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  • Direction: A Mennonite Woman: Exploring Life and Identity
    a context for Nelson s grandmother s spiritual life no longer serve to define a viable spirituality As a case in point Nelson surveys her own life to see what can be salvaged or translated from Susan s spirituality to her own Nelson moved several times during her growing up years and now spends much of her time commuting from one event to another Therefore her spirituality and that of many in her and later generations is marked not by residency in a place but by changing environments fragmentation and frantic activity Drawing on Robert Wuthnow she describes this shift as a moving from an implicit spirituality to an explicit spirituality one that can be explained to newcomers from a spirituality of dwelling to a spirituality of seeking from a spirituality of place to a spirituality of pilgrimage 88 Nelson defines spirituality as synonymous with lived faith 93 In fleshing out that definition she adds such terms as spiritual formation practices contemplation or contemplative prayer and Gelassenheit Mennonites she says are now experiencing spirituality in much the same way as other Christians yet they are missing a connecting bridge to their historical roots They are experiencing a stripping away of their previous experience of God a loss of their customary communal agricultural forms of knowing God and are searching for new patterns and practices 100 Thinking back to her time as a student at Goshen Biblical Seminary in the 1970s Nelson remembers a few professors who addressed spiritual concerns in their classes or who prayed before class but no courses on spirituality In general she remembers instead an emphasis on the ethical teachings of Jesus and on community accountability Individualistic and purely vertical dimensions of faith understood as me and God were to be avoided Yet when she got to Ireland she found these outward and communal emphases did not prepare her for the difficulties she faced As our intentional community broke down I lost my access to God because that access had been too purely communal 106 In the late 1980s she began to hear of courses in Mennonite spirituality in seminaries in the United States She describes the development of these courses through the life experiences of four professors who started the spirituality programs All of them shared stories of mission work from which they began to feel the stress of embracing a spirituality that did not provide resources for their work Having traced these stories from her grandmother through her own life and those of her professors Nelson lays out some foundations for a current Mennonite spirituality Mennonites now have to be more intentional she says more explicitly person oriented and inner oriented in their spiritual formation of people 122 Within this Mennonite spirituality for the twenty first century she delineates six themes an everyday embodied sacramentality nonconformity community service Gelassenheit or meekness and the person of Jesus and the Bible 126 One can see in these delineations what she has gleaned from the spirituality of her

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  • Direction: A Table of Sharing: Mennonite Central Committee and the Expanding Networks of Mennonite Identity
    service and evangelism The diversity revealed in these chapters demonstrates the ongoing challenge of MCC administrators who must balance the values of and communicate their work to an incredibly diverse spectrum of Anabaptists Two essays explore MCC s fascinating and occasionally troubled relationship with issues of race and gender Tobin Miller Shearer demonstrates that while MCC has emphasized developing relationships with people overseas there was considerable apprehension about relating to African Americans and Hispanics at home For example while MCC staff fostered connections with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the early 1960s civil rights campaigns administrators pressured staff to not challenge white Mennonites too vocally perhaps demonstrating an aversion within MCC to issues that seem too political at home Several essays in this collection focus primarily on MCC in the United States Reading these articles from a Canadian perspective I occasionally wondered how they would translate to a Canadian context For example Miller Shearer s analysis of the American context is fascinating and it would be interesting to study MCC in Canada while using that same lens by asking for example how MCC has related to Aboriginal people or other minorities within the Canadian context What does it mean to engage in international development by caring in the name of Christ As the book demonstrates MCC s constituency often has an understanding of its role in development as diverse as its theology Authors also seek to understand MCC s work in an increasingly complex world of international relations and relief work Of particular interest is the relationship of MCC as a pacifist institution rooted in Anabaptist peace theology to such modern concepts as the right to protect which allow for military solutions to humanitarian crises What A Table of Sharing makes clear is that despite or perhaps because of

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  • Direction: Consuming Youth: Leading Teens Through Consumer Culture
    possibility of a counter script an alternative ideology of youth arranged around vocation and calling The book is divided into two sections The first frames the situation the contemporary context within which adolescence exists A survey of social structural shifts over the last century highlights the gradual ghettoization and alienation of adolescents from adult society Enter advanced capitalist consumer culture which offers disoriented adolescents a consumption based narrative by which to live The category of adolescence that life stage popularly characterized by rebellion self absorption peer orientation and consumption is established as a modern construct a culturally informed innovation that exerts gravity on the developmental process Once Berard Penner and Bartlett make it plain that both commonsensical notions of what it means to be an adolescent and accepted processes upon which growing up are predicated are themselves largely products of cultural dynamics they introduce their proposal a different ideology based on a biblically informed understanding of youth Section two brings the history of youth ministry into conversation with the culturally accepted ideology of adolescence and the consumer driven market economy in order to inquire whether and how these have shaped youth ministry and the response of the church to adolescence A survey of key youth ministry movements reveals the impact of advanced capitalist consumer culture on both youth ministry and youth ministry responses to culture Withholding judgment the authors acknowledge the culpability of youth ministry in affirming such a constructed social reality before inviting the church to contemplate a shift in the way the church relates to youth The authors applying an appreciative inquiry approach investigate Ministry Quest MQ an initiative connected to the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in order to learn how a contrast culture with a particular understanding of and emphasis on call and vocational development shapes a

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  • Direction: Faculty Publications 2011
    Impact on Canadian Christians Mennonite Brethren Herald June 2011 12 CBC Brown W S Garrels and Kevin Reimer Mimesis and Compassion in Care for People with Developmental Disabilities Journal of Religion Disability and Health 15 no 4 2011 377 94 FPU Brubacher John L Seeing More Clearly in a Blurry Landscape Acknowledging Ambiguity in Science Direction 40 no 1 2011 28 39 CMU Cooper Brian God Saw That It Was Good Toward a Theology of Creation Mennonite Brethren Herald January 2011 8 9 MBBSC Crozier Karen D Seeing Jesus in the Midst of Conflict Pacific Journal 6 2011 60 64 FPU Doerksen Paul G Responding But Not Replying David Bentley Hart and the New Atheism Direction 40 no 1 2011 80 89 CMU Dueck Gil Inwardness Authenticity and Therapy Charles Taylor the Modern Self and the Implications for Modern Discipleship Journal of European Baptist Studies 11 no 3 2011 5 20 BC Epp Tiessen Dan Living Under God s Judgment A Sermon Direction 40 2011 235 40 CMU Esau Ken Disturbing Scholarly Behavior Seibert s Solution to the Problem of the Old Testament God Direction 40 2011 168 78 CBC Friesen Fran Martens and Ken Martens Friesen Exploring Diversity in Vietnam and India Pacific Journal 6 2011 81 91 FPU Froese Vic Charles Taylor s A Secular Age Recommended Reading Direction 40 no 1 2011 90 100 CMU Funk Unrau Neil Exploring the Gap Between Mennonite and Indigenous Neighbours Snapshots From the Story of Native Concerns Mennonite Central Committee Canada Conrad Grebel Review 29 no 1 2011 52 70 CMU Gilbert Pierre Braving the Interpretive Storm Mennonite Brethren Herald May 2011 14 15 CMU Does the World Need a Saviour Mennonite Brethren Herald April 2011 17 CMU Fighting Fire with Fire Divine Nihilism in Ecclesiastes Direction 40 no 1 2011 65 79 CMU A God of Wrath or a God of Grace The Messenger May 2011 11 13 CMU The Greatest Event Ever The Messenger April 2011 10 11 CMU Plumbers and Engineers Needed Christian Leader June July 2011 10 11 CMU Guenther Titus Fighting with Lions Courier Mennonite World Conference no 4 2011 11 CMU Janzen Waldemar The First Commandments of the Decalogue and the Battle Against Idolatry in the Old Testament Vision A Journal for Church and Theology 12 no 1 2011 15 24 CMU Teaching the Old Testament The Problem of the Old Testament Revisited Direction 40 no 2 2011 179 97 CMU Kelly S P Andrew Sensenig et al Damping Capacity is Evolutionarily Conserved in the Radial Silk of Orb Weaving Spiders Zoology 114 2011 233 38 TC Kinnison Quentin P Entering Each Other s Story en la Frontera The Nature of Narrative as Identity Formation in the Context of Conflicting Narratives and Some Implications for Intercultural Congregational Life Pacific Journal 6 2011 3 27 FPU Klassen Randy Taunts of the Divine Warrior in Job 40 6 14 Direction 40 no 2 2011 207 18 BC Koop Karl Congregational Orders and Church Disciplines Gemeindeordnungen Global Anabaptist

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  • Direction: From the Editor: Does God Behave Badly?
    his remedy in his introductory article below In a nutshell he suggests that not all biblical descriptions of God accurately portray God s true nature Only those that accord with the God revealed in Jesus Christ can be trusted to show us what God is really like Among its advantages says Seibert is the consistency of his solution with the Anabaptist hermeneutical tradition which holds that Christ is the key to rightly understanding the Scriptures But his answer raises other questions and difficulties which other contributors to this issue point out Gordon Matties Derek Suderman and Wilma Ann Bailey the original respondents to Seibert s book at the Mennonites and Friends forum at the Society of Biblical Literature meetings in November 2010 offer their appreciations and critical appraisals in these pages Waldemar Janzen and Ken Esau who were not respondents at the SBL forum present longer but equally thoughtful responses Seibert s second essay is his rejoinder where he defends his argument and among other things challenges his respondents to examine their own assumptions and the seriousness of their commitment to Anabaptist principles Readers should find the conversation stimulating and will appreciate the courage and forthrightness of all the writers in addressing an issue that defies easy answers but which in days when the New Atheists gain a following by lampooning the biblical God we cannot afford to ignore Also in this issue is an essay on an unsettling passage in the Book of Job by Randy Klassen His research touches on the topic of troubling images of God but his more immediate concern is to highlight the way in which the concept of God as warrior serves to unify this abrasive but cohesive passage of Scripture Less directly related to our theme but not irrelevant is Doug Heidebrecht s

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  • Direction: Introducing Disturbing Divine Behavior
    literary portrayals are culturally conditioned and reflect ancient Israelite perceptions about God As such they do not always provide trustworthy insights into the nature and character of God the actual God Acknowledging the need to differentiate between the textual God and the actual God is an important first step in dealing responsibly with disturbing divine behavior in the Old Testament It keeps us from blindly accepting everything the Old Testament claims about God and it raises our awareness of potential differences that exist between the characterization of God in these stories and the character of God in real life While it is true that Old Testament portrayals may and sometimes do reveal God s character it is just as likely that they may not So how can we determine which portrayals are trustworthy reflections of God s character and which portrayals are not This brings me to the second step of this approach A Christocentric Hermeneutic We should utilize a Christocentric hermeneutic to determine which portrayals of God are trustworthy representations and which are not The God Jesus reveals should be the standard by which all portrayals of God are evaluated This interpretive approach is grounded in two key theological assumptions The first assumption is that God s moral character is most clearly and completely revealed through the person of Jesus Those who want to know what God is like how God behaves and what God cares about should look at Jesus Second God s moral character is consistent throughout time When we see God in Jesus we see the character of God as God always has been is and always will be God is not malicious one day and merciful the next If Jesus reveals the moral character of God most clearly and completely and if God s moral character is consistent throughout time then it stands to reason that the God Jesus reveals should be the standard by which all literary portrayals of God are evaluated Obviously this begs the question What kind of God does Jesus reveal Among other things Jesus reveals a God who is kind to the wicked Matt 5 43 45 Luke 6 35 nonviolent Matt 26 51 52 Luke 9 51 56 23 34 and fundamentally loving Luke 15 11 32 John 3 16 1 John 4 8b The God Jesus reveals is not one who causes historical or natural disasters or one who inflicts people with serious physical infirmities as a means of judgment here and now Luke 13 1 5 John 9 1 3 Of course this God is no new deity unconnected to Israel s past On the contrary this God is already found in the pages of the Old Testament Jesus attempts to reintroduce this God to people by correcting certain misperceptions about God that had developed Jesus does this by selectively using some images of God from the Old Testament while avoiding others For example Jesus never speaks of God as one who commands genocide abuses deceives or

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  • Direction: Difficult Conversations: A Dialogue with Eric Seibert's Disturbing Divine Behavior
    TEXT Once we ve identified what misrepresents the actual God we need to linger with the very same texts to see if there s something else worth paying attention to I like this The challenge is to develop a way of reading these passages that allows us to be honest about the problems they raise without dismissing the valuable insights they provide 207 Seibert develops the idea by suggesting when reading a troubling text the reader need not embrace it fully or reject it completely 212 This approach he calls a dual hermeneutic one that allows us to accept what we can and reject what we cannot After all The Bible does not always speak with one voice 278 Therefore the reader s task is to separate the wheat from the chaff 213 In other words Even the most theologically troubling texts contain other insights ideas and perspectives that can and should be explored 213 I do a good deal of that in my commentary I try to linger with all of the texts in Joshua And in doing so I try to apply Seibert s advice Here is an example from the Introduction Even so and in spite of our predisposition to hearing what we want to hear we do well to foster an openness to the unexpected Perhaps reading Joshua carefully will open windows into how and why we read Scripture at all It will push us not to settle for easy answers or to give up too soon This commentary is a plea to pay attention to a difficult text a text Phyllis Trible might well call a text of terror In a time of religious justification for terrorism and counter terrorism Joshua may be a book for our time This commentary is the result of a difficult conversation even an argument with the text In any difficult conversation we try to speak the truth as we understand it and we do our best to listen attentively so as to understand the matter from the other person s perspective In the case of the book of Joshua we may wish to include God in the conversation assuming like Abraham Gen 18 25 and Job that there is a moral standard to which we might hold God accountable If we imagine the Bible as a long conversation it might be possible to let these troubling texts have a say just as Seibert suggests He advocates along with Ellen Davis and others a kind of interpretive charity 214 6 I apply a similar approach in my commentary in which I draw on the practical wisdom of difficult conversations 7 a practice that I call hospitable hermeneutics Hospitable hermeneutics suggests we become vulnerable by inviting the many voices in the book of Joshua to have their say Although the book comes to us as a coherent narrative it includes the voices of God Rahab Joshua the narrator the Gibeonites the Transjordan tribes the daughters of Zelophehad Caleb all Israel and others In fact even the genres of the narrative add vocal depth to the chorus of the narrative as a whole For example the book of Joshua includes conquest accounts but the book of Joshua is not itself a conquest account An hospitable hermeneutic will therefore recognize a variety of voices and genres that make up the whole An hospitable hermeneutic will also allow the book to have its say within the larger chorus of voices we call the canon of Scripture Although we cannot be certain about the compositional history of the book of Joshua the book of Joshua is itself part of a conversation with texts that stand before and after it in the canonical ordering of the books Moreover other biblical texts take up themes from the book of Joshua and interpret them in different ways The biblical canon as a whole for example does not speak in Joshua s dialect on the topic of warfare Hospitable hermeneutics also makes contemporary readers vulnerable by extending hospitality to readers who have gone before Modern interpreters have been tempted to view biblical texts as a source from which to derive truths or principles that can be applied in new contexts The text then becomes an object a mine from which to extract precious gems leaving the slag of the narrative behind If however the text represents an Other with whom I am in a conversation and if this Other calls a community into being and if that becoming is the goal of the narrative then reading the text is not simply about mining the gems or distilling the essence In other words the narrative of the book of Joshua is not an end in itself but a partner in an ongoing telling of God s story of healing and hopefulness Take that trajectory out of the plot and the rest of the story no longer makes sense In other words Joshua cannot be read alone 8 Therefore on attending to difficult and troubling texts I agree with Seibert But his stark and most important statement in the book remains purposefully unsettling Acknowledging that there are some things in the Bible that did not happen or did not happen as described effectively exonerates God from certain kinds of morally questionable behavior 112 I can go back and linger over what s left of Joshua after determining what did not happen as described But where does Seibert s book take me Not first of all to listening to the text but to another historical question what might have been the original intention of the author text LOCKED INTO HISTORY Now I don t have any significant disagreement with Seibert s suggestions for what the answer to that question might be if it were to be addressed to the book of Joshua That question however is only slightly more helpful than the question about whether or not a particular event happened or whether or not God said this or that To say

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  • Direction: Wrestling with Violent Depictions of God: A Response to Eric Seibert's Disturbing Divine Behavior
    to the third and the fourth generation Exod 34 6 7 While both Nahum and Jonah explicitly draw upon and re interpret this description neither presents an abstract choice between a merciful and a vindictive God In fact for divine mercy to exist some form of judgment seems necessary since removing an element of decision jeopardizes its very possibility Nahum emphasizes the conclusion of this passage and so comforts Israel by delivering a diatribe against Nineveh 4 In effect although God is merciful and slow to anger he insists that the latter aspect does not disappear since the Lord will by no means clear the guilty and who could be more guilty than Assyria The character of Jonah himself seems to resonate with this perspective since he is furious that God relents from punishing this foreign power After all it is precisely because he knew that God was a gracious God and merciful slow to anger that Jonah ran away in the first place He did not want to deliver this message because he had the sneaking suspicion that God might be so merciful so slow to anger as to even let the hated Assyrians off the hook Jon 4 1 2 What s more the Ninevites words from ch 3 also appear in Joel Who knows God may relent and change his mind he may turn from his anger Joel 2 14 And once again in Joel this phrase is directly linked to God s character since this verse immediately follows yet another quotation of Exod 34 s depiction of God Joel 2 13 While the Ninevites repent on their own initiative with no explicit call to do so there is no indication that Israel heeded Joel s call to repent In so doing the hated Assyrians provide the primary example of repentance within the Minor Prophets an element which remains a hermeneutical irritant within the Jewish tradition to this day since Jonah is traditionally read on Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement Although in our day the great fish elicits much attention for an ancient Israelite the idea that the Ninevites would repent and that God would relent from punishing them would have been much more difficult to stomach This brief discussion raises several significant issues First are historicity and God s nonviolence the best criteria for identifying the actual God While the surrounding prophets announce chapter after chapter of divine judgment in Jonah God changes his mind and relents Within its current context this little book demands a reinterpretation of the entire scroll in light of a God who could even relent from punishing Assyria and yet Jonah is the most historically doubtful If we make historicity central the characterization of God in Jonah proves suspect if God is nonviolent Nahum s depiction is unthinkable But might not the literary construct of Jonah reinterpret or even take precedence over the historical facts underlying Nahum 5 And how might Nahum s depiction of God be theologically significant even revelatory in his and our context Second while we might see a merciful and a punitive portrayal of God as mutually exclusive is choosing between them the best approach Doing so seems to miss the significance of this biblical debate regarding the relative balance between God s dominant mercy and perpetual concern with justice both of which are grounded in the central depiction of God in Exod 34 As Seibert demonstrates viewing God as essentially nonviolent implies that the prophets portrayal of exile as divine punishment was a culturally conditioned perspective inconsistent with the actual God However if the prophets prove so consistently mistaken in their view of the character and sovereignty of God can we trust their parallel concern with aligning right worship and social justice And what would stop others from beginning with a God of judgment or sidelining the call for social justice as socially conditioned Third while I agree that the Bible provides contextual understandings of God I am less convinced that we can move behind interpretation to know God as God really is Functionally this may lead us to simply replace biblical interpretations with our own Recognizing biblical depictions of the divine as contextual does not provide the basis for rejecting them as inaccurate 6 but rather the invitation to empathetically understand how within that context they reveal something of who God is 7 This also challenges us to empathetically understand other interpretive moments and settings where such views have had revelatory significance such as the image of God as a warrior within African American spirituals Go down Moses or as a judge among our sixteenth century Anabaptist forbears Finally this also reminds us that our own interpretations arise within and in response to specific settings so that Seibert s sharp distinction between the textual God and the actual God itself represents a contextual interpretation For instance his extended careful discussions regarding the historical accuracy of the Bible and appendix on inspiration clearly reflect the concerns of his primary audience I wonder whether his context may also explain why biblical depictions of God as one who intervenes through enemy militaries or other violent means seems so incompatible with the real God CONTEXTUAL INTERPRETATION IN OUR DAY While I passionately share Seibert s concern regarding careful discernment with respect to violence in the Bible in reading the book I was also consistently struck by how different our contexts appear to be Where he teaches in a confessional department I teach undergraduates in a Religious Studies department of a major secular university where he assumes the basic authority of Scripture in my context this is often under dispute where his students insist on the historical accuracy of biblical documents many of mine treat it as a fairy tale or cultural artifact and where he challenges previous convictions many of my students have had little exposure to the Old Testament in particular and even to the Bible in general In what follows I will raise general and then more pedagogical and pragmatic questions raised by Seibert s book many of which emerge from my own context First do apparently incompatible depictions of God necessarily mean that one must be inaccurate From the beginning the Bible is remarkably unharmonized a feature which is often editorially heightened rather than diminished For instance while Seibert notes that Genesis presents a nonviolent creator 199 Gen 1 describes God as all powerful and detached while Gen 2 provides a more personal intimate portrayal of the divine Choosing between these would render much of the rest of the Bible unintelligible with only the first depiction God could hardly talk and have a picnic with leaders on Mt Sinai while with only the second the God of the prophets who orchestrates world events according to a divine plan would be largely incomprehensible Our challenge when confronted with such contrasts even that of a loving and angry or even violent God lies in recognizing the Bible s nature as a witness and then holding these depictions in creative tension expecting that both reveal something about God If we do not allow for a both and rather than an either or view of God then I fear we will construct an image of the divine that chooses between and even functionally eliminates substantial portions of the biblical witness Second if we adopt historical accuracy as a significant criterion for distinguishing the textual God from the actual God how should we evaluate the depiction of God s character within a psalm proverb prophecy epistle or other non narrative material Third is a nonviolent God necessary for insisting that followers of Jesus should be Although Seibert and I fundamentally agree that as Christians we are called to a life of nonviolent discipleship I am less convinced than he that Jesus believed God to be essentially nonviolent in part because he celebrates Passover 8 warns of impending judgment 9 and quotes from Isaiah and other prophets for whom exile was a divine punishment and return a sign of divine mercy I do not suggest that the portrayal of a violent God either provides the final word or a legitimation of our own use of violence in my view it can actually have the opposite effect see Rom 12 19 21 However given the prominence of divine violence in the biblical witness Old and New Testaments I would strongly caution against eliminating such a perspective as inaccurate and thereby removing it from the canonical conversation Rather than a criterion for sidelining violent portrayals of God the Jesus of the Gospels provides a model for how to engage re interpret and live out such passages in contemporary settings For instance it is worth reminding ourselves that Jesus way of nonviolence was forged and supported through an interpretation of the Old not the New Testament Nonetheless I too am concerned that many Christians appear more willing to follow the model of the first Yeshua Joshua than the second Jesus 10 Fourth to what extent do we treat our own contemporary contexts and understandings as static or even normative Seibert often appeals to the views of most Christians while critiquing certain biblical understandings of God which is striking since his depiction of God as nonviolent itself represents a minority position This also makes me ponder what in our own context prompts us to insist on a nonviolent God and why sixteenth century Anabaptists had little difficulty reconciling a God of judgment with their own commitment to nonviolence and following Jesus in life Speaking personally God s judgment as announced in the prophets or called for in lament seems particularly important since within the social economic political and military configuration of a globalized world I suspect that I am more on the side of Egypt or Assyria than with a rag tag group of runaway slaves I wonder if the idea of judgment is uncomfortable in part because this might very well mean a judgment of us rather than them If this is the case it may be an important reason for maintaining this concept I am also cautious to adopt Seibert s approach for more pragmatic and pedagogical reasons First I hesitate to subordinate the Bible to historical reconstruction I encounter increasing numbers of people who are either profoundly disillusioned with the Bible or have no prior connection or exposure to it In either case if I introduce history as an important criterion for the reliability of the Bible s depiction of God and then start identifying which passages are not accurate I would quickly lose my audience Second an approach that requires one to distinguish what is historical from what is not tends to place biblical interpretation among professionals or in the academy and leaves people in the pew waiting for a decision from the experts I routinely encounter intelligent well educated people who feel disqualified from studying their Bibles because they do not know enough While both Seibert and I seek to engage and challenge people to move beyond a simplistic view of the Bible in my context I fear that adopting his approach may further distance people from the Bible Third extended discussions about historical accuracy tend to harden existing divisions locking people into a struggle between theological liberals and conservatives In my view we should recognize that both of these impulses are profoundly important for biblical interpretation Where conservatives often insist on taking the Bible seriously liberals commonly insist that there is more than one way to interpret it Bible study benefits when both of these perspectives are present However too often people self select into studying among those with whom they largely agree rather than with a more diverse group With little cross pollination conservatives may assume that their reading is True while others are interpreting while liberals may consider the Bible to be outdated contradictory or even irrelevant Put succinctly often a challenge for conservatives lies in allowing for multiple perspectives within and interpretations of the Bible while for liberals it can be simply committing to engage the Bible Finally I am concerned that by identifying certain depictions of God as inaccurate we may functionally abdicate the interpretation of difficult passages to persons with whom we profoundly disagree Along with Seibert I seek to read Joshua for its theological witness and am confident that as part of Scripture it will have something to contribute In doing so I also attempt to say what it is not and challenge interpretations that use such material to nefarious ends However in doing so I hesitate to jump too quickly to the New Testament to resolve the dilemmas we face but rather want to demonstrate why using Exodus or Joshua to justify militarization war or contemporary occupations proves problematic from within this material itself For instance I do not challenge the idea that God is on Israel s side in Joshua because the book is historically inaccurate but because I see this as a fundamental misreading of the book itself within its scriptural context s 11 FROM HISTORICAL REFERENCE TO SCRIPTURAL WITNESS Seibert reflects both a consistent yearning for immediacy and an emphasis on historical reference where knowing God as God really is intermingles with an emphasis on what God actually did in time and space In practice either view can provide the basis for questioning certain depictions of God For instance on historical grounds if God never actually flooded the earth as described then we are free to raise questions about the accuracy of this particular portrayal of God 165 Or while the destruction of Jerusalem undoubtedly happened Israel s theological interpretation of that event remains open to question 165 In doing so Seibert s historical perspective becomes a safety valve for dealing with the problem of violence since Acknowledging that there are some things in the Bible that did not happen or did not happen as described effectively exonerates God from certain kinds of morally questionable behavior 112 emphasis added Although Seibert articulates an alternative to defending the historical accuracy of the Bible as key to its significance his rebuttal remains rooted in a historical paradigm thus like those he critiques Seibert allows historical concerns to dominate interpretation In my view the difficulty here lies not in whether x or y actually happened but rather in treating this as the central question While in many cases our historical verdict would be largely the same I am hesitant to make this the central category Given his interest in historicity and belief that some portrayals of the Jesus of the Gospels do not reflect what Jesus actually said or did 187 Seibert s decision to employ the biblical portrayal s of Jesus rather than reconstructing a historical one proves striking As he states I believe the general portrait of Jesus that emerges is reliable enough to serve as a standard by which to evaluate portrayals of God in the Old Testament and elsewhere 188 emphasis added While this reflects an apparent shift I see Seibert s comment as significant because it signals the sufficiency rather than exhaustiveness or referential correspondence of Scripture Where he sees a much greater gap between the textual God and the actual God in the Old Testament than the textual Jesus and the actual i e historical Jesus in the New I would insist on the theological sufficiency of both Returning to the example of Jonah Seibert evaluates the historicity of Jonah and helpfully outlines various reasons for believing it did not actually happen 93 97 However when confronted with the question Was Jonah really in the belly of the fish starting with the issue of historicity quickly becomes a no win situation Answering yes appeases some while leaving others to question your sanity answering no pleases others and leads some to wonder about your status as a Bible believing Christian In either case the effect is to lose half of your audience by introducing a wedge issue that hardens people s initial positions and increases their suspicion of those on the other side all before stepping into the book When I inevitably encounter this question I respond by saying we will return to it later and then work through the book for three or four sessions After exploring it together I ask participants to summarize the message of Jonah in one sentence after which we return to the question of historicity Whereas for many the whale was the only thing they knew about the book coming into the study afterwards the significance of repentance God s love for the foreigner and the temptation to avoid God s call feature much more prominently In the end participants often see the great fish as a relatively minor aspect of the book and so far it has never made it into a summary This example illustrates an attempt to subordinate our dominant historical bias to the theological witness of Scripture I know that people are trained to ask historical questions to separate fact from fiction and to associate something that is true with what really happened However I do not find this orienting perspective to be particularly helpful for interpreting the Bible where concerns with what things mean figure more prominently than attending to historical detail If we move from historical reference to scriptural witness as our central paradigm for interpretation even fictional accounts such as Jonah or Jesus parables provide crucial witnesses to God s revelation and character In this sense the bias of Scripture is not a problem to be overcome but rather the means through which it functions as a reliable witness to revelation But witnessing to revelation does not mean historical accuracy 12 While historical questions helpfully inform our interpretation of Scripture our primary hermeneutical task lies in seeking divine revelation through interpreting biblical documents rather than the critique of biblical characters or events through historical reconstruction In short our challenge lies in forming and resourcing diverse interpreting communities committed to wrestling together with the aid

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