Photo credits

The Embalse de Riano in northern Spain. The picture was taken by .... me!

Wednesday, February 27

Lions on a saggy trampoline

Sometime ago I preached a sermon in which I included concepts based on Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. I talked about how we should treat our doctrines as springs on a trampoline rather than bricks in a wall. Obviously the ‘wall’ of our doctrinal statement is often intended to differentiate us from the other church down the road – that is to say to exclude. But the trampoline is a place of shared experience, where the doctrines can be explored, stretched, and tested. So it is inclusive.

But the second level of the analogy is what happens when one of your treasured doctrines turns out to be mistaken. In the wall analogy, when you take out the brick the wall falls down and your faith crashes. But if the trampoline loses a spring you can still bounce.

I have been needing to hold tight onto this idea recently as my wife studies ‘Apocalyptic writing’ as part of her theology MA, in particular with reference to the book of Daniel. Her tutors and the books on her list all take the view that Daniel was written during the Maccabean period, and that hence the stories of the lion’s den and the fiery furnace are King Arthur legends rather than historical events.

This does not disturb her faith at all: she is quite content to see the stories on the same level as the parables of Jesus – fiction, but true.

I find that it does disturb my faith very much.

I am happy to see Job as fiction, because there is no attempt within the book to anchor it into a specific time or place by mentioning kings and locations. But Daniel does actively fix itself in a certain time and place. So I want to see the stories as accounts rooted in real events, even if they have been subsequently fictionalised and told with a bit of colour and drama.

Why does this matter to me? Well, if it says that God shut the lions’ mouths, when in fact he didn’t, then I feel that I have been lied to. And that I have lied to my children. The principles being related through parables are more abstract. But if I say based on a story that God will protect us from a danger, but that story never occurred, and God did not protect, then the foundation of that element of faith is removed.

In fact, it sows doubt about everything else. Did the 10 plagues happen? Did the exodus happen? Did the signs and wonders in the New Testament happen? Did Jesus rise form the dead? ….. and so in a few climactic milliseconds my doctrinal wall has collapsed.

So I am on the trampoline. But even that is looking decidedly saggy.

Fortunately, remembering the old hymn:

My Hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus' Name!

On Christ the Solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand*

And also, as the NIV Study Bible points out (even if it is a rather dodgy document) the language used in Daniel was obsolete by the time of the Maccabees, to the extent that the Septuagint translators got it wrong and so it must have been written during the exile.

So the ‘consensus’ that my wife throws at me is not as solid as she would like to think. And of course the ‘consensus’ once used to support the documentary hypothesis, etc.

Come back, lions!

* This is from memory.  Sorry if I am breaching anyone's copyright.

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