Eugene Cho

GOD questions

With permission, I am posting an email I recently received.  It’s fairly long but very much worth reading.  In sharing this post, my hope is that this 1) spurs dialogue, 2) elicits your thoughts, ideas, and quasi answers, 3) encourages the reader in their faith journey, and 4) personally blesses the person who sent me this email.  If I may, I’ll just call this person “Jane.”  I’ve enboldened her questions in bold so that they stand out.  There’s no need to address every question but perhaps to approach the ones that resonate with you.  I look forward to reading people’s contributions and I’ll eventually post my response to this person as well.  What we’ll likely discover is that people will have different views and ideas…and that’s OK.


[beginning of email] I missed church two weeks ago and listened to your sermon online. I find myself very uncomfortable with attempts to explain what happened in the Garden of Eden and concepts like “the fall” and “the curse”.

Actually it’s not the concepts I have problems with, it’s the details. The concept of the suffering inherent in life being not something that God does to us but that we do to ourselves is one I can wrap my arms around.

The detail of an angry (disappointed?) God the Father punishing women forevermore with painful childbirth because Eve ate the forbidden fruit just seems way too human for me. Is God just a person, writ large?

The story of the fall and the curse seems like a very likely product of human beings trying to make sense of their lives and their encounters with God. If you could look at that story’s DNA, I think it would be human. Of course we have to explain things in a way that makes sense to ourselves, and God is likely too complex for us to understand well or to explain, so Genesis gives us a nice story to try to explain what might be at work when we see a divine and perfect God create an imperfect world. But I guess I’m asking, do you really believe there was an Adam, and an Eve?

I’m currently reading the book you recommended: Letters to a Skeptic, although I’m in the very early going. I just read the chapter where he probes the question of whether or not God knows what we are going to do before we do it. I know this guy is very well educated and maybe I’m out to lunch, but this seems like a completely wacky, unproductive effort. Like arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Does God experience time like we do, linearly with the past first, then the present then the future? Physicists tell us time is just another dimension; Stephen Hawking has spent a fair amount of time trying to understand why time only runs forward; theoretically it should be like any other dimension—we should be able to travel back and forth along time.

OK, pretty esoteric and I don’t claim to understand it, but really, is God constrained within his own creation? Doesn’t he more likely stand outside of it?

Maybe time is laid out for God like cards spread across a table and he sees it all at once. Maybe the whole of existence throbs with life and any good we do in the world today changes all of history and the future at the same time. Maybe creation is like a huge organism trying to purify itself, and time has no real meaning. Or maybe it’s nothing like that, but it’s surely not so simple a 6th grader could fully explain it.

This is my very big resistance to attempts to interpret the Bible: it’s like people trap God in a little Bible-sized box, and then argue about what’s inside. Searching for another analogy, like using a dollar bill as your only input about Geo Washington and spending a lot of time and energy arguing over what’s in that portrait and what it means.

It just seems so tortured, and futile, the attempt to get it all to make sense and be consistent with itself and with what arguably God has placed in our hearts.

And add to that the context you talked about when mentioning how wives were viewed at the time and what Paul was saying when he said to love your wives. The context is important, and today’s context is different. Plus, Paul is not divine; when God knocked him off that horse did he change Paul’s entire brain? Or did he say, “Hmmm, I could use that guy”, and convert him, and what we’ve got is still old Saul, with his own strengths and weaknesses, but a Saul that is convinced of Christ’s divinity. Or is he, as Paul, infallible?

Do we just assume that whatever decisions everyone whoever got his hands on the bible–the people who decided what was canon and what was heresy, the scribes who made “improvements” and errors which rolled into today’s bible, and the original authors– were guided by God to make no mistakes?

Overall, the anthropomorphization (spell check has no suggestions) of God is a huge problem for me. I hear over and over “God wants such and such”, “What is God’s plan for my life?”, “God saved us from the tornado”. (Beats “God helped us win the Super bowl”, I guess.)

Does God want things? Does he plan things? Those are things humans do. If God saved me from the tornado, did he also choose to wipe out my neighbor’s family? Does God save and choose? Or are am I alive and my neighbor dead because the tornado touched down over there and not here. Does having babies hurt because their heads are just so dang big?

I feel like the safest way for me to approach the Bible is at 20 feet, like a Seurat painting, to get the big picture (love one another, don’t judge), rather than verse by verse.

OK, you’ll be glad to know I’m out of steam here. I eagerly await your response, or the response of David or whomever you might see fit to bump this to. I KNOW you are a busy, busy guy and I am patient and not in crisis so no rush and I hope this isn’t just too much! You can direct me to a book if you prefer.

With gratitude for your willingness to help me on my quest, “Jane”

Filed under: bible, christianity, church, emerging church, religion

31 Responses

  1. m@ says:

    I really do love that these questions can even be asked. And I only wish I could provide some insight but, to be frank, my mind is generating very similar, seemingly difficult questions that I often just keep to myself.

    But one thought did come to mind in response to the first query: “Is God just a person, writ large?” Is it possible that we are just images of God, writ very very small and under His dominion? It doesn’t always surprise me that the emotional curvature of humanity — one that is unique across all of animal creation — is sometimes reflected in God’s actions and conversations. This idea may be surprising to some, but — I think we also can be conditioned, sometimes, to believe that emotions are an attribute of the fall, and that’s certainly not true.

    Anyway, I’ll leave the rest to the scholars on this one. 🙂

  2. jeff says:

    In reading the email, I think all the questions asked are a spin-off of some sort from Jane’s thoughts on biblical interpretation, where she writes, “it’s like people trap God in a little Bible-sized box and then argue about what’s inside.” The George Washington/ Dollar bill analogy is spot on. The question reflects a growing skepticism toward the ambition of mastering God, grasping God, containing God. I want to posit that people didn’t always try to do this, but is very much an echo of the enlightenment era, when it seemed there were no limits to human understanding.

    An unfortunate side-effect of this era was the way we turned God into an object (rather than subject) to be grasped. For example, of MLK Jr, a student can know his height, weight, d.o.b., education background, his religious affiliation, kids, etc. A student can even read his words and conclude something about his ethics and beliefs. But that student’s knowledge of MLK Jr. could never begin to approach Coretta Scott King’s. While the student might know quite a few objective facts about the man, his wife possesses a knowledge of him that is unapproachable, a knowledge that could only be gained by love. Isn’t that the difference between love and lust? Lust treats someone as an object to be consumed, while love treats the other as a subject that can never be reduced to an object for exploitation.

    God cannot be grasped, and we need not grasp God; instead he grasps us. This doesn’t mean that our knowledge of God is somehow unimportant – it’s extremely important – but we do need to acknowledge that our knowledge will always fall short and always reflects something about the individual/community who makes the claim. If we don’t acknowledge that our understanding of this term “God” falls short of the subject it purports to point to, then we will idolize our own intellectual conception of God. It must be clear that our inability to grasp God is not due to his distance or indifference to people; a book that I’m currently reading makes the argument that god is wholly transcendent precisely because he is wholly imminent; it’s not God’s anonymity, but God’s hypernymity – an overabundance of God, too great for finite humans to even begin to understand. That concept alone is hard enough to truly understand, let alone God himself.

    So this is the framework from which I begin to interrogate the scriptures. God is great, and I am not. The moment I try to objectify him, he slips by and compels me to love him instead. We want food – answers – and he gives us westerners his aroma instead – for us overstuffed folks with every answer at our fingertips, it seems like that could be by design. I think that seeking is finding – the posture of kneeling at the master’s feet (as opposed to in his throne), learning from the rabbi, is exactly where we calls us to be.

  3. e cho says:

    m@ – i think one of the points i want to stress is to value ‘asking questions.’ when i became a christian at 18, i almost felt like people were directly and indirectly asking and telling me to stop asking questions. maybe we can give ourselves some grace if we don’t have all the answers but we can still ask the questions.

    jeff: which book are you reading right now?

    couple books [for now] to recommend others:
    read the bible for all its worth – gordon fee
    simply christian – n. t. wright
    a good bible dictionary

  4. jeff says:

    i’m reading peter rollins’s how (not) to speak of god. it generated a lot of buzz when it came out last year, so i finally decided to check it out.

    there aren’t a lot of people who could write a book called “how to read the bible for all its worth,” but gordon fee is definitely one of em. i read nt wrights book last year sometime, and thought it was awesome… i like how he makes tough theology, accessible.

  5. j. p. says:

    I can’t speak for God, but since my training is in biblical studies, I’d like to offer a few observations:

    Reading the Bible (in translation, let alone the source languages) is HARD work–don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I am skeptical any time someone says “The Bible/God clearly says/teaches…, ” because more often than not, the Bible is anything but unambiguous when you take context(s) into consideration. I would maintain that those who insist on a contradiction- or error-free Bible are not reading carefully and/or willfully ignoring evidence to the contrary. From my perspective, traditional doctrines of “(verbal) inerrancy” rob the text of its richness and texture. Why not admit the difficulties (“at 20 feet”) and then wrestle with the real, specific questions (perhaps move in closer to examine the details) that arise?

    There is no such thing as a bias-free “reading” of the Bible, only biased interpretations. We probably get this on an intuitive level, but we often don’t realize what a long history of interpretation lies behind even simple things that we take for granted about common stories and figures in the Bible. Remember, those headings you often find printed in Bibles, such as “The Fall” are interpretations by Bible translation committees of what is in the text. I think that’s one of the functions that BIble scholars, church historians, etc., perform in service to the Church: to remember for and remind the Church that seemingly new debates were prefigured long ago–that there is nothing new under the sun.

    The Bible contains within its pages strenuous debate about what and how God spoke to people, so it should not surprise us one bit today that people can’t agree when the “liberals” and “conservatives” couldn’t agree in the period of the Bible’s own composition!
    I would summarize my own approach to the Bible as: I take it very seriously, but not always literally. I am comfortable with saying “I don’t know” when I don’t know what the Bible is saying.

    p.s. on “the Fall,” it might surprise many Western Christians to know that this is not the accepted interpretation in the Eastern Church (or Judaism, for what it’s worth); see W. S. Towner, “Interpretations and Reinterpretations of the Fall,” pp. 53–85 in Modern Biblical Scholarship (Villanova, Pa.: Villanova University Press, 1984).

    p.p.s. As problematic as the “anthropomorphization” of God can be, I also think the “divinization” of human beings (intentional or not) by the application of the label “godly” or by other less obvious forms of worship is questionable, if not outright idolatrous.

  6. david says:

    Can I just say that I love asking these questions because they’re very important? I really agree with everything that’s been said thus far, and the books recommended. I think it’s really critical that we learn NOT to separate our intellectual skepticism and our religious affection- for me they go hand in hand. Unfortunately, because the bible is a religious text, people are often afraid to question its integrity and historicity, as if it fell from heaven as a leather-bound king james version in 15th century english. But if centuries of biblical/textual/literary higher criticism have taught us anything, it’s that the text, for better or worse, stands on its own and requires no defense from either religious fundamentalism on the right or modern post-enlightenment rationalism on the left (or postmodern/existential skepticism in the middle, for that matter). That said, the debates are still going, and they are indeed important, but I do think it’s important to frame the conversation with that disclaimer.

    And another point of agreement with previous commenters is that all of our theologies will always fall short of encapsulating God- an unfortunate necessity of establishing our theological constructs. Theology, in essence, is always grasping and not entirely comprehending- and as one of my professors often said, the task of theology (particularly textual exegesis) actually exegetes the interpreter as much as it does the text. And that’s a scary reality.

    So, the questions:
    1. Do you really believe there was an Adam, and an Eve?

    It’s funny, I still remember sitting in a class where my OT professor suggested “Adam” might not necessarily have been a “real man” like my neighbor Bob down the street, and the initial discomfort this caused me. So I do understand that some people are reticent to explore this idea, but I do also believe the text warrants some space for interpretation. Without going into a lot of the endless Hebrew word-plays in the Genesis creation account, particularly on the interplay between the proper name “Adam” and the generic “a-dam” (meaning man/human), let’s just say that it’s my opinion that the Genesis text doesn’t DEMAND a literal interpretation of Adam as a “real person” as you and I understand real people.

    My thoughts are simply that there’s no point trying to defend something the text doesn’t claim in the first place- and here’s where anachronistic interpretation comes into play for me. From a literary perspective, much of the creation account follows the form and function of ancient near-eastern creation mythology- a genre that doesn’t assume any sort of rational objectivity that 21st century readers bring to the text. So when we ask if Adam and Eve were “real”, in many ways we’re applying modern standards of interpretation to the original authors who had no concept whatsoever of such questions. So the text in no way necessitates a “literal” interpretation of them as “real people.” The history of “literal interpretation” and its contextual origins is another conversation altogether.

    But before someone gets upset, I don’t want to say it’s all just loosey-goosey on Adam and Eve. The important part of understanding the text is exploring what it DOES claim, and not applying irrelevant anachronistic questions to its alleged claims. And that’s why we need to focus on what we do know- that the Genesis account is similar in many ways to other contemporary “mythological” creation narratives, but that also, it stands apart as unique in many ways. The fact that God calls creation good, and people very good, is important. The fact that God gets personally very involved (literally, in the dirt) with his creation is significant- and the text points to a special relationship between God and the first people- a theme that is consistent throughout scripture. The text reveals God’s special heart for his creation, and that even despite his creation’s rebellion, God is willing to take steps, even self-sacrificing ones, to reconcile, redeem, and restore.

    These unique aspects of Genesis are what make it the amazing text that it is today- and this is also why it is not a stretch for me to ascribe some divine inspiration. The beauty and irony of God getting involved and choosing this people group of “nobodies” to reveal his grand meta-narrative of restoring his creation is such an inviting story that- to me- it has God’s fingerprints all over it.

    2. Does God experience time like we do, linearly with the past first, then the present then the future?

    Letters from a skeptic (Boyd) does focus too much on this silly debate between God’s omniscience and his (as Boyd argues) “limited foreknowledge.” This is, in essence, a glorified (and I think, unnecessary) theological rivalry between two fairly conservative pastors/theologians- Piper and Boyd. They’ve been arguing about this for years, and frankly, I’m tired of it because it’s just silly. It’s a modified form of the classic John vs. John debate- Calvin and Wesley’s opposing views of predestination and free will. Really, can’t we all just agree that it’s both/and- that God operates both within time in human history and also, somehow simultaneously, exists outside of time and beyond it? Please, let’s move on.

    3. Is God constrained within his own creation? Doesn’t he more likely stand outside of it?

    See above.

    4. Is Paul infallible?

    Oh, Paul. He’s human. And somehow, that is woven into his writings and intertwined with this weird and complicated phenomenon we like to call “divine inspiration.” Divine inspiration should never be used as some sort of badge of approval that allows the text to dictate authority without question. As NT Wright would say, the authority of scripture rests ultimately in the authority of God, not the text itself. And so I believe we have to interpret Paul with his humanity in mind- his ethnicity, his background, his conversion, his personality. As anyone who has studied Paul has to admit- he has a strong style and it permeates his writing.

    But I don’t think we can just write off the stuff we don’t like about Paul when he says something we disagree with, and that’s where the wrestling with divine inspiration begins. Gordon Fee (a Pauline scholar) talks a lot about understanding the spirit in (or behind) the text, and also listening for the Holy Spirit through the text. So without exegeting Paul at length, I think we can say that he, like all people, has his biases that make it into the text. Some of them should be examined critically, and thank God we have the rest of the canon, particularly the gospels and the words of Jesus, to help us flesh it out.

    In the end, I think I can understand why God would choose someone like Paul to write most of the NT- he was someone who had the right gifting and calling to most powerfully and authentically pastor the early church and communicate the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles- a critical issue in the first century. And so the fact that he’s got some baggage (don’t we all) just reminds me of his humanity, and that God still chooses to use him.

    5. Do we just assume that whatever decisions everyone whoever got his hands on the bible– were guided by God to make no mistakes?

    So back to divine inspiration again. I think it’s case by case on the text up for debate. It’s already been mentioned that the ideas of textual “infallibility” or “inerrancy” were formed in very specific historical circumstances. I hate those terms- they make me crazy- again because they apply these anachronistic ideas and standards to a text that was written without those concerns in mind. I don’t call the phone book company and tell them their literary artistry is poor, nor should I write letters to JK Rowling insisting that Harry Potter needs more factual integrity.

    Inerrancy in particular is a funny doctrine, and as I alluded in the beginning, it developed as a cultural defense in early 20th century America to biblical higher criticism (broadly European, mostly German) that was spreading in Europe and gaining intellectual popularity in academia. This higher criticism was viewed as a threat to the authority of scripture, and so people got together to combat it with conservative ideology. Fundamentalism was the result. As was a movement that spread across the country forming schools like Moody Bible, Dallas Theological Seminary, and a whole system of belief called Dispensationalism. I’m getting off track.

    Does the bible have errors? Yes- tons of them- but most of them insignificant (and anachronistic) when it comes to articulating the central message of the scriptures- namely creation, rebellion, reconciliation, redemption, and restoration with the gospel of the person and work of Jesus Christ at the center of it all. Ultimately, it depends what people mean by “errors” and unfortunately the question of inerrancy is more often than not some sort of theological/political litmus test, not something that is actually in seek of constructive dialogue about the nature of the scriptures.

    People always want pat answers so that they won’t have to think critically on their own, and that’s why we have an entire society of brainwashed, indoctrinated, ignorant, apathetic, and nominal people who identify themselves as “christians” but in reality have no concept of what faith requires today. my two cents.

  7. chad says:

    is Paul infallible?

    o how i’ve struggled through this question. before going to seminary i honestly didn’t realize how big a stink Paul’s letters are when it come to “rules” we have made for leaders in the church. i guess i took it for granted that both genders could be called by God into leadership.

    anyway, about Paul. i’ve often wondered if Paul is referring to his own writings as “Scripture” in the passage about “all Scripture being God breathed” from letters to Timothy. would Paul, a Pharisee of sorts, one who held Scripture as he knew Scripture (the Old Testament) in high regard, have referred to his own letters as Scripture in the same way the Old Testament was Scripture for him? maybe that’s confusing, but i’m not so sure Paul, as he wrote ocassional letters to churches, ever thought these things would be passed on and preserved for the next 2000 years. i could be wrong!

    at the heart of this question and others about cononicity (not sure that’s an actual word) is how these letters eventually did show up in our Bibles? as a believer and an historian of sorts it is more important to me that these writings were used by the church over time and preserved because of their use. they were important enough to preserve because people were actually using them and they were reliable sources from early on.

    the other piece of the equation is the question of inspiration. how did the “inspired Penmen” as Franke called them, come to write these words? did the Holy Spirit take them over and make them write certain things thereby making the text itself holy and inspired? or, was the individual inspired to put down those thing pouring forth from the indwelling of Christ and the Spirit? i’m more inclined to believe the latter…if we believe the first, we have to go the Muslim route and believe that only the original languages are the true Scriptures; our translations can never be true Scripture because it is not God’s language as written by the inspired penmen.

    hope that makes sense…just my $.02

  8. James says:

    Let me chime in one thought and say that if you believe in Adam and Eve, it doesn’t mean that you can’t believe in evolution. I believe in both and believe that God is the author of both. Simultaneously, I’d share that it’s really important for us to see the Bible not just through our view but through the bible context. Pastor Eugene mentioned that several times through Genesis and Exodus and that was very helpful for me.

  9. Ken Hopping says:

    I want only to address “The Fall “, since the first two chapters of the Bible are writin about the creation of the world and Man, it seems self evident that the story was handed down by verbalization and more than likely Pictures on cave walls. Now for where my faith takes me on this. I believe that God created all things seen and unseen. I believe that man fell short of the Glory that is God. I believe that the beautiful poetry of the creation story is filled with increadible images of my unworthness. WIth this said, that does not mean that I am unworthy as a human being, it means that I am unworthy as a being created to worship my creator GOD, so the creation story gives me a beautiful way to see that it is in my selfish desire to ‘know all’ that I am unworthy, the eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. I do not believe that God ‘punishes us for ‘The Fall’, but allows our self will to end in the only place it can, pain and suffering as depicted by the story of child birth and sweating for our food. I also believe that Scripture can only be understood with the help of the Holy Spirit, through his gifts of Knowledge, Understanding and Wisdom. Peace be with you.

  10. jessieroberts says:

    In response to Jane’s phrase “It just seems so tortured, and futile, the attempt to get it all to make sense”. I have personally found peace in the knowledge that it will never make total sense. Not to say that we shouldn’t ask questions, and search for truth. But God is so mysterious. And it is this aura of mystery that continually intrigues me, causing every bit of knowledge or understanding I attain about Him to be precious. As Jeff said, “when we want food, answers, He gives us His aroma instead” I particularly agree with Jeff’s whole last paragraph there.

    Did Adam and Eve exist as literally as we assume? Who knows? To me the Bible is often just as mysterious as God, particularly the Old Testament. I’m willing to accept the story of Adam and Eve, and every other difficult, vague story in Scripture, as Truth. I accept it as truth, but I don’t think it’s possible for us to know how it literally happened.

  11. Jennifer says:

    My initial reaction is….that’s a lot of questions.

    I don’t mean that as a joke, or as criticism, but just to recognize that this seems like a bright person who comes to Quest, where we often go pretty deep into issues like this. And yet this person has enough great questions for a week’s worth of conversation. To me, that indicates a real desire to think through, and struggle through, deeper issues. And just an email or two is not going to satisfy that desire.

    If this email was addressed to me, I would be asking questions like….Do you have a place in your life where you can ask these questions on an ongoing basis? Where you are free to ask the questions that seem heretical? Where you can reveal the personal issues of vulnerability behind some of the theological questions? Basically…..where is the community that you can process head and heart issues with?

    C-groups might be a good place for some of these kind of questions….but then again, realistically we all know that isn’t necessarily the case (based on the others in the group, their depth/interest in the same subjects, interpersonal dynamics, etc etc).

    Maybe someone like this would enjoy a regular one-on-one time over a cup of coffee to kick around some questions in a relaxed way with someone who has thought through them a bit more. These are not just intellectual questions; they are pastoral care questions as well. The answer a question like, “Is God restrained in His own creation?” has personal implications – pastoral care implications – that are not going to be met by information exchange. If this person found the right kind of spiritual director, and they could have ongoing conversation, the questions, and the life issues underneath them, could be addressed.

  12. e cho says:

    jennifer: as usual, good thoughts. we’ve enjoyed getting to know this couple and look forward to an ongoing friendship with them.

    surprisingly, i’m surprised and encouraged how some of these converations are actually going on in small groups.

    if anything, i hope that this encourages people that asking questions – even without concrete answers – is not a bad thing.

  13. Jennifer says:


    Wonderful! Theological questions are never abstract, and I think the best place to deal with them is in the context of relationship.

  14. JS says:

    Lots of stuff here. I always wonder if people are just overanalyzing too much. Is the problem us? our stubbornness and unwillingness to yield, repent, and submit? What if the Bible is authoritative and should be taken literally?

  15. Jennifer says:


    You know, there are days when I wish that I could just take everything literally. Honestly. There are times when that would be so much easier.

    But, I think it would be a cop-out. The most literal reading is not always the most faithful reading. You can be completely serious about scripture without having to take everything 100% literal.

  16. JS says:

    And this is why I wouldn’t attend Quest.

    Having visited, there’s too much openness for personal interpretation. There’s a reason why churches like Mars Hill, City Church, Antioch, and others are growing like crazy. It’s because of their commitment to the Bible.

    My two cents.

  17. Jennifer says:


    I am so glad you have found a church where you are growing. There are many fine Christians on all sides of interpretative issues.

    The interesting thing is that almost everyone can find another group that takes the Bible more literally than they do.

  18. Bo says:

    “Jane” – I believe you are asking valid questions. Questions that I believe are a necessary part of discipleship in the 21st century. That is, I believe these questions are not only for the “skeptic” but they are for the “Christian.” Billy Graham himself wrestled with similar questions regarding the Bible’s authority WHILE he was an evangelist (his early days just prior to his LA crusade). In his case he found resolution not through scholarly arguments but through prayer. So all to say you’re in good company.

    Allow me to approach this topic from a different angle: The Gospel of John tells us that Christ is the eternal Word (Greek: logos). Logos is not to be equated entirely with Scripture, yet there is a vital link between the Word of God and the God’s revealing of himself to humans. John 1:14 tells us that this Word became flesh and dwelt among us so that we could see, experience, and encounter the glory of God. That is Jesus is in some sense Scripture incarnated. Jesus constantly affirms the abiding authority of the OT (Matt 5.17-18). And he states that the whole OT is a witness to himself (Luke 24.27). All to say Jesus forces me to accept the Bible as God’s trustworthy revelation of Himself.

    And the God of the Bible does not observe his creation from a distance – this not the God of the Deists. Rather the Christian God is intimately involved with and committed to his creation. So much so, perhaps too much so that he is killed by his very own people. A crucified God is scandalous to ancient sentiments as well as modern. It is not the “divine” claims of Christianity that are so scandalous (contra Dan Brown). It is its “human” claims – a human/divine book, a human/divine community called the church, and a human/divine Savior. In some ways I’d prefer that God had eliminated the human element in the Bible, the church, and Jesus because it would make life a lot simpler. Yet for me, it is precisely this human/divine interaction in Christianity that I find so meaningful, so compelling, and so beautiful.

  19. m@ says:

    JS: I almost take it personally that you’re correlating growth in numbers with literal interpretation of Scripture. Doesn’t it sort of fly in the face of Europe’s unannounced departure from the Catholic Church during the Enlightenment?

    Nevertheless, I’m in concert with Jennifer; I’m glad you’ve found a place to grow. But I think the fact that this discussion is happening on the Blog of Quest’s pastor should affirm that the church doesn’t take the Bible lightly by any means.

  20. Jeff says:

    i think the fact remainds, the biblical text is a historical document. it emerges from specific times and places, and reflects the author who wrote it and the culture that birthed it. when we know that a particular text was written in a literary tradition not typically read as objective fact, then we ought not read it in that way, today. when we know that genesis is a lot like other narrative stories from the same time, that must factor into how we read the text. when we know that revelation is an example of the literary genre known as jewish apocalyptic, that absoultely must factor into how we interpret the text.

    the task of biblical interpretation is hard. some might argue that endlessly talking about what the text truly means can lead to a “paralysis of analysis,” but i would submit that a “paralysis of ignorance” has been much more devastating to the church and the larger world. after all, the church didn’t commit its many atrocities because it spent too much time reflecting on what the text truly taught. if we are to learn anything from our unsightly history, it is that, now as much as ever, we must commit ourselves to thoughtful reflection of the text. quite frequently, this means looking deeper into the words.

  21. Jeff says:

    a helfpul book, btw, is called “The Last Word,” by NT Wright. it attempts to move its readers beyond the bible wars about errancy and inerrancy and whatnot, toward a deeper understanding of the authority of scripture. highly recommend it.

  22. yglin says:

    “jane” – I don’t know what to say that hasn’t already been said. I want to encourage you to continue to learn and invest in understanding the particulars of Scripture. The book “How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth” is a good introduction to exegesis and hermeneutics, basically interpretation without saturating yourself like a seminarian.

    I think you have great questions, seemingly simple questions that almost require esoteric answers. One of the questions that you may have to ask yourself is what’s an answer that can satisfy me? There are scholars, historians, and pastors who can give you an answer, but its contained with the pretext of “most likely.” That God “most likely” is this, or God “most likely” meant this. I’m not asserting there are no absolutes. It’s just that your questions are richly veiled, underneath it all is a philosophical, theological, and interpretative inquiry that goes beyond the scope of any comment.

    Like I said, I think only you know what you need to know and what could satisfy you. Investigating and wrestling with your questions will be a rewarding experience no matter how you feel about it right now. It requires you to get to know Scripture, and ultimately the God of all Creation intimately. I believe you will discover wonderful truths and wisdom which was previously hidden behind the barriers of the historical context and culture. It won’t be easy by any means, but the journey will be a blessing in disguise.

  23. JB says:

    I sincerely thank all of you who responded to my questions. There is a lot of good food for thought here and I have already read each response several times. I plan to print this thread out and keep it.

    I think you all understand that I am not actually asking for answers to the questions I posed. I guess at the deepest level I was asking Eugene whether or not I’m going to get kicked out of Quest as a heretic. Ok let me try that again. I’ve been looking for a spiritual base camp and I’m wondering if Quest is it.

    I need the company of people who, as David artfully puts it, do not “separate our intellectual skepticism and our religious affection”. I don’t think I could separate them and I’m heartened to hear, through JP’s David’s, Jeff’s, Chad’s, and others’ responses that I don’t have to.

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the fact that many of you have much more education (formal and self-directed) about this than I do, and that you are willing to share your knowledge and thoughts.

    It would be great as Jennifer mentions to hash some of this out face-to-face, although in reality I don’t know how much hashing I’m up for. I really want to use this phase of my life for action and good works, and rest peacefully at night not worrying about what I know and don’t know about God.

    Anyway, thank you all again, very much!


  24. Jennifer says:


    Bless you!

    I love your approach to asking questions, and to realizing that our life in God is not dependent on getting The Correct answer.

    Personally, I have found Quest to be a place where questions are okay to ask and where most people dont play that “Im more orthodox than you” game.

    Much peace to you.

  25. Sarah says:

    A very interesting read from everybody! I plan on printing this out too. Praise God for letting us think.

  26. e cho says:

    Lots of incredible dialogue going on here:
    few thoughts…
    JS – thanks for visiting the blog. it’s good that you’re at where you need to be. but i hope this doesn’t turn out to be a ‘we love jesus more because…’
    Joani – you chimed in. you didn’t have to but glad you did.
    Sarah – when are you off to China?
    it’s been alluded to by others and i’ll share more about this later as well. i have a ‘high view of Scripture’ like many of you. But within that high view of Scripture, I also do not want to read the Scripture in a manner that it wasn’t intended to be received. rather than asking how the Bible speaks to ME, we really need to be asking, “What does it say?”…the text, the context, and then its interpretation. The interpretation is where we can disagree but it’s easy for us to make certain issues such CLOSED FISTED issues that it causes division within the church. I’d like to think that it’s not these issues that make us Christian. What makes us Christian, ultimately, is the grace of God through Jesus Christ. There are bookends to our faith – Creator [creation] and Redeemer [resurrrection].
    While studying, interpreting, and understanding the Scriptures is valuable and necessary, it’s possibly for us to become consumed by ‘biblio-idolatry.’ We worship Jesus – not the Bible. The bible is a revelation of God – it is not God. It is the word of God but not the Logos – the incarnate Revelation.

  27. bolim says:

    This blog to me is an wonderful example of the best of Quest: Leadership that trusts their people, a community of learners seeking truth together, a safe space for seekers, a place where humble persuasion is the norm rather than authoritarian coercion, and a church of unity admidst diversity not uniformity. P.E. – I think it is commendable that you were willing to entrust your people with Joani’s questions. I don’t think a lot of pastors would be willing to do that. That also is a testament to the intellectual and pastoral gifts of the people within the church.

    So Eugene, when are you going to pay me my money for writing this glorified post?

  28. e cho says:

    bo: well, there’s your two cents.

  29. Dave says:

    I’ve never been to your church (or Seattle for that matter). A friend directed me here and I just thought I’d let you know how refreshing it is to see Christians thinking. I live in a fairly isolated community so I don’t experience this much and have just recently (the last year or so) become acquainted with the emerging church movement. I would just love to send out an encouragement that I have been shown (as if most of you don’t already know) that God gave us brain and opinions and experiences for a reason. Thank you all so much for using these in this post as I’m still in the process of breaking the strangle of fundamentalism off.

    Whenever I have doubts I think of Jesus up on the cross questioning whether or not God was still with him. This is Jesus! Jane and everyone else, never let anyone tell you your questions are wrong. The bible never once says that it is infallible, we did. We’ve simply believed it for so long it has become a faux-truth.

    Remember the words of the Prophet Wonka- “We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams”.

  30. Blake says:

    Well said, Dave. I like what you said here: “The Bible never once says that it is infallible, we did.” 🙂

    That’s an excellent insight. I too went through a time a few years ago that involved shaking off some fundamentalist/legalistic/Pharisaical beliefs. God kicked me in the butt hard, forcing me to either drop my arrogant ways or watch my relationship with my younger brother and others around me disintegrate before my eyes. I chose the former and have watched God restore the damaged relationship I had with my brother as well as teach me His truth in ways I never would have seen before.

    PE: I too am impressed, amazed, and blessed by your honesty as our pastor. You don’t shy away from the tough issues or tough questions; nothing gets “swept-under-the-rug” so-to-speak. Your ministry is of the highest character and integrity–an inspiration and source of encouragement to me. Thank you and may God bless you today.


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One Day’s Wages

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#notetoself (and maybe helpful for someone else)

At times, we have to say ‘NO’ to good things to say ‘YES’ to the most important things.

We can't do it all.
Pray and choose wisely.
Then invest deeply. May our compassion not just be limited to the West or to those that look like us. Lifting up the people of Iraq, Iran, and Kurdistan in prayer after the 7.3 earthquake - including the many new friends I met on a recent trip to Iraq.

The death toll rises to over 400 and over 7,000 injured in multiple cities and hundreds of villages along the Western border with Iraq.

Lord, in your mercy... We are reminded again and again...that we are Resurrection People living in a Dark Friday world.

It's been a tough, emotional, and painful week - especially as we lament the horrible tragedy of the church shootings at Sutherland Springs. In the midst of this lament, I've been carried by the hope, beauty, and promise of our baptisms last Sunday and the raw and honest testimonies of God's mercy, love, and grace.

Indeed, God is not yet done. May we take heart for Christ has overcome the world. "Without genuine relationships with the poor, we rob them of their dignity and they become mere projects. And God did not intend for anyone to become our projects." Grateful this quote from my book, Overrated, is resonating with so many folks - individuals and  NGOs. / design by @preemptivelove .
May we keep working 
on ourselves 
even as we seek 
to change the world. 
To be about the latter 
without the former 
is the great temptation 
of our times. Minhee and I are filled with gratitude as we reflect on the @onedayswages gala last night. So many friends and guests came to support our work...and of course, our scrappy staff, interns, and board. In 8 years, we've impacted 561,000 people around the world that are living in extreme poverty and vulnerable situations. This year, we are expecting to have our largest investment of grants at $1.3 million! Over the next couple weeks, I'm going to share some of those stories of impact.

But we need your help to keep growing this work. Because our pledge is for 100% of all donations to go directly to our partnerships, we're asking folks from around the world to consider becoming one of core supporters by simply pledging $25/month to support our operations. Go to for more info.

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