enough to include in other Bibles as well)
  • In general, give readers a reason to think twice about terms that seem familiar to them but refer to different groups or roles than may be obvious.
In the absence of Bibles that do these things, we Christian readers simply have to be informed about the background of the books we so cherish. You may object, "Isn't this making external resources equally important to the Bible? Isn't scripture alone sufficient to know God?" First, obviously not everything in the Bible is completely filtered through the context of ancient Near Eastern culture, and very much of it is still perfectly understandable to the twenty-first century layperson. No one gets up in arms about sufficiency when you need a commentary to understand a difficult verse, because you can know God through the Bible without knowing the Bible completely.

Second, though Proverbs 30:6 tells us not to add to God's words (which is taken to mean that scripture is sufficient for knowing God), I take this to mean that we are not to disingenuously pass our human words off as inspired—"lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar." But in the sense of providing context to what we read, everyone "adds" to scripture in the process of reading it, in order to understand. Just as a calculus book alone is not sufficient to teach you calculus (because it assumes background knowledge in basic math, algebra, precalculus, geometry, trigonometry, etc.), so scripture sometimes teaches us about God through the distinct human context in which it was authored, and apart from this context its message is distorted or lost. What would have been "perspicuous" to the laypeople of the early church in Ephesus might not be for us despite the best work of translators, simply because our context is totally different than theirs. When we don't understand the original context of parts of the Bible, the door is opened to directly transfer its terms and groups to ones from our own context that we think correspond to them. This is the danger Ciampa writes about.

Hopefully I haven't discouraged you or made you think the Bible is just unintelligible. Obviously you don't have to be a scholar to know God through the Bible. But avoiding the kind of too-direct connections to scriptural terms that Ciampa warns about is necessary for all kinds of Christians. For me, this looks like bringing a healthy amount of skepticism to the text—not doubting it is true, but that my own interpretations of it are really valid, testing and checking the plausibility of my reading. It's become something of an evangelical cliche to say that "The Bible wasn't written to you, but it was written for you," but like many cliches it is true and valuable.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The New Testament canon is closed, but...

The following is an edited version of my answer to the question, "Is the New Testament canon closed?" that turned out a bit differently than I expected: with a resounding "yes!".

Others on this forum and the text have said that Jesus is God's final revelation to us. In a sense I affirm this. Jesus is the true Word of God (Jhn 1:1) and the way, the truth, and the life that He wants us to know in Him (Jhn 14:6). But if Jesus were God's final revelation to us, why are there books in the New Testament after the gospels? Why is there a New Testament at all if the final revelation came in the form of a person?

The way I have come to understand it is that the New Testament both continues and interprets the revelation of Jesus. The Word that God spoke to our hearts through the person of Jesus when He was on earth, He continues to speak through the written Word (as well as the body of Christ, the church) after His ascension. Additionally, the rest of the New Testament is precious because it contains many insights into the ramifications of Christ's life, death, and resurrection that only became clear after the fact. So Jesus' status as the final, fullest revelation of God really has little to do with the question of whether other books could be in the New Testament canon.

Here is where I see some inconsistency: the text says that if Paul's letter to the Laodiceans were uncovered today, "to gain canonicity it would have to agree with all the other books of the canon and be accepted by the entire Christian church, which at this point seems unlikely." Yet just before Wegner says, "It is important to remember that the Christian church did not canonize any book. Canonization was determined by God. But the early church needed to know how to recognize canonicity."In other words, we are confusing two separate issues into one: the actual, God-given authority of books and the church's recognition of the books as canon.

In the first sense, I can say with certainty that all the canon books of the New Testament have already been written, because all the apostles are long-dead. In this sense the canon is closed. The second sense is intriguing: could a previously unknown letter from Paul be discovered and make it into the canon? To answer this, I want to clarify what we mean by canon. It doesn't simply mean "true writings about Jesus by the apostles", for in this sense it is quite arbitrary to draw the line at the apostles when plenty of later church thinkers have written true things about Jesus. (They hadn't seen Jesus in person, but neither had Paul) Rather, a crucial aspect of canon writings is that they have been formative for the liturgical, doctrinal, and practical development of the church from the beginning. The canon books of scripture do not merely inform about God, but God actively exercises His authority through them, which manifests in visible ways in the church (see Hbr. 4:12). N.T. Wright describes the authority of God through scripture as "his sovereign power accomplishing this renewal of all creation."

In light of this, I rule out the possibility that an unknown letter by Paul could be discovered and recognized as scripture, simply because such a letter would not have been unknown in the first century, at least to its recipients, and yet it was not circulated among the churches, adopted into church tradition, or quoted by church fathers like others of Paul's letters. Whatever "divine spark" Paul's letters to the Romans, Corinthians, and others had that led to their being included in the canon, his letter to the Laodiceans apparently lacked. We must not think of this letter's being lost to us today as an unfortunate canonical accident, but simply the early church recognizing what it did not have the same value as other letters and moving on from it once it had served its purpose. The canon that was good enough for the first-century church is good enough for us today.

So while the New Testament canon is closed both senses, it is important to clarify what this means. The Bible, whatever its contents, was never supposed to be the only writing about God, though it has played a unique role in the church from the beginning as the bedrock foundation for all writing, thinking, and believing about God. But the point of a foundation is to be built upon (cf. 1 Cor 3:10-17). That the later church fathers reference the writings of the apostles rather than trying to continue them speaks convincingly for drawing the canon line at the apostles, but certainly does not necessarily denigrate later writings of the church or even prevent them from having some lesser authority of their own. Saying that the Bible contains all the words we need to know God and be saved is a bit like saying that a small assortment of vitamin pills contains all the nutrients you need to survive. So let us trust in God's stewardship of the scriptures for our sake, while living our lives from the truth that they reveal.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Being an INFJ...for Christ

The following is a paper I wrote on my MBTI type for my Self-Awareness in Leadership class.

I have certainly had a long and complicated relationship with the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Instrument). For years I tested as (and considered myself to be) an INTJ. Earlier this year, after some careful thought I realized I didn't seem as externally structured and demanding as the INTJ, and that I actually seemed to fit the mold of an INTP better. A few months after that, I further realized that I was in fact an INFJ (albeit a distorted one) and likely had been all along. After all these transitions, I joked that I had made it my new goal to become all 16 types at one point or another; anything seemed possible! To explain my shifts, I had to look into some of the history of the MBTI.

In his 1921 work Psychological Types, the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung postulated several theories of personality that persist into the modern MBTI. He saw a high-level divide among people between what he called introverted and extroverted types. [1] He describes the extroverted type as outward-oriented, with a consciousness focused on the objective, external world: "If a man so thinks, feels, and acts, in a word so lives, as to correspond directly with objective conditions and their claims, whether in a good sense or ill, he is extraverted." Introverts, on the other hand, filter their consciousness through subjective, internal factors; their life is lived not primarily in the external world of objects but in the inner world of thoughts, feelings, and ideas: "Introverted consciousness doubtless views the external conditions, but it selects the subjective determinants as the decisive ones."

Additionally, Jung described four "cognitive functions" that together form the basis of consciousness. These are divided into two perceiving functions, sensing and intuition; and two judging functions, thinking and feeling, which should be familiar to anyone who has been briefed on the MBTI. Jung said that each of these functions could be used in an extroverted (external, object-oriented) or introverted (internal, subject-oriented) way. One of these, the "principal", is the function where "not merely its application is at the disposal of the will, the same time its principle is decisive for the orientation of consciousness." It is the function that forms the foundational bedrock of the consciousness. Besides the principal function, there is another less conscious "auxiliary" function of the opposite judging/perceiving type as the principal.

In the 1940s, Isabel Myers and her mother, Katharine Briggs, crafted a self-reporting instrument to help people discover where they fit in Jung's theory of types.[2] This instrument became the MBTI. Focusing on Jung's pattern of dichotomies between functions, Myers and Briggs used three letter combinations—E/I, S/N, and T/F—to convey a person's general introversion or extroversion, as well as his principal and auxiliary functions. They also added a fourth letter pair, J/P, that indicates whether a person's first extroverted function (not necessarily the principal for introverts) is the judging or the perceiving function.

However, many MBTI tests, books, and websites (including Live Your Calling) don't explain it in this way. Instead of viewing types through the lens of Jung's original system of cognitive functions, with the S/N and T/F pairs giving an individual's main two functions and the other pairs describing how they are manifested, the more common way is to associate certain characteristics with the letter pairs themselves. These distinctions are somewhat accurate for the two middle letter pairs representing functions (though they lose the introverted/extroverted distinction), but rather inaccurate for the first and last pairs. Instead of being associated with how the cognitive functions are used, introversion and extroversion came to describe how people-focused and gregarious you are (or where you get your energy from), and judging and perceiving describe how organized and task-oriented you are. The characteristics associated with a type's four letters are then combined to get the description for that type.

The problem with this approach is that it effectively turns the type descriptions into horoscopes. By defining types by their symptoms and manifestations instead of by their causes (the cognitive functions), a person might find that many different type descriptions sound like them and experience the kind of type confusion that I did. This problem is especially acute for introverted types, since their principal function will be of the opposite J/P type as their type states. (e.g. for an INFJ the first extroverted function is feeling, but the principal function is introverted intuition, a perceiving function) It also conveys the impression that you can only be one of each distinction, e.g. only a thinker or a feeler, whereas in reality everyone does both, albeit to different degrees.

Once I learned to think about types in this way, my own type confusion slowly lifted. As I read some descriptions of the cognitive functions[3], I realized that introverted intuition seemed to describe me almost exactly in how I thought and processed reality. It had to be my principal function, which already narrowed things down to just two possible types: INFJ and INTJ. (This helps explain why I used to test as INTJ) However, I also realized introverted thinking described me almost as well, as it had formed a tight partnership with my intuition; one generated seemingly impossible ideas and possibilities, the other logically evaluated them and put them into convincing words, a combination that often came in handy on my blog. This helps explain how I identified as an INTP, since introverted thinking is the principal function of the INTP.

But I knew for a fact that I had both of these functions in their introverted form, whereas the INTJ and INTP each only had one (and extroverted the other). But the INFJ had both. And it had something else as its main judging function: extroverted feeling. Since I had always emphatically thought of myself, partially reinforced by the MBTI, as a "thinker" and not a "feeler", this took a while to believe, but eventually it started to make sense. I wasn't interested in ideas merely for the sake of ideas like an INTP, but for the sake of people. And though inwardly I was rigorously logical, outwardly I was more concerned with serving people and making them happy, not with efficiency and logical correctness like an INTJ. (And I was bad at chess, which is virtually the symbol of the INTJ)

As an INFJ, my primary function is my introverted intuition. The result of directing my intuition toward the inner world of thoughts and ideas is that I readily grasp new ideas and am very quick to see possibilities where others don't. I have an intuitive, nonverbal sense of right and wrong, as well as which ideas are correct. I "know" things without being readily able to explain why I know them, and tend to jump to conclusions and then find ways to test and support them. I believe that if there are exceptions to a rule, the rule is too narrow. I see paradoxes and apparently contradictions not as a sign of fallacious thinking but as a challenge, a contribution for a higher, overarching "theory of everything". I am always looking at problems and ideas from multiple angles, trying to understand every side in a conversation at once.

I am used to combining this intuition with thinking, which has helped me become the amateur theologian that I am, trying to make sense of Christianity, the Bible, and conversations on faith. But according to my description thinking is only the tertiary function, whereas feeling is the auxiliary function. And so I have been learning to applying my insights more directly to people. This has multiple implications for working in teams. INFJs value harmony, and I am certainly no exception; I would love it if everyone could just get along, or at least disagree nicely and constructively with no raging tempers or hurt feelings. To this end, my intuition helps me in seeing both sides of a conflict, while my feeling function helps me to act as a mediator. At times I can be more interested in simply making sure a team is getting along, maximizing the potential of others, than in contributing to the end goal.

On a more individual level, the INFJ's combination of intuition and feeling makes them very good at picking up on nonverbal cues and emotions. If someone is feeling "off", I can usually tell. (The challenge is actually doing something about it) When teaching Sunday school, I tend to gravitate towards the kids who are alone or off by themselves; as a child I often felt like an outcast and so I am drawn toward other outcasts. This can again be useful for building unity on a team. Also, INFJs tend to be perfectionists[4] who hold themselves to very high standards. The wishes and expectations of others hold a very high value for me, to the point where I sometimes idolize them. For this reason I am very keen to carry out what is expected of me by others, not out of an innate sense of duty like the ISTJ but because I care about people and am anxious to please them.

On the other hand, the INFJ's reliance on intuition above all else can also get them into trouble. When someone disagrees with me or my values, my first response is to assume that the conflict arises from a limitation of perspective and look for a way to reconcile our apparently clashing views by explaining how they can both be true. If I am unable to do this, though, or if the other person doesn't accept my explanation, I will stubbornly cling to my intuition even in the presence of opposing arguments. I believe strongly that I am right, and the only reason this confidence in my ideas doesn't get me into more trouble is because I usually keep it to myself and try to avoid saying things to others that I can't support.

My introversion can also be a weakness in a team or relationship. Though I value deep, close relationships, I am also very private and value time spent alone. This means that I am best on a team when I can still work relatively independently and present only my finished work to teammates. If I am forced to work more closely with other people, conflict can arise (I always dreaded group projects in school). It also makes me slow to warm up to and trust people; I probably come off as distant or tuned-out to most people except those who know me well. Because I am so slow to form new relationships, I treasure the ones I have.

Some "natural" spiritual gifts for an INFJ might be service, mercy, or discernment, but more than these I tend to use knowledge and giving. For me knowledge is not simply the timely and helpful remembrance of facts, but more a natural talent for navigating the world of truths and ideas behind these facts. My inclination to help and please people motivates me to turn this gift to the service of others instead of just endlessly indulging my curiosity. Likewise, it is mostly my desire to help people however I can that lies behind my gift of giving; I recognize the resources God has given me, see ways to contribute them for the good of others, and then do so. I tend to be very devoted to those I care about, which makes it easy to give parts of myself to ministry partnerships.

Narrative Reflection

The following is a paper I wrote for my Self-Awareness in Leadership class about what I've learned on what it means to fear God.

For most of my life, the phrase "the fear of the Lord" (2 Chr 19:9, Psa 19:9, Pro 1:7, Isa 11:2, Act 9:31, 2 Cor 5:11, etc.) never made sense to me. I thought it represented a caricature of God as a petty, capricious tyrant who wouldn't think twice about snuffing us out like a candle if we so much as thought about Him the wrong way, or else as a chaotic, uncontrollable cosmic force of nature that could just as easily harm us as help us. I did my best to avoid thinking about passages of scripture that seemed to represent God in either of these ways or that talked about people in the Bible fearing God.

I thought we had moved beyond all that fear-mongering, primitive superstition with the fullest revelation of God through Jesus Christ (see Col 1:15-20). In Christ we see God depicted not as insecure and vindictive but humble and loving even to sinners; not violent and dangerous but gentle and a servant to all. It was a much more beautiful and compelling picture of the Godhead—a God to love, not fear. Fear may have been part of faith in God in the past, but no longer: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." (1 Jhn 4:18, ESV) But though I felt secure in this understanding of who God was, He knew something was missing, and one dark and stormy night He showed it to me.

On a summer night in 2012 I had ridden my bike to church, as I usually did. I hadn't checked the forecast ahead of time and when I was ready to go home, a thunderstorm was pouring rain on downtown Minneapolis. Though I was able to keep my belongings dry, I was quickly drenched as I carefully biked home on sidewalks and back streets. Then, once I was almost home, a blinding stroke of lightning flashed around me, followed with no delay by a boom of thunder. It was the loudest sound I had ever heard, and I screamed in terror. Somehow, though, I managed to stay on my bike despite the shock and soon made it home to dry off.

I couldn't help but think about what had just happened to me. Though the lightning hadn't hurt me, I was still afraid of it. I quickly connected this to what I used to think about fearing God. Now I understood: I feared the lightning and thunder not because it was dangerous, but because it was just so palpably colossal and yet so immediately close to me. It felt so unimaginably immense that I almost felt like I could dissolve into it or be swept away, even though I knew this was false.

So it is, I think, with God—only infinitely more so. As humans, we like to feel safe, comfortable, and in control. Nothing is wrong with these desires, only with where we sinfully seek them—in our own self-sufficiency. A friend of mine told me something about human nature that has stuck with me: "most people desperately strive to avoid feeling small." But an encounter with the God of the Universe shatters all our delusions of sufficiency and makes us painfully, fearfully aware of how small and vulnerable we really are. "And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account." (Heb 4:13)

But the fear of the Lord is not like other fears, because at the same time that we are unimaginably small and helpless before our majestic God, we are not insignificant but unimaginably loved. The God who created the lightning and thunder that so terrified me knows me individually and tenderly, designed me in my inmost being (Psa 139:13), rejoices over me with gladness and singing (Zep 3:17), and has promised that He is for me and not to let anything come between us (Rom 8:31-39). "The fear of the Lord" is the concept of awe, reverence, or respect, only taken to a degree far beyond what these words convey, so that "fear" becomes more appropriate. Though I am learning to fear God, I continue to move towards Him instead of away because I trust Him even more. The kind of fear we're to have for our God is indivisible from our love and trust for Him, not in tension with them.

This has many ramifications for my life as a Christian. The biggest among these is that the fear of God is the antidote to any lingering delusions of self-sufficiency that I may have brought into my faith. Proverbs 1:7 says that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge". In God's economy, the first step to knowing anything of real importance is admitting that I don't know. Paul's doxology in Romans 11:33-36 goes,
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
And just a bit later in 12:3 he says, "for by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned." To learn the knowledge and wisdom of God, intellectual humility is needed, and we acquire this by fearing the Lord and realizing "the depth of [his] riches and wisdom and knowledge", and "how unsearchable are his judgments and inscrutable his ways"—not meaning they are absurd or illogical, but that they are simply above our capacity to comprehend, and we become fools if we think otherwise, that we can wrap our minds around God's. I take this as a stern warning in my own intellectual life to always keep it under God, learning from Him the limits of my own knowledge and reasoning even as I seek to expand them. This is just one application of the fear of the Lord.

I've also been led to conclusions about fear in general. Another verse I've really grabbed onto is 1 John 4:18 (which I previously misused to deny that we should fear God), where in the middle of his discourse about love, John writes, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." This represents a possibly-shocking truth I've come to believe: we do well to fear God in the way described above, but we should not fear anything other than God. This has implications that you don't get until you realize how many other things besides God most Christians are trained to fear.

Some Christians fear demons or the supernatural and, in the name of "spiritual warfare" see them everywhere and take an unhealthy level of interest in their movements. Some Christians fear bad doctrine and become unhealthily obsessed with theological correctness until their Christlike love is replaced with bitterness and exacting intolerance. Some Christians fear moral imperfection and live as legalists, refusing to believe the gospel of grace. Some Christians fear sexual impurity and consequently develop a harmful view of sexuality at odds with God's design. Some Christians fear the sinfulness of the world and wall themselves off from it in an effort to keep themselves pure, or else fight a "culture war" to try to forcibly reform it. Some Christians (and I tend more towards this last category) fear misrepresenting Christ or driving people away from Him by being "intolerant", and so water down the gospel to avoid offending anyone and in doing so make it meaningless or invisible.

But "perfect love casts out fear". If our almighty, awesome God is for us and He is bigger than any of these things, then we should fear Him and nothing else. Just as a child doesn't have to fear anything while under the loving protection of his father, so we no longer have any reason to fear anything outside the loving embrace of our Father. It's a common misconception that idols necessarily have to be attractive to us. An object of fear can steal our hearts from God and control us just as well as (maybe even better than) an objection of adoration can.

This experience and my thinking after it didn't exactly redirect the course of my vocation, but they did reveal something I value and want to do within it. So many people, Christian and non-Christian, are enslaved by their fears. In the latter case, they may even think the fear is commanded by God. Fear of God is the only healthy kind of fear, and as I experienced, it is widely misunderstood. I now feel called to apply the gospel to peoples' fear through my future vocation and ministry, whatever that may be. As Christ's ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20), we are incapable of saving people ourselves—we can only pass on the grace we ourselves have received from God. I've found that I am especially passionate about helping others in the ways God has helped me. Earlier in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." (1:3-4)

My faith used to be (and to an extent still is) very fearful—of gaps in my theological knowledge, messing up on certain moral standards I hold, and of how other people view me for my faith. It's amazing and humbling to see God easing these fears in me, and I would love to let Him use me to help other people with their fears. This is not a simple task; as I know well, fear may operate and exert force through the rational mind where theology can speak to it, but it can have an even greater hold on peoples' hearts.

But through the various inventories and tools offered by this course, as well as my own reflection on what kinds of work I enjoy the most, I think God has prepared me for it. While I've known for years about my intellectual and analytical gifts, lately He's also been revealing a more heart-driven, people-focused side of me that is deeply dissatisfied with the prospect of studying theology without applying it in practical ways. I'm no longer interested in ideas merely for the sake of ideas; I'm interested in ideas for the sake of people, and it is wrong ideas that are too often at the root of our deepest fears as Christians. Through theology I hope to shift peoples' fears from all the lesser things that torment us to God Himself, the only One awesome (and loving) enough to bear them.

Personal Doctrine of Scripture

The following is an unabridged version of a paper I wrote for my Biblical Hermeneutics class on my "personal doctrine of scripture."

I'm naturally wary of the idea of coming up with a "personal doctrine of scripture", as if what I say about the Bible establishes anything. Scripture is scripture, regardless of what I tell it to be, and my only goal is to understand it for what it is, a task to which preconceptions of the nature of scripture can be a detriment. What we say about scripture is not nearly as important as what God says to us through it. Nonetheless, knowing what I believe about the Bible can help me to explain it to myself and others better for clarity's sake, so I press on.

I maintain no illusions that my entire doctrine of scripture is read directly from scripture itself; not only is this a circular argument (for you must already have some idea of how scripture works to learn anything from it), I have never met anyone whose entire (functional) approach to scripture did not involve bringing in outside sources or preconceptions. For reasons I will get to, I don't necessarily see this as a problem. If I must make assumptions or bring in outside notions, I will at least try to clearly state them instead of trying to convince myself they're right there in scripture, which (on an institutional level) is really the evangelical equivalent to the Catholic and Orthodox concept of "church tradition".

I believe, as all Christians do, that the Bible is an inspired set of books. What does this mean? In my limited research for this paper I interacted with two sources whose definitions were helpful. Our textbook defines inspiration as "the controlling influence that God exerted over the human authors who wrote scripture", and later says that "the messages spoken by the authors of scripture originated not with them but with the Holy Spirit" Anglical Biblical scholar N.T. Wright gives a very clear definition, saying, "'Inspiration' is a shorthand way of talking about the belief that by his Spirit God guided the very different writers and editors, so that the books they produced were the books God intended his people to have." I would generally agree with Wright's definition and am comfortable adopting it as my own, but I will say more on how I see this process working.

My big assumption about inspiration is this: I don't think inspiration was a singular, unique event never totally unlike anything else God has done, but draw a parallel between the inspiration God provided to the biblical authors and more generally what I know, from Biblical knowledge and experience, about how the Holy Spirit, the same one who inspired, works in and through us today. This doesn't mean people are still writing what should be scripture today, but I think the process was of the same kind, and that to deny this puts the biblical authors unfairly on a pedestal over other believers.

I have reasons for making this assumption. 2 Timothy 3:16, a commonly cited verse in doctrines of scripture, states that "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness". The statement that scripture is breathed out by God is a common foundation for definitions of inspiration. I note that the other thing the Bible says is God-breathed is Adam (Gen 2:7), and by extension humankind. For all our flaws and weaknesses, the breath of God flows, acts, and does through us, not simply a part of us as if the Spirit of God were "a thing to be grasped" (Phl 2:6).

So I reject any dichotomy or purported conflict between something being "from God" and "from man"; the incarnation of Jesus Christ destroys any such distinction just as His death destroyed the curtain in the temple separating the dwelling of God from the people (Mat 27:51). I don't need a definition of inspiration that is "sufficiently God-centered" or "not too human" because inspiration is fully human and fully divine, just like Jesus. Just as the Spirit of God is not trapped inside or possessed by us, but dynamically moves through us, so He speaks God's power through the words of scripture, which are not intrinsically divine but are made divine by His ceaseless acting (which is also why translations or typos of the original manuscripts can also be inspired).

Regarding the reliability of the Bible, I hold fast to what is commonly called its infallibility while rejecting inerrancy. There is no debate as to whether the Bible can have factual errors in it; it does. The clearest I have found is in Mark 4:31, where Jesus says "[The kingdom of God] is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth," and Matthew 13:31-32: "The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds..." Being that the orchid seed is smaller than the mustard seed, I see no reason to accept Article XII of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

So if we define truth as "statements corresponding to reality", it seems that the Bible doesn't always tell us the truth. Luckily, this is not the Bible's definition of truth. Instead, Jesus tells us, "I am the way and the truth and the life" (Jhn 14:6). Jesus is also the word (Jhn 1:1) which he later says is truth (Jhn 17:17). Biblical truth is not found in statements or knowledge, but in a person: Jesus Christ. The purpose of scripture is not to tell us impersonal truths but to bring us to knowledge of the One who is Truth, and it is reliable in that it never fails to do this (though we might fail to let the Spirit into our hearts). So when Psalm 18:30 and  Proverbs 30:5 tell us that the word of God proves true, we can be sure that through the Bible He can and will guide us into the truth we were made to know.

But more than simply being reliable, scripture also has authority. But what kind of authority? We often think of it as simply the authority to tell us what to do or believe, and it certainly means this; as Wegner says, "Scripture, then, has authority because it comes from God, who has the prerogative to tell us how to live our lives." But it also has more authority than this. N.T. Wright's book Scripture and the Authority of God is again very helpful here. He says, "When Revelation speaks of God and the Lamb receiving all power, glory, honor, and so forth, it is because through the Lamb's victory the whole of creation is being brought back into its intended harmony, rescued from evil and death. God's authority, if we are to locate it at this point, is his sovereign power accomplishing this renewal of all creation. Specific authority over human beings, notably the church, must be seen as a part of that larger whole." In other words, authority is not so much God telling us what to do and believe as it is the potency and exercise of His sovereignty over all creation, in pursuit of the renewal of all things.

Wright offers another very helpful clarification: "[The phrase 'the authority of scripture'] can have Christian meaning only if we are referring to scripture's authority in a delegated or mediated sense from that which God himself possesses and that which Jesus possesses as the risen Lord and son of God, the Immanual. It must mean, if it means anything Christian, 'the authority of God exercised through scripture.'" If all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus (Mat 28:18), then of course any authority scripture has must be delegated by Him.

To my imaginary interlocutor who believes the Bible dropped from heaven in an angelic language, I would simply point back to Jesus, "the image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15), the clearest revelation of the true nature of God. Jesus did not descend from heaven like an angel, "but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Phl 2:7), and He rejected several tempting opportunities to solve human problems with divine power (Mat 4:1-11, 26:52-54, 27:39-43). If Jesus came in the form of a human, lived as a human with human limitations, and yet accomplished the atoning work of the gospel that the Father sent Him to do, and if this Jesus is the Word of God (Jhn 1:1), should we expect the written word of God to be any less human? By writing His word through the words of human authors, God illustrates what I see as a great pattern of the gospel: the new, the spiritual, the kingdom of God springing up from the midst of the old, the fleshly, the kingdom of this world, in the most unexpected ways and places, and transforming it from the inside out. So it is with us who know Christ, so it will be in the world to come, so it is with the Word.