The following chapter review was written by my friend Laura Williams who is making her debut as a guest blogger here at provocations. Enjoy!

In chapter seven, “You Can’t Take the Bible Literally,” Tim Keller wrestles with the fact that the Christian faith requires belief in the Bible. To many, this is a big deal. The problems that people have with believing the Bible can be divided into three major objections: conflicts with science, inaccurate and unreliable history, and issues related to cultural differences. Since he has already addressed the issue of science and Christianity in the previous chapter, Keller now focuses on the historical and cultural objections.

Dan Brown’s book The Da Vinci Code has really brought the question of the Bible’s historical accuracy to the forefront in our culture. The book (and movie) are in part based on the idea that the early church had two competing views of Jesus: one of Jesus as a great teacher, and one of Jesus as God in human form. The theory is that both sides wrote gospel accounts, but that the early church chose the “Jesus as God” side, and suppressed the other equally reliable accounts. This idea is very popular right now, but when closely examined, it is hard to support.

To briefly summarize, Tim Keller gives three arguments refuting the idea that the Biblical story is nothing more than a legend that was spread (and changed) orally before it was put down in writing. First of all, he argues that the timing is far too early for the gospels to be legends. Keller explains the evidence for the fact that the gospels were written at most sixty years after the death of Christ, and probably even earlier. And Paul’s letters were written even earlier than that. Secondly, Tim Keller points out that the content is far too counterproductive for the gospels to be legends. The gospels portray the apostles as cowards and even claims that women were the first witnesses to the resurrection of Christ (At that time, women couldn’t even be legal witnesses!). Finally, the literary form of the gospels is too detailed to be legend. For this argument, Keller calls on the literary expertise of C.S. Lewis. Lewis points out that the gospels just do not fit the genre of legend or fiction in that time period. It it is much more likely that the gospels were written down by eye-witnesses shortly after the events occurred.

Keller gives less attention to final objection to the Bible: “We Can’t Trust the Bible Culturally.” This issue usually boils down to two objections: that the Bible endorses slavery and encourages the subjugation of women. The chapter goes on to explain the historical context for these specific issues, but it also goes on to draw some general principles. Keller points out that many of our objections come from “an unexamined belief in the superiority of their historical moment over others.” If we accuse the Bible of being culturally regressive, we are automatically assuming that our culture is better than the Biblical culture. And what gives us the authority to make such an assumption? Finally, Tim Keller brings the focus back to the major message of Christianity, which is Jesus Christ. If we believe that Jesus is God, we have to seriously grapple with everything he says. But if Jesus is not who he says he is, than what do his other claims matter? We should wrestle with the major claims of Christianity before we worry about the less central and more controversial teachings.

The chapter ends with the point that difficult Biblical teachings should not be an argument against God. In fact, we should be encouraged by the fact that we don’t find all of God’s teachings easy to accept. If that were the case, we would have a “Stepford” God, similar to the Stepford wives in the movies (robot-wives who never contradict their husbands). Keller ends with this encouragement: “Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage!) will you know that you have gotten hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination. So an authoritative Bible is not the enemy of a personal relationship with God. It is the precondition for it.”

After this chapter, the book shifts its focus away from objections to Christianity. Instead of refuting reasons to not believe in God, he starts addressing the reason for God. So stay tuned, the good stuff is still to come!

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Earlier this summer I posted about Andy Crouch’s book Culture Making. The book is now out. Here’s a promo video. I plan to read it while on vacation next week so I’ll post some thoughts when I get back.

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This video is just weird. There’s no way around that even though the song itself is good. Bruce Cockburn is worth listening to. You should check him out if you don’t know anything about him. Here’s this week’s trivia: What famous band refers to hearing a line from this song on the radio in their own 80’s song? Take some guesses in the comments…

UPDATE: The embedding for this video has been disabled since I posted it, so click on the link below to go to youtube to watch the video:

These guys are cool. C’mon, admit it!

I’ve been very busy lately so I haven’t posted much else besides silly 80’s videos. I hope to get back to posting more regularly in the near future. But until then, here’s this week’s video. Can you say Boy George?

This week’s video is dedicated to my friends in “the land down under” for the summer. I’m not sure if they’re even checking my blog, although it appears that someone from Australia is checking in according to the visitor locations map. I guess we’ll find out for sure via the comments. Let us know if you’re out there. You know who you are. Enjoy the video…

The recent heat wave here in the northeast is making for a cruel summer. With that in mind, here’s this week’s video, which by the way is just plain goofy. The song appears on a great 80s movie, however. Can you guess the movie? Go…

Can you believe I almost forgot it was 80’s Friday Flashback? That would have been a real tragedy had I forgotten. Okay, here’s your hint – “I want my MTV.” Can you guess the song? Time’s up. Here it is…

Be honest now. You know you want to rule the world…

God’s Story by David Arms

The post below appeared on my blog back in December in an abbreviated form. I’m re-posting it here with changes in order to introduce a series of posts I’ll be doing on what storied spirituality looks like from the biblical perspective. These posts will coincide with a series I’m teaching at the college and career midweek gathering of Faith Presbyterian Church where I pastor.

People crave story – so much so that it’s impossible to imagine life apart from story. Storytelling has always held a prominent place among humans. Our compulsion to write and tell stories, to read and hear them, points to the ongoing fascination we have with them. What is it about story that captivates us? What draws us into story? If we think about it, stories have this way of inviting us in, don’t they? They grab our attention by making us feel at home. Good stories open the world to us. They evoke powerful emotions within us, giving us new insight into what it means to be human and what it means to live in the world. They also aid us in seeing the common ground we share with others. Good storytelling is really an expression of good hospitality. It’s a vital way we make ourselves at home, and help others do the same. But even more profoundly, we respond to story because story is our common language. We relate to the language of story because, well, life is story.

Each of our lives is marked by a storied structure – a distinct beginning, middle, and end. There’s a story behind every person you encounter, a story behind you and me. As storied beings we’re always looking (often unknowingly) for some larger narrative to live by. These larger narratives help us answer the common questions of life: Who am I? Where am I? What do I do? What is wrong? What makes it right? In other words, the stories we live by provide us with an understanding of ourselves, the world, and how we’re supposed to live in the uworld. They help orient us to our surroundings and inform us in what skillful living looks like.

The advertising world is fully aware of our need to live in some kind of story. Think of how commercials feed our hunger to live in story. They offer us what seems like an unlimited number of stories, promising to fulfill us (yes, even save us) whenever we enter these stories to live by them. What they offer is usually a variation of the Amerian dream story: buy this or that, and you’ll have the security, comfort, and fulfillment you’ve always wanted. “This is abundant life” they tell us. Consider how the political process confronts us. We’re invited to step into the Democrat or Republican Story, with the assumption being that our dreams will be realized if only we enable the right story to be written. It’s inescapable; wherever we look we’re bombarded with invitations to live in a particular story. These stories promise to provide us with meaning, define what is good, and offer deliverance from what’s wrong in life.

The Bible also invites us into a story. At its most basic level, the Bible is not a book of ethical instruction, but rather a coherent, unified story. The biblical story claims to be the grand or ultimate story, the meta-narrative that makes sense of all other stories. This story claims to be both true (it matches with our experience) and comprehensive (it speaks to every dimension of life). In fact, this story puts our fascination with story into context. We’re captivated by story because each of us is actually part of a big story whose author is God. In other words, life is story. The biblical narrative comes to us in four main acts: creation (introduction), fall (conflict), redemption (resolution), and renewed creation (conclusion). God’s story opens the world to us and helps us to feel at home in this place he has made. We’re invited to participate in this story, joining God in His mission to make all things new. This story invites us into something much larger than our own personal drama’s, the American dream, or whatever small story some political party holds out to us. God’s story offers us something worth throwing ourselves into with full abandonment.

We can’t miss the authoritative claim this story makes. It insists that it is the best story to live by because it is the true story. The ancient people of God were called to live in step with God’s story in order to show the watching world that this story was true and worthwhile. Likewise, the early church lived out God’s story in provocative ways, demonstrating that competing stories (like the story told by the Roman Empire) weren’t nearly as compelling. The Bible claims that to settle for another story is to settle for something less – for something that dimimishes us. All other stories will shatter our dreams and leave us empty. Are we willing to give up these dead-end stories in order to get caught up in the story God is writing in the world. Is the story of God intersecting with the story of your life? What story are you living by anyway?

In the next post we’ll go back to the beginning of the biblical story and consider the landmarks of the story: God-people-place.

The conversation continues…

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