According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew it into God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity. An Age of Religious Pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Deconstructing "Evangelicalsim"




"Today, some are making an idol out of “evangelicalism.” They are doing that by insisting
that it is a closed system, exclusive of all but themselves and those who think just like them -
always the same (impervious to change and development), absolutely and objectively true
(unbiased, without perspective) and bounded by identifiable boundaries (propositional truths)
impervious to outsiders or new ideas and established by “the received evangelical tradition."

- Roger Olson


I found early on when doing the hard work of Christian deconstruction that after completing its project - such as the one Roger Olson is referencing today - that it is always spiritually healthy to then provide a Christian reconstruction as bridge from the apophatic (what God is not) to the cataphatic (what God is). That it was very much spiritually healthy for me to discern both my background and the effects of my background upon my faith. Both in the negative and in the positive. To take a internal inventory if you will, of my beliefs, and to determine, if possible, where necessary change must come.

More importantly, this task took me by surprise when after over a dozen years of Holy-Spirit burden I became overwhelmed by God and fell into this black pit of despair yearning for release. And when delivered by the hand of God I had new purpose, a new mind, a changed heart, and renewed determination. It was both a God-thing and a me-thing where God took my mind, heart, will, and spirit, and re-oriented myself towards a gospel filled with Jesus and no longer a form of Jesus as expressed by a religion that had absorbed me without my notice. This idolatrous form needed breaking, and when done, was broken and released me into a clear light of day than I first had.

 It was a process which took its time with me (by my count, approximately eleven months). And it was within this personally difficult process that the truth of Jack Caputo's statement became true:

"The truth will set you free, but it does so by turning your life upside down."


However, if I were to tarry too long in this land of loss and positive criticism then I would miss the beauty of Christ in the land of renewal, reclamation, and reconstruction. That it was my responsibility to also speak of a better form of faith and theology then what it had become these past several decades. And so I have. As best as I could. With what I had. More specifically, I became burdened to speak of a postmodern, post-Christian, faith emphasizing some of its newer discoveries over the past several decades. Discoveries such as "weak (sic, non-dogmatic) theology," or of "anthropological hermeneutics," or even discovering a ground-changing philosophical basis other than the Western Analytical (mathematical, syllogistic, formula-based theology) one I grew up with. One known as "Continental Philosophy" (cf. "Postmodern Christianity") which emphasized "(meta)narrative theology wrapped around a Radical Christianity which tore at the idols of religion".

So then, in today's post, submitted by a true-to-form religious evangelic theologian steeped in church history, Roger Olson, we can hear again of this newer movement writhing within the deep halls of both evangelical and liberal Christianity. And, of course, I use the descriptive word "liberal" in its best sense of "reconstructing" a Jesus-centric Christian faith - not a biblio-centric, nor closed dogmatic faith, nor even a sectarian creed-based Christianity. But one that leads out with Jesus even as the best bible-centered, weaker dogmatic, and confessional creeds do over the church's hisotry. One that lifts up God's self-incarnation in the flesh, Jesus, as our Sovereign Lord and Savior, come to save us from our sin and suffering. Who offers real hope in the "lands of the midnight sun."

As such, the take-aways from today's discussion is the rebalancing of what an evangelic faith can be with Jesus at its center. To not over-judge a beneficial (evangelical) movement largely taken heist by the idolaters of its faith having crept in and demanded a more sectarian, secular form of its best self. To understand that a postmodern Christianity has come to re-right its 20th century predecessor by emphasizing the positives of its reconstructed self in the best of progressive, liberal form. That in the end, this rebalancing act (one which Peter Rollins calls a "magic act") will remove the idolatry we have brought to a godly faith by supplanting it with God Himself rather than with our unrepentant selves. To do this we must declare Jesus by speaking of Him and His resurrection through newer words and ideas which will lead us out of our present darkness. Words and ideas which will perform their necessary work of postmodern deconstruction and reconstruction. Words hearkening to the old words of the Apostle Paul who declared we deliver over the "old man" to death in order to allow the Holy Spirit to place within our hearts and minds and souls "the new man in Christ." And this I had proposed to do, and have done to the best of my ability, within the pages of this blogsite. To the glory of God, and to His Son. Amen and amen.

R.E. Slater
May 1, 2016




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Deconstructing "Evangelicalism"

by Roger Olson
April 29, 2016

Recently I had the privilege of hearing George Marsden speak. Marsden is widely considered the “dean” of evangelical historians. That is, he practically pioneered and led in the study of the history of the evangelical movement. He taught at Calvin College, Duke Divinity School and retired from the University of Notre Dame (where Mark Noll succeeded him). Marsden helped many of us, in our callow years as budding evangelical scholars, distinguish between “evangelicalism” and “fundamentalism.” The lecture I heard, just recently, was about C. S. Lewis and Mere Christianity—a phenomenon that continues to grow in influence and not only among evangelicals.

Hearing Marsden, and meeting him for the first time, reminded me of an essay I wrote a few years ago that never was published. If I posted it here, I have forgotten that. So here it is:

“Deconstructing Evangelicalism”

What is “deconstruction,” anyway? Well, I’ve been reading a lot about that and it turns out it’s not at all what I had been told. It’s not “destruction” but rather has a positive agenda–to expose idols for what they are and help institutions and movements (etc.) improve themselves by becoming more open, more just and more flexible.

A basic presupposition of deconstruction is that all ideologies are idols because they usurp the place of God (for Christian deconstructionists) and/or claim to be what no human system can be–totalizing, monolithic, all-encompassing explanatory schemes that function as God (for secular deconstructionists).

According to Peter Rollins (How [Not] to Speak of God) (depending largely on Christian philosopher Merold Westphal) there are at least two principles of deconstruction: the principle of finitude and the principle of suspicion. These, along with some other possible deconstructive principles, serve as critical tools for exposing idols.

Today, some are making an idol out of “evangelicalism.” They are doing that by insisting that it is a closed system, exclusive of all but themselves and those who think just like them - always the same (impervious to change and development), absolutely and objectively true (unbiased, without perspective) and bounded by identifiable boundaries (propositional truths) impervious to outsiders or new ideas and established by “the received evangelical tradition.”

Of course, few evangelicals would put it this way, but one can easily detect this notion of evangelicalism by reading some of its self-appointed spokesmen.

My intention is not at all to critique authentic evangelicalism, although it is always improvable, but rather my intention is to deconstruct the concept of evangelicalism being promoted by some conservatives.

My first deconstructive move is to demonstrate the aporia of a movement with boundaries. I’ve written about this here before, but it bears repeating. Evangelicalism is a movement and a movement, by definition, cannot have boundaries. Thus, it is simply ridiculous to think of or to talk about evangelical boundaries. Evangelicalism would have to have a magisterium [a centralizing synod-like body] to have boundaries; it has no magisterium. It [the evangelical movement] is a people’s movement stemming from the Reformation, the Pietist renewals, the first and second Great Awakenings, the conservative reaction to liberal theology (early fundamentalism) and dissatisfaction with fundamentalism. Evangelicalism has always been tremendously diverse. All within it have similiar concerns and interests, but the moment you try to put your finger on something that could serve as a boundary (rather than a center of attention and interest) it slips away because someone within the movement has already violated it!

Along the same lines (exposing an aporia of this concept of evangelicalism): evangelicals have always valued the Scripture principle stemming from the Reformation (sola scriptura). They have interpreted it in many different ways, but it stands at the center of the movement (which is a centered set but not a bounded set). Yet, many of those promoting this new, narrow, almost idolatrous notion of evangelicalism seem to violate sola scriptura even as they identify it as a boundary of the movement. They violate it by solidifying tradition and raising it to a level of authority functionally equal with Scripture.

Real affirmation of the Scripture principle manifests in openness to correction of all systems and traditions from Scripture itself. Where that openness is missing sola scriptura is receiving only lip service at best.

Moving on to the deconstructive principle of finitude: Evangelicalism is historically allergic to idolatry of any kind and yet idolatry appears wherever and whenever something finite, human, is elevated to God-like status. Anything treated as immutable, absolute, incorrigible, all comprehensive, completely objective and exclusive of insights from others (beyond God’s own self-revelation) is an idol. No theological system or doctrinal confession or tradition can be any of those things because they are all finite creations of humans. That is not to say they are false; it is only to say they are less than absolute and, if they are to avoid idolatry, must be held open to correction. Thus, to the extent that people treat evangelicalism as a regime of truth incapable of improvement through criticism and correction it is becoming an ideology rather than an expression of the gospel and therefore an idol.

What about the principle of suspicion? Anyone who has been intimately involved in studying and participating in evangelicalism for a long time can easily see that there is tremendous gain to be had in terms of power, prestige and even money by controlling evangelical thought. Some evangelical spokesmen (always self-appointed, of course) jockey for status as pontiff of evangelicalism in public opinion. Such people sometimes change their views in order to gain greater support. Whole groups of evangelicals attempt to throw others out of the movement by marginalizing them, often by misrepresenting their views. (I can prove that has happened to me and I know of others to whom it has happened in the most cynical ways.) Evangelicalism has become respectable and prosperous and worldly in terms of power and prestige and whoever has the ability to convince the movers and shakers of evangelicalism (administrators, publishers, etc.) that he is its true representative wields great power. Evangelicalism began (at least in modern times) as a movement of the margins. In some circles it is in danger of becoming a movement of elites who delight in marginalizing other evangelicals to prove they have the power to do it.

Finally, I will add the principle of obligation to the “other”–the principle of alterity [a state of being different. "Otherness"]. Postmodern deconstructionism elevates obligation to the “other”–the outsider, the outcast, the invisible–as a primary ethical norm. Ideologies are belief systems that create otherness and thrive on exclusion under the guise of providing an all-encompassing explanatory scheme. Evangelical theologian Miroslav Volf writes about “willingness to embrace” the other–a Christian version of postmodern Jewish philospher Levinas’ obligation to the “face” of the other.

In the aftermath of the 20th century–a century of genocidal ideologies–we all need to be careful not to create or embrace or follow new ideologies that exclude and refuse even to hear the voices of those who do not fit in or who disagree. These days conservative evangelicalism is a monologue, a choir singing only in melody without harmony, a movement aiming at conformity.

Not long before he died I corresponded with conservative evangelical theologian (to many the “dean of evangelical theologians”) Carl F. H. Henry about inerrancy and other matters of concern. I mentioned to him that evangelical theologian Donald Bloesch, in his developing Foundations series, denied inerrancy except in the broadest sense possible. Henry dismissed Bloesch as a “mediating theologian” by which he clearly meant “not evangelical in true sense” (as defined, of course, by Henry). Anyone who knew Bloesch knows what a great evangelical spirit he was.

Rather than practicing hospitality through dialogue and consensus-building, today’s conservative evangelicals are too concerned with excluding people. In some cases this lack of value placed on alterity borders on violence. Not physical violence but spiritual abuse which is another kind of violence.

The upshot is that today’s self-appointed (but very loud and influential) establishment evangelicalism is in danger of turning the liberating evangelical movement that is gospel-centered, generous and loving into an ideology and thus [into] an idol. There is the danger of God being effectively pulled down out of transcendence and made into a prisoner of a propositional system (and perhaps even a servant of a political agenda).

The great German pietist Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf often said that whoever puts Christianity into a system kills it. He didn’t mean, of course, that doctrine is bad. He was a great defender of basic Protestant orthodoxy, but he recognized the grave danger of giving too much importance and power to human systems of thought that imprison the Spirit of God who always transcends our humanly constructed houses of authority.


Sermons from Elder D.J. Ward, Lexington, Kentucky



“On Christ Alone” — Elder D.J. Ward


The death of Christ was an accomplishment, and our works cannot add to Christ's death. In this video, Elder D.J. Ward, the late pastor of Main Street Baptist Church in Lexington, K.Y., powerfully reminds us of the sufficiency of Christ's death for all who turn to him in repentance and faith.



"Jesus Paid it All" - Elder DJ Ward




"Because of God's Choice" - In Memory of Elder D.J. Ward




" GOD Is Sovereign" - Elder D.J. Ward










Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Christianity's New Atheism




Not long ago I went through a transformative period which I deemed my "atheistic stage" of faith. Having grown up in a Christianity that positively affirmed itself while denying so many "worldly" attitudes and practices I bore a critical Christianity towards "the other" rather than towards my faith or my church fellowship. In fact, this kind of Christian faith had become its own death knell in my life which eventually collapsed and in its deconstruction rose again as another kind of Christian faith than the one I had grown up with and was so familiar or comfortable around its religious constructs.

The curious thing I discovered was that in this phase of "unknowing" or "deconstruction" it proved to be a period of lament and grief for me as much as it was a period of questioning the directions/answers I was taught to believe. This lament was a dark time of soul searching and lasted for most of a year before it left its beneficial affects upon both my soul and my outlook of what Christianity could be and not what it had become. This was a paradox.

Another paradox was the closeness of God I felt to me. Like Job of old I never felt His presence to have left my soul regardless the deep trauma of soul-searching I was undergoing. Rather, God was closer than ever before. But what did leave me was my own positivistic belief structures which refused to question itself, so strong its borderlands of strict dogmas and religious folklores which I had intermixed with a truer form of Christian faith than I was holding. In essence, as deep as my grief and lament was, so was God's presence in my life as I wrote of my dissatisfaction with my church, its pulpiteers, and outcome-based theology of hate, violence, and judgment.

For myself, as with so many others, if a Christian faith was to be true it had to be built up upon the better elements of humanity - its courage, its searching honesty, its non-discriminatory forms of ministry and outreach. At its core it needed a loving God working through an evil world and pliant forms of clay-based Christians or humanity seeking for a better world than what they saw in mankind's many sociological or political institutions.

And so it wasn't long before I became acquainted with a new kind of atheism which would allow for an agnosticism and a kind of anti-theism as well. One which was questioning, discovering, and falling into the camps of the "nones and dones" of the church. Perhaps then I was one of these individuals because I certainly was "done" with the form of church I had grown up with. And perhaps I was also part of the "none" crowd though for me it was more in the form of rehabilitating my Christian faith rather than jettisoning it altogether.

Which is also where I believe many so-called agnostics, atheists, and anti-theists are today... not so much stripped of a spiritual kind of faith, but of a disillusionment with the world and its debilitating faith structures. If so, they and I have a real bond of fellowship in this regard and it has become one which I have been exploring through the length and breadth of this blogsite. One which would distill my faith to its very essence. To its pith. To its central cores of Christian belief by rejecting its more pagan street-forms and folklores which so many within the church would claim as biblical when they are not.

But I have also noticed amongst this brave new world a reluctance to re-enter into any kind of positivistic statement of doctrinal belief, structure, or assent. To be honest, as a (postmodern, radical) theologian I am not built this way. Though I have been stripped of what I thought were the essences of my Christian faith, they were, in the final analysis, unnecessary and harmful hinderances to entering into the way of Jesus who demonstrated to us God's fellowship with the pagan, the unholy, and the despised. It was this "humanitarian" view of Jesus that drew me over against the church's ill-perception of His pharisaical outlook upon the world of mankind. An outlook that had become in the church's doctrines and dogmas more brutal, unkind, full of hell and despair, and hateful to all elements of humanity that seemed less worthy of God.

This unkind/shallow/legalistic/inhuman form of Christian teaching had to die for me. It had to be thrown into its own pit of despair and flames of eternal torment. For me to continue in the Christian faith was to become like unto its own spiritual hell that God helped me to escape through deep grief and lament in my life. Of burying that part of Christianity which was unworthy of Himself. One which held to another form of Christianless Christianity become lost in its more popular forms of bigotry and bullying, hatred and aspersion, callousness and without mercy, forgiveness, or compassion. And once accomplished, God then burdened me to re-teach the "better forms" of Christian doctrine which would allow for more alliance with postmodernity's new atheism than it did its stricter, more classical forms of faith and belief. A faith which questioned itself first and foremost above all else. That critically reassessed what it was saying and doing before feeling assured of itself.

However, it appeared to me that it wasn't that the Spirit of God had to throw out the entire Christian faith I had learned through the church and its kindred souls of fellowship over the long years of my life. But to recognize and remove that part which had become unspiritual, unkind, unbiblical. More so, to allow in a new kind of "uncertainty and doubt" of self-examination which would better help both me and the church in the years ahead when coming to Christian teachings amiss of soul or heart. Thus, for me, I felt driven to re-teach theology in its better, more healthier forms, while also allowing contemporary society's newer insights from science, philosophy, and epistemology to help me re-create a postmodern, contemporary presence/witness of Christianity. One that was both post-secular and post-Christian in its reflection and dictates.

So then, I was tasked by the Spirit of God to realize (or re-create) a postmodern, radical Christianity which would reach out in a fundamentally uplifting way through its many avenues of witness and discussion to the nones and the dones while disturbing the unpeturbed, unquestioning, and settled of my faith. To more kindly embrace the former while making uncomfortable the latter.

Rather than denying the legitimacy of new atheism's unbelief in its "religious" sphere of rejecting all forms of knowing and belief, I wished to embrace its healthy skepticism of religion by reforming my own epistemology to be more open, more radical, more accepting of "the other." When done, a new form of Christianity had arisen which can accept "positive forms of unknowing or denial" which may be both spiritually constructive and more personally healthy in the lives of both the believer, the unsure, and the disbeliever.


Why? Because much of today's more popular forms of Christian belief has been rejecting and assertively judgmental upon the language of agnosticism and atheism. Fearing it - rather than accepting it - in the transformative experience of the existential and phenomenological experience of the church and its congregants. Yes, the worlds of unbelief can be a strong starting point for the one willing to question faith and yet, paradoxically, finding God beyond the church's institutionalized forms of its societalized God and "Christianized" belief structures which have more in common with the pagan than with the truly biblical. 

In a sense then, all epistemologies must first be broken down or deconstructed before they can be reborne or reconstructed. The nones and the dones are a part of Christianity's narrative story of postmodern angst and dissettlement to its older forms of commonly accepted practices and beliefs. But it can ironically become a place for revival when first throwing off all Christian pretentions to the real and the true that are actually unreal and untrue. Which are sandier foundations of belief than truly biblical foundations. As such, the language of the church must adjust for this postmodernal occurrence lest it clings to a poorer form of itself in action and belief.

Lastly, it is all too easy for postmodernal Christians holding this elevated sense of epistemology to fall into a form of Christian asceticism. I think of the followers of Richard Rohr who has been so helpful in reclaiming the spiritual side of Christianity by espousing a Socratic kind of "unknowing" when conflicted by biblical claim, verse, or teaching. However, as a postmodern, radical Christian, I am discontent towards this kind of "unknowing" and am burdened to elevate Scripture onto a Jesus-plane of gospeling so that even in its uncertainties we can be certain of God's love, guidance, and hope.

Christian asceticism, like stoicism, is not where I want to live. I can appreciate its monkish outlook on life, its forms of "walking softly upon this earth," and its claims of never being sure. But in another sense, as a Spirit-led teacher of God's Word I must "unearth" its truths, doctrines, and verities lest we simply fall into a kind of naturalistic faith whose hope is in hope itself and not in the Living Creator God of the cosmos come to redeem us from sin and shame.

And so, I hope to not only teach God's Word, but to teach it in a humble and kind fashion full of grace and truth while always questioning my self and my teachings so that each in its turn might be ever learning, growing, and reaching out to as much of mankind as possible. This is a Jesus thing. Its what I would expect of God's embrace of the world when He came to this earth to expose Himself to its sin and evil. Who died for us in order to bring redemption's healing to our hearts and souls. Who has transformed Himself through the insurrection of the Cross that both He-and-we be resurrected into the newness of life promised us through God's fellowship with us and with one another in spiritual solidarity with the divine, the holy, the gracious, and deep mysteries of His healing Personage.

Peace,

R.E. Slater
April 26, 2016
edited April 27, 2016




Reference Material - Wikipedia

New Atheism is the journalistic term used to describe the positions promoted by atheists of the twenty-first century. This modern day atheism and secularism is advanced by critics of religion and religious belief,[1] a group of modern atheist thinkers and writers who advocate the view that superstition, religion and irrationalism should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises in government, education and politics.[2] In England and Wales, as of 2011, census figures showed a decrease in respondents citing belief in Christian religion, while the non-religious are the largest growing demographic.[3]

New Atheism lends itself to and often overlaps with secular humanism and anti-theism, particularly in its criticism of what many New Atheists regard as the indoctrination of children and the perpetuation of ideologies."

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Emerging Church - The emerging church is a Christian movement of the late 20th and early 21st centuries that crosses a number of theological boundaries: participants are described as Protestant, post-Protestant, evangelical,[1] post-evangelical, liberal, post-liberal, conservative, post-conservative, anabaptist, adventist,[2] reformed, charismatic, neocharismatic, and post-charismatic. Emerging churches can be found throughout the globe, predominantly in North America, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Africa. Some attend local independent churches or house churches[3][4][5] while others worship in traditional Christian denominations.

Proponents believe the movement transcends such "modernist" labels of "conservative" and "liberal," calling the movement a "conversation" to emphasize its developing and decentralized nature, its vast range of standpoints, and its commitment to dialogue. Participants seek to live their faith in what they believe to be a "postmodern" society. What those involved in the conversation mostly agree on is their disillusionment with the organized and institutional church and their support for the deconstruction of modern Christian worship, modern evangelism, and the nature of modern Christian community.

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Progressive Christianity is a form of Christianity which is characterized by a willingness to question tradition, acceptance of human diversity, a strong emphasis on social justice and care for the poor and the oppressed, and environmental stewardship of the Earth.

Progressive Christians have a deep belief in the centrality of the instruction to "love one another" (John 15:17) within the teachings of Jesus Christ.[1] This leads to a focus on promoting values such as compassion, justice, mercy, tolerance, often through political activism. Though prominent, the movement is by no means the only significant movement of progressive thought among Christians (see the 'See also' links below).

Progressive Christianity draws on the insights of multiple theological streams including evangelicalism, liberalism, neo-orthodoxy, pragmatism, postmodernism, Progressive Reconstructionism, and liberation theology.[2] Though the terms Progressive Christianity and Liberal Christianity are often used synonymously, the two movements are distinct, despite much overlap.[3]

Some characteristics of Progressive Christianity, though none be exclusive to it, are:

  • A spiritual expressiveness, including participatory, arts-infused worship as well as a variety of spiritual disciplines and practices such as prayer or meditation.
  • Intellectual integrity and creativity, including an openness to questioning and an insistence upon intellectual rigor.
  • Understanding of spirituality as a real affective and psychological or neural state (see Neurotheology)
  • Critical interpretation of the scripture as a record of human historical & spiritual experiences and theological reflection thereupon instead of a composition of literal or scientific facts.
  • Acceptance of modern historical Biblical criticism.
  • Acceptance (although not necessarily validation) of people who have differing understandings of the concept of "God", such as pantheism, deism, non-theism, as a social construct, or as community.
  • Understanding of church communion (the Eucharist) as a symbol or reflection of the body of Christ.
  • An affirmation of Christian belief with a simultaneous sincere respect for values present in other religions and belief systems. This does not necessarily mean all Progressive Christians believe that other religious traditions are as equally valid as Christianity, but rather, that other faiths have certain values and tenets that everyone, including Christians, can learn from and respect.
  • An affirmation of both human spiritual unity and social diversity.
  • An affirmation of the universe, and more immediately the Earth, as the natural and primary context of all human spirituality [as versus a heaven-mindedness].
  • An unyielding commitment to the Option for the poor and a steadfast solidarity with the poor as the subjects of their own emancipation, rather than being the objects of charity.
  • Compassion for all living beings.
  • Support for LGBT rights and affirmation, including, but not limited to, support for same-sex marriage, affirmation of gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals as authentic Christians, affirmation of trans identity, and LGBT rights in general.


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More people than ever before are identifying as atheist, agnostic, or otherwise nonreligious, with potentially world-changing effects. | PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRIS BERGIN/THE NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX



The World's Newest Major Religion: No Religion
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/160422-atheism-agnostic-secular-nones-rising-religion/

As secularism grows, atheists and agnostics are trying to expand and diversify their ranks.

by Gabe Bullard
April 22, 2016

You don’t usually think of churches as going out of business, but it happens. In March, driven by parishioner deaths and lack of interest, the U.K. Mennonites held their last collective service.

It might seem easy to predict that plain-dressing Anabaptists—who follow a faith related to the Amish—would become irrelevant in the age of smartphones, but this is part of a larger trend. Around the world, when asked about their feelings on religion, more and more people are responding with a meh.

The religiously unaffiliated, called "nones," are growing significantly. They’re the second largest religious group in North America and most of Europe. In the United States, nones make up almost a quarter of the population. In the past decade, U.S. nones have overtaken Catholics, mainline protestants, and all followers of non-Christian faiths.



There have long been predictions that religion would fade from relevancy as the world modernizes, but all the recent surveys are finding that it’s happening startlingly fast. France will have a majority secular population soon. So will the Netherlands and New Zealand. The United Kingdom and Australia will soon lose Christian majorities. Religion is rapidly becoming less important than it’s ever been, even to people who live in countries where faith has affected everything from rulers to borders to architecture.

But nones aren’t inheriting the Earth just yet. In many parts of the world—sub-Saharan Africa in particular—religion is growing so fast that nones’ share of the global population will actually shrink in 25 years as the world turns into what one researcher has described as “the secularizing West and the rapidly growing rest.” (The other highly secular part of the world is China, where the Cultural Revolution tamped down religion for decades, while in some former Communist countries, religion is on the increase.)


And even in the secularizing West, the rash of “religious freedom bills”—which essentially decriminalize discrimination—are the latest front in a faith-tinged culture war in the United States that shows no signs of abetting anytime soon.

Within the ranks of the unaffiliated, divisions run deep. Some are avowed atheists. Others are agnostic. And many more simply don’t care to state a preference. Organized around skepticism toward organizations and united by a common belief that they do not believe, nones as a group are just as internally complex as many religions. And as with religions, these internal contradictions could keep new followers away.

Millennials to God: No Thanks

If the world is at a religious precipice, then we’ve been moving slowly toward it for decades. Fifty years ago, Time asked in a famous headline, “Is God Dead?” The magazine wondered whether religion was relevant to modern life in the post-atomic age when communism was spreading and science was explaining more about our natural world than ever before.

We’re still asking the same question. But the response isn’t limited to yes or no. A chunk of the population born after the article was printed may respond to the provocative question with, “God who?” In Europe and North America, the unaffiliated tend to be several years younger than the population average. And 11 percent of Americans born after 1970 were raised in secular homes.

Scientific advancement isn’t just making people question God, it’s also connecting those who question. It’s easy to find atheist and agnostic discussion groups online, even if you come from a religious family or community. And anyone who wants the companionship that might otherwise come from church can attend a secular Sunday Assembly or one of a plethora of Meetups for humanists, atheists, agnostics, or skeptics.

The groups behind the web forums and meetings do more than give skeptics witty rejoinders for religious relatives who pressure them to go to church—they let budding agnostics know they aren’t alone.

But it’s not easy to unite people around not believing in something. “Organizing atheists is like herding cats,” says Stephanie Guttormson, the operations director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation, which is merging with the Center for Inquiry. “But lots of cats have found their way into the 'meowry.'”

The Story of God with Morgan Freeman, continues Sunday, April 24, at 9/8c, and will take viewers on a trip around the world to explore different cultures and religions on the ultimate quest to uncover the meaning of life, God, and all the questions in between.

Guttormson says the goal of her group is to organize itself out of existence. They want to normalize atheism to a point where it’s so common that atheists no longer need a group to tell them it’s okay not to believe, or to defend their morals in the face of religious lawmakers.

But it’s not there yet.

Atheism’s Diversity Problem

The Center for Inquiry in Washington, D.C., hosts a regular happy hour called Drinking Skeptically. On a Wednesday in late March, about a dozen people showed up to faithlessly imbibe, and all but one were white.

“Most of the groups I’ve seen have been predominantly white, but I’m not sure what to attribute that to,” says Kevin Douglas, the lone African-American drinker, shrugging at the demographics. He came from a religious family in New York and struggled internally with his skepticism until shortly after college. The only time he mentions having difficulty with others accepting his atheism was when he worked in Dallas, Texas, and race, he says, had little to do with it.

But more typically, “there is pressure from our [African-American] community,” says Mandisa Thomas, the founder and president of the Atlanta-based Black Nonbelievers, Inc. This pressure stems from the place religion—Christianity in particular—holds in African-American history.

In the abolition movement churches “became a support system for blacks. It became almost the end-all be-all for the black community for a number of years,” Thomas says, adding that the Civil Rights movement was dominated—she says “hijacked”—by religious leaders.

“If you either reject or identify as a nonbeliever, you’re seen as betraying your race,” she says.

Thomas is an outlier among nonbelievers for another reason. She’s a woman.

The secularizing West is full of white men. The general U.S. population is 46 percent male and 66 percent white, but about 68 percent of atheists are men, and 78 percent are white. Atheist Alliance International has called the gender imbalance in its ranks “a significant and urgent issue.”


The Privilege of Not Believing

There are a few theories about why people become atheists in large numbers. Some demographers attribute it to financial security, which would explain why European countries with a stronger social safety net are more secular than the United States, where poverty is more common and a medical emergency can bankrupt even the insured.

Atheism is also tied to education, measured by academic achievement (atheists in many places tend to have college degrees) or general knowledge of the panoply of beliefs around the world (hence theories that Internet access spurs atheism).

There’s some evidence that official state religions drive people away from faith entirely, which could help explain why the U.S. is more religious than most Western nations that technically have a state religion, even if it is rarely observed. The U.S. is also home to a number of homegrown churches—Scientology, Mormonism—that might scoop up those who are disenchanted with older faiths.

The social factors that promote atheism—financial security and education—have long been harder to attain for women and people of color in the United States.

Around the world, the Pew Research Center finds that women tend to be more likely to affiliate with a religion and more likely to pray and find religion important in their lives. That changes when women have more opportunities. “Women who are in the labor force are more like men in religiosity. Women out of the labor force tend to be more religious,” says Conrad Hackett with Pew. “Part of that might be because they’re part of a religious group that enforces the power of women being at home."

In a Washington Post op-ed about the racial divides among atheists, Black Skeptics Group founder Sikivu Hutchinson points out that “the number of black and Latino youth with access to quality science and math education is still abysmally low.” That means they have fewer economic opportunities and less exposure to a worldview that does not require the presence of God.

Religion has a place for women, people of color, and the poor. By its nature, secularism is open to all, but it’s not always as welcoming.

Some of the humanist movement’s most visible figures aren’t known for their respect toward women. Prominent atheists Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have awful reputations for misogyny, as does the late Christopher Hitchens. Bill Maher, the comedian and outspoken atheist, is no (nonexistent) angel, either.

The leaders of Atheist Alliance International, Dawkins Foundation, and Center for Inquiry who I talked to were all well aware of the demographic shortcomings, and they’re working on it: All of the leaders I spoke to were women.

Even people who are white, male, and educated may fear the stigma of being labeled a nonbeliever. A white dentist at the CFI’s Drinking Skeptically event didn’t want to go on the record out of a fear that patients wouldn’t want an atheist working on their teeth.

“We have this stigma that we’re combative, that we’re arrogant, that we just want to provoke religious people,” Thomas with Black Nonbelievers, Inc. says. She’s working on changing that, and increasing the visibility of nonbelievers of color, too.

Thompson believes the demographics of nones don’t accurately reflect the number and diversity of nonbelievers; it just shows who is comfortable enough to say they don’t believe out loud. “There are many more people of color, there are many more women who identify as atheists,” she says. “There are many people who attend church who are still atheists.”

Several atheist and humanist organizations have launched advertising
campaigns aimed at making skeptics more comfortable not believing.
PHOTOGRPAH BY ANNE CHADWICK WILLIAMS/SACRAMENTO BEE/MCT VIA GETTY

Expanding the Ranks

What’s sometimes called the New Atheism picked up in the mid-2000s. These were years of war, when Islam was painted as a threat and Christianity infused U.S. policy, abroad and domestically, most visibly in faith-based ballot initiatives against same-sex marriage.

In the U.S., many state legislators are still using a narrow interpretation of Christian morals to deny services to gay people and appropriate restrooms to people who are transgender.

But the national backlash to religious legislation has become faster and fiercer than ever before. Europeans seem set on addressing Islamophobiaand the forces that could create tension with the “rapidly growing rest.”

And compared to past campaign seasons, religion is taking a backseat in this year’s U.S. presidential election. Donald Trump is not outwardly religious (and his attraction of evangelical voters has raised questions about the longevity and the motives of the religious right). Hillary Clinton has said “advertising about faith doesn’t come naturally to me.” And Bernie Sanders is “not actively involved” in a religion. Their reticence about religion reflects the second largest religious group in the country they hope to run. Aside from Ted Cruz, the leading candidates just aren’t up for talking about religion. The number of Americans who seek divine intervention in the voting booth seems to be shrinking.

For all the work secular groups do to promote acceptance of nonbelievers, perhaps nothing will be as effective as apathy plus time. As the secular millennials grow up and have children of their own, the only Sunday morning tradition they may pass down is one everyone in the world can agree on: brunch.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

A Farewell Requiem to Modernal Christianity




Like the dead body being carried around in the video below, once beloved, now lifeless, it is unable to provide nourishment, care, or love as it once did. Even so has the last remnants of modernal Christianity's living corpse become to the postmodern church whose fellowship lives and ministers in a post-Christian, post-secular age of anarchy and revival. As the video indicates, a radical Christianity must give final honors and respects to its predecessor but in the end it cannot continue to carry around its dead corpse become un-nuturing, un-productive, and incapable of reaching out to the "fields white unto harvest" in the name of our risen Lord and King, Christ Jesus. It is time for the church to grow up and embrace its newest era producing effective works of humanitarianism across the world in the name of Jesus. To let go of old, unproductive doctrines and proceed effectively to the exit aisles of yesteryear's Christian dogmas, unhelpful folklores, and closed bibles. Here's to the years ahead and the significant impact God's living body may have unto the glory of God forever and ever. Amen.

R.E. Slater
April 16, 2016

*health update. I have just returned from yet another stay in the hospital nearly succumbing to a pervasive infection that lit up my body to a point that I wasn't sure I might make it. The medicines and procedures used on me revived my body but it will be several more months until the infection in it will be tamed (but not eradicated). As much then I am saying goodbye to a previous life I had known and/or to the sickness yet gripping my body. Prayers as you can. Thank you.




Plainsong's Cure & Disintegration
[Embracing Anarchy and Revival for today's postmodern church]




"Plainsong" was released in 1989 off the british rockband,
The Cure's Distintegration album. The Cure's "Plainsong"
off of their "Disintegration" album. Track 1/12.

Lyrics:

"i think it's dark and it looks like rain" you said
"and the wind is blowing like it's the end of the
world" you said "and it's so cold it's like the
cold if you were dead" and then you smiled for
a second.

"i think i'm old and i'm in pain" you said
"and it's all running out like it's the end of the
world" you said "and it's so cold it's like the
cold if you were dead" and then you smiled for
a second

sometimes you make me feel like i'm living at
the edge of the world like i'm living at the edge
of the world "it's just the way i smile" you said












Sunday, April 3, 2016

An April Fool's Joke - Archaeologists Find Q


The following post was submitted on April Fool's Day as a joke. Hence it is pure fabrication. However, let us allow its composition and then move on to reading the reference section about the theory of the manuscript Q as a way of thinking through what textual criticism might involve when early biblical documents are found.

Enjoy the humor (it was nicely done). But please do not consider this specious "finding" true or real in any way.

R.E. Slater
April 1, 2016

* * * * * * * * * * * *


Archaeologists Find Q
(an April Fool's Joke)
http://liturgy.co.nz/archaeologists-find-q

April 1, 2015
Comments

The earliest collection of the sayings of Jesus, written down in Hebrew by Jesus’ disciple Matthew, has been found.

These sayings, older than our gospels, now leave us with unprecedented questions: if they disagree with the gospels, which do we follow? Should we add this to the Bible?

Biblical scholars and students of history will be delighted that manuscript fragments of the until-now-speculative Q have been discovered. The papyrus pieces, clearly written in first-century Hebrew, are referred to by the Hebrew letter ק (Qoph). [The first word on the manuscript is קהל (“crowd”) - reading from right to left in the Jewish way of reading].

Unprecedented inter-disciplinary cooperation between Western archaeologists, Jewish and Christian Biblical scholars, and with the assistance of both Israeli and Palestinian authorities, have led today to the announcement that we have the earliest copy of this until-now-conjectural Q.

The Q source (…from German: Quelle, meaning “source”) is a hypothetical written collection of Jesus’s sayings (logia). Q is (part of) the “common” material found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke but not in the Gospel of Mark.”

Peer-reviewing completed, the announcement has been embargoed until 1 April, and so, as we are one of the first countries past the date line, this is going to be one of the first places that you will read it.

Location where ק was foundק was a highly unexpected find made last year in Jaffa by student volunteers, the majority of whom were helping to excavate the twelfth-century B.C. Lion Temple area and Persian period buildings. Because there were so many volunteers, some were assigned to go over some excavations from the Roman period.

Prof. Ida Claire has been overseeing the international group of scholars. “This is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime event. Possibly once in a century,” she said. The manuscript consists solely of sayings of Jesus, and there are many similarities toThe Gospel of Thomas which was only discovered last century.

Dr. Richard U. Shure has been translating the document, and he has been able to conjecture some of the missing elements. R.U. Shure has long thought that Eusebius in the fourth century is correct in recounting the second-century Papias, that Saint Matthew collected the sayings of Jesus and wrote them down in Hebrew: “περὶ δὲ τοῦ Ματθαῖου ταῦτ’ εἴρηται· Ματθαῖος μὲν οὖν Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ τὰ λόγια συνετάξατο, ἡρμήνευσεν δ’ αὐτὰ ὡς ἧν δυνατὸς ἕκαστος”. [“Matthew collected the sayings of Jesus in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted/translated them as best he could”]. “Here then,” says Dr Shure, “is the oldest copy of what Jesus actually said.”

The find will completely revolutionise New Testament scholarship. Renowned radical theologian, John Dominic Crossan, is expected to make a statement later today when the 1st of April rolls round, lifting the embargo in his timezone. But conservatives won’t have it all their own way. It will take some time for the full text and its possible translations to become available to the non-professional and online. There appear to be references to journeys to India. This may alter dialogue with Buddhism completely, not to mention Hinduism. And there may be further controversial material about marriage, much in the news now days.

Dominican theologian, Father Justin I Dea, sees two theological problems on the horizon. Aware that there are differences between ק and what Jesus says in Matthew and Luke, which teaching should Christians follow? “From the reconstructions I have seen so far,” says Fr Dea, “there are teachings which differ from our Gospels, and there are teachings that our Gospels have omitted. Do we follow what the Church has taught is inspired? Or do we follow what is probably more original?” Secondly, we have never had access to material closer to Jesus than the four Gospels. All other documents date later and are less reliable. “Putting it bluntly – should ק be added to the Bible?”

A copy of the text will be sent to the meeting of the Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete, Greece, in June 2016. Another copy is going to the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council beginning in a couple of weeks. “A lot will rest, of course, on the Vatican’s response. Calling an ecumenical council would be extremely expensive,” says Mr Bill M. Lader, a philanthropist who has funded much of the research. “But at the end of the day, I am thrilled with the interest in this discovery. It is a memorable day on the calendar!”

I hope, if you appreciated this post today, that you share it (facebook and so on). And do remember to like the liturgy facebook page, use the RSS feed, and sign up for a not-very-often email, …

If you are interested in follow-up on this story, you can read more as it develops on the official website of ק.


For further (true, not false) References:
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q_source
  • https://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=598
  • http://danielbwallace.com/2013/01/16/do-manuscripts-of-q-still-exist/


Biblical Docetism - The Dangers of Reading the Bible Literally

THEOLOGY

THE ROAD TO PERDITION:

EVANGELICALS AND THE BIBLE

http://samanthapfield.com/2016/03/18/road-perdition-evangelicals-bible/

by Samantha Field
March 18, 2016
As I started writing this blog, initially just chronicling my journey out of fundamentalism, I thought of fundamentalism and evangelicalism as radically different things. At first, evangelicalism seemed pretty harmless by comparison. However, as I became a member of evangelicalism through my church and the culture I was absorbing through books and blogs and sermons, I realized that while fundamentalism and evangelicalism look remarkably different, they have far more in common than I’d realized.
To anyone familiar with the history of fundamentalism and evangelicalism, that’s a remark on the obvious.Of course they’re similar: they come from the same ideological tree. At first, around the turn of the 20th century, there were only fundamentalists, unified by a set of essays called The Fundamentals. Eventually, those essays were condensed into The Five Fundamentals. Interestingly, what those are can vary a bit (see here and here), but they essentially are:
  1. The nature of God is that of a Trinity; Jesus was born of a virgin and was fully God and fully man.
  2. Salvation is by faith, not by works; it was achieved by Christ through the substitionary Atonement.
  3. Scripture is divinely inspired by God and totally sufficient for Christian living.
  4. Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead and now reigns at the right hand of the Father.
  5. There will be a literal second coming of Christ.
The most important idea to be more fully articulated at this time was what it meant for Scripture to be inspired. While not new– there are echoes of this principle in Catholicism and in the Reformers’ belief in sola scriptura— the way these early fundamentalists started treating the Bible was new.
Over time, “inspiration” became a sort of short-hand for the concept that the Bible could be easily read, easily handled, easily interpreted. God meant it for all peoples, all times, all places– and he wouldn’t have done that without giving us the ability to see the “plain meaning of the text.” As the fundamentalists gained power, it birthed men like R.J. Rushdoony and Charles Ryrie who advocated not only for inspiration, but inerrancy. An argument for the inerrancy of Scripture wasn’t present in The Fundamentals, but to fundamentalists it was the only logical place a belief in biblical inspiration could go. After a while, the fundamentalist view of inerrancy became that the Bible is totally without error: it contains no contradictions and is completely and utterly factual.
Around the time that inerrancy was being affirmed by fundamentalists, the evangelical movement began. Fundamentalists began teaching the doctrine of separation, and evangelicals opposed them. Men like Billy Graham rejected the idea that the Church was strictly for Christians– that Christians should retreat into isolated sanctuaries in order to remain unsullied by the corruption of “The World.” Instead, they advocated for the guiding principle of being in the world, but not of it. How could a Christian hope to reach the lost if they kept to themselves all of the time?
Hence the term evangelical.
However, evangelicals didn’t leave their theology behind. They still held to the Five Fundamentals, but they didn’t go along with the movement to accept inerrancy the way the fundamentalists did. At least, not at the time.
In 1979, roughly thirty years after fundamentalists had totally bought into inerrancy, the evangelicals did the same when 300 evangelical leaders signed the Chicago Statement. If you read it over, you’ll notice that the ideas they affirm and deny are important, balanced, and to a degree fairly nuanced; so it shouldn’t surprise you to know that it didn’t go anywhere near far enough to fundamentalist men like Charles Ryrie, who had already moved from biblical inerrancy to biblical literalism.
At this point, fundamentalists started proclaiming ideas like verbal plenary inspiration, and double inspiration. Men like Jack Hyles and Peter Ruckman became fundamentalist figureheads, and they taught the Bible as almost literally dictated, word-for-word, by God themself. These men believed that God chose the men because of the wordings they would  choose, and “guided” them to the exactly “correct” words and phrasings. Not only that, but some men like Ruckman took it one step further: God had even inspired the KJV translators toward choosing the “correct” words in English. Along with all of that came other teachers like Bill Gothard, who took these concepts and started applying them. In fact, if God had chosen the very words, then there could be no harm in taking the Bible literally. It was meant to be taken literally.
Young Earth Creationism sprang out of a belief in biblical literalism, and so did a slew of other problems like the anti-LGBT movement and complementarianism. It took a while for Hyles and Ryrie and Ruckman and Gothard to have an effect, but their words and ideas are now being championed by some of the most influential evangelical leaders– most notably in the neo-Reformed movement, which is dominated by a strict adherence to biblical literalism.
Oh, but the fundamentalists have, again, already moved on. They’ve moved through inspiration, inerrancy, and literalism to finally arrive at biblical docetism.
Historically speaking, docetism (see here and here) is the notion that Jesus was not really human, that he only appeared human but, in reality, that was just a pretense. That idea was roundly condemned by virtually everyone as heresy. However, I believe modern American Christianity has done something even more insidious then denying the embodied Incarnation of Christ: they’ve made the Bible only “appear” like a book.
It was not really written by men– it was written by God. Biblical docetists don’t have to pay attention to how these men had their own personalities, their own vendettas, their own ambitions, their own priorities, their own flaws and their own achievements. To be honest, biblical docetists don’t just ignore how Paul was quite a vociferous fellow frequently given to tantrums (I will never ever work with John Mark ever again!) and tirades (Cretans are all liars!); the fact that Paul had a temper with a tendency to see things in blacks and whites is irrelevant.
To biblical docetists, cultural contexts don’t have to have any bearing on the text– it’s not really an ancient library of texts gathered together over time and with a lot of arguing. It is divine, it is holy, it is preserved. God intended every word exactly as it was recorded to reach our ears today. They knew that we would be reading it, and mythically they imbued it with the power to make perfect, clear sense to ancient readers, and modern readers, and people reading it thousands of years in the future. It is not really a book. You can’t treat it like any old book, or expect it to follow the common sensical rules of other ancient texts. Everything we understand about how ancient near-eastern cultures viewed history or biography doesn’t ultimately matter. It’s the Bible.
In fact, the Bible is so magical that you can rip sentences– halves of sentences, even!– out of their paragraphs and force it down other people’s throats as God’s divinely ordained word for that specific moment. We can all read every letter and stand sure in the knowledge that every word was ultimately meant for our ears, not necessarily for the church to which it was written. Genre– whether it’s oral tradition, poetry, myth, parable– should be erased, for it’s not just any book. It’s not predicated on ideas of style or voicing or purpose or audience. Everything in it is literally true, literally factual, and literally meant for us today.
Hopefully it’s obvious that I’m describing not just Christian fundamentalism, but evangelicalism as well. Evangelicals might not take it as far as a man I knew who actually plucked his eye out because it had “offended him” through a pornography addiction. But just because they’re not going that far doesn’t mean that evangelical biblical docetism isn’t having real-world and devastating consequences. We may not be plucking out our eyes, but we are voting for a man who (possibly) thinks LGBT people should be stoned to death (sic, 2015-2-16 Presidental candidate). We are taking Jesus’ words about persecution and forcing it apply to photographers and bakers. We are proclaiming doomesday messages about being in the End Times because a black man was elected President (sic, President Obama). We are telling women to stay in abusive marriages.
Fundamentalists have already been treading the path through biblical docetism for almost two decades now, and it’s had disastrous consequences. If evangelicals don’t experience some sort of course correction in their view of the Bible, then it’s going to lead them to places the rest of us don’t want to go.


* * * * * * * * * 


My Long Fight to Defend Inerrancy & Why I Finally
Accepted the Bible We Have
http://www.hippieheretic.com/2016/04/my-long-fight-to-defend-inerrancy-why-i.html

by Chuck McKnight
April 2, 2016

I was raised as a missionary kid in a fundamentalist family. My dad, a pastor as well as a missionary, preached on plenty of different topics, but the theme that has always stuck with me was this:

Never blindly accept what someone teaches you, not even if he’s a pastor, and not even if it’s me. Test everything by the Word of God.

To one extent or another, that piece of advice has directed the entire course of my life.

My family moved back to America when I was sixteen. I completed my senior year at Harford Christian High School, and then I headed off to the bastion of fundamentalism that is Bob Jones University, eager to acquire skills I could use in God’s service. After graduating, I went to work full time for Answers in Genesis (the ministry of Ken Ham), having interned there for the previous two summers.

In case you’re unfamiliar with any of these organizations, you should know that they all share a core conviction: the Bible is the inspired, infallible, inerrant, sufficient, and authoritative Word of God. They also hold in common the belief that we should separate from so-called “Christians” who do not share this conviction. (Such divisive separatism is, in my view, the primary distinguishing mark between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals with otherwise identical theology. But that’s not the topic for this post.)

Answers in Genesis is most well known for its positions on science—they teach that God created the earth in six 24-hour days around 6,000 years ago and that Darwinian evolution is a lie. But if you actually ask them, they’ll say that these are side issues stemming from the core of what they’re really all about, which is biblical authority.

The Bible, they say, is the foundation of our faith. It must be the final authority for all of Christian belief and practice. They teach that the scriptures are entirely free from error or contradiction. So what the Bible says is to be accepted without question. Everything else must be filtered through the lens of what the Bible supposedly teaches. It’s what they call the “biblical worldview.”

And I wholeheartedly believed it! I taught their worldview myself, desperately fighting for that inerrant Bible. You can still read many of my past writings on their website. Like my explanations of certain “supposed Bible contradictions” or even the article I coauthored with Dr. Terry Mortenson, in which we argued the biblical necessity for a global flood.

For five years at Answers in Genesis, I taught their message of biblical authority. But trouble was brewing. My commitment to the Bible would end up landing me in hot water with the very ones who sought to defend its authority.

I never forgot that advice my dad gave. I paired it with the Apostle Paul’s advice to “test everything, hold on to what is good, and reject every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21–22), and I applied it as fully as I was able. Every belief I had been given came under the scrutiny of (my interpretation of) the inerrant Bible. I saw myself as a noble Berean, “examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

These examinations brought with them a number of changes in my beliefs, all regarding standard Christian debates: I rejected the Calvinist theology I had been raised in; I switched from an “institutional” church model to a more “organic” house-church gathering; I started questioning whether a Christian should use violence in self-defense; and a handful of similar matters.

All because “the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.”

On the one hand, my parents were not very happy about my changing beliefs. Despite the fact that I was only following my dad’s advice to test everything by the Bible, they viewed the conclusions I came to as a rejection of “clear biblical teaching.”

On the other hand, none of the changes I’ve described thus far were enough to threaten my position at Answers in Genesis. But that wouldn’t be the case for long.

I was about to start questioning a sacred cow of conservative evangelicalism.

No, I hadn’t allowed for a belief in evolution. I hadn’t concluded that women could fill equal roles with men in church leadership. I hadn’t started to reconsider my position on homosexuality. And I certainly hadn’t wavered in my commitment to the Bible’s inerrancy. Those changes took a lot longer.

But I had started to question the nature of hell.

Not the existence of hell, mind you! Nor the matter of who was going there. I was still quite convinced that a person’s fate was sealed at death, and that all who died without accepting Jesus were headed for eternal hell. But what was this eternal hell like? Was it eternal torment or eternal destruction?

The Bible didn’t seem to be as clear on this question as I would have preferred, but I was starting to lean toward the belief that hell was a place of irreversible destruction, a view commonly known as Annihilationism. Contrary to the claims of my critics, my questions at the time had nothing to do with emotionalism or matters of love or justice. I was only interested in what the Bible taught. And I was becoming less and less convinced that it taught eternal conscious torment.

But as I said, hell is something you’re not allowed to question in conservative circles, and certainly not at Answers in Genesis. Long story short, my new understanding about the nature of hell was not compatible with their statement of faith. I was given some time to make up my mind, but when I could no longer affirm eternal conscious torment, I was forced to resign.

You can hear more of that story in the interview I did with the Rethinking Hell podcast shortly after losing my job. And if you’re interested in my current understanding of hell, check out my recent post, “25 Views on Hell? 2 Questions to Reframe the Debate.

At this point, I want to make something clear. My purpose in sharing this is not to attack anyone. I love my parents, and I’m so thankful for them, regardless of our disagreements. As for the folks at Answers in Genesis, they are some of the most sincere and wonderful people you’ll ever meet. Many of them remain my friends to this day. I even met my wife while working there, and she’s still the love of my life! I have nothing but fond memories of my time at Answers in Genesis.

I’m writing this in opposition to a harmful system of belief. I have nothing against the people who are currently held in that system of belief, just as I used to be.

But we’ve not yet reached the conclusion of my journey out of that system. Being expelled from Answers in Genesis was a major turning point, but I still had a ways to go. I still believed that an inerrant Bible was the foundation of my faith.

Having to leave Answers in Genesis, though painful at the time, turned out to be a tremendous blessing. Since I no longer worked for a ministry with a mandated statement of faith, I was able to ask questions more freely and follow them more honestly, wherever they might lead. And the new job I found brought my family and me out to the Pacific Northwest—the most beautiful part of this country I’ve seen, and the place we’re all thankful to now call home.

As I continued testing my beliefs against the Bible, my earlier questions regarding the use of violence became a firm conviction: Jesus and the Apostles taught complete non-violence, even in matters of self-defense. I saw it throughout the New Testament, but it really came down to that pesky command to love one’s enemies. How could killing someone ever be compatible with loving them?

Around this time, I also began to take seriously the Anabaptist tradition—the oldest existing branch of the church to have consistently taught and modeled non-violence. Additionally, Anabaptists believe that while the whole of scripture is inspired, the New Testament must have primacy over the Old, and the life and teachings of Jesus must take center stage. These principles would become crucial for me as my understanding of scripture continued to evolve.

For a while, all was well. I had my new belief regarding non-violence, and not much else changed (apart from having sold my 1911). But it did bring up another nagging question. If the New Testament is so full of non-violent teaching, what about all the violence in the Old Testament?

Now remember, I was still fully committed to the idea of a Bible that contained no errors and no contradictions. So it wasn’t an option for me to say that the Old Testament was wrong about violence. Preston Sprinkle, in his book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence, offered the solution I found most compelling at the time, and it satisfied me for a while. But the further I pressed into this, the more complicated things became.

It wasn’t simply a matter of humans committing violence in the Old Testament, nor even of God allowing violence for a time. If the Old Testament is to be taken literally, God actually commanded much of the violence that occurred. And that would mean that God has a violent streak.

But I was also coming to understand that Jesus perfectly reveals God. Again, this was a strictly biblical conclusion. Passages like Hebrews 1:1–3, John 1:17–18, andColossians 1:15–17 all point us to Jesus for our picture of God. But Jesus taught and modeled non-violent enemy love. And he taught that our love of enemies should be based on God’s love of everyone. Such non-violent enemy love is, according to Jesus, what it means to be sons of our Father and to be perfect as he is perfect (Matthew 5:43–48).

So we have a perfectly non-violent God of love revealed in Jesus Christ, but we also have a God of violence and warfare revealed in the Old Testament. This is a huge problem! This isn’t one of those little supposed contradictions that falls apart with a basic understanding of context. This is a matter of two diametrically opposed views about the very nature of God. How does one “solve” this contradiction?

These questions also led me into an examination of the concept of justice. What does justice look like to God, and how does he carry it out?

According to Mosaic law, God required payment for sins. For some sins, God demanded that sacrifices be given. For many other sins—or for the unfortunate foreigners whose land the Israelites needed—the punishment was either dismemberment or death. And the Israelites were commanded over and over again to “show no mercy” in such cases (Deuteronomy 7:2; 13:8; 19:13, 21; 25:12).

But this is not the only opinion voiced in the Old Testament. Other authors state that God does not require sacrifices and never told the Israelites that he did (Psalm 40:6;Jeremiah 7:22; Isaiah 1:11). And according to Hosea, rather than commanding the Israelites to show no mercy, Yahweh says the opposite, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice; the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

Sure, I could scrutinize the wording of these verses, dig into the Hebrew, and come up with some way to force an agreement. But would that really be faithful to the texts? These aren’t just single verses that appear contradictory; they represent vastly opposing viewpoints—a debate going on within the pages of the Old Testament.

I realized that, if I was going to be consistent in testing every belief by the Bible, I would have to submit the concept of inerrancy itself to the same test. If the Bible is fully sufficient (a belief that goes hand-in-hand with inerrancy) then inerrancy must be taught by the Bible itself.

But guess what. The Bible makes no such claim! I scoured the pages of scripture; I read multiple books by inerrantists on the subject; and I could not find a single passage that teaches anything like inerrancy.

Paul says that scripture is inspired or God-breathed and that it is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16). But neither of those claims would mean that it contains no errors. God may have inspired scripture, but he gave that inspiration to humans who then authored it. The prophecy of scripture, according to 2 Peter 1:20–21, is a collaboration between God and men. So while I’d expect scripture to be full of divine truth, I’d also expect it to contain some human error.

Some passages, such as Psalm 19:7, speak of God’s law as being “perfect.” But this concept of perfection simply means that it is whole or complete. In other words, the scriptures we have are exactly the scriptures we need.

But what if God wanted our scriptures to speak with opposing voices? What if he didn’t want to hand us an inerrant manual for every area of life? What if God values discussion, debate, and wrestling with the texts? What if he values it so much that he allowed for debate to go on within the texts themselves? What if God believes that such debate is part of what makes scripture profitable?

The book of Job is fascinating to me. It’s buried near the middle of our Bibles, but many scholars believe it was actually the first book of the Bible to be written. And nearly the entire book is a debate between Job and his “friends.”

Even inerrantists admit that we shouldn’t take the statements by Job or his friends as inerrant in themselves. They may have been divinely recorded, but they’re still divinely recorded opinions of men. Furthermore, these opinions contradict one another within the book of Job, and many of them contradict other scriptures as well.

The value of the book of Job does not lie in the individual truth claims made by its characters. Rather, the whole debate is itself valuable and profitable. If that weren’t the case, then we might as well throw out the majority of the book, and just keep the beginning and end portions where Yahweh himself speaks. But no inerrantist would want to do that. They recognize the value of this debate.

What if this is how we should view all of scripture?

Have you ever read one of those “multiple views” books? I love them! They bring together multiple Christian authors who disagree on a certain subject. The authors each present their case, explaining why they hold to their perspective. And then each of the authors critiques the explanations of the other authors.

It’s a beautiful, healthy way to debate certain aspects of Christianity while remaining united in Christ. And there’s so much value to be found in the debate. Generally speaking, each perspective has some elements of truth to it. But of course, that doesn’t mean that they’re all equally correct.

Imagine, however, that we were to take such a book, and claim inerrancy for it. What if we were to say that the opposing views don’t actually contradict one another after all? It would take some hard work and a lot of linguistic gymnastics, but I bet we could find some convoluted way to force agreement. Language is pliable. If we want a text to say something badly enough, we can generally make it do so.

My example here may sound absurd, but is that any less absurd than trying to force a Bible that does contain contradictions to not contradict itself?

If we start with inerrancy as a presupposed idea, then we have to make the scriptures agree, even when they don’t—even when their disagreements are deliberate. That’s not faithful to the scriptures, and it causes us miss out on the beautiful debates they contain. How can we profit from those debates if we pretend they aren’t there?

“Test everything by the Word of God.”

I was brought up to believe that the Bible is the Word of God. But Jesus is also the Word of God. It got kind of confusing at times. Lots of equivocation.

But as I continued studying, I discovered that the Bible never actually refers to itself as the Word of God. Throughout the New Testament, that phrase is reserved specifically for Jesus or for his gospel message. We could say that the scriptures represent the word of God in a secondary sense, as they certainly include words from God. But in the ultimate sense, only Jesus truly is the Word of God.

When my dad taught me to test everything by the Word of God, he had the Bible in mind. But I was finding that the Bible itself, when tested by itself, was found to be wanting. The Bible simply is not the single, cohesive, inerrant book that I would like it to be. It’s a collection of books—all inspired and profitable, but often contradicting one another.

But Jesus is the infallible, inerrant Word of God. Jesus, rather than the Bible, is our ultimate authority for all belief and practice. Jesus is the foundation of our faith, and we dare not build on any other. Yes, we need the Bible to point to Jesus, but once we get to Jesus, he must take supremacy.

When it comes to interpreting the Bible, the revelation of God in Jesus Christ must be our baseline. We must test everything else by his standard.

So how did Jesus read the Old Testament? Did he treat it as if it were inerrant? What did he have to say regarding the debates within its pages?

For starters, Jesus sided with mercy rather than sacrifice. Twice he quoted Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” at one point adding, “If you had understood what this means, you would not have condemned the innocent” (Matthew 12:7). So if Jesus calls us to show mercy, we must forsake all Old Testament commands to “show no mercy.”

The lex talionis or “law of retaliation” formed the core of Israel’s justice system. “You must show no mercy: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deuteronomy 19:21). But Jesus directly overturned this command. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not retaliate against evil” (Matthew 5:38–39).

And Jesus consistently lived this out, blatantly breaking the law in order to show mercy, even to those whom the Old Testament would have condemned to death. This doesn’t mean that Jesus rejected the Old Testament. He had the highest regard for it. He didn’t come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).

Fulfilment means bringing something to completion or perfecting it. Jesus came as the completion of everything the law and prophets pointed toward, and he perfected them by showing us how to properly understand them. But that often means contradicting the letter in order to follow the spirit.

According to Jesus, all the law and prophets hang on two simple commands: love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:37–40). Or to put it another way, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). But we must disregard Old Testament notions of violence and retaliation in order to live out Jesus’ rule of love and mercy. This is the only way to truly fulfill the scriptures.

For a much more detailed analysis of how Jesus and his Apostles read the scriptures, including how they frequently edited Old Testament texts to alter their meanings, be sure to check out Derek Flood’s excellent book, Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why We All Need to Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did.

So what now? If the Bible is not inerrant, how can we be certain about anything?

I hear this question pretty much every time I mention the idea that the Bible contains errors. And I totally get it! If we’ve built our foundation on an inerrant Bible, then it’s a scary thought to have that foundation pulled out from underneath us. That’s precisely why it took me so long to come around. I too would much rather have an inerrant Bible.

But here’s the thing. We don’t get to remake the Bible according to our standards of what we think it should be. The Bible is exactly what it is, and we have to trust that God knew what he was doing when he inspired it to be such.

I’m not going to claim that I have all the answers for how to move forward. But I know this: Jesus is the only foundation we should be building on.

Yes, we do need the Bible to point us to Jesus. We also need the church, both modern and historic, to help us understand the Bible. We need natural revelation to show us God’s glory. We need spiritual leaders who have been on this path for much longer than us, whose examples we may follow. We need community to keep us grounded. And most of all, we need the Holy Spirit to guide us.

I understand the desire for certainty, but that just isn’t an option. Even among inerrantists, there’s never been a consensus of interpretation. So there’s no true certainty there either. Somewhere along the way, simple faith has to come into play.

For me, I’ve chosen to place all my faith—and to test everything—by the Word of God: Jesus Christ.