An interview between Tim Ott, author of Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict over Gay Relationships, and Dr. David Gushee, professor of Christian Ethics–author of Changing our Mind, raises crucial questions about the impact personal experience has in shaping what we believe the Bible teaches. It forces us to struggle with these troubling questions: Should our experiences determine what we believe to be true? Does having our eyes opened require that we change our beliefs? And does infliction of suffering necessarily discredit the truth claim? These are critical questions (especially the last one) enmeshed as we are in a culture devoted to what Francis Schaeffer years ago termed the contemporary gods of personal peace and prosperity; that urges us to live our best life now.
The tragedy in Ferguson which fostered televised but futile shouting matches forces one to ask: why is it that each side seems incapable of seeing the truth which is so clear and convincing to the other? Is it possible for opponents across hostile divides to actually communicate? A booklet titled A Little Manual for Knowing, may point the way to hope. Professor Meek argues that love is at the heart of all reality, and that as such it is only love that unlocks the door to understanding reality. Taking her argument one step further we can say that Jesus, who is Love Incarnate comes to give us His eyes, unclouded by the restrictive veil of prejudice, anger, fear and personal pain, which enables us to see the enemy for who he really is rather than through dehumanizing paradigms of oppression.
Occasionally a television show can be incredibly instructive. In a recent episode from the hit show Parenthood, one of the lead characters, Kristina Braverman, a compassionate and protective mother of a child with Asperger’s, had to confront her complicity in oppression. The story was a parable about the harmful tendency of sentimentalizing the victim whom we love. It exposes the danger faced by defenders of the rights of the weak and marginalized of unwittingly collaborating in the very sin they oppose. It warns us that the merciful can become complicit in the oppression they hate by overlooking similar behavior perpetrated by the victimized whom they are committed to defend.
A critic of my recent book, “Crucify! Why the crowd killed Jesus,” argued that my conclusion that the crowd welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem was essentially the same one screaming for His blood five days later–was based on indefensible assumptions and “very flimsy” evidence. I think the Gospels provide overwhelming evidence in support of my premise. But the reason the question matters is that if the blame for His murder can be imposed on His intractable opponents, we can avoid asking ourselves hard question. But if those demanding His death were a part of the admiring crowd, if at one point they had actually been His fans, then it suddenly hits much closer to home and forces us to consider something awkward and uncomfortable: if we had been there what makes us think we would not have joined our voices to the vocal, intolerant majority shrieking “crucify!”? Would we not have been accomplices to the murder of the Son of God?
Posted on 07. Apr, 2014 by Tim Stoner.
While it is a simple matter to pinpoint errors, contradictions, and inaccuracies in the movie Noah, these are insufficient grounds to call for a national ban on attendance. By choosing not to attend, Christians will have lost an incredible opportunity to enter into a counter-cultural conversation about one of the Bible’s most challenging, important, and yes, terrible themes: final judgment. Ironic that it took an atheist to highlight this major thread in the biblical narrative that progressives have been seeking to erase from our collective consciousness for decades. Is grace both timeless and endless? Does the patience of the Creator ever run out? And if so, what is the straw that will break the back of His incredible restraint? Questions that Noah makes it impossible to ignore. For boldly addressing them Aronofsky deserves to be thanked not vilified. There is only one who wishes to keep us from taking seriously the theme of God’s wrath and that is not the God with whom we have to do.
Posted on 16. Mar, 2014 by Tim Stoner.
As a recently-minted attorney, learning to write a coherent narrative for appellate Judges and to sympathize with unsympathetic parties, prepared me to tell the story of young David and his many enemies in my historical novel Warrior Poet. Having to summarize the behavior of unattractive characters taught me to recognize the goodness hidden behind the least appealing personalities and enabled me to look honestly at the weaknesses of those we might wish to idolize. It protected me from the penchant to whitewash the sins of those we admire and freed me to reveal the flaws that place our heroes, much more helpfully, on our level, and right next to us.
Critiques of my latest book: Warrior Poet- before David was king have pointed out that it is a work of fiction. But does this imply that it is false? When I began writing this historical novel I had to face some difficult questions: How is one to write creatively about biblical history when the data is a given, the facts are immutable and the narrative arc is fixed? What is the place of imagination? What are the rules of engagement? What license is allowed? Though difficult questions they force the writer and reader to determine what is true and decide whether what is fiction is necessarily untrue.
Posted on 27. Jan, 2014 by Tim Stoner.
For 50-some years I’ve been reading just how I was trained to do in college, seminary and law school: evaluate, dissect, distinguish, contradict, overpower, and then without making too much of a fuss about it—destroy. I was taught to read like a winner, or better–in order to win. So when I read an essay about reading as a loser I was shocked to discover I had been ambushed by a Catholic, happily married, home-school mother of six–who is a lesbian, and, to top it off, is also wicked smart–as Will would say in Good Will Hunting. And I discovered I needed to do something difficult–repent (as in change the way I think about something that really matters).
Eric Metaxa’s brilliant autobiography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer was easily my favorite book of 2011. It introduced me to a teacher, preacher with the unnering and unnerving prophet’s eye. Abraham Heschel describes a prophet as ones who, “said no to to his society, condemning its habits, and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism.” Such a man was Bonhoeffer and for it he paid with his life. This book made me wonder whether I was reading more of a prophesy than a biography. The choice for him was between the German Church and the Confessing Church (which he helped found). Today it might very well be the Accomodated Church one the one side and the Faithful Church on the other. But, what is clear, we desperately need more prophetic preachers like him inside as well as outside the church.
Posted on 15. Apr, 2012 by Tim Stoner.
I have been collecting the best quotes from my readings over the past 25 years–chosen both for content and style. If it is worth saying, is is worth saying well, says I. So I have decided to share the wealth. So these are short quotes (no longer than 40 tweets) for those free-thinkers who reject the notion that if a book is written by an author with bad hair and uncool glasses, it has no significance.
This one comes from The Cruciality of the Cross by P.T. Forsythe, One of the my absolute favorite books (and shortest) on the death of Jesus. In honor of the Easter Season.
Who would have imagined Stephen King was a romantic? Certainly not I. But in 11/22/63 Stephen wears his heart on his sleeve. While the horror is still there–though muted, the joy and the love for things past and things present swings, sways and carries you away in a delirium of delight. It is written out of love and for love. Love for a place, a time, a president, a dance, a car, and most of all a flawed and brilliantly drawn woman. It is a book for dancers. It is a book for lovers and maybe even for haters too. It is about suffering and loss and, ultimately, a great but terrible gain. It is a book to relish.