Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Month: September, 2007

One Basket

A wise stock broker told me just the other day
“If you wanna get cash there’s only one way.
Make yourself a diverse portfolio,
investing all over, that’s how to go.
It may sound odd, it may sound quite funny
but if you wanna make lots of money
never put all your eggs in one basket.

So I thought about this for a time and a while
then I asked him, “Why?” and he said with a smile,
“You never can know what will fail or fly.
Invest with a hundred, thirty might die
then seventy are left to give you gain
and thirty that died are just a small pain
’cause your eggs are in more than one basket.

So I again thought for a time and a while
then soon I realized, nodding with a smile,
this advice is good and it’s even true
for who can know what certain stocks may do?
“So,” I asked again, “what if you could tell
which stocks would do poor and which would do well?
Would I still need so many baskets?”

My friend didn’t pause for a moment’s reflection,
he quickly replied without hesitation,
“If you have the pow’r to see front and back
where would be plenty and where would be lack,
if betting was not a blind guess for you
and you knew what every stock would do
then you’ll put all your eggs in one basket.”

I reflected on this and thought for a moment
and thought of the old, old tale of atonement.
I remembered it in the Book I read
about him who lived though once he was dead
and how he took care of those who did trust
in his strength. Though endure for a while they must
live one in a lion’s den, one in a basket.

I smiled again when I thought of the story
how some forsook all for his love and glory
and underwent some drastic life changes
and were written in history’s pages.
Some we called fools for they all died at last
because to only one thing did they clasp
they put all their eggs in one basket.

They gave up their whole lives, their dreams and joys and pains,
they lived for their Lord in drought, famine and rains.
They cut out the sin and put on the new
just like they had been commanded to do.
Because they heard a wonderful story
that Christ would win with pleasurable glory,
so they put all their eggs in one basket.

No one has told me what is the front from the back.
I do not know of future plenty or lack.
But one thing I know, and here I hold dear,
that whatever happens, Christ will be near,
and his might will win when night turns to day
and all will prosper who walk in his way.
So I place all my eggs in his basket.

Enjoying the Sun With a Blindfold

This post has been removed. But I shan’t tell you why.

Interpretive Issues

I found this scattered across the net and figured it might fit in with our recent discussions.

STOP Sign Hermeneutics

Suppose you’re traveling to work and you see a stop sign. What you do depends on your implicit hermeneutics.

A postmodernist deconstructs the sign (i.e., he knocks it over with his car), thus ending forever the tyranny of the north-south traffic over the east-west traffic.

Similarly, a Marxist sees a stop sign as an instrument of class conflict. He concludes that the bourgeoisie use the north-south road and obstruct the progress of the workers on the east-west road.

A serious and educated Catholic believes that he cannot understand the stop sign apart from its interpretive community and their tradition. Observing that the interpretive community doesn’t take it too seriously, he doesn’t feel obligated to take it too seriously either.

An average Christian doesn’t bother to read the sign but he’ll stop if the car in front of him does.

A Fundamentalist, taking the text very literally, stops at the stop sign and then waits for it to tell him to go.

A traffic apologist looks up “STOP” in his lexicon of English and discovers that it can mean either: 1) something which prevents motion, such as a plug for a drain, or a block of wood that prevents a door from closing; or 2) a location where a train or bus lets off passengers. The main point of his argument on the Traffic Debate Forum on this issue is his conclusion: when you see a stop sign, it is a place where traffic is naturally clogged, so it is a good place to let off passengers from your car.

A scholar from the Jesus Seminar concludes that the passage “STOP” undoubtedly was never uttered by Jesus himself, but belongs entirely to stage III of the Gospel tradition, when the church was first confronted by traffic in its parking lot.

A NT scholar notices that there is no stop sign on Mark Street but there is one on Matthew and Luke streets, and concludes that the ones on Luke and Matthew streets are both copied from a sign on a completely hypothetical street called “Q”. There is an excellent 300 page discussion of speculations on the origin of these stop signs
and the differences between the stop signs on Matthew and Luke street in the scholar’s commentary on the passage. There is an unfortunate omission in the commentary, however: the author apparently forgot to explain what the text means.

An OT scholar points out that there are a number of stylistic differences between the first and second half of the passage “STOP”. For ample, “ST” contains no enclosed areas and 5 line endings, whereas “OP” contains two enclosed areas and only one line termination. He concludes at the author for the second part is different from the author for the first part and probably lived hundreds of years later. Later scholars determine that the second half is itself actually written by two separate authors because of similar stylistic differences between the “O” and the “P”.

Another prominent OT scholar notes in his commentary that the stop sign would fit better into the context three streets back. Clearly it was moved to its present location by a later redactor. He thus exegetes the intersection as though the stop sign were not there.

Because of the difficulties in interpretation, another OT scholar amends the text, changing “T” to “H”. “SHOP” is much easier to understand in context than “STOP” because of the multiplicity of stores in the area. The textual corruption probably occurred because “SHOP” is so similar to “STOP” on the sign several streets back that it is a natural mistake for a scribe to make. Thus the sign should be interpreted to announce the existence of a shopping area.

An Orthodox Jew does one of two things: Takes another route to work that doesn’t have a stop sign so that he doesn’t run the risk of disobeying the halachah (Jewish Law); or stops at the stop sign, says “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who hast given us thy commandment to stop,” waits 3 seconds according to
his watch, and then proceeds .

A Lubovitcher Hasidic Jew stops at the sign and reads it very carefully in the light of the Rebbe’s teachings. (In former times he would have used his cell phone to call Brooklyn and speak to the Rebbe personally for advice, but this is no longer possible, may the Rebbe rest in peace.) Next, he gets out of the car and sets up a
roadside mitzvah mobile [outreach booth], taking this opportunity to ask other Jewish drivers who stop at the sign whether or not they have put on tefillin today [male ritual] or whether they light Shabbos candles [female ritual]. Having now settled there, he steadfastly refuses to give up a single inch of the land he occupies until Moschiach [the Jewish Messiah] comes.

A Reform Jew sees the stop sign, and coasts up to it while contemplating the question “Do I personally feel commanded to stop?” During this internal process he edges into the intersection and is hit from behind by a car driven by a secular Jew who ignored the sign completely.

A Conservative Republican reacts by calling his lawyer and asking him whether stopping at this sign is required by unanimous ruling of the SEC. While waiting for the answer he is ticketed by a policeman for obstructing traffic. He blames activist
judges for overturning years of common sense traffic laws.

A Liberal Democrat stops at the sign, but feels that the community would be better served if this was a through street, and the cross street had the stop. He hires a lobbyist to ensure this change is adopted. A month later, when driving on the cross street, he stops for the new stop sign and blames the Republicans for subsidizing
the stop sign industry and making him late for an interview.

The Zodiac-aware Jesus Freak meditates on whether the STOP sign applies in all Four Worlds [Mental-Emotional-Physical-Energy] or only in some of them, and if so which ones? Is her sun sign in the Stop house? While fumbling out her Tarot cards for a quick reading, a Southern Baptist behind her takes personal offense at about ten of her thirty two bumper stickers, and gets out to scream the word of God at her until she rolls up her windows and drives off.

An atheist examines the legality of the stop sign in reference to his personal standards of morals and acceptable social dogmas, determines that there are sufficient justifications to stop in view of enlightened self interest, and halts his vehicle.

A militant atheist feels that the civic official that determined the stop sign arrangement at this intersection was probably working to inflict his personal standards of traffic onto the population in general and blows the stopsign in an act of civil disobedience. But he tells the paramedics, as they cut him out of the wreckage, that he never saw the sign.

An agnostic stops, but only to examine the validity of the stop sign with reference to the traffic laws that apply to all the streets that travel through this intersection. Is it a four way stop? A three way? How can anyone not think that traffic is designed? But how can anyone think a system this screwed up is the result of intelligence?

A libertarian drives past the sign, but stops around the corner. He gets out, and starts telling everyone that does stop that there are no stop signs in the constitution, and the Supreme Court has never had a chance to uphold the free-motion rights of the individual.

An NRA member points out to his friend where he drilled three shots out of five inside the ‘O’ on the sign.

Visual Stimulation

Just a few family pics to distract you all.




The Face’s Value

A good point was brought up in the comments. It was suggested that fundamentalists do not take the Bible at face value. After thinking about it for a second I realized that is completely true. If fundamentalists really did take the Bible for what it was meant to be they would be just about the most radical, revolutionary and loving people in the world. As it is fundamentalists are usually dry, boring and rather spiteful.

So how, then, is the Bible to be read? Joey’s right that there are loads of difficult, complex and even seemingly contradictory things in that big book. Because of this we can’t just call our interpretation of the Bible ‘taking it at face value’ even though I’d like to. This is basically how I think the Bible should be read:

  1. With a focus on what is focused on. Major in major points. Those things that are repeated the most and stressed the most and given the most place in Scripture should be given the most place in deciding how to interpret it. The things that I see repeated most are issues about the glory of God, the waywardness of man, the benefits of following God, the supremacy of Christ and the radical demands placed on the life of a believer. I see these things stressed again and again and so I give them high place.
  2. Literally. I do not mean that every single word in the Bible has a corresponding physical meaning. If that were the case then Jesus would be a physical, wooden door. When I say I read the Bible literally I mean that I try to take it the way the author intended it. So when things are obviously meant in a spiritual way I take them spiritually. When they are meant in a physical way I take them physically. It’s hard to figure out which one is which, but I don’t believe it is necessary to take something as purely spiritual just because it involves the miraculous.
  3. Prayerfully. If we believe in any way that the Bible is God’s book and God is alive and active then we’d be fools to read it on our own. Our reading must be saturated with prayer so that the Spirit will guide us into the meaning He meant for us. Reading the Bible without praying is kinda like taking your vitamins without eating any food. It looks good, but you’ll starve to death anyway.
  4. Honestly and self-critically. Let’s face it, we’re sorely influenced by the way we’ve been brought up and our education. Regardless of our background and convictions we all need to realize that we are influenced by our families, teachers, favorite books and movies and everything else we’re come in contact with. Try to limit how much influence all this has over the way you read. Not that this influence is bad, because it is by influence that we learn. We cannot teach ourselves everything. It’s just that when trying to figure out how to read the Bible it’s best if we do it without presuppositions.
  5. With a focus. People read the Bible for different reasons. If you read the Bible purely for interests’ sake then I suppose it doesn’t really matter much how you choose to read it. But if you read the Bible to change your life and understand God better then the way you read it matters very much. It’s pointless to read the Bible if you have no reason to read it. Find out what your reason is.

My little list here is born out of my convictions on what the Bible is. If you think the Bible is something different you’ll certainly end up reading it differently. Of course, all this stuff is useless if the Bible doesn’t change our lives. It’s true that fundamentalists have failed miserably here by studying the Bible intently and trying to find the right way to ‘think’ instead of allowing the Bible to change and challenge them to the right thing to ‘be’. I realize I may have worded things a little off in my last post. Joey’s right on that the people who read the Bible to gain fuel to attacking others and insisting all those different from them are on their way to hell are scary. In my reply I didn’t really mean to say that those who consider the Bible literally and inerrantly the Word of God are scary. I meant that those who claim these things had better be living radically obedient lives. The Bible, though certainly concerned with thinking rightly about God, seems more concerned with being holy before him.

A dear friend of mine words it better than I could:

And the reason why “fundamentalism” goes sour is that people are able to believe right and revolutionary things that don’t make sense and then completely divorce them from their lives. Or they take no prisoners on doctrine but then let huge concessions go in lifestyle. In their speech and worldview they make their own concessions as well. They take up causes that don’t cost them anything, like being anti-gay or fighting for the ten commandments monument to remain standing in the supreme court or to bring back prayer at the start of the school day. And then they completely ignore their own theology of the poor, or of hell. They believe that everyone is condemned and they reflect the wrath of God to the world, and yet make no expression in their life of the compassion that God/Jesus burn with. This is truly something that doesn’t make sense.

And what [Matthew is] saying is that if we really believe in what the bible has revealed, and actually do warp our lives to it, then we don’t make sense at all. We don’t make sense to liberals, we don’t make sense to fundamentalists. We don’t make sense on the planet. And that is the call.

A Response

I’m writing this partially in response to a post by my friend Joey. Maybe you should read it up before you continue.

I want to clear up a few things about the relationship between what we popularly call liberal Christianity and fundamental Christianity.

Joey makes a few pertinent points that fundamentalist Christians need to think about. The most obvious is the general idea that we fundamentalist folks have a sort of ‘think like me or you’re going to hell’ mindset. It’s true that most of us seem to think that way. I suppose it creeps in when we start identifying ourselves with a particular school of thought, theology or denomination. We feel like we’re part of a good club and the membership requirement is the acceptance of a statement of faith in doctrine. They will know we are Christ’s disciples by our love, eh? Not by our statements of faith. Not that I consider doctrine to be a fringe issue or unimportant, it’s just that perfect doctrine without love is useless.

But I have a few disagreements and maybe a few clarifications in regards to Joey’s post. One is his view of Bible college. I went to the same place as Joey, though a couple years later. I imagine the teaching I got was pretty much exactly the same as his. I even got my big, healthy serving of Piper like he did. But my experience was very different from his. For me Bible college served as a beginning to many changes in my life and worldview. I know there were many people who walked into KLBC’s doors with a blank slate that they seemed aching to fill with whatever the teachers wanted to shove in there. It wasn’t really like that for me. Let’s face it, kids, if you are willing to believe anything you’ll end up being brainwashed by whoever you listen to, whether a Brethren Bible College, a secular university, a liberal seminary or a wacky pastor. If you don’t have a discerning mind you’ll end up getting screwed because pretty much everyone you come across is gonna have an agenda, even if they think that agenda is God’s honest truth. Fundamentalists get a bad rap because we’re accused of trying to force our opinion on others. But guess what, every book you read and every lecture you listen to is designed to convince you of the truth of the opinion of the writer or speaker, regardless of whether that person is evangelical, atheist, Muslim, liberal or whatever. Everyone in the world is convinced they’re right. If we thought we were wrong we’d try to figure out of was right and believe in that instead…and then we’d be convinced we were right. If you go into it with the right mindset Bible college, like almost any educational institution, can help a lot. It can prod you to challenge what you’ve been brought up with and it gives to a chance to examine things for yourself, if you’re willing to do that. If you’re not willing to do that then it’ll just turn you into your favorite professor. I recommend Bible college, but only to those willing to use their brains for themselves.

But I’ll agree with one thing wholeheartedly. Piper followers, and pretty much everyone who takes the Bible and believes it at face value, are scary people. It’s true. Listen to a Piper sermon if you don’t believe me. That guy is nuts, eh? It actually sounds like he believes that stuff he’s preaching about. I just read over a few of my posts over the last year. I guess a bunch of them are pretty scary, too. I suppose the reason we sound so scary is because our worldview makes us that way. Realize this: if we believe that the Bible is God’s true word to man and inerrant (and we should check that stuff out before jumping on board and screaming ‘Yes! And death to all who disagree’) then we will find ourselves living scary lives. If we believe that seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness is the way to go then we will be living lives that look totally foolish. If we believe that living is Christ and death is gain we will be very different people than most. I actually appreciate a lot of things about liberal Christians, though I disagree with much that they claim. I appreciate that they live lives relatively consistent with what they claim to believe. The people who scream that the Bible is totally inerrant and that everyone is going to hell but them and their crew, yet live like average, selfish, worldly folks are idiots or liars.

In the end we find that most of the things we hold to touch on the subjective. Liberal and conservative scholars can argue their heads off all day long and both have really convincing points, but few people ever really change their views because of a public debate. For a while I held a very liberal view of the Bible. I started leaning toward a more conservative interpretation right before Bible college. In recent years I started to test my conservative interpretation, because the fundamentalists who claim to have the almighty power of God on their side had better be willing to prove it. So I tried to prove it. I took Jesus at his word when he told me to give up all for him, to give a bunch of money away and seek first God’s righteousness. So far everything’s been taken care of and the promises of God have held true.

And what if it is all true? What if the Bible really is what it claims to be? What if the foolishness of God is indeed wiser than the wisdom of man? There is a heavy charge on all of us. Find out what is true. Find it and value it because truth, above all things, is important. Don’t let your presuppositions and desire to be ‘right’ rob you of the truth. And once you start finding out what the truth is, live according to that knowledge. There’s nothing worse than a man who claims to know a truth yet lives as if that truth is a fable.

Also check out the bottom half of Jerry’s post for more on this.

And because I love you all, I’ll throw in a few pictures today.

This is me making some yummy, homemade butter and the boys raiding it before anyone else gets to it. Also included are the ever-important Joseph pics. He’s pretending to cry in the third shot. I dunno why.

When the Spirit seems willing

We all face those times when the physical seems to attack the spirtual. Sometimes we just seem too tired, hungry, hot or uncomfortable to hear or obey the Spirit. So what do we do? Do we give up and say ‘Oh well, I’d love to love God but my durned sinful body won’t let me.’? No. We fight the good fight. If the body worked for us then the spiritual struggle wouldn’t be all that big of a struggle, would it?

So what do we do when the moment of truth comes and we find that we just don’t care? What do we do when we know we should do our duty but can’t muster up the joy or will to do it? I have a few ideas and I’ve broken them down into dos and don’ts

DO

  • Pray about it.
    • Duh. When you feel crappy and don’t want to obey then pray, ‘God, I feel crappy and I don’t want to obey.’ You won’t catch him off guard, he knows how you feel. Be honest. Ask for help. Pray hardest when you don’t feel like praying because that’s when you’re in the most danger. And remember, he who bought you is faithful and he won’t let you fall to the uttermost. Get close to that vine.
  • Get a drink.
    • Okay, maybe this one shouldn’t head the list, but I think the concept behind it should stand. When I wake up in the morning I look and feel like the zombies out of Heroes 5. I can hardly walk or speak, let alone commune with the ruler of the cosmos, and I’d hit anyone who crosses my path with a big, rusty knife. In Canada I prepare the coffee maker before I go to bed and just flip the switch as soon as I wake up. Some people don’t like the idea of caffeine being used as a spiritual help. I figure that drinking coffee to help my time with God is about the best use of coffee I can think of. This suggestion isn’t really about coffee, but whatever it is that wakes you up, be it tea, juice, or quick exercise. There are a few words of warning, though. Don’t do anything that takes more than three minutes. That’s coming close to distraction. If all you need is a stiff, black coffee don’t fire up the cappuccino machine. Also don’t make the mistake of thinking you absolutely need whatever help you’re using. If you can’t get your coffee you’ll still need to suck it up and pray.
  • Write.
    • This one is more focused on personal times of prayer and meditation than other spiritual duties. Writing helps you to stay focused and remember what you’re doing. How many times have you been tired while praying and suddenly found that you stopped praying and were thinking about a movie you saw last week? Writing keeps you on track and it gives you a great record of what you’ve been reading and praying about.
  • Organize.
    • Opening the Bible to wherever you feel the Spirit leads is usually not so helpful. A Bible reading plan is great. I use something called The Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan. You can find it on the Internet. It suggests four separate readings a day (I only do three). It’s helpful because you get a better picture of scripture and you can see yourself making progress. A Prayer plan would also be helpful. Make a document on your computer or in your journal or on a whiteboard. A list of thins to pray for daily and weekly. Don’t listen to the goons who call it legalistic. It’s only legalistic if you make it that way. It’s a help.
  • Be regular.
    • Don’t miss a day. I don’t care if you’re staying at a friend’s house or in an airplane or whatever. Don’t miss a day. There are few things harder than trying to re-establish a habit that was messed up once. One time is all the flesh needs to get away from its medicine. Don’t miss a day.
  • Be willing to break the rules.
    • Not legal rules, social ones. Be willing to cut a meeting short because you have to go pray. Be willing to give that homeless guy a hundred bucks instead of a quarter. Be willing go to bed a little earlier for the sake of a good morning. Be willing to be looked at funny for the sake of Jesus. Imagine no one is looking, and do the right thing.
  • Pay attention to all the disciplines.
    • I’ve had my prayer life hurt by lack of evangelism. I’ve had the Bible seem to dry up in my hands because of lack of prayer. Marital problems have, in the past, caused me to shudder at the suggestion of prayer. Every part of your life is connected. When you have felt dry for an extended period of time examine yourself. Where is your life in trouble? What do you need to pick up again to get it going? Prayer? Bible? Fasting? Service? Giving? Meditation? Preaching? Evangelism? Examine yourself hard.
  • Get out.
    • Of your comfort zone, that is. We toss that phrase around a lot but few know what it really means. Do something good that’s uncomfortable. Go visit a sick person or widow. Get down to Jane and Finch and give out the Gospel. Pray in public. Something good that hurts.
  • Just do it.
    • Duty sometimes leads to desire. Just do it, soldier.

DON’T

  • Follow your heart.
    • Christians have forgotten that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick. When you know what you should do you often hear that little desire in the back of your mind telling you to do something else that seems so much easier and rather innocent. Your heart will try to get you to do anything other than your duty because duty and truth are generally odious to your sinful little heart. Be wary of the suggestions of the heart, they point to a very easy path.
  • Do what’s easy.
    • The easy road is almost never the right one. If the easy road was the right one then I would think that most people in the world would be happy, holy and generally satisfied with life. As it is most people are miserable, profane and generally pissed with everything that crosses their path. Usually you will find duty and help to be off the beaten track, outside the camp.
  • Get distracted.
    • Don’t take a nap. Don’t go for a walk to clear your head. Don’t play that game just for five minutes. Stay focused! When people think of the devil they usually think of some demon possessing people or drawing them to nasty, blatant sins. I picture a man selling candy. Don’t buy that crap. Stay on target.

WiFi




Here’s some pics, courtesy of the Islamabad International Airport: