Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A New Kind of Christianity: The God Question

In this third part of the book McLaren puts his two prongs, the supposed Greco-Roman god Theos and the Bible as cultural library, into use.

He begins with the question "Is God Violent?". McLaren acknowledges that, as useful as his 'Bible as cultural library' proves to be for him, it just doesn't do away with all of what he considers disturbing images of God. "But as a serious reader of the Bible, I'm still a little uneasy, because I know about some of the other images of God that are also found in the Bible--violent images, cruel images, un-Christlike images", p 98.

What he posits to answer this is a form of 'progressive revelation', or as he called it, "this evolving understanding of God", p 100. He says there are five ways that the Bible shows such an 'evolving understand--God uniqueness, from a God supreme among many gods to one true God; God's ethics, from ritual and cermony to social justice; God's universality, from a tribal God to one who loves all people; God's agency, from a distant God to one close and involved; and God's character, from a violent God to one who is gentle, pp 100-102.

He claims that this isn't an evolution of God himself, but of how people understood God. "I am not saying that the Bible reveals a process of evolution within God's character, as if God used to be rather adolescent, but has taken a turn for the better and is growing up nicely over the last few centuries. I am saying that human beings can't do better than their very best at any given moment to communicate about God as they understand God, and the Scripture faithfully reveals the evolution of our ancestor's best attempts to communicate their successive best understandings of God...If we read the Bible as a cultural library rather than as a constitution, and if we don't impose a Greco-Roman plotline on the biblical narrative, we are free to learn from the evolutionary process--and, we might even add, to participate in it", p 103.

He likens it to math. Students in early grades learn simple math, and as they advace, they learn more complex forms of math, onesthat may even seem to contradict what they had previously learned. So, those early in the Bible who recorded what he considers less-mature images of God were simply understanding God as best they could, as a second-grader understands math in only a limited sense. But people like McLaren are more advanced. To make his point, McLaren uses one of his favority tactics--a series of unanswerable "What if...?", questions, p 104-105.

As if to show us what that is like, McLaren gives another example--people from today are somehow sent a bit over 1000 years into the future. People in this speculative future are some different from us, they are "deeply spiritual", they have "grown socially", they no longer fight wars, eat meat, or use fossil fuels, p 106. When those from today arrive, the people of the future are horrified that people used to fight wars and pray for God to bless them in doing so, eat their "fellow creatures" and even view vegetarianism as being 'pro-life', and thought it ok to ruin the planet by using oil.

People who don't like this way of thinking are, of course, stuck in the old Greco-Roman and constitutional way of viewing the Bible, p 108.

McLaren focuses on the story of Noah. Instead of seeing it as God saving a man and his family, he focuses instead on God practicing "ethnic cleansing", p 108, and a story in which people may find justification for similar destructions. "In this light, a god who mandates an intentional supernatural disaster leading to unparalleled genocide is hardly worth belief, much less worship", p 109. He even points out that the flood was a failure, as Noah and his sons soon enough start sinning and soon the world is a mess again.

He does say that, while for him the story of Noah is now distasteful, it is still a step up from what he considers to be the origin source of the story of Noah, something in Gilgamesh, where the gods kill mankind because man is too noisy for them to sleep.

"This approach helps us see the biblical library as the record of a seris of trade-ups, people courageously letting go of their state-of-the-art understanding of God when an even better understanding begins to emerge", p 111.

When coming to Jesus, McLaren quotes a Quaker scholar named Elton Trueblood, "The historic Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ does not simply mean that Jesus is like God. It is far more radical than that. It means the God is like Jesus", p 114. Jesus, then, "...bring us to a new evolutionary level in our understanding of God. An old definition of God does not define Jesus--the experience of God in Jesus requires a brand-new definition or understanding of God", p 114.

"The character of God, seen in Jesus, is not violent and tribal. The living God is not the kind of deity who decrees ethnic cleansing, genocide, racism, slavery, sexism, homophobia, war, religious supremacy, or eternal conscious torment. Instead, the character of the living God is like the character of Jesus", p 118.

My thoughts on this.

A few years ago, I heard someone talk about "chronological snobbery", which essentially means that a person or people will look back on those before them as having been rather stupid. Maybe they will try to say nice things about those ancients, saying they did the best with what they had, but we today know so much more and know it so much better.

Essentially, McLaren's whole position here is an astonishingly towering tribute to chronological snobbery. The arrogance emerging from this part of the book is almost more than I can imagine.

About a year ago, I read parts of a book called "The Lost Message of Jesus" by a couple of emergents on the other side of the pond, Chalke and Mann. They say this about God in the Old Testament.

Hence, Yahweh's association with vengeance and violence wasn't so much an expression of who he was but the result of his determination to be involved with his world. His unwillingness to distance himself from the people of Israel and their actions meant that at times he was implicated in the excessive acts of war that we see in some of the books of the Old Testament. From the very beginning, Yahweh's dealing with Israel were motivated by his desire to demonstrate his love. But to a people saturated in a worldview that saw him as power, this was always going to be a slow uphill struggle

God's relationship with Israel took place in the messy and often brutal reality of their day-to-day lives, longings and ambitions. And in the ancient Near East, where war and unrestrained violence were commonplace, having a god of power on your side helped justify cruel acts of revenge towards those who wronged you. That is why, if we focus in on individual Old Testament verses and stories, it is easy to fall into the trap of seeing God as a vengeful despot...
Chalk and Mann, the lost message of jesus, p. 49

I called this god of Chalke's and Mann's "the incompetent god", because he was unable to get his real message across to humanity; for example, he was pacifistic, but kept having to send Israel off to war, because he was unable through his divine power to protect them.

McLaren essentially uses "the incompetent god", and adds a bit to it. For unspecified reasons, God cannot make ancient man understand Him, so He's doomed to have his character misrepresented in Scripture, at least until McLaren and other enlightened ones come along to set the record straight.

One of the most distasteful parts of his argument is positing a sort of conflict between God and Jesus. He claims that there are images of God in the Old Testament that were "un-Christlike". He says that we must compare views of God to Jesus, "The images of God that most resemble Jesus, whether they orginate in the Bible or elsewhere, are the more mature and complete images; the ones less similar to the character of Jesus are the more embryonic and incomplete...", p 114. As the quote states, he thinks that one can find 'images of God' outside the Bible, I suppose in other religions, that are better than some one can find in the Bible itself.

I noted before that McLaren seems to put a lot of the Bible on to the fiction shelves of his 'cultural library', and this is more confirmation of that. He pretty blatantly says that Noah is a made-up story, ripped off from another culture. More than that, he strongly implies that almost all of it was somehow made-up--it's a man-made book, not a divine revelation. It's a book of mankind's continual evolution in the understanding of God, and that evolution is still going on, an evolution was can still participate in today.

If McLaren's god didn't destroy the world in Noah's day, what does that do to other times that the Bible records God speaking? Does God not judge Sodom and Gomorrah, because that would be homophobic? What about what God did to Egypt? Did God really tell Israel to conquer Canaan, or was that just Moses and Joshua using god-language in support of their own agenda of conquest? And what about those prophets and all their dire warnings and predictions, did God really tell them to say those things?

In order for McLaren to hold to his positions, he must say that much of the Bible claims to have been spoken by God was not really God speaking. His continual emphasis on "an evolving understanding of God" makes that point as well, and is essentially saying that much of the Bible is simply made-up stories where a character called God is introduced, words put into his mouth, and those words given status as Scripture.

There is someone at the forums where I participate in discussions, who has a quote by Spurgeon in her signature area, which goes something like this: "It is a remarkable fact that all the heresies which have arisen in the Christian Church have had a decided tendency to 'dishonor God and to flatter man." As this seems a reasonable criterion, one can say that McLaren here soundly falls in the heretic category. Not only does he bring down God, he essentially places man, especially ones like himself, in a seat of judgment over God, pronouncing judgments on things God did and said, saying even the sometimes God is "un-Christlike".

Most people who read the Bible would probably agree that there is a sense in which God reveals things about Himself over time. But this is more of a sense of God adding knowledge of Himself to what knowledge was before, rather than "trade-ups" as McLaren posits. There is no sense in, for example, the New Testament that the God of what we call the Old Testament--God in the books of Moses, God in the prophets, God in the recorded history--is being traded out for a new, improved, better God, like an older man divorces his wife for a younger model.

In the end, I think what McLaren is most against is Hell. Instead of seeing Hell as an aspect of the the justice of God, even if a rather harsh and hard-to-understand one, he calls it "torture" several times, as if he's trying to equate Hell with liberal's views of Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib. I think McLaren's politics comes into play here.

Finally, McLaren resorts to 'scare tactics' in order to try to make his interpretive method more user-friendly. He essentially says that we much do violence to the message of the Bible for our own good. Like all liberals, he sees people who don't agree with him as simply stupid, brutish, small-minded sheep, motivated only by self-interest. Perhaps because he has dismissed the Fall, he must hold to such a low view of man to explain why he isn't universally accepted.

Monday, March 29, 2010

recognizing a work of genius

Though I doubt Peter Rollins would care much for this parable. For my part, I found it hilarious and pointed.

Brian McLaren’s New Kind of Whole Foods Store: A Parable

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

ankoc: the authority question

McLaren's plan of attack in "A New Kind of Christianity" has essentially two prongs. One is in the first question, the positing of a Greco-Roman diety named Theos that at some time essentially replaced the God of the Bible. The second is how he claims most people interpret the Bible, how wrong it is (of course), and the way that he claims is 'corrected'. This is pretty much the Authority Question.

As per usual with the great enlightened ones, McLaren says that we simpletons have it all wrong. "There will be no new kind of Christian faith without a new approach to the Bible, because we've gotten ourselves into a mess with the Bible", pp 67-68. Apparently, because there are still Creationists, those who deny global warming, and those who think a good war is better than a bad peace, we just aren't interpreting the Bible rightly.

To prove his point, McLaren digs up some kind of novel from about the time of American Civil War, the early 1860s, a pro-slavery novel. Apparently, because someone tried to use the Bible to defend slavery in the US, we are interpreting the Bible wrong. It's a scare tactic he goes back to a few more times, so I've noticed, in what I've read so far of the book.

He says that we mistakingly read the Bible as a legal constitution, "Like lawyers, we look for precedents in past cases of interpretation, sometimes favoring older interpretations as precedents, sometimes asserting newer ones have rendered the old ones obsolete. We seek to distinguish "spirit" from "letter" and argue the "framer's intent," seldom questioning whether the passage in question was actually intended by the original authors and editors to be a universal, eternally binding law. As a result, we turn our seminaries and denominational bodies into versions of the Supreme Court. At every turn, we approach the biblical text as if it were an annotated code instead of what it actually is: a portable library of poems, prophecies, histories, fables, parables, letters, sage sayings, quarrels, and so on", pp 78-79.

The last part of that quote brings us to how McLaren's says we should see the Bible--as "the library of a culture and community--the culture and community of people who trace their history back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob", p 81. How this works comes back to the emergents' favorite word--conversation. "It's not the solitary scholar with furrowed brow, bent over a book in a library, whose approach best resonates with the Bible as library; rather, it's a community gathering in which people listen to the Bible being read, then respond and interact with it and with one another." p 84

He singles out the book of Job to show how it would work, in a way, I suppose. "God has just told us that a large proportion of what is uttered in the book of Job is false and foolish. Yet we are taught that the book of Job, being part of the Bible, is the Word of God and is inspired by God. Does that mean that God inspired the introduction and conclusion, but not the middle, where the pious blowhard's speak? Or does it mean that God inspired the pious blowhard's false statements? Or that God was pretending to inspire that part, but was crossing the divine fingers behind the divine back, so as to come out later to say, "I was only kidding in that part"? p 89. His conclusion about revelation in Job, and the Bible as a whole, is that "...revelation doesn't simply happen in statements. It happens in conversations and arguemtns that take place within and among communities of people who share the same essential questions acros genertaions. Revelation accumulates in the relationships, interactions, and interplay between statements." p 93.

What is all this about? "But here's what I hope: that his approach will not try to put us under the text, as conservatives tend to do, or lift us over it, as liberals often seem to do. Instead, I hope it will try to put us in the text--in the conversation, in the story, in the current and flow, in the predicament, in the Spirit, in the community of people who keep bumping into the living God in the midst of their experiences of loving God, betraying God, losing God, and being found againd by God." pp 96-97

Some of my thoughts about all this...

In the previous section, McLaren says that he wants look at things in a more Jewish way. But he seems to go against that here, because if I understand these things correctly, the Jews of biblical times viewd "the Law and the Prophets" in a way very like how people in the US view their own Constitution--as the basic laws by which their society is governed and ordered. If anything, the Law of Moses and the words of the prophets would have an even greater authority than the Constituion in the US, because while the Constitution was a document made by a group of men and has been changed or amended over time, the Law and the Prophets were God's own words, and we are given very few cases of God accepting input from people concerning them. He had taken some things into account, much like Jesus said in regards to divorce, but He didn't consult with Moses when He gave him the law, nor did He consult with Isaiah or Jeremiah over what prophetic words He was to give them.

If you read this part, "Like lawyers, we look for precedents in past cases of interpretation, sometimes favoring older interpretations as precedents, sometimes asserting newer ones have rendered the old ones obsolete. We seek to distinguish "spirit" from "letter" and argue the "framer's intent," seldom questioning whether the passage in question was actually intended by the original authors and editors to be a universal, eternally binding law. As a result, we turn our seminaries and denominational bodies into versions of the Supreme Court...", and wondered "Ok, what constitution is he writing about?", perhaps you have an interesting question. Remember, McLaren comes from the Left, in both politics and theology. Perhaps his attempts to make the Bible a kind of 'living document' (I haven't seen those words used the book, but the idea is certainly there), reflect a view he may have that the US Constitution is a 'living document', and neither are to be interpreted in a 'strict constructionist' type of way.

McLaren wants to liken the Bible to a library. Having read a bit in other parts of the book, I've seen that he has some interesting ideas on what sections of the library parts of the Bible would be in. Here's a few..

Science Fiction
(concerning Revelation) "Clearly, this is a work of Jewish apocalyptic literature, which in turn is part of a larger genre known as the literature of the oppressed. These kinds of literature worked in the first century in wasy similar to the way some science fiction works for us today. For example, when we read or watch Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, The Matrix, or Wall-E, we don't think the writers and filmmakers are trying to predict the future. No, we understand they are really talking about the present, and they are doing so in hopes of changing the future." p 123

(concerning Noah and the flood) "In this light, a god who mandates an intentional supernatural disaster leading to unparalleled genocide is hardly worthy of belief, much less worship. How can we ask children--or nonchurch colleagues and neighbors--to honor a diety so uncreative, overreactive, and utterly capricious regarding life?..."

"It's useful to compare the Noah story to the earlier sotry it seeks to adapt and improve upon, the Utnapishtim story (from Tablet 11 of the Epic of Gilgamesh, discovered in the mid-1800s, probably dating back in oral tradition to the second millenium BCE, and recorded in clay in the mid-seventh century BCE)...

"Now remember, in making this contrast, I'm not trying to defend the view of God in the Noah story as morally acceptable, ethically satisfying, and theologically mature. Nor am I trying to make Gilgamesh look bad to make the Bible look good. Instead, I'm simply recommending that we compare the Noah story to its predecessors as well as its successors...I'm acknowledging that, yes, the portrait of God found in the Noah story is far less satisfying in many ways than a portrait that emerges later in the biblical library. Yes we can celebrate it for being a step up from the portraits it was correcting and seeking to replace..."pp 109-110

Given such examples, I think we have the right to ask (if claiming a right isn't 'constitutional') just how much of McLaren's library-bible winds up on the fiction shelves. Since Revelation obviously does so, what about Daniel, and end-times prophecies by Isaiah and Ezekial, and even the sayings of Jesus about the end? Since the story of Noah is (for him) obviously fictional, what about other stories? Is what God did to Egypt early in Exodus unacceptable, making him "hardly worthy of belief, much less worship"? What about the events in Joshua concerning the conquest of Canaan, such as God knocking down the walls of Jericho? What about all the times this god let other nations conquer Israel, even carrying off many of the people into slavery and exile? Was God being "uncreative, overreative, and utterly capricious regarding life" when he did that?

And since McLaren lists such luminaries as Borg and Crossan among those he learned from, they who would toss out pretty much everything the Gospels say about Jesus, perhaps a better question would be "How little of McLaren's library-bible actually makes its way onto the nonfiction sections, if any at all?"

In reading his thoughts on Job, I really have to wonder if McLaren has really ever read a book, let alone the Bible. Only someone who hasn't ever read or heard a story, or who is showing a sense of desperation, could write such a thing expecting people to believe it a good argument. He may as well try to claim that God approved of the words of the serpent in the Garden, because they are recorded in the Bible, event though they are shown to be lies when God speaks. Or that God approved of the murder of Abel by Cain, because it's recorded in the Bible, even though when God speaks to Cain about it, he obviously disapproves. Or maybe that God approved of Pharoah's mistreatment of Israel because it's recorded in Exodus, even though God plainly says he doesn't. It's a weak argument to claim that inspiration means that all that is recorded in the Bible is in there because God approves of it, the mere fact that it records people sinning proves that. Moreover, McLaren would never make such an argument in regards to any other book or writer. Would he claim that Tolkien approved of Boromir's betrayal or Gollum's obsession? Would he claim that Lewis approved of the words and actions of the White Witch?

The last couple of points I've tried to make meet a strange combination here, "...What about God's voice, which we encounter in the introduction, striking rather strange bargains with the Satan, and at the end, flingin questions as a machine gun spits out shells? Can we trust God's voice to be God's voice? Or is even "God" a character int eh story too, no the actual God necesarily, but the imagined God, the author's best sense of God, the fictional character playing God for the sake of this dramatic work of art? This is a powerful and perhaps terrifying question." p 94. He goes on to say that he considers the book of Job to be "a kind of archetypal theological opera" without even the rather weak claim of being 'based on a true story'.

Considering what McLaren writes here about God in Job, and what he wrote God in the account of Noah, we may safely say that pretty often, in McLaren's mind, the God of the Bible is not really God, nor even a good portrayal, but is most often "the imagined God, the author's best sense of God".

One gets the impression McLaren thinks that God should have created McLaren long ago, so He could have him as His PR Manager.

Perhaps the real god who isn't worth believing or worshiping is the one who just couldn't get himself understood by those people long ago, who couldn't help that they kept writing about him killing people, telling to go to war and conquer, while all the time he's just a milquetoast diety who wants people to be good little pacifist. Such a weak character isn't even worthy of respect, let along worship.

I think I'll end this here, though no doubt a lot could be said about his idea of "revelation through conversation". For example, I can only imagine what criterion one must pass in order to qualify for their 'conversation'.

Monday, March 22, 2010

if only they would follow their own advice

I almost wonder how this particular article made it on to TheOoze. Or if I'm missing something.

Let me assure you, Jesus is not who you think He is. He is more glorious, more powerful, more confusing, more fascinating, and more radically inclusive than you or I can possibly imagine.

Perhaps this will give a bit of answer. Jesus is "more radically inclusive". Given that the main Oozer, Spencer Burke, is a committed universalist, then no doubt "more radically inclusive" is at least pointing towards universalism.

I don’t know about you, but if I am offered a choice between the Jesus I have made in my own image or the Jesus I have not fully understood yet, I would rather have the Jesus who is still bigger than my ability to understand, who defies my description, who challenges my preconceptions, and who takes my breath away. I would rather have the real Jesus, and I have to be willing to admit that the real Jesus may not fit into my convenient little box.

There's something to be said for this, but you still need to have some understanding of Jesus if you're going to have "the real Jesus". And the rhetoric of an 'outside the box' Jesus is open to some potential misconstruings.

Let Jesus be who he really is. Jesus is not your UFC fighting champion. Jesus is not your flag-waving Republican (or Democrat). Jesus is not your blue-eyed all-American boy.

Don’t fabricate a version of Jesus who happens to share your political viewpoint, or who hates all the same people you hate, or who tolerates all the minor sins you happen to practice.

What I found rather amusing was how, on the left side of the page where this article can be found, there is an advertisement for McLaren's "A New Kind of Christianity". A more glaring example of someone who has "fabricate(d) a version of Jesus who happens to share (the author's) political viewpoint, or who hates of the same people (he) hate(s), or who tolerates all the minor sins (he) happen(s) to practice" you will have a hard time finding.

It's not that it isn't a bit of good advice, but I do wish the emergents would practice it themselves, before telling us to do the same. It may give the words a bit of added impetus if they did so, rather than seeming like a bit of spin control.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

ankoc: the narrative question

In an attempt to every-now-and-then deal more seriously with the contents of McLaren "A New Kind of Christianity", I will do what will likely be a series of posts about it.. The book is helpful, at least in this, in that McLaren has divided the content of it into a set of questions. The first, which will be what this is about, is The Narrative Question. I intent to give a broad overview of his points, reference bits as it may be helpful, respond, and so let the sparks fly from there.

Btw this serious in no way invalidates the use of humor, even mocking, which is itself effective. Just ask Elijah how much fun it was to rip the priests of Baal.

He begins by giving what he considers what we consider to be the basic story line of the Bible--Eden, the Fall, Condemnation (or history), Salvation, with a branching off from Salvation to either Heaven or Hell. He claims that this is not the real story of the Bible, but rather a construction based on the influence of Greco-Roman philosophy some time in the early church. He contends that we get this view by looking back on Jesus through the views of those who came after Him--Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and so on, but that it would look differently if we started with Adam and worked up to Jesus.

He posits that the early church created a Greco-Roman god names Theos, kind of like Zeus, who is the god of this Greco-Roman version of Christianity. This Theos is a god who doesn't like change, doesn't like matter, doesn't like story. This Theos likes unchanging perfection, likes spirit, likes it when things are in a perfect state. This Theos has replaced the Jewish Yahweh in the minds of Western Christians.

In reading the Bible in the way he recommends, from Adam forwards, McLaren claims to see a much different story. Eden is a not a perfect place, but one that is good or very good. It is not a place of static perfection, but of good things that change, and he even brings in the word "evolution". But McLaren plainly states that "It is patently obvious to me that these stories aren't intended to be taken literally...", so the story of Eden is not about a good place God created, but the first few chapters of Genesis are for him a coming-of-age story for humanity.

What this means is that the Fall, where man ate the fruit and sinned, has a different meaning to McLaren. "Rather, it is the first stage of ascent as human beings progress from the life of hunter-gatherers to the life of agriculturalists and beyond". The Fall, then, becomes an ascent, and the stories become an overview of mankind's socio-economic ascent.

From this point, McLaren's politics take over. God likes Abel's more "primitive" life as a herder over Cain's more "advanced" life as a farmer, because it's "not as morally compromised as settle farm life, with it's fenced-in privately owned lands, accumulation of possessions, violent seizure and defense, and related moral entanglements". So, McLaren's god does not like farmers, because they own the land they use to farm with. God punishes Cain by making him a hunter-gatherer. He goes on from there for a while, through Noah and Abraham and Joseph.

With Exodus, he finally tells us that the Bible story has what he calls "three dimensions". The first is "liberation", told through God liberating the oppressed Israelites in Egypt. The second is "internal liberation", which is about personal sins, which is God's dealings with Israel in the wilderness. The third is what he calls "the peaceable kingdom", which seems to take up the rest of the Old Testament. He claims that it reaches a sort of apex with King David, but fizzles out, and the dream changes, and becomes about a time. The prophets, like Isaiah and Joel, speak of coming time when God would set things right with the world--no war, wolves and lambs frolicking together, God will pour out His spirit on all flesh. But we can't interpret these things literally, but rather through the paradigm of his politics--wolves living with lambs means religious pluralism and ecumenism as Christians accept Judaism and Islam as fellow-travelers on the road to god. People keeping their vitality up to and beyond age 100 is about passing Obamacare. Men and women prophesying and knowledge of the Lord filling the would be about "....a deep kind of universal and egalitarian spirituality", which strikes me as being rather New-Agey.

Several things come to mind from all of this.

First, I've no idea where he gets the idea that Christians never view Jesus through the lens of the Old Testament. It's patent nonsense for him to insinuate it. It has been a common contention that the Old Testament points toward Christ; for example, Abraham's sacrifice of his son Isaac, which God himself commanded and interrupted, points to God's sacrifice of His own son Jesus, a sacrifice God did not interrupt.The Psalmists and Prophets spoke of Christ.

Of course you can contend that there is no Fall in the Bible if you're going to redefine the Fall as an ascension. I've dealing here with the few chapters of the book that are associated with this Narrative Question so far, but if the best McLaren can do to disprove the biblical narrative he so obviously despises is to claim that the something like the Fall was actually an ascension, then only those who are already committed to believing him will continue to believe him. It seems even many who may have liked him in the past are finding his new work off-putting.

When I've heard people speak of the perfection of Eden, I've heard it referred to as "sinless perfection"--that it was perfect in the sense the man had not sinned, and the consequences of sin had not yet entered into the world, consequences like death. I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone say that Eden was a place where nothing changed.

Concerning his Theos, he does very little, if anything, to actually prove such a concept was ever created. He claims Greco-Romanism, adds a dose of his politics, and claims that almost right off the bat the church began getting the story of the Bible wrong. He makes claims about this Theos, tries to contrast it with Yahweh, and of course thinks Yahweh was much better than Theos. I'm still not convinced Theos isn't a strawman.

Some statements seemed rather incredible. On pages 40 and 41, he says about the Jews, "They (at their best) acknowledge the right of other nations to have their own languages and customs and even religions;...". When was Israel in the Bible ever so ecumenical? Is he really serious in saying that it didn't matter that the other nations are worshiping idols? That the God of Israel is completely ok in the Old Testament with Ba'al, Dagon, Asheroth, and the other gods of the nations around Israel?

On page 57, in dealing with Moses and the freeing of Israel from Egypt, he says that in regards to Pharoah's refusal to let God's people go, "God resonds with a firm but gentle consequence: a plague on the Nile River, which is the lifeblood of the civilization. Ironically, perhaps through a red tide, the Nile turn red like blood". Has McLaren adopted a materialistic view of the Bible? Is he now denying miracles? Does he think that the Egyptians were so stupid that they could not distinguish between a red tide and blood? A page later, in regards to the what happened with Moses and Egypt, "The so-called supernatural, in this way, seems remarkably natural".

Maybe the part that is most outrageous is when he tries to make the Fall, when man rebelled about God and ate the fruit God had forbidden them to eat, into a part of a mere "coming of age" story. Since this is the part that most brings into question his contentions, it's not surprising that McLaren tries to play it down, but his flippancy is distasteful to the extreme.The Bible treats that event very seriously, so for McLaren to treat it like the premise to all too many bad movies, or to try to spin it to fit his socio-economic politics, doesn't hold water. Consider the passages of Scripture...

For as through one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one shall many be made righteous.
Romans 5:19

Therefore as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed upon all man, for that all sinned
Romans 5:12
Verses taken from the book "What the Bible Teaches" by R.A. Torrey

The Bible does not brush aside this event with a flip of the wrist, but deals with it seriously, and sees its consequences through human history.

In regards to his take of the prophecies of a time when God will set things right with the world, let me reference someone else's words, because he says it rather well, I think. "The bottom line was that nothing like what Jesus said was going to happen was really going to happen, but that's okay, He didn't really mean that all that would happen, and besides, it really did happen, but it just wasn't anything like what He said would happen. So it's really all okay."

I can't say as I'm impressed so far.

Friday, March 19, 2010

love and power are not scales 2

Revelation celebrates not the love of power, but the power of love.
Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity, p 126

This quote is actually part of an excerpt in a recent previous post. I've taken it out here, though, because it's started to remind of some thing from roughly a year ago. A bit from Chalke and Mann's book "The Secret Message of Jesus".

Willard Waller, an American sociologist, spend his life studying people in order to gain an understanding in of the complex interplay that goes on in human relationships. Though he wrote many research papers, his life's work can be summed up in two simple statements:

1. In any relationship one person loves more than another

2. The person who loves the least in any relationship has (the) most power and conversely, the person who loves most has the least power.

These two statements make up his Law of Least Love...
Chalke and Mann, The Lost Message of Jesus, p. 182

I responded to this previous. You can see, I hope, how much McLaren's quote echoes that of Chalke and Mann--that there is some kind of balancing act between love and power, an inverse balancing act if you would, wherein the more one 'loves' the less 'power' one has, and the less one 'loves' the more 'power' one has in the relationship. McLaren applies that thinking to the Divine--if the Revelation portrait of Jesus as a warrior is literally and is what will really happen, then love has lost, and power has won; thus, we must discard this view of Jesus as conquering king, and keep before us the view of Jesus one a humble donkey. We must never accept the portrait of Jesus as a warrior, on a war horse, with a sword, coming to kill his enemies and create a veritable lake of blood where carrion birds will feast.

But like the simplifications philosophers create that simply will not work in real life, so this simplification simply will not work. There is no inverse relationship between love and power. A parent is not unloving when exercising power over his or her children. A husband is not unloving in exercising authority over his family. Such authority may be exercised in an unloving way, and no doubt some will be quick to point out the abuses, but the exercise of such authority is not itself unloving; in fact, it could be argued that the real unloving act would be to abandon one's responsibilities, to not exercise the authority inherent in one's position. and to not lead.

And the claim of such an inverse relationship between love and power completely falls apart when applied to God. Yes, no doubt some would point out how Jesus laid aside His glory and humbled Himself, even to the point of crucifixion, and yes, it is something to note. As Scripture notes, God shows His love for us through Christ having died for us, even when we were still sinners. Yet even it had something to do with power, as Hebrews 2:14 states, "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil--".

Moreover, here is what Revelation says about God and power:
Revelation 4:11
You are worthy, our Lord and God
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.

In a loud voice they sang:
"Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!"
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them singing:
"To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power
for ever and ever!"

And this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting:
Salvation and glory and power
belong to our God,
for true and just are his judgments."

An awful lot there about God having power for a book that is just suppose to be about the "power of love", don't you think?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

it's for your own good

For example, for me, today, the Noah story, in which God wipes out all living except one boatload of refugees, has become profoundly disturbing...In recent years, though, I began thinking about how some might use the story as a "constitutional precedent"--if God single-handedly practices "ethnic cleaning" once, and if God cannot do evil, then there is apparently a time and place when genocide is justified. And that means that maybe we (or our enemies) could be justified in playing the genocide card again at some point in the future--another sobering reason to take this quest for a new kind of Christianity seriously in spite of the risks and opposition.
Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christian, pp. 108-109

Ah, those loving, caring people on the Left, who while accusing other people of seeing demons behind every rock and bush, do themselves seem to see them in every page of the Bible. How kind of them, to try to spin events in the Bible, so that we will not think that God is really one who would destroy the world with a flood, or that Christ would return in a mood for judgment.

Bearing that in mind, I offer that we continue McLaren's "divine cleansing" of the Bible. Here are some other examples of things that would be, shall we say, rethought, if not completely turned on their heads, lest we simpletons misunderstand.

Lest we think that women are the problem, we should remove the story of Eve being the first one who fell for the serpent's temptation.

Lest we think that God has something against elder sons, we should get rid of the stories of Cain and Abel, as well as Jacob and Esau.

Lest we think that God wants us to participate in global overpopulation, we should completely remove Jacob, because he had at least 13 kids.

Lest we think that God likes cupbearers and/or hates bakers, we should get rid of the account of Joseph interpreting the dreams of those two men while in prison.

Lest we think that God dislikes shoes, we should get rid of the story of Moses and the burning bush.

Lest we think that God uses natural disasters to send messages, we should get rid of the whole account of Moses and the disasters in Egypts--especially that last one, which ties in with God's hatred of elder sons.

Lest we think that God likes laws, we should get rid of all of the books of the Law of Moses.

Lest we think that God likes conquest, we should remove the book of Joshua.

Lest we think that God isn't ecumenical, we should remove the book of Judges.

Lest we think that God likes marriages based on law and not love, we should remove Ruth.

Lest we think that God hates tall people, we should get rid of the story of David and Goliath.

I hope those are enough to give you the picture.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

very early constitutionalists

By now, I hope you can anticipate my three-part answer...Second, he seems to be working from a constitutional approach of the Bible, which privileges him to pass judgment as if he were a Supreme Court justice...

Instead, this image of Jesus as a conqueror (in Revelation 19:11-16) reassures believers that the peaceful Jesus who entered Jerusalem on a donkey that day wasn't actually weak and defeated; he was in fact every bit as powerful as a Caesar on a steed...

To repeat, Revelation is not portraying Jesus returning to earth in the future, having repented of his naive gospel ways and having converted to Caesar's "realistic" Greco-Roman methods instead...

Revelation celebrates not the love of power, but the power of love. It denies, with all due audacity, that God's anointed liberator is the Divine Terminator, threatening revenge for all who refurse to honor him, growling "I'll be back!".
Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity, pp 120, 124-125, 126

McLaren is dealing here with someone's quote, which clearly seens Revelation 19 as being a prophecy of Jesus' return, and one that is literal--Jesus will return as a conquering king, to being judgment to some people.

McLaren doesn't like that. He likes a pacifist Jesus, and hates it when Jesus just won't conform. So, he has to go to some lengths to try to makes the other person (isn't it against their code to disparage the other?) he quotes seem ridiculous.

Now, I think the one he quotes is someone who's around today (McLaren attaches no name to the quote, neither in the contents of the book nor in the footnotes, which seems rather iffy to me). And since it is someone who's around today, he may think he can get away with his interpretive shenanigans.

But I find it interesting that he appeals to the ancient church (a bit I did't quote here) in support for his reinterpretation, because some in the early church agreed more with McLaren's critic than with McLaren.

emphases mine
“So that you ought rather to desist from the love of strife, and repent before the great day of judgment come, wherein all those of your tribes who have pierced this Christ shall mourn as I have shown has been declared by the Scriptures. And I have explained that the Lord swore, ‘after the order of Melchizedek,’ and what this prediction means; and the prophecy of Isaiah which says, ‘His burial is taken away from the midst,’ I have already said, referred to the future burying and rising again of Christ; and I have frequently remarked that this very Christ is the Judge of all the living and the dead. And Nathan likewise, speaking to David about Him, thus continued: ‘I will be His Father, and He shall be my Son; and my mercy shall I not take away from Him, as I did from them that went before Him; and I will establish Him in my house, and in His kingdom for ever.’ And Ezekiel says, ‘There shall be no other prince in the house but He.’ For He is the chosen Priest and eternal King, the Christ, inasmuch as He is
the Son of God;
Justin Martyr, dialogue with Trypho, ch 118

For the prophets have proclaimed two advents of His: the one, that which is already past, when He came as a dishonored and suffering Man; but the second, when, according to prophecy, He shall come from heaven with glory, accompanied by His angelic host, when also He shall raise the bodies of all men who have lived, and shall clothe those of the worthy with immortality, and shall send those of the wicked, endued with eternal sensibility, into everlasting fire with the wicked devils.
Justin Martyr, First Apology of Justin, ch 52

If the Father, then, does not exercise judgment, [it follows] that judgment does not belong to Him, or that He consents to all those actions which take place; and if He does not judge, all persons will be equal, and accounted in the same condition. The advent of Christ will therefore be without an object, yea, absurd, inasmuch as [in that case] He exercises no judicial power. For “He came to divide a man against his father, and the daughter against the mother, and the daughter-in-law against the mother-in-law;” and when two are in one bed, to take the one, and to leave the other; and of two women grinding at the mill, to take one and leave the other: [also] at the time of the end, to order the reapers to collect first the tares together, and bind them in bundles, and burn them with unquenchable fire, but to gather up the wheat into the barn; and to call the lambs into the kingdom prepared for them, but to send the goats into everlasting fire, which has been prepared by His Father for the devil and his angels. And why is this? Has the Word come for the ruin and for the resurrection of many? For the ruin, certainly, of those who do not believe Him, to whom also He has threatened a greater damnation in the judgment-day than that of Sodom and Gomorrah; but for the resurrection of believers, and those who do the will of His Father in heaven. If then the advent of the Son comes indeed alike to all, but is for the purpose of judging, and separating the believing from the unbelieving, since, as those who believe do His will agreeably to their own choice, and as, [also] agreeably to their own choice, the disobedient do not consent to His doctrine; it is manifest that His Father has made all in a like condition, each person having a choice of his own, and a free understanding; and that He has regard to all things, and exercises a providence over all, “making His sun to rise upon the evil and on the good, and sending rain upon the just and unjust.”
Irenaeus, Against Heretics, Book 5 Chapter 27

Who knew that, so early in the Church, they had the Greco-Roman constitutional view of things, even before there was a Greco-Roman constitutional view around. Too bad they didn't have McLaren around as something like a prophet, to keep them from it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

an oh ode to ankoc

('ankoc', btw, is the initials of A New Kind of Christianity, just to clarify)

Oh, to be among the enlightened ones, the advanced one, the ascended masters!!

Oh, to be among those who have advanced so far in humility that you know how far you have advanced over the common rabble, to know when to Fall is really to ascend, to know that we who have never seen the face of God (or gods, or the universe) may look with supreme pity on he who gave God a meal at his tent, or he who talked with God as a friend talks to a friend.

Oh, to be counted among those fortunate few, who can gaze upon the sacred words of the prophets of old, and determine that they really didn't mean what they said. Oh, to be able to see that when the prophets of old said that God would do something, they really meant that man would do it. Oh, to know that when the prophets of old spoke of a coming time when men would be full of vitality past the age of 100, they really meant that we who live now should pass Obamacare. What sublime prophetic ability, for those of thousands of years in the past to use such an outlandish notion as people living so long, to speak specifically to us today to follow the agenda of the enlighened ones!

Oh, to know that to read the Bible as a Jew means that one does not read the Bible as Jews of old. Oh, to see that the Law was not a constitution, though the Jew of old thought that it was very like one. Oh, to see that we have advanced so far! God gave Israel the Law and the Prophets, and did not ask a by-your-leave to do so, yet we today have advanced to the point where we may talk with each other, determine what is revelation, and so determine for ourselves "Hath God really said?"

For the moment, that is my last word, so I'll let someone else provide the word after that.

funny pictures of dogs with captions
see more dog and puppy pictures

(why do I suspect that pup could get a lot of use?)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

making it worth it

I must now confess that, yes, I did it. I suppose one could blame it on a touch of madness, perhaps brought on by the poison of the philosophy I had only a day before drained to the dregs. Perhaps it could be blamed on a curious so morbid the modern puritan would call it obese. Whatever the cause, whatever the reason, I did indeed give over the almost-$30 that I knew would be required of me by those gatekeepers of the law and the profits, and having surrendered the precious amount, I was free to take in hand and from the store a copy of the incontrovertibly controversial "A New Kind of Christianity".

When one does such a mad thing, it only shows a steeper descent along the slippery slope to begin to scour the pages looking for an adequate return on investment. Perhaps because McLaren is decidedly of the Left, and for the Left a return of any such kind seems to be a sin on the order of the original Fall they do not believe in, I have thus far found all attempts at such a return to be fruitless. I am left with mere pages, and the words upon them, which any postmodern will all too readily tell you are worthless, anyway.

If nothing else, McLaren has proven the Bible to be literally true when it says that a fool and his money are soon parted.

But if a book must be worthless, at least it cannot be completely worthless. I have never written a book, so cannot claim to know the joy of such an accomplishment. Perhaps those who bind books may have at one time found satisfaction in such a craft, though I would think that today those who bind books are machines who take little joy in anything. Those like myself, who read, can find a degree of joy in doing our part. But what if that joy is denied us? To borrow McLaren's favorite type of question, what if he who reads does not enjoy the reading? What if he learns nothing, or at least nothing of value? What if he longs to find some joy, some satisfaction, in a book? What is he left with?

Merely the shredding of it.

So, let the shredding begin...

Monday, March 8, 2010

philosophical poison, with an added dash of Dogbert

In the last entry, I gave an excerpt from the called "Zizek: a (very) critical introduction" by Marcus Pound, a part of a set of books called Interventions. I also hinted that it was only one of several things said in the book that were poisonous. I intend to go into that here and now.

First, a couple of excerpts from Chesterton, to kind of give a bit of perspective.

...The temptations of philosophers is simplicity rather than subtlety. They are always attracted by insane simplifications, as men poised above abysses are fascinated by death and nothingness and the empty air. It needed another kind of philosopher to stand poised upon the pinnacle of the Temple and keep his balance without casting himself down. One of these obvious, these too obvious explanations is that everything is a dream and a delusion and there is nothing outside the ego. Another is that all things recur; another, which is said to be Buddhist and is certainly Oriental, is the idea that what is the matter with us is our creation, in the sense that our coloured differentiation and personalitiy, and that nothing will be well till we are melted into one unity. By this theory, in short, the Creation was the Fall.
The Everlasting Man, p. 135

Thoroughly worldly people never understand even the world; they rely altogether on a few cynical maxims which are not true.
Orthodoxy, at the beginning of ch. II

I want to point out these two insights by Chesterton because most of the things I'm going to point out from the "Zizek..." book will prove him true; they will be "insane simplications" made into "cynical maxims" made by "thoroughly worldly people" which will simply be "not true".

Here are the insights in the book, made by the various persons referenced by the author...

(male) love is murder--p. 145; Christ's death was not a sacrifice, save in the sense of sacrificing sacrifice--p. 47; Femininity is athiesm--p. 109; all men are castrated--p. 106; God's creation of the material world is "proof of the divine madness, of the fact that God himself is out of his mind"--p. 30; we can believe in order to not believe--p. 62; the Holy Spirit is 'the spirit of the community of believers'--p. 38; Christ's death shows that 'there is no longer any transcendent God with whom to communicate--p. 38; concerning Job, it ' was not him (Job), but God himself, who was actually on trial in Job's calamities, and He failed the test miserable--p. 58; "it is when we learn that suffereing is meaningless that we cease to be tyrannized by it."--p. 58; Christianity is the religion of atheist, "He (Zizek) reads Christ's cry of dereliction as the "over-coming of metaphysics," i.e., the death of the big Other.--p. 114; Old Testament Judaism was masculine, while Christianity is feminism--p. 114-118.

I'll stop there. It's enough, though I think I could go on a bit longer.

I do want to conclude with something I've just read. It's today's Dilbert comic strip. Why do I feel so like the human?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

philosophical poison

A few days ago, I felt as if I had been poisoned.

Not a physical poison, mind you. A mental one, maybe a soul or spiritual poison, would be the best way to phrase it. I was poisoned by a book, by something I had read. Here it is.

At this point one should clarify what Badiou means by truth. To borrow from Peter Hallward's succinct summary: "what Badiou calls a truth is the process that, sparked by a break with routine, persists as an affirmation whose progressive imposition transforms the very way things appear in the situation". On this account truth does not concern the correspondence between knowledge and its object, as if reality itself had been given in advance and all one had to do was discover it or ensure the right representation thereof. Truth is a process, a dynamic operation; truth does not descrive the world as real, it creates it as real by retroactively transforming the past to give meaningfulness to the present.

...In the case of Paul, the claim "Christ is resurrected" breaks with the existing background of Greek philosophy or Jewish legalism: Christianity introduces something new. Again, what mattes is not whether Christ was actually resurrected but the eventful nature of the declaration itself, unspoiled by any knowledge of the historical Jewsus, standing instead for the subjective possibility of victory over death. In this way Badiou's account recalls the disregard Paul has for Christ in Martin Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ, based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis...Upon challenging Paul with the claim that he (Jesus) did not resurrect, Paul says, "Look at all these people, look at their faces. Do you see how unhappy they are?..Their only hope is the resurrected Jesus...I don't care whether you are Jesus or not, the resurrected Jesus will save the world". In short, what matters is not the literal truth of the resurrection, but the way one is carried through fideltiy to the event that subsequently establishes it as a universal field of truth--universal in the sense that it defines the field itself...
Marcus Pound, Zizek: a (very) critical introduction, pp 76-78

In other words, the importance of the Paul and the Apostles' claims that Jesus is risen is not in if it actually happened, but rather in how people may have reacted to it. To simply it further, it's not about reality, but about propoganda. The sole value of the statement of Christ's resurrection is in it's propoganda value.

And this person Badiou has the unmitigated gall to use the word "truth" to disguise his attempt to make lies into the truth.

This statement is poison, and it poisoned me. I felt it for several hours, as I had a fresh insight into just how far philosophers, those who are supposed to love wisdom, have descended into loving madness and lies. That anyone who may call himself or herself a philosopher should say such a thing, staining the noble name of truth by applying that name to lies, and that others who call themselves philsophers may think that this is a great insight and concept, was enough to bring on something like despair.

Well did Paul warn us against "vain philosophies". Nothing could be more vain than this. That whole book is poisonous, I've only given one example. I plan to deal with the whole book a bit more in a later entry.

Monday, March 1, 2010

what healed them?

A bit ago, I wrote some entries concerning a TheOoze article about "Theology After Google". The author of that article is part of a website called Transforming Theology. To give you an idea of what they consider good thinking, one may consider this.

Progressive Healing?

I believe that the progressive Christian vision is quite receptive to the non-supernatural understandings of Jesus’ healing ministry and our ability to share in God’s aim at healing and wholeness of mind, body, spirit, and relationships in our time.

These people are essentially anti-supernatural--for some reason, they think they are quite smart enough to say that God is not able to interfere in the natural world, to for example use His Divine power to heal people. Instead, they have to put forth the idea that somehow the healings in Scripture are some kinds of tricks involving, well, read on...

From this perspective, we can affirm and go beyond Crossan’s sociological understanding of healing. As a result of the intimate relationship of Jesus to the divine (Jesus as living fully in the dynamic divine-human call and response, in which God calls and we respond and we call and God responds), Jesus “mediated” the divine energy of the universe in superlative ways; Jesus awakened persons to their own healing powers and opened them to God’s healing touch; and Jesus invited persons to become actors rather than victims in responding to illness.

The divine energy of the universe? Their own healing powers? Good luck finding that in the Gospels, or in anything Jesus said.