Wednesday, December 27, 2006

11. The Sense of the Church

Most of us who grew up going to church have absorbed far more than we might think. We have picked up "the rules" for how and how not to apply the biblical text. Many Christians talk about the idea of the "Bible alone," but they are unaware of the degree to which they bring these rules to the Bible with them. Give a Bible to a person who knows nothing of Jesus or Christianity, send them away to read it. Apart from a miracle of the Holy Spirit, they will likely come back ready to start a cult.

Christians throughout the centuries have exercised the "spiritual common sense" we mentioned earlier. One person's prophetic sense of the Holy Spirit can turn out to be authoritative, but imagine the collective spiritual sense as it has been tried and tested for 2000 years! That doesn't mean that the collective church universal cannot ever be wrong. Those of us who are Protestants believe in particular that some of the correctives of the Protestant Reformation were right on track.

This sense of the one holy, universal, and apostlic church is found most noticeably in the common creeds of Christendom, the Apostle's Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. These creeds ironed out things like the Trinity and the nature of Christ's divinity, the essential "dogma" of historic Christendom. But even beyond these creeds are beliefs that are commonly held by almost all who have historically called themselves Christians: belief that God created the world out of nothing, belief that we are conscious in between death and resurrection, doctrines that are the "consensus of the church."

These beliefs constitute the "rule of faith" and set boundaries for how we appropriate the biblical text. Evangelicals have tended to use their intelligence and skill to make their interpretations of Scripture come out to teach these things. However, this tendency sets up a kind of paradox in which a particular view of the biblical text--meant to elevate the value of the text--leads one not to listen to the text in deference to one's theology.

A far more honest method is to let the text mean what it meant and then acknowledge that there is a flow of revelation that moved not only from the Old to the New Testaments but also into the church as well. We have already discussed these dynamics in our section on hermeneutics.

So the "rule of faith," the consensus of the church, stands as a boundary for how we can appropriate the teaching of the Bible. We must always allow for prophets like Luther to prevent the church from the rigidity of having to justify beliefs that have been commonly held in the past but which we now can see to be phases of history or even inappropriate trajectories. For example, there was a time when it was the consensus of Christendom that ministers should not marry. This may have been appropriate for the medieval phase of Christendom, but it seems problematic today. In situations like these, the original meaning of Scripture can play a crucial role in the debate, as it did in the Protestant Reformation.

If the rule of faith provides the rules for belief, the "law of love" constitutes the rule and boundary for ethics and action. The law that a believer should do nothing that contradicts love of God and neighbor not only has the dominant hand in the New Testament, affirmed by Jesus (Matt. 22), Paul (Rom. 13), and James (2). But it has been reaffirmed by prophets of the church like Augustine.

These two "rules" form the boundaries of how we can appropriate Scripture. Our appropriations must cohere with the rule of faith, the consensus of the church as regards our beliefs. They must also cohere with the royal law of love. No appropriation of Scripture that is inconsistent with love of God or neighbor can be properly considered Christian.

Monday, December 25, 2006

10. Experience

More than anything else, our experiences of life drive us to seek a word from God. Our search for direction, our drive to make sense of it all, these things push us to search for a word. A loved one gets cancer or is killed in a car accident. We lose our job. A family member announces to us that she is gay. Perhaps it is as mundane a situation as a minister who needs to bring a word to a congregation on Sunday. Our experiences often set the agenda for our approach to the Bible.

In fact, this is the case even when we are not in crisis mode. Our experiences of the world affect in a very significant way what we see and what we don't see as we approach the text. It determines the questions that are most on our minds. Our skills of observation help us see more than is on our mind. Our skills of observation can self-critique what is on our minds in relation to the text. But experience tends to set the agenda.

To be sure, countless aspects of our experience are prone to lead us away from a true word from God as we read the Scripture. Sometimes we don't want the word from God that we need. We don't want to hear that we can't hate our enemy. Experience teaches us that it's dangerous to give those who've hurt us a second chance.

But when we are in tune with the Holy Spirit, experience can also provide us with a certain "spiritual common sense" that helps us think God's thoughts. For example, Scripture does not provide a clear statement allowing a battered wife to depart from her husband. But surely we cannot imagine a God of love who would insist she stay with a man who may one day kill her. It goes against every Christian intuition we should have, especially when we consider that Jesus did not model an exceptionless approach to rules.

Or take a passage like 1 Corinthians 11 on women wearing coverings when they pray or prophesy in church. We have such difficulty following the logic of this passage, try though we might. When we turn to the scholarly literature, we similarly find a good deal of disagreement and diversity of explanation. These are tell tale signs that the specifics of this passage, both in content and argument, are so intertwined with circumstances of the first century that they do not come forward straightforwardly to today without much further ado.

It is highly doubtful that a Christian home can operate like the household codes of 1 Peter and accomplish the same goal it had in the first century, namely, to "live such lives among the pagans so that while they speak against you as a criminal, they will glorify God on the Day of Visitation because of your good deeds." In the ancient world, a well ordered home with the woman in her place pointed to a respectable home and was a good witness. But in our world, to limit the role a woman can play in society is not a good witness. Rather, it resonates with a number of things that are contrary to the message God calls us to proclaim: oppression, inequality, superiority. We can argue that it is not these things with finely tuned arguments, but this is not how the world will perceive these things. And the message of 1 Peter is not about theology; it is about how we appear to the oppressive world around us. Our generation will not glorify God because of our good witness when we place boundaries around women simply because they have different bodies from men.

The most difficult question is then to know when the Holy Spirit is witnessing to our spirit and when we are misguided or listening to our flesh. Here we must submit (not surrender) to larger forces. There are individual prophets who are called to go against the grain. We must always have a place for them among us. But we will know a prophet by whether her call catches on and grows or dies with her.

Beyond the spiritual sense of one individual is the collective spiritual sense of a group. It holds greater authority and is more likely to represent God's will. Still greater authority has the collective spiritual sense of a generation, and still greater the consensus of Christians throughout the century. We assume throughout that all of these individuals and groups are in dialog with Scripture, the place where all such discussions begin, the playing field on which the dialogs of application are conducted.

But we cannot ignore the role our thinking and experiences plays both in the movement from text to life and from life to text. The Bible is not some third path to truth--it is our first source of truth but it is not a different path to truth. All the things that we "think" are true must pass through our individual reasoning and experience. There is no way around it; we are stuck in our heads.

Merry Christmas

To any who might read this today, Merry Christmas.

Of course today is not the actual birthday of Jesus but a convenient day that Constantine designated to celebrate Jesus' birth, replacing the pagan Saturnalia. If I remember right, the details of Matthew and Luke are usually taken to suggest a Spring birthdate I think. Don't remember the details.

The wise men would not have been involved with the birth, since they seem to arrive in Bethlehem as much as over a year after he was born. The current spot in Bethlehem is a cave like place, and I think the Protoevangelium of James has Jesus born in a cave as well, if I remember correctly (2 century).

But all this is trivia. What do I think was significant about Jesus' birth.

1. With Luke, it was a humble birth, an identification with the lowest common denominator of the world. For the last few years, the part of Jesus' birth that I have found most personally significant is the likelihood that his birth was viewed with dishonor by those around his mother. How completely fitting since he spent the better part of his earthly ministry bringing good news to the outcasts of Israel.

2. It was a royal birth, although the royal significance of it was not apparent to anyone there at the time (with the possible exception of the shepherds). This seems befitting in that Christ's kingdom on earth was not for this time, not yet. So at times it seems like the right is not ruling down here. But there is the promise of the kingdom that is to come and is already, in many respects, already here in the body of Christ, the church.

Today is a day of hope of the dawning of a new day. I pass on those wishes to you today.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

9 Interpretation

Good observation skills move you well down the road toward good interpretation. You have tried to observe what the text says. Now you want to know what it meant. In reality these two movements take place simultaneously and are hard to separate from one another. When you "observe" that the thought of Romans 1-11 leads to the thought of Romans 12-15, you have not only observed something, you have begun to "interpret" Romans. Whether you are coming from the text to life or from your life to the text, you will want to have the skills of observation and interpretation at the table with you to give their voice.

We saw in the hermeneutics section that words only take on definite meanings in a context. So the process of interpretation is the process of finding the right context against which to read the various words of the Bible. In this "text to life" section, we are focusing on determining the original meaning of biblical texts, because these were the first meanings these texts had, and they deserve our respect.

In life, however, these may not be the most important meanings of the text for us. God may meet you in these words in a way that places them in your context with a divine urgency. We will say more about the context of our "horizon" in the next section. But for now, we are discussing the skill of knowing how to read the text in its original contexts.

The Immediate Context
The most determinative context of all for the original meaning is the immediate literary context of the specific words you are looking at. A word or set of words can mean many things both literally and metaphorically. All words have a certain range of possible meanings that they can take on. They do not mean all these things at once (overload fallacy). A specific context locks them in to one of these (less often a text can also have a double entendre, a double meaning).

One common fallacy among Bible students is to take specific meanings a word or phrase has in one context and read them into another. So if the word "cast out" is used in relation to demons in a passage in Mark, they might read spiritual warfare it into another place where the same word is used. You can't do this. "Casting out" will only have overtones of demons if the passage you are looking at uses the word in that way! This is a form of what is called the overload fallacy--putting more meaning into a word than it should have at any given time. And it is most often done when a person brings too much "baggage" with them from one place where a word is used to the next.

This type of mistake is made so often that it is worth another paragraph. Take the word faith. Its basic meaning is pretty small. So in Greek the word pistis can mean many different things: "trust," "belief," "faithfulness," "proof," and so forth. But it does not mean all these at the same time. And more importantly, it does not always mean "trust in the unseen" just because it has this specific connotation in Hebrews 11:1. This is perhaps the most common error in word study, to take very specific meanings a word has in one context and then overread those connotations into a completely different context. Thus the word faith in the verse that says "Does their faithlessness nullify the faith of God" (Rom. 3:3) has nothing to do with justification by faith or faith in the unseen. In its immediate context, it simply means the faithfulness of God, period.

To get a sense of the immediate context of a word or passage, you need to follow the "train of thought" leading up to it. This involves the skills of detailed observation we mentioned in the previous section. For example, many students of Romans notice that Paul somewhat redefines Israel in Romans 9:6: "not all descended from Israel are Israel." But this is not the immediate context of Romans 11:26 where Paul says "all Israel will be saved." The previous verse to it clearly uses "Israel" in its normal sense in reference to ethnic Jews--"Israel has experienced a hardening." The immediate train of thought in 11:25 thus pushes us to take "all Israel" in 11:26 as a reference to that ethnic Israel whose hearts were hardened in Paul's day, not to the redefined Israel of 9:6.

As a method, you might begin the interpretation of a specific passage first with a detailed observation of it and then a preliminary glance at the immediate context to brainstorm. You might then move out through the contexts that follow below, each time revising and revisiting your initial brainstorm. By the time you have considered all the various contexts of the passage, you will be ready to draw a more definite conclusion on what it meant originally in its immediate context.

Broader Literary Context
We mentioned the broader literary context of Romans 11 above. Romans 9-11 form a section of Romans that you could "survey" in its own right. In the case we gave, the immediate literary context trumped the broader literary context in Romans 9. But usually, the broader literary context will only help you hone in on the likeliest meaning of a specific passage.

By the "broader" literary context of a passage we mean the rest of the section and the rest of the book in which that passage appears. We might also include here other books by that same author, remembering that the different authors of the Old and New Testament used various words and concepts differently from each other. The Old and New Testament are even in different languages, so you certainly can't assume that an English word from a translation of the Old Testament will have the same meaning as an English word from a translation of the New Testament.

This might be a good place to mention another fallacy: the anachronistic fallacy. The anachronistic fallacy is when you mistake a meaning a word took on later in the history of a language (or sometimes, just later in history period in any language) and read it back into a time when it didn't exist. Thus although the Greek word for witness is martyr, it didn't take on the sense of a martyr until after the New Testament was written. Similarly, the Hebrew word for soul (nepesh) never had the sense of a part of me that could detach at death. A "soul" in Hebrew is always alive (as opposed to a part of a person that survives death) and refers to an entire living creature--it can even refer to a living sea creature! "Adam became a living soul" (Gen. 2:7).

Isaiah 9 gives a helpful case study in how the broader context can potentially illuminate the likely original meaning of a passage. When we read the amazing comments in Isaiah 9:6-7, it is extremely difficult for us not to hear a reference to Jesus: "to us a child is born, to us a son is given ... he will be called 'wonderful counselor,' 'mighty God'..." What other human could someone call "God"? Indeed, despite the context we are about to discuss, this passage, like others in Isaiah, seems somehow to move beyond their first contexts. No matter what the first meaning, we are not wrong to read this passage in the light of Jesus. After all, that is the way the Holy Spirit has long led Christians to read this passage throughout history.

But a look at the broader context of Isaiah 9 takes us back to a similar passage in Isaiah 7: "a young woman will conceive and bear a son and will call him 'Immanuel": 'God with us" (7:14). In the immediate context of that verse, a king named Ahaz is considering asking a foreign nation to make an alliance with him. Isaiah, representing God, does not want him to. God offers Ahaz a "sign" of his favor. But Ahaz will have nothing to do with it.

It is in this immediate context that the well known words of Isaiah 7:14 appear. OK, if you're not going to ask for a sign, then the LORD himself will give you a sign. A child will be born, and before that child is old enough to tell the difference between good and evil, the nations to the north that are bothering you will be gone.

Now, in the original context, the sign is clearly for Ahaz. That makes it highly unlikely that Jesus was the child Isaiah had in mind. After all, Jesus was born over 700 years later. A sign that comes that long after Ahaz is dead is hardly a sign to him! So the Immanuel to whom Isaiah must have originally referred must have been some child born very soon after he and Ahaz had this conversation. Thus, this human child represented "God with us."

Again, the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to see Jesus' virgin birth in the words of Isaiah 7:14--God placed those words against the context of Jesus and they took on new meanings for Matthew. But originally, the sign had to be about a human child born in the days of Ahaz. This child was perhaps one of Ahaz's own children.

When we consider this broader context to Isaiah 9, we naturally wonder if Isaiah 9:6-7 is referring to the same royal child as 7:14, probably king Hezekiah: "wonderful counselor, mighty god, everlasting father, prince of peace." That doesn't mean that God can't apply the words literally to Jesus as well in our context, even with a different connotation. But the broader context of Isaiah suggests we should probably see the original meaning in terms of some ancient royal figure like Hezekiah.

Historical Context
The historical context of Isaiah also pushes us in this direction. By historical context we mean the background to these words in history, within which we should include all the events and indeed all the other writings of the day. In our discussion of the literary context of Isaiah 7-9 above, we mentioned a number of elements in its historical background: king Ahaz, the kings to the north who were troubling him, his son and heir Hezekiah. If we were to interpret this passage in greater detail we would want to mention the king of Assyria and the destruction of the kingdom just to the north of Ahaz in 722-21BC.

But also in the historical background is the fact that various cultures in the ancient near east, including Israelite culture, could refer to their kings as gods. For Israel, of course, calling the king "god" did not in any way mean that he was a God like Yahweh. Take Psalm 45, for example, which from its context clearly refers to a human king on his wedding day. Look at verse 6-7 where the psalmist refers to the king as "god": "Your throne, O god, is forever and ever..." But the next verse makes it clear that this king is not the real God: "therefore God, your God..." So the Old Testament can refer to human kings both as "sons" of God (e.g., 2 Sam. 7:14) and even as "god" in a somewhat figurative sense.

Acquiring historical background knowledge is a lifetime task. And unfortunately, even if you knew everything there was to know, you would still have such vastly incomplete knowledge of the ancient world that you would not be able to know for certainty what every part of the Bible meant. Even my attempts to interpret Isaiah and Paul are only informed attempts. Various scholars would disagree on various points, and any day a new discovery might force us all to rethink everything.

The best place to get background knowledge is a good commentary on the passage you are interpreting. In theory, the person who has written the commentary has done his or her homework and will inform you of various background information that you would not otherwise have known. There are also any number of Bible dictionaries that can help you fill in this part of the puzzle.

Genre
Our section on hermeneutics has already mentioned the matter of genre and how it can affect your interpretation of a particular passage. So we will not repeat what we have already covered there. Genre is yet another type of literary context that you should consider when interpreting a passage.

Word Studies
We have already mentioned word studies as one kind of tool you can use in interpretation. In fact, a word study is really a microcosm of the whole interpretive process. The process of doing a word study might go like this:

1. Get a basic definition for the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek word from an original meaning dictionary of some sort.
  • Don't use an English dictionary. Words don't map from one language to another exactly. An English dictionary tells you how words are being used right now in English. You need to know how a Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic word was being used at the time an ancient author used it.
  • Don't cut and paste endless dictionary entries from some resource. The goal of a word study is for you to make a dictionary. A word won't mean all those meanings every place it is used. You are trying to find the one meaning the word has in each of the passages you are interested in. A one or two word start is better than 10 full Greek dictionary entries.
2. If you are looking a specific passage, brainstorm what nuance you think the word might have in that immediate context.

This is just a rough draft to get you started.

3. Now look at all the other places in that book where the word (or phrase) is used.

Start a list of different meanings the word can have (don't mix them together).

4. Now look at any other places the word might occur in any other books by the same author.

Expand your list of possible meanings the word can have as necessary. You are creating a range of possible meanings and making your own dictionary.

5. Now, for historical background, look at the rest of the places where that word is used by other authors of that day.

So start with the rest of the New Testament if you are studying a Greek word. Look at the Greek Old Testament if you are doing a New Testament word. If it seems like a New Testament author is building on some Old Testament passage, focus on it. But if the author isn't using the Hebrew Bible, it is really irrelevant to bring in the meaning of the Hebrew original. Indeed, it is not at all certain that a New Testament author will pay any attention to the original context of an Old Testament word or passage.

Or look at the rest of the Old Testament if you are doing a Hebrew word. But don't look at the New Testament for the original meaning of an Old Testament word. That is a path to anachronicsm.

As much as you are able and as information is available, explore how the word or phrase was used in the "secular" writings of the day. How did secular Greek speakers use the word "gospel"? What ancient near eastern literature might give hints about the meaning of "Leviathon"?

6. Now return to the passage in question. From the "dictionary" you have created, select a meaning for your passage that seems best to fit its immediate context.

Word Fallacies
Before we leave word studies, we might mention some of the more common word fallacies that you hear from time to time. We have already mentioned two.

1. The overload fallacy

... when you bring meanings to a word from elsewhere that it just doesn't have in this specific context.

2. The anachronistic fallacy

... when you read meanings into a word that it just didn't have at that point in time and history.

3. The etymological fallacy

... when you assume that the meaning of a word is a function of its parts.

This is probably the most common fallacy you hear from the pulpit. So the Greek word for church, ekklesia comes historically from two shorter words: ek ("out of") plus kaleo ("to call"). You will often hear preachers saying then that the church consists of those who are the "called out" ones.

But no New Testament author would have thought about this any more than we think about the fact that the word understand comes from under plus stand. In fact the word ekklesia is used of an angry mob in Acts 19:41. This is a fine sermon illustration of the church if you tell your congregation that you are making an illustration--not interpreting the meaning of the word "church" in the New Testament.

4. The root fallacy

... when you assume the meaning of a root word carries over into other related words.

So the word bapto means "to dip." But that does not necessarily mean that the word baptizo, "to baptize," has to mean immersion. The early Christians probably did primarily immerse when they baptized. But the word baptizo does not always mean to dip. In Mark 7:4 baptisma probably means simply "to wash."

5. The word-concept fallacy

... when you so connect a word to an idea that you assume the idea isn't there when the word isn't there.

6. The one-meaning fallacy

... when you assume a word can only have one meaning.

Summary of Interpretive Method
We are now in a position to summarize the process of arriving at original meaning of a biblical text.

1. Come to the text prepared! You have prayed for the illumination of your mind and have honed your skills of observation both for the big picture and for the details.

2. Take a quick look at the immediate context of the passage you want to interpret.

Brainstorm without closing your mind.

3. Now go to the broader literary context.

Gather evidence. You might even make two columns: one for evidence and the other for your inferences--what you think that evidence implies. If you are studying a word, see how that word is used in the broader context. Consider the genre of the book or passage in question. Look at other books by the same author if you can find any.

4. Now go to the historical background.

Where does this book/passage fit in the flow of history and culture? How would Joe Ancient have likely heard these words?

5. Now go back to the immediate context of the passage and lay out the most likely train of thought given all the evidence you have gathered.

Friday, December 22, 2006

8 Observation

The skill of observation is the ability to notice what the text says (and thus by implication, what it does not say). In our introduction to the "text to life" process, we mentioned that there are two levels on which you will want skills at observing the biblical text: a) you will want to be able to observe the "big picture" of a book or section and b) you will want to be able to observe the details of a text.

Surveying a Text
To see the "big picture" of a biblical text, you will want to be able to do three things. First, you will want to be able to tell where one line of thought ends and another begins throughout the book or section you are "surveying." Second, you will want to describe the way each major thought flows into the next. Finally, you want to be able to see themes that run throughout the book or section of a book.

The first skill amounts to being able to outline the book (or section of a book). Can you observe places where the author is moving on to a new thought? For example, Romans 12:1 says, "Therefore, I encourage you, brothers [and sisters], to present your bodies as a living sacrifice..." Do you have the skill of observation to see that Paul is now moving on to a new section of Romans and a new train of thought? In terms of the big picture, we are talking about big "blocks" of thought. So in Romans, 1:18-11:36 seems to be one big unit of thought. Then 12:1 through 15:13 is another big "block" of thought. A good observer of Romans should be able to breakdown its overall argument into big blocks of thought (which can then be broken down even further).

The second skill in surveying is then to see how big blocks of text like these connect to each other. So we have observed that Romans 12:1 starts a new section of Romans. Do you have the skill to observe that there is a "cause-effect" relationship between the first and second major parts of Romans? Because of what Paul has taught in the first half, therefore, the second half follows.

Here are some of the main ways that two blocks of thought can flow from one to the other:

1. The first can prepare or lay the background for what follows in a very general way. The birth stories in Matthew and Luke prepare for what follows in this sort of way.

2. The two blocks of thought can compare or contrast. So the alternating stories of David and Saul tend to contrast with each other.

3. The first can be general and the second go into the particulars or details. It can also go the other way around: the first can be the particulars and the second generalize what has gone before. So if a book of the Bible has key verses, they can be a general statement that the rest of the book plays out (like Acts 1:8).

4. The first can "lead" to the second in a number of different ways. So it can be a fairly straightforward cause that leads to an effect. So after Pentecost, all sorts of miracles and boldness start to happen. But ideas can follow from other ideas in an argument as well. So in Romans the practical "preaching" of Romans 12-15 follows from the more theoretical "teaching" of Romans 1-11.

5. Some specialized "cause-effect" patterns are the movement from problem to solution or from question to answer. Much of Romans is structured by questions and answers.

But themes can also run throughout a book or part of a book. A good observer can thus see recurrences. So in Philippians, the themes of rejoicing and unity recur. But the kinds of patterns we mentioned above can also recur. So Hebrews is full of recurring contrasts between Christ and various figures from the Old Testament.

A person might thus "survey" a whole book of the Bible or a smaller block within a book by following these steps:

1. Get a sense of the content of the book or section.

  • You might read through it in one sitting two or three times (admittedly, this gets harder the bigger the book--but you would be amazed how much you gain from a skim through Isaiah).
  • You might give a title to each chapter just to get a sense of what's there.

2. Outline the book or section.

  • Be sure to look for big blocks of thought, not just 10 smaller ones.

3. Observe how these big blocks connect with each other.

4. Observe any themes or patterns that run throughout the whole book or section.

Now you know how to observe a large amount of biblical text.


Observing in Detail
If you really want to hone in on the meaning of a verse or a small amount of text, you will want to develop your skills at observing the details of the text. It is very difficult to do this with an English translation because the details of an English translation will rarely capture all the details of the other language. So a pastor once made a side point from the word at in the KJV translation of Titus 2:5, which speaks of young women being "keepers at home." But this is only one word in Greek--there is no Greek word for "at" there.

So the best you can do for detailed observation in English is to get as good a "formal equivalence" translation as you can. These are versions like the New American Standard Version, the Revised Standard Version, or the English Standard Version. The New King James Version is also a good formal equivalence translation, especially if you are the places where its wording is not as original.

There are different ways to write down your observations. So you can make two columns and put the text on the one side and your observations on the other. You might go level by level: first you might observe from sentence to sentence, then from clause to clause, then from phrase to phrase, then from word to word. You might even have a third column to put crucial questions down that you might follow up on in interpretation.

Another method is to photocopy a verse and then draw all kinds of circles, squares, underlines, etc... with lines leading to observations you write down all around the page. You might then have two columns on the back of the page, the one side with your most interesting observations and the other with your most significant questions.

Sometimes the text of the Bible can become so familar to us that we miss obvious but significant details. That is one of the benefits of making yourself observe everything about the text that you can think of--even the blatantly obvious. This is also one of the benefits of reading the Bible in its original Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic. Reading in a foreign language forces you to slow down and pay attention to the details in a way you might not otherwise do. Suddenly you stop to observe the word "but" and immediately recognize that something is being contrasted with something else. You observe important connecting words like "therefore," "for," "because," "in order that," "but," etc... You observe the kinds of relationships between thought that we mentioned above (cause-effect, general-particular, contrast, etc...).

Thursday, December 21, 2006

7 Overview of the Text to Life Approach

In the next few pages we want to run through the typical process by which someone might move from text to life. In general, there are two "players" in this process: 1) the text and 2) us. Some speak of these two as the two "horizons" of the text.

We have seen in the section on hermeneutics that the original world of the text was an ancient world. While God is not limited to the world of the original meaning, we surely respect the original meaning. We wouldn't like it if someone listening to us completely ignored what we were trying to say. Surely Christian love at least respects the world of the original text, even if it is not limited to it.

We have then overall a two step "text to life" process:

1. Determine as much as possible the original meaning.
2. Determine as much as possible the relationship between that meaning and us.

We will briefly run through this process in the next few pages. For now, here is an overview of what the process might look like.

1. Pray!
It is bad theology to think that prayer doesn't apply to study with your mind. Our minds are all too fallible in their reasoning. And there are many points where we simply do not have enough information to know the original meaning or how it relates to us today. We could sure use the Spirit's guidance past these moments of uncertainty. By all means, pray before you begin the process of moving from text to life.

2. Determine what the original text was.
We do not have any of the original copies of any of the books of the Bible. We have very early ones--especially compared to the works of other ancient writers like Plato or Caesar. But there is enough difference in wording between these ancient copies of the various books of the Bible that we are forced to choose between different ways the original texts might have read.

This is why the King James Version (KJV) sometimes has different words than other English versions. Thus if you look up Acts 8:37 is almost all modern versions, it isn't there in the main text. The man who divided the Bible up into verses in the 1500's was using the same basic "manuscripts" that the KJV was based on, so he assigned a verse number to Acts 8:37. But since then, we have found much older copies of the New Testament than the KJV translators had in 1611. The vast majority of those who have studied this issue agree that the relatively late medieval copies of the Bible that the KJV was based on were not as accurate to the original as those that stand behind almost all other English translations today.

We can debate whether we really need to determine the original wording to hear God in Scripture. But if you are aiming at the original meaning, you will want to take this science called "textual criticism"--the science of determining the original wording--into account. This brief guide will not go into the process of how to go about deciding what the original text of a passage might have read. But you should be aware of this step in the process, one that you will have to let someone else do for you unless you want to learn this skill. We should be immensely thankful to the many scholars who have devoted their whole lives to determining the likely way the original text read.

3. Observation: What does the text say?
Whether you are moving from "text to life" or from "life to text," one skill you will want to have is the skill of "observation," the ability to distinguish between what the text says and what it doesn't say. Probably well over half the things Christian groups debate about today have to do with things the Bible doesn't even say. The person who is observing accurately what the text says is the person that is asking the kinds of questions that the text wants to answer. These may not be the questions we are asking or the questions we need answered, but they are the questions that the text originally was asking and answering.

There are two sets of observation skills. The one is the ability to grasp the "big picture" of a book of the Bible, or maybe a section of a book, or even of a passage. This mode of observation sees where one thought ends and another begins, and how one thought relates to the next one. A second set of skills is able to observe the fine details of a verse or smaller passage. You will almost certainly need to work in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek for your detailed observations to be accurate to the original meaning. We will briefly discuss both these skills in the next section on observation.

4. Interpretation: What did the text mean?
If good observation skills raise the kinds of questions the text is wanting to answer, good interpretation skills come up with the most likely answers to those questions. We saw in the section on hermeneutics that context is what determines the meaning of words. Good interpretation of the original meaning will correctly place the text you are interpreting in the right context.

We've already mentioned some of the key contexts to take into consideration. There is, for example, both the immediate and broader literary context of the text you are looking at. Given the train of thought that leads up to the words you are trying to interpret, what do those words most likely mean. Then there is the broader literary context. Given what the author says in similar contexts in this same book or in other books by the same author, what are these words likely to mean here? The context of genre is a larger literary context that can have a significant effect on how you take certain words. And then the historical context places the words in question against a broader historical background.

One key tool in interpretation is the word and phrase study. To be sure, many preachers and interpreters have a kind of "magical" view of word meanings that makes for interesting preaching but probably isn't quite accurate to the way words actually work. A whole previous generation of scholars also labored under a number of fallacious ways of using word studies. These slight misunderstandings have not prevented God from speaking to be sure! But we will briefly suggest how we might preach and use words with greater integrity in our section on interpretation.

5. Integration: Mapping the Texts to Each Other
Our section on hermeneutics mentioned that the individual books of the Bible do not connect their individual teachings to one another. We are forced to do that from the outside looking in. Joining these teachings together, mapping one part of the Bible to another, is a theological task. When we say that "the Bible says" or "the biblical worldview says" what we are usually referring to is a biblical theology that we ourselves have created by gluing the parts of Scripture together. It is crucial to recognize that we are the ones who are forced to provide this glue because the Bible itself, "Scripture alone," does not provide it for us.

Sometimes the glue we use to connect the individual materials of the Bible together can be a glue very like the biblical material itself. So Paul tells us how to "glue" the Old Testament teaching on the Sabbath to his teaching. When we recognize that he was writing to Gentiles and Matthew likely to Jewish Christians, we can map their teaching on the law to each other in a way that we are doing to be sure, but that lies fairly close to the biblical world.

At other times, we are forced to bring much more of ourselves and the subsequent history of Christianity into this integration process. For example, when integrating the biblical teaching on women in ministry we today are wrestling with an issue that calls for much more sophisticated glue than many other issues. Here is a subject where from the Old Testament to various situations within the New Testament we have quite mixed signals. Since we are the ones integrating this teaching, the task of integration easily blurs into the task of appropriation because the flow of revelation and the trajectory of the new covenant are involved in the dialog.

6. Appropriation
If one is moving strictly from text to life, the final step is the appropriation of the biblical text to life. If you believe you have "found the center" of biblical teaching on an issue, making the jump to today can involve any number of considerations. For example, you may want to look at points of continuity and discontinuity between a specific passage you are looking at and our world today. You will want to locate that passage within the "flow of revelation" or the "new covenant trajectory." You will want to consider how the Christians of the ages have dealt with that passage or issue--if virtually all Christians have taken a particular position on an issue throughout the centuries, that seems significant! You will want to listen to the Holy Spirit and use "spiritual common sense." Then make the jump from text to life!

In the rest of this part of the guide, we will go in slightly more depth on two of these skills: observation and interpretation. Then in the final section--"life to text"--we will explore integration and appropriation in greater depth.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

2. Where does the Bible fit?

Many Christians have made Bible reading a daily discipline. Perhaps they will follow a guide to get them through the whole Bible every year. Others move through more slowly and methodically. Courses in the Bible at Christian colleges and seminaries tend to follow this type of book by book, passage by passage approach. Still others may move at random from place to place as new passages catch their attention or as they meet in Bible study groups. These are all what we might call "text to life" approaches to the biblical text. You come to the Bible without a pre-set agenda for what you are looking for and try to listen to whatever the Bible might happen to say.

Yet there is another approach to the biblical text that is driven by life, by need, by exigency. You are facing a crisis or a decision. You are trying to give comfort to someone in distress. A church is divided over an issue or science has brought up a subject that the biblical authors could never have dreamed of. This "life to text" approach is the approach of urgency, of greatest need. One scarcely has time to pursue a rigorous Bible study method in the throes of these sorts of crises. One needs a word from God now!

Bible scholars over the years have developed a fairly straightforward, although involved, method for moving from text to life. Much of this short book moves through the various steps you might take to do it. You might call this method "inductive Bible study" because it tries to draw meaning out of the Bible. First you observe what the text says. Then you interpret the text and figure out what it means. For Christians who believe the Bible holds some sort of authority over them, the task of application or appropriation is the final step in the process. You make the jump from the text to life. Skills of observation and interpretation are very significant skills for any reader of the Bible to have. But knowing how to make the final jump to life is the most crucial skill of all, because it is the one that determines how the Bible will impact your life.

Some would add another skill to this mix: the skill of integration, knowing how to move from one biblical text to what you would say the Bible as a whole teaches. Sometimes individual texts of the Bible seem to point in different directions from other biblical texts. So some forms of inductive Bible study have a step in between the interpretation and appropriation of Scripture in which a person connects the various individual teachings of the Bible's books together before making the jump to today. Certainly the ability to integrate the Bible's teaching--either with itself or with you--is a crucial skill for the Christian who believes God speaks to us through the biblical text.

But what skills are most crucial for the person who comes from life to text? Certainly the same skills we have just mentioned are still in play, but the emphasis and method of approach is surely different. For one, this person really needs to know what passages relate most directly to the situation they need to address. They need to know how to locate the relevant texts. If you are facing a failed marriage and need a word from God, you need to know where the relevant texts on marriage, divorce, and remarriage are located in the Bible.

Secondly, they especially need know how those individual texts fit with each other. Should they place an emphasis on Old Testament passages or New Testament ones? Should they place an emphasis on the words of Jesus or the words of Paul? Are there broader principles in Scripture that do not even address the topic of marriage directly but that need to be brought into the discussion?

Finally, they particularly need to know how to jump from the text to their own life. This most crucial step in the process is usually the one most neglected in the typical "text to life" approach. In some cases it is neglected because a person thinks you always apply the words of a passage directly to your life without any other step in the process. But, as we will see, sometimes God emphatically does not want us to do this--like when you are reading the passage in Deuteronomy about stoning a rebellious son (Deut. 21:21).

When we are following a rigorous method from text to life, the appropriation stage can become very complex indeed. We might look at points of continuity and discontinuity between the world of the Bible and our world so that we can map a course from one to another. We might look at the trajectory of heaven or the new covenant in Christ and drawing a line to ourselves by this path.

But in practice, as we move more typically from life to text, the process is often much simpler. The Holy Spirit jumps out at us from the words of the Bible, or we bring a hefty dose of Christian understanding that shapes what we take from the text without us even knowing it most of the time. We should not disdain these latter ways of approaching the text, as so many Bible scholars do. After all, these seem to be the primary ways that God has spoken and continues to speak through Scripture, even though just as many have misheard God's voice in similar ways.

The rest of the book proceeds in two movements. The bulk of the book will run through the normal "text to life" process: observation, interpretation, integration and appropriation. But once we have introduced these key skills we will come back at the question of appropriating the Bible from the perspective of moving from life to text. In reality, these movements are complementary and should form a lifelong circle, a "hermeneutical circle." We engage in lifelong study of the Bible from text to life and build up over our lifetime an ever more integrated sense of what the Bible teaches. But we are also at the same time moving to the text with the needs and concerns of our real lives. More than anything else, these experiences determine the questions we ask of the text and are the main reason we come to the text in the first place.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

prolegomena to the patches...

About a year and a half ago I blogged what turned out to be a little booklet that has now got its own ISBN number and everything with Triangle Publishing: "A Brief Guide to Biblical Interpretation." It was, alas, a little too brief for what's called "perfect binding." So I have been asked if I could write a few more pages.

In a way, this is fortuitous, for I remain deeply unsatisfied with the run of the mill "inductive Bible study" approach. If IWU starts a seminary or even an MA in Biblical Studies, I will lobby for the title "Integrated Bible Study" or some such for the key interpretive course.

Why unsatisfied?

1. Because it goes along with the "smoke and mirrors" that is the evangelical pretense that it actually derives its thinking almost exclusively from the Bible. In reality, our theology is what has always held the upper hand in our dialog with Scripture, a theology that has risen from the church meditating on the text with the mind of the Spirit. And I mean this of the staunchest "sola scriptura" group. They may say the Bible is driving what they think, but they are deceiving themselves.

If we were to give someone with absolutely no Christian background a Bible and send them off to the woods without any instruction, they would come back ready to found a cult unless the Holy Spirit intervened and performed a miracle of special revelation just for them.

2. After we have arrived at the original meaning, when we can, we do not yet know how to jump from the text to life. God's word for them is often not exactly the same as His word for us. In that sense there is a disproportionate yield from our study. We may have ideas about the Middle Platonic background of the Colossian hymn and how Colossians may modify such ideas to address a Jewish sect with mystical tendencies. But what does this have to do with me and today? There is a frequent disconnect between the meaning we work so hard to arrive at and the significance of the biblical text for life. This is endemic to the evangelical paradigm of "inductive Bible study."

3. In practice, we do not usually start with the text and then move to life. We usually start with some exigent circumstance and then go to the Bible for help. The text to life approach of inductive Bible study yields randomly usable results (because the text rather than current needs drive the appropriation). Life to text is the overwhelming orientation of Christian Bible use.

Well, that's enough of a break from grading. I may reappear when I need my next break.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

So far... 4 IWU students accepted at Duke Divinity School!

I know some have a very negative opinion of Duke's Divinity School (their seminary). I think these opinions are largely misplaced, however. Here are my reasons:

1. Duke is not as liberal as they think. Individuals like Randy Maddox, Richard Hays, and Ellen Davis are of the same Spirit as Wesleyans are (or at least what we should be--we've let a little fundamentalism creep into our hearts, unfortunately) and are not any different from many professors at Asbury (actually, wasn't Paul Chilcote an Asbury professor who recently went to teach at Duke?).

2. There are some professors at Duke that Wesleyans would strongly disagree with, but if the students are solid, exposure to such people will help them grow. A person who never hears a real person who disagrees with them may not be well equipped to face the challenges of our day.

3. Believe it or not, Duke is more ministry than ivory tower focused right now. I think the reason some of our students are getting in is because they actually have ministry experience and are not just another egg head with a 3.9.

So I want to celibrate the four IWU students I know of who have gotten into Duke. One is Church of Christ in Christian Union (the first from his denomination!), one is Baptist, one is Church of God, Anderson, and I think the last is Wesleyan (memory fails). They may not all go, ironically (in fact, Wesley Biblical may even get one of them over Duke! Fuller may get another).

Kudos to Alicia Meyer and Kevin Wright who have paved the way for them!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Romans in a Nutshell

Hi, I'm Paul. You're the Romans. Hello!

I've often wanted to come to you. Now I am.

Key Verses: For I'm not ashamed of the good news. It is the power of God to salvation to everyone who has faith, Jew first then Greek. In it God's righteousness is revealed from His faith to ours, as it is written, the person who is righteous by faith will live.

For God's wrath has been revealed... and the Gentiles are going to get it.

2 But the Jews are going to get it too.

3 In fact all have sinned and are lacking the glory God intended for them.

But God has made a way through the faithfulness of Jesus to death, if we have faith in that way.

God offered Jesus as a sacrifice for sins.

A person is justified by faith in God.

4 Take Abraham, he was justified by his faith in God.

5 So we have peace with God.

For sin and death entered the world through Adam. Justification and life have come through Christ.

6 That's no excuse to sin.

7 Why the law then? It showed me my sin problem, but couldn't help.

8. The Spirit can help! It's all going to work out in the end.

9 So God has chosen to harden most of Israel right now. Don't complain, He can do what He wants.

10 Israel has not currently chosen faith.

But if you confess Jesus as Lord, have faith that God raised him from the dead, you'll be saved.

11 And in the end even Israel will be saved.

12 So present your bodies as living sacrifices and have a renewed mind.

Get along with one another.

13 Obey those in authority over you.

Love fulfills the law.

14 Accept others who don't have the same convictions as you.

And as far as your convictions, whatever is not truly done with a heart of faith is sin.

15 I'm hoping to go to pass through on my way to Spain. Right now I'm off to Jerusalem.

16. Letter of commendation for Phoebe

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Just for Chris Bounds

This is a must see for you theologians out there:

"John Piper is Bad"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhLCus0tsmw&NR

Friday, December 08, 2006

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Colossians in a Nutshell

Finally, for the final...
__________

Hi I'm Paul, and you're the Colossians. Hello!

Thanks to God for you.

Christ trumps other heavenly powers and so called spiritual knowledge

(here’s a hymn to prove it: Christ is the image of the invisible God...)

I’m taking care of the suffering, finishing all that's left to suffer for Christ.

And I’m making known the mystery—Christ in you Gentiles!

Don’t buy the Jewish philosophy:
--food laws aren’t the ticket
--Sabbath is not your concern
--worship with angels, big deal we have Christ
--ascetic, earthly thinking

You've disconnected from the head, Christ.

So live accordingly.

Put to death the things of earth

Put off this list of bad things; put on this list of good things.

Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus

Household codes (husband/wife; child/parent; heavy on the slave/master)

Pray!

A whole lot of greetings

Goodbye.

Philippians in a Nutshell

Also for the final:

Hi, I'm Paul, and you're the Philippians. Hello!

I'm in chains right now, not sure the outcome.

But to live is Christ; to die is gain.

Be of one spirit. In fact here's a hymn:

[Christ though divine emptied himself...] Have that attitude.

So work together to make it to salvation with fear and trembling.

Be like Timothy and Epaphroditus, both good eggs.

Beware of the dogs, the circumcision.

I have a good circumcision resume...

But these credentials mean nothing next to Christ. I'm not resurrected yet but am pressing on hoping to attain it.

Imitate me.

So rejoice!

Tell Eudodia and Syntyche to get along.

Be content whatever your circumstances.

Thanks for the gift!

Goodbye.

Ephesians in a Nutshell

My Prison Epistles class has to do something like this on the final:
________________

Hi I'm Paul and you're all over the place because this is a circular letter.

Praise to God for all the incredible stuff he's done for those he predestined for lots of good stuff.

I give thanks to God for all I've heard about you.

[We're on top of the world with Christ]

By grace you've been saved through faith, not of works, although we're created for good works.

Christ has abolished the law, making peace between Jew and Gentile.

We're all fellow citizens built on the foundation of the apostles and [Christian] prophets, with Jesus as the cornerstone.

And I'm the preacher of this mystery: that God is bringing in the Gentiles.

We're all one--one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all...

But different roles--apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers...

Take off the old; put on the new.

Don't live in darkness but in the light.

Household codes:
--wives submit to husbands, husbands love wives (metphor of Christ and the church)
-- children obey parents; parents don't provoke children to anger
--slaves obey masters; masters recognize you're a slave too.

Put on the armor of God.

Goodbye.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

29 Things about Colossians

1. Style a bit different from usual for Paul. Perhaps Timothy had more to do with the drafting of this letter (so Dunn). Some say pseudonymous (40%?).

2. Colossians was apparently destroyed by an earthquake in the early 60's.

3. Epaphras apparently founded the church.

4. emphasis on knowledge, wisdom, and understanding in the thanksgiving section fits with a false Jewish "philosophy" that claimed knowledge of the heavenly realm.

5. Has what appears to have been a hymn. Hymn hints include a) introduction by "who"; b) parallelism (e.g., a first and second stanza that are at least vaguely parallel), c) but with clear interruptions (which implies that Paul/Timothy is interrupting something that already existed, d) unique Pauline vocabulary.

6. Hymn seemed to draw on logos traditions, Middle Platonic.

7. Hymn, as elsewhere in Colossians, emphasizes Christ's supremacy over heavenly powers, which fits with a false Jewish "philosophy" that prided itself in engagement with angels.

8. The audience likely Gentile (were formerly alienated from God).

9. The mystery of Colossians is that Christ can be in the Gentiles too.

10. Colossae and Laodicea closely located to each other and coupled several times in this letter (also Hierapolis mentioned).

11. Core purpose of Colossians is to address a false Jewish "philosophy" in their environs.

12. The "written account" that Christ nailed to the cross is apparently the record of debt against us, rather than the law (although Ephesians would push us to see it as the Jewish law).

13. The cross defeated the evil heavenly powers that rule the earth.

14. The "philosophy" is clearly Jewish in some way beause of the mention of the Sabbath, which Paul tells the Colossians they are not obligated to.

15. The "philosophy" involved self-discipline of some sort, probably at least the food laws but perhaps some sort of ascetic practice as well.

16. The "philosophy" involved visions of the heavenly realm.

17. The "philosophy" involved the "worship of angels," in this case perhaps participation in angelic worship, although perhaps the majority still sees it as a syncreticistic angel worship or at least a hyperbolic pot shot for overvaluing angels.

18. The mention that such people are severed from the head (Christ) implies that some Christians have actually gone for the philosophy.

19. Paul/Timothy seems to associate keeping food regulations with submission to earthly powers. A bit bizarre, although Galatians anticipates this trajectory.

20. Talk of them already raised with Christ, more realized eschatology.

21. Talk of putting to death the parts of them that belong to the earth, to put off their old self and put on their new selves. Slight shift from Paul's earlier image of this happening with baptism.

22. Similar set of "there is neither Jew nor Greek" statements, minus the neither male nor female one. Fits with the household codes, that appear here first in Paul's writings in this form.

23. Form and basic thrust of household codes taken from pagan moralists (e.g., Aristotle). Not uniquely Christian for Paul's day.

24. Colossians emphasizes the slave-master relationship, fits with Philemon. Masters not told to set their slaves free.

25. Extremely high overlap in names between Colossians and Philemon, including Onesimus. But Onesimus seems more established as a believer than in Philemon. Also Aristarchus and Epaphras have changed places as fellow prisoners.

26. 29 word commonality in the final part of Colossians with Ephesians, word for word with only two words omitted in Ephesians.

27. Luke is a doctor and, apparently, a Gentile.

28. Evidence that Paul's letters were shared with various churches. Laodicea and Colossae were to share their letters. Some think that Ephesians was actually the letter to Laodicea (e.g., Muholland at Asbury).

29. Paul signs the letter.

Monday, December 04, 2006

David McKenna (ex pres) on Asbury

Note the bold sentences and then my comment at the end :-) I've changed McKenna's original references to Ken Kinghorn to "Kinghorn" (it was just to wierd to the leave all the references to "Ken" :-)
______________________
Believe it or not, we have been retired from Asbury longer than we served at Asbury. In 12 years everything changes. The normal cycle of student turnover is three years—Juniors, Middlers, and Seniors. When I returned to campus during the first year of our retirement and walked across the campus, two thirds of the students looked at me and said, “Hello.” In the second year, only one third of students seemed to recognize me and by the third year, I was a total stranger. Asbury, along with Spring Arbor and Seattle Pacific, asked the question, “David, who?”

The faculty is different. For the first three or four years, I knew most of them. Today, however, when I look over the faculty roster, less than 25 percent served with us 12 years ago. That is why it is such a joy to have Ken Kinghorn join us this evening. Kinghorn was my choice for Provost way back in 1982 when we started at Asbury. He is the Seminary personified in spirit, scholarship, and service.

Kinghorn, you have a special challenge tonight. Do you remember the last time that we shared the platform on behalf of the Seminary? I did the keynote, but you were the main speaker. We were in Columbus, Georgia where Paul Amos, Chairman of the Board of the American Family Assurance Corporation, better known as AFLAC, hosted a conference for the leadership of the Columbus area. AFLAC was still on the rise at that time and we were cultivating Paul and his wife, Jeanne, along with Danny, their son, who was President of AFLAC, as partners in the ministry of Asbury. I shall never forget Paul welcoming the guests and then telling them that he wanted to sing them his song. In a non-tutored voice, he sang, “I am satisfied with Jesus. Is He satisfied with me?”

Paul became a member of the Board of Trustees and major contributor to the student scholarship fund. Now, years later, it is sheer delight to learn that he and Danny have given one million dollars to a scholarship fund with the best news yet to come. Paul and Jeanne are giving 10 million dollars over the next five years to fund a Ph.D in Biblical Studies. As the consternated duck heard Yogi Berra say on the AFLAC commercial, “Cash is as good as money.”

So, Kinghorn, this is your challenge tonight. Someplace in the room there may be a 10 million dollar donor. It is up to you to close the deal. We can hardly wait to hear your next 10 million dollar speech.

Allow me a comment about the current status of the Seminary. If you have read my book, The Leader’s Legacy, you will know how firmly I hold the principle, “Stand out of the light of your successor.” This principle has been applied in my relationship to Asbury. An honorific title, a long distance move, and, by design, no official communication means that you know as much about current events as I do. But I have the advantage of history. At the very beginning of the Seminary 83 years ago, financial crisis threatened the existence of the fledging institution as well as its sister institution across the street. Faithful friends, dedicated faculty, and loyal alumni led by our founder, Henry Clay Morrision, saved the school from bankruptcy because they believed that it was a vine of God’s own planting.

Twenty five years later, when I was a student at the Seminary with some of you, another crisis threatened its existence. Accreditation was lost when a theology professor was fired over the issue of neo-orthodoxy. Enrollment dropped precipitously as United Methodist students had to transfer to accredited institutions. Yet, through it all, faculty, alumni and friends, under the leadership of J.C. McPheeters and later Frank Bateman Stanger, came together to save the day. When we arrived in 1982, we inherited a base of academic credibility and financial stability that permitted us to dream of “World Wesleyan Leadership” and for Maxie Dunnam to implement the vision.

Asbury is now working its way out of a leadership crisis. I know nothing more than you do about the painful events that led to the resignation of Jeff Greenway. It is good to learn, however, that he will preach his first sermon at his new church in Reynoldsburg, Ohio this Sunday. I do know this, our Seminary is in good hands under the interim leadership of Ellsworth Kalas. When I heard the news of his appointment, I dropped him a note that read, “The worst decision I ever made at Asbury was not to appoint Ellsworth Kalas when I had a chance; the best decision I ever made at Asbury was to appoint Ellsworth Kalas when I had a second chance.” I love the man immensely as a spiritual father and I have no doubt he, filled with God’s Spirit, will be the healer for this hour.

My confidence, however, goes beyond its President, its Board, its faculty, its alumni, or its donors. In times of financial and theological crises, Asbury has dug for its roots, renewed its vitality, and multiplied its impact. Why?

John Wesley said it for us. When asked about the importance of a Christian school for the work of the Kingdom, he answered, “If it didn’t exist, it would have to be invented.” I believe that Asbury Theological Seminary is anointed of God to be the flagship for the Wesleyan world with its message of biblical holiness. If it didn’t exist, it would have to be invented.

So, in that confidence, I ask that each of us renew our commitment to its mission, pray with fervor for its presidential search, and stand tall as alumni who model the meaning of its ministry. God bless you.

Now this by Barack Obama

We don't have to agree with everything he says, but it seems a whole lot better than a lot of religious political rhetoric from both sides, I think.
___________________
Barack Obama at the Call to Renewal Conference
Good morning.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak here at the Call to Renewal's Building a Covenant for a New America conference. I've had the opportunity to take a look at your Covenant for a New America. It is filled with outstanding policies and prescriptions for much of what ails this country. So I'd like to congratulate you all on the thoughtful presentations you've given so far about poverty and justice in America, and for putting fire under the feet of the political leadership here in Washington.

But today I'd like to talk about the connection between religion and politics and perhaps offer some thoughts about how we can sort through some of the often bitter arguments that we've been seeing over the last several years. I do so because, as you all know, we can affirm the importance of poverty in the Bible; and we can raise up and pass out this Covenant for a New America. We can talk to the press, and we can discuss the religious call to address poverty and environmental stewardship all we want, but it won't have an impact unless we tackle head-on the mutual suspicion that sometimes exists between religious America and secular America.

I want to give you an example that I think illustrates this fact. As some of you know, during the 2004 U.S. Senate General Election I ran against a gentleman named Alan Keyes. Mr. Keyes is well-versed in the Jerry Falwell-Pat Robertson style of rhetoric that often labels progressives as both immoral and godless. Indeed, Mr. Keyes announced towards the end of the campaign that, "Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama. Christ would not vote for Barack Obama because Barack Obama has behaved in a way that it is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved."

Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama. Now, I was urged by some of my liberal supporters not to take this statement seriously, to essentially ignore it. To them, Mr. Keyes was an extremist, and his arguments not worth entertaining. And since at the time, I was up 40 points in the polls, it probably wasn't a bad piece of strategic advice.

But what they didn't understand, however, was that I had to take Mr. Keyes seriously, for he claimed to speak for my religion, and my God. He claimed knowledge of certain truths. Mr. Obama says he's a Christian, he was saying, and yet he supports a lifestyle that the Bible calls an abomination. Mr. Obama says he's a Christian, but supports the destruction of innocent and sacred life.

And so what would my supporters have me say? How should I respond? Should I say that a literalist reading of the Bible was folly? Should I say that Mr. Keyes, who is a Roman Catholic, should ignore the teachings of the Pope? Unwilling to go there, I answered with what has come to be the typically liberal response in such debates - namely, I said that we live in a pluralistic society, that I can't impose my own religious views on another, that I was running to be the U.S. Senator of Illinois and not the Minister of Illinois. But Mr. Keyes's implicit accusation that I was not a true Christian nagged at me, and I was also aware that my answer did not adequately address the role my faith has in guiding my own values and my own beliefs.

Now, my dilemma was by no means unique. In a way, it reflected the broader debate we've been having in this country for the last thirty years over the role of religion in politics. For some time now, there has been plenty of talk among pundits and pollsters that the political divide in this country has fallen sharply along religious lines. Indeed, the single biggest "gap" in party affiliation among white Americans today is not between men and women, or those who reside in so-called Red States and those who reside in Blue, but between those who attend church regularly and those who don't.

Conservative leaders have been all too happy to exploit this gap, consistently reminding evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their Church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage; school prayer and intelligent design. Democrats, for the most part, have taken the bait.

At best, we may try to avoid the conversation about religious values altogether, fearful of offending anyone and claiming that - regardless of our personal beliefs - constitutional principles tie our hands. At worst, there are some liberals who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word "Christian" describes one's political opponents, not people of faith.

Now, such strategies of avoidance may work for progressives when our opponent is Alan Keyes. But over the long haul, I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in people's lives -- in the lives of the American people -- and I think it's time that we join a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy.

And if we're going to do that then we first need to understand that Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution. This religious tendency is not simply the result of successful marketing by skilled preachers or the draw of popular mega-churches. In fact, it speaks to a hunger that's deeper than that - a hunger that goes beyond any particular issue or cause.

Each day, it seems, thousands of Americans are going about their daily rounds - dropping off the kids at school, driving to the office, flying to a business meeting, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets - and they're coming to the realization that something is missing. They are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough. They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives. They're looking to relieve a chronic loneliness, a feeling supported by a recent study that shows Americans have fewer close friends and confidants than ever before.

And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them - that they are not just destined to travel down that long highway towards nothingness. And I speak with some experience on this matter. I was not raised in a particularly religious household, as undoubtedly many in the audience were. My father, who returned to Kenya when I was just two, was born Muslim but as an adult became an atheist.

My mother, whose parents were non-practicing Baptists and Methodists, was probably one of the most spiritual and kindest people I've ever known, but grew up with a healthy skepticism of organized religion herself. As a consequence, so did I.

It wasn't until after college, when I went to Chicago to work as a community organizer for a group of Christian churches, that I confronted my own spiritual dilemma. I was working with churches, and the Christians who I worked with recognized themselves in me. They saw that I knew their Book and that I shared their values and sang their songs. But they sensed that a part of me that remained removed, detached, that I was an observer in their midst.

And in time, I came to realize that something was missing as well -- that without a vessel for my beliefs, without a commitment to a particular community of faith, at some level I would always remain apart, and alone. And if it weren't for the particular attributes of the historically black church, I may have accepted this fate. But as the months passed in Chicago, I found myself drawn - not just to work with the church, but to be in the church.

For one thing, I believed and still believe in the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change, a power made real by some of the leaders here today. Because of its past, the black church understands in an intimate way the Biblical call to feed the hungry and cloth the naked and challenge powers and principalities. And in its historical struggles for freedom and the rights of man, I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world. As a source of hope. And perhaps it was out of this intimate knowledge of hardship -- the grounding of faith in struggle -- that the church offered me a second insight, one that I think is important to emphasize today.

Faith doesn't mean that you don't have doubts. You need to come to church in the first place precisely because you are first of this world, not apart from it. You need to embrace Christ precisely because you have sins to wash away - because you are human and need an ally in this difficult journey.

It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street in the Southside of Chicago one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn't fall out in church. The questions I had didn't magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt that I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.

That's a path that has been shared by millions upon millions of Americans - evangelicals, Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims alike; some since birth, others at certain turning points in their lives. It is not something they set apart from the rest of their beliefs and values. In fact, it is often what drives their beliefs and their values. And that is why that, if we truly hope to speak to people where they're at - to communicate our hopes and values in a way that's relevant to their own - then as progressives, we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse.

Because when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations towards one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome - others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends. In other words, if we don't reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, then the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and Alan Keyeses will continue to hold sway.

More fundamentally, the discomfort of some progressives with any hint of religion has often prevented us from effectively addressing issues in moral terms. Some of the problem here is rhetorical - if we scrub language of all religious content, we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice. Imagine Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address without reference to "the judgments of the Lord." Or King's I Have a Dream speech without references to "all of God's children." Their summoning of a higher truth helped inspire what had seemed impossible, and move the nation to embrace a common destiny.

Our failure as progressives to tap into the moral underpinnings of the nation is not just rhetorical, though. Our fear of getting "preachy" may also lead us to discount the role that values and culture play in some of our most urgent social problems.After all, the problems of poverty and racism, the uninsured and the unemployed, are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect ten point plan. They are rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness - in the imperfections of man.

Solving these problems will require changes in government policy, but it will also require changes in hearts and a change in minds. I believe in keeping guns out of our inner cities, and that our leaders must say so in the face of the gun manufacturers' lobby - but I also believe that when a gang-banger shoots indiscriminately into a crowd because he feels somebody disrespected him, we've got a moral problem. There's a hole in that young man's heart - a hole that the government alone cannot fix.

I believe in vigorous enforcement of our non-discrimination laws. But I also believe that a transformation of conscience and a genuine commitment to diversity on the part of the nation's CEOs could bring about quicker results than a battalion of lawyers. They have more lawyers than us anyway.

I think that we should put more of our tax dollars into educating poor girls and boys. I think that the work that Marian Wright Edelman has done all her life is absolutely how we should prioritize our resources in the wealthiest nation on earth. I also think that we should give them the information about contraception that can prevent unwanted pregnancies, lower abortion rates, and help assure that that every child is loved and cherished. But, you know, my Bible tells me that if we train a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not turn from it. So I think faith and guidance can help fortify a young woman's sense of self, a young man's sense of responsibility, and a sense of reverence that all young people should have for the act of sexual intimacy.

I am not suggesting that every progressive suddenly latch on to religious terminology - that can be dangerous. Nothing is more transparent than inauthentic expressions of faith. As Jim has mentioned, some politicians come and clap -- off rhythm -- to the choir. We don't need that. In fact, because I do not believe that religious people have a monopoly on morality, I would rather have someone who is grounded in morality and ethics, and who is also secular, affirm their morality and ethics and values without pretending that they're something they're not. They don't need to do that. None of us need to do that.

But what I am suggesting is this - secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Moreover, if we progressives shed some of these biases, we might recognize some overlapping values that both religious and secular people share when it comes to the moral and material direction of our country. We might recognize that the call to sacrifice on behalf of the next generation, the need to think in terms of "thou" and not just "I," resonates in religious congregations all across the country. And we might realize that we have the ability to reach out to the evangelical community and engage millions of religious Americans in the larger project of American renewal.

Some of this is already beginning to happen. Pastors, friends of mine like Rick Warren and T.D. Jakes are wielding their enormous influences to confront AIDS, Third World debt relief, and the genocide in Darfur. Religious thinkers and activists like our good friend Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo are lifting up the Biblical injunction to help the poor as a means of mobilizing Christians against budget cuts to social programs and growing inequality.

And by the way, we need Christians on Capitol Hill, Jews on Capitol Hill and Muslims on Capitol Hill talking about the estate tax. When you've got an estate tax debate that proposes a trillion dollars being taken out of social programs to go to a handful of folks who don't need and weren't even asking for it, you know that we need an injection of morality in our political debate. Across the country, individual churches like my own and your own are sponsoring day care programs, building senior centers, helping ex-offenders reclaim their lives, and rebuilding our gulf coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

So the question is, how do we build on these still-tentative partnerships between religious and secular people of good will? It's going to take more work, a lot more work than we've done so far. The tensions and the suspicions on each side of the religious divide will have to be squarely addressed. And each side will need to accept some ground rules for collaboration.

While I've already laid out some of the work that progressive leaders need to do, I want to talk a little bit about what conservative leaders need to do -- some truths they need to acknowledge. For one, they need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice. Folks tend to forget that during our founding, it wasn't the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of the First Amendment. It was the persecuted minorities, it was Baptists like John Leland who didn't want the established churches to impose their views on folks who were getting happy out in the fields and teaching the scripture to slaves. It was the forbearers of the evangelicals who were the most adamant about not mingling government with religious, because they did not want state-sponsored religion hindering their ability to practice their faith as they understood it.

Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America's population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson's, or Al Sharpton's? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount - a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application?

So before we get carried away, let's read our bibles. Folks haven't been reading their bibles. This brings me to my second point. Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what's possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It's the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God's edicts, regardless of the consequences.

To base one's life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing. And if you doubt that, let me give you an example.We all know the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham is ordered by God to offer up his only son, and without argument, he takes Isaac to the mountaintop, binds him to an altar, and raises his knife, prepared to act as God has commanded.

Of course, in the end God sends down an angel to intercede at the very last minute, and Abraham passes God's test of devotion. But it's fair to say that if any of us leaving this church saw Abraham on a roof of a building raising his knife, we would, at the very least, call the police and expect the Department of Children and Family Services to take Isaac away from Abraham. We would do so because we do not hear what Abraham hears, do not see what Abraham sees, true as those experiences may be. So the best we can do is act in accordance with those things that we all see, and that we all hear, be it common laws or basic reason.

Finally, any reconciliation between faith and democratic pluralism requires some sense of proportion.This goes for both sides. Even those who claim the Bible's inerrancy make distinctions between Scriptural edicts, sensing that some passages - the Ten Commandments, say, or a belief in Christ's divinity - are central to Christian faith, while others are more culturally specific and may be modified to accommodate modern life. The American people intuitively understand this, which is why the majority of Catholics practice birth control and some of those opposed to gay marriage nevertheless are opposed to a Constitutional amendment to ban it. Religious leadership need not accept such wisdom in counseling their flocks, but they should recognize this wisdom in their politics.

But a sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation - context matters. It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase "under God." I didn't. Having voluntary student prayer groups use school property to meet should not be a threat, any more than its use by the High School Republicans should threaten Democrats. And one can envision certain faith-based programs - targeting ex-offenders or substance abusers - that offer a uniquely powerful way of solving problems.

So we all have some work to do here. But I am hopeful that we can bridge the gaps that exist and overcome the prejudices each of us bring to this debate. And I have faith that millions of believing Americans want that to happen. No matter how religious they may or may not be, people are tired of seeing faith used as a tool of attack. They don't want faith used to belittle or to divide. They're tired of hearing folks deliver more screed than sermon. Because in the end, that's not how they think about faith in their own lives.

So let me end with just one other interaction I had during my campaign. A few days after I won the Democratic nomination in my U.S. Senate race, I received an email from a doctor at the University of Chicago Medical School that said the following:"Congratulations on your overwhelming and inspiring primary win. I was happy to vote for you, and I will tell you that I am seriously considering voting for you in the general election. I write to express my concerns that may, in the end, prevent me from supporting you."

The doctor described himself as a Christian who understood his commitments to be "totalizing." His faith led him to a strong opposition to abortion and gay marriage, although he said that his faith also led him to question the idolatry of the free market and quick resort to militarism that seemed to characterize much of the Republican agenda.

But the reason the doctor was considering not voting for me was not simply my position on abortion. Rather, he had read an entry that my campaign had posted on my website, which suggested that I would fight "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose." The doctor went on to write: "I sense that you have a strong sense of justice...and I also sense that you are a fair minded person with a high regard for reason...Whatever your convictions, if you truly believe that those who oppose abortion are all ideologues driven by perverse desires to inflict suffering on women, then you, in my judgment, are not fair-minded....You know that we enter times that are fraught with possibilities for good and for harm, times when we are struggling to make sense of a common polity in the context of plurality, when we are unsure of what grounds we have for making any claims that involve others...I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words."

Fair-minded words. So I looked at my website and found the offending words. In fairness to them, my staff had written them using standard Democratic boilerplate language to summarize my pro-choice position during the Democratic primary, at a time when some of my opponents were questioning my commitment to protect Roe v. Wade. Re-reading the doctor's letter, though, I felt a pang of shame. It is people like him who are looking for a deeper, fuller conversation about religion in this country. They may not change their positions, but they are willing to listen and learn from those who are willing to speak in fair-minded words.

Those who know of the central and awesome place that God holds in the lives of so many, and who refuse to treat faith as simply another political issue with which to score points.So I wrote back to the doctor, and I thanked him for his advice. The next day, I circulated the email to my staff and changed the language on my website to state in clear but simple terms my pro-choice position.

And that night, before I went to bed, I said a prayer of my own - a prayer that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me. And that night, before I went to bed I said a prayer of my own. It's a prayer I think I share with a lot of Americans. A hope that we can live with one another in a way that reconciles the beliefs of each with the good of all. It's a prayer worth praying, and a conversation worth having in this country in the months and years to come.

Thank you.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Evangelical Asked to Speak on Democrat's Weekly Broadcast

I'm Jim Wallis, author of God's Politics. I was surprised and grateful when Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid called to say his party wanted to set a new tone and invite, for the first time, a non-partisan religious leader to deliver their weekly radio address and speak about the values that could unite Americans at this critical time.

So, I want to be clear that I am not speaking for the Democratic Party, but as a person of faith who feels the hunger in America for a new vision of our life together, and sees the opportunity to apply our best moral values to the urgent problems we face. I am not an elected official or political partisan, but a religious leader who believes that real solutions must transcend partisan politics. For too long, we have had a politics of blame and fear, while America is eager for a politics of solutions and hope. It is time to find common ground by moving to higher ground.

Because we have lost a commitment to the common good, politics is failing to solve the deepest crises of our time. Real solutions will require our best thinking and dialogue, but also call us to transformation and renewal.
Most Americans know that the important issues we confront have an essential moral character. It is the role of faith communities to remind us of that fact. But religion has no monopoly on morality. We need a new, morally-centered discourse on politics that welcomes each of us to the table.

A government that works for the common good is central. There is a growing desire for integrity in our government across the political spectrum. Corruption in government violates our basic principles. Money and power distort our political decision-making and even our elections. We must restore trust in our government and reclaim the integrity of our democratic system.

At this moment in history, we need new directions.

Who is left out and left behind is always a religious and moral question. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the health of a society was measured by how it cared for its weakest and most vulnerable, and prosperity was to be shared by all. Jesus proclaimed a gospel that was "good news to the poor."

I am an evangelical Christian, and a commitment to "the least of these" is central to my personal faith and compels my public actions. It is time to lift up practical policies and effective practices that "make work work" for low-income families and challenge the increasing wealth gap between rich and poor. We must find a new moral and political will to overcome poverty that combines personal and social responsibility with a commitment to support strong families.

Answering the call to lift people out of poverty will require spiritual commitment and bipartisan political leadership. Since the election, I have spoken with leaders from both parties about creating a real anti-poverty agenda in Congress. We need a grand alliance between liberals and conservatives to produce new and effective strategies.

This week, President Bush met with Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq, seeking solutions to the rapidly deteriorating situation in that civil-war torn nation. Nearly 3,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died. The cost and consequences of a disastrous war are moral issues our country must address. Leaders in both parties are acknowledging that the only moral and practical course is to dramatically change the direction of U.S. policy, starting with an honest national debate about how to extricate U.S. forces from Iraq with the least possible damage to everyone involved.

Our earth and the fragile atmosphere that surrounds it are God's good creation. Yet, our environment is in jeopardy as global warming continues unchecked and our air and water are polluted. Good stewardship of our resources is a religious and moral question. Energy conservation and less dependence on fossil fuels are commitments that could change our future - from the renewal of our lifestyles to the moral redemption of our foreign policies.

A culture that promotes healthy families is necessary to raise our children with strong values, and the breakdown of family and community in our society must be addressed. But we need serious solutions, not the scapegoating of others. And wouldn't coming together to find common ground that dramatically reduces the number of abortions be better than both the left and the right using it as an issue to divide us?

We need a new politics inspired by our deepest held values. We must summon the best in the American people, and unite to solve some of the moral issues of our time. Americans are much less concerned about what is liberal or conservative, what is Democrat or Republican. Rather, we care about what is right and what works.

The path of partisan division is well worn, but the road of compassionate priorities and social justice will lead us to a new America. Building that new America will require greater moral leadership from both Democrats and Republicans, and also from each and every one of us.

I'm Jim Wallis. Thank you and God bless you.

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