Sunday, June 26, 2011

the connection is unclear connection

So, things are still going on over at the Emergent Village blog post about Process Theology. We all must, of course, be wary of how we interpret things there, because no one's interpretation is accurate without qualifications, especially if you are not a qualified emergent. But, here we go...

As far as your “plain meaning” goes, what do you think is the “plain meaning” of the ascension in Luke-Acts? Did Jesus float up into the sky and finally reach heaven which is just above the firmament? Or does ascension mean something else? It seems like the most plain reading of the ascension which is consistent with 1st century cosmology is one where Jesus could literally ascend to heaven which is literally up in the sky. So a “plain reading” seems to indirectly support an ancient, pre-scientific cosmology. If we are only relying on “plain meaning” (whatever that is), how can anyone take the Bible seriously? So when does plain meaning give to something else? Or are you stuck backing an ancient cosmology (along with many other problematic things) because of your insistence on plain meaning?

Well, let's see the passage or two in question.

Luke 24
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

Acts 1
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

So, I'm wondering, what exactly about these accounts is suppose to be refuted by the knowledge that the earth goes 'round the sun? So far as I can tell, nothing.

Notice that the EV blog poster adds to the passage, obviously trying to turn the argument in his/her favor. There is nothing in the passage about Heaven being "just above the firmament".

The word translated "heaven" in the Luke 24 passage has the meaning of sky. Jesus ascended, then obviously He went up into the sky. No problem there. It is also the same word used in Acts 1. While the word can also seem to mean Heaven in the sense of the spiritual Heaven, the primary meanings seem to be rather more material.


The EV poster tries to use this passage as a weapon against a "plain meaning" of Scripture, I would suppose to support some kind of non-plain, metaphorical, basically dismissive reinterpretation. But the attempt simply falls flat.

But one can see the kind of esteem this EV poster and others there hold our Lord and His Word in by some of their statements, as quoted below from a few different comments there.

just as an aside i have no problem with jesus floating up and being hidden by clouds. The geezer had just risen from the dead so a little bit of levitation doesn’t sound so hard. It doesn’t mean heaven is in the sky, it’s just a cool way to exit and for the people watching it would have made complete sense :)

Did he do these things? Totally, yes. Does it matter if he didn’t? Not to me in this lifetime, no. It’s an odd thing to say but my faith isn’t actually dependant on the literal existence of Jesus… :)

That’s good. Faith that is rooted in such historical contingency as the resurrection of Jesus is misplaced...but whether Jesus existed or not should not affect one’s faith if one’s faith is truly rooted in God.

...Anyone wanting to appeal to both “straightforward meaning” and the divine origin of Scripture must conclude that either modern cosmology is wrong and heaven is actually just above the clouds somewhere OR that God wasn’t really on his game when he was divinely inspiring this particular passage. Otherwise, the proponents of a plain reading of Scripture must admit that careful interpretation is necessary.

But as far as Jesus floating up into the sky…I agree, at some level, that if Jesus was truly resurrected from the dead, the gospel account of his ascension wouldn’t be nearly as troublesome an event to imagine. Yet even if one accepts the resurrection as historical, the account of the ascension still can be questioned as historical.

Funny, though, how in that last comment, it is admitted that Jesus' resurrection is true, than His ascension is not all that troublesome. Funny, too, that the poster in question is the same who went on about the the ascension in the first place.

But that's just my interpretation of the whole thing. And not being a registered and certified emergent pomo, my interpretation must be taken with qualifications, because I am not qualified.

peter rollins and the pathological love of betrayal

A few days ago, I wrote a bit about how Peter Rollins tries to spin the betrayal of Judas into being a good thing, an act of courage, a sign of devotion to God.

Well, there is another story in his book The Orthodox Heretic, which pretty much puts it plainly.

The story is called "Betrayal", and it and it's short commentary are on pages 117-119. The story is about a temple master who calls his faithful young disciple, and says that he fears the disciple will betray him. The disciple is shocked, and says that he always tries to be faithful to the master's teachings. Here are the master's words, that end the clever little story.

"But you fail to understand, my young friend." replied the Master. "The fact that you have never betrayed my teachings, and the fact that you swear never to betray them; this is to betray them already."

In his commentary, Rollins seems to keep this in the realm of human teachers. But even in that, I think it is problematic. Especially in regards to Christian teachings.

For example, Paul says to "imitate me, as I imitate Christ". Paul does not seem to take the stance that the believers were to practice some kind of "faithful betrayal", as Rollins puts it in the commentary, lest they betray him and his teachings by following them too closely. Now, Paul does seem to recognize areas for differences of opinions, for example when he deals with those who eat meat and those who don't, but he treats most of his teachings as being authoritative, and expects those he writes to to take them seriously, to follow them, and to be faithful to them.

But I think there is more to Rollin's clever little story and commentary. Perhaps I am being unfair, but I think he is going beyond mere human teachers. I think that he is saying that we can betray God by following too closely to what He says in His Word.

I could, for example, point to the story which gives it's name to the whole book, The Orthodox Heretic. In this clever little story, a man gets a message directly from God about a way to act, but he defies God, saying "I do not need the Scriptures or your words to tell me what I ought to do", and "So, my God, I defy you in order to remain faithful to you", p 97. Rather than being angry with the man, the story ends with God seeming to be rather pleased with this man's act of defiance.

I suppose the contrasts could not be more plain--the disciple in the "Betrayal" betrays the teacher by being too faithful to the master's teachings, while the man in "The Orthodox Heretic" defies God in order to remain faithful to God.

And the message could not be more plain--the rebels are the saints, the disobedient are the shining examples, the traitors are the faithful, those who shake their fists at God in defiance to His Word are those who are most pleasing to God. God doesn't want you to follow His Word, but to strike out on your own.

Again, it seems Rollins is most interested in spinning his own betrayals into having been good things. I rather suspect that, consciously or not, Rollins knows that what he teaches is against God, is against God's Word, is contrary to sound doctrine, is actually a betrayal of what God has revealed. But instead of repenting, he would rather do what is right in his own eyes, and wants to justify his ways in the eyes of the world. That is why Judas becomes a figure of courage in his clever little story, why the faithful disciples is the real traitor, why the man who stands in defiance against God is the one who is faithful to God.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

they're the good guys, of course

So, back to McLaren's flavors of Bible reading...

2. Reading the Bible conversationally:

Which means...what, exactly.

If a culture is a community of people who converse (or argue) about the same things across many generations, it makes sense to learn the contours of the main players in the conversation.

Oh, yes, because, of course, the Bible is a conversation. Yeah, Right.

For example, in the gospels, Jesus enters ongoing conversations among Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Herodians, priests, scribes, prophets, Roman authorities, excluded sinners, and the poor.

Really? Jesus just kind of threw out his thoughts about things, like your typical coffee house denizen at a jaw session, just kinda making a point, giving his opinion, let's have some feedback and maybe he wasn't really right or anything?

I rather think that Jesus was doing more than just entering into and joining some kind of antenicene form of the emergent conversation.

Across the Hebrew Bible, there is a persistent tension between priests (who are the institutional caretakers of what we might call “organized religion”) and prophets (movement leaders who critique the very status quo of ritual and sacrifice that the priests work so hard to defend from the forces of chaos and compromise).

Now, I think I know the Bible pretty well. Maybe not as much as scholars do, but fairly well. And I haven't noticed this "persistent tension" McLaren claims is there.

First, let's consider his characterizations of priests and prophets. Were priests the institutional caretakers of the organized religion of ancient Israel? Perhaps that's not a wrong description, though it is rather simplistic. Plus, given that it's McLaren saying it, it carries a certain slam with it. Priests were, first of all, established by God, and their function was very important.

McLaren's characterization of prophets is rather more problematic. They weren't "movement leaders". And their job wasn't some kind contra-priests thing, where they just went around being subversives of the things the priests did, and being OT anarchists who were only trying to cause trouble.

Perhaps someone else has a better definition for what the prophets did, but so far as I can tell, their messages were mostly to political leaders of Israel and Judah, sometimes to other nations, and on occasions to all the people of Israel or Judah as a whole. They primarily dealt with sins, personal and national, calling the people to repent of those sins, and at times telling them what judgment is coming if they don't repent. There is also a far future element to their prophecies, where God reveals things to them about what will happen at the end of days, both the horror and the final deliverance.

Finally, there just doesn't seem to be this "persistent tension" McLaren claims. Yes, sometimes the prophets spoke against the priests, but they did so because the priests weren't doing right. Samuel, for example, was given a prophecy concerning Eli because Eli was simply not being a very good priest--he was, for example, allowing his sons to abuse their positions, and they were sexually immoral. But the prophet Zechariah has a prophecy of good to the high priest Joshua, in Zechariah 3.

There's more that McLaren says, maybe I'll get back to it later, but for now, I'm content enough to put paid to the ways he's tried to revise history, to make the relationship between priests and prophets in ancient Israel into something similar to his take on the current emergent church movement, with of course the emergents being like the good-guy prophets who went around causing trouble and making outrageous statements and basically being anti-establishment for no better reason than being anti-establishment.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

peter rollins and the brave little traitor

By and large, most of the stories Rollins writes in his clever little book have an element of the disturbing in them, like creepy little kids in horror movies. I don't know if "The Mission of Judas" is necessarily the most disturbing, but, really, given that name and the contents, it's definitely up there. This story and commentary can be found on pp. 100-103.

So, as the title says, this story is about Judas. He's having a bit of a nap, and having a dream. He's dreaming that he's going to betray Jesus, Jesus is going to die, and he himself is going to commit suicide over what he has done. But he also sees Christ's resurrection and ascension, how Jesus' message would somehow bring down Rome and change the lives of many people. Judas awakens, recalls Jesus' words about His death, as recorded in John 12:23-25, and realizes what he is suppose to do, what he is destined to do. He's suppose to betray Jesus, and insure that the things in his vision happen.

As Rollins himself explains his commentary...

Here we are led to conceive of Judas as one of the most courageous figures in the Bible, as one who betrayed Christ, not because of a love for money or because he had been overpowered by some demonic influence, but rather because he knew what would result from that betrayal.

By understanding the complexity of the betrayal, we are led to consider whether certain acts that might appear to be fundamentally against God could actually be gestures of fidelity to God.

So, let's take this way of thinking to other areas, shall we? Join me, please, if you have the stomach for it. Because you may need to breathe into a bag before this is over.

Let's image it's the 1940s, Europe. Imagine there's a man who really loves the Jewish people. He loves them so much, that he works tirelessly to hand individuals and families of Jewish people over to Nazi Gestapo goons. He helps to herd them into overcrowded train cars, watches as they are hered naked into gas chambers, then listens as the gas is put into the chambers and the people die horribly. He feels bad, of course, but he knows that only in doing this can a greater good be accomplished.

Now, let's imagine some parents, who have several children. They love their children, so in order to make sure the children have a bright future and are good people, they withhold food from their children to the point of starvation, keep them chained to radiators, routinely abuse them physically and mentally, sell their children so others can do very bad things to them, and pretty much do all the things good parents don't do to their children. But they know that, if they do these horrible things to their children, one will become a doctor who cures cancer, one will become an astronaut who leads the first manned expedition to Mars, one will become a Senator. Of course, one deals with psychological problems from the abuse well into adulthood, and another becomes a homeless guy who drowns himself in alcohol and drugs and dies namelessly in an alley, but that's just the price that must be paid for so much good.

I hope you've enjoyed those two scenarios as little as I have. And don't feel ashamed if you did have to breath into a bag.

But I hope, as well, that these scenarios have shown the completely evil premise behind Rollins' evil little story.

Judas was no hero. He was not courageous. He was a traitor. He got greedy, and there was a dark spiritual influence on him too, and he betrayed our Lord into the hands of those who killed Him. It is irresponsible, nay even evil, for Rollins to try to make Judas into a hero.

But is it not telling the Rollins tries to make a traitor into a hero? Is it not revealing that Rollins tries to say that Judas' betrayal was some kind of an act of fidelity to God? Such a thing seems to say more about Rollins than about anyone else--the desire to make the traitor into the hero, the desire to make an act of betrayal an act of faith, the want and even need to make a greedy and demonic act into one of staggering bravery.

Perhaps Rollins is less interested in justifying Judas than in justifying himself.

Monday, June 20, 2011

oh, those thin-skinned pomos

So, for reasons best kept in the realm of mystery, a few days ago I'm cruising the web over at the Emergent Village blog. Though they do not seem to put new stuff up there very often, at least over the past few months, what they do put up tends to be ripe for the commenting on here.

But this time, it isn't really the contents of the new post that are currently of interest, though since it is a Pagitt contribution, I've no doubt it could be well worth the effort. No, this time, it's a bit of back-and-forth, of sorts, in the comments.

It kind of began with my comment to someone else's comment, where the other person some something about how theology starts with a "What if?" A rather strange statement, I though, and I responded with the comment that true theology starts with "God said".

For most people, I think that statement is pretty straight-forward, and with much controversy. For the EV crowd, though, well...there are those who took exception to it. As one person put it...

Whose interpretation? Mine or yours or some other or both or all or none? On what basis do we decide which interpretation is most fitting and when or where or how it is most fitting? When does reason enter? Or is true theology based purely on authoritative interpretation?

Now, having taken as seriously as I can the questions asked above, I've sought how best to interpret the questions this person is asking. Can I trust my interpretations of this person's questions (I'll say "he", though he could be a she, or (this being postmodernism and all) he could be becoming a she, or she a he, or a she trapped in a he's body, or vice versa, or whatever). Upon what basis am I to determine which interpretation of his questions and statements is most fitting? And when and where and how is an interpretation most fitting? Would the interpretation I had a day ago be fitting for today?

Oh, the dilemma! How am I to answer him if I am unable to interpret his questions?

So, I've been expressing this dilemma in some of my further comments on the post. Not without humor, of course, because postmodernism, so I have heard, is suppose to be light-hearted and humorous. Except when it's not.

Sadly, this person, who seems to think that we must ask oh-so-many-questions before we can interpret the Word of God, seems to be much less than patient when I am unable to interpret his statements. To use his own words.

You are being obnoxious. Please, either contribute to the conversation or take your ball and go home.

Of course, we must be careful with this statement, and not jump too hastily to an interpretation of it. While on the surface he may seem to be expressing irritation and to be insulting me, perhaps that is only my own subjective interpretation, and maybe he is really giving me the highest of postmodern compliments, and instead of wanting me to go home, he wants me to stay and continue the work of subverting his subversion. Subversion, after all, seems to be one of the highest of postmodern virtues, and surely he would not be so hypocritical as to say that his statements do not need to be subverted in the same way he is attempting the subvert the Word of God?

Surely not!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

a self-serving tale

So, finally getting back to Rollins...

Not that I've read every clever story in his little book, but I skipped a bit, and read the last clever little story, which he calls "The Heretic", pp 179-184.

The story is about a man who is being tried for teaching heresy. After being sentence to death, the man asks the judge to allow that he himself should pick the person from the crowd of onlookers who will set the fire that will kill him. The judge agrees, and on the day of his execution, the man puts his choice in this way:

"I stand before you now, helpless as a child, condemned to death for heresy. I am guilty as charged, for I have held a distorted, muddied, and inaccurate view of the divine. I have only one request: that I be set alight by one among you who is innocent of this charge."

And the moral (if 'moral' is the right word for it) of this tale is...

Here the issue concerns the idea of distorting the image of God. This young man has been found guilty of propogating a false vew of the divine, and yet the young man knows this and freely admits it. However, he refuses to repent, for to do this would imply that there is a view of God that is not distorted, namely the view of the religious authorities at the time.

In this story we are led to ask whether knowing and admitting that one speaks inaccurately about God would actually be preferable to the claim that we can speak accurately about the source of faith. People may respond that this is all very well, but that some ways of describing God are healthy and some are unhealthy. Here I would wholeheartedly agree. The question here, however, is not how we judge between orthodoxy and heresy, but rather how we judge between good heresy and bad heresy. Another way of putting this is that we must question the difference between the heresy of orthodoxy, in which we dogmatically claim to have the truth, and the orthodox heresy, in which we humbly admit that we are in the dark but still endeavor to live in the way of Christ as best we can.

And so endeth the book.

Your story is imagined.

So, basically, his claim is that there is no such thing as orthodoxy and heresy. There is no way of knowing if what we say about God is true or not. We can't say that anything we say about God is not distorted, we can have no true knowledge of God, we can never know if anthing we claim to think about God is really true or false. The only thing we can really do is stumble along blindly, never knowing if what we believe is true, all beliefs about God being equally valid or invalid, and we should not claim that anything we say or believe about God is really true.

So, anyone else ready to slit their wrists? Well, me, neither, but if I really believed this hopeless drivel of Rollins', I might just find it tempting.

Because, really, if anything I believe or say about God is just as valid anything else I may say or believe, than there is no point. If I believe that God is a space alien from the far-off galaxy of XRginTEanoapfOHPQps, then how is that any less valid than believing that God is beyond the material world, the maker of the Universe? If I believe that God wants us to burn all kittens in a big bonfire, how is that less valid than say that God cares about the created world?

And that last part brings up the cheat Rollins tries to sneak in. He talks abot how we blindly "endeavor to live in the way of Christ as best we can", but if there are no valid beliefs about God or about Christ, if all we say or believe about them is heresy, than how can we know what this "way of Christ" is? How can we know the best way to live it? Or, for that matter, how do we know that is the best way for us to live?

We cannot say that. By his own definition, Rollins forbids us to dogmatically say that we know the truth, and that excludes even the claim that we know the way of Christ, that we know the best way to live that way, and that it is the best way for us to live. It is simply a choice, and if others choose other ways--the ways of Mohammed, the ways of Kali, the ways of Rasputin, the ways of Hitler--than we are forbidden to say that they are wrong.

Oh, sure, Rollins tries to sneak in the idea that there are healthy and unhealthy ways of describing God. But then, we have to say that we know what the standards for health are, that they can be universally agreed upon. But if one group believe that it is healthy to have a god of new-agey love and acceptance, and another believes it is healthy to believe in a god who glories in blood and death and destruction, how are we to say that one is acceptable and the other isn't, or if either is acceptable? If one group thinks God likes diversity, but another thinks God would like it best if all people looked the same, then, pray tell, how are we to decided which is really God's preference?

Finally, notice what is completely missing from Rollin's little spin. There is no notion that we have an acceptable, reliable source of information concerning God. There is no mention the God has revealed Himself to us, has told us things about Himself, has in times past directly spoken to prophets, and those prophets put His words on whatever they had available to write upon, that those words have been divinely preserved, have been translated into our tongue so that we can know God, so that we can have true and reliable knowledge about Him, so that we can indeed distinguish true things to believe about Him and false, heretical things.

We have the Bible, God Holy Word. We have reliable knowledge about God. We can know for sure the some thing said about God are rank nonsense, because we have what God has revealed about Himself.

So, I find Rollins' clever little story and commentary to be incredibly self-contradictory, and in the end self-serving to his own ends of not being held accountable for the heresies he teaches. But he chops off his own feet, for if all words about God are equally valid, then Rollins has no right to say that his views are better or worse than anyone else's.

Friday, June 17, 2011

a ball of confusion

Ok, so, here's the first of McLaren's flavors of Bible reading.

1. Reading the Bible narratively: This means reading the Bible in context of the nested series of stories it is telling. For example, if you’re reading the Epistle to Philemon, you need to read this letter within the story of Paul’s fourth (probably) missionary journey, which unfolds within the story of Paul’s life and ministry, which unfolds within the story of the early church, which unfolds within the story of Jesus and his mission, which unfolds within the story of Israel under the Roman empire and the empire’s economic dependence on slavery, which unfolds within the story of the Jewish people, which unfolds within the story of economic systems that use slaves to advance their ends, which unfolds within the story of humanity, which unfolds within the story of creation. Every word we read in the Bible needs to be seen in the context of local and larger narratives like these. To do otherwise – which we do when we read and use the Bible as a timeless constitution or legal code - would be like trying to understand Dr. Martin Luther King without understanding the larger stories in which his story was nested – including the stories of the United States, the African slave trade, the African American church, the Civil War and Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws and segregation, the Social Gospel movement, and the global post-colonial movement for human rights that emerged in the aftermath of World War II and the holocaust.

Wow. So, did you get all that?

Now, I'm all for taking context in consideration. Context is good, context is our friend. Knowing the context in which Paul wrote this letter to his dear friend Philemon and his family is no doubt very helpful.

But, really, we need an in-depth knowledge of the Roman economic system in order to understand the little book of Philemon? Really? We have to consider all the things McLaren mentions in order to understand Paul's message to his friend, asking him to forgive the slave who stole from him and ran away, and to welcome him back as a brother and fellow believer in Christ?

The need to forgive those who have wronged us is a fairly universal experience. We can understand very well Paul's call for his friend to forgive the thief, because we've had to forgive others who have wronged us.

More than that, we have all needed forgiveness. From each other, of course, but more importantly, we have needed to come to God, repent of the sins we have committed, and receive the forgiveness Christ provided for us through His sacrificial death.

We can know all of that, without having to research the Roman Empire in-depth. We need only read the Bible.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What do Brian McLaren and Baskin-Robbins have in common?

So, I've found this document, given to us by the great (post)enlightened one, Brian McLaren, so that we simple simpletons may in our simplicity know that we do not read the Bible in an acceptable way to this oh-so-great (post)enlightened one and his cohorts, but we must read it, well, the way of pomo-complexity.

A New Kind of Bible Reading
It must be said the the ways of Brian McLaren do come a little short of the 31 flavors of Baskin-Robbins. He gives us simple simpletons only 15 ways that we must read the Bible so that we too may become great (post)enlightened ones, though the 15th is complicated by three sub-practices.

So, yes, if you thought that you could just pick up a Bible, and start reading it yourself, and end up getting a pretty good idea of what it's teaching us, STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!!!!! That's right, no more just reading the Bible for you!! Oh, no, if you're not reading it with a bunch of other people (preferably emergents), if you're daring to read all those laws and ordinances as if they were really laws and ordinances God really expected people to obey (you know, like a constitution), if you're daring to read the Bible as if God cares more about people's eternal souls and that they be forgiven for their real sins instead of realizing that God cares only for the here-and-now and the forcing of the agenda of the Democratic Party upon the stupid simpletons of the United States and other parts of the world, if you're daring the read the Bible as if it were the Word of God rather than Jesus being the Word of God (as if those ideas are mutually exclusive), then...


No soup for you.

If I weren't already trying, in my still limited time, to comment every now and again on Rollin's delirious heretic, I'd have some more fun with this, because it is so full of fail. Maybe that time will come.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

adding to Jesus' words

In Rollins' clever little story and commentary, "Turning the Other Cheek", pp 19-23 of The Orthodox Heretic, he takes what we call the Sermon on the Mount, and in a telling display of unwisdom, he adds to it. In this story, he has the Sermon addressed specifically to only certain people, "...the sick the dispossessed, the widow and the orphan, the ones without a voice and without hope". But then, Rollins has Jesus address another group of people, "we who have the power, who have the authority, and who have a voice". Jesus' words for them is "Do not be mistaken, these words are not for you", and so Rollins has Jesus give these people a different message. It has less to do with what they should do than with what will be done to them.

Jesus finished addressing them with this message, "These people (the one's first addressed) are my message to you. Heed this message, and you will live. Ignore it, and you will perish".

In the commentary, Rollins says that things like the Sermon on the Mount were not addressed to everyone. "However, these teachings were not given to people like us (by us I mean people who can afford to buy this book and are educated enough to be able to read it). These were not spoken primarily for the powerful to apply as middle-class moral platitudes. For us, these words can "become little more than advice on how to treat the shop assistant or a passerby".

Because, of course, how we treat shop assistants and passerbys (or is that passers-by?) is just not so important, is it?

But are Rollins' claims about Jesus' words true?

Matthew 5 begins the Sermon, but the last part of chapter 4 may give some context for it. "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him."

So, the multitude Jesus spoke to did likely have many people who either were sick or had been healed by Jesus.

Matthew 5. "Now when he say the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him and he began to teach them, saying..."

Notice what is missing from the biblical account? We have no mention of the social standings of anyone in the crowd. While no doubt those who were sick may have mostly been poor, we know that diseases are rather equal-opportunity--they don't go around asking the class status of those they infect. So, if we accept that Rollins was likely right about the mix of classes being present when Jesus was preaching, we have to accept that Jesus was talking to everyone, giving them the same sermon, and that it was as applicable to the rich and powerful as it was to the poor and sick.

Mr. Rollins' attempt to make Jesus a party to class warfare is clever, but it doesn't work.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

no reward is worth this? or just no reward, period?

Dealing with Rollins' "The Orthodox Heretic" has been a bit puzzling to me, mostly because of the time I currently don't have much of. But in reading through a few of his 'tales', I'm finding a few similar themes. That is to be expected. In reading the works of authors I like, such as Louis L'amour, Terry Pratchett, and David Weber, all of whom were or are quite prolific writers, they too have similar themes from book to book.

One theme I've noticed in some of Rollin's clever little stories has to do with reward. It comes up in one he calls "Being the Resurrection", and in another form in "The Reward of a Good Life" and "Mansions", and maybe some of the others I haven't yet read.

Here is what one of his characters says in "Being the Resurrection".

Each day we have forsaken our very lives for him because we judged him wholly worthy of the sacrifice, wholly worthy of our being. But now, following your news, I am concerned that my children and my children's children may follow him, not because of his radical life and supreme sacrifice, but selfishly, because his sacrifice will ensure their personal salvation and eternal life.
p 69

Here's what Rollins writes in his commentary to this 'tale'.

In order to explore this theme the story creates a type of prolonged Holy Saturday experience...In the liminal space between witnessing the Crucifixion and hearing of the Resurrection, the members of the community described above have given themselves wholly to the teachings of Christ. In this wa, they follow him without thought of some future reward, and thus they follow him in a truly sacrificial way.
p 71

Let's leave aside the problematic aspect to this story that people who took Jesus' teachings so seriously while He was alive would have known about His teachings concerning His death and resurrection, that they would have been familiar with his teachings on rewarding faithfulness, or how a group of people leaving on foot could have outdistanced the news of His resurrection. Let's focus, instead, on his concept that only sacrifice without any hope or desire of reward is real sacrifice, and that the hope of reward somehow corrupts a sacrifice.

Is this biblical?

During what we call the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls some kinds of people "Blessed". One of those He says this about are those who are reviled and persecuted and slandered for His sake. In mentioning them, He says that they should rejoice, for "great is your reward in Heaven".

Nor is this the only place He speaks of rewards in the life to come. Right before His death, He tells His disciples that He is going away to prepare a place for them, a mansion in His Father's house. His parables often deal with rewards for those who are ready, those who serve well and faithfully.

I intend to bring in C.S. Lewis again here, but here is a bit that seems to apply here.

Indeed, if you consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignoant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum, because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
The Weight of Glory, pp 3-4

Was Jesus wrong to make such grand promises of reward to those who are faithful? Does it make us mercenary, as Rollins seems to say, if one reason we follow Christ is that we have the hope of eternal life, not to mention all the other blessing Christ has given to us, and will bless us with? If we did not have the hope of reward, would we be more faithful Chistians?

As I've been thinking about this, I've come to notice how much Rollins comes off like Satan in the book of Job. In Job 1, Satan tells God that the only reason Job fears God is because God has blessed him a whole lot, and God protects Job and all he has. In other words, Job was bought off, Job's love and fear of God was strickly mercenary.

Satan was wrong, as the further course of the story of Job shows. And I think Rollins is wrong, too.

Here's a bit more from Lewis in The Weight of Glory.

The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and to nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics an is no part of the Christian faith.
p 3

Whatever the source may be for Rollins, I think his notion is equally no part of the Christian faith.

In the following pages, Lewis deals with desires and their right and wrong rewards--a man who marries for money is mercenary, but a man who marries because he loves his bride is not. In a similar way, the Christian's desire for Heaven, to be where God is, to be a source of real pleasure to God, to be known by God, to even be such a source of pleasure to God as to be rewarded by Him, is quite good and proper.

No doubt, one can find some people for whom such desires have become mercerary or a bribe, but I would contend that that is rather a very few. I can think of when I read Puzo's "The Last Don", and the old Don at one points things about all of the ways his corruption and violence have made his present life so very well, and how due to his occasional nods to his Catholic faith, he could also look forward to a pleasant afterlife, too. For such a man, it may be said that he is but a mercenary, but for several reasons he would not be a Christian. For real Christians, Heaven is not a bribe.

In fact, it is not Christianity that teaches that desires are evil, but Buddhism. For the Buddhist, desires are one of the causes of suffering. The Bible teaches no such thing. There may be times when we must accept that our desires will, at least for the time, not be fulfilled, or that God may choose to take away the thing we have desired, but at no point is desire ever considered a bad thing.

We are not inhuman automatons, who must forsake our desires. There may be times that, like Job, we must say "The Lord give and takes away, blessed is His name". We will, no doubt, have many times when God takes away from each of us, we will have times when grief and disappointment will overwhelm us. But let us suffer those things as human beings, who acknowledge the loss and pain and still cling to faith in God, and not a an emergent like Rollins, who seeks simply to beat down the desires and to not expect anything better.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

permissive intolerence

Emergent and progressive types are having a big shin-dig soon, called the Wild Goose Festival. WGF also has a blog, where one may comment, and even have one's comments kept on if they meet with approval.

So far, I've had two deleted. Both on one particular topic.

A few years ago, a certain 'christian' music artist named Jennifer Knapp came out of the closet, so to speak, revealing that is a practicing homosexual and that she think it's ok. Given the emergent and progressive types who make up the powers-that-be at WG, one can see how well she would fit in and her sexually perverse practices find acceptance.

Their blogs mentions her coming, with no small amount of pride.

Announcing Jennifer Knapp!

This entry has several comments, most of the types that express happiness that she will be performing. I've left four comments there so far, two of which point out how unbiblical her sexual practices are, one of which quotes several verses from Romans 1 and points out how WG is among those who encourage those acts that God is against. The other two (one posted only a few minutes ago) remarking on how such commments are being deleted.

So, once again, we see how these kinds of people, for all of their talk about how all opinions are welcomed and respected and all views may be expressed, are really just practitioners of permissive intolerance--only the approved opinions need expect a hearing, and the echo chamber will allow no dissent. All disapproved opinions, even God's, will not be tolerated, but those who openly practice sin and encourage others to do so, well, they're voice is welcomed.

You may, of course, have your own opinion, but please, keep it to yourself.

Monday, June 6, 2011

the delusional heretic

Oh, the joy of used book stores. They are one way to purchase at a bargain price books one would simply not want to pay full price for. One must be patient, but patience is a good thing.

Anyway, at one of said such stores recently, I found a copy of Peter Rollin's "The Orthodox Heretic". Reading through a part of it, what it seems to be is little more than a bunch of his clever little stories, with a bit of commentary. It may be better to wait for the movie.

Rollins likes to think he's clever. His intro, for example, is called "Dis-courses", with the clever little dash right there, and subtitled "The Sacred Art of (Mis)communication". Ah, yes, those clever little parentheses are really there.

And what is "Dis-courses" about? Well...

Parables subvert this desire to make faith simple and understandable. They do not offer the reader clarity, for they refuse to be captured in the net of a single interpretation and instead demand our eternal return to their words, our wrestling with them, and our puzzling over them.
p xi

Parables. Oh, no, he's not linking his little stories to those of Jesus, is he? Oh, of course not. More on that later.

But, really, does his little characterization above describe Jesus' parables?

What's notable about some of Jesus' parables is that sometimes He did give their meaning. For example, the one we call the parable of the types of soils, in Matthew 13. In that same chapter, His explanation is also given for parable of the wheat and weeds. In Matthew 21, we have the account of Jesus telling a parable about tenants of a vineyard, who beat the servants of the vineyard owner and then killed his son. We are told that the chief priests and the Pharisess knew very well that Jesus was talking about them, saying they were like the tenants in the parable, and that it was one reason that they wanted to have Him arrested

We don't have such interpretations for all of Jesus' parables, of course, but this is enough to put paid to the notion of Rollins' that parables do not have a single interpretation.

In contrast, parables represent a mode of communication that cannot be heard without being heeded, in which the only evidence of having "heard" its message is in the fleshly incarnation of the message. The parable is only heard when it changes one's social standing to the current reality, not one's mere reflection of it...Rather, the parable facilitates genuine change at the level of action itself.
pp xii-xiii

Yet, we have the distinct statement in Matthew 21 that the chief priests and Pharisees knew what and whom Jesus was talking about. They heard Him very clearly, and hated Him all the more.

And what does "changes one's social standing to the current reality" mean? Or where are we told that parables "facilitate genuine change at the level of action itself"?

Well, let's take Jesus' parable of the talents. Let's consider, for example, that one wanted to take that parable, and use it to "facilitate genuine change at the level of action itself". Perhaps one would find those who were producers, those who worked hard and created wealth for themselves and others, and then rounded up the lazy and unprofitable, took everything from those loafer and deadbeats, kicked them to the curb, and gave all they had to the workers and creators and wealth-producers.

That is certainly a viable interpretation, don't you think? If not, why? Is that not what the parable could be said to be about, rewarding the hard-working and profitable and getting rid of those too lazy even to invest what they had been given?

But do you think this is an interpretation Rollins would approve of? Of one that he would like to see people act upon?

What about the parable of the missing coin? It's about money, and the money certainly looked hard enough to find it. Would that not be about making sure you keep track of all you have? The same could be said about the parable of the lost sheep.

Because of this, I hesitate to call what I have written within these pages 'parables' at all and have thus, in the title, opted for the safer word 'tales'. It is not for me to christen these short stories with the name 'parables', for who am I to say that they will do the job that I have called them into being to perform? For some they may be parables, while for other they may be nothing but a string of inconsequential stories. For just as one person's idol is another icons, so one person's fable is another's parable.
p xiii

So, no, Rollins is just far too humble to call his stories 'parables' his own self, but of course if you want to, or if they are parables to you, well, who is he to say otherwise.

And, really, he says about these stories that he "called them into being"? Really? Well, arrogant much, Mr. Rollins?

Finally, but, sorry, an idol is an idol. It is always an idol. For a Christian to bow before a Buddha is to bow to an idol, and thus to sin.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

another dippy sojo comment

An Alternative to Abortion: Imagine the Story We Can Live Out

Perhaps later, I'll write a bit about the main entry here. For now, though, there's this.

The first mistake we made is to hitch our wagons to the conservative wing of the Republican Party, most of which doesn't really care about the issue (but coveted our votes). And with the increasing irrelevance of the religious right, abortion has taken even more of a back seat than it had before. My prediction: Abortion will become an issue when, and only when, the conservative movement completely collapses.

So, abortion will become an issue when...the people for abortion in all cases and for any reason are the only ones out there? When those who are against abortion have collapsed?

Wow. Screwy thinking, much?

Your FAIL!!! frightens kitteh.

mclaren's idea of a good question?

Q & R: Shake your hand at Wild Goose Festival, guilt/cynicism, maybe the best hell question I've received

Your hell question is, I think, among the best I've ever received.

Well, high praise indeed, I suppose, from McLaren. What, we may right ask, was this highly-praised query?

Why do you think all of those who vehemently defend eternal concious torment in the afterlife for the vast majority of humanity never live like they believe it. It seems to me that if they really believed it, they would never have kids (to spare them the large chance that they would experience ECT) and that they would spend every moment of their life screaming and frantically running around trying to rescue people. I've heard of these logically consistent people, but have never met one. Why do you think this is?

That's it? That's the question McLaren things is so good?

So, let's see--if you believe in Hell, and that it's eternal, you shouldn't have children? And you should go about like a maniac all the time, trying to rescue people?

First, upon what basis are Christians who believe in eternal punishment in Hell suppose to not have children? Upon the basis of fear? That's logical? No, this is asinine, silly, pathetic.

Children are a gift from God. Children are a blessing. They are also a responsibility. They will not raise themselves, but godly parents are to raise them to respect and love and fear God. Yes, even the aspect of their eternal destiny is a responsibility, and they are the ones who have a great say in that themselves, but Christians are commanded to live in faith in God, and not to cave in to fear and the nonsense behind this person's question.

Much the same could be said about the second part. There are many Christians who have gone to places where the Gospel has been little known or not known at all, and have presented the Gospel to those people.

But running around like a chicken with its head cut off will not work. There is a point at which we have done out duty, the Gospel has been presented, and after that, it's time to stop playing umpteen-zillion chorus during the altar call, to stop trying to manipulate. We may pray that they will respond differently later on, that perhaps God will grant them repentence, even an apostate like McLaren. But antics and theatrics on our parts will do no good.

So, I find McLaren's 'best' question to be little more than rubbish.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

the dark underbelly of being a sojrone

So, a writer at Sojo is in a pickle.

The Dark Underbelly of Fundamentalist, Charismatic Christianity

Now, I do believe that there are some serious problems in charismania. Namely, they have for far too long tolerated the 'ministries' of fake-healers and people who claim to be apostles and prophets but are not.

But, those aren't the problems this Sojrone finds appalling. Here is what bugs him.

In my late-20s, I began to notice the poor track record that fundamentalist Christianity produces on a societal level. The first shocker was when I discovered that all those prayer groups I attended to “Bless Israel” in my youth and Bible college years were in fact providing theological cover to justify colonialism and oppression of Arab peoples in the Middle East. Then I started wondering why it never occurred to me that the Vietnam War was immoral, even though I had traveled there as a Bible college student and seen the gruesome pictures of what it looked like from their perspective. Then I learned that the most vehement opponents of civil rights in the 1960’s were Bible-believing fundamentalist Christians. So far, not so good

I’ve noticed that the same loving, happy people that I grew up with are the same people who think of homosexuality as if it were the moral equivalent of pedophilia. I’ve seen people very close to me — people who love Jesus and strive to live a moral life — isolated, shamed, and rejected by the same happy, loving people who believe that if gay people would just pray hard enough and forgive their earthly fathers, then they can be “cured.”

So, he doens't like it that charismatic, as a whole, are pro-Israel and think homosexuality is a sin.

In other words, two aspects of the charismatic movement that could be considered biblically informed are what this man calls the 'dark underbelly'.

I don’t want to pass homophobia along to my children. My heart tells me its wrong, though my head still has a hard time figuring out how to reconcile what my heart is telling me with the way I read Scripture.

What are we in, a Disney movie? Some shloppy Hollywood fairy tale where all is right if you "follow your heart"?

News for you, Sojrone, the Bible does not follow your "My heart tells me it's wrong" thinking. It has little good to say about the heart as a decision-makers; rather, it flatly tells us "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, more than we can know". If your heart is contradicting God's Word, your heart is wrong.