I posted earlier today the beginning of my response to an article on CNN’s religion blog by Jennifer Wright Knust (who claims to be “a Bible scholar and pastor) called “The Bible’s Surprisingly Mixed Messages on Sexuality”. I imagine, because I’m so incredibly long-winded and full of myself, that this response will be in at least 3 parts. This is the second.

Knust goes on to write:

Ancient Christians and Jews explained this two-step creation by imagining that the first human person possessed the genitalia of both sexes. Then, when the androgynous, dually-sexed person was placed in the garden, s/he was divided in two.

According to this account, the man “clings to the woman” in an attempt to regain half his flesh, which God took from him once he was placed in Eden. As third century Rabbi Samuel bar Nahman explained, when God created the first man, God created him with two faces. “Then he split the androgyne and made two bodies, one on each side, and turned them about.”

When the apostle Paul envisioned the bodies that would be given to humanity at the end of time, he imagined that they would be androgynous, “not male and female.” The third-century non-canonical Gospel of Philip, meanwhile, lamented that sexual difference had been created at all: “If the female had not separated from the male, she and the male would not die. That being’s separation became the source of death.”

Rabbi Samuel bar Nahman’s quote comes from a document called Midrash Beresihit. Here is the full quote (from http://www.headcoverings-by-devorah.com/MidrashBereishit2.html)

Rabbi Jeremiah ben Eleazar said: When the Holy One created Adam, He created him hermaphrodite [bisexual], as is said, “Male and female created He them . . . and called their name Adam.”(Bereishit 5:2)

Rabbi Samuel bar Nachman said: When the Holy One created Adam, He made him with two fronts; then He sawed him in half and thus gave him two backs, a back for one part and a back for the other part.

I find it difficult to believe that Rabbi Samuel speaks for all ancient Judaism when he says these things. This is, after all, the same text in which we find the following statement:

Rabbi Eleazar further stated: What is meant by the Scriptural text, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh?”

This teaches that Adam had intercourse with every beast and animal but found no satisfaction until he cohabited with Chavah [Eve].

So not only do we find in this Midrash the claim that Adam & Eve were a single person until God sawed them in half, but now we come to find out that Adam committed bestiality with every living creature on the face of the earth! (I wonder what Eve was thinking when he did this, since she was obviously still connected to the back of him.) I find it hard to believe that this teaching would gain a firm hearing in the 3rd or 4th century after Christ, much less in the Judaism of his time. Knust implies that all ancient Jews believed this way, which I find very hard to believe.

She also claims that ancient Christians believed this, as well. Paul, she says, imagined that humans would, at the end of all things, be androgynous, and she quotes a text: “not male or female”. This is a snippet from Galatians 3. Here is the full verse: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Of course you can see from reading the text plainly that Knust takes this passage wildly out of context. Paul is not talking about the way things will be at the resurrection; he is talking about the way things are now because of what Christ has done.

Knust then goes on to quote from “the third-century non-canonical Gospel of Philip” as though it represented a fairly typical Christian perspective. What she fails to disclose is that this is a Gnostic Gospel. In other words, it is heretical, and does not coincide with orthodox church teaching nor represent the beliefs of “ancient Christians”.

Well, I’ve been droning on and on for long enough now. I suppose I’ll have to continue this in another post.

Last week, Mark Driscoll, Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, tweeted an article from cnn.com about homosexuality. The title of the article is The Bible’s Surprisingly Mixed Message On Sexuality. Knowing what I do about Mark Driscoll, he was not endorsing the article, but, I assume, posting it so that some might give it some response. I intend to do that here.

Jennifer Wright Knust is the author of the article and a book called Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire. I haven’t read the book, but the subtitle gives away her perspective. I can only hope that the scholarship displayed in her book is far greater than what she displayed in this article.

Let’s start with this:

In Genesis, for example, it would seem that God’s original intention for humanity was androgyny, not sexual differentiation and heterosexuality.

Genesis includes two versions of the story of God’s creation of the human person. First, God creates humanity male and female and then God forms the human person again, this time in the Garden of Eden. The second human person is given the name Adam and the female is formed from his rib.

This is a fascinating misreading of the text, but a favorite one of liberal scholars. There are not two versions of the creation story, but rather two perspectives: one macro, one micro. Genesis 1 is the cosmological and theological perspective of Creation. Genesis 2 is the localized and anthropological perspective. Approaching it from a literary point of view, anyone who has ever read a great book will instantly see that Genesis 1 is an introduction, or prologue, of sorts. Or, thinking about it from a filmmaker’s perspective, Genesis 1 is the narration over the opening credits.

Genesis 1 is more song than story, and in it we see Creation from the perspective of God’s throne. Genesis 2 brings us from heaven to earth, giving us the perspective of God’s footstool. These are not two competing stories of Creation. They are complimentary.

It fascinates me that liberals love to read Genesis this way because this is such an overly literalistic way to read the text. They’re reading the Bible so literally that puts the literalism of the Young Earth Creationists to shame! Knust is saying that God created one person with both sexes in Genesis 1, and then he created two people–one male and one female–in Genesis 2. I can’t help but wonder if liberals read the Bible this way to try to make it sound as ridiculous as possible.

Knust also claims that God’s original intention for humanity was androgyny. By this she means that God originally created one person containing both genders. Unfortunately, this position cannot be supported by the Hebrew text, which clearly states in 1:27-28, that God created a plurality of persons “male and female”. To put it simply, a plural pronoun is used. There is more than one person in Genesis 1.

Furthermore, if God’s original intention is androgyny, how might the command of verse 28 be explained? “Be fruitful and multiply.” Clearly, based on the text of Genesis 1, God’s original intention was, in fact, sexual differentiation and heterosexuality resulting in procreation.

This post is already getting long, and there is much more to say in response to Knust’s article, but that will have to be saved for later.

Jesus had a unique way of communicating. He spoke deep, cosmic truth by telling short, earthy stories. These were called parables, and they were designed to speak the truth of God’s kingdom from unexpected angles. We’ve titled one of these stories “The Parable of the Sower”.

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

This parable has always puzzled me because it seems to teach that every person is either one type of soil or the other, and they don’t have any choice in the matter. A bit too Calvinistic for my Armenian bent. But what if it’s a spectrum instead of a grid, and Jesus isn’t speaking definitively, but rather generally?

One way to think about this parable is viewing it as a spectrum of how we relate to Jesus:

Foreigner —-> Fan —-> Follower —-> Friend

The foreigner is the one who is far from Jesus, who doesn’t know him at all, doesn’t believe in him and doesn’t care about him. This is the person who represents the seed sown along the path.

The fan is the one who has heard the good news and accepted it. They have experienced that moment of salvation, and have possibly even been baptized. But their excitement and emotion soon dissipate when they realize just what is being demanded of them. This is the person who represents the seed sown in the rocky ground.

The follower is the one who has moved past the “fan” stage. They have counted the cost, so to speak, but their faith has been stalled by the worries and troubles of life. They’ve gotten to a certain point in their faith but find it impossible to move forward. This is the person who represents the seed sown among thorns.

The friend is the one who has gone through all the stages to experience what Jesus said to his first disciples: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” This is the person who represents the seed sown in the good soil.

These, I believe, are stages along a journey rather than pre-ordained destinies. When we look at the parable through this lens, we see how Jesus is explaining the reality of our lives. We are not born as good soil, but rather must grow into that reality. Because of our sin, we are all born into that first stage of being a foreigner to Jesus, of being the seed along the path.

We move from foreigner to fan when we first receive the gospel and repent of our sins. This is the moment of salvation. Many people find themselves immediately ready to make this transition, while others need to hear the gospel and see it in action for many years. Sadly, the vast majority of people never move out of the sad stage of being a foreigner to Jesus.

We move from fan to follower as we pursue the path of discipleship. In this time the reality of following Jesus will strike us, and he will demand that we make certain sacrifices to keep pace. Many, many Christians do not successfully make the transition from fan to follower.

We move from follower to friend when we experience deep soul-intimacy with Jesus. This often happens when we go through great times of pain in life. As we come through these times we can say, from first-hand experience, with the Psalmist, “God is close to the brokenhearted.” But as with the other stages, very few people move to the stage of being a friend of Jesus. Too many turn away from God when they experience pain. Rather than drawing closer to him in the midst of it, we so often blame him for the pain.

God’s will for you is to be the good soil. He wants you to move from foreigner, or fan, or follower, to that last stage of friend. Where do you find yourself on this spectrum? I find myself moving backwards and forwards along it through the different stages of my life; right now I see myself somewhere between fan and follower. I have a road to walk, as do you, but my heart is comforted because I know that Jesus walks it with me.

I recently finished Eugene Peterson’s wonderful book, Run with the Horses. I started reading it several months ago and got sidetracked, as often happens in the busy seasons of life. I’ll post a full review of the book tomorrow, but today I’d like to share some thoughts from the book that are relevant to what I posted on Monday, Born for Babylon.

Chapter 12 deals with Jeremiah 29, in which the prophet delivers a message to his fellow Hebrews who have been taken into exile in Babylon. His message is this: “Get used to life there. Settle down. Get married. Plant a garden. Pray for Babylon, because you’re going to be there for 70 years.” Not exactly what you want to hear if you’re the displaced Israelites. Peterson describes exile this way:

The essential meaning of exile is that we are where we don’t want to be. We are separated from home. We are not permitted to reside in the place where we comprehend and appreciate our surroundings. We are forced to be away from that which is most congenial to us.

Exile is where life doesn’t make sense. The familiar rhythms have been drowned in the thunderclaps of that which is foreign.

Jeremiah taught the Israelites to embrace the foreign and unfamiliar. There were other prophets, however, who were preaching a message of false hope. They said the horror would be over in less than 2 years. A far cry from the 70 predicted by Jeremiah.

These three [false] prophets made a good living fomenting discontent and merchandising nostalgia. But their messages and dreams, besides being false, were destructive. False dreams interfere with honest living. As long as the people thought that they might be going home at any time, it made no sense to engage in committed, faithful work in Babylon. If there was a good chance that they would soon get back all they had lost, there was no need to develop a life of richness, texture and depth where they were. …The people, glad for a religious reason to be lazy, lived hand to mouth, parasites on society, irresponsible in their relationships, indifferent to the reality of their actual lives.

You may not like where you’re at, but that’s the only place you are, and it’s the only place you can live for Jesus. Exile, in all its forms, sucks. No doubt about it. But you have to come to terms with the reality that this may be where you’re always going to be.

The only place you have to be human is where you are right now. The only opportunity you will ever have to live by faith is in the circumstances you are provided this very day: this house you live in, this family you find yourself in, this job you have been given, the weather conditions that prevail at this moment. …The aim of the person of faith is not to be as comfortable as possible but to live as deeply and thoroughly as possible–to deal with the reality of life, discover truth, create beauty, act out love.

Peterson goes on to write that exile forces us to make a decision between feeling sorry for ourselves or making the best of our circumstances.

We can say: “I don’t like it; I want to be where I was ten years ago. How can you expect me to throw myself into what I don’t like–that would be sheer hypocrisy. What sense is there in taking risks and tiring myself out among people I don’t even like in a place where I have no future?”

Eugene Peterson, get out of my head! I’m guilty of saying these exact words, and for years! But, he says, we have a choice. And that is only the first path we could choose. The second is far better.

Or we can say: “I will do my best with what is here. Far more important than the climate of this place, the economics of this place, the neighbors in this place, is the God of this place. God is here with me. What I am experiencing right now is on ground that was created by him and with people whom he loves. It is just as possible to live out the will of God here as any place else. I am full of fear. I don’t know my way around. I have much to learn. I’m not sure I can make it. But I had feelings like that back in Jerusalem. Change is hard. Developing intimacy among strangers is always a risk. Building relationships in unfamiliar and hostile surroundings is difficult. But if that is what it means to be alive and human, I will do it.”

I wish I had been living like this for the past several years, rather than wallowing in self-pity and flying the flag of entitlement. This is how we live with hope in Babylon.

Peterson concludes the chapter with these wise words:

Exile is the worst that reveals the best. …Exile reveals what really matters and frees us to pursue what really matters, which is to seek the Lord with all our hearts.

I know you don’t feel it, but God is in your exile. He is with you, but the only way to find him there is to quit trying to get back to Jerusalem. Stop longing for the good old days, and live with hope in this foreign land. There is hope in Babylon because God is with you there.

I came across a passage of Scripture this morning that has really struck me. It’s Romans 12:10.

Be devoted to one another in love.

I wrote, yesterday, about the nature of the Gospel–it was a critique of a post from Steven Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC. Part of the DNA of their church is “to be more focused on the people we’re trying to reach than on the people we’re trying to keep.” While I appreciate the ministry of that church, and have been blessed by it, I worry about this part of their DNA.

In fact, this is part of the DNA of many Evangelical churches in America. It’s the Willow Creek Model; all that matters is the number of people who become Christians. Pastor Furtick says it with audacity:

Focus on the people you want to reach and you’ll keep the people you want to keep. Let the rest walk. They’ll find a church elsewhere to graze.

The way I see it is they’re just occupying the space of a person who needs to hear the gospel. You’ll fill their seat.
And it will be with the person who needs it the most.

How do you reconcile this with Paul’s command to “be devoted to one another in love”? Furtick’s approach places the mission ahead of the people, and anyone who doesn’t get on board with the mission can “find a church elsewhere to graze”. So much for devotion.

It is not like God to write people off, to dismiss them to another pasture, for having spiritual needs after they’ve embraced the Gospel. The most important lesson I’ve learned in the last year is that my life is not about the mission, it’s about the people. Jesus has called us not to climb a mighty mountain or calm a raging sea, but to “make disciples”, to “be devoted to one another in love”, and to “carry each other’s burdens”.

Again and again, the Bible tells us that this life is about the people, and that each person is magnificently loved by God no matter where they stand on the spectrum of salvation. Our calling, as ministers of the Gospel, is to be shepherds of the sheep, and we will be held accountable for each one in our flock.

Is there a mission? Of course there is, but the people come first. Missions are temporal, but people live forever. Therefore, “be devoted to one another in love”.