The Impossible Story

The Impossible Dance – Table of Contents

The Impossible Dance – Chapter 1 – Mystery and Confusion

A few thousand years ago, someone began writing a story, a different story than the others in circulation at the time. Those other stories were about gods who, except for being immortal, acted just like the humans with all their faults and shortcomings. And those stories headed nowhere. Nothing got better. But this new story was not about many gods but one God. This new story explained that even though things were originally good, there is a mess now, but there is a plan to make it better.

Intriguingly, although this story was begun by one human author, the story would continue to be written by many other human authors, different authors who spoke different languages and who lived at different times over the course of 1500 years. What held it all together was the divine author whose Spirit was breathed into each human author. What began as a set of writings by one human author, eventually became a book, a literary masterpiece with common themes, but also with complex literary devices, inter-textual references, poetry and songs, and different kinds of narratives about events before the writers lived, or about events witnessed by the different writers, or prophetic narratives about God’s judgments and His plans in either the immediate or far-off future.

This long, complex story told in these many texts revealed a God who has remained faithful despite our distracted and discontented ways.  These texts were compiled into the book we now call the Bible, divided into sections we call the Old Testament and New Testament. Sadly, for many people, the Old and New Testaments of the Bible can seem disconnected. Some have even proposed that the God described in the Old Testament portion is different from the God in the New Testament. The apparent disconnection is partly due to the issue of the cultural barriers between us and the Bible, particularly, the Old Testament.

Unfortunately, there is a further disconnect we also need to address.  Between us and the biblical writings is the long and messy history of the Church. The Church seems very divided on how to interpret those writings and how to live into them. It is downright confusing to sort out all the various interpretations and practices that seem to contradict one another.

Another area of tension for many is what is perceived to be a conflict between science and theology. In years past, however, the issue was not about conflict but about which discipline rules over or undergirds all the other disciplines. These ideas were expressed in ways such as “theology is the queen of all sciences,” “math is the queen of all sciences,” “philosophy is the queen of all sciences,” “philosophy is the handmaid of all sciences.” Regardless of whether we seek truth through science and/or theology, God is the author of both Creation and the Bible, God speaks to us both through both books. Theology’s main goal is to understand spiritual reality and science’s main goal is to understand physical reality, but both fields can inform the other about the nature of God.

Appendix A – Tips on How to Study the Bible

The following tips are taken from Fee, Gordon D. and Stuart, Douglas “How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth,” Zondervan, ©1981. Read the Stuart and Fee’s book for more information.

The goal of interpretation is to understand the author’s intended meaning and that must be done in light of the language, time and culture in which a document was written. The difficulty is that our interpretation is affected by our experiences, culture, education, etc. Biblical interpretation is also impacted by understanding the document in its original context while trying to discern how to apply that understanding in a universal way. The Bible also is a complex document written in many genres: history, law, poetry, wisdom, parables, sermons, etc. and each genre must be taken into consideration.

The process of interpretation, hermeneutics (the process of interpreting the text and applying its meaning) begins with the process of exegesis (the process of figuring out the original meaning of the text). 

The process of exegesis involves asking the right questions of the text and figuring:

  1. Context –
    1. historical context– time and culture of the author and audience, occasion  of the text, geographical, topographical and political factors
    1. literary – relation of each sentence to the preceding and succeeding sentences, units of thought (paragraphs of sections)
  2. Content – meanings of words grammatical relationships
  3. Use of tools such as: good translation, Bible dictionary, commentary

Some types of exegesis are:

  • historical – find what text meant back when it was written or when it happened),
  • canonical – looking at entire text of Bible as a whole document designed to be what a specific community shapes its life by
  • symbolic/allegorical – figuring out the symbolism of each story, character, and event,
  • literary – considering the context in light of the literary form used and examining word choices, editing work, main themes or narratives, etc.
  • rational – using logic and deductive techniques

Hermeneutics – Ask questions about Bible’s meaning in reference to here and now: A text cannot mean what it never could have meant to its author or readers but when our current particulars match the original particulars, the principles (morals) could apply to us now.

  • One general problem is historical distance: the original text was written with little historical distance and was therefore a high context situation where things could be left unstated because they were assumed. We are reading the Bible in a low context situation where we have to try to discover what were those high context assumptions that were left out of the text.
  • Techniques include reading the entire document out loud in order to hear the text, outlining the text, dividing it into sections, make notes about people being referred to, attitudes, problems being discussed
  • Our questions or problems about the text may not be the questions the original hearers were asking.
  • We need to be aware of the types of literature being used: parables, hyperbole, poetry, questions, irony, etc. so that we can interpret them appropriately

Problems of historical context

  • determining the situation being written about
  • determining if the problems/questions we see are the problems/questions that would have been asked in those situations
  • determining when a problem being addressed should be seen as just a historic particularity/culture or transcends the particular issue/culture and can be applied to more general situations.

Type of Bible translations.

  • Formal – adheres to structure of original language (NASB, HCSB, RSV, NRSV, ESV). In extreme, a literal translation (KJV, NKJV)
  • Functional – translates idioms in context of receptor language (NIV, NAB, GNB, NLT).
  • Free/paraphrase – translates ideas more than words or phrases (NEB, LB)

Types of considerations:

  • External evidence – quality and age of the manuscripts;
  • Internal evidence – copyists and authors;
  • Human variables – original language of manuscript, receptor language (language) being translated to.
  • Problem areas include translating weights, measures and money, euphemisms, wordplays, grammatical structures such as Greek use of genitive construction (my book vs. book of me, God’s grace vs grace of God), use of masculine language where women are included.
  • For these considerations it can be useful to have one of each type of translation.

Narratives

Narratives are stories about particular historic events with three basic parts: characters, plot and plot resolution. The narratives in the Bible are parts of the larger metanarrative which is the story of God and his working in the world and of his universal plan for creation and for his people. Old Testament Narratives are not meant to be allegories or teach moral lessons directly (unless they illustrate what is explicitly taught elsewhere). Narratives are descriptions of events and are not meant to establish norms unless there is explicit teachings elsewhere.

There are three categories of doctrinal statements derived from Scripture: Christian theology, Christian ethics and Christian experience/practices. Some of these statements are explicit (and are considered to be primary) and some are derived (are considered to be secondary).

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My own comments: There is sometimes a question about what translation will be best; there is no “best” translation. In fact, it might be best to have one of each kind of translation: formal equivalence, dynamic equivalence and paraphrase. A Bible dictionary and a concordance are useful, and all of these are available online as well as in hard copy. The depth of your study will depend on your education, your effort and your available time and resources. The average person will have limited time and education to use all the information presented above. But none of these study methods are meant to be a substitute for the simple living of the gospel, a way of life that is available to all of us.

Interlude

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Dancing In the Kingdom – Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom Chapter 1 – Prelude

Interlude

As I was working one warm summer night at a convenience store with the door open, it was not unexpected to see a moth fly in through the door. Normally, moths are attracted to light sources, but this time the moth was attracted to the white top of a garbage container. The moth was distracted by the light reflected off the garbage container. I think that describes a lot of human behavior; we get distracted by the pretty garbage.

In the meantime, there is a story that began long ago when God brought into being creatures made in his image, a story about his plans for those creatures, plans for them to fill the earth and making the whole earth a place of love and goodness, but a place where that love and goodness would be disrupted by our rebellion. Fortunately, that disruption did not deter God from continuing his plans for his image-bearing creatures and that story is still in the making. That story is now our story.

For too many people, even Christians, the Old and New Testaments of the Bible can seem disconnected. Some people have even proposed that the God described in the Old Testament is different from the God in the New Testament. This is partly due to the issue of the cultural barriers between us and the Old Testament. One purpose of this book is to show the unity of both Testaments, how they help make sense of each other and how together they make one cohesive story, a story into which we can fit.

There is a further disconnect. Between us and the biblical writings is the long and messy history of the Church. The Church seems very divided on how to interpret those writings and how to live into them. It is downright confusing to sort out all the various interpretations and practices that seem to contradict one another. How is one supposed to make sense of it all?

This book’s purpose then, is to not just overview the Biblical story from Creation to Revelation, but to show how we, as part of God’s Church, are intended to participate. God did not need to create us or the universe, He did it out of a desire to share his love and delight. God’s creation was more an act of play than of work and He desires that we actively play with him, if you will, to dance with him in His Kingdom.

The Kingdom Dance is not meant to be a solo effort, we are to dance with God and with his people. To that end, while this book can simply be read as a solo exercise, there are additional ways to engage with the material.

  • Biblical references are provided extensively through the book. They are there to support the text. If you read them, take the time to slow down and let God the Spirit speak to you. The Bible has been described as ancient Jewish Meditation Literature.[1] It is best read when you give yourself time to absorb it.
  • There are extensive footnotes throughout the book. Whenever possible, I have provided hyperlinks to make the additional materials easily available to you. If you spend time investigating the footnotes, you will notice that I am not drawing from only one Christian tradition, but from a variety of them, allowing the richness of the different traditions to form a more complete story. To form a more complete story I also, particularly in the beginning, will use materials from the “Second Book of God” that is, book of Creation.[2]

“God has, in fact, written two books, not just one. Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture. But he has written a second book called creation.”[3]

  • For those who are not practiced in studying the Bible, Appendix A gives a summary of techniques that could be used to help understand scripture. This may prove useful for understanding when you study the Biblical references given throughout this book.
  • Reading the material with a group can make the most impact. The Dancing in the Kingdom Workbook provides exercises and questions to help process the material as a group. These exercises and questions will help you engage with the material by first asking you to think about how each section applies to your life and secondly to share your thoughts with others in the group so that together you can more thoughtfully “Enter the Dance” with God, with all the others that have come before, with those that are coming now and with that will continue to come until Heaven and Earth are reunited.
  • Finally, the best participation will be not to just read and reflect, but to dance the Kingdom dance with God. The last chapters of this book will suggest ways to take part in his activity in bringing healing to the world he loves, broken now but to be finally fully restored when He rejoins heaven and earth.

The Bible is a complex collection of literature, using many literary styles and techniques and it can be difficult to understand some parts, particularly when one part seems to contradict another part. I have found a useful principal in studying the Bible which I call “Conflicts are clues” which says that any apparent conflict or confusion in Scripture should be handled as clues to look further instead of thinking that the conflicts create contradictions which reduce the integrity of the Bible.

In our age, many regard science and theology to be in conflict. In years past, however, the issue was not about conflict but about which discipline rules over or undergirds all the other disciplines. These ideas were expressed in ways such as “theology is the queen of all sciences,” “math is the queen of all sciences,” “philosophy is the queen of all sciences,” “philosophy is the handmaid of all sciences.”

The biblical perspective is that God speaks to us both through two books, the book of Creation and the Bible. Theology’s main goal is to understand spiritual reality and science’s main goal is to understand physical reality, but both fields can inform the other about the nature of God.

This principle of “Conflicts are Clues” applies not just to the “First Book of God” (that is, Scripture) but also to the “Second Book of God” (that is, Creation) which is practiced by the testing and revisions of theories, but also between the Two Books. During the course of history, the study of the Two Books got separated and some of those in science rejected Scripture and some of those who were Christian rejected science, leaving conflicts unresolved as contradictions. But moving forward, this does not prevent us from considering apparent conflicts between the books as clues to be investigated further.


[1] Bible Project “Ancient Jewish Meditation Literature” Bible Project bibleproject.com/explore/video/bible-jewish-meditation-literature-h2r/

[2] Rusbult, Craig. “How should we interpret the Two Books of God, in Scripture & Nature” American Scientific Affiliation http://www.asa3.org/ASA/education/origins/two-books.htm

[3] Bacon, Francis. “The Two Books of Francis Bacon of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning, Divine and Human.” The First Book. Section.VI.Paragraph.16 1605

Reflections

Look at the four videos you can find at bibleproject.com/explore/category/how-to-read-bible-introduction/ for an overview of the Bible. How do these videos help you understand the larger context of the Bible?

Observe

Read 2 Timothy 3:14-16; Hebrews 4:12-13; Romans 15:1-6; 2 Peter 1:19-21. What is the purpose of the Bible?

A Brief Account

Dancing in the Kingdom – Table of Contents

Dancing In the Kingdom – Part 1 – Shadows of the Kingdom Chapter 1 – Prelude

A Brief Account

The following is an Extremely Brief Account of the Very Long Story, a summary of the Bible’s story.

There was, and is, and will be, a complex person we call God, who exists as three people that we have come to know as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God decided that he wanted to expand the love that was shared between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To that end, he created an entire universe so that on one of its planets he could create an abundance of living creatures.

On that planet, he created special creatures, humans, who were made in his image such that they could love him in the way that he loved them. This universe then, would be a form of temple, a place where God can meet with his people. The garden he placed them in was where the dimensions of heaven and earth overlapped. The garden was a place where God’s good and beautiful kingdom of heaven was fully present.

Of course, these humans were not duplicate spiritual beings who were gods themselves, but physical creatures who had enough of God’s characteristics so that they could love in the way God loved. But because love is a voluntary thing that we must choose to do, we cannot love unless we have the option to not love.

God placed his first people in a garden and gave them an assignment. They were to be his representatives, priests if you will, in this garden. They were to take care of it as His representatives, His stewards in the garden. Their long-term task was to multiply and fill the earth so that the whole earth would become the place where God could meet with all his people. The entire earth was intended to be filled with God’s abundant provision for his people who would then take care of what God provided, and all the while giving and receiving and sharing the love which God would freely bestow. In this way, the kingdom of heaven would overlap with the entire kingdom of earth and God would freely mingle with his people.

The option to love or not love was provided by a test of trust. There was in the garden a tree whose fruit not only looked appealing but promised to provide the gift of all knowledge if one ate it. The humans were told to trust God and not eat the fruit of that tree. Eating that fruit would not only provide certain knowledge but would also provide death.

The results of that test are now apparent all around us. Death comes to us not only in the form of physical death, the separation of our souls from physical life, but also in the form of spiritual death, the lack of love which separates us from each other and from God. Fortunately, our current situation is not our destiny – and that is what the rest of the story is about.

God intended that death would not merely be a penalty for not trusting (or loving) but would also be the very mechanism by which he would restore us to himself. From the descendants of the first people, God separated out a family through which he would bring blessing to the entire world. Through that family that a nation would be raised and through that nation the eternal God would choose a family to accomplish the inconceivable. In that chosen family, the eternal God would cause himself to be conceived within the womb of a woman who would then give birth to a being who was both fully God and fully human. He would then be raised as a human and eventually would suffer death by execution as a human and then be resurrected as a human.

In that resurrected human body, the eternal God would return to heaven, but before doing so, he invited us to, in essence, to represent Him on earth by becoming part of his body on earth. By trusting him and accepting his Spirit, we could join with him in His death and resurrection by dying to our own self-interests and uniting with his loving interests.

He then promised to return to us again in bodily form, at which time the kingdoms of heaven and earth will again overlap. Heaven will be rejoined to earth to fulfill the intention God had from the beginning. But meanwhile, in this time between His incarnation and His eventual return, we are still called to be stewards of our currently broken world, bringing slivers of the light and hope of heaven into a world now very dark with evil and suffering and pain.

Reflections

How do you feel in comparison to the immense size of the universe? What does it mean to you, that the universe was designed with you in mind?

Observe

Read Acts 2:22-36; 7:2-50; 10:34-43; 13:16-39; 17:22-31. These passages show the various ways the gospel was presented to various audiences. As you read through the different accounts of the gospel, what stands out to you?

Prelaunching Two books

An Invitation

This blog introduces a pair of books which are now in the last stages of progress and is an invitation to offer constructive criticism during the stages of the draft’s editing.

The book, Dancing in the Kingdom is the academic version with appendices and footnotes and with an accompanying workbook with questions. The book, The Impossible Dance, is the easier-to-read version without appendices or footnotes and with questions at the end of each chapter and is also somewhat condensed.

Let me know what’s confusing, enlightening, misspelled, needs explanation, what you like or don’t like etc. This blog will roll out the books one section at a time – sometimes 2-3 blog postings in a day – 3 days a week. I expect the whole process may take approximately a year, leaving plenty of time for thoughtful comments and review and seeing other people interact with the material.

The easiest way to see the books may be to go the Contents page for each book where there will be links to each of the posted sections. For more information about the book please see “About the Book”

I welcome your thoughtful comments!