Theological rants
of a liberal Christian

Book Excerpt: The River of Life

Wednesday, February 11, 2015 in Book Excerpt | 0 comments

Book Excerpt: The River of Life

The apostle Paul is particularly excited about the Spirit in his letters. He writes to the Galatians that they are no longer under the law (the prior age) but under the Spirit’s direction (the new age). The Spirit produces new fruit in our lives, he said: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. In too many verses for me to quote, Paul indicates that we are a new creation, infused with the promised Spirit, and thus the age has begun.

Paul had a phrase that he liked to use: brotherly love. One of the distinguishing marks of early Christianity was its propensity for treating one another as “brethren,” greatly beloved. This phrase is so common to us today that we may forget what it really means. “Brotherly,” in the original Greek, is disturbingly literal. It might be more correctly interpreted, “from the same womb.” How are we to understand this? It confused Nicodemus as well: “Can a man enter into the womb and be born again?” To which Jesus retorted: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Born again of the Spirit, we enter into the age of God’s rule.

The word translated into “love” here is the Greek word philia—meaning a fondness, a close companionship. Thus when the author of Hebrews asks us to “let brotherly love continue,” he is saying “let there be a deep and enduring fondness between all who have followed Christ into the new age.”

–The River of Life, Energion Publications, 2014 by Lee Harmon

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Matthew 20:1-2 Jesus on Welfare

Tuesday, February 10, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Matthew 20:1-2 Jesus on Welfare

For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

//I think nearly all of us agree the welfare system in America needs some patchwork. It’s easy to abuse, and consequently it frequently is. So what would Jesus do?

In this parable, told by Jesus, a householder is presented as a role model for the wealthy. Early in the morning he hires laborers for a denarius a day, which is the standard daily wage.

He goes out again the third hour, the sixth hour, the ninth hour, hiring more laborers.

And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.

Now here’s the question of the day. What is the “right” amount to pay the laborers?

The householder decides to pay them all exactly the same. Each receives one penny (denarius), one day’s wages. Some worked eleven hours longer and received exactly the same wage. Is this fair?

One wonders how much the householder really needs laborers. He seems rather to be in the business of finding people in need and providing for that need, asking of them what they are capable of providing.

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Matthew 4:3, Why Rock n Roll is Wrong

Monday, February 9, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Matthew 4:3, Why Rock n Roll is Wrong

And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.

//Most of you think the devil first tempted us with Rock n Roll in the twentieth century. You’d be wrong. The old fella first tried to free the soul with his rock and roll in about the year 30 A.D., but Jesus was having none of it. When Satan suggested Jesus turn a rock into a roll, Jesus said nope, I’m gonna need a whole lot more than that.

But [Jesus] answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. –Matthew 4:4

So Satan took Jesus up to the top of a high mountain and showed him all the world. Okay, you can have it all, he says, but still Jesus turned him down.

What was the poor devil to do? No wonder he gave up on Rock n Roll for another 2,000 years.

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Psalm 23 Comparing the Shepherd’s Psalm to Mark Chapter 6

Friday, February 6, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Psalm 23 Comparing the Shepherd’s Psalm to Mark Chapter 6

On the heels of yesterday’s post, I thought it would be worth including Kenneth Bailey’s comparison of Psalm 23 to Mark 6. This comes from his recent book, The Good Shepherd, p. 175.


Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd”

Mark 6: Jesus had compassion on them, became their shepherd, and the flock followed him


Psalm 23: “He settles me down in green pastures”

Mark 6: He commanded them to “recline in green pastures”


Psalm 23: “He leads me in the paths of righteousness”

Mark 6: “He taught them many things” and demonstrated to them a righteous path of nonviolent response to injustice.


Psalm 23: “I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”

Mark 6: John had just been killed. The shadow of death loomed over them


Psalm 23: “I will fear no evil”

Mark 6: He told them “Have no fear. I am!”


Psalm 23: “Your staff comforts me”

Mark 6: “Take nothing … except a [shepherd’s] staff”


Psalm 23: “You prepare a table before me”

Mark 6: Jesus prepared a banquet of life in the face of Herod’s banquet of death


Psalm 23: “In the presence of my enemies”

Mark 6: Herod, an enemy, was “watching”


Psalm 23: “You anoint my head with oil”

Mark 6: The disciples had just “anointed many with oil”


Psalm 23: “I shall not want” and “My cup overflows”

Mark 6: They “were filled” and “they took up twelve baskets of broken pieces”


Psalm 23: He rests me “beside still waters”

Mark 6: “the wind ceased and they crossed over”

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Psalm 23:1-2, The Two Banquets, Part II of II

Thursday, February 5, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Psalm 23:1-2, The Two Banquets, Part II of II

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

//A sheep won’t drink from running water. The shepherd knows that if he brings the sheep to running water, he must then build an inlet where the water will pool. There, the sheep will cluster.

I bet you’re wondering what this has to do with yesterday’s topic, where I compared King Herod’s banquet in the palace to King Jesus’s banquet in the desert. Well, it turns out this “desert” was next to the water. Jesus went there by boat and left by boat, and he led the multitude there beside the still water.

There, Jesus taught, and spread his banquet of loaves and fishes. But not before this instruction to the disciples:

And he commanded them to make all sit down [anaklinō] by companies upon the green grass. –Mark 6:39

However, the Greek word anaklinō doesn’t mean sit; it means recline. Jesus commands them to lie down in the green grass. Is this beginning to sound like the twenty-third Psalm? If you haven’t made the connection yet, note this verse at the beginning of the story:

And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd. –Mark 6:34

Is it coincidence that Jesus sees the people as sheep without a shepherd, so he leads them beside the still waters, and makes them lie down in the green pastures? I think not.

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Mark 6:21: The Two Banquets, Part I of II

Wednesday, February 4, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Mark 6:21: The Two Banquets, Part I of II

And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee;

//Today’s verse tells of the prelude to the death of John the Baptist. King Herod throws a banquet and invites the rich and powerful from all over the province. At the party, a young dancer so enthralls Herod that he offers her anything she would like. After consulting with her mother, the young girl asks for the head of John the Baptist.

The disciples bury John and then tell Jesus what happened. Immediately, Jesus and his disciples go off into a “desert place,” hoping to be alone, but crowds hear of his presence and follow him. This leads to one of the more remarkable comparisons in the Bible.

There in the desert, Jesus teaches and then spreads a banquet capable of feeding 5,000 men. We know this as the miracle of loaves and fishes. But what’s different about King Jesus’s banquet?

As Herod is sharing with the rich and powerful in the palace, Jesus is feeding the poor and needy in the wilderness. More tomorrow about this banquet Jesus spread, so that you can choose which one you prefer.

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Zechariah 9:9, Jesus Chooses Peace

Tuesday, February 3, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Zechariah 9:9, Jesus Chooses Peace

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!

Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your King is coming to you;

He is just and having salvation,

Lowly and riding on a donkey,

A colt, the foal of a donkey.

//Bible devotees from around the world know this verse. They know it because Jesus fulfilled its prophecy. When Jesus came riding into Jerusalem, he chose a lowly donkey as his mount. Jesus was familiar with the writings of Zechariah, and he purposefully asked for a donkey so that he could fulfill the prophecy.

But these devotees may not be familiar with the choice Jesus made. If you read further into the next chapter of Zechariah, you find an angry God riding on a horse into battle. This is the choice Jesus made. Donkey or horse? Peace or war? Forgiveness or vengeance?

We know today’s verse because of the choice Jesus made.

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Dubious Disciple Top Ten Books of 2014

Monday, February 2, 2015 in Awards | 0 comments

It’s time to post our annual selection of top ten religious books of the year! In order by review date, here are the most memorable books of the past year:

The Adam Quest, by Tim Stafford

Disciples: How Jewish Christianity Shaped Jesus and Shattered the Church, by Keith Akers

Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most, by Marcus Borg

Becoming the Son, by C. D. Baker

The Bible Tells Me So, by Peter Enns

The Two Faces of Christianity, by Richard Markham Oxtoby

You Don’t Understand the Bible Because You Are Christian, by Richard Gist

Reframing a Relevant Faith, by C. Drew Smith

Glimpsing Heaven, by Judy Bachrach

Short Stories By Jesus, by Amy-Jill Levine

If you would like a closer look, click here: Dubious Disciple Top 10 Books of 2014

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Luke 10:33, The Priest, the Levite, and…

Saturday, January 31, 2015 in Bible Commentary | 0 comments

Luke 10:33, The Priest, the Levite, and…

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him

//In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus pulls a surprising twist. A man lies half-dead along the side of the road. Who will help him? First, Jesus tells about the uncompassionate priest, who makes a point of walking by on the other side of the road. Next Jesus introduces the Levite, who follows in the footsteps of the priest. Next comes…

The Israelite, right? That’s how these stories go. Anyone listening to Jesus tell this story knows who is going to come along next. The third person, surely the one to show compassion, will be an Israelite. Priests, Levites, and Israelites always go together. Ezra 10:5 speaks of the the priest, the Levites, and all Israel. Nehemiah 11:3 tells of Israel, the priests, and the Levites. Everybody knows who is going to come along next and show compassion to the man on the side of the road.

Except it isn’t. It’s a hated Samaritan. An enemy of Israel. That’s who shows compassion. Jesus often relies on shock value to make a point, and the story of the Good Samaritan is no exception. His listeners that day would have gone home with something to think about.

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Book review: The Good Shepherd

Friday, January 30, 2015 in Book Reviews | 0 comments

Book review: The Good Shepherd

by Kenneth E. Bailey


Bailey is a careful researcher whose passion and experience shines through. He spent 40 years living and teaching New Testament in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem and Cyprus. I have another of his books on my shelf, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, that I’ve skimmed and am dying to find time to read. So, given that the Good Shepherd is a topic of great interest to me, this book was a gold mine. I wish had been able to read this book before writing my own about the Gospel of John, since the Good Shepherd (as well as the bad shepherd) is an integral part of John’s theology.

Bailey starts his analysis back in the 23rd Psalm. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. This Psalm sets the theme for later Old Testament writers, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah, who expound on the shepherd tradition in different ways. I’ll run a comparison of these Old Testament variants on the 23rd Psalm in a later post. The tone is then set for Jesus’s arrival, and all four Gospel writers embrace the image of a shepherd to describe Jesus, particularly in matters of salvation.

One of the most interesting parts of the book was Bailey’s own experience, and the experience of those he met, in tending sheep. How confidence is gained in the sheep, how they must be cared for, how they learn the voice of the shepherd, and more.

This is not light reading–it’s one of those books that you actually have to study to get the full benefit–but I highly recommend making the effort.

InterVarsity Press, © 2014, 288 pages

ISBN: 978-0-8308-4063-2

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