What’s Wrong with Biblical Inerrancy

The last few weeks, our church has thoroughly studied the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, to the Apocrypha and to the books that didn’t make it into the Biblical Canon. I learned a lot, enough to realize that the increasingly popular teaching of Biblical Inerrancy is suspect. Before I start at the beginning, I wanted to kind of give you a warning. If you already believe that the ‘Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it’, then you might not want to do your homework. To borrow a phrase from an episode of Person of Interest I recently saw, “Sometimes it’s better not to know.” Once you do your homework, you can’t unlearn what the facts tell you. You might be able to count on persistence of belief, believing that inerrancy is true in spite of the facts that cast doubt on that. Then again, you might not and as a result question everything you believe. If you’re not comfortable with that, then go listen to your favorite preacher about inerrancy and forget the notion that it doesn’t hold water.

Tradition holds that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, including the part that describes how Moses died and what happened after that. Logic suggests that unless God inspired that last chapter, then it’s really not probable that he could have been the author. The events that happened before Moses’ birth, were likely passed down orally. Much of the rest of Old Testament was written at the point of the Babylonian captivity, as a way for the scholars and scribes to hold onto their tradition as foreigners in a foreign land.

The New Testament’s epistles were written before the gospels. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the synoptic gospels because of their similarities. Many believe that Mark was written first and used as a source material for Matthew and Luke. It’s also been theorized that Matthew and Luke also draw from the Q source; a hypothetical document which contains the elements that are common to Matthew and Luke but not Mark. These gospels were likely written before the destruction of the Temple in 70 a.d. John was likely written after the destruction of the Temple.

Scholars have studied the epistles and concluded that at least some of them were pseudepigraphic – the claim that they were written by Paul is not true. These epistles are: First and Second Timothy, Titus, and Ephesians. Scholars are evenly divided on Colossians and Second Thessalonians, they might be genuine and they might be pseudepigraphic. (Which means that any theological position that one holds that is proof-texted from any of the pseudepigraphic gospels just lost a lot of weight and the ability to hold water.) I suppose one can still believe in them but they would be wise to do so with a grain of salt.

The New Testament Cannon was closed somewhere between the years 350-400 a.d. So for a few hundred years, believers had a few extra options about what was and what wasn’t an option for sacred reading. The Shepherd of Hermas and the Didache were two popular books but they weren’t included in the canon. There were also epistles sent from the disciple’s disciples (and their disciples) to help the fledgling church once the last of the disciples had died. Some of these books were popular enough to become our Apocrypha, they were considered part of the story, but not crucial to the story. Our New Testament includes 27 books but the Ethiopian “narrow” canon contains 81 books. As new churches began to form, they came to a different consensus about what was and what wasn’t part of the Bible.

In 325 a.d., the Council of Nicaea was held that established Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire. By 1000 a.d., the East and West Schism had taken place that divided the one church into the Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church. By 1500 a.d. the Protestant Reformation was underway. The world had changed. With the collapse of the Roman empire, barbarians had moved in. They didn’t believe in education, so they didn’t bother. Literacy rates began to plummet. They began to depend on their own local languages – soon knowledge of Greek and Latin had been limited to only a small group of scholars and priests. Then the Black Death arrived and devastated the population. By this time, the Bible had been upgraded from a collection of scrolls into bound codeci then into illustrated manuscripts and finally the printing press arrived on the scene. Aramaic was almost a dead language, Koine Greek was nearly forgotten, and Latin survived only in formal use for church services but wasn’t in popular use among the general population. By now there were many diverse languages, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, as well as more modern version of Greek, but after a few millennia, much of the original had been lost. Today we have tens of thousands of manuscripts – fragments of the Bible in scroll-form. The majority of them are some of the youngest and a minority of them are among the oldest ever found. None of them are identical. Comparisons reveal that Mark has two endings – Mark 16:9-20 being the second. The story of the woman caught in adultery isn’t in some of the manuscripts but it is in others. Sometimes it’s the sort of error you’d expect to see, a letter or word being transposed, including a note from the margin into the main text, double letters or words, the sort of mistake that anyone would make when they have to copy a long series of text they may or may not understand very well. (Think of the times when you had to take a sentence like: “I will not question the inerrancy of the Bible and will follow it literally because it contains the authority of the Word of God.” hundreds of times over and over again – could you be sure not to make a mistake? What if the sentence looked a little more like this: “iwillnotquestiontheinerrancyofthebibleandwillfollowitliterallybecauseitcontainstheauthorityofthewordofgod”? Could you be sure that you would copy it perfectly every single time?)

These manuscripts were collected and compared – the elements that were common to the majority of them were copied into collections like the Textus Receptus which dates back to the 1500s. From it, the Luther translated the Bible into German, Tyndale translated the New Testament into English, the King James version and other Reformation-era Bibles were translated. Also used, was the Vulgate, a 4th century Latin version of the Bible that was popularity used because knowledge of Aramaic and Greek was already on the decline. The Septuagint was a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Koine Greek to give the believers who knew Greek but not Hebrew greater access to the the whole story. The thing about translating languages is that two languages can be totally different, add on a few millennia and one languages can be totally different from itself. But put it all together and you’ve got a process whereby errors crept in every step of the way – errors from copying down the scrolls, errors from translating languages, errors from the printing press, and most notably, errors from the humans who read it, interpret it, and preach it.

Since the 1500s, we have found fragments of manuscripts and also have greater understanding of the original languages. We know things they didn’t know. Take something like the King James Bible (a.k.a. Authorized Version) instead of starting from scratch, the translators opted to use the Bishop’s Bible as a source. The Bishop’s Bible was a replacement for the Great Bible which was translated from the Vulgate, but none of the original languages. The Great Bible was based on the Tyndale Bible. The Tyndale Bible was the first English translation directly from the Hebrew and Greek languages. The Authorized Version was later revised into the Revised Version. The Revised Version was also revised with some Americans consulted on the matter, resulting in the American Standard Version. The American Standard Version was revised a few times – including in the New American Standard Bible. So if you use that version, you can trace it back through half a dozen revisions in the English, finally meeting thousands of manuscripts copied over and over again for hundreds of years, going back in time until we reach the oldest one we’ve found, knowing that everything before that has been destroyed. The American Standard Version was also revised into the Revised Standard Version which was revised into the English Standard Version. With every revision, every translation, the editor had an opportunity to go back to the original manuscripts or to do some homework on the original languages and draw upon their knowledge to try to be faithful to the original text. But they also had an opportunity to let their biases creep in – and that’s why we have so many revisions of revisions, updates of updates, new versions of new versions.

The doctrine of inerrancy recognizes that in the process of transmission errors can creep in, which is why only the originals are said to be inerrant. The oldest manuscripts we have are either from the first half of the second century or one possibly from the first century. We’re not talking about whole, complete works of the Bible, but a portion of a copy of the Gospel of John and a portion of a copy of the Gospel of Mark – a page, maybe a a paragraph ls clearly legible. The originals no longer exist. Which is why the inerrantists insist that based on textual criticism, we can deduce what the originals said based on the (errant) manuscripts. But can we really use errant manuscripts to prove that the Bible is inerrant? Can we trust the English language to have been faithful to the meaning of ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Latin religious concepts? Would God want us to read these words literally and apply them to the human race indefinitely?

Sometimes it comes down to faith. While I believe that the core of the story is correct, that Jesus wants us to love God and love each other, I cannot find it in my heart to accept ideas like gender roles, complementarianism, male headship, and other theological positions true especially when their foundation is a lie – Paul didn’t write some of the epistles those teachings are based off of, someone else did. Sure, lots of Church fathers who didn’t know Aramaic decided that they were worth including in the canon, but they lived in a society where such things were their lot in life. If they believed that Paul wrote them, then they were deceived and so are we. I tend to like to ask this one thing: If the Bible is inerrant, what was it before we added words into it? Did we make it inerrant by our additions and improvements? Or are we kidding ourselves into thinking that we have helped God do something he failed to do – that is, keep it intact over many millennia? For the longest time, I wasn’t on good terms with my Bible. I had begun to realize that no matter how inerrant the original text was, the people who were teaching it, studying it, preaching it, and sharing it were members of the human race, and we specialize in getting things wrong – always have and always will. That’s the real problem with inerrancy, the more you believe that nothing’s wrong, the more you think that the wrong things are right. When you think the wrong thing is right, then your conscience remains clear when you do terrible things acting on those beliefs. That’s why slavery persisted. That’s why racism was excused. That’s why sexism goes unchallenged. Sometimes it’s better to not know, but not always.


No Change

Christianity is supposed to be announcing good news to the poor, proclaiming freedom to the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and setting the oppressed free (Luke 4:18). Sometimes though – it doesn’t really seem to change much of anything.

One Christian group was so eager to bring back an old custom, that they failed to realize that were creating a binding rule that didn’t change things for women converting from Islam to Christianity; instead they brought Christian practice more in accordance with Islam by requiring women to wear head coverings. Thankfully, it’s a small movement with very little traction.

Likewise, gender roles teachings reinforces the cultural norms of many societies and does not challenge them to improve or change the reality in which many people live in. Today, we had guest speakers from Uganda. The ministry serving a particular village is working hard by making fresh, clean water more available, making children’s education a priority, and helping to empower women by teaching them crafts that they can sell in order to support their families. Last month, I discussed complementarianism with a woman from Malawi. I happened to look at the statistics for her country and realized that African women live in a context that’s vastly different than the 1950s gender role standards that American Christians tends to emphasize.

The brochure the speaker left us says: “Women and children were expected to provide for the family, and men did very little but drink. Men would eat first and the women and children would get what was left over.” (As a result, malnutrition was rampant.) Complementarianism says that men are the head of the family. That means they make the decisions – if the man wants to be the one that works so that his wife and children do not have to work then that’s acceptable. But if the man wants to be the one that doesn’t work, then his wife and children have little choice but to work and that’s acceptable too, all that matters is that the husband made the decision and the wife has to obey it and deal with the consequences as best she can no matter what decision was made. Some American Christians actually emphasize that men should go to seminary and that their wives ought to have the burden of both earning money and raising the children. Do Christianity’s gender role teachings improve the lot of women? It doesn’t seem to really change anything, it just requests that everyone be nicer about it.

Can you imagine an episode of ‘Leave it to Beaver’ or any other 1950s family sit-com set in an African context? If you can’t, it’s probably because in general, we know very little about the typical African’s day – how early they wake up, how long they have to walk to get water or to school (6-12 miles), how dangerous the journey is because bad guys are lying in wait to ambush vulnerable people, how sickness and disease meant that daily somebody in your life would be dead before the end of the day, if not your neighbor, possibly a family member. Gender role teachings only reinforce the cultural norms that they already know – that women bear and raise children, keep the house, and do everything in their power to keep everyone clothed, fed, and alive until the next day while their husbands are supposed to do something equally important and different from what the women do. With teaching such as headship, it will only give a divine stamp of approval on the basic framework of what exists and only ask for minor changes that may not amount very much change at all. You see, around a certain age (13), young women drop out of school because they’re all grown up. Or, more precisely, they’re grown up enough to get married, start a family, and do what their mothers have done since they were the same age. Because she can expect to spend the rest of her life in that context, then education beyond that age is a dream that will never be fulfilled, a child’s fantasy that will never be realized. From that time on, her days are numbered. Without health care, having children is risky enough. Being a young widow or a widow with children or having married into a family that has four children from the previous two wives (who both died in childbirth) just underscores the reality of the danger that gender role teachings pressures women to comply with cultural expectations because God said as much millennia ago.

This leads me to draw the conclusion that complementarianism is just wrong. It’s off. It’s not right. If Christianity doesn’t change things for the better, then what is it good for? Perhaps it’s just easier to see why gender roles teachings do more harm than good in a society where cultural gender roles aren’t that great. In our context, women have greater freedoms in our culture to have dreams and to fulfill them, women’s education continues past the age of thirteen and we have the option of delaying marriage and motherhood as women can support themselves on their own. But I submit that if gender roles teachings don’t work in an African or Indian or Asian or Chinese context, then it must not really work in an American context either. Somewhere or other, these unwritten rules about who can do what because of the gender they were born as has caused no end of frustration and problems. When God came to free the oppressed, as Jesus he set the example of treating women with the utmost respect and he ignored the protocols of gender roles in his own first century Jewish context. I don’t think that God’s sole purpose is to ensure marriage and motherhood (or fatherhood) but to get us to see that what matters is loving our neighbor. That’s something all of us can and should do. If we do that, we will change everything.

Native American Heritage Day

Today is Native American Heritage Day – it always falls on the day after Thanksgiving. It’s one of the newer holidays – created in 2008. It’s page on Wikipedia says it’s significance is that it is a day in honor of Native Americans. I think that’s something all of us can do, even if our ancestors immigrated to America centuries ago. That’s where I’m proud of my former state. When I was little, every year they would team up members of the local tribes to hold a cultural fair. Everyone was invited to come learn about Native American culture, the history of each tribe, their songs, their dances, their food, their stories, their crafts, their language. To be honest, I always thought it was brilliant and it always was a lot of fun.

You see, there was a time when Christians believed that it was their duty to convert their heathen neighbors. They created boarding schools where children from Native American tribes were given Christian names and their own names were forbidden, they were given new clothing and their own clothing was forbidden, they were given new hairstyles and haircuts and their own hairstyles and natural hair lengths were forbidden, they were given a new language and their own was forbidden, they were given a new education and the education from their own culture was forbidden, and they were given a Bible and all of their own beliefs were strongly discouraged. Now the festival that my old town put on did just the opposite – it gave everyone a Native American name, clothing, education, and shared with us their culture for a day without taking away anything that made us, well, us.

I really wish that it was something that was much more widespread, sadly it’s not. It’s unfortunate to know that every year, speakers of Native American languages are fewer and fewer. That their songs aren’t being sung and their stories aren’t being told. We can either wait for somebody to teach us, to try to reach out to the cultural centers and try to educate ourselves so we can educate others. Let’s not let Christianity destroy culture, but make a concerted effort to save it because it’s the right thing to do.

Membership Isn’t Everything

On Sunday, I overheard that some new people were interested in membership with the church. “Good for them!” I thought; “but I’m pretty sure membership just isn’t for me.” I’ve attended the Methodist church for about a year now and the subject just hasn’t come up nor do I have any idea what I’d tell them. I don’t understand what membership does for me that being a regular attender cannot do. Perhaps I’m less than thrilled with the idea of membership because the church that holds my original membership one day declared that anyone that wasn’t in complete and total agreement with their teachings were heretics in the pastor’s book and I realized that because of a difference of opinion, I wasn’t one of them anymore but something of a heretic.

Now some churches are really into membership and what comes with that is a whole new vocabulary where the words we think might say one thing are meant to indicate something entirely different. It comes with strings attached and protocols to which we must adhere to by going along to get along well with everyone. To them few things are more of a big deal than membership. It’s the equivalent of adoption papers as proof that you are a part of their family. It’s just like a passport issued by their embassy which protects you as a citizen of their country in a foreign land. It’s just like an engagement ring as proof of your upcoming marriage. If you lose it – then you’re a runway from the family of God and an expatriate from the kingdom of God and an ex-fiance who told God ‘no’.

Membership, they say, is being a part of a local church. A local church is a group of baptized believers who meet regularly to study the Bible and take communion under the guidance of appointed leaders – meaning that believers must submit to and honor the elders. This includes being disciplined; A vague concept which means that ‘letting elders tell you what to do, accepting corrective punishment, and repent of whatever wrongdoing they accuse you of’. You’ve giving them permission to kick you out of the club if you fail to meet their expectations. In return for all of this, they tell you that you’ll grow in spiritual maturity and godliness. The idea is that the purpose of membership is to ‘regenerate’ believers into a higher standard of behavior and spirituality. Membership is sometimes a prerequisite to serve the church in a teaching capacity, so it’s a handy way to segregate believers into ‘full’ and ‘limited’ groups.

Perhaps it’s how many stories I’ve heard about discipline being misapplied that makes me leery of membership. Some of the more famous ones were instances where 100+ year old grandmothers were forced out of their churches for questioning the changes taking place, punishing a woman for getting an annulment from her husband without consulting the elders of the church, questioning if a book should be sold for the duration that it’s author was on a very public trial, and countless of other examples ranging from bad to worse about how discipline was used the wrong way against the wrong person.

I know enough to know that I don’t want any part in churches like that – the ones that silence victims from speaking out and stand beside the perpetrators. I don’t want to be a part of a church that sees me as ‘less’ than a member because I’m not one. I don’t want to be in a church that plays favorites with some and has no love for others. If that means that I won’t rise to the challenge of being as spiritually mature and godly as they are – then I can live with that. I don’t really believe that following a church’s teaching is a sure recipe for moral superiority – I’ve seen loads of members who aren’t much different from or better than a regular person. Seems to me that membership involves a lot of false advertising.

I guess when it comes right down to it – I just don’t believe in membership because it seems to be more about power and control and less about belonging as a part of a group of people who really care about you. It seems that it’s more about making a vow of commitment to the church or signing an official covenant pledge and less about being believed that you are a committed follower of Jesus alone. It seems that it’s more about securing an inner-circle position and less about being included in everything. Since I don’t know what they mean by ‘membership’ I can only assume it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

I suppose I’d tell my church that membership isn’t everything and that it just isn’t right for me.


Wondering What Worship Is

What is worship? I think everybody has an idea – singing, preaching, reading the Bible, reciting creeds, lighting candles, smelling incense, sharing in communion, praying, confessing, greeting one another, all of these things are elements in worship in different churches. Not all churches use all elements, and the elements they do use might be totally different approaches to them.

In a debate awhile ago, I was told that the most important part of worship is the Lord’s Supper / Communion / Eucharist and that everything else about worship ought to be leading up to it and celebrating it afterwards. Then another group said that music was the most important part of worship because more readily remember theology when it’s sung. Still others said that the preaching of the Word was the most important part of worship because faith comes by hearing, and we can’t have faith if we don’t hear the word being preached and explained. Is worship worship if it’s done alone – or is gathering together part of what makes worship what it is? What about participation? Should people look onward as the priest fulfills their priestly duties, or are we priests and priestesses who have duties of our own to fulfill?

Worship is complex. I could tell you everything that I think has gone wrong with the different styles of the churches that I know, but I don’t know what worship is like in other churches and there will always be somebody out there with the opposite opinion, whatever they hate, I like and whatever I like, they hate. To be honest, I don’t know what really comes of all the debates – but I certainly learn a lot.

It comes down to it that some people think if ‘high worship’ for lack of a better word. God is so high, so holy, so transcendent, that to try to reach him on a human level is to cheapen everything that he represents. It can be still, quiet, solemn, and calm. And the opposite of that is ‘low worship’ one that tries to understand on a chiefly human level, through a sensory and emotional context. It can be noisy and exuberant but also soft and sorrowful as well as everything in-between.

My former denomination left the ‘high worship’ style because they realized it was a goal they couldn’t attain. They felt that ‘God among us’ really meant that he had come down to our level, not made it possible for us to ascend to his. They did away with a lot of elements before they realized that what they were really aiming for was a ‘middle worship’ that bridged elements from both styles together in harmony by being different. So they had to sacrifice some of their ideas about emotion in worship. They arrived at a liturgy of their own – an order of worship where a list of items was done in the same order for the same amount of time, starting with the first and ending at the last. It wasn’t long before the established tradition was the explanation for why they did everything even though there wasn’t exactly Biblical support for them to be done like that. And since tradition is doing things as they had always been done, they weren’t open to change.

The more I wondered about which version of worship was the right more, the more I began to wonder if they weren’t all right; at least, some more right for some than others. I don’t think that God would reject any form of worship for having a different emphasis or form than another. But I do think that each of us will respond to different things better than others. That’s why we have so many different kinds, but we don’t always have all of those different kinds at hand. Some denominations don’t exist out here. Some denominations are super-abundant, but they don’t vary their styles.

I’m afraid that if there was a perfect kind of worship for me, that made me excited to come to church, thrilled about singing (tall order, I know), or filled with other elements that are perfectly suited to my tastes, I’d be the only one who was there, which would defeat the point as churches tend to be communities. But it’s hard to feel like a member of a community when you don’t feel very well matched to what’s going on or you don’t feel like your concerns are being heard or your ideas are being considered.

I’m so used to showing up, going through the list, and leaving. A lot of it is forgettable, sometimes it’s tedious – but not a lot is memorable or all that great. I get it that it’s hard to replicate a great experience one day a week indefinitely. But somehow it’s just wrong to me to feel numb about worship and treat it as a going through the motions type thing. I just don’t know how to change it up when that seems to be the typical approach. I get that order in worship is in the Bible, but I was thinking that something shy of chaos was the goal, not necessarily follow a list of items in order in an orderly way because that’s the way it’s always been done. Changing up the routine would be nice, saving music for later, having a bit of preaching first, perhaps communion first thing as opposed to somewhere in the middle. I don’t know – what do you do to get rid of the ‘going through the motions’ feeling about worship?

Of Freedom and France


One morning I had forgotten to eat breakfast before heading off to school, fortunately I knew that the cafeteria would always have something delicious available for breakfast.
“I’d like to have some french toast, sausages, and orange juice, please.” I requested.
The cafeteria lady, who was known for being kind, was a woman in her mid-sixties with grey hair in a short perm under a black hairnet, wearing glasses with a thick black rim and also a striped sweater in the school’s colors of red, black, and white, and some black slacks shook her head. “I’m sorry, we’re all out of french toast; but we do have freedom toast. Same thing.”
“What gives?” I asked.
“Some politician was upset that French government decided not to stick with us in the war that he changed all the menus so now we have freedom toast, freedom fries, and freedom mustard.” She answered.
“What do the French have to say all about this?” I asked.
“That they have more important things to worry about than what we call our potatoes. That’s the thing about freedom, if we truly value it, then we have to accept it when others use their freedom to do whats right for their people even if it’s not what we want them to do. Otherwise it wouldn’t really be freedom if we could just tell them what to do and how to live.” She replied.
“In that case, may I have some French-Freedom Toast so that I may have the best of both worlds?” I asked.
“Certainly.” She said, taking a red tray and putting a serving of french toast, sausage, and a container of orange juice in it’s compartments and handed it to me.
“Thanks! Have a nice day!” I said and then headed for my usual table to enjoy my meal. I had never before considered that freedom doesn’t always mean that we’re always on the same boat going in the same  direction. Sometimes you have to go in another direction and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re abandoning your friends. Eventually the whole thing blew over and everyone forgot that they were supposed to replace French with Freedom.

There is, I think, a link between freedom and France that’s easy to over-look for those of us on the other side of the world. It’s part of our history that the French gave us the Liberty statue and with it – this poem has reminded us of one of our chief virtues:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

We are a land of freedom because the French people helped us in the Revolutionary War, they recognized us as a sovereign nation and provided us with arms and were our first ally. Benjamin Franklin himself served as our ambassador to France. In short, without the French, we wouldn’t have had the freedom that we know and love today. We’re like two old friends who constantly get each other into trouble just to rescue each other out of it again. I hope that remains to be the case, come what may.

I’d like to think that we’re worthy students of France’s benevolence, and can do something remarkable; keep our doors open to those who are tempest-tost out of the Middle East and giving them the freedom and security that we have so thoroughly enjoyed. Let’s not give into fear, hatred, and mistrust. We can do so much better than that – and if we value what liberty truly means, then we must give everyone a chance to do what they will with it. I have a feeling that there are remarkable people who need only the chance to prove that they’re good people like we are – but we have to give them that chance for a better life, like France did for us a long time ago.

Conflict of Emotions

Christianity has issues with emotion. This is, of course, nothing new. Church Fathers might not have fully agreed with Stoicism’s particular teachings, but they borrowed some of it’s central philosophical concepts, it’s terminology, a beliefs of humanity’s depravity and sin nature, and the futility of worldly possessions and attachments. Both pointed toward Asceticism’s teaching that it’s followers ought to abstain from worldly pleasures in order to pursue spiritual goals. Christians could do this by going to the desert communities of Kellia, Scetis, and Nitria, giving up their worldly possessions, and living as simply as possible in communion with each other while focusing on the teachings of Jesus and other spiritual thinkers. Ascetics usually tried either to escape from their emotions (by removing themselves from things that might make them emotional) or to suppress their emotions (think of Star Trek’s Vulcans, creating a theology that made the lack of emotions to be spiritually superior to one fettered with those annoying emotions.) Stoics believed that there were ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ emotions, and it was the lower emotions that had to be reigned in by abstaining from them. The theological opposite of the Stoics were the Epicureans, who believed that pleasure was the ultimate good and delighted in emotions as well as anything that could produce them. They were viewed as heretics by many early Christians who viewed them as pleasure-seeking sinners who put themselves first.

On one hand, we have inherited the ’emotions are bad vs emotions are good’ conflict from the influence that Stoicism had on Christianity, but we have another teaching that doesn’t help matters. Women are emotional, therefore emotions are feminine. Feminized churches are a failure partially because of the touchy-feely ‘Jesus is my Boyfriend’ emotionally-driven worship services. Small groups are all about being emotionally vulnerable, confessing sins, and crying. Men are not emotional, therefore being unemotional is masculine. Masculine churches ruled Christianity successfully for millennia partially because they didn’t give into the whims and fancies of emotions. Small groups are all about knowledge and facts, sharing truth, and such things keep one free from displays of emotions. It is, therefore, a failing of women to be so emotional and why they cannot be pastors or teachers because they might so fervently believe something to be so and not realize they’re teaching heresy. Or so the argument tends to go. Now that Christianity is emphasizing gender roles, it’s creating a theology where not just one’s gender is a factor, but anything associated with that gender get’s emphasized as being good or bad, or better or worse, too. So not only are women subordinate to men, but emotions are subordinate and inferior to being unemotional. An emotional man would be considered less than an unemotional man, would he not?

One would think that in two thousand years enough thinkers would have come to realize the value in emotions being acceptable and a healthy part of being human. Jesus himself displayed a fair number of them: sadness upon Lazarus’ death, disappointment and anger at the corrupt temple system, annoyance with the religious leaders, and being a human being, he must have been delighted, happy, thrilled, amazed, surprised, and all of the other emotions that make us who and what we are at some point. Nowhere does he affirm that emotions ought to be suppressed so that we can become more spiritually aware believers. All he asked was that we be responsible with our emotions; mourn with those who mourn, celebrate with those who celebrate, don’t be afraid, don’t let your hearts be troubled (cheer up!); but somehow Christianity lost the message along the way and created a theology that has issues with emotion.

One of the members of one of my churches was one of the sort of people who took to drama class when he was young and he never lost his love of acting. On occasion, he would perform a short play for the church, sometimes enlisting others to take up a part or two. He was entirely in control of his emotions and able to display them as the play demanded. On the ones where crying was a part of the play, I could look around and see the other men in the church physically tense up and shift around awkwardly. Even if the reason for crying in the play was perfectly reasonable, like the loss of a relative, the other men viewed it as inappropriate for him to do. On occasion, they would tease him for it. Later on, they might watch one of their favorite action movies, watch the hero of that movie tearfully vow vengeance for the death of his one true love, and praise the actor for a masterful performance as he kills dozens of bad guys without remorse, pity, or mercy.

I happen to believe that there’s a very good reason why we have emotions – we need them. Look again at the Bible and it’s full of emotion, from God’s wrath and anger to his mercy and sorrow. Everyone in the Bible has an emotional element to their stories, from shame and fear and worry to honor and boldness and confidence. While we might see black and white and red words on a page, we have to use our imagination to add in the emotional context to what’s going on. How might Abraham have been feeling when he heard that Lot’s family had been captured or the city in which he lived was about to be destroyed? How might Esther have been feeling when she was asked to go before the king un-summoned knowing that he could very easily have her put to death for doing so? How might Ruth have felt as a foreigner in a foreign land? How might David have been feeling when he was fleeing Saul? Actually, we can know that – because the Psalms are full of emotions as well, delight in the Lord, doubt and questioning, fierce anger at God’s enemies. Could part of the reason why David was a ‘man after God’s own heart’ was that he himself was something of an emotional guy? Does that make him less than any of the less-emotional prophets? I don’t think so.

I just hope that we happen to realize that not all our teachings are helpful before it’s too late. As it is, too many people feel ostracized because Christianity thinks of them as ‘too emotional’ but they’re in good company with King David, so I think it’s the rest of us who needs to learn how to follow their example.