47: Tim Mackie - A conversation starter (Part 2)
Is the Bible meant to end conversations about ethics or start them? Dr. Timothy Mackie (The Bible Project) continues talking with Nate and Tim about the Bible and ethics. Conversation includes marriage, LGBTQ/homosexuality, and the church.
This is Part 2 of the conversation. Listen to Part 1 here.
Tim Ritter: Welcome back to Almost Heretical
Nate: Yeah, in part 1 we kind of talked about the complexities of the Bible, the literary structure, the patterns, how one story can kind of have two different meanings to it, even. But what do we talk about in this one, Tim?
Tim R: Yeah, it’s kind of jumping off the question of, if “riddle” is a good word to describe a lot of what’s going on in the Bible, especially the Hebrew Bible, that it’s something we’re supposed to wrestle through, scratch our heads over, essentially disagree with one another on and engage in dialogue over various meanings or different options for meaning, essentially, how does that change the way we today as western protestant Christians, or even just people who are vaguely interested in the Bible, how does that change how we ought to approach it, what we do with it, how it affects us, how it affects our formulation of ethics? And so we talked with Tim about that, and even part of it, you know I sort of pressed him on some hot button issues and modern day concerns and the ways that the Bible’s been used to hurt people and the ways that Christian theology is still hurting people today. And we basically asked, you know, how does this vast complexity of what the Bible is and how it’s functioning, how does that change the way we wrestle with traditional Christian viewpoints on various ethics? So we got into that with Tim, we talked through it a bit, and then after the conversation, Nate and I felt like we just had to sit down and reflect even further, so we’ll share some of that with you at the end.
Nate: Okay, if you haven’t listened to part 1, stop this right now and go back and listen to part 1. And if you have, here’s part 2.
Tim Mackie: One way I’ve, this is to use another Star Wars analogy, one way that I can now see my relationship to the Bible as it’s been developing, the more I sit with it and wrestle with it, it’s a lot like Luke Skywalker’s experience of Yoda the first time he meets him on planet Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back. It’s all about Luke’s perceptions. Sorry, not just his perceptions, but his expectations of what he’s going to find. And so he’s going to look for a great Jedi master. He lands in a swamp, he finds a little silly green creature. Now of course the silly green creature is the great master, but because of Luke’s preconceived ideas about what a great master ought to look like, those expectations ironically blind him to the thing that’s sitting in front of him, and until he’s able to set aside his preconceived notion of what a Jedi master should be and just discover this unique Jedi master on its own terms, then all of a sudden a whole new world opens up. That’s the whole brilliance of that part of the story, is how wise Yoda is. Think of Yoda’s afterlife in all the movies! He’s almost like a god-figure in the stories, and to think that it all began with that silly green creature. And that’s totally my experience with the Bible. I didn’t have a lot of negative baggage from childhood with the Bible. It’s more just reading it in my early twenties and just being like, “What on earth?! This is crazy! What is this?!” But discovering, as I’m to let the texts themselves shape how they mean and what they mean, I am blown away every day. The sophistication of these authors and the profound things that they’re saying about human nature and about God’s work at work in the world. I don’t have language to talk about; it blows my categories. And so to me, especially, this design pattern for me has been a mega discovery, kind of re-tooling my whole paradigm for what the Bible is.
Nate: I was going to ask something else, but it kind of made me want to ask a question I was going to ask later. How do you personally engage with the Bible, do you engage with the Bible in a way that’s not your studying and breaking it down for the next Bible Project video? How does it influence your life? How do you—like, do you make decisions based on what the Bible says? This is common stuff that I think a lot of us have done, we make decisions based on what the Bible says because, if it’s the golden tablets from heaven, then this is God telling you what you’re supposed to do, but if it’s not that, then how do you personally engage with it?
Tim Mackie: Well, it’s not simple. I actually don’t think the answer to that is simple. Which people from a very conservative background find infuriating, but often because it’s from a preconceived idea. If God wants to tell us what to do so that you can go to the good place after you die, then He would be very clear, and so here are the thirteen verses about sex, and here’s the rules about money. But of course the Bible, that model of approaching the Bible self-destructs on any common sense reading if you’re just consistent with it. It’s a world-forming kind of text, where it’s wrapping its arms around your whole life experience, giving you a narrative framework to give meaning to your own life and to history. You know, I actually try to avoid controversial topics, for the most part, but marriage is an interesting one! On page 1, some kind of ideal is being set there with a single man and a single woman and a covenant. And then you go on and watch throughout the rest of the stories where people violate that ideal, and their lives turn out horribly. I mean, horribly! So that’s an example, I think of how, as a reader of these texts, you know, think of growing up as a Jew in the Second Temple period. You’ve grown up on this literature, that’s shaping your imagination for what is good and what is not good; what will lead to a good life and what will not; what’s a life that honors God and His will and what’s a life that doesn’t. So I think the Bible works on us on more of a deep substructure level of our worldview concept as a whole. And so, for me, I can’t read the Bible without my notes out and my charts and a Hebrew dictionary. I can’t. I can’t engage the Bible in any other way now because I think I’m beginning to track with how it communicates and what these authors are trying to say, and if I had grown up as a native reader of these texts, I would just get it, but I’m not. I grew up skateboarding, not reading the Bible, so I’m coming late to the game. So I’m trying to acquire a more native skill set for how these texts mean. For me, it’s all one thing. As I think about how raise my kids, you know, I’ve got a 5 and a 7 year old, I think about this all the time. So I’m trying to think of how to invite them into the story in a way that I won’t have to help them unlearn a bunch of stuff later, but also in a way that really is helping guide their moral development. These stories are amazing; these stories have an amazing way of shaping humans on a real deep level, which is why the Bible exerts the force that it does still today in our culture.
Tim R: You know, most of us, if we lived some portion of our lives in protestant church-world, the idea of the Bible as the Word of God has significantly impacted our thinking in a lot of different ways, right? For me at least, and I think it’s probably pretty typical at least of western Christianity, some of what that meant—you go back to that Yoda example, what are our expectations?—that impacted and sort of carried into our minds particular expectations, and I think a lot of that had to do with divine commandments. Whether that was law or more like Christian ethics, or who’s in/who’s out, that sort of moral… I don’t know, I guess I’m stumbling over words for it, but that kind of... especially Old Testament, or even Paul’s letters, you know? We read Paul’s letters, we figure out what Paul thought was good and what Paul thought was bad, and that was law in the church, right? And then you use language like riddles. So what does it mean for you now, for the Bible to be the Word of God? And even that example you brought up of marriage. I know from our friendship, Tim, that you’re someone who cares about what science proves and what your neighbors are thinking and feeling, and what culture is expressing even outside the church, right? And in my lifetime at least, what science has shown about sexuality, gender, marriage, has changed dramatically from my parents’ and grandparents’ lives. How have you wrestled with what you’ve devoted your life to, this text we call the Word of God, and all the other messiness and complexity of human life?
Tim Mackie: Wow, that’s a great—there’s probably half a dozen wonderful questions bundled together there. Isn’t that always the case? To pick one to kind of work on, the Word of God question. My own location, my own social location and identity in engaging the Bible is actually important for how the story itself works. So I’m not Jewish, I’m not an Israelite. I’m a West Coast, 21st century American, my ancestry goes to the Scottish highlands. So how do I relate? The reason I’m reading the Hebrew Bible is, to put it the way one of my favorite Old Testament theologians puts it, a guy named Christopher Seitz, it’s because I got a library card by joining the messianic Jesus movement. And when I, it actually wasn’t from reading the Bible that I became a part of Jesus’ people. It’s because I heard stories about Him, and I heard His teachings and His life represented by friends and peers that were really compelling to me. And then I became compelled as I read the stories about Him. And I still remember this, one of the titles given to Jesus in one of the earliest accounts that’s in the New Testament, is He’s called the Word of God. He’s the Word! The Word of God is a person! And then as you read those stories about Jesus, it’s clear that His, the way Jesus thought and talked and viewed all of reality, and even His own identity, was all in relationship to the storyline of the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew scriptures. They shaped His whole sense of reality. And what He said was that the Hebrew Bible is a narrative that’s pointing to Himself and what He was saying and doing, to His life, death, and resurrection. For me, that’s always given somewhat of a framework, that the Word of God is the person of Jesus in His life, death, and resurrection. That living Word claimed that these written texts are making a set of claims about God and the world and humanity that all lead up to Himself. So that’s kind of been my way of putting it together. The Word of God is Jesus and the texts that He said point to him. They’re not a rulebook. There are rules within it, 613 actually, within the first three quarters. But those rules fit into a narrative context and the whole narrative is about how people really suck at following moral rules. In fact, they’re terrible. We will embrace our own self-destruction to the complete ignorance of common sense rules that have been written out for us in stone. The rules play a really important role in the book, but it’s not a rulebook. It’s an epic narrative pointing to a person who did something for us all that we can’t do for ourselves. So to me that’s how the Word of God thing fits together. And we could explore a lot more, but that’s kind of my short, not-so-short thing on the Word of God. So I’m happy to pick up another part of that question, but that’s at least that one part.
Tim R: Yeah, maybe do pick up the other piece. So on the example of marriage in our lifetime and the conversation, and how much it’s changed, and the different voices that have contributed, different experiences and perspectives that severely break away from traditional interpretations, the traditional church rule. How does your sense of Jesus as the Word, these texts as the Word, these complexities, all of that, how do you work through these conversations?
Tim Mackie: Well maybe one would be when, a great example is the meaning of marriage. When Jesus—this is interesting, and I remember this struck me many years ago as significant—when Jesus is approached and asked about loopholes in marriage law and re: divorce law, the place where Jesus didn’t was to the laws of the Torah. Where He goes is pages 1 and 2 of Genesis, which describe a divine ideal, a divine and human ideal for when the human family is functioning as the ideal community, as God’s image and co-rulers in the world, it looks like that. That’s clearly how Jesus conceives of that ideal. And so His response to people He’s talking to is actually really radical. He goes back to that divine ideal described on pages 1 & 2, and He just says, “That’s how we roll in the Jesus movement.” It’s one man, one woman, lifetime covenant. Why? Well, in Genesis 1, it’s all about the theological meaning of gender and of covenant. So in Genesis 1, you have the one God who wants to create images of God’s self, and those images are one species that are made up of two others. And when those two others make a covenant with each other, when the two—you have one humanity that’s two gendered others that become one again through covenant. And in that covenant of love, new life is generated. And this whole package deal is said to be a theological symbol, or image is the Hebrew word, for God. Who or what is God? Well, one way to think about it is, one and many who are one resulting in love and the emergence of new life and love shared with others. That’s really profound, I think. That’s a really profound narrative claim about humanity and God, and I think Jesus tuned into that and that’s why He cared about that, so that’s why He cites that passage, I think when he’s talking about marriage and divorce in His own day. It’s exactly that new creation marriage ethic that you see the apostles working out after that. That’s where I’ll leave it, and say, for me that’s what it means to look at the story as giving ethical guidance, is this whole story is about the world as you and I know it, beautiful and shot through with transcendence and beauty and glory; it’s also really horrific and terrible in the ways that we hurt each other and the ways that the world hurts us, and that it’s all, we’re living in a shadow version of what creation could be and is meant to be. What the Jesus movement is, as far as all the language He put around it, the Kingdom of God, is it’s sort of a new creation bursting into the present. Which means that it shatters all of our concepts of identity and gender and family and reconfigures them, pointing to the new creation. When it comes to marriage and sexuality, for me that’s the framework to engage it in. You’re going to feel like I’m punting, maybe. And maybe I am. I feel like that conversation’s so important, and it’s not at all at the forefront of my thinking. And there’s a lot that I want to read and think about on that topic that there’s just not enough hours in a day right now. I feel like there’s really great people having that front edge conversation, however, and it’s how does that biblical narrative vision align with our experience of sexuality and gender, and how do these two interface before the dawn of the new creation? I feel like there’s probably a lot of conversations on that topic that maybe are just starting to happen. Because what usually happens is, the Bible is a divine rulebook dropped from heaven, here’s a verse taken out of context, and then whether intentionally or not, I end up using it as a weapon to reaffirm some kind of cultural or socioeconomic boundary line between me and them. That’s usually how the Bible plays in these conversations, and I think Jesus would be really disappointed in His followers about that. So for me it’s about how does the narrative work, what are the claims of the narrative, and how does that engage the best of what we know about gender and biology today? I think that’s where the conversation could be had. Sorry I’m so long-winded.
Nate: In a similar vein, speaking of the Bible as a weapon, this book that we love and have spent many, many years studying and appreciating and using in our lives has a troubled history of being used as a weapon against a lot of people. I’m just curious how you’ve wrestled with that, attaching your life and career to this book and to its history. How have processed that, how have you wrestled with that?
Tim Mackie: Yeah I do wrestle with it, a lot. A word picture has come into my mind more than once recently. You know, you could say something similar about the history of the axe, you know? “What a wonderful tool! What a great gift to humanity! And also what a horrific thing.” If I were to know all the horrific things that have been done with axes in human history, I would probably not want to touch an axe ever again. But at the same time, if I live in a forest… I think there’s something like that happening here. Obviously the Bible’s a much more sophisticated kind of thing than an axe and the ways that it gets misused are usually a lot more complicated. You can misuse something as complicated as the Bible even with good intentions and not know that you’re doing it, whereas it’s a little bit harder to do that with an axe, maybe. So yes, I’m not saying this is a good response on my part, but being in the thick of local church pastoral ministry for seven years, I was just kind of forced to be in those type of situations and conversations, just being in people’s lives, on the hot topics and trying to help connect people to the wisdom of the Bible and making sure I wasn’t consciously or unconsciously hurting anybody. Being in a more academic or research role, at least for this season right now, has actually, I’ve experienced as a kind of relief, because I’m not being asked to talk about those things right now, and it’s kind of a gift to have a season where it’s like, “Whew!” I’m going to try and bracket that troubled history of the Bible’s abuse, and just take a season. For me right now, I experience it like what I think that decade of Paul the apostle going off-radar to Arabia for a while, and just reading and soaking and reconfiguring. That’s kind of the season I’m in right now, is I’m trying to tune out of the most pressing, urgent questions of our day, because what I find is they distort my ability to hear the Bible on its own terms. And once I’m able to do that for a season and then come back to the pressing questions, I have a whole different way of thinking and talking about it. So that’s my way of relating to it right now, actually, is to tune out from the controversies for a season and just try and sit and learn all over again. And probably, in God’s grace, He’ll probably lead me back into the fray in some way. I don’t actually want to contribute. Because I don’t think the controversies really help us understand the Bible. I think they just help us get more angry at each other and use the Bible as a weapon in the process. What I’m saying is I don’t know. I have a complicated relationship to the use and abuse of the Bible. But I think we all do, don’t we, in our own ways?
Nate: I’m just curious if you feel a responsibility, I guess, with the knowledge that you do have? What I’m getting at is, there are a lot of people being hurt even right now by the ways that Bible is being used. I’m just curious. I feel like if I had the knowledge that you have and the years of biblical research that you have, and you have the ability to almost give evidence or support to those people that are being hurt. I just wonder if you ever just personally if you ever wrestle with that. I know there is, I’ve felt that too, not being a pastor right now, being out of having that responsibility, having to have a position on everything, or a stance on something to teach from, but then I also… I’m just curious.
Tim Mackie: Yeah, um… One thing I’ve learned about, at least in my experience in protestant church communities, and there’s so many factors I don’t even know all the factors going on, but when people take head-on approaches to offering a different point of view about theology, it almost always fails. Almost always. There’s social and religious reasons where, as communities and people we’re so invested in “my current way” of making sense of the world that when that’s threatened directly? Because it’s not just about a theological position, it’s about the stability of the universe, and so what I have found, and through the Bible Project that’s my vehicle for doing it, is just instead of saying, “Here’s what’s wrong,” just show a way that is a little more faithful to what’s right, and build it out as a comprehensive paradigm of a way of engaging. And what I find is, if you have people who care about the Bible, just start reading the Bible in a way that’s more faithful to how it’s meant to be read, and if people have genuine motives and really care and want to learn, they’ll get it. Your mind will be blown, and just like me, you’re slowly converted through the beauty of what these texts are trying to say. And all of a sudden, the things I cared about three years ago, I don’t care about as much anymore. It changes the questions that you ask. So that’s my strategy. It’s the same kind of goal, to help reconfigure people’s paradigms through the Bible, but I just, I’m convinced that the head-on approach, and three views, and, “Your view’s wrong for this reason and my view’s right,” that doesn’t convince anybody. All people do is walk away from those more reaffirmed in what they already wanted to be convinced of in the first place. There are exceptions to that, but I think that’s generally true. So I’m not interested in that kind of sparring. I would rather just show what’s awesome and point people to what’s beautiful and good. That’s at least where I’m going right now.
Nate: Totally. I think there’s even brain science on that, to show that trying to convince someone by attack or debate or whatever doesn’t work, people just leave more entrenched. I guess I was more thinking, if you could show this verse that’s not even the right way to use that or something, instead of saying, even on the LGBTQ issue, “Stop hurting people in this way because that’s not even what these verses—” or, we need to start the conversation somewhere else, not just with, “Here’s what the Bible says on this.”
Tim Mackie: You know, another part of is, and maybe this is my way of insulating myself from hot topics, is at least for the mission of the Bible Project, we’re trying to help people discover the paradigm of the Bible of a unified story that leads to Jesus. That’s our mission. It gives us plenty of material to work with, and the hot topics that people wish that we would make videos about, I think would actually distract us from that mission, and there are other people who care about those issues, and they actually are probably more well-read on them anyway, and I just don’t see it as my calling right now, with that platform. If I was a pastor at a local church, I would have to! To be faithful as a pastor, because I would need to be serving the needs of where the people are at, and that’s where those issues come up. Anyway, that’s a good question. It’s a good question. I think about it a lot.
Tim R: Tim, you and I have talked a little bit about this, but I think I told you a year ago or something, for me the first big eye-opener was just after all the church stuff went down and I stopped being a pastor, I was just like, “Oh!” I can’t believe how acculturated I was to thinking that my job was to be the one forming positions and then tell people where to land. For me, honestly one of the most refreshing and important, transformative things for me in being away from being in a pastoral role is to stop feeling like that’s my job. A lot of what I was hearing you saying was that you actually think that the Bible and even your Christian faith drives us to engage the conversation entirely holistically, listening to everybody. Right? Listening to people who have been hurt by the Bible, listening to people who don’t want to listen to the Bible, and that the conversation is part of the point. And for so many years, I was just trained to think that part of my job was to resolve the conversation. I’ve got my own leanings and my own sense of ideas and the way they hurt people or affect people or whatever, what I want to believe or what I don’t want to believe, but a lot of it for me is, whatever my opinions are, I want my presence in any space to be something that opens other people up to form their owns opinions and—
Tim Mackie: To discover. Yeah, right! What else is the Bible except a text that doesn’t give you the goodies on the bottom shelf? It’s actually trying to force you to discover the meaning of this thing. Not by yourself, but I think in a community of people who are learning and reading and talking together and from each other about what they see. Thank you, that’s a really good way of putting it. Our core texts themselves are pushing towards community, learning and discovery.
Tim R: We sent a tweet out today, this morning, Nate did, that we were going to interview you and asked if people had some questions. Can we do like a power round of some questions that we got for you?
Tim Mackie: Oh wow! Whoa, alright! Sure, sure. As you know already, I’m not very good at answering things concisely. I’ll try my best.
Tim R: [laughing] I’ll make a little buzzer. So, two questions sort of related to inerrancy. The first one from Jonathan Schut. “Does he view a distinction between inerrancy and infallibility? Or is it mostly semantics?” And then in a somewhat similar note, Charity Johnson says to us, “Tell us his thoughts on inerrancy. Is it helpful for understanding how the Bible works or is it a junk drawer word?” So you tell us your thoughts on inerrancy so we can tell Charity.
Tim Mackie: You know, I did this a while ago, but it’s not off the top of my head. There is an important difference, historically, between the word inerrancy and infallibility. As I am able to recall it in the moment—I could be wrong, there’s probably more to it—infallibility has to do with the Bible’s effectiveness in aligning people with God’s will, coming under it as an authority to give us God’s will. Inerrancy is a more modern word connected to that thing we talked about earlier about the painting of the pipe. Does the painting refer to the real thing in a way in which there is no errors in that reference process? And I’d join the ranks of those who find the word inerrancy to be setting up the conversation in not just an unhelpful way, but just a really odd way. What a weird way to have that conversation. So think of that painting of the pipe. We could ask Rene Magritte, “Look, here’s your painting of a pipe. Show us the real pipe, and is your painting without error in how it represents the pipe?” What a weird question to ask, you know what I mean? More you would ask, “Tell us about the pipe and what you saw in that pipe that made you represent it in this way.” That’s a more normal way to have that conversation. “What did you see in the referent that made you portray it in this way?” I prefer the Bible’s own vocabulary about this, which is the concept of the word faithful, or I guess translated as truth. It’s the word group family from our word amen, which is a verb, to consider something trustworthy, faithful, faith-worthy. And then there are other Hebrew words formed off of it, like emet or emunah, but it’s about personal reliability, relational trustworthiness. So the biblical authors used this vocabulary to talk about God’s own character, but also, you know the famous Psalms, Psalm 19 or 119, this is the vocabulary they use to describe the scriptures, is that they’re faithful. They accomplish the purposes faithfully to which God puts them. They represent faithfully what God wants His people to hear. So I’ve just come to embrace the biblical vocabulary that the scriptures are faithful in representing God’s will to His people. So faithfulness. I don’t think the term inerrancy is very helpful. I think the biblical vocabulary of faithfulness is more helpful.
Nate: Okay, next question. Bob Lin asked, “Are they”—meaning you and the Bible Project—“going to update your reading scripture app to reflect the more recent learnings of ancient Hebrew understanding of the cosmos, divine council, spiritual reality?” I think he’s talking about the Michael Heiser stuff there. “Been listening to the podcast series,” he says.
Tim Mackie: Yeah, we’re making a seven-part video series that we’re going to call Spiritual Beings, and it’s going to be everything. Everything that we’ve done in the last three or four months in our podcast, we’re distilling into a seven-part video series. So divine council, angels, cherubim, demons, the new humanity. Whole thing. Seven videos. So yeah, it’s going to be exciting! We’re in production right now and they’re going to be really awesome.
Tim R: Paige Suffelette, faithful listener of ours, says, “Something I’ve heard from his podcast, especially in the God series, and yours a lot in gender especially, is that there are words that have been translated poorly from the original texts and this affects how we read and interpret the Bible in English. Is there a specific English Bible translation you’ve found to be most accurate, or a few that seem to be most accurate together? I have just heard all three of you mention the poorly translated words and phrases in both podcasts so I’m just curious to your thoughts.”
Tim Mackie: Yeah, well that’s a great question. I do want to at least reframe how I want to talk about it. I’ve probably talked about it in the past a lot of different ways. It’s more that the process of translation from any language into any language is also a translation of worldviews. So it’s actually impossible for any language to fully communicate everything of what’s happening in another language. So I know sometimes, “Oh that’s an unhelpful translation, or it’s poor.” Probably what I should start saying is, “Well, that translation only captures one element, or it’s capturing just a part of it, and not even the most important part.” If that makes sense. So really, I don’t think that any one English translation is like the best. I actually think the goodies are in reading many and noticing the differences. And when you notice differences between translations that seem significant, that’s usually a clue that there’s some thing there in Hebrew or Greek that’s really significant and it’s hard to capture in English vocabulary and worldview, and then it’s time to get out a dictionary or a free online concordance or commentary and do a little bit more learning. One of my favorite scholars, Scot McKnight, says translations are like a bag of golf clubs. And it’s not about one being best. It’s different ones are designed for different purposes and do different things, and to get better at golf you need many golf clubs, not just one. I think something similar with the Bible.
Tim R: I think you would say that, Tim, specifically for noticing repeated word patterns and the wordplays that we’re talking about, some of the translations, say the NASB, is one that can be more awkward to read in English, but are preserving repetitions in English translations that can be helpful.
Tim Mackie: Correct. That’s right. There are even more hyper-literal translations, but they’re almost unreadable. There’s an old one called Young’s Literal Translation. It’s almost incomprehensible to read in English. So the New American Standard is the most readable English translation that does preserve the repetition of vocabulary more often than any of the others. So it’s a great study Bible.
Nate: Okay, last question here from Shawn Morgan. They say, “I would be interested in what his spiritual practices are? I mean how does he connect with the divine? I think this would effect [sic] how he reads the Bible.”
Tim Mackie: Yeah, that’s a great question. Well, the Bible is a medium through which I encounter the beautiful mind that I think is speaking through it. So I’m pretty regularly having, “Oh my God,” moments where I have to put down my pens and I get teary, or I just have to stare out a window and be like, “I never expected to hear that. Is that really what it’s saying right now?” So that’s kind of been my experience. The Bible for me is a powerful medium of encounter, and the other one is going hiking and backpacking. Staring at a mountain does something to me that, I don’t know what else… it’s enrapturing. I’m brought to a different level of consciousness, I’m quite serious, when I’m looking at a mountain, and it just helps me transcend the details and the static noise and think about the questions of ultimate meaning and significance and beauty. So that’s kind of it. Church has never been for me a place where I have those kind of moments. I think church communities are important and they’re a real gift, especially when they’re healthy ones, which is not as common, whatever healthy church means. But for me, the scriptures and being outdoors are where the action is for me on a personal level.
Nate: Well, we’ll let you get to dinner. Thank you so much for jumping on.
Tim Mackie: Absolutely, yeah, great to talk with you! Happy to connect.
Tim R: Tim, I appreciate you, man!
Tim Mackie: You too, you too. Keep on doing what you’re doing. I know that these podcasts, as we’re all discovering, the podcast world creates so many great opportunities for people to find communities and voices that they can’t find anywhere in their own community, so the podcast work is actually important work.
Tim R: Okay, Nate, we are now in the future retrospectively reflecting on the second part of our conversation with Tim. How did it strike you, what were you feeling, where are you at?
Nate: Yeah, I pushed him a bit there on my question about responsibility and if he feels like he has responsibility. And the reason I did that, specifically on the topic of affirming or not affirming LGBTQ people is because I see so many people getting hurt, so to me it’s not just a hot topic that we can choose to engage with or not engage with because people are getting hurt right now. So I would be totally comfortable with someone choosing not to engage with a topic that’s not hurting people that’s kind of a controversial thing. I’m trying to think, I guess in the past, like Galileo and the flat earth or the earth-centric versus the sun at the center of the solar system and that kind of stuff. Well, I guess Galileo got hurt in that whole thing. He got killed, that’s more than getting hurt, he got killed by the church. But I would be more comfortable if we’re talking about something like that if maybe it doesn’t matter because people aren’t really getting hurt by this whole thing, but with this topic, just with the stats on this on suicide rates, I just feel like you can’t. Especially if you have knowledge, you have responsibility to help those people and help the Bible not be used in that way, so that’s why I was kind of trying to push on that, because I wanted a little bit of a different or better answer to that, I guess. I don’t know. How did you feel, Tim?
Tim R.: Yeah, I think similarly. I’ve had more personal conversations and hang out time with Tim than you have, and we’ve talked about a lot of this stuff before in private, and one it’s just, personality-wise, he and I are really different, and you’re also different from either of the two of us. You know when he was talking about whether to tackle ideas head-on, right, or to try to model a better way forward, I’ve come to respect and appreciate that Tim is really good at doing what he’s doing all the while feeling like there need to be plenty of us doing the other thing and actually challenging ideas and saying, “These are toxic. These hurt people. These ideas need to be pushed back on and questioned.” And I agree that in large part, that is ineffective oftentimes at changing anybody’s mind, but we’ve said it before, that’s not why we’re doing it. The value is not in trying to change conservative or fundamentalist Christians’ minds on ideas. It’s to affirm everyone who’s been hurt by conservative or fundamentalist ideology or churches or parents or pastors or whoever, that they aren’t alone in feeling like those ideas are killing them. They aren’t alone in wanting something different, and there are other people, lots of other people out there who want something better and who are willing to say those ideas or those ways of being suck and they should change. So that challenge, it’s kind of like the idea of bearing witness, right? Assuming no one’s going to listen to you and assuming that those in power are going to use that power to push back on you, but you’re doing it for the sake of those who don’t have much power or say in society to observe that there are others who are standing with them on their side.
Nate: Can I just say, too? It’s not very much fun. Sticking your neck out and challenging the common views of the Bible is not fun and sexy work. It’s really hard to be misunderstood by certain groups of Christians and it would be a lot easier to just not talk about controversial topics. But I just, there are so many people being hurt, real people being hurt by some of these ideas, hurt by the way the Bible is being used against them as a weapon, even if the intentions are good. I know a lot of times they are. Or people no longer fitting into their church or sometimes even their family because their ideas about the Bible or God have changed, or they’ve come out as LGBTQ to their Christian family and have been rejected because of that, or whatever it is. For me, I’ve just always wanted to help people who are being oppressed or marginalized, and so I feel like I can’t not stand up for them and stick my neck out with whatever platform or power I have. So I would just say, that part is not very much fun, but it’s totally worth it, and I get encouraged when I see people far smarter than me with far bigger platforms than I have sticking their necks out as well, and lots and lots of them are.
Tim R.: Right, and so specifically on the topic of sexuality, gender, all the ideology surrounding family and marriage in Christian-world: I think you and I, Nate, are both in a similar place of just admitting that the science and the stories of the suffering of LGBTQ people, the suicide rate being at least 5 times as high in our country for gay and bisexual teenagers than for heterosexual teenagers, or the crazy statistic that even though the estimate of the number teenagers who identify just as gay, lesbian, or bisexual is somewhere in the 7% vicinity, within the realm of 3-10%, that 40% of homeless teenagers are lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and that nearly 70% of those say that they are on the streets because they have either been kicked out of their families or were being so shunned, ostracized and tormented within their families that they felt they had to run away because of their sexuality or gender identity. We’ve come to a place, I think you and I, Nate, where those stats and that truth, just like the science that the earth is not at the center and the earth is not flat, eventually has to win the day, and I would say even more so today because people’s lives are on the line. And to say, “Okay, regardless of what we think the Bible says, regardless of our Christian tradition, we have a responsibility to sit down and rethink and deconstruct and reconstruct our ideologies based on the evidence of this fruit.” And I think, really, what I was hearing Tim say is that what he’s discovered the Bible to be is this massively complex work of literary genius where, you know take that Genesis 9 example, where a text literally has at least two different completely opposing meanings, that the way this thing is meant to function is to draw us into conversation and specifically conversation where we listen to other voices that aren’t the Bible, that are supposedly unbiblical, those voices matter equally. And even people who want nothing to do with the Bible, or especially people who have been hurt by the Bible, and that the Bible is supposed to start that conversation, drive us into that conversation, and really it’s sort of what I was sharing is that I don’t think any of us are supposed to take the position of being the one to end that conversation, especially when it comes to affirming or denying something so central to human life as basically, someone’s human dignity and right to exist. That’s not for me to decide, that’s not for you to decide. So I’ll just say that, for me, I’ve come to a place where, no matter what theology, no matter what the biblical scholarship, that reality of LGBTQ teen suicides amongst all of the other concerns and issues related to sexuality has to take a kind of precedence and drive us back into a conversation or stay in a conversation or stay open at least to let other people decide for themselves what they need, what they think is right for them, and to essentially stop being the theological power that decides who’s in/who’s out. Are you feeling similar, Nate?
Nate: Yeah, totally. And we’ve talked about this so many times on this show with many different topics, and I’ve said before, Christianity in the large sense, Jesus people, will not die. It just doesn’t die. It’s been challenged so many times before, whether we’re looking at slavery, or a flat earth, or I even brought up that example of weather I think one time on the show, the guy who was trying to chart weather a few hundred years ago.
Tim R.: [laughing] Wait, I do not think you brought this up and I’m fascinated. What are you talking about?
Nate: Did I say that on the show? [laughing] Well, this is just an aside for you, we may not want to include this in the show right now—wait, should I?
Tim R.: If I get it, then the people get it.
Nate: Oh, maybe I didn’t say it on the show, but I was listening to a podcast where they were talking about how charting weather came about. You some of those weather programs, they’ll say the shipping forecast for each day? It’s kind of this therapeutic sounding thing? Anyways, the shipping forecast started because this guy was seeing a bunch of people dying on the waterways and he started trying to figure out if he could, based on the barometric pressure, project what the weather was going to be the next day or two so that people would not be dying on the water. So he started doing this and, this is where it gets a little bit fuzzy, but the only pushback he got was essentially from Christians and from the church, saying, “You’re trying to play God,” and basically anti-science. And obviously now we take weather forecasting for granted, and it’s obvious that you’re going forecast the weather and that’s not an area where we’re overstepping God, or any of these kind of things, but that’s not what the church believed the it first came about. So anyway, with any of these topics, the Christian movement, the Jesus people, didn’t die, it just adapts and it changes and it moves forward. So I think this is just another opportunity to adapt and grow and continue to make Christianity possible for the next generation. And I know a lot of people are hung up on what they believe the Bible to be saying about this topic specifically. And that’s the way it was for all those other topics. It feels different because this is our time now, and we’re not right now dealing with what the Bible says on slavery. I would say the church conceded on that. The church conceded on a lot of these other things and adapted and changed and moved forward so that it die, it didn’t become extinct. I think this is the next opportunity to do that, and because of, like you said, because of the suicide rates, because of the people being hurt and literally dying, I definitely agree with you.
Tim R.: Right, so to wrap this up, I think the reason this topic of sexuality came up is because what Tim Mackie has been studying in the last year or two and what we were talking about on the show, the complexity of the Bible and the human ingenuity behind it I really do believe impacts all of this stuff. That’s the stuff that really hits home for most of us. So we’ll keep processing through that, we’ll keep trying to highlight some of this complexity. I think pretty soon we’re going to get into this idea called snowballing and how ideas and themes snowball forward through the texts in the Bible, get into the some of the messianism stuff. It’ll be fun and hopefully intriguing and interesting to explore, but we’ll also try to jump back into some of the pertinent, relevant topics for our own day and how rethinking the Bible ought to help us rethink our own positions and approaches to modern-day issues.
Nate: Totally. And if you want to find out more about the show, have any questions for us, or want to share your story, you can do at almostheretical.com. See you next time.
Tim R.: Peace.