Thursday, March 14, 2013

Editing the Bible the Biblical Way

The History Channel has be airing a 10 hour miniseries on the Bible. The goal, as described by the creators, was to help cure some of the Biblical illiteracy in the world today (see here). Since it is a 10 hour series, some things can’t be covered. The Bible’s story line had to be edited. If it was read from start to finish, it would take 69 hours. That time would include the telling the story of Jesus four time, the story of David at least twice, multiple visions about the same time frame in the prophets and repeating of moral imperatives (like Deuteronomy does to Leviticus or James might do with Proverbs).

Plus, some context would have to be given since a written media is being transferred to a visual media. The Bible is more a library of 66 books that do tell one story, but if read straight through, it is more like a Quentin Tarantino movie then say a Cecile B. Demille movie. Regardless, some details would need to be added since The Bible is not a screenplay. There is no blocking, set design and much ink spilled over minor details like costumes. So unless some creative licence is used, the Bible won't translate directly to TV.

So needless to say, there will be some editing choices made, but how to decide? Base it on entertainment value? Coolness?  In this case, the decision as to what to leave in and what to leave out was based the idea that this was one story about the Love of God with little stories that would make a connection emotionally to the show how these stories changed the world (source here and here). So that is why Sodom and Gomorrah is highlighted while Abraham's interchange with the Pharaoh or why Samson was pick rather than say the story of Judah. I guess if that is the rubric the producers are choosing things then I guess they are doing a good job. (I would argue that there is a greater story line taking place).

Have you considered how the Bible would edit a retelling of the Bible? See what Stephen says in Acts 7:

And the high priest said, “Are these things so?” And Stephen said:
“Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living. Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot's length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child. And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years. ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.
“And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food. But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit. And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph's family became known to Pharaoh. And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all. And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.
“But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph. He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive. At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God's sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father's house, and when he was exposed, Pharaoh's daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.
“When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’ At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.
“Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord: ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’
“This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us. Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:
“‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices,
during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
You took up the tent of Moloch
and the star of your god Rephan,
the images that you made to worship;
and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’
“Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,
“‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”(Acts 7:1-53 ESV)
Or what about the book of Hebrews retelling of faith in Hebrews 11?
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king's edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.
By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
(Hebrews 11-12:2 ESV) 
Simple Question, what was the point of these stories? What things were left in? What things were left out? What creative license was taken? How does The Bible compare? If it is telling the story of the Bible is different than these, why is that so? If the Bible is edited in a way so that the redemptive work of God is hidden, then you have not edited the Bible in a Biblical Way.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Denominations are good things.

Last week, I said I was no longer comfortable with the Evangelical label as understood by the vast majority of American Christians. The main reason is that it isn’t helpful. It doesn’t tell me anything about what the person really believes on matters of faith and doctrine or what they find as important Biblical stances. Is this just me being a church hater? No, it is actually me being a church lover.

I would want to advocate that there should be more of an emphasis on denominational labels. Why? Because they help me know to whom I am accountable, to whom I should submit, to how leaders are selected, to what I hold as a creed and from what stream . The word “Evangelical” doesn’t do that. If everyone from Benny Hinn to John MacArthur can call him or herself an Evangelical, then why use it? If it’s just a synonym for Christian, then just use Christian. At least that word is a label in the Bible for those of “The Way”. So if Evangelical is not a Biblical adjective, then why can't other ones with a better historical track record be used?

The first thing all of these terms (like Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, Quaker, Anglican/Episcopal, Reformed, Methodist, Eastern Orthodox, Congregational etc.) have some history so I can look to that to see how they are to be used both in the past and around the world. There is a little more perspective and context. The term Evangelical is less than 100 years old and it has been primarily used in the USA. This is not to say that a Vineyard, a Church of God or a Calvary Chapel couldn't be this is in the future. All of these other labels originated in it's own time and place as well. There is just more data to how these words are used in the everyday language of the church. Either way, whether a lot of history or a little history, I can get some context that Evangelical doesn't give me.

This leads to the second thing. These terms actually speak to something that actually represents beliefs. Presbyterian, Quaker/Friends Church, Congregational and Anglican.Episcopal speaks to the way the church is organized. Baptist speaks to a emphasis on baptism by immersion as acceptance into the church. Reformed and Lutheran speaks to reformation heritage against Roman Catholicism. Same with Eastern Orthodox against the Western Church. Most of these labels were formed around a secondary issue that showed HOW they would dispense grace.Granted, there is more to these labels then Church governance but at least it is a start at understand what makes people differ in Christian understanding.

With this knowledge, I can know how to relate to a fellow Christian. Are they friends, foes or acquaintances theologically? I can know where the authority structure so if I see a Christian with questions, I can refer them to the right place. If they are in need of discipline, I know to whom they need to answer. I know if they are paedo-baptists or creado-baptist. I know views of communion. I know if they are more pietistic or  confessional. Dispensational or Amill. How gifts of the Spirit are doled out. All of these things help with understanding my fellow Christian and helps me to learn what the Bible says.

This strengthens the Church because then I can hold you (and you me) accountable if you believe something different than what your church professes and it helps me to see to whom I can partner with in advancing the Gospel. People can hold an evangelistic rally together but when a convert comes forward to be baptized and one brings a cup and one brings a tub what happens? If one denomination allows female priest/elder and one does not, would that be a problem? But some will say, why can't we focus on what is common between all of the denominations and the most important which are the morals/how we live. My question is can these things really less important than the ordo salutus or the sovereignty of God?  This is a probably why associations are popping up more and more. It allows people to do things together without the accountability structure and "fake" the common ground enough to get things done.

This is why we have last names as a family. When my son is around other kids, people will know for whom I am responsible. People will know we are together and for what purpose. People will know where we live and what we are about. If he or I would start to act contrary to what it would mean to be Staifer, things could be address. Someone else could adopt me and I could change my last name. Now I'm beholden to a new standard. If evangelicalism has its way, we would be a bunch a first name orphans roam aimlessly waiting for someone to give us more purpose and identity for which we are actually longing.

So when I am asked what I am, I say I am a Christian who is currently worshiping in the Presbyterian tradition (a term I stole from Chaplain Mike Mercer). Is this a perfect model? No. There are liberal Reformed Baptist Churches and Conservative PCUSA churches. There are Wesleyan Churches that act liturgical and LCMS churches acting like a Purpose Driven Church (which should just call itself a Denomination since it acts like one). So while there is a push for nondenominational movements and ecumenical gatherings, let remember not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Denominations help the church, not hinder them.

Note: This discussion really challenged my thinking on denominations.