Monday, March 30, 2009

but it's...hope...

Dilbert is always good. I haven't posted any here in a while, though, because they haven't seemed to be relevant to what's going on here.

Then, there is today's. I can add no words to it.

not all is forgiven

And furthermore, when it comes to the God of the Bible there is only one kind of sin in the world--forgiven sin.
Chalke and Mann, the lost message of Jesus, p. 109

This quote comes in a context of the writer writing about the parable of the prodigal son. Is the statement true, though? Is it true there is only forgiven sin in the world?

Forgiveness rests basically, then, on the atoning work of Christ. That is to say, it is an act of sheer grace. 'He is faithful and ust, and will forgive our sins' (1 Jn 1:9). On man's side repentance is insisted upon again and again. John the Baptist preached 'a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins' (Mk 1:4), a theme which is taken up by Peter with reference to Christian baptism (Acts 2:38). Christ himself directed that 'repentence and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name' (Lk 24:47). Forgiveness is similarly linked with faith (Acts 10:43, Jas. 5:15). Faith and repentence are not to be thought of as merits whereby we deserve forgiveness. Rather they are the means whereby we appropriate the grace of God
New Bible Dictionary 2nd Edition, p. 391

Something should not be believe simply because it is nice-soundin; if anything, the "too good to be true" reaction is probably a good sign that what one is hearing is not true, not to mention that it may be a scam or fleece.

Chalke's quote above has no scriptural support to it, not even in the context of the prodigal son parable. And in fact, one can find scriptures where even Jesus those who are opposing Him that they will die in their sins (John 8:21-24, reference found in 'What the Bible Teachers' by RA Torrey, p. 358).

There may be a wish that all people should be forgiven, but the wish doesn't make it so. Forgiveness of sin seems closely linked in the Bible to repentence and faith, and is not an isolated thing forced on people ("Your sins are forgiven, I don't care how you feel about it, so deal with it.")

Thursday, March 26, 2009

smell of desperation

After Constantine engineered the merger of Christ worshipers with sun worshipers in the fourth century, the creeds solidified and finalized the view of faith we hold today. Not only was this politically expedient, but if gave the church many elements of Mithraism that survive to this day. Christ is depicted in early paintings as the Sun (with rays bursting from his head), Sun-day is the day of rest, and Christmas was moved from January 6 (still the dare for Eastern Orthodox churches) to December 25, the birthday of Mithra. The ornaments of Christian orthodoxy today are nearly identical to those of the Mithraic version: miters, wafers, water baptism, altar, and doxology. Mithra was a traveling teacher with twelve companions who was called the "good shepherd," "the way, the truth, and the life," and "redeemer," "savior," and "messiah." He was buried in a tomb, and after three days he rose again. His resurrection is celebrated every year.
Robin R Meyers, "Saving Jesus from the Church", p. 26

Interesting claims.

Like some of the emergent writers (Meyers seems more liberal than emergent, likely meaning he is what emergent will be), Meyers is not sparing in his use of references and endnotes. The end of the book is 9 pages of notes concerning materials reference throughout the book.

But when it comes to the paragraph above, there is a lack of any such support. He gives no numbers pointing the reader to the endnotes. He gives us no hint of any support for his claims (and considering how major those claims are, such a lack is striking). We have, in other words, merely his word that Christianity is merely a rip-off of Mithraism.

A bit of research would show that his claim is far from unique to him.

An entry to the blog of Ben Witherington, concerning an internet movie that is making the rounds, called 'Zeitgeist'. Witherington shows that the movie is a poorly-research piece of propoganda. It's an interesting read, though Witherington does deal most with how the movie butchers Egyptian religious ideas to try to prove it's point. It's a good study in how such minds (fail to) work (and some of the comments are rather revealing, too).

More directly to what Meyer is trying to say (or spin), is this from Tektonics.

Early in the article, we are shown a numbered list, put together by one Acharya S, which shows what are the supposed parallels and similarities between Mithraism and Christianity, and more importantly the ideas early Christianity stole from Mithraism. Some are exactly what Meyers is claiming.

2. He was considered a great traveling teacher and master.
3. He had 12 companions or disciples.
7. He was buried in a tomb and after three days rose again.
8. His resurrection was celebrated every year.
9. He was called "the Good Shepherd" and identified with both the Lamb and the Lion.
10. He was considered the "Way, the Truth and the Light," and the "Logos," "Redeemer," "Savior" and "Messiah."

The writer deals with each of these claims further in the article. It is a long article, but well worth reading.

2. He was considered a great traveling teacher and master.
Aside from the fact that this is what we would expect from any major leadership figure, especially in a religious context ("He was a great god -- he taught us nothing!"), I have to say that this looks to be the first of several outright "ringers" in the set. I have found nowhere any indication that Mithra was a teacher, traveling or otherwise. (He probably could be called a "master," but what leading figure would not be? And a master in what sense? This is rather a vague parallel to draw!) At any rate, since there is no evidence for this one in any of the Mithraic literature, we issue our first challenge to the pagan-copycat theorists, especially Acharya S: How is it shown that Mithra was a "great traveling teacher"? What did he teach, and where, and to whom? How was he a "master" and why is this a similarity to Jesus?

3. He had 12 companions or disciples.
I have seen this claim repeated a number of times, almost always (see below) without any documentation. (One of our readers wrote to Acharya asking for specific evidence of this one...she did not reply, although she had readily replied to a prior message.) The Iranian Mithras, as we have seen, did have a single companion (Varuna), and the Roman Mithra had two helper/companions, tiny torch-bearing likenesses of himself, called Cautes and Cautopatres, that were perhaps meant to represent the sunrise and sunset (whereas "Big Daddy" Mithra was supposed to be noon), spring and autumn, the stars Albedaran and Antares [Beck.PO, 26] or life and death. (Freke and Gandy absurdly attempt to link these twins to the two thieves crucified with Jesus! - Frek.JM, 51 - because one went to heaven with Jesus [torch up] and one went to hell [torch down]! Why not link instead to Laurel and Hardy, because one was repentant [torch down] and the other was a bully [torch up]!) Mithra also had a number of animal companions: a snake, a dog, a lion, a scorpion -- but not 12 of them.

Now here's an irony. My one idea as to where they got this one was a picture of the bull-slaying scene carved in stone, found in Ulansey's book, that depicts the scene framed by 2 vertical rows with 6 pictures of what seem to be human figures or faces on each side. It occurred to me that some non-Mithraist perhaps saw this picture and said, "Ah ha, those 12 people must be companions or disciples! Just like Jesus!" Days later I received Freke and Gandy's book, and sure enough -- that's how they make the connection. Indeed, they go as far as saying that during the Mirthaic initiation ceremony, Mithraic disciples dressed up as the signs of the zodiac and formed a circle around the initiate. [Frek.JM, 42] Where they (or rather, their source) get this information about the methods of Mithraic initiation, one can only guess: No Mithraic scholar seems aware of it, and their source, Godwin, is a specialist in "Western esoteric teaching" -- not a Mithraist, and it shows, because although writing in 1981, well after the first Mithraic congress, Godwin was still following Cumont's line that Iranian and Roman Mithraism were the same, and thus ended up offering interpretations of the bull-slaying scene that bear no resemblance to what Mithraic scholars today see in it at all. (To be fair, though, Freke and Gandy do not give the page number where Godwin supposedly says this -- and his material on Mithraism says nothing about any initiation ceremony.) However, aside from the fact that this carving is (yet again!) significantly post-Christian (so that any borrowing would have had to be the other way), these figures have been identified by modern Mithraic scholars as representing zodiacal symbols. Indeed, the top two faces are supposed to be the sun and the moon!

10. He was considered the "Way, the Truth and the Light," and the "Logos," "Redeemer," "Savior" and "Messiah." Acharya now adds in her latest work the titles creator of the world, God of gods, the mediator, mighty ruler, king of gods, lord of heaven and earth, Sun of Righteousness.
We have several titles here, and yea, though I searched through the works of Mithraic scholars, I found none of these applied to Mithra, other than the role of mediator (not, though, in the sense of a mediator between God and man because of sin, but as a mediator between Zoroaster's good and evil gods; we have seen the "sun" identification, but never that title) -- not even the new ones were ever listed by the Mithraic scholars. There is a reference to a "Logos" that was taught to the Mithraic initiates [MS.206](in the Roman evidence, which is again, significantly after the establishment of Christianity), but let it be remembered that "logos" means "word" and goes back earlier in Judaism to Philo -- Christians borrowed the idea from Philo, perhaps, or from the general background of the word, but not from Mithraism.

And at the very end of the article.

That ends our listing, and thus our conclusion: In not one instance has Acharya made a convincing case that Christianity borrowed anything from Mithraism. The evidence is either too late, not in line with the conclusions of modern Mithraic scholars, or just plain not there. Acharya will need a lot firmer documentation before any of her claims can be taken seriously.

Put simply, the article puts these "parallels" into three kinds, 1) similarities that are unimportant (Mithra worked miracles too, big deal) 2) things without any support in the mythology of Mythra (he didn't sacrifice himself, was born full-grown from rock and not of a virgin, and never died nor was resurrected) and 3) beliefs whose only source comes well after the founding of Christianity, meaning it is more likely that Mithraism borrowed from Christianity than the other way around.

That Meyers should make his statements as if they were known facts smells more of desperation than of any kind of scholarly research. That he should take seriously these claims does not, of itself, put to question the rest of what he writes, or of those he associates with, but it certainly does raise the eyebrows.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

it don't matter...

For those of us who grew up in the church, listening to the rich and familiar deatils of the crucifixion story, it is easy to assume that those passion narratives contain historical or at least quasi-historical details. In fact, an entire generation passed without any written record of the events leading up to the death of Jesus. because Paul's writings are the earliest New Testament material available, his account of the cross is both revealing and utterly spare: "For I handed on to you as of first importance, what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and the he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures" (I Cor. 15:3-4)

That's it. That is the "totality of the only written story of the cross that Christians had until the eighth decade CE." Although Paul speaks often of the death of Jesus and the meaning of the cross, there is no crucifixion story placed in the week of Passover, no familiar and beloved passion narrative:
Robin R. Meyers, Saving Jesus from the Church, p. 58

Setting aside the fact that I think he and his Jesus Seminar fellows play fast-and-loose with the dating of the Gospels (not to mention their color-balling of those same Gospels)...

As he notes, Paul says much about the cross of Christ in his writings. It would have been meaningless for him to have said anything about it if the people he was writing to had no idea that that was how Christ had died.

So, when Paul tells those same Corinthians in the same book that "...we preach Christ crucified...", we may well think that they were familiar with what he was saying.

Did they know all about it? Did they know of Pilate, and Herod? Did they know of Peter and the disciples in the Garden?

I am left wondering "Why not?", because Meyers' argument is essentially an argument from silence--that since Paul doesn't go into details here, than he had not mentioned any details at all to them.

As well, in Acts we have Paul mentioned as being in Jerusalem not long after Christ's crucifixion. I'm not sure how long after it Stephen was stoned, but it seems to have not been very long after. Whether Paul was actually in the city when it occurred or not (I kind of doubt it, as he seems to say that he did not see Christ until seeing the resurrected Christ while going to Damascus), he was familiar with the early church (even if only as an enemy), and likely was filled in on events by those around him.

The question Meyers' seems to be asking is, "Why didn't Paul go into more detail here", and his assumption seems to be that it is because there were no details.

As to why Paul didn't give more details, perhaps the most knowing thing I can say is, "I don't know".

Another thing we can ask is "If he had mentioned more details, would it have mattered to Meyers?" Later on in I Cor 15, Paul goes into the importance of the resurrection of Christ. Here is what Meyers' thinks of the resurrection.

We know that the infancy narratives cannot be history any more than the four accounts of the resurrection, all contradictory, can be considered historical.
p. 27

We may conclude that Paul's thoughts are essentially secondary to the presuppositions of Meyers and his Jesus Seminar cronies. No detail Paul could have added would have made them believe

Monday, March 16, 2009

parsing heroes

Albert Schweitzer deserves to be remembered as the greatest Christian of the twentieth century.
Robin R Meyers, Saving Jesus from the Church, p 17

One wonders why he didn't mention Mother Teresa, but maybe she lost out when she stepped on toes when she said what she said about abortion. Liberals are such an unforgiving lot.

...yet he did not believe in literal miracles--the blood atonement, the bodily resurrection, or the second coming, just to name a few. All he did was walk away from everything the world calls good to follow Jesus.
p 17

First, some things said about Schweitzer.
The journalist James Cameron visited Lambaréné in 1953 (when Schweitzer was 78) and found significant flaws in the practices and attitudes of Schweitzer and his staff. The hospital suffered from squalor, was without modern amenities and Schweitzer had little contact with the local people.[36] Cameron did not make public what he had seen at the time: according to a recent BBC dramatisation,[37] he made the unusual journalistic decision to withhold the story, and resisted the expressed wish of his employers to publish an exposé aimed at debunking Schweitzer.

American journalist John Gunther also visited Lambaréné in the 1950s and reported Schweitzer's patronizing attitude towards Africans. He also noted the lack of Africans trained to be skilled workers[38]. After three decades in Africa Schweitzer still depended on Europe for nurses. By comparison, his contemporary Sir Albert Cook in Uganda had been training nurses and midwives since the 1910s and had published a manual of midwifery in the local language of Luganda[39].

My purpose isn't to attack someone who may have done some good works, but to put perspective to Meyer's obviously biased rhetoric.

It is ironic that none of those who took issue with Schweitzer's theology and cursed his writings gave up fame and fortune or membership in the highest stratum of German society to live among the poorest of the poor. They prepared their critiqus in the comfort of the pastor's study or the university library, while Schweitzer nailed patches of tin on the roof of his free medical clinic in Lambarene by the banks of the Ogoove River. Theologians who sat in endowed chairs took his Christology to task, while he scraped infectious lesions off blue-black natives in the steaming misery of equatorial Africa
p. 17

From the back fly leaf of the books dust cover, a bit about the author Meyers.

For over twenty years, Robins R Meyers has been pastor of Mayflower Congregational, an "unapologetically Christian, unapologetically liberal" church in one of the most conservative states in the country. He is a professor in the philosophy department at Oklahoma City University, a syndicated columnist, and an award-winning commentator for National Public Radio.

I find it odd that someone who is a pastor and professor should condemn other pastors and professors. If he feels free to praise Schweitzer for his views, then upon what basis does he say that those like him are not free to disagree with him?

Plus, look at these pages about the 'scholars' Meyers seems to think so much of.

These three men are extensively referenced in Meyers' book, and he even thanks Spong for helping him the book published in the acknowledgements. If you look at their wiki pages, though, you'll be looking long and hard to find them "(giving) up fame and fortune or membership in the highest stratum of (American, or maybe world society as a whole) society to live among the poorest of the poor".

I can, however, think of many people, some well-known and others not, who have giving up much to serve and really follow Christ. How many missionaries have been persecuted and even martyred for their faith in Christ? How many put in prisons? How many were disowned when their faith in Christ put them at odds against their families and their cultures?

And most of all, Meyers and his cronies who "in the comfort of the pastor's study or the university library", question the Christology of the Apostles, saying they are essentially myth-makers and liars so that Meyer and co. can re-create a Jesus that they find appetizing.

All of which leads me to believe that Schweitzer's works of mercy are really irrelevant to Meyers' claim to him being " deserv(ing) to be remembered as the greatest Christian of the twentieth century". If Schweitzer's beliefs had been orthodox, Meyers' wouldn't bother a bit with him. I suspect it's only Schweitzer's aberrant beliefs that make him useful for Meyers.

Friday, March 13, 2009

scales, again

Love is a giving away of power. When we love, we give the other person the power in the relationship. They can do what they choose. They can do what they like with our love. They can reject it, they can accept it, they can step towards us in gratitude and appreciation.

Love is giving up control. It's surrendering the desire to control the other person. The love--love and controlling power over the other person--are mutually exclusive. If we are serious about loving someone, we have to surrender all of the desires within us to manipulate the relationship.
Rob Bell, sex god, p. 98

This closely echoes something mentioned a few weeks ago, from Chalke's and Mann's "the lost message of jesus"--this idea that love and power, or love and control, are somehow like the two ends of a set of scales or a see-saw.

And like then, we must ask, is what Bell is saying really true?

No doubt, we can point to instances when power or control have been abused. There is no denying that. But having acknowledged it, does that make it universal?

Like with Chalke and Mann, we can point to some examples. Do parent's who do not exercise authority over their children show that they love them more or less? If a parent warns a child about walking into the street just lets the child do it anyway, fearing to use any power or control for fear that it will somehow show less love for doing so, is that really showing love?

The context seems to deal God's love for man, and this becomes even more problematic than the love of parents for children.

Can we really say that God does not exercise power or control over people? I know that this is one of the more debated things out there, especially when it comes to the whole "predestination vs free will" debates. I have no dog in any such fight, but I don't need it for this topic.

We can look at the accound of the Exodus and Israel's wandering in the wilderness. Did God not lead them? Did God not show His power to them? Did God not provide for them? Did God not bless them? Did He not also punish them? Did He not give them laws, things they needed to obey? Even with one like Moses, with whom He seems to have had as close a relationship as with anyone else in the biblical accounts, does He not punish Him when he disobeyed? Did He not keep the whole of the people (save for two men and those under a certain age) from entering the Promised Land when they did not believe Him but doubted?

Did God love those people? Did He not free them from Eqypt? Why, then, these great and terrible acts of power and control concerning them? Why did He not just let them be, let them do their own thing? Why get in a tiff when they started worship a golden calf, or when they complained about His provisions, or when they doubted if they could take the land He'd promised to them? Why make such a big deal when Moses struck the rock instead of speaking to it?

Abuses should not be used to soil legitimate exercises, though that is done far too much today. Pointing to parents who have abused their children is not really an argument against spanking, though some use it as such. Pointing to instances of husbands abusing their wives is not an argument against headship, though some use it as such. Instead, arguments against abuses are arguments against...well...abuses. A counterfeit $20 bill does not negate the existence of the real $20 bill; rather, it depends on the existence of the real to make it difficult to know the fake (a fake $3 bill would be easy to spot, because there is no real one).

The exercising of authority in relationships is something that certainly requires a lot of wisdom, and I don't think that simply saying "love and controlling power...are mutually exclusive" can really be said to be echoing reality. Things are too complex for that to hold up under careful consideration.

May we wonder why they seem so intent on making love and power polar opposites? If we take their formula, what does it do to our ideas of God? Does it say anything about their emphasizing God's love and de-emphasizing God's rules?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

so close, yet so far...

It is usual for me and those like me to put the question to Rob Bell, and rightly so. Some of the things he's said and written have deservedly raised the eyebrows.

So, it was with something like surprise that I read these couple of paragraphs, not only for the position they seem to be saying he holds, but also for the insight he offers in them.

Who decided tha tkids--or anybody else for that matter--are unable to abstain?

In a lot of settings, abstinence programs are laughted at. So are those campaigns in which students commit themselves not to have sex until they're married. Have you ever heard a news piece on the television or read a magazine article about one of them that didn't at least subtly mock the idea of "keeping yourself pure for marriage"? People who organize and promote these kinds of campaigns are often viewed as hopelessly naive messengers from a far-off land that simply doesn't exist anymore. The criticism of the "sex is for marriage" view is usually presented as the voice of realism. Are people actually capable of restraint?

But it's not realism. It's the voice of despair. It's the voice that asks, "Aren't we all really just animals?"
Rob Bell, sex god, p. 54

It may be said that this, too, did raise the eyebrows, but for different reasons--that such as he should have seen through "We can't expect kids to abstain from sex" rhetoric to see even one of the hidden assumptions behind it.

And I think he is right, and very much so. The voices that say that we can't expect people to not have sex before marriage is the voice of despair. It's an insight that is almost like something Schaeffer would have said.

But a few pages later, any hope I may have had getting lowered a bit, by these words.

In the creation poem of Genesis 1...
p. 57

Yes, I'm reminded that Bell thinks the Creation account is something like a myth. Yes, he says that the voice of despair asks "Aren't we all really just animals?", but then he believes that we really are just higher animals who evolved from lower animals.

And I wonder how he can say that about the voice of despair, when he believe the real myth that feeds that voice.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

choose your imagery

For some, this is an entirely new perspective on God. Many of the popular images of God are of a warrior, a creator, a judge, a system of theology, a set of absolute truths, a father, the writer of an owner's manual.

But a lover?

Rob Bell, sex god, p. 97

I'm not really sure where he says this is such " entirely new perspective on God". I would guess most Christians have had some idea of it. I don't think it's helps Bell's argument that what is likely the most well-known verse in the Bible begins "For God so loved the world...". And certainly the imagery of the Church as a Bride has been popular.

Of course, such imagery of God as lover has it's dangers, as do ones like God as judge (which dangers emergents are not charry about pointing out and even exaggerating). I think Bell falls into one of those danger, the one of the great kindly Grandfather in the Sky, who gets a little testy at times and does wish the kids would play nice together, but knows they have it tough and is ready to look the other way when all's said and done.

I suppose that is what he's saying in places like this, a few paragraphs later.

This raises questions about what is at the base of the universe. What, or maybe we should say who, is behind it all?

A list of rules?

A set of beliefs, which you either believe or you don't, and if you do, you're in, if you don't, you're out?

A harsh judge and critic, who's making a list and checking it all the time?

Who is at the base of the universe?

Well, I guess we could ask "What the heck does that mean?" Still, I guess we can guess what he's aiming at, even if the expression is a bit...

Anyway, as in John 1, "All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made".

So, we have the Word, Jesus, and the One by whom all was made. We then have all things being made by God. I think there is another verse in the Bible that says that He holds all things together.

Ok, so we have God as this central, foundation figure.

But what does that mean? What do we know about God? What can we know? How can we learn, if that is possible?

If we look to the Bible (which I recommend doing) to learn about God, we see many things about Him.

We can find lists of rules.

We can find things He commands us to believe.

We can see Someone who does judge, and sometimes harshly. We can sometimes find Him giving lists of the sins of some people.

This is why I think Bell is falling into one of the dangers of the imagery he is favoring here. Especially in his disparaging of "A set of beliefs...", he seems to being saying that beliefs are not so important (perhaps something like his trampoline analogy from Velvet Elvis).

The imagery of God as lover may have its benefits--one can find it in Isaiah and rather notably in Micah. But it is far from alone among the imagery used in the Bible for Him, and to isolate it or make it the main one while disparaging and discarding the others seems rather unwise to me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

the new divide

Here are some excerpts from quotes from the back of the dustcover of a book called "Saving Jesus from the Church" by one Robin R. Meyers

"...The invitation to follow Jesus instead of worshiping Christ could not come at a more important time, or be issues be a more credible source...."
Archbishop Desmond Tutu

"With crisply prophetic joy, Meyers calls seekers and believers alike to leave belief about Christ behind in favor of becoming imitators of Jesus. We can save Jesus from teh church..."
Diana Butler Bass

I don't know when this started, this new divide. I've encountered something like it at least once, in a book by Marcus Borg, where he goes into his notion of the pre-Easter and post-Easter Jesus (basically, pre-Easter Jesus is a normal guy who said some pithy things, post-Easter Jesus is an early-church construct who did miracles and was God in the flesh).

But the first time I'd come on this distinction expressed so bluntly was in the chapter titles in Meyers' book, the one chapter called "Jesus the Teacher, not the Savior". And then there were those quote excerpts above, where we are encouraged to give up worshiping Jesus and to follow Christ.

For those who think Jesus and Christ are the same person (or maybe more accurate, Christ or Messiah is a title for Jesus), let me give this from inside the book to explain how Meyers and his ilk are making the distinction.

Jesus is the pre-Easter man, or what biblical scholars have long searched to uncover: the "historical Jesus". Christ is the post-Easter deity that had fully arrived by the time John's gospel was written, even though his evolution from Jewish mystic to supernatural Savior was already emerging in the synoptic gospels. For the remainder of the book, however, I will speak of "Jesus" when referring to the Jewish peasant from Galilee--from his birth through the writing of the synoptic gospels. I will use the exalted title "Christ" to refer to the preexistent divine Savior from John's gospel forward to the writing of the creeds.
p. 16

And you can see how Tutu and Butler Bass use the same language, the same distinction--how they say we ought to stop worshiping Jesus and follow Christ.

For the moment, I'll say little about the silliness of following what they consider merely an early-church construct. The point of this entry is merely to point out that this is where liberal "christian" thought is going, and to point out that Butler Bass is no slight Friend of Emergent (FoE).

Monday, March 9, 2009

i do not believe in "social justice"

Why aren't more Christians involved in social justice? Are we callous and uncaring? We don't think so. We can both learn and do

Ken and Deborah Loyd, in the book An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, p. 272

First, there is the question "What is social justice?" That's probably one of the concepts emergents and others who use it aren't likely to define very well. If you look back a few months, you'll see where in Tony Jones' book "The New Christians", he relates how in one emergent church a woman was wearing a t-shirt saying she was a straight woman for gay rights because her Bible teaches social justice.

Journey doesn't have an "official statement" about homosexuality, but there's obviously enough freedom in the community for Courtney to wear her beliefs on her shirt.

Courtney's shirt.
Straight Chrisitians for Gay Rights
(My Bible Teaches Social Justice)

Tony Jones, The New Christians, pp. 198, 197

Perhaps we aren't involved in social justice, because we can see through the rhetoric of social justice, and know what it is--a thin veil behind which leftist policies and politics are pushed.

Social justice seems to be about the legalizing of sexual immorality. It's also seems to be about the enforced silence of those who teach the Bible's stand on such immorality.

Social justice seems to be about punishing some crimes more than others because of perceived "hate" involved, even when unproven (one may almost say 'especially when unproven').

Social justice seems to be about the redistribution of wealth through socialistic economical policies.

Social justice seems to be about scaring people into being "green", despite the evidence against any such thing as global warming.

Social justice seems to be about going into histronics over deaths in war, while either downplaying over even supporting the many more who die in abortion.

I do not believe in social justice. I do, however, believe in justice. And I believe in compassion.

I do not believe that practicing theft through socialism will solve the plight of the poor. To borrow a quote I read in a comic book, "Communism is the equal distribution of poverty". To try to equalize the field (except for a handful of elites at the top who will find reasons to give themselves special privileges, which is one thing that happened in Soviet Russia), will only result in all being poor, and none being really helped. And there is no justice in the rhetoric of class hatred.

I do not believe that justice demands that we recognize and legitimize sexual immorality. If anything, justice and compassion demands that we call these things the sins they are.

I do not believe that justice demands that we cave in to environmental fearmongers, especially when truth of their claims is being questioned, and when there is such an obvious political agenda behind it.

In regards to how we are to care for the poor, there are things taught in the Bible that should be of help in how to properly do so.

It may be strange that Paul tells the Thessalonians to NOT help some among them who had stopped working and were only idling their time waiting for Jesus to return. He says they should get back to their work.

It may seem strange that Paul tells another church to be wary of what widows they should help and support.

It may seem strange that one can see things in Proverbs that don't seem very kind about some kinds of poor people.

It may seem strange that it's in the Bible that we find the phrase "If a man will not work, neither shall he eat".

It may seem strange that we aren't told that the Samaritan who found the guy left for dead didn't return home, find a few likeminded people, and start wandering the highways and byways looking for people left along the road, robbed or otherwise in ill fortune. He helped one man who was on his way, as he was about his own business.

I know that there are things said about helping the needy, I'm not making an exhaustive list here. But I'm saying the issue is more complex than many emergents seem to want to accept.

They also seem to think that because Christians don't do things their way, then they aren't doing them. They likely don't recognize that there are Christians who give when they have the opportunities, whose generosity takes many forms, who do things quietly and with their eyes open.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Scholars believe that the word sex is related to the Latin word 'secare', which means "to sever, to amputate, or to disconnect from the whole." This is where we get words like sect, section, dissect, bisect.

Our sexuality, then, has two dimensions. First, our sexuality is our awareness of how profoundly we're severed and cut off and disconnected. Second, our sexuality is all of the ways we go about trying to reconnect.
Rob Bell, sex god, p. 40

If we take this understanding of our natural state seriously, we have to rethink what sexuality is. For many, sexuality is simply what happens between two people invovling physical pleasure. But that's only a small percentage of what sexuality is. Our sexuality is all of the ways we strive to reconnect with out world, with each other, and with God.
p. 42

This redefining of 'sex' seems rather problematic to me. For one, to define 'sexuality' so broadly as to make it mean 'all of the ways we go about trying to reconnect' is to in essence say that everything is sexuality.

By that definition, then, two men shaking hands in greeting each other is a sexual act, or a group of women meeting for coffee at a local bookstore, or children playing baseball in the park, or a father reading a child a bedtime story, or friends exchanging e-mails, or a vehicle driver honking a horn at another driver, or a person at a computer writing an entry blog.

All are, after all, examples of ways those people are trying to 'connect' with one another.

Trying to say all of that is 'sex' or 'sexual' threatens to make it rather icky. Sex is very right within it's own realm, but outside of that it threatens to get sordid very quickly.

So, yes, I am not happy with his attempt to make "sex" mean any attempt we may make to connect with another person. I'd like to think that I can play a game of checkers with a friend or a stranger without someone else trying to soil it by saying it's 'sexual'. I'd like to think that I can have a casual conversation at a coffee shop without someone saying it's a 'sex' thing.

I can't help but feel that there's something...dirty...about this redefinition. At least, it makes me feel soiled.

heaven (and hell) is a place on earth?

In the book of Psalms, it's written: "The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all" To the Jewish mind, heaven is not a fixed, unchanging geographical location somewhere other than this world. Heaven is the realm where things are as God intended them to be. The place where things are under the rule and reign of God. And that place can be anywhere, anytime, with anybody.

Now if there's a realm where things are as God wants them to be, then there must be a realm where things are not as God wants them to be. Where things aren't accodring to God's will. Where people aren't treated as fully human.

It's called hell.

Rob Bell, sex god, p. 21

If there is any doubt that Bell is saying that Heaven and Hell are things or condition here on Earth, in this present world, read a page further.

When Jesus talks about heaven and hell, they are first and foremost present realitites that have serioius implications for the future. Either can be invited to earth, right now, through our actions.

It's possible for heaven to invade earth.

And it's possible for hell to invade earth.

p. 22

I don't know if some other part of the book deals with his thoughts on after-death matters, but at least from that little bit, Bell is pretty much saying heaven and hell are here, that we humans make our own heaven and hell here on earth.

It would be interesting to know where he gets this stuff. For example, one can look at Jesus' story of the rich man in Hell to see that he didn't wind up there until after he died. One could as well look at Jesus' words to the criminal at the crucifixion, telling him he would be with Him in Paradise, to know that if one is promising Paradise to a man soon to die, then that Paradise has nothing to do with this present world.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

you want me to take WHAT literally???

Pages 122-134 in "the lost message of jesus' are pretty much Chalke's and Mann's diatribe for us to become good little pacifists--you know, like Gandhi. Trying to support that, they turn to Gandhi himself, or at least the movie version of him.

Another scene in the films recounts how a young Christian Minister, Rev. Charlie Andrew...

"Doesn't the New Testament say, 'If your enemy strikes you on the right cheek, offer him your left'?"

Andrews looks rather bemused by Gandhi's sudded desire to quote Bible verses. "I think perhaps the phrase was used metaphorically."

"I am not so sure." Gandhi counters. "I have thought about it a great deal, and I suspect Jesus meant that you must show courage. Be willing to take a blow, several blows, to show you will not strike back nor will you be turned aside. And when you do that, it calls on something in human nature, something that makes his hatred for you decrease and his respect increase. I think Jesus grasped that, and I have seen it work."

The verse the movie Gandhi is talking about is Matthew 5: 39, and it goes like this...

But I say to you, That ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite the on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Ok, so, how are we to take this?

Well, it is in the context of what is called the Sermon on the Mount. Earlier in the same chapter, the Sermon begins with Jesus' list of those who are Blessed. A bit after that, there is his list of "You have heard it said..., but I say" statements, and 39 is in one of those.

So, what are some of those things that Jesus said in the "...but I say..." statements?

Be careful about being angry without a cause, or insulting someone.

If you have lust problems, put your eye out.

If your right hand keeps getting you in trouble (considering the context, it probably means you can't keep it off other women), chop it off.

A man who divorces his wife without just cause makes her an adultress, and the man who marries her is an adulterer.

Don't make vows.

It's an interesting list. Let's look at it.

Ok, so, how 'literally' do we take any and all of these?

For example, how literally are we men to take the commands to dismember ourselves if we can't keep our eyes and hands off of women, at least in a lustful way? Usually, not very literally.

What about the one about vows? Would promises fit in there? I'm not sure, though I wouldn't doubt it. Still, we do recognize some vows. Marriage vows, for example, or those in courts. Some churches have various kinds of things they want people to commit to, or events like fasts or prayer sessions of whatever kinds that they want commitments to.

What about anger? That's usually seen more literally, though not completely. We do tend to think a spade should be called what it is.

And the divorce question is one that is very much pertinent today. I'm unsure what the general view is on that.

So, with all of this, what are we to make of the command to "turn the other cheek"? Is it metaphorical? Is it an impossible ideal? Is it to be taken literally in all situation? Is it like the commands to lop off hands and poke out eyes?

Let me give another example, from a few verse later, in 42. "Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away".

How literally are we to take this command? For example, if you are watching TV and see a well-heeled faith-healer on there talking about how his 'ministry' is going to go under if you don't plant a seed of $10,000 right now and God will surely make you a millionaire and keep you from the flu this next winter if you do so, does this verse mean that you are to send $10,000 to this charlatan because you had the misfortune of watching TV when he was on asking you for it? Or if your ne'er-do-well Cousin Bruno asks you for a few thousand bucks to help fund him in his next sure-to-fail get-rich-quick scheme, are you obligated to help him?

I think most of us would say "No" to both of those scenarios, and can easily recognize others. I think we know that we are to use our knowledge and wisdom in determining how best to help others.

So, too, do I think the same in regards to "Turn the other cheek". Perhaps the movie Gandhi was not far off when he said it was about courage, but I don't think it was about pacifism.

Rather, it is about wisdom.

In the whole of the NT, there are three instances when interactions with soldiers are mentioned--when some came to John the Baptist for advice, when a Centurion came to Jesus to ask for his servant to be healed, and when Peter was sent to Cornelius' house as the beginning of taking the Gospel to the Gentiles.

In none of these are soldiers told to stop being soldiers. They are not told to leave the army. Nor are they told to stay in the army but not fight.

The "Turn the other cheek" text is an interesting one to try to understand, and I'm certainly open to being corrected on it. But if you're going to say that should be taken absolutely literally, I'm going to want you to send photos of yourself with your eyes gouged out and your right hand chopped off, and I'm going to ask you for all the money you got, so you'd best be ready to pony up.

Monday, March 2, 2009

pots and kettles

Last year I was in Canada for a couple of days, staying in downtown Ottawa. When I got to my hotel, I noticed that there was a buzz about the lobby. Lots of people with cameras and lots of British accents.

I got my key and took the elevator to my floor, and as I walked down the hall, the door of the room next to mine opened and a woman stepped out wearing a shirt with four words on it: "Mick, Keith, Ronnie, Charlie."

Ah, yes, the Rolling Stones.

With great passion, she told me that they were staying in this very hotel, and that the concert was tomorrow night, only a mile form here.
Rob Bell, sex god, p. 34

This entry isn't about the Stones.

It simply struck me when I read this the first time, that Bell is staying in the same hotel as the Stones.

Because, let's be honest, the Stones aren't camping out at the nearest Motel 6 or EconoLodge.

No, when the Stones go to a city, they're crashing at one of the swankiest places in town. Bell doesn't say what hotel it was, but with such a clientelle, it can't help but be a very nice place, with a hefty overnight price tag.

And that's where Bell stayed.

(Not to mention that he goes on to say that he got a ticket to the Stones' concert the next night, and that couldn't have been cheap, either.)

I kind of found that to be a bit off. You know, him being emergent, and them being so "Wealth is evil and God favors the poor and we need to stop being such greedy Americans and give up on capitalism and the free markets and go socialist so everyone is equally poor and all that..."

Do I hear Algore's private jet going by overhead...?