20160916

The Bible’s Future :: Weekend Reading List

The single printed copy of the Bible I own sits in a closet and has not been opened in over half a decade. This has, I believe, less to do with my devotion—I regularly engage with Scripture, write this devotional, hold a degree in theology, and read in Greek and Hebrew—and more to do with my age and culture. I’m in my mid-thirties and access nearly everything on my smartphone—regularly engaging with apps and sites like NeuBible, Bible Gateway, Logos, and YouVersion.

Last week Crossway Publishers issued the final revision of their popular translation, the English Standard Version. The publisher noted the text, which was first translated nearly two-decades ago, would now remain, “unchanged forever, in perpetuity.” Though if my reading habits—and those of a significant majority in my generation—are a sign, there are significant changes coming.

Scripture has undergone six major transitions throughout time. In the first transition, much of the early sacred text moved from oral tradition to written (early Hebrew was one of the first few written languages in human history). Centuries later, that written text was canonized.

The canonized text was then illuminated—adding imagery and ornamentation to language. (The impact of this third transition on a pre-literate culture cannot be understated—for the first time ever the masses could access the word of God—even today the artwork is among some of our most celebrated ancient works).

Then translation began to gain significant steam, followed by Gutenberg’s press. These fifth and sixth transitions were so earth-changing they are still the dominant paradigm for modern Bible societies, missionary movements, and even apps on our phones.

The sixth transition was the shift from largely open-text to copyrighted text—something that has only occurred in the last couple hundred years as Christianity and capitalism merged in the west. The most recent lawsuit to protect the “intellectual property” of Bible translations was finalized in April of 2016 by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association—which, according to their own press release celebrating the victory, is a conglomerate “of nearly 200 member companies worldwide, representing a combined revenue of nearly $1.4 billion.”

The Venn diagram of translation, distribution, and protection that represents the modern Bible has led to massive declines in Scripture engagement and represents largely under-funded and duplicative work. Facebook and Google are in an arms race to accomplish the world-wide distribution of information, and the later organization’s machine translation project will not be deemed successful until it can accurately render text in every language.

Protection of Scripture’s translations—and litigation when the Bible has spread without profit—have created a world where more versions are available while less people are reading and legally able to spread the word of God than ever before.

It is time for Scripture’s seventh major transition.

This transition won’t be led by corporations hungry to make up the lost revenue of declining print Bible sales, or even by the clergy; it will be led by the people—by those faithfully practicing their faith, by those hacking new technologies for the Kingdom, and by those who want Scripture to find its place in our new world.

The seventh transition for the Scriptures will be that of integration. Litigation will be replaced by Creative Commons licensing and open-source translation. Translation and distribution will be accomplished through the tools and platforms of world’s largest tech companies. But what will interest the next generation in Scripture most will be how well this generation—you and I—integrate it into our life, vocation, and community.

It could be said that this was always the goal—but we must admit it has not been the focus of the Bible movement of the last century. As we look toward the future, integration into modern life requires technology, but it also pre-supposes community. It demands open governance from those in the business of holding copyrights on sacred text. Most of all, it depends on the faithful to look at the Scriptures not as a book that sits on a shelf, but as a living and active Word that shapes, corrects, and instructs our daily lives.

Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Ezekiel 19 (Listen – 2:12)
Psalms 64-65 (Listen – 2:39)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ezekiel 20 (Listen – 9:25) Psalms 66-67 (Listen – 2:32)
Ezekiel 21 (Listen – 5:29) Psalms 68 (Listen – 4:26)

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20160915

In the Wealth of a Dying World :: Throwback Thursday

By Augustine of Hippo (354-430 C.E.)

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water…. Because your steadfast love is better than life. — Psalm 63.1,3

In the darkness of this world—in which we are pilgrims absent from the Lord as long as “we walk by faith and not by sight”—the Christian soul ought to feel itself desolate, and continue in prayer, and learn to fix the eye of faith on the word of the divine sacred Scriptures, as “to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

For the ineffable source from which this lamp borrows its light is the Light which shines in darkness, but the darkness cannot comprehend it—the Light, in order to see that which our hearts must be purified from by faith; for “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

In the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. — Psalm 63.7-8

If there is no temptation, there will be no prayer; for there we shall not be waiting for promised blessings, but contemplating the blessings actually bestowed. Scripture adds, “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living”—not in the wilderness of the dead, where we are now—“For you have died,” says the apostle. “and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

For that is the true life on which the rich are exhorted to lay hold by being rich in good works. It is the true consolation; for want of which another is desolate—even though she conducts her household piously, entreating all dear to her to put their hope in God: and in the midst of all this. She says in her prayer, “my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

This dying life is nothing else than such a land—however numerous our mortal comforts, however pleasant our companions in the pilgrimage, and however great the abundance of our possessions.

But the king shall rejoice in God. — Psalm 63.11

*Abridged and language updated from The Confessions and Letters of St. Augustin with a Sketch of His Life and Work (Vol. 1).

Today’s Reading
Ezekiel 18 (Listen – 5:26)
Psalms 62-63 (Listen – 2:44)

 

20160914

Emboldened by Grace

You have made your people see hard things; you have given us wine to drink that made us stagger. — Psalm 60.3

“One of the reasons the Psalter does not yield its power,” Walter Brueggemann observes, is, “because out of habit, or fatigue, or numbness, we try to use the Psalms in our equilibrium. And when we do that, we miss the point of the Psalms.”

According to the Scriptures, the acts of covering and hiding were man’s immediate responses after sin entered the world. Not much has changed since the creation narrative was penned. Though Adam sewed together fig leaves and jumped behind a tree, we are far more sophisticated in our ability to conceal what is really happening in our lives.

When we reduce prayer to what we feel are the proper things to say—pleasantries and sentiments about how the world ought to be—we miss the greatest opportunities to engage in the deep and transforming nature of faith.

We have become so used to these types of prayers that the Psalms can seem alarming in their total transparency. The Psalms, Brueggemann notes, “propose to speak about human experience in an honest, freeing way.”

We can only grow in relationship with God if we choose to be vulnerable rather than pleasant. It’s only when we share the brutality of life, the injustices of our world, and the depth of our pain and anger that we begin to grow. Brueggemann continues:

In most arenas where people live, we are expected and required to speak the language of safe orientation and equilibrium, either to find it so or to pretend we find it so…. As a result, our speech is dulled and mundane. Our passion has been stilled and is without imagination. And mostly the Holy One is not addressed—not because we dare not, but because God is far away and hardly seems important.

This means that the agenda and intention of the Psalms is considerably at odds with the normal speech of most people, the normal speech of a stable, functioning, self-deceptive culture in which everything must be kept running young and smoothly.

Against that, the speech of the Psalms is abrasive, revolutionary, and dangerous. It announces that life is not like that, that our common experience is not one of well-being and equilibrium, but a churning, disruptive experience.

Spiritual growth is not for those seeking simple answers, but for those who, emboldened by grace, wrestle with the beauty, brokenness, and complexity of our world.

Today’s Reading
Ezekiel 17 (Listen – 4:26)
Psalms 60-61 (Listen – 2:27)

 

20160913

Divine Vengeance

O God, break the teeth in their mouths; tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord! — Psalm 58.6

“The vengeance of God is not indiscriminate anger,” Walter Brueggemann teaches in his book Praying the Psalms. “It is a reflection of God’s zeal for ‘his’ purposes of justice and freedom. God will not quit until ‘he’ has ‘his’ way, which is at odds with the ways of the world. And when God’s way is thwarted, say the Psalms, God powerfully intervenes.” Brueggemann continues:

For those who are troubled about the Psalms of vengeance, there is a way beyond them. But it is not an easy or ‘natural way.’ It is not the way of careless religious goodwill. It is not the way of moral indifference or flippancy. It is, rather, the way of crucifixion, of accepting the rage and grief and terror of evil in ourselves in order to be liberated for compassion toward others. In the gospel, Christians know ‘a more excellent way.’

David’s prayers for vengeance make me uncomfortable—but perhaps this says more about the effects of my culture’s perpetual comfort-seeking than it does about David or God. In his book Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf critiques the view that Scripture’s call for humanity to practice non-violence corresponds to God’s passivity:

The practice of nonviolence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many Christians, especially theologians in the West…. It takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence corresponds to God’s refusal to judge. In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die.

Volf exposes God’s fierce love for humanity. How much does God love us? Enough to rise in anger when evil and injustice win. David’s prayers for divine vengeance show us the deep trust he had for God.

On one hand David’s faith lead him to relinquish his own right to revenge. On the other hand David presupposed neither God’s actions or his own innocence before God. How much does God love us? Enough to sacrifice himself that we might live. Brueggemann concludes:

Our rage and indignation must be fully owned and fully expressed. And then (only then) can our rage and indignation be yielded to the mercy of God. In taking this route through them, we take the route God ‘himself’ has gone. We are not permitted a cheaper, easier, more ‘enlightened’ way.

Today’s Reading
Ezekiel 16 (Listen – 10:36)
Psalms 58-59 (Listen – 3:32)

 

20160912

The Story of the Psalms

For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. — Psalm 57.10

If we were to map different parts of Scripture to the spiritual growth process, the book of Proverbs would be elementary school. It is an easily digestible book that presents its readers simple statements that display how the world does—or in some cases, ought—work.

I once heard pastor Timothy Keller comment that Proverbs is written for those in pursuit of success and Ecclesiastes is written for those who have obtained success and found it devoid of sufficiency.

When we turn to the book of Psalms, however, we find that each individual Psalm can be mapped to a different stage of spiritual growth. Some Psalms resemble Proverbs in their elementary understanding of the world—“the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord!” David proclaims. This isn’t the ignorant exclamation of a simple ancient person; it’s the response of person who hasn’t yet matured in faith.

We still use these little pleasantries today: “God is good,” or “I’m just blessed.” These phrases can hold meaning, but often they are superfluous pleasantries used to dismiss the opportunity for genuine community.

The reason the Psalms, as a text, are so valuable to the Christian experience is that they map the entire spiritual process. They move from niceties about how the world ought work to the depths of the pit and into a robust, vibrant understanding of God that can sustain life’s complexities. Walter Brueggemann explores this in his book Praying the Psalms:

The collection of the Psalter is not for those whose life is one of uninterrupted continuity and equilibrium. Such people should stay safely in the book of Proverbs, which reflects on the continuities of life. But few of us live that kind of life.

It’s easy to forget that David penned the words at the top of this devotional as he hid in a cave from an enemy who sought his life. He wasn’t reciting pleasantries to avoid thinking about reality—instead he had grown into a deeper reality.

David, as he developed in faith, came to a point where his trust in God carried him beyond what was right in front of him—even if his present reality was consuming, threatening, and imminent. The Psalms tell the story of that journey. Brueggemann concludes:

It is clear that the Psalms, when we freely engage ourselves with them, are indeed subversive literature. They break things loose. They disrupt and question. They open up new possibilities. They create new relationships. Most of all, they give us new eyes to see and new tongues to speak.

Today’s Reading
Ezekiel 15 (Listen – 1:09)
Psalms 56-57 (Listen – 3:11)