Posts Tagged ‘truth’

How to Read the Bible: The Allegorical (Program and Sermon)

// September 27th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff


Sermon Outline (roughly followed)

I.        Back up

a.       Scripture as revelation

1.      How does God intervene in writing Scripture?

2.      How does God intervene in the world?

b.      Review series

1.      Literal

a)      Plain reading

b)      Modern rationalist, truth-seeking tendencies

2.      Allegorical

3.      Moral

4.      Anagogical

II.     What is allegory?

a.       Lisa is a fox

b.      Bernie Madoff is a fox

III.   Classical

a.       Allegory of Christ

1.      Suffering servant

IV.  Modern

a.       Archetypes

The suffering servant could be understood as a typical hero’s quest, suffering for those who rejected the hero.

b.      Making meaning

V.     Post-modern strategies

a.       Reader-response

The reader completes the meaning of the text through interpretation.  He or she does so from a particular social location.  This entails certain connections making more sense than others, which means that allegorical readings can shift meaning quite a bit.

b.      Hidden transcript

A hidden transcript is when a message is conveyed to those inside a particular community, but is hidden from those outside that community.  For example, Revelation is filled with hidden transcripts; the author is talking about the Roman Empire through symbolism that is well-known to insiders, but obscure to outsiders.  The problem with reading hidden transcripts is that we are rarely in the insider group.

c.       Intertextuality

Readers interpret a text in relation to other texts.  Sometimes this is unconscious, such as reading the Bible through the lens of Paradise Lost.  Sometimes is purposeful, such as Marcella Althaus-Reid connecting the writings of the Marquis de Sade to biblical and traditional understandings of God.

d.      Allegory of Christ reconsidered

1.      Cyrus

2.      Prophet

3.      Israel or remnant

How to Read the Bible: The Allegorical

// September 21st, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

If you spend enough time on Internet message boards, you will see a lot of bad analogies.  In the course of a discussion (pronounced “argument”) someone will try to make a point by referencing something that is presumably a point of common interest and common understanding between the two dialog partners (pronounced “combatants”), say, football.  One might compare a political candidate to a quarterback, for example.  Then, of course, the conversation turns to each person’s assessment of both the quarterback and the candidate.  As an analogy, the whole thing fails because there is no common ground, no point of agreement from which to expand.  This is the trouble with any kind speech that attempts to draw a comparison: everyone has to agree about the meaning of the things being compared and how they relate to one another.

This week, we continue our series on how to read the Bible by looking at the classical category of allegory.  In the Four Senses of Scripture, which is the framework for our study, the ltieral meaning is maintained, but there is always a layer of allegory on top of that. That is, every bit of Scripture points toward something beyond its literal meaning.  For these early scholars, that something was always Christ.  For them, Jesus is the answer.  Adam in Genesis points to the new Adam: Jesus.  Moses the liberator points to Jesus the liberator from sin.  As Noah was the one good person to save humanity, so is Jesus.  David was the anointed one of God; Jesus is the Anointed One of God.

But even if we could agree that every bit of Scripture points to Jesus – 2 Kings 2:23-24 might be problematic – what exactly would that mean?  In what way is Jesus the new Adam?  It depends on what we think the story of Adam is about.  And what we think the story of Jesus is about.  Perhaps Christians are more united on that than on candidates and quarterbacks, but not much.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about how to read the Bible allegorically to speak into our own lives.

Grace and Peace,


We don’t normally do movie previews in the church email, but there is something special premiering tonight at Grapevine Mills: Hellbound.  This documentary features interviews with scholars on the doctrine of hell, including my friend and teacher, our own Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles.  On Saturday, after the 6:10pm showing of the film, there will be a Q&A at the Cozymel’s at Grapevine Mills with Jaime, the producers of the film, and Sharon Baker, the author of Razing Hell, who is also featured in the film.  This is a terrific opportunity to pick the brains of some brilliant people on a longstanding, perhaps questionable, doctrine of the faith.  Hope to see you there!


Last night I had the opportunity to preview the third installment of the I AM A TEACHER series of plays, written and performed by my friend and long-time CitCer, David Marquis.  It made me sad that I have not seen the other two.  The play traces a year in the life of a teacher, Ben James, at the end of his career.  Mr. James is a fierce advocate for kids, who is determined to teach them in spite of all the obstacles in his way.  It is inspiring and thought-provoking, highlighting the challenges we face in treating kids in our schools as human beings that matter instead of cogs in a machine.  For anyone who is a teacher, knows a teacher, or just cares about the next generation and the future we are leaving them, this play is a must-see.  It will be at Stage West in Fort Worth October 18-21.

How to Read the Bible: Introduction (Program and Sermon)

// September 10th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff


Sermon Outline (loosely followed)

I.                               Questions

a.       How do you view the Bible?

b.      How do you use Bible?

c.       Do know the Bible?

d.      Do you want to know the Bible?

II.                            Classical understanding

a.       Literal

b.      Allegorical

c.       Moral

d.      Anagogical

III.                         Post-modern twist

IV.                          Why read it?  Why does it matter?

a.       Cultural defense

1.      Literary tradition

a)      Universal stories

b)      Authors steeped in tradition

2.      American culture

3.      Used against us

b.      Sacred trust

1.      Tradition: the dead get a vote

2.      Collection of human experience

3.      Wrestles with issues of ultimate concern

4.      Means by which God calls to us

Scripture is one of the primary means by which God calls to us.  If we listen to that call instead of sin and fear and desire, we become more holy, take one more step on the path to the Divine.  Because Scripture is

5.      Not so much informative as transformative

You can read Scripture to learn something.  You can read it to argue with people, to defend your beliefs.  Blah, blah, blah.  Noisy gong.  Clanging cymbal.  But if you read it and aren’t transformed into the person God would have you be, you are missing the point.  Reading to be transformed means reading critically, reading actively, letting the word of God speak to our deepest selves, the Divine within.  Read that way, Scripture can give us strength, encouragement, comfort, correction.  We can block out sin and ego and fear.  As someone pretending to be Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 3:17, in reading Scripture we become the person that God would have us be, equipped for every good work.  If we believe, as I think many people in this church do, that being a Christian means bringing into being God’s dreams for the world, Pseudo-Paul says we better be reading Scripture.  Not just to learn, but to become the kinds of people who do God’s work, the kinds of people who are faithful, loving, and hopeful.

How to Read the Bible: Introduction

// September 8th, 2012 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Growing up in a Southern Baptist church, the Bible was at the center of most of what we did.  We were Protestants, which meant that we believed in the power of the Bible alone to guide our lives.  And, because we were Baptists, we might yell at you if you disagreed.  Looking back, I often think we worshipped the Bible more than we worshipped God.

We had one pastor who would regularly challenge us.  I don’t mean challenge us like “really make us think.”  I mean he would read a passage in the course of his sermon, verse by verse, connect it to other parts of the Bible and then, at some point say, “You don’t believe me?  Look it up!”  Why would we need to look it up?  Why would we disagree with something so plainly presented, so clearly and confidently stated?  After all, he was simply telling us what the Bible says.  Who could argue?

Having now spent quite a few years playing poker (bad Baptist!), I can say that this is what is known as a “bluff.”  He could say whatever he wanted.  We would believe the story he was telling and we would fold.  We would fold because he was speaking about and from the Bible, the Word of God.  Who could argue?

Well, it turns out people argue all the time about the Bible.  Christians argue with non-Christians.  Protestants argue with Catholics.  Baptists argue with Methodists.  Lutherans argue with Lutherans.  We argue about homosexuality and the role of women in marriage and the church.  We argue about war.  We argue about the origins of the earth.  We argue about poverty.  And all of these positions are as confidently presented as my old preacher’s.  Everyone is right and dares us to say otherwise.

I’ll admit it: I love to argue about the Bible.  However, I’m not sure it’s a very fruitful exercise.  It is unusual for people to change their minds, which means that the fight is mostly about the fight.

Fortunately, in seminary they teach us to do a lot of other things with the Bible.  It turns out there are a lot of ways to read the Bible.  In addition to a variety of ways of interpreting it, there are many different reasons one might bother.  Each of those ways might be a means by which God calls out to us and a means by which we might respond.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we begin our six-week series on how to read the Bible.

Grace and Peace,

How to Read the Bible

We will be following the classical understanding of the four senses of Scripture: literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical.  We will look at how each of these was originally understood, how that has changed, and how we might use them today.  There will be an introductory week, a week dedicated to each sense, and a “practicum” in the sixth week where we will try this out on a passage in small groups.

September 9 – Introduction
September 16 – Literal
September 23 – Allegorical
September 30 – Moral
October 7 – Anagogical
October 14 – Practicum

We hope you’ll join us.

Sunday School

We will not have Sunday School this Sunday.  I hoped we could put something together, but it’s just not going to happen right now.  I would like to explain why I think this is important and the challenges we face.

I grew up in Sunday School.  I probably did not love it.  I remember badly drawn pictures of Jesus holding a sheep or talking to children.  Occasionally, we heard about Noah.  I also remember being with my friends discussing the Bible and what truths, what guidance it might provide us.  It made me consider the world and my relationship to it in a deeper way than I would have if I were at home watching TV.  It made me consider that things actually mattered: the way I treat people, what I do with my money, how I experience sorrow and joy.  As a kid, I didn’t pay much attention to the sermons.  But in Sunday School, I worked through my faith in fear and trembling with a community of friends that endures to this day.  I want that for all of us, but especially for our kids.  Certainly, deep, enduring friendships can be built outside the church.  But there is something special about developing relationships in a context of ultimate concern.

That said, we are a small church.  This often presents problems.  We think it is feasible to divide the children and youth into three groups, which means that we need six adult volunteers. We want to ensure stability for our kids, so we need people who can commit to being there at 10am every Sunday.  There are many more issues to work out, such as safety, so we will keep working on it.  If you are interested in helping out, please contact Scott Shirley, Janalee Shadburn-Wiles, or Sara Kitto.

It’s a joy having so many young faces.  I hope that we can make learning about their faith a cherished memory for them.

Spirit of Truth

// May 26th, 2010 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

John 16:12-15 (Inclusive text)
I have much more to tell you,
but you can’t bear to hear it now.
When the Spirit of truth comes,
she will guide you into all truth.
She won’t speak on her own initiative;
rather, she’ll speak only what she hears,
and she’ll announce to you
things that are yet to come.
In doing this, the Spirit will give glory to me,
for she will take what is mine
and reveal it to you.
Everything that Abba God has belongs to me.
This is why I said that
the Spirit will take what is mine
and reveal it to you.

About eight chapters before this week’s passage, Jesus says that “the truth will make you free.” I’m sure we’ve all heard this throughout our lives; I’m not even sure I knew it was from the Bible. A couple of chapters after this passage, Pilate asks Jesus: “What is truth?” This is a very academic and philosophical question, which means that it’s probably pointless to ask it. But taken together, these questions are crucial. What kind of truth sets us free?

I grew up a fundamentalist. I was very certain of what I knew about the world and I knew that everything I knew and needed to know about the world was in the Bible. If the 16-year-old me read today’s passage, it would confirm that notion, that God had delivered the singular truth to me in the Bible. All I had to do was believe.

Now I’m all growed up and my head is full of all kinds of book learnin’. Turns out, things are not so simple. There are some things in the Bible that should give reasonable people pause, such as talking snakes, but these are not very interesting to me. Either you believe things like that happened or you don’t. Discussion on the topic is not usually very productive.

I’m more interested in another common phrase: “the truth hurts.” This usually means that someone has told us something that we’d rather not hear, but it also works as a counter to John’s freeing truth and exposes the danger of reading John as I might have when I was younger. For many people in our community, truth is used as a weapon to harm them, a boundary line to keep them out. All the things I knew, the things of which I was certain, were a wall against other possibilities: maybe other religions have something valuable to say; maybe “those people” aren’t so bad after all; maybe being a Christian is not what I was led to believe.

If the truth sets us free, it must be something more than a set of factual propositions to which we give our assent. What freedom is it that locks all people into one answer for all time? What freedom is it that imprisons people in a world of middling expectations? What freedom is it that calls a person an abomination? If that is truth, then I cannot give my assent.

So maybe Pilate’s question isn’t so academic. What is this truth that the Spirit will guide us into? It’s an odd phrase: “guide you into all truth.” We might expect the Spirit to tell us the truth, but guide us into it like a place? Perhaps knowing the truth means that we move from one place to another; we move into the presence of God and God moves into us. It is a dislocation out of the everyday and into the life eternal, the life of God. This truth is dynamic; it is life lived. It makes claims on us every day. It is anything but simple. This truth reveals possibilities for us and the world around us.

Peace and Grace,


P.S. This Sunday is Trinity Sunday. I hope you’ll join us at Kidd Springs Rec Center at 11am as we talk about the truth of life lived in God and how we might understand the Trinity in that light.


One of the joys of pastoring a church such as Church in the Cliff is how engaged this community is in social investment of various forms. We give money, we organize, we volunteer, we enter into relationship with the poor, locally and globally, and we help and love each other.

For a few years now, our church has committed to serving meals for the homeless and hungry at Oak Lawn UMC whenever there is a fifth Sunday. This Sunday is one of those days. We need about 6 people and, because of Memorial Day, we are missing some of our regulars. Volunteers would need to arrive at 3:30pm and we’ll be done by 6:30pm at the latest. Please contact Lisa Shirley ( if you can help out.