Brent Strawn’s Earle Lectures in Biblical Literature, Part 2

Brent Strawn’s Earle Lectures in Biblical Literature, Part 2 April 18, 2012

LECTURE 02 – Signs of Morbidity

The analogy Strawn is making is that the Old Testament is like a language, so it can be learned and spoken or forgotten and die. The way in which the OT is dying can be tracked much in the same way linguists might track the death of a once vital language. Strawn uses a couple of linguistic terms very effectively.

Pidgin: When two separate language groups come together (often for commerce), they must find a way to communicate. A pidgin is the name given to the simplified language which develops in order to allow them to communicate. A pidgin is not a full language, not well developed, you can’t write literature or poetry in a pidgin. The range of effective communication for a pidgin is very limited.

Creole: When a pidgin grows into a fuller language, it is called a Creole. The two parent languages mix to form a pidgin. Once the pidgin becomes the native tongue of a generation, they will begin to expand the language and give it the features which most languages possess.

Strawn argues that most of those who consider themselves to be fluent in the Old Testament, actually only know a pidgin – they don’t have the full language. This is why Christians know so little of the OT, mispronounce much of it, and can’t really carry on a conversation at any depth when it comes to issues such as Holy War in the OT, violence, issues such as the belief in a worldwide flood.

Signs of Morbidity:
1) New Atheism: Hitchens, Dawkins et al; These atheists do not attach the full language of the OT, but only the pidgin. The pidgin God of the OT is an easy target. New Atheists are not experts in the OT, they only speak a pidgin, so they only critique the pidgin. As Christians, we are not meant to believe in the pidginized version of the OT. What New Atheists critique is not the whole problem (and there are problems), and only a very bad bit of the OT is ever considered.

2) New Marcionism: Marcion argued that the OT should be eliminated from the Bible. Many churches now literally ignore the OT, purposefully, sometimes even describing themselves as a New Testament Church, whatever that may mean to them. The extreme example of New Marcionism is the church under Nazi Germany. Nazi’s were systematic eliminators of all things OT, and eventually of the OT people, the Jewish people. Evidence in our time is the popularity of New Testament only bibles.

3) New Plastic Gospels – The Happyologists: He cites folks like Joel Osteen – bless his heart – whose book espouses the belief that we can live as though everyday is a Friday… not a Sunday… a Friday, the end of the work week when we just go out and have fun, blow off steam, then sleep it off the next morning. This language Osteen speaks is a Creole. It’s built from the conflation of the bible and American dream.

Strawn posed the question – who is more of a threat to the truth, the liar, or the BSer? The liar knows the truth, and ignores it to get what they want. The BSer doesn’t care about the truth as long as they look good. Osteen is a BSer & this is much more dangerous because it has no reference to the truth. Strawn concluded (as a world-class OT scholar), the Psalmist would have no idea what Osteen is even talking about. His God is completely foreign to the God of the bible. The New Atheists can have a field day w/Osteens speech, and they do – rightfully so.

I thought this was a brilliant lecture. The analogy is really good – OT as Language, and the pidgin/creole terms give us an incredibly helpful vocabulary with which to talk about the problem.

I’ll do the third lecture tomorrow.

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