Monday, November 26, 2007

The Return of Ten Things I Think I Think

It's good to be back.

1) Things are b-u-s-y in the world of Buchers. Now, both Max and Xave are doing roller hockey and (soon) basketball. I'm working on a lot of new things for next year. Aimee's business is picking up (if you need assistance in web site design click here), she's joined the Junior Service League here in Shawnee, and is "momming" to full capacity. Eli is getting bigger and is showing more personality every day. And, of course, Baby ??? is on the way. As our kids get older, "hyperdrive" is becoming a way of life for us, and slowly we are adjusting. I suppose every family has to deal with this at some point, and is never ready for it. We are no exception. But, we press on. At least we're never bored.

2) One of the challenges right now is to convince Eli that shoes and socks are necessary items while living in the Midwest during the fall and winter (and occasionally at other times too). It's not uncommon to see him him running around outside in barefeet (having disposed of his socks and shoes after we put them on him) on days where it's 45-50 degrees outside. We thought that the fact that his feet are freezing would naturally take care of this (much as it has taken care of his resistance to wearing a coat), but as of now, it has not. Are parents allowed to duct tape shoes on children? We may soon find out.

3) Update on my fantasy league teams. My football team, after starting 1-5, just rattled off it's 6th straight victory and verges on the possibility of actually making the playoffs. David Garrard (QB for the Jags), Donald Driver (R for Packers), and Wes Welker (R for Patriots) have been carrying my team, but it's been the emergence of Marques Colston (R for Saints) that's been the difference. Much like his team, he got off to a slow start, but now he's picking up steam. One more victory next week would cap the greatest comeback in our league's history.

Basketball, on the other hand, has been a little bit shaky. The loss of Mike Bibby, a slow start from Shaq, the trade of Mark Blount, and injuries to Larry Hughes and Corey Maggette have led to a rough start (including a weekly loss to Brother Esq). Generally I'd say I'd cautiously optimistic about the future, but as of now I'm not sure. My team's performance is reliant upon such pick-ups as Jamario Moon, Antonio Daniels (a former BG Falcon), Jeff Foster, and Kelanna Azibuicke (who's been a solid as a starter for Golden State... to bad the Cavs cut him two years ago). Can't say that's a sure thing.

4) Am having a great deal of trouble getting my leaves up. A very, very late fall, coupled with lots of rain/sleet/hail have made it difficult to get things done. Both my neighbors used lawn services to get the job done (in the rain and sleet), but the name is "Bucher" not "Gates", so I'll have to be creative, or scrape up semi-decomposed leaves next March (yuck).

5) Received a good visit today from a parishioner regarding something I said in the sermon yesterday pertaining to those who believe that the miracle narratives in the Gospels are literary devices, and not literal miracles. In other words, they believe the miracles to be part of the literary genre of myth, as opposed to historical events of record on the part of Jesus.

This is major debate raging in scholarly circles right now, and has been for quite some time. I always thought it strange, for example, as to why conservative Christians who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, triumph C.S. Lewis as a theological hero. Lewis believed in the power of myth - which is essentially the telling of stories that define moral truths - as it related to the biblical narrative. To him, it was less important that supernatural events in the Bible (miracles of all kinds) were actually true, as opposed to the truth being expressed in those stories. Lewis went as far as creating a whole series of novels (The "Narnia" series) to try to do for people (primarily children) in his time and place what he believed the biblical narrative was doing... using myth to explain the fundamental truth of the spiritual realm. For more on this take a look at this article from Christianity Today and this article from National Geographic. This is not to say that Lewis didn't believe in Christ. He did. But he also believed that in every culture people wrote mythological literature to explain the world they were in, and believed the Biblical writers to be no different.

There are many scholars (like Lewis) out there arguing (as they have in some form or fashion for the past four hundred years, or so) that the miracle narratives are examples of literary myth, meant to convey to the reader the importance of Jesus' teachings, and not necessarily historical events of record. I don't happen to agree, personally. I think the supernatural acts of Christ (including his bodily resurrection) were the fuel that set ablaze the passions of fishermen, tax collectors, and widows who had no other reason to keep worshiping him. In his case, we aren't talking about gods and goddesses created to understand the inner workings of human emotion or the mysteries of the natural world.

Too, a comparison of Jesus with the cult of the emperor is flawed also. For centuries rulers have taken their own successes (while hiding their failures) and built them up into supernatural events as away of solidifying their power and their place in history (think, as an example, of the pyramids in Egypt). Jesus enjoyed no comparable temporal success. He died a criminal's death on the cross. To think that somehow his followers would come up with some kind of construct as to how this defeat was somehow a victory, without the resurrection, and continue on is quite frankly, pretty far fetched. Most likely, had he just died, his movement would have (like many others of the time) melted away. That's the primary reason I accept the supernatural aspect of Jesus' ministry. People can be duped by false prophets (Jim Jones or David Koresh) in one generation, but past their death generally the following dissipates. It is the enduring message and following Jesus past his death, which did not empower temporally any one group of people that helps convince me that the supernatural aspects of his ministry are true. There is no earthly reason his ministry should continue.... thus my belief in the super-earthly reality of who he is.

Anyway, yesterday I happened to mention in the sermon yesterday that it mattered not whether you believe the Gospel writers took the miracles literally or consider them myth. In either case they would have believed that Jesus was the answer to the prayers regarding all that vexes humanity (disease, hunger, division, war, etc...). I had to clarify what I meant today here in the office, as someone took exception to the idea of the miracles not being regarded as historical fact.... which is good. Means someone was listening. But, that being said, we cannot discount the importance of literary forms in the Biblical text, as it uncovers how people understood (and understand) myth in their age and how those forms were being used by biblical writers to convey the truth of the living God in relation to that which was the dominant belief in the greater culture. Hope that makes sense.

Hey man, what do you want? I had to pick up something while pursuing two degrees and making progress toward a third. This blog can't all be about fantasy leagues and what new word Eli is saying ("cake" is the new favorite). Gotta work those intellectual muscles out there for those who are interested (and there are a few).

6) One of the things I'm learning about leadership is that not everyone automatically sees what you, as a leader, sees. I, for example, believe that the institutional church thrives if you take care of three core areas of it's life:

- Creating opportunities for intentional relationship (person with God through Christ first, and and then person-to-person, in and outside your congregation, second)
- Creating structures and schedules that understood by all, and accepted as vital and necessary by all (in worship, administration, finance, discipleship, and prayer).
- Always being on the lookout for new leaders, and consciously developing them.

I learned this the way I learn everything.... the hard way. I didn't generally enter situations where these three areas have been well developed. Relationally, for example, the students involved in the ministry didn't have much of a relationship with one another, or they had an intense relationship with one another to the detriment of allowing new relationships with new people to form, or had no sense of the importance of relationship with God through Christ. This meant I had my work cut out for me as I attempt to begin to change the norms left to me. Or if the group hadn't many strong adult or youth leaders (or worse, negative ones) or their weekly/monthly/yearly schedule or regular meeting/class/bible study hadn't had much rhyme or reason to it, I had to begin thinking about ways to change this systemically in order to get different results. All of this I had to learn by doing, and heaven knows I made a lot of mistakes as I experimented with what worked, and what didn't.

But the challenge of working with a staff is trying to help them keep, in mind, these long-term strategic goals, while at the same time not get overwhelmed with all the details which exist in ministry. In my experience, most of the people recruited as staff people were exceptionally good at taking care of detail work. The transition from doing details to thinking strategically about relationships, structure, and leadership development is usually a tough one. Gone are the days when your effectiveness was measured by how well you did specific tasks. Instead the measure of effectiveness is how smoothly and effectively those tasks are completed as a part of a total ministry strategy, which includes volunteer recruitment/training, teaching of concepts to students, promotion, resource management, etc.... It's a hard transition for people to make, and even harder, I think, as a leader to try to teach. Now that I'm finally starting to find my stride, this willl be one of my major objectives in 2008... moving staff from task orientation to ministry development. Fortunately the staff we have is already working on this, and excited about the possibilities of expanding ministry. We are very blessed. I am confident we will do fine, and despite some growing pains, will have fun in the process.

7) Chances of Ohio State backing into the national championship game? I'd say about 28%. There's no way WVU loses to Pitt, cause they're just firing on all cylinders (i.e. the dismantling of UConn Saturday... you know a game is a blowout when in the 3rd quarter they switch from the feed you've been watching to a new feed with a more competitive game) but they are rivals so you never fully know what could happen (thus, I give Pitt a 3% chance of winning the game). Missouri, on the other hand, has already lost to OU once, so I'd put their chances as being 50/50 to win or lose that game. Hence, a 28% chance.... but it is at least, a chance.

And who knows... remember how Florida snuck in the back door last year (and all the whining Urban Meyer did to make it happen? Fortunately, Tressel's a class act and won't resort to such tactics... he'll express gratitude either way.)? It could happen again.

8) Expressed some frustration last week in my "random thoughts" about the way our annual conference does business. Am still frustrated on many points, but on one I am not. I have been exchanging emails with Stan Sutton in regards to a number of questions regarding our health insurance plan, and I have found his responses to be both timely and helpful. As far as conference treasurers go, he's one of the best. He has an impossible job of managing tight resources, and does it more than admirably. We are lucky to have him.

9) Bryan's Christmas List? Some new long-sleeve button-down shirts would be great. Outside of that, I'm set.

10) And finally, my Aunt Beth is visiting from Logan, Utah this week. We've been catching up on all the news of the Utah branch of the family. Her husband, Dennis (who is a man's man.... Chuck Norris has nothing on my Uncle Dennis - Dennis Riggs doesn't go "fishing"... he goes "catching"), Jenny (doing well with Matt and Cade, although Matt and Cade somehow failed to properly let out the new puppy, creating havoc in Dennis Riggs' home... fortunately Dennis Riggs tempers justice with mercy with the wisdom of Solomon), Trish (she and Josh are in their new house - Hailey is on the swim team and Branson is growing so fast he'll be taller than Trish sooner than later), and Al (working and deciding on a major before returning to Utah State... may I suggest pre-med or pre-vet?).

Now, if we just could Fred, Kathy, and Katy up here for a visit....

(hint, hint)


Aaron said...

If Missouri and West Virginia were playing a *rematch* for the championship I suspect Tressel would say a word or two. I know YOU would have plenty to say on the subject. You might try to bite your tongue, but you wouldn't be able.

BTW, isn't it supposed to be Tennessee children who go barefooted? If you need a new home for Eli, send him down. We'll take good care of him.

bryan said...

Me? Say something? Surely you jest? I am but a mild, meek, humble pastor, striving to his best for the Lord, very quietly in this tiny corner of Northwest Ohio. My tongue is tame.

Karen N. said...


I have read with interest, but some concern, your blog. Would you please clarify some of the points you were trying to make?

1. What definition of the word “myth” are you using? There are several meanings of this word, , and I would like to be clear as to the one you are using.
The word myth, from the Greek “mythos” can mean
a. A traditional story serving to explain some phenomenon of nature or customs, religious rites, etc. of a people: myths often involve exploits of gods and heroes.
b. Legends.
c. False, fictitious, or not based on facts.

2. Please provide specific examples in the writings of C.S. Lewis from which you make the statement
(A) “To him, it was less important that supernatural events in the Bible (miracles of all kinds) were actually true, as opposed to the truth being expressed in those stories.”
(B)Lewis argues, “... that the miracle narratives are examples of literary myth, meant to convey to the reader the importance of Jesus’ teachings, and not necessarily, historical events of record.

3. In fact, C.S. Lewis himself wrote an essay entitled “Myth Became Fact.” In this essay, Lewis writes that in the person of Christ we encounter a figure whose life, death, and resurrection, far from standing in opposition to the mythic heroes of paganism (stories, tales) in fact present a literal, historical fulfillment of what all those earlier myths (stories) were really about.
In this essay, he wrote, “It [the crucifixion of Christ] happens - at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences.”

4. You wrote “Anyway, yesterday I happened to mention in the sermon (yesterday - sic) that it mattered not whether you believe the Gospel writers took the miracles literally or consider (sic) them myth. In either case,they would have believed that Jesus was the answer to the prayers regarding all that vexes humanity (disease, hunger, division, war, etc.)”
I know that you think that the disciples did not simply believe “that Jesus was the answer to the prayers regarding all that vexes humanity.” Rather, the disciples lived with whom they claimed was The Christ, Savior and Lord of all, the Lamb of God whose sacrificial blood was shed to wash away the sins of the world.
The Gospel writers knew Jesus, in the flesh. Their Gospel writings were inspired by God and describe events that some disciples participated in and witnessed.

5. Are you going to trade the real Jesus Christ for a mythical story? If so, you are trading truth for myth. Do not be misled by fancy words delivered by “scholars.” Rather, be convicted through God’s grace and the Holy Spirit to worship Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords -- not some myth or story.
“For our sake, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the scriptures!” He Lives! He Lives! Christ Jesus Lives Today! This is no myth!

Rob Neidich

bryan said...


"Myth" was not a bad word for Lewis. J.I. Packer, one of the most influential evangelical scholars in the 20th century, in his article about Lewis entitled "The Many Facets of CS Lewis" sums this up better than I can:

"Myth, for Lewis, meant a story, or a figure within a story, that 'grabs' us, as we say, with a sense of significance, and thus draws us to identify in some way with what they show us. Lewis loved the god-stories of Norse and Greek mythology, and the thought that did most to bring him back to Christianity was that, in Christ, a myth found worldwide, the myth of a dying and rising deity through whose ordeal good comes to others, has become space-time fact. Then he found that what he now knew as the fact of Christ, set forth in the Scriptures, was evoking in his imagination new myths of evangelical shape - stories picturing divine mercy in worlds other than ours, past, present, and future. The space trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength), the seven Narnias, and Till We Have Faces, were the result.

Lewis saw these myths, and many pre-Christian pagan myths with them, as 'good dreams' that can have real significance in the evangelistic process. They can project visions of wholeness restored through divine action. They can make honest hearts wish that something of this sort might be true in our world, and so prepare them to discover that something of this sort is true, as a matter of fact. This crafting of myth as evangelistic persuasion is a third unique excellence in Lewis's work."

Thus, as the answer to your question, "would you trade the real Jesus for a mythical story?", the answer is you don't have to. That was Lewis' point. Jesus is the fulfillment of all of those longings to know the supernatural contained in myth, in flesh and blood.

You are interpreting the word "myth" to be a derogatory word meaning that the story of Jesus is only a story, and nothing else. But that's not where I was coming from, nor should it be for any Christian who does biblical interpretation. One must understand the myths of ages past to get a sense of what people believed about deity, and to get a better sense of how the people of God understood the reality of their own Lord in comparison.

Luke, for example, wasn't an eyewitness of Jesus:

"1 Most honorable Theophilus: Many people have written accounts about the events that took place F1 among us. 2 They used as their source material the reports circulating among us from the early disciples and other eyewitnesses of what God has done in fulfillment of his promises. 3 Having carefully investigated all of these accounts from the beginning, I have decided to write a careful summary for you, 4 to reassure you of the truth of all you were taught." (Luke 1:1-4)

His account is a collection of other eyewitness accounts. But it makes sense, Luke writing as someone educated in the Greek model for a Roman patron, that he would put such emphasis on the Virgin Birth (which isn't mentioned at all in Mark or John, and only in as much to show that Jesus' birth had fullfilled OT prophecy in Matthew). Luke was well-educated, and realized the power that the account of the Virgin Birth would have on those from that day who bought into Greek myths. It's a recasting of a myth that comes up again and again, but has a much different ending. Mary's Hymn, which we looked at today, sums up this difference, as Jesus' birth means that the temporal world will be re-shaped:

"Oh, how I praise the Lord. 47 How I rejoice in God my Savior! 48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and now generation after generation will call me blessed. 49 For he, the Mighty One, is holy, and he has done great things for me. 50 His mercy goes on from generation to generation, to all who fear him. 51 His mighty arm does tremendous things! How he scatters the proud and haughty ones! 52 He has taken princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. 53 He has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. 54 And how he has helped his servant Israel! He has not forgotten his promise to be merciful. 55 For he promised our ancestors – Abraham and his children – to be merciful to them forever."

You can bet no Greek god or goddess ever exalted the lowly, or satisfied the hungry, or confronted the status quo in any way, shape or form. For Luke, that's part of the power of the witness of the Gospel.

So am I saying that Luke's work is just a fictitious story? No! But is Luke re-telling a myth that is being given a Christian twist? Absolutely! The two things are not mutually exclusive.

Finally, the point I was making in my sermon was very simple. That Christ is very much both the crucified-and-risen Savior of all humanity. Whether you are only interested in the issue of life after death, or if you are a hard-core humanist looking for a better way for people to live, Jesus is the answer. He is the key to the cosmic issues of how imperfect people can dwell in the presence of God, and he's the moral-ethical compass who will help us understand how we are treat one another, weak or strong.

He's the whole enchilada.

Thanks for your comment.

Karen N. said...

Your question "But is Luke re-telling a myth that is being given a Christian twist? Absolutely."
I contend that Luke "having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first" (NKJV), after double checking all sources, wrote under divine revelation inspired by the Holy Spirit. Further, that Luke didn't just put a "Christian twist" on an old story (myth), but rather he accurately described an historical event (virgin birth) that truly occurred in space-time. Rob N.

bryan said...

Don't parse my comments Rob. The question that sets up that statement is "Am I saying that Luke's work is just a fictitious story? No!" Obviously, we have two accounts, Matthew and Luke, who both vouch for the Virgin Birth. It was well enough known by the Jesus' followers to be accepted as historical fact by them, hence the multiple retellings. But Matthew is only interested in it as far as it fulfills OT prophecy (which wouldn't matter to a gentile... only a Jew):

22 All of this happened to fulfill the Lord's message through his prophet: 23 "Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and he will be called Immanuel(meaning, God is with us)." (Matt 1:22-23 NLT)

Why does this never come up in Luke's narrative? You would think that if he double checked all his sources that somehow he'd want to make it a point to include why, in fact, she needed to be a virgin as foretold by the OT prophets, as further proof that Jesus is in fact, the Messiah. But he never brings it up. Why?

I'd venture his hearers probably didn't know anything about OT prophets because they weren't Jewish. They were Romans educated in a Greek style who knew little about Jewish history, culture, and religion.

So Luke puts a different emphasis on the account.

Which brings up this question... why does Mary's Hymn get mentioned by Luke, but is completely left out by Matthew?

The answer, once again I believe, is in Luke's intention, which is to provide a gospel for a gentile hearer (which we know is true because Theophilus is a Greek name). A gentile hearer is going to have a far greater interest in a Virgin Birth, and the intention of the divine being behind that birth.

In Greek mythology, gods making babies happen simply to fulfill the crass needs of those gods. LIttle if any, thought is given to the humans effected by such events. In the case of Jesus, though, Luke makes it clear that the purpose is God's justice and righteousness being realized by all people, and the integrity of God who fulfills his promises.

Don't think the distinction was lost on Luke, and don't think it was lost on his audience. It's a powerful statement about the intention and purpose of this God, and clear declaration of how He is different from the false gods they had worshiped in their past.

No literature is written or art created,in a vacuum. Works of cultural influence and popularity have a way of helping shape other works in that era. In the case of not only the Gospel writers but also Paul, whether it was cult of the Emperor or some other local popular god or goddess cult, the writer uses those images to draw a comparison between Christ and the so-called status quo, both to make their argument for faith in Jesus and expose false gods and goddesses for the frauds they are.

So Jesus is a historical person, which gives him power (which I, once again, have never argued). But the writers use of mythic imagery known to the locals is meant to draw out the full meaning of Christ's ministry for people hearing it with no sense of who we was.

Which is exactly what Lewis does in works like the Chronicles of Narnia. His was a work for a post-war, post-Christian Europe that had after two devastating wars (which were the capstone to over 100 years of non-stop war in Europe, principally waged among Christians of different denominational affiliation) gave up the hope that Christianity could actually make a difference in the world. Using the mythological characters from English and Norse mythology (which were used to educate school children on both sides of the pond... hence our having to slug through Beowulf in high school), Lewis crafts his work in such a way as to use figures people of that time would have been familiar with to lead them to a greater understanding of the meaning of Christ (as exemplified in the character of Aslan), the reality of evil, and the problem of sin.

So, once again, Luke is recording history, but Luke is also sophisticated enough to use the power of myth to hammer home his point with his hearers.

Wish I had more time to deal with this, but I'm afraid it's late. Thanks again for your comment.