Sunday, May 29, 2005

Topical Bible Study Idea

I recently had an idea that might be good for Bible study groups. I haven't tried it so I don't know how well it would work, but here it is:

To study a book in the Bible is fairly straightforward for a small group. Either a leader goes through it, or group members rotate in leading the study, but in either case the study proceeds sequentially, from beginning to end.

But to study a topic is harder to do because you need to know what the whole Bible or the whole New Testament or Old Testament says about the topic. I've seen some pretty poor topical teaching done as a result. Often such teaching misses important Bible passages about the topic.

So what if a study group divided the Bible into chapters, and each member of the group was responsible for learning what a set of chapters has to say about the topic. By dividing the task it becomes easier for everybody and you get to see what the Bible really says, rather than relying on secondary sources.

The New Testament has 260 chapters, so a 10-person Bible study group could study a New Testament topic in six sessions (260/10/6) if everybody is willing to cover a little more than four chapters between each session.

The whole Bible has 1,189 chapters, so the same study group could study a Bible topic in 12 sessions if everybody is willing to do about 10 chapters between each session.

I don't know how well this would work, but if anybody wants to give it a try I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Star-Wars: Excellent!

I just saw the latest Star Wars movie and it was amazing! I'm not a Star-Wars fanatic, but I thought it did a great job of tying the lose ends together and believably showing the turn of Anakin to the "dark side."

Which leads me to do a little philosophizing...

I wouldn't attend this movie looking for bulletproof philosophy. The notion that if "the Force" is "in balance" the universe would be at peace is just silly; as if having half the people be power-hungry murderers and the other half be peace-lovers would somehow provide a necessary balance to our world. Goofy. And then Obi Wan saying that "only the Sith speak of absolutes." Sigh. What is Obi Wan doing? Well, he's speaking an absolute. Obi, its not absolutes that get you into trouble, it's what absolutes you subscribe to.

But this whole Force thing is just a mandatory patina of Eastern philosophy over the very old fashioned - and very well told - tale of good vs. evil.

When you see it, notice the subtlety of evil. The confusion of Anakin. How difficult it is to see evil in ourselves. The appeal by the evil Chancellor to broad mindedness. How what is right and what is expedient get mixed. How it can sometimes be unclear what is the right thing to do, especially when there are conflicting accounts and interpretations and desires. How evil promises wonderful things but fails to keep its word.

Well worth the price of admission.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Religious Politicking for Me, Not For Thee

I was both amused and annoyed at some of the junk that came out of a recent conference at the City University of New York to, ostensibly, expose "the real agenda of the religious far right."

First, this snip from the article referenced above:
The Rev. Bob Edgar, a former Democratic congressman and general secretary of the National Council of Churches, strongly favors religious politicking but said in an interview that he draws the line when groups say "we are right and everyone else is evil" or claim that "another point of view is illegitimate."

Hello? Talk about calling other people evil and other points of view illegitimate! Here's what they said about conservative Christians at the same conference:
Although one speaker lamented Roman Catholicism's new "fundamentalist pope," the chief targets were evangelical Protestants -- whose tactics were compared with those of Machiavelli, Hitler, Stalin and Jim Jones of mass-suicide infamy.

Charles Strozier, director of a CUNY terrorism center, said the religious right, "emboldened in ways never seen before in American history," is promoting the "basically neo-Fascist schemes of the new Republicans."

Okay, setting aside the gratuitous rudeness, the casual reader might - just might - be led to assume that these folks were condemning Machiavelli, Hitler, Stalin, Jim Jones and neo fascism, saying, in other words, that people who believe like them are evil and their viewpoints are illegitimate.

So, calling conservative Christians evil and their viewpoints illegitimate is okay, but if Edgar ran the country he wouldn't let conservative Christians do the same thing.

Edgar, you have totalitarian tendencies of precisely the same type you condemn.

Second point: The examples used at the conference of Christian intolerance were taken from the fringiest of fringe groups, who would like to re-institute the Old Testament law. You could live your entire Christian life without ever hearing of these groups or hearing their beliefs espoused. I've heard them discussed maybe three times in my fairly long Christian life.

But I'm afraid that some people may think that the difference between conservative Christianity and a belief that we should impose the Old Testament law is just a matter of degree, that the more biblically conservative you become, the closer you are to wanting to impose Old Testament law.

This is simply wrong. There are distinct theological differences here. Almost all Christian groups believe that while the law may give us glimpses into God's thinking, sort of as a shadow of a person gives an idea of what that person looks like, the law itself - except where it is reiterated in the New Testament - is over and done with and should never be brought back.