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One important and in many cases I think legitimate way that biblicists deal with the challenge of certain “difficult” Bible passages—including perhaps some of those just mentioned—is to claim that their relevance for contemporary believers is relativized by historical and cultural differences. What may have been important within the culture to whom a scriptural text was originally written may not apply in our culture today. Fair enough. But what is not fair, consistent, or honest is the fact that biblicists typically offer no coherent account explaining which Bible passages (1) are culturally relative, (2) remain in effect in principle but may be applied or expressed in very different ways depending on the particular culture, and (3) remain universally binding in their specifics for all believers at all times.

The relativizing of biblical teaching on grounds of historical and cultural differences therefore normally proceeds in an ad hoc, unsystematic, and often arbitrary manner. Various biblical commands are relaxed or tightened without a clear underlying rationale or justification, depending significantly, it seems, on the particular cultural and political interests and discomfort of those doing the relaxing and tightening. In other words, biblicists very often engage in what we might call “uneven and capriciously selective literalism.”

— Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible

The Internet can enable us to form connections with people with whom we have extremely particular things in common, making possible highly stimulating, enriching, and deepening interactions. I wouldn’t be where or who I am today were it not for online interactions, sustaining and helping me to develop a perspective that often bears little relation to my immediate contexts over the years.

This said, while I have undoubtedly gained an immense amount from these, I have frequently found them to be a retreat from the challenge of actual relationships with Christian neighbors with whom I differ, a temptation amplified for me by virtue of the fact that I can naturally be an extreme introvert, prone to reclusiveness. When you know that there is a place where everyone largely agrees with and values you, you can develop a reluctance to go to a church where you are not so valued, understood, or appreciated.

— Alastair Roberts, quoted in 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You by Tony Reinke

Physicians today, in their roles as teachers, complain that they feel overburdened by their responsibilities for the care of patients whose illnesses are complex and often require the expertise of teams of specialists. Many physicians are intimidated by the very large body of knowledge they must master and transmit to students and house officers. One way of coping with these very understandable feelings is to narrow one’s focus, to deal with only that part of the disease one knows best and leave the rest to others with different areas of expertise. This does not work well in the care of patients, nor does it make for good teaching or role modeling. To focus on a specific problem, no matter how important or interesting, it is usually necessary to direct attention away from the patient, where all problems intersect.

— Jerome Lowenstein, “Can You Teach Compassion?”

Beautifully comprehensive

John Stott on The Lord’s Prayer:

[T]he three petitions that Jesus puts upon our lips are beautifully comprehensive. They cover, in principle, all our human need – material (daily bread), spiritual (forgiveness of sins) and moral (deliverance from evil). What we are doing whenever we pray this prayer is to express our dependence upon God in every area of our human life. Moreover, a trinitarian Christian is bound to see in these three petitions a veiled allusion to the Trinity, since it is through the Father’s creation and providence that we receive our daily bread, through the Son’s atoning death that we may be forgiven and through the Spirit’s indwelling power that we are rescued from the evil one. No wonder some ancient manuscripts (though not the best) end with the doxology, attributing ‘the kingdom and the power and the glory’ to this triune God to whom it alone belongs.

— The Message of the Sermon on the Mount

Catholicism and Orthodoxy have, furthermore, their own entrenched forms of tribalism. In important respects, Protestants are free to be more catholic than Catholics. Here is the question for Protestants considering a move into Catholicism or Orthodoxy: What are you saying about your past Christian experience by moving to Rome or Constantinople? Are you willing to start eating at a eucharistic table where your Protestant friends are no longer welcome? How is that different from Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship with gentiles? Are you willing to say that every faithful Protestant or Pentecostal saint you have known is living a sub-Christian existence because they are not in churches that claim apostolic succession, no matter that they live lives fruitful in faith, hope, and love? To become Catholic or Orthodox, I would have to agree that I have never presided over a valid Eucharist. To become Catholic, I would have to begin regarding my Protestant brothers as ambiguously situated “separated” brothers rather than full brothers in the divine Brother, Jesus. Why should I distance myself from other Christians like that?

Reformational Catholics are too catholic for that.

— Peter Leithart, The End of Protestantism

Everybody is fond of Freo, as they call it. So am I normally, though my enthusiasm
was wilting swiftly this day. The afternoon was uncomfortably warm, with no sign of the ameliorating ocean breeze they call the Fremantle Doctor (because it makes you feel better, of course). I had already walked far enough to make my feet smoke when I realized that I still had a good four miles to go, nearly all of it along the busy, charmless, mercilessly shadeless Stirling Highway.

By the time I flopped into central Fremande, it was late afternoon and I was comprehensively bushed. I went into a pub and downed a beer for medicinal purposes.

“You all right?” said the barmaid.

“Yeah,” I replied. “Why?”

“Seen your face?”

I knew at once. “Am I sunburned?” I asked bleakly.

She gave a frank, sympathetic, but essentially deeply amused nod.

I peered past her into the mirror behind the bar. Looking back at me, mockingly attired in clothes to match my own, was a cartoon character called Mr. Tomato Head. I allowed myself a small sigh. For the next four days I would be a source of concern to every elderly Western Australian and of amusement to all else. Then for three days more, as my skin flaked and peeled and I took on the look of someone just escaped from a leprosarium, the mood would change to universal horror and revulsion. Waitresses would drop trays; gawkers would walk into lampposts; ambulance drivers would slow as they passed and look me over carefully. It would, as always, be a quiet ordeal. In another three or four hours I would be in tender pain. Meanwhile, I was already a small wreck. My feet and legs hurt so much that I wasn’t sure that they would ever be of service to me again. I was as dirty as a street urchin and rank enough to be buried. And all of this so that I could see a house I had no actual interest in seeing and then walk on to a place that I was now too tired to explore.

But I hardly minded at all. And do you know why? I had seen a monotreme. Life could throw nothing at me that would diminish the thrill of that.

— Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country

Families become dysfunctional when they refuse or fail to make room. If the members of a family don’t make room for one another, but consider each other competitive obstacles to love and security and success, there is no family. Siblings who do not go beyond this minimum never live as genuine brothers and sisters. They never mutually share hopes, dreams, secrets, joys, games, blood, and spit. They are living against the grain of the universe, living contrary to the pattern of mutually inhabiting love evident in the world around them.

Each individual must make room; the family as a whole must make room for nonfamily if it is going to be healthy. A family that refuses contact with outsiders can appear “strong” and “close-knit,” but the dysfunctions of such isolated families are well known. Unless a home becomes home to more than the family, unless it opens itself out through hospitality and enters into the lives of others, it is not a family but a pathological fortress.

In larger groups—in churches, neighborhoods, cities—individuals equally have to make room for one another. Anyone who has been a conscious member of a larger group for more than a few years knows that this is not an altogether pleasant experience, and can be wrenchingly painful. Many lives are slums, as full of anger, violence, and bitter brokenness, as littered with trash and broken bottles, with discarded needles and failed hopes, as the darkest of America’s inner cities. We don’t want to live there, and we sure don’t want them to move in with us. However, closing them out is not an ethical option. We should occupy the lives that open up to us, even if those lives carry a stench of decay and death. We should open our lives to the human wrecks we encounter, lest we be like the priest and the Levite in Jesus’s parable about the good Samaritan.

— Peter Leithart, Traces of the Trinity