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30 May 2013: Part I: The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic

The publication date is June 11, 2013. The books will actually be shipped to bookstores across the nation in the last week of May. The rights to publish this in Italian and Korean have also been sold and these two translations will appear in their two respective countries later in the year. I live now …

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Q & A:

I recall your writing that there is a major disconnect between what is being taught in the religious educational academies and the message delivered to the average pew occupier. The point seeming to be that pastors do not want to pass on the more "sensitive" aspects of their training due to the potential upset sensibilities and possible loss of weekly donations from their parishioners - even though these church leaders may very well agree with their formal instruction in these areas. Can you direct me to additional information as to exactly what is taught and believed by these higher learning institutions that is not being conveyed to the normal churchgoer - either somewhere in your writings or possibly those of someone else?

Thanks upon thanks for all you have done and continue to do.

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23 May 2013: Lectureship that Challenges What is, in the Name of What Can Be

The Third Annual John Shelby Spong Lecture was held at St. Peter’s Church, Morristown, New Jersey, near the end of April. A crowd of people, numbering around 400, according to the ushers’ count, came from near and far to participate in the event. We had members of the faculty and student body from nearby Drew University. We had …

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Q & A:

Is there a good Bible study book you would recommend for a group of lay people to use that is not agenda riddled? I am looking for one that looks at the Bible within its cultural and historical background in which each individual book was written and leaves room for an open-ended discussion of the universal ideas that are inspired in those texts.

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16 May 2013: Birth of Jesus, Part XIV. The Old Testament Antecedents in Luke’s Story of Jesus’ Birth

In order to understand the birth narratives found in Matthew and Luke, we need to embrace the fact that there is no way these stories were intended to be regarded as remembered history or as narratives that were literally true. That must be stated clearly. This means that there never was a star in the …

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Q & A:

I have been reading your books and articles for many years and I find your arguments persuasive, though I do not agree with everything you say. It may be only a minor aberration but what on earth do you mean by “living wastefully”?

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9 May 2013: The Birth of Jesus, Part XIII. Introducing the Lucan Story

Somewhere six to ten years after the Gospel of Matthew was written, another gospel, the one we call Luke, makes its appearance. Both Matthew and Luke had Mark as a common source although Matthew used it more extensively than Luke. Some scholars also believe that Matthew and Luke had a second common source, a collection …

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Q & A:

I wish to comment on the situation in Europe (being a resident of Sweden) described in your recent column.

In Russia there is a re-emergence of religious power walking hand in hand with the political power. Heresy laws are being introduced. This is a state where religion was considered "for the masses" not too long ago. Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Hungary (have they forgotten WWII?) In Poland the Catholic Church is gaining political power. So you could say that with increasing uncertainty the religions are regaining their position as "reducers of angst" (angest in Swedish). This is not a positive thing to those of us who see the gospels as literary documents.

I am personally lending our local pastors copies of your books and this is triggering some healthy debate. My goal is to have them carry the theological debate to the pew sitters in our area. With an average of perhaps ten persons in church on a Sunday, they have to do something. I have noticed that I can have a very deep theological discussion with a pastor and they openly admit that they too have problems in believing in the literal scriptures. However, the moment they stand before the congregation, they are back in Sunday School theology mode. It is as if they are programmed to state the standard point of view. For me this creates a huge credibility gap. I fully believe that if they dared to take their own doubts to the altar and be honest about them, pew sitters would feel much more at home.

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2 May 2013: The Birth of Jesus, Part XII. Making Sense of the Wise Men

Having now described the miraculous birth of Jesus in chapter one of his gospel, Matthew turns next to his account of how the birth of Jesus was divinely “rolled out” to bring it to the attention of all the people of the world. His vehicle for this is to tell us a story of magi …

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Q & A:

I have a question. I learned that “survival of the fittest” meant that those who fitted, i.e. adapted, best to the circumstances of life would survive, not those who were the most powerful or the strongest. Am I right as your text is more in the last way? I apologize since English is not my mother tongue.

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25 April 2013: Making Sense of Violence and Terror in Boston

On Monday, April 15, Patriot’s Day in Boston, Massachusetts, the bomb blasts that occurred near the finish line of the Boston Marathon brought death, mutilation and injury to more than 200 innocent people. By Thursday, the perpetrators of this crime had been identified and the manhunt was on. By Friday, one of the two suspects …

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Q & A:

I would like to know if you believe the Bible is a book that should be used to guide one's life. I do not agree or disagree; I just want to know what you think personally. I am an Agnostic and I recently saw a video of you being interviewed.

 

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18 April 2013: What the Gun Debate Reveals about the Republican Party and Political Leadership

+A message to my readers: After the deadline for the publication of this column the terrorist bombing at the end of the Boston marathon occurred, leaving many of us enraged, saddened and despairing about the levels of violence that apparently engulf the world. It also put the content of this column into a new perspective. …

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Q & A:

I read your title Liberating the Gospels some time ago which I found "liberating." I wonder, when all the layers are peeled from the gospels, I'm not sure I fully understand what is left in the Christian story to grasp. When we strip everything away is there an eternal truth left to motivate us? When you deconstruct a story so totally, what remains? Look forward to your words which will, no doubt, be wise.

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11 April 2013: The Birth of Jesus, Part XI. Matthew Weaves Together Proof Texts from Isaiah, Micah, Hosea and from an Unknown Source

Christianity was born in the synagogue and the original followers of Jesus were primarily observant Jews. They gathered in the synagogue regularly on the Sabbath for worship. A major part of that worship consisted of reading, learning about and becoming conversant with the sacred scriptures as the Jews understood them. Each Sabbath there were three …

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Q & A:

Let me begin by saying I have a great respect and admiration for you. I have watched some of your debates, listened to your lectures and read some of your books. I can hear the voice of Christ in you. As a result, I know that I have come to a better understanding of the love of God, growing in truth, wisdom and joy.

However, I have a question with a few strands that I hope you can shine some light on as it is very perplexing to me.

I was re-reading the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis and observed that it appears that it was not the serpent that lied but God. I think if one is truthful and not blinded by tradition, that what the story says is the opposite of what tradition holds. In the mythical story, God creates Adam and Eve and tells them not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil because, “in that day thou shall surely die for God doth know in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil: (Genesis 3:4-5). My question is who is lying? God or the serpent? I have fasted and prayed abut this and I keep getting the same answer. The liar here is God. He even admits that the serpent is right when he confirms, “Behold, the humans have become as one of us, to know good and evil.” The promise of the serpent is therefore true. My question is how can this be and why? We are told God cannot lie, but scripture has shown this to be false. What is the story trying to tell us? Has it anything to do with the sins of Yahweh? It sure seems as if there is some sort of savage and evil God in the Old Testament and a gentle loving God in the New Testament.

I know this is controversial big time, but you are not new to controversy and won’t I hope sidestep my questions. Therefore I look forward to your early reply soon.

 

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4 April 2013: Re-Living Holy Week and Easter as Part of a Community of Faith

Holy Week, including Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday were especially meaningful to me this year. So was the celebration of Easter. In this column today I would like to be very personal and tell you just why that was so in 2013. I know it is difficult for someone outside the office of …

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Q & A:

I wanted to thank you for your column some time ago on the raising of Lazarus. This clarified for me one of the most troubling parts of the Bible. About twenty years ago I bought a study Bible, which I was determined to read from cover to cover. While I thought the New Testament was beautiful and profound, I had numerous "Hey, wait a minute moments." If for instance I had attended a funeral and someone I hardly knew raised him from the dead, I'm sure the whole room would be hysterical. This person would be on every front page in the entire world and I’m sure having an audience with almost every world and religious leader. The fact that Jesus died alone on a cross made no sense to me. My question is - are there any study Bibles you can recommend?

 

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28 March 2013: Did the Crucifixion Take Place at the Time of Passover?

Mark, the earliest gospel to be written (ca. 72 CE) locates the crucifixion of Jesus in the season of Passover, suggesting that the “Last Supper” was a Passover meal. Matthew, the second gospel to be written (ca, 82-85), and Luke, the third (ca. 88-93), follow Mark’s lead and between the three of them the Passover-crucifixion …

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Q & A:

At church today, the pastor read a section from the Ephesians. That got me thinking. I presume each of Paul's letters addressed as they were to individual faith groups in different cities, were saved by each group and shared occasionally within that group. Who pulled all of Paul's letters together from the individual groups and when did he do that?

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