Posted by: Ken Brown | February 1, 2010

LOST in Theology and Scripture

I seem to have run across a whole lot of good stuff this week:

In anticipation of the new season of LOST, which starts tomorrow, Maureen Ryan (my favorite TV critic) has a long but excellent interview with Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, in three parts. It’s completely free of Season 6 spoilers (Seasons 1 to 5 are fair game, however), in case you’re as spoiler-wary as I am. I was especially pleased to read their comments in Part 3 about having having a plan verses “making it up as you go along.” And don’t miss the discussion of Ewoks. Really! Oh wait, did I say there were no spoilers…? 😉

Speaking of televised sci-fi, the Dollhouse finale was also fantastic, if a bit rushed. Scott Tobias has an outstanding review here, and io9 discusses 10 Reasons We’ll Miss Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. It’s a shame the show only hit its stride after it was already assured of being cancelled, as there was a lot more story that could have been told in this world of “dolls” and mindwipes. Regardless, Whedon has given us one of the most nuanced explorations of the nature of memory and identity as you are likely to find on television, and I suspect this is a series that will reward repeat viewing down the line.

On a more serious note, I’ve been enjoying a fascinating conversation with John Hobbins regarding the inspiration and “inerrancy” of scripture. If more defenders of inerrency thought like John, I’d be much more comfortable with the idea. Though we do not entirely agree, the whole exchange is well worth reading.

Speaking of the nature of Scripture, I also got into a bit of a tussle this week with one Joel Taylor over whether Brian McLaren is a heretic and whether “penal substitution and hell” are among the most important doctrines in Scripture (hint: they’re not). I’m sure he’ll be very pleased to know that he’s inspired me to read McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy. I’m sure he’ll really be thrilled if I end up liking it.

Finally, Doug Chaplin linked to an Jan 15 New York Times op-ed by David Brooks on the earthquake in Haiti that has stuck with me all weekend. Brooks notes:

On Oct. 17, 1989, a major earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 struck the Bay Area in Northern California. Sixty-three people were killed. This week, a major earthquake, also measuring a magnitude of 7.0, struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Red Cross estimates that between 45,000 and 50,000 people have died.

This is not a natural disaster story. This is a poverty story. It’s a story about poorly constructed buildings, bad infrastructure and terrible public services. On Thursday, President Obama told the people of Haiti: “You will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten.” If he is going to remain faithful to that vow then he is going to have to use this tragedy as an occasion to rethink our approach to global poverty. He’s going to have to acknowledge a few difficult truths.

Be sure to read Doug’s whole post as well, which also offers some interesting reflections on sin and evil and the facile reactions to tragedy seen among both theists like Pat Robertson (who blame it Hatii’s sin) and atheists like Richard Dawkins (who dismiss the whole concept of blame). As Doug rightly observes:

The huge death toll of Haiti is not a punishment for their sins, but it’s certainly in part a consequence of ours.



  1. On a more serious note, I’ve been enjoying a fascinating conversation with John Hobbins regarding the inspiration and “inerrancy” of scripture. If more defenders of inerrency thought like John, I’d be much more comfortable with the idea.

    While taking no position on Mr Hobbins’ views (and having no knowledge about them, in any event), is it really necessary to point out the flawed reasoning captured in this sentence?

  2. I’m not sure what you mean.

    If you objecting to my observation that “if more defenders of inerrency thought like John, I’d be more comfortable with the idea,” I only mean that the nuanced and thoughtful understanding of inerrency that John expresses is much more attractive and compelling than the knee-jerk “the Bible is unquestionable!” concept of inerrency that I see too often.

  3. I’m pointing to the flawed reasoning expressed by your observation about your psychological state.

  4. I think you are misunderstanding me, though no doubt it is because I chose my words poorly in the post itself. I’m not saying my “comfort” with the idea of inerrency is dictated by the kind of people who believe it. I’m just saying that the kind of understanding of inerrency John maintains is much more convincing than idea that the term “inerrency” most often denotes.

    Terms are defined by their use, so the fact that most people who use the term “inerrency” mean something other (and less convincing) than what John means by it, is relevant to my willingness to publicly accept “inerrency.”

    As I said to John in the comment thread itself, part of the issue is just semantics: unlike most “inerrentists,” John does not try to gloss over the problems and tensions within the text (though he does, unconvincingly in my view, avoid calling them “errors”); for him “inerrency” is much more like a stance towards scripture than some objective, logically provable, description of scripture.

    Understood in that way, I find the idea much more compelling (though I still don’t like the term), but that is not what people will hear if I started describing myself as an inerrentist, because that is just not what most defenders of inerrency believe.

  5. […] not the first to make the this connection.  Several bloggers and ministers have commented on the theology connection.  Here are my top 5 fascinating  […]

  6. Whoah there. Dawkins does not ‘dismiss the whole concept of blame’. He just gets angry when people blame the victims.

    • As a matter of fact, he does.

      • Fair enough, let’s clarify that: Dawkins gets angry when people blame the victims, because he believes that rather than allocate blame, we should do something about the causes of the situation. You may argue that this approach has other consequences, and perhaps it has; it’s a point worth debating.

        But it is wrong to suggest a moral equivalance between Pat Robertson saying it is the people’s fault (and therefore less deserving of our help) and Dawkins denouncing him for saying so. For Doug Chaplin to read this as implying that Dawkins believes “Don’t get angry about suffering. Don’t weep for the sufferers. Don’t offer compassion. Just damn them all,” is putting words into his mouth that he did not say and I am quite sure does not believe. That is dishonest and disgraceful. It does not add to our understanding and does not contribute usefully to the discussion.

  7. Who is putting words in whose mouth, now? Pat Robertson never claimed the Haitians’ sin made them “less deserving of our help”; in fact, the context of his (admittedly despicable) comments about their “pact with the devil” was an attempt to raise money to help! If you watch the clip, you can even see the number for a Disaster Relief Fund prominently displayed on the bottom of the screen.

    Meanwhile, if you actually read Dawkins’ piece which Doug summarized (hyperbolically) as “Don’t get angry about suffering. Don’t weep for the sufferers. Don’t offer compassion. Just damn them all,” you’ll note that he is summarizing Dawkins’ view of what CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY teaches (or ought to teach, in Dawkins’ estimation). In fact, the article in question says not a word about the importance of helping the Haitians in their time of need. It is, from start to finish, an attack on Christian theology, which Dawkins believes is actually better represented by Pat Robertson than by any of those Christians (like Doug and I) who condemned Robertson’s comments.

    If Doug was unfair in attributing that particular sentiment to Dawkins (and you will note I did not quote Doug on that particular point) I stand by his insistence that both Dawkins’ reaction and Robertson’s are equally ignorant, hurtful and unhelpful reactions to disaster.

  8. Mr Marks,
    You “clarification” is false … and intellectually dishonest.

    By the way, here’s my analysis of the “fawlty logic” of Richard Dawkins, self-admitted Liar

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