Saturday, May 24, 2008

The CIA and Bible Interpretation

Some weeks ago I came across a humbling video over at Dan Phillips’ blog.

It stunningly demonstrates how a person can miss something in plain sight. Dan went on to apply the principle to pitfalls in Bible interpretation. Ever since, I have wondered about strategies to avoid missing what a particular passage of scripture is really about. I preach through books of the Bible passage by passage, and highly desire to communicate to my congregation the precise meaning and application of the text in view.

Well, along comes Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost with a link to a CIA publication, Psychology of Intelligence Analysis that I believe is helpful toward this end.

The helpful public servants over at the nation’s intelligence agency provide a number of helps to analytical thinking. The first few chapters describe the difficulties humans face in correctly interpreting data, while Chapter Four and onward provide methods for improving one’s ability to do good analysis.

Here are some examples:

Thinking Backwards: One technique for exploring new ground is thinking backwards. As an intellectual exercise, start with an assumption that some event you did not expect has actually occurred. Then, put yourself into the future, looking back to explain how this could have happened.

Crystal Ball: The crystal ball approach works in much the same way as thinking backwards. Imagine that a "perfect" intelligence source (such as a crystal ball) has told you a certain assumption is wrong. You must then develop a scenario to explain how this could be true.

Role playing: Role playing is commonly used to overcome constraints and inhibitions that limit the range of one's thinking. Playing a role changes "where you sit." It also gives one license to think and act differently. Simply trying to imagine how another leader or country will think and react, which analysts do frequently, is not role playing. One must actually act out the role and become, in a sense, the person whose role is assumed. It is only "living" the role that breaks an analyst's normal mental set and permits him or her to relate facts and ideas to each other in ways that differ from habitual patterns.

Devil's Advocate: A devil's advocate is someone who defends a minority point of view. He or she may not necessarily agree with that view, but may choose or be assigned to represent it as strenuously as possible. The goal is to expose conflicting interpretations and show how alternative assumptions and images make the world look different. It often requires time, energy, and commitment to see how the world looks from a different perspective

Decomposition: Breaking a problem down into its component parts. That is, indeed, the essence of analysis. Webster's Dictionary defines analysis as division of a complex whole into its parts or elements. The spirit of decision analysis is to divide and conquer: Decompose a complex problem into simpler problems, get one's thinking straight in these simpler problems, paste these analyses together with a logical glue

Externalization: Getting the decomposed problem out of one's head and down on paper or on a computer screen in some simplified form that shows the main variables, parameters, or elements of the problem and how they relate to each other. Writing down the multiplication problem, 46 times 78, is a very simple example of externalizing an analytical problem.

It's a long read, but fascinating in its own context for understanding the challenges faced by intelligence analysts. I'm looking forward to applying some of the techniques in the interest of becoming a more faithful preacher of God's word.

(Perhaps it is wise to note that I consider these methods only supplementary to careful, prayerful study into the contextual, grammatical, literary and historical understanding of the passage.)

Friday, May 02, 2008

Fun and thoughtful find

I don’t know if this counts under Joe Carter’s encouragement to link to material that others haven’t, because a quick look at Technorati reveals that it has become quite popular, but this evening I stumbled on to some of the best writing I have come across in the Christian blogosphere. Not only does Prodigal Jon write beautifully, but his posts are a delightful blend of humor and serious reflection. The site is called Stuff Christians Like and the post below, “Church names that sound like clothing stores” made me laugh out loud. This is #24 out of 197 he’s written so far.

My cousin goes to church at a place called "Warehouse 242." There's another church in his area that recently started called, "Elevation." Across town from my dad's church is a place simply called "The Summit." I'm not sure when it happened, but at some point we started naming our churches after stores that sell designer jeans. And I'm cool with that. I don't think you have to name something the "Back to the Bible Holiness Church" which is outside of Atlanta in case you want to attend. And more than that, it opens up some good conversations with people. Imagine you're at work on Monday and someone says, "What'd you do this weekend?" You can reply "I hung out at Elevation." Your friend will then say, "Is that the new salsa/techno/hip hop/Southern Cambodian traditional dance club? I've heard the girls in that place are ridiculous." At which point you can then say, "No, it's a church" and then proceed to share the entire gospel with him. OK, maybe you shouldn't do that, but at the bare minimum, saying you went to "Elevation" is going to at least keep the conversation rolling where if you said, "I went to 'God is Awesome, Praise Sweet Baby Jesus Cathedral' over the weekend," your friend is going to throw an imaginary smoke bomb and climb out of a window to get out of the conversation. So maybe interesting names are a good thing.

Here’s another great one, #159 The Pray if You Feel Led Prayer. This one hit especially close to home because it’s a regular part of our worship service. Check Jon out.