The Bible Doesn’t Believe in a ‘Plain Reading’ of the Bible

Sometimes you hear people advocate for a ‘plain reading’ of scripture. I believe that scripture isn’t meant to be molded into anything we want it to be. However, all too often I fear what people are saying when they advocate for a ‘plain reading’ is that we shouldn’t put ourselves in the shoes of the first recipients of the scriptures, in their context and customs, that we should trust that original language translated into English perfectly captures the idea that was meant to be conveyed.

The biggest problem with this is that the Bible doesn’t believe in a plain reading of the Bible.

…and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given to him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand…  -From 2 Peter 3

Why is it hard to understand Peter? Just read it plainly.

Seminary Dropout 51: Michael Gungor Talks Creation, Music, & Art.



You’ve probably known who Michael Gungor is for a long time. Maybe you first remember hearing him in The Michael Gungor  bands  song ‘White Man’ on the Ancient Skies album. Michaels music is constantly evolving and eventually he went from The Michael Gungor band to a collective simply known as Gungor. The band has released 5 albums so far. Gungor’s latest album is called ‘I am Mountain’, and a deluxe version just released this July. 



Michael joined me on Seminary Dropout to talk about that whole creation scandal, the changes in his music throughout the years, and how he’s playing catch up with the music he never listened to as a kid.





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My Fellow White People, 6 Things

Part of the reason why I’m just now speaking up about Ferguson is because I’ve been wrestling and wondering if the world needs another white voice contributing to this conversation. I’ve decided to proceed with writing about it because this piece is intended to speak to other white people, and not signal to people of color that I’m ‘one of the good ones’, also, there have been people in my life that have told me things that were hard for me to believe, and if it had been anyone else talking, I wouldn’t have received it, but because I loved and trusted that specific person, I was able to receive and believe what they were saying. If I can be that person to anyone and say that white privilege is real, there is a big problem, and we need to do things differently, then this will have been worth it.

I don’t have all the answers and I’m not perfect. Christians many times have no problems admitting in general that we are sinful people, that we can be self-serving and unloving, but when it comes to the specific sin of racism we often claim we are immune. So if I can be uncomfortably honest and transparent, I’ll say that although I don’t know of any forms of racism in my heart, ugliness is not beyond me, so it is plausible that there may be racist ideas, and thoughts in the hidden recesses of my soul, and if there are, I pray that when they are revealed to me, God will eradicate them, and heal and cleanse me from that unrighteousness. Yes, God has made me a new creature, but often I forget to put on that ‘new self’.

So let’s talk about 6 things we have to realize…

1.) Hard facts and statistics show white privilege is real.

The example most widely known is the rate of arrests of black Americans for marijuana as compared to those of white Americans. The rate of use between the two races is similar while the rate of arrest is staggeringly uneven. How do you account for this? The only plausible reason is that whites are treated far more favorably than blacks. That’s white privilege.
But you don’t smoke pot, so you’re not privileged, right? Not so fast. Marijuana arrests are just most well-known and often cited example. Have you sent in a resume to a company you want to work for and received a call back? In all likely hood white privilege had a role in that call back. Easily acquired housing? White privilege. Been given the benefit of the doubt by authorities? White privilege. It’s real and it’s pervasive.
Many of us mistakenly believe that white privilege = racism, so when we hear someone talking about white privilege we think they’re saying – all white people are racist. That’s not the case. We benefit from white privilege whether we want to or not. That’s not to say we shouldn’t fight against the system that perpetuates white privilege, we should. One thing is for sure, not acknowledging it does not make it go away, and doesn’t make it better.

2.) There are good reasons why a black officer killing a white man doesn’t elicit the same response Ferguson is getting.

My Facebook wall tells me that an unarmed white man named Dillon Taylor was shot by a black police officer in Utah. This case and its lack of media attention has been lifted up by many as proof that it is whites not blacks who receive unfair treatment.
So let’s think this through. Why hasn’t this received the media attention that Ferguson has? Because there is not a systematic problem of the criminal justice system treating white people unjustly. There is also not, a tidal wave of support for the black officer who killed Taylor, nor to my knowledge, a site for him as there is for Darren Wilson. In all likely hood the black officer will face justice, while the Darren Wilson will receive at least $234,910.00, from his Gofundme site, a goal that was reached in 8 days. If Wilson does face justice, it will be because of the media attention, and protests. In America if you kill a person of a different race, you go to jail if you’re black, and you get rich if you’re white. The system is broken and needs outside accountability to act justly.

3.) ‘Waiting for the facts’ before passing judgement, doesn’t always hold water.

I’ve heard this a few times from white people talking about Ferguson. The problem is, unless the fact that – an unarmed black man was killed (a fact that no one is or has ever disputed (as far as I know)), changes, there are no other facts that could possibly justify what happened. Societies rules state (and almost no one would disagree) that a police officer should be able to defend him/herself, which would include returning lethal force with lethal force. When an office faces less than lethal force, there’s no reason to return with lethal force. Police are armed with pepper spray and stun guns for this reason.

4.) Putting on a police uniform doesn’t give a person license to do whatever they want. 

You hear often about our brave men and women in blue. I think that’s true for most police officers, it is for the ones I know personally. However you don’t get don’t get to be brave and shoot anything that moves. We exalt the police for putting their bodies on the line, and we should, but then we can’t also praise and defend one when he decides to shoot instead of putting his body on the line, and risk a beating.

5.) Death is not an appropriate punishment for being less than an upstanding citizen.

A big deal has been made that Michael Brown was a suspect in a robbery that took place before he was shot. Who among us believes that execution is a proper punishment for robbery? This is silly and to use it as some sort of justification for what happened seems to me to be motivated by racism.

6.) We need to perform a heart-check before we speak, even if what we’re saying is true & just.

Even when we’re saying something good, it doesn’t always need to be said by us, and at all times. Before we speak out against racism I think we need to take a long, hard look at our hearts and ask ourselves – Am I speaking out against racism because it’s the right thing to do right now, or am I speaking out because I want people to hear me speaking out. Those are very different things, one is self-righteous finger-waging. Self-righteous finger-waging is not helpful and not humble.

But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. James 2:9

Seminary Dropout 50: Margot Starbuck on God, Writing & Public Speaking


Margot Starbuck

Throughout the years Margot Starbuck has worn many hats, she’s been a chaplain to people with intellectual and physical disabilities, she painted and sold plungers, she’s swam next to a guy with epilepsy so he wouldn’t drown. I did say she wore many hats.
Today you probably know her from one or more of her many books, her contributions to publications like Today’s Christian Woman or Red Letter Christianity, or maybe you’ve heard her one of her many speaking engagements. Margot speaks about God’s love with fresh honesty, love and compassion.


Some memorable moments from the show:

I think a lot of us are walking around just slathered in shame. Tweet: 'I think a lot of us are walking around just slathered in shame' -Margot Starbuck

#AdultsDontThinkLittleKidsCanWalkBigDogsButTheyTotallyCanTweet: #AdultsDontThinkLittleKidsCanWalkBigDogsButTheyTotallyCan

Karate belts & ribbon cost money, words are free.Tweet: 'Karate belts & ribbon cost money, words are free.'

Margot’s latest book is Not Who I Imagined: Surprised by a Loving God.

From our earliest days we long for love and acceptance. First from our parents, then from peers, and eventually from romantic interests. We look into their faces, searching for a smile, a look that says, I love you exactly as you are. Don’t change. We long for the same gracious acceptance from God. But despite the Christian gospel of unearned grace and unconditional love, too many of us feel as though we’re still not quite good enough as we are. We can’t believe that God accepts us. And often this is because those who represent God to us on earth–our parents, other Christians–have not looked upon us as we are with expressions of unrelenting love. -Publishers Description-

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Hey @JenHatmaker, I’d love to hear you on Seminary Dropout! #JenOnSDTweet: Hey @JenHatmaker, I'd love to hear you on Seminary Dropout! #JenOnSD

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RSVP or just show up here.


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Seminary Dropout 49: Michael Leary talking Mad Men & the Psalms


Michael Leary, is an Adjunct Instructor of Religious Studies at Fontbonne University as well as being a lecturer at Emmaus Bible College in Sydney, Australia, so naturally I have him here on the show to talk about AMC’s television show Mad Men.



Michael writes for the website Filmwell and recently wrote a few pieces on the biblical imagery in Mad Men. My friends know that I love Mad Men, and want nothing more but to constantly talk about Mad Men all day everyday, especially as it relates to the gospel and redemption. If your not a viewer of the show then I think there’s still something in the show for you, but be warned, there are spoilers in this episode.


I forgot to mention it in the podcast, but remember our current twitter campaign that we launched in last weeks episode. #JenOnSD

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Seminary Dropout 48: Author of ‘The Shack’, WM Paul Young


WM paul youngMy guest today is WM Paul Young. Paul grew up as the son a missionaries in what is now West Papua. There he experienced trauma at the hands of the indigenous people, as well as his own family. Paul grew up and worked various jobs, some in ministry, and some outside. Some point along the way he began keeping secrets from everyone around him including his wife and children. When his secrets came to light he was forced to deal with his hidden life, as well as the trauma he faced when he was younger.


The entire experience gave Paul unique lens through which to view the gospel. You may have heard the story – his wife eventually asked him to put into words who God was to him for his children, friends, and family. He wrote The Shack, and made 15 copies at an Office Depot. The copies eventually made their way into the hands of people who would be passionate about publishing it. Like I said, you may have heard that part already. What you haven’t heard is what we discuss on this episode on Seminary Dropout…


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5 Reasons I’m Not an Evangelical (and 5 reasons I am)

Before I started blogging I had a big tent view of evangelicalism. Basically anyone who claimed to follow Jesus as their Lord & Savior, and gave some kind of authority to the Bible, I considered an evangelical. I’ve grown to realize, this isn’t most people’s definition of evangelical. This is important because in the past on this blog and on Seminary Dropout I’ve described myself as an evangelical. I don’t know if I’ll keep using that term to describe myself. It’s not that my theology has changed so much as I’ve either had the wrong definition, or the definition has evolved into something else.

Either way I think it’s important to outline the ways I am and am not an evangelical.

1. So far as being an evangelical means reading the
Bible as a flat document absent of thematic messages
throughout, I am not an evangelical. 
Tweet: So far as being an evangelical means reading theBible as a flat document absent of thematic messages...

So far as being an evangelical means believing
in the authority of God through scripture,
I am an evangelical.


My friend Micah J. Murray has pointed out in the past, the problem of ‘the Bible clearly says’ mentality. The problem being that when that phrase is invoked, the Bible many times does not clearly say what that person thinks it means when taken in the context of the Bible as a whole. We can take isolated verses and sentences from the Bible and construct a theology that fits our worldview just fine, but the Bible demands to be read differently.

This does not however mean that I don’t believe in the authority of scripture. As N.T. Wright says in his book ‘The Last Word: Scripture and the Authority of God- Getting Beyond the Bible Wars’,

…the phrase ‘authority of scripture’ can make Christian sense only if it is a shorthand for ‘the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through scripture.’

Almost all of the following reasons are based upon this first one.


2. So far as being an evangelical means seeing science
as the enemy of faith or even rejecting the bulk of science
on grounds of faith, I am not an evangelical. 

So far as being an evangelical means reading the creation
story the way it intends to be read and seeing the power,
glory, and goodness of God in that story, I am an evangelical.

file0001753589015You may have heard the logic; the book of Genesis tells the story of God creating the universe and the first man Adam, Jesus refers to Adam as a historical figure (a dubious claim), therefore if you don’t believe that God created the world and Adam in 6 24-hour days a few thousand years ago, then you have to believe that Jesus was either a liar or mistaken, and was certainly not the messiah.
From my view, a failure to read the scriptures as the type of literature in which they were meant to be written is the culprit here. The creation story was never intended to be a historical document.
As for Jesus referring to Adam as a historical figure, I think that’s quite a leap. You know how you and your friends get together and talk about Harry Potter, or Don Draper, or Walter White? And you know how when you say their names you’re always sure to say ‘Remember when fictional character, Harry Potter, battled other fictional character, Voldemort?’ or ‘Hey can you believe how much Don, who is in no way a real person, drank on Mad Men last night?!’ or ‘Wow I can’t believe the invented person of Walter White, IS the danger?!’ I think you see where I’m going with this.


3. So far as being an evangelical means keeping doors
closed to women in the church and at home, I’m not an evangelical.

So far as being an evangelical means following the Bible’s
example of putting people in roles in the church and at
home based on gifting rather than gender, I am an evangelical. 

Because I believe in God’s authority via scriptures, I must acknowledge the biblical witness of women leaders in the church such as Junia, and taking seriously Paul’s admonishment for believers to stay single if possible, which logically means that it is impossible for God’s only desire for women is that they be wives and mothers.


4. So far as being an evangelical means participating in
culture wars that make further enemies of the people
Jesus came to love, I am not an evangelical.

So far as being an evangelical means showing people the
love of Jesus no matter what, even if that means giving
up certain ‘rights’ as Americans, I am an evangelical.

The recent Hobby Lobby debacle  serves as the perfect example. Some might be surprised to know that I actually have somewhat ‘conservative’ opinions about the case.  My apprehension comes in when the cost of standing up for certain rights, even when going through the proper channels, only further ignites the culture wars and gives people like those Jesus befriended reason to become the enemies to Christians. To be clear, I’m not calling for HL or anyone else to violate their conscience, what I am saying is that perhaps it should be more important to refuse to stoke the fires of a culture war, than own a multi-million dollar business. Perhaps the strongest Christian witness would be to close up shop and turn down future millions rather than make an enemy out our neighbors. The end doesn’t justify the means.

5. So far as being an evangelical means refusing to interact
with theology that doesn’t match up perfectly with your own,
I’m not an evangelical.

So far as being an evangelical means believing in Jesus
first and allowing him to dictate what else you believe, thus
freeing you to interact with theology that you don’t believe
in without fear because you are above else rooted in Jesus,
I am an evangelical.

If being an evangelical means that above all else Jesus is Lord & Savior, than it only makes sense that nothing else can be, including certainty. I believe that Jesus is who he says he is as much as a human can believe anything. Most other things I believe in with an open hand. We all have biases against certain theologies and beliefs but if those biases keep us from studying and engaging, that doesn’t make us faithful, it makes us anti-intellectual. If we’re secure in our beliefs (chiefly belief in Jesus), then we won’t have fear when confronted with other beliefs. We also must believe that God gave us our intellect so that we can discern between good and bad beliefs, not avoid them all together.

These aren’t the only issues I wrestle with concerning evangelicalism, but they’re the major ones. Now if you do hear me refer to myself as an evangelical, you’ll know just what I do mean and what I don’t mean.

Have You Accepted President Obama As Your Personal Lord & Savior?

In episode 19 of Seminary Dropout I talked with Scot McKnight about a book he had just edited and published with Joe Modica called ‘Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not’. The book was an evaluation of Empire Criticism.


Empire Criticism as McKnight explains in the introduction ‘refers to developing an eye and ear for the presence of Rome and the worship of the emperor in the lines and between the lines of New Testament writings.’

McKnight goes on to give an example – ‘A simple reading of Luke 2 reveals Luke using the following terms for Jesus-Savior and Lord, and alongside those terms are the terms of good news (gospel) and peace. Now it so happens that empire critics call to our notice that these are the precise terms used of Caesar in Rome, the very rems broadcast throughout the empire on declarations and in letters and on countless inscriptions visible in all major cities in the empire.’

Does the Bible contain criticism of the concept of empire (namely the Roman empire in the case of the NT writers)? Most definitely. Was this the primary purpose of the gospel? By no means. The primary purpose of the gospel is to tell the story of God reconciling creation to himself. Those are generally the findings of JLCN: Empire Criticism is there, but it’s not the New Testaments primary purpose.

Never-the-less to say ‘Jesus is Lord’ was to necessarily say ‘Caesar is not’! The first objective of the gospel writers was to proclaim the rightful place of Jesus first and foremost, but the purposeful inference is that if Jesus is Lord, Caesar can not be.

It’s as if their allegiance to Jesus is burning so bright that all other allegiances fall apart in it’s flame.

During my talk with McKnight in episode 19 I had thought (but not a thought that I could articulate on the fly and formulate a statement to bounce off of him). My thought was that, at first glance you might think that the young Christian wearing a Che Guevara shirt with dread locks mouthing about how the government needs be overturned is the exact type that needs to read the message of JLCN, and that might be true. However, I think that person may be more of a straw man, than a real life application for most of us. I mean seriously, I don’t run in to that guy very often. I do run in to Christ followers who are irate because Barack Obama has failed to bring about peace (most often through violence), prosperity, and joy to their lives. In fact, my Facebook feed is full of these people.

There’s a great C.S. Lewis quote – ‘Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.’

In the same vain, maybe to follow Christ means not thinking less of the empire, so much as thinking of the empire less. Because frankly, thinking less of the empire gives the empire more power than it merits. Thinking less of the empire may indicate that we’ve given the empire a place in our hearts that it doesn’t deserve or belong. You can only be profoundly disappointed in something that you have profoundly trusted in. I think constant preoccupation with politicians and government may reveal that we’d rather have accepted them as Lord and Savior. Granted, we may not see them as a good Lord and Savior, but we only become so angry because we have fervently looked to them for things that Jesus was meant to provide.

Don’t hear me only picking on the religious-right either. The same vitriol was there during the last administration and we’ll surely see it in the next.

The problem is not what we want from our government so much as it is a disproportionate faith that it can fulfill those longings on a level that only Christ has the power to fulfill.

Seminary Dropout 47: Carlos Whittaker, Musician, & Author of Moment Maker



My guest today is worship leader, and author Carlos Whittaker. Carlos has been the worship leader for Andy Stanley’s Buckhead Church in Atlanta and is on the leadership team for Catalyst, as well as leading worship at many of their events.




In Moment Maker, Carlos tells stories from his life, showing how he tries to live intentionally and claim moments that touch the lives of others, whether that be his family, his friends, his colleagues, or total strangers.



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Seminary Dropout 46: ‘Slow Church’ Authors Chris Smith & John Pattison


Chris-Smithjohn pattison
As it says on the back cover of ‘Slow Church’:

Chris Smith & John Pattison invite us out of franchise faith and back into the kingdom of God, where people know each other well and love one another as Christ loved the church.

Some things we discuss on the show…

  • the McDonaldization of the church and what it’s doing to us
  • some dangerous ramifications of the church growth movements
  • why efficiency in the church may not be a good thing




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