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

Friday, July 24, 2015

Heresies New and Old - "Counterfeit Christianity: The Persistence of Errors in the Church "

I have been following Roger for many years and use his historical/theological expertise as a kind of baseline in developing an Orthodox Christianity that is postmodern, radical, and better spoken than the popular banter I read everyday from eclectic Christians unversed in rigorous bible study except from that of their own viewpoint as instructed by well-meaning Christian leaders within their own faith worlds and psyches.

What you will find in Roger's newest book has been discussed here across many articles and personal observations and now in book format, collected as one unit for brief consideration and awareness. More on each of these subjects may be discovered within this site (as well as Roger's) using the topics column and search functions (I prefer google search using "Relevancy22+the topic in mind").

As such, Relevancy22 was birthed to begin the dialogue of what Christianity, Christian doctrine, and the Christian faith is and is not. Not from a biting, sarcastic tone. Nor from a "let's have peace amongst the brethren at all costs" heart. But from mine own as I attempt to re-tilt evangelical Christianity towards its better nature while abandoning its mis-directed modernism (or even, pre-modernistic/scholastic) mindsets and theologies.

As such, Relevancy22 will not be a popular site to read but I think a necessary one as I have time to discuss with you, the reader, the many worlds of Christianity from not only mine own perspective of experience and personal history but from the perspective of many other contributors to the idea of what a postmodern Orthodox Christianity is and must look like for today's polypluralistic world. A Christianity that is not built upon racism, hate, violence, nationalism, patriotism, militarism, myopic disdain, disbelief, argumentation, or civil oppression. But from a Christ-like faith that is gentle, meek, humble, giving, serving, strong, outspoken, prophetic, illuminatory, generous, caring, sharing, and well-thought out.

At least, this is my prayer and hope for today's earthly church conducting its ministries before an almighty God who is this and more.

Peace,

R.E. Slater
July 24, 2015


Amazon link


Book Description

Historic heresies didn’t die or fade away. Each generation boasts its own. Even while these counterfeit teachings remain outside the accepted bounds of Christianity, modern-day versions plague churches.So how does a church leader or pastor understand and deal with these age-old controversies when they pop up in the congregation?

In this book, Roger Olson describes the curses but also gifts that heresies bring the Church. While heresies can occasionally correct a version of orthodoxy, they are not simple confusions or misunderstandings about impenetrable mysteries of divine revelation. Instead they undermine the faith and are dangerous distortions. The author describes major heresies and how the church dealt with them, the players, and what pastors can do to address these faith issues in order to educate congregations about Jesus, God, and salvation.

Also included are questions for individual or group study.

Also available - a Leader guide with DVD in which Adam Hamilton hosts on-screen conversations with Roger Olson (9781501806360)



From the Author

Announcing My Newest Book: Counterfeit Christianity:
The Persistence of Errors in the Church
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2015/07/announcing-my-newest-book-counterfeit-christianity/

by Roger Olson
July 14, 2015

A couple years ago I was approached by a requisitions editor at Abingdon Press (the United Methodist Publishing House) to write a book about heresies. I never knew the publisher’s exact motive, but I suspect it is part of a general concern among many (including some bishops I know) in the United Methodist Church to turn around the denomination’s “theological pluralism” and renew at least a general sense of Christian orthodoxy within the UMC. (That is not to say that has been totally lacking; it is only to say that very many UMC people have come to believe doctrine simply does not matter and they are free to believe whatever they want to believe.)

I agreed to the request and the product is now published—Counterfeit Christianity: The Persistence of Errors in the Church (2015). Amazon has it becoming available August 4, but I have received a box of author’s copies, so I assume it is now available for pre-order if not actual purchase. If I am not mistaken this is my eighteenth book (including co-authored books but not multi-authored books of which I have contributed to too many to keep count.)

Before the describing the book in some detail, I must reluctantly say that I am not happy with the title or the cover—over which I had no “say.” Most people do not realize that publishers assign book titles and cover designs. Sometimes authors have a say, but often they do not. I tried gently to object to “Counterfeit Christianity” to no avail. And by the time I saw the cover it was too late to object. My preferred title was “Heresies Ancient and Modern: The Persistence of Errors in the Churches.” Marketers have the most say about book titles; they are concerned with what will sell books. The reason I don’t like “Counterfeit Christianity” is that I do not think heresy necessarily equates with “counterfeit Christianity.” It depends. Some heresies labeled “Christian” do that; others do not. And I especially do not want people to think that just because I disagree with someone and even think their ideas about God, Jesus Christ, salvation, etc., are seriously mistaken I want to label them false Christians.

The book can be purchased together with a DVD containing an edited portion of a very lengthy conversation about the book between Adam Hamilton and me. Adam is, of course, the pastor of the largest UMC church in North America—The Church of the Resurrection in suburban Kansas City (Kansas). Adam is a former student of mine and I am very proud of him. At the publisher’s request he took almost an entire day out of his extremely busy schedule (he leads a church with 23,000 members!) to sit with me and film a conversation about theology. We talked, with cameras rolling, for about five hours. I think the DVD contains five segments of about eight to ten minutes each—mainly for use in small groups in churches. But, of course, anyone can purchase it. (I won’t be watching it as I literally cannot stand to watch myself or listen to myself! And I would constantly be thinking of what Adam and I said that was cut out in the editing process.)

(There’s an interesting—to me, at least—back story to my meeting with Adam at his church in Leawood, Kansas. It happened in early May, but was planned for months. The publisher and church made many arrangements including a camera and sound crew. A lead Abingdon editor flew in from Nashville to direct and produce the interview. The day before the event weather predictions for my airport were dire—severe thunderstorms and possible tornadoes! And I have slept on the floor of that airport before when my flights were cancelled due to such weather events. (It’s 100 miles from my home!) So, rather than risk missing the event, I jumped in my car and drove ten hours to Kansas City, Kansas. Then drove back after the interview the next day. I passed the hours in the car by listening to old gospel songs I downloaded from itunes to my ipod and singing along with them. I thank God for itunes and ipods! I have over 100 old gospel songs from the 1950s and 1960s—before CCM took over—on my ipod. Sorry for that digression.)

It was so good to see and be with Adam again after thirty-four years. We discovered that he was in my very first theology class when I began teaching full time. I was still writing my dissertation and had just returned from a year studying with Wolfhart Pannenberg in Germany. Adam is, of course, an author in his own right and a theologian-pastor—a model for others to follow. His most recent book is Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today (HarperOne, 2014). He gave me a copy with this personal note written inside: “Dear Roger, I am so grateful for you. You were my first professor of theology. Thank you for helping me to make sense of the Bible! Blessings! Adam Hamilton.” Few things make an old theologian happier than something like that!

---

Back to Counterfeit Christianity. I wrote the book in a fairly popular style, assuming no knowledge of theology or church history on the parts of readers. The back of the book contains this description: 

“Historic heresies didn’t die or fade away. Each generation boasts its own. Modern-day versions continue to plague churches and undermine the good news of Jesus. In this book Roger Olson describes not only the curses that heresies bring the church but also the gifts. Heresies can occasionally correct a version of orthodoxy, but ultimately they are not simple confusions or misunderstandings. Instead they are dangerous distortions that undermine the faith. This book describes major heresies, how the church dealt with them, the players involved, and what pastors can do to address these faith issues in order to educate congregations about Jesus, God, and salvation.” 

The back cover includes endorsements by Adam Hamilton, Henry H. Knight, III (theology professor at Methodist-related St. Paul School of Theology), and Don Thorsen (theology professor at Azusa Pacific Seminary).

The table of contents includes:

  • “Understanding Heresy,”
  • “Understanding Orthodoxy,”
  • “The Mother of All Heresies: Gnosticism,”
  • “Messing with Divine Revelation: Montanism and Marcionism,”
  • “Doubting the Deity of Jesus Christ: Adoptionism, Arianism, and Nestorianism,”
  • “Contesting the Trinity: Subordinationism, Modalism, and Tritheism,”
  • “Setting Grace Aside: Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism,”
  • “Making God a Monster: Divine Determinism,”
  • “Reducing God to Manageable Size: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” and,
  • “Using God for Personal Gain: The ‘Gospel’ of Health and Wealth.”

The first several chapters describe the heresies as they arose and existed in ancient Christianity and their contemporary forms.

One of my main points in the first chapter is that a person is not a “heretic” merely for holding mistaken beliefs, even those declared heresies by the church ecumenical and orthodox. A “heretic” is only someone who knowingly teaches what his or her faith community considers heretical. There is no such thing as an “accidental heretic.” A person is only a “heretic” when he or she realizes that what he or she teaches is heretical—according to his or her church or the Great Tradition of ecumenical Christian orthodoxy agreed to by Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches.

Nevertheless, there are heresies “swimming around” in contemporary Christianity. The people who believe them are not necessarily bad people and, in most cases, are sincere Christians who are simply confused and need correction. The problem is [that] almost nobody is correcting them! 

"Especially, Protestant churches in America [which] have relegated “orthodoxy” to
fundamentalism. The result is doctrinal chaos [creating] an “uncertain sound,”
syncretized “Christianity,” [become] a kind of folk religion in which anything
goes and everyone’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s."

I urge you to buy the book and read it and even adopt it for your church’s discussion group—in spite of the infelicitous title and (in my opinion) silly cover.


Monday, July 20, 2015

The "Violence of the Sacred" and Mimetic Theory: Ending Violence and Not Perpetuating It





What and How Mimetic theory works in Religion:
"The Girardian hermeneutic in a Nutshell."

Succinctly, Mimetic Theory is all about scapegoating and the unresolved violence of the human heart.

Sublimely, the Cross is about accepting the violence of the heart and not wishing to continue it.

This is true martyrdom.

That is, the ending of the perpetuation of violence.

The Cross then ends violence and does not continue it in any form.

Opposed to this idea is the church doctrine of "penal substitutionary atonement theory" which perpetuates the theory of God's continuing violence upon man via judgment, hell, and retribution. 

However, with a gospel hermeneutic of "mimetic desire" God accepted our violence upon His gracious, holy Personage in order to end the continuation of violence and to not perpetuate it in any form, way, means, or design.

The meaning of the "Cross of Christ" in humanity's history?

Violence in the church should have no place whatsoever in its dogmas, acts, or behavior.

Furthermore, violence within humanity must end in the same way it ended for God. To martyr itself with no desire for continuing its evil history.

Is the "Cross of Christ" hard to live?

Absolutely.

Why?

The heart is a violent, evil thing when held under the sway of ourselves and not God's Spirit. The Scripture describes our heart as sinful.

Ahhh, now there's the rub and its what the French/American anthropologist/philosopher Rene Girard described in his mimetic theory of scapegoating re the Violence of the Sacred.

Meaning, the sacred elements of the church become the very same elements which are turned into violent symbols by the church to perpetuate the violence of the human heart under the guise of true spirituality (while neglecting, if not forgetting, the Scriptural warning to the deceitfulness of the sinful heart).

If Girard's Mimetic Theory seems vaguely familiar it is.

The Belfast philosopher/theologian Peter Rollins, who we discuss here a lot, gets to this same idea in a different way through psychoanalyticism and radical theology.

R.E. Slater
July 20, 2015


In his book Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis mentions that before becoming a Christian, the doctrine
of penal substitution had seemed extremely unethical to him, and that while he had since found it
to be less so, he nonetheless indicated a preference for a position closer to that of Athanasius, in
which Christ's death is seen as enabling us to die to sin by our participation, and not as a
satisfaction or payment to justice as such.

He also stated, however, that in his view no explanation of the atonement is as relevant as the
fact of the atonement. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in his fantasy fiction
series, The Chronicles of Narnia, depicts the king Aslan surrendering himself to Jadis
the White Witch as a substitute for the life of Edmund Pevensie, which appears to
illustrate a ransom or Christus Victor approach to the atonement.

- Wikipedia, Penal Substitution


* * * * * * * * * * *



Wikipedia - Rene Girard

René Noël Théophile Girard (/ʒiˈrɑrd/; French: [ʒiʁaʁ]; born December 25, 1923) is a Franco-American historian, literary critic, and philosopher of social science whose work belongs to the tradition of anthropological philosophy. Girard is the author of nearly thirty books (see below), with his writings spanning many academic domains. Although the reception of his work is different in each of these areas, there is a growing body of secondary literature on his work and his influence on disciplines such as literary criticism, critical theory,anthropology, theology, psychology, mythology, sociology, economics, cultural studies, and philosophy.

Girard's fundamental ideas, which he has developed throughout his career and provide the foundation for his thinking, are that desire is mimetic (all of our desires are borrowed from other people), that all conflict originates in mimetic desire (mimetic rivalry), that the scapegoat mechanism is the origin of sacrifice and the foundation of human culture, and religion was necessary in human evolution to control the violence that can come from mimetic rivalry, and that the Bible reveals these ideas and denounces the scapegoat mechanism.

GIRARD'S THROUGHT

MIMETIC DESIRE

After almost a decade of teaching French literature in the United States, Girard began to develop a new way of speaking about literary texts. Beyond the "uniqueness" of individual works, he tried to discover their common structural properties after noticing that characters in great fiction evolved in a system of relationships otherwise common to the wider generality of novels. But there was a distinction to be made:

Only the great writers succeed in painting these mechanisms faithfully, without falsifying them: we have here a system of relationships that paradoxically, or rather not paradoxically at all, has less variability the greater a writer is.[7]

So there did indeed exist "psychological laws" as Proust calls them.[8] These laws and this system are the consequences of a fundamental reality grasped by the novelists, which Girard called the mimetic character of desire. This is the content of his first book, Deceit, Desire and the Novel (1961). We borrow our desires from others. Far from being autonomous, our desire for a certain object is always provoked by the desire of another person — the model — for this same object. This means that the relationship between the subject and the object is not direct: there is always a triangular relationship of subject, model, and object. Through the object, one is drawn to the model, whom Girard calls the mediator: it is in fact the model who is sought. Girard calls desire "metaphysical" in the measure that, as soon as a desire is something more than a simple need or appetite, "all desire is a desire to be",[9] it is an aspiration, the dream of a fullness attributed to the mediator.

Mediation is external when the mediator of the desire is socially beyond the reach of the subject or, for example, a fictional character, as in the case of Amadis de Gaula and Don Quixote. The hero lives a kind of folly that nonetheless remains optimistic. Mediation is internal when the mediator is at the same level as the subject. The mediator then transforms into a rival and an obstacle to the acquisition of the object, whose value increases as the rivalry grows. This is the universe of the novels of Stendhal, Flaubert, Proust and Dostoevsky, which are particularly studied in this book.

Through their characters, our own behaviour is displayed. Everyone holds firmly to the illusion of the authenticity of one's own desires; the novelists implacably expose all the diversity of lies, dissimulations, maneuvers, and the snobbery of the Proustian heroes; these are all but "tricks of desire", which prevent one from facing the truth: envy and jealousy. These characters, desiring the being of the mediator, project upon him superhuman virtues while at the same time depreciating themselves, making him a god while making themselves slaves, in the measure that the mediator is an obstacle to them. Some, pursuing this logic, come to seek the failures that are the signs of the proximity of the ideal to which they aspire. This can manifest as a heightened experience of the universal pseudo-masochism inherent in seeking the unattainable, which can, of course, turn into sadism should the actor play this part in reverse[citation needed].

This fundamental focus on mimetic desire would be pursued by Girard throughout the rest of his career. The stress on imitation in humans was not a popular subject when Girard developed his theories[citation needed], but today there is independent support for his claims coming from empirical research in psychology and neuroscience (see below).

THE VIOLENCE AND THE SACRED

Since the mimetic rivalry that develops from the struggle for the possession of the objects is contagious, it leads to the threat of violence. Girard himself says, "If there is a normal order in societies, it must be the fruit of an anterior crisis."[10] Turning his interest towards the anthropological domain, Girard began to study anthropological literature and proposed his second great hypothesis: the victimization process, which is at the origin of archaic religion and which he sets forth in his second book Violence and the Sacred (1972).

If two individuals desire the same thing, there will soon be a third, then a fourth. This process quickly snowballs. Since from the beginning the desire is aroused by the other (and not by the object) the object is soon forgotten and the mimetic conflict transforms into a general antagonism. At this stage of the crisis the antagonists will no longer imitate each other's desires for an object, but each other's antagonism. They wanted to share the same object, but now they want to destroy the same enemy. So, a paroxysm of violence would tend to focus on an arbitrary victim and a unanimous antipathy would, mimetically, grow against him. The brutal elimination of the victim would reduce the appetite for violence that possessed everyone a moment before, and leaves the group suddenly appeased and calm. The victim lies before the group, appearing simultaneously as the origin of the crisis and as the one responsible for this miracle of renewed peace. He becomes sacred, that is to say the bearer of the prodigious power of defusing the crisis and bringing peace back. Girard believes this to be the genesis of archaic religion, of ritual sacrifice as the repetition of the original event, of myth as an account of this event, of the taboos that forbid access to all the objects at the origin of the rivalries that degenerated into this absolutely traumatizing crisis. This religious elaboration takes place gradually over the course of the repetition of the mimetic crises whose resolution brings only a temporary peace. The elaboration of the rites and of the taboos constitutes a kind of empirical knowledge about violence.

Although explorers and anthropologists have not been able to witness events similar to these, which go back to the earliest times, indirect evidence for them abounds, such as the universality of ritual sacrifice and the innumerable myths that have been collected from the most varied peoples. If Girard's theory is true, then we will find in myths the culpability of the victim-god, depictions of the selection of the victim, and his power to beget the order that governs the group. Girard found these elements in numerous myths, beginning with that of Oedipus, which he analyzed in this and later books. On this question he opposes Claude Lévi-Strauss.

The phrase "scapegoat mechanism" was not coined by Girard himself; it had been used earlier by Kenneth Burke in Permanence and Change (1935) and A Grammar of Motives (1940). However, Girard took this concept from Burke and developed it much more extensively as an interpretation of human culture.

In Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978), Girard develops the implications of this discovery. The victimary process is the missing link between the animal world and the human world, the principle that explains the humanization of primates. It allows us to understand the need for sacrificial victims, which in turn explains the hunt which is primitively ritual, and the domestication of animals as a fortuitous result of the acclimatization of a reserve of victims, or agriculture. It shows that at the beginning of all culture is archaic religion, which Durkheim had sensed.[11] The elaboration of the rites and taboos by proto-human or human groups would take infinitely varied forms while obeying a rigorous practical sense that we can detect: the prevention of the return of the mimetic crisis. So we can find in archaic religion the origin of all political or cultural institutions.

According to Girard, just as the theory of natural selection of species is the rational principle that explains the immense diversity of forms of life, the victimization process is the rational principle that explains the origin of the infinite diversity of cultural forms. The analogy with Darwin also extends to the scientific status of the theory, as each of these presents itself as a hypothesis that is not capable of being proven experimentally, given the extreme amounts of time necessary to the production of the phenomena in question, but which imposes itself by its great explanatory power.

THE ORIGIN OF LANGUAGE

According to Girard, the origin of language is also related to scapegoating. After the first victim, after the murder of the first scapegoat, there were the first prohibitions and rituals, but these came into being before representation and language, hence before culture. And that means that "people" (perhaps not human beings) "will not start fighting again".[12] Girard says:

"f mimetic disruption comes back, our instinct will tell us to do again what the sacred has done to save us, which is to kill the scapegoat. Therefore it would be the force of substitution of immolating another victim instead of the first. But the relationship of this process with representation is not one that can be defined in a clear-cut way. This process would be one that moves towards representation of the sacred, towards definition of the ritual as ritual and prohibition as prohibition. But this process would already begin prior the representation, you see, because it is directly produced by the experience of the misunderstood scapegoat."[12]

According to Girard, the substitution of an immolated victim for the first, is "the very first symbolic sign created by the hominids".[13] Girard also says this is the first time that one thing represents another thing, standing in the place of this (absent) one. This substitution is the beginning of representation and language, but also the beginning of sacrifice and ritual. The genesis of language and ritual is very slow and we must imagine that there are also kinds of rituals among the animals: "It is the originary scapegoating which prolongs itself in a process which can be infinitely long in moving from, how should I say, from instinctive ritualization, instinctive prohibition, instinctive separation of the antagonists, which you already find to a certain extent in animals, towards representation."[12]

Unlike Eric Gans, Girard does not think that there is an original scene during which there is "a sudden shift from non-representation to representation",[12] or a sudden shift from animality to humanity. According to the French sociologist Camille Tarot, it is hard to understand how the process of representation (symbolicity, language...) actually occurs and he has called this a black box in Girard's theory.[14]

Girard also says:

"One great characteristic of man is what they [the authors of the modern theory of evolution] call neoteny, the fact that the human infant is born premature, with an open skull, no hair and a total inability to fend for himself. To keep it alive, therefore, there must be some form of cultural protection, because in the world of mammals, such infants would not survive, they would be destroyed. Therefore there is a reason to believe that in the later stages of human evolution, culture and nature are in constant interaction. The first stages of this interaction must occur prior to language, but they must include forms of sacrifice and prohibition that create a space of non-violence around the mother and the children which make it possible to reach still higher stages of human development. You can postulate as many such stages as are needed. Thus, you can have a transition between ethology and anthropology which removes, I think, all philosophical postulates. The discontinuities would never be of such a nature as to demand some kind of sudden intellectual illumination."[12]


JUDEO-CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES

BIBILICAL TEXT AS A SCIENCE OF MAN

In Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, Girard discusses for the first time Christianity and the Bible. The Gospels ostensibly present themselves as a typical mythical account, with a victim-god lynched by a unanimous crowd, an event that is then commemorated by Christians through ritual sacrifice — a material re-presentation in this case — in the Eucharist. The parallel is perfect except for one detail: the truth of the innocence of the victim is proclaimed by the text and the writer. The mythical account is usually built on the lie of the guilt of the victim inasmuch as it is an account of the event seen from the viewpoint of the anonymous lynchers. This ignorance is indispensable to the efficacy of the sacrificial violence.

The evangelical "good news" clearly affirms the innocence of the victim, thus becoming, by attacking ignorance, the germ of the destruction of the sacrificial order on which rests the equilibrium of societies. Already the Old Testament shows this turning inside-out of the mythic accounts with regard to the innocence of the victims (Abel, Joseph, Job, ...), and the Hebrews were conscious of the uniqueness of their religious tradition. With the Gospels, it is with full clarity that are unveiled these "things hidden since the foundation of the world" (Matthew 13:35), the foundation of social order on murder, described in all its repulsive ugliness in the account of the Passion.

This revelation is even clearer because the text is a work on desire and violence, from the serpent setting alight the desire of Eve in paradise to the prodigious strength of the mimetism that brings about the denial of Peter during the Passion (Mark 14: 66-72; Luke 22:54-62). Girard reinterprets certain biblical expressions in light of his theories; for instance, he sees "scandal" (skandalon, literally, a "snare", or an "impediment placed in the way and causing one to stumble or fall"[15]) as signifying mimetic rivalry, for example Peter's denial of Jesus.[16] No one escapes responsibility, neither the envious nor the envied: "Woe to the man through whom scandal comes" (Matthew 18:7).

CHRISTIAN SOCIETY

The evangelical revelation contains the truth on the violence, available for two thousand years, Girard tells us. Has it put an end to the sacrificial order based on violence in the society that has claimed the gospel text as its own religious text? No, he replies, since in order for a truth to have an impact it must find a receptive listener, and people do not change that quickly. The gospel text has instead acted as a ferment that brings about the decomposition of the sacrificial order. While medieval Europe showed the face of a sacrificial society that still knew very well how to despise and ignore its victims, nonetheless the efficacy of sacrificial violence has never stopped decreasing, in the measure that ignorance receded. Here Girard sees the principle of the uniqueness and of the transformations of the Western society whose destiny today is one with that of human society as a whole.

Does the retreat of the sacrificial order mean less violence? Not at all; rather, it deprives modern societies of most of the capacity of sacrificial violence to establish temporary order. The "innocence" of the time of the ignorance is no more. On the other hand, Christianity, following the example of Judaism, has desacralized the world, making possible a utilitarian relationship with nature. Increasingly threatened by the resurgence of mimetic crises on a grand scale, the contemporary world is on one hand more quickly caught up by its guilt, and on the other hand has developed such a great technical power of destruction that it is condemned to both more and more responsibility and less and less innocence. So, for example, while empathy for victims manifests progress in the moral conscience of society, it nonetheless also takes the form of a competition among victims that threatens an escalation of violence.


* * * * * * * * * * *




The judgement of the cross
[Is the Gospel about the Penal-Substitutionary Atonement of God's Judgment upon Christ?]
http://www.faithmeetsworld.com/the-judgement-of-the-cross/

by Michael Hardin
July 14, 2015

“Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” (John 12:31)

Christians are generally accustomed to speaking of the cross as the place and time where God enacted judgement on the world. But what does this actually mean, and what are its implications?

Usually, the cross as the place of judgement is understood to mean the physical location where God poured out his wrath upon Jesus. Here, wrath is understood as the punishment for our sin which God, in his justice, is obliged to mete out: namely death. And Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, gamely hangs on the cross in our place and bears the brunt of God’s implacable justice so that we, in spite of our sin, can escape punishment.

And the cross as the time of judgement is understood as the point in history when God sovereignly intervened in human affairs to solve humanity’s sin problem as described above.

So there we have it: time and place come together at the cross as Jesus bears God’s punishment for our sin. This, then, is the judgement of the cross: a resounding verdict of “Guilty!” pronounced upon the human race by God, accompanied by an unappealable death sentence. The twist is that Christ comes in as an innocent victim to serve the sentence in our place.

This is what I believed without a second thought for most of my Christian life. Until I began, through a process of reading and thinking, to see some gaping holes in it:

Hole number 1: In this view, God is not free to simply forgive sin; he is beholden to a higher principle of justice that must be obeyed. This is a major philosophical and theological problem, because if God is God, there clearly cannot be any higher principle than himself by which he is bound.

Hole number 2: Following on from hole number 1, since God is bound by a higher principle of justice that must be satisfied, the only way he can forgive us is through some kind of transaction. His end of the transaction is that someone has to die, since the wages of sin is death. Jesus agrees to be that someone, so God can now forgive us because his perfect son has died in our place, thus balancing the scales of justice. The problem here is that this is supposedly the same God who elsewhere in scripture instructs us to freely forgive others, even as we have been forgiven. So God requires a different standard of his children – free forgiveness – than he himself is prepared to meet. Hmm.

Hole number 3: This understanding makes God into a God who uses scapegoating to accomplish his purposes. In this view, Jesus is a God-ordained scapegoat. The groundbreaking work of French philosopher and anthropologist René Girard has shown that scapegoating is a uniquely human phenomenon that lies at the very foundation of human society. Scapegoating is an evil practice because it shifts blame for a community’s ills onto an innocent victim and then buries that victim so that life can go on as before. The innocent is made to pay the price for the guilty, so that the guilty can carry on unreformed. Do we really think the God who is supposedly the apex of love and compassion would endorse such a practice, let alone deliberately use it as a mechanism of justice?

Hole number 4: This view treats sin as a legal problem to be settled, an equation to be solved. In doing so, it shifts sin from the concrete to the abstract. Thus, the event of the cross does little or nothing to actually address the here-and-now reality of humanity’s sin; it merely promises a clean legal record to anyone who puts their faith in Jesus.

I could go on, but I think those holes are already quite large enough.

In this classic view, then, the outcome of the judgement that takes place at the cross is this: humanity is found deserving of death because God must actively mete out punishment to all sinners; and God is not averse to engaging in the evil practice of scapegoating in order to see Lady Justice satisfied. This judgement, I contend, is as much an indictment of God as it is of humanity. Both humanity and God are found wanting: humanity because of our sin and God because of his willingness – nay, his requirement – to deal out violent death in response.

How, then, are we to understand the judgement of the cross? If not sin as a universal abstraction, what exactly was being judged at the cross?

Let me first make a statement, which I will then try to unpack: the cross judges the world in that it proves that none of our violence or accusation was ever rooted in God.

Humanity’s number one problem is and always has been violence. Physical violence, verbal violence, mental violence. Violence expressed in war, in oppression, in racial hatred, in intolerance. Violence manifested in mistrust, suspicion, accusation and blame. We don’t mind talking about sin because it’s such an imprecise, abstract term that it’s easy to hide from its implications. But as soon as we talk about violence in its many and various expressions, we are all implicated.

So what has this to do with the judgement of the cross? Well, one of the main ways in which humanity has sought to justify its violence throughout history is by claiming it to be divinely sanctioned, or even divinely ordained. We can see this in various places throughout the Old Testament, and we can still see it in the world today. And if God, the ultimate authority, sanctions human violence, how can the cycle of violence ever be broken? Answer: it can’t, and so the world keeps on spinning ever faster along a trajectory of escalating violence. That way lies apocalyptic destruction.

What happened, then, at the cross? Far from revealing God to be the ultimate dispenser of violence, the cross showed that God would rather die than engage in violence of any kind.

The cross drew a sharp distinction between humanity and God. Humanity gravitates towards violence as the final solution for every problem, and is prepared to engage in scapegoating and lynching to preserve the status quo. God, on the other hand, eschews all forms of violence and, in going to the cross, exposes scapegoating as the structural evil that it is.

God is not judged and found wanting at the cross: on the contrary, he is decisively shown to be genuinely, truly, perfectly good and non-violent. What is judged is the world, the kosmos, civilisation and the wicked systems of violence and injustice that underpin it. And, most importantly, humankind’s favourite excuse for its violence – God told me to! – is forever obliterated.

I must draw this to a close before it turns into a ramble. But before I do, let me make one final point. I believe the cross was and is a judgement that has power to transform individual and collective life in the here and now, not simply to leave the status quo undisturbed pending a post-mortem deliverance. And how does it achieve such transformation? It does so by starkly revealing the problem of human violence and showing the only way in which the cycle of violence can be broken: free and unconditional forgiveness, first from God to humankind, and then from human to human.

As he goes to the cross, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do”. And as he returns from the grave three days later, he announces not vengeance but peace. The cycle is broken.

The cross is a judgement, yes, but it is a judgement of light and life. The question is, are we prepared to see it that way, release our tight grip on violence and enter into the virtuous cycle of forgiveness and peace?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What Difference Does an Errant Bible Make? A Lot!


I Am the Very Model of a Biblical Philologist


Published on Dec 11, 2014A biblical- and ancient-Near-Eastern-studies–themed parody of "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General" from The Pirates of Penzance. Lyrics, musical arrangement, and vocals by Joshua Tyra, ⓒ 2011. Music by Sir Arthur Sullivan, original lyrics by William S. Gilbert.


Denial of the inerrancy of the Bible is not the start of a slippery slope on the way to
'doctrines of demons.' The repudiation of inerrancy (from Turretin to Warfield and the 
Chicago Statement of Faith) is the beginning of being able to 'rightly divide the word
of  truth. - Michael Hardin


"Biblical criticism is perennially caught between the Scylla of interpretive freedom and the
Charybdis of irrelevance. Too much hermeneutic freedom and the tradition disintegrates,
losing its epistemological appeal. Too little interpretive freedom and the Bible becomes
merely an irrelevant historical artifact, rather than the living word of God." Inherently,
evangelical biblical interpretation is unquestionably caught between a need for relevance
and the need for textual validity." - R.E. Slater


I begin this post with a humorous video on biblical philology to show just how intense the discussion of the truthfulness of the bible can be with many readers and academics. Over the several years of writing Relevancy22 I have attempted to sort out how to read the bible authoritatively but not with the "literal authority" so many have come to identify it with.

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Wikipedia - Philology

Philology is the study of language in written historical sources; it is a combination of literary criticism, history, and linguistics.[1] It is more commonly defined as the study of literary texts and written records, the establishment of their authenticity and their original form, and the determination of their meaning.

Classical philology is the philology of Classical Sanskrit, Greek and Classical Latin. Classical philology is historically originating principally from the Library of Pergamum and the Library of Alexandria[2] around the 4th century BCE, continued by Greeks and Romans throughout the Roman and Byzantine Empires, preserved and promoted during the Islamic Golden Age and eventually taken up by European scholars of The Renaissance, where it was soon joined by philologies of other languages both European (Germanic, Celtic, Slavistics, etc.) and non-European (Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, Chinese, etc.). Indo-European studies involves the comparative philology of all Indo-European languages.

Any classical language can be studied philologically, and indeed describing a language as "classical" is to imply the existence of a philological tradition associated with it[citation needed].

Because of its focus on historical development (diachronic analysis), philology came to be used as a term contrasting with linguistics. This is due to a 20th-century development triggered by Ferdinand de Saussure's insistence on the importance of synchronic analysis, and the later emergence of structuralism and Chomskyan linguistics with its emphasis on syntax.

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By teaching a "literal bible" we come into all sorts of errors and misjudgments about the Christian faith and what it should mean for ourselves. A faith too easily subverted towards arguing for fallible human judgments rather than searching our hearts and minds for its truths. We grant to this kind of a bible a status of "infallible revelation" which in time comes to mean "what we want it to mean" and not what it is teaching. We claim an infallibility to its authorship rather than to understand those writers as fallible teachers even as we are ourselves are to God's modes, methods, and means of revealing Himself to the world. We confuse an "inspired book" with an inspiring Holy Spirit and raise the bible upon an "altar of ourselves" rather than submit it to the very One who is its words in Jesus. The very One whom demonstrated how errant temple teachings may become when lifting religion over faith, merciless judgment over grace and forgiveness, doctrine over compassion. That humanly constructed dogmas create undue boundaries that are unfounded and untrue despite our all-too-human attempts to make them true.

As such, I have made a plea to read the bible sensibly and with a mindset to its discovery beyond the words and ancient logics applied to its pages over the centuries by the church. To not over-read it by forcing upon its text our own pet doctrines, dogmas, and traditional church folklores as we have been taught. Nor to under-read it as if it were simply another piece of uninspired, unauthoritative, fallible book of literary quality. That in some sense, as a human production it is, but in another sense, it is not, having been written by God Himself through the pens of fallible prophets, priests, and kings. Without its divine communication we are left to the human senses of natural theology, logic, and philosophy. But with its revelation we must struggle with what all this must mean to ourselves and our world.

And so, the bible is not simply a human production but a graced collective of many events, experiences, and teachings from God Himself who has used these life settings to tell us of Himself, His mission, and His love. Without this (divine) revelation we would be the poorer. In essence, the bible becomes the Bible for those of us touched by God's grace, mercy, and forgiveness. It is a holy thing but not so holy as to be handled without asking the basic questions we would ask of any author, plot device, or storyline set in time and space, event and liturgy.

Inasmuch then, the Bible will discriminate against us, condemn us, praise us, ask pithy questions of our true nature and intentions, isolate us, and project us forward into new ways of thinking and behaviors we would not have thought possible without its force in our lives. As such, it is to be treated both lightly and reverently, roughly and maddeningly, dispassionately and passionately, by all that is within our natures as we wrestle like the patriarch Jacob of old (Genesis 32.22-32). Not with its own documentaries but with the documentary of the Spirit of God within our own lives refusing to relent of the Hound of Heaven's grip upon us until He touches us upon our thigh to end the fight and we receive some moticum of His grace, protection, leadership, and guidance.

And it is to this end that the doctrine of Inerrancy was formed. To avow God's leadership in the lives of His people searching for a simpler way to keep the revelation of God from becoming a common thing. And it is not without appreciating this motive that I write here today. It is a worthy motive attempted - but a motive that makes of Christianity its own worse enemy by blinding it to the natural struggle we should have with God's words and movement both in our lives and in the life of the world itself.

I would much prefer an errant Bible over an inerrant bible (notice the "B/b's") for I think it is all too easy to confuse our words with God's when we pretend to interpret its pages according to the book of ourselves and not the book of Jesus. I do believe it is possible to have an uplifted sense of the Bible as God's divine revelation by holding to its errancy, fallibility, and existential struggle to find self and identity, purpose and mission, meaning and hope, courage and strength, in a wicked world devoted to distancing and defeating the God of all grace and mercy. I fear though, when we replace our words with God's when holding to an inerrant, infallible, authoritative bible, then grants all forms of Christian vitriol, prejudice, militarism, and cultural nationalism, when led out by well-meaning, but wholly fallible, preaching and church standards.

In many ways this sounds paradoxical. And I admit, it is. But I would rather hold to a Bible that might question myself than to a bible that questions everyone else but myself (sic, "since I alone know the truth as I have interpreted it and preached it to others different from myself"). If anything, the Christian path of enlightenment is fraught with misjudgment, failure, a process of unlearning what we thought we knew, and deep humility. Holding to an errant Bible allows me to preach it strongly - but also weakly - in grace and humility than with the blinded vigor of religious zeal. It allows me to search its Scripture with more of an open mind and heart than with preformed personal judgments. It judges myself before I judge others. It seeks the plank out of mine own eye than that of another. It searches me before it searches my world. And many times it tells me I am the one who must change and not the other guy I deemed too crude, unworthy, or condemned.

In contrast, a document whose outlay I already know by heart from youth is not a document that is any longer open but closed to my deceitful heart. It demands my obedience to its interpretations as I have learned it from others - usually interpretations that are less than generous, critical of society, and refusing to see God's handiwork everywhere about us (unless it is on my own terms and cognition). This is the kind of document I fear has been formed in the wake of the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy (see description below). It purports on openness but doesn't listen to anyone beyond its own fellowship. Refusing broader discussions that would question why it holds to what it holds simply on the grounds that "the bible tells me so!" as I know it and understand it. It requires a simultaneous sophistication of thinking while learning to more humbly listen to other viewpoints and claimants. It is a more messy process of struggling with God than what I have learned from my past which has spiritualized everything in its wake with "biblical doctrine and verse" (according to the doctrines and interpretations of the evangelist I read or listened to at one time or another).

Lastly, I've grown up with a lot of specious, or false, logic in my day. Too much of it actually. The article by R.C. Sproul is an instance of this thinking basing itself on the presumed description that the bible is "inerrant" in all its stories and content. As such, Sproul goes through the logic of his position as he judges the worldly discipline of higher criticism (including the young man who holds this position) as being inferior to his superior position of biblical inerrancy. It is the kind of "spiritualized logic" or "evangelic apologetic" that is all too frequently heard from my fellowship group. It provides comfort to the reader choosing to follow Sproul and his teachings but condemnation to the "unworthy one" who would disagree with him, like myself.

And so, it has been from within this church environment I have been re-birthed into the wider world of an errant Bible. One that I hope provides more hope and greater force of spirituality than I presently see in the church's pre-modern doctrines and statements of Protestant Scholasticism (see below), contemporary Fundamentalism, and conservative Evangelicalism. More the rather, I know the Word of God as the progressive, post-modern church of Jesus Christ searching for a broader anthropologic hermeneutic based upon a radicalizing theology admitting contemporary sciences and other academic disciplines into the discussion of God, world, event, sin, and salvation. This I believe gives to the Bible its greatest breadth and depth of reading and interpretation while also importantly allowing its skeptics and disbelievers to read and engage as well rather than disallowing any efforts of agnosticism or atheism to broach its pages.

In some small sense, this messiness I have entered into has created a very necessary transitionary bridge that I write of here again and again at Relevancy22. One that might cross over from the old world into the next world to come. It has not been an easy struggle. Nor should it be, because I have left many a good heart and intention in the transition between old and new. And yet, it must be done and will be done, if not by myself, than by others who I use quite liberally when discovering meaning response and thought. The gospel of Christ is too precious a thing to leave unfolded and unread by hot and bitter eyes by either believer or unbeliever alike. It demands a cost. A martyrdom of self. A hope that gives life rather than take it away. And it is this hope which I wish to grant again as a preacher of God's Holy Word. A hope of reclamation of humanity to itself through love and service to one another as unto God Himself. 

To Jesus our Saviour, Redeemer, Lord, and most benevolent of Kings,

Peace,

R.E. Slater
July 15, 2015

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Wikipedia - Inerrancy

Biblical inerrancy, as formulated in the "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy", is the doctrine that the Bible "is without error or fault in all its teaching";[1] or, at least, that "Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact".[2]

A formal statement in favor of biblical inerrancy was published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society in 1978.[3] The signatories to the "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy" admit that "inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture". However, even though there may be no extant original manuscripts of the Bible, those which exist can be considered inerrant, because, as the statement reads: "the autographic text of Scripture, ... in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy".[4]

Some equate inerrancy with infallibility; others do not.[5][6] Biblical inerrancy should not be confused with Biblical literalism.

There are a minority of biblical inerrantists who go further than the "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy", arguing that the original text has been perfectly preserved and passed down through time.

The copies of the original language texts that are used by modern translators as the source for translations of the books of the Bible are reconstructions of the original text. Today's versions are based upon scholarly comparison of thousands of biblical manuscripts (such as the Dead Sea Scrolls) and thousands of biblical citations in the writings of the earlyChurch Fathers.[7]

The "doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture"[8] held by the Catholic Church, as expressed by the Second Vatican Council, is that "the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation."[9]

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Wikipedia - Scholasticism

Scholasticism is a method of critical thought which dominated teaching by the academics ("scholastics," or "schoolmen") of medieval universities in Europe from about 1100 to 1700, and a program of employing that method in articulating and defending dogma in an increasingly pluralistic context. It originated as an outgrowth of, and a departure from, Christian monastic schools at the earliest European universities.[1] The first institutions in the West to be considered universities were established in Italy, France, Spain, and England in the late 11th and the 12th centuries for the study of arts, law, medicine, and theology,[2] such as Schola Medica Salernitana, the University of Bologna, and the University of Paris. It is difficult to define the date at which they became true universities, although the lists of studia generalia for higher education in Europe held by the Catholic Church and its various religious orders are a useful guide.

Not so much a philosophy or a theology as a method of learning, scholasticism places a strong emphasis on dialectical reasoning to extend knowledge by inference, and to resolve contradictions. Scholastic thought is also known for rigorous conceptual analysis and the careful drawing of distinctions. In the classroom and in writing, it often takes the form of explicit disputation: a topic drawn from the tradition is broached in the form of a question, opponents' responses are given, a counterproposal is argued and opponent's arguments rebutted. Because of its emphasis on rigorous dialectical method, scholasticism was eventually applied to many other fields of study.

As a program, scholasticism began as an attempt at harmonization on the part of medieval Christian thinkers: to harmonize the various authorities of their own tradition, and to reconcile Christian theology with classical and late antiquity philosophy, especially that of Aristotle but also of Neoplatonism.[3] (See also Christian apologetics.)

Some of the main figures of scholasticism include Anselm of Canterbury, Peter Abelard, Alexander of Hales, Albertus Magnus, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, Bonaventure, and Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas's masterwork Summa Theologica, considered to be the pinnacle of scholastic, medieval, and Christian philosophy,[4] began while Aquinas was regent master at the studium provinciale of Santa Sabina in Rome, the forerunner of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum. Important work in the scholastic tradition has been carried on well past Aquinas's time, for instance by Francisco Suárez and Luis de Molina, and also among Lutheran and Reformed thinkers.


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What Difference Does an Inerrant Bible Make?
http://www.ligonier.org/blog/what-difference-does-inerrant-bible-make/

March 4, 2015

Does it matter whether the Bible is errant or inerrant, fallible or infallible, inspired or uninspired? What’s all the fuss about the doctrine of inerrancy? Why do Christians debate this issue? What difference does an inerrant Bible make?

Before answering that question, we should consider in what way inerrancy doesn’t make a difference. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy states:

We affirm that a confession of the full authority, infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture is vital to a sound understanding of the whole of the Christian faith. We further affirm that such confession should lead to increasing conformity to the image of Christ. We denythat such confession is necessary for salvation. However, we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences both to the individual and to the church (Article 19).

The statement strikes a delicate balance. It affirms that the doctrine of inerrancy is “vital to a sound understanding of the whole of the Christian faith” and that to deny it has grave consequences for the individual and the church. However, this statement also makes clear that belief in inerrancy is not necessary for salvation. While inerrancy is crucial for understanding the Christian faith and “increasing conformity to the image of Christ,” a person does not have to hold to it to be a Christian.

The Authority of Christ

But what difference does the inerrancy of Scripture make? Why does it matter? There are many ways in which it matters a great deal. However, ultimately, the inerrancy of Scripture is not a doctrine about a book. The issue is the person and work of Christ.

Allow me to illustrate. Years ago I was speaking in Philadelphia on the question of the authority of Scripture. After my lecture I came down to the front of the church, and I saw a man making his way toward me. Instantly, I recognized his face, even though it had been about twenty years since I’d seen him last. His name was Charlie. We were roommates in college and prayer partners. We made our way through the crowd and embraced one another.

We dismissed ourselves from the conference and went out for dinner. As we sat down, Charlie said to me, “Before we have a conversation, there is something I have to tell you.” I said, “What’s that?” He told me, “I don’t believe any more what I used to believe about Scripture when we were in college together. Back then I believed in inerrancy, but I’ve been to seminary and have been exposed to higher criticism. I just don’t believe that the Bible is inerrant anymore. I wanted to clear the air so that we can go on from there.” I replied, “Fine, Charlie, but let me ask you this. What do you still believe from the old days?” And triumphantly Charlie said, “I still believe that Jesus Christ is my Savior and my Lord.” I was happy to hear that, but then I started to ask questions that clearly made Charlie uncomfortable.

I asked, “Charlie, how is Jesus Lord of your life?” He replied, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, a Lord is someone who exercises authority over you, who gives you marching orders, who has the ability to compel you to obey, and who requires you to submit to obligation and duty. If Christ is your Lord, aren’t you saying He has sovereign authority over you?” “Yeah,” he said.

I probed a little deeper, “How does Christ exercise that sovereignty over you? How do you get your marching orders from Him? It’s apparently not from the Bible.” Charlie thought for a moment, “I get it from the church.” I said, “Okay, which church? The Methodist Church, the Episcopalian Church, the Roman Catholic Church, or the Presbyterian Church?” He answered, “The Presbyterian Church.” I then asked, “The Presbyterian Church in Wichita, the Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, or the Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia—which church?” He answered, “The General Assembly.” I replied, “Which General Assembly?” He finally admitted, “Well, I’ve got some problems that I haven’t worked out yet.” I said, “You certainly do have problems that you haven’t worked out yet. You want to affirm the Lordship of Christ, but your Lord is impotent. He has no way of conveying any mandate to you whatsoever, because you stand above the recorded mandates of Christ in Scripture. You set yourself over them in critical judgment.”

The Integrity of Christ

At this point, our conversation shifted from the question of authority to the question of salvation. I asked Charlie, “What would it take for Jesus to save you? If Jesus sinned, could He save Himself? Could He save you?” He acknowledged that if Jesus were a sinner, He couldn’t save Himself, let alone Charlie and me. But then Charlie asked, “What difference does it make whether we believe in inerrancy? And how does Jesus’ being sinless relate to your point?” “Because Charlie,” I said, “Jesus taught inerrancy.”

My conversation with Charlie demonstrated an interesting phenomenon. Charlie, like many contemporary biblical scholars who deny inerrancy, agreed that Jesus of Nazareth believed and taught what we would today call the doctrine of inerrancy. At the same time, like many contemporary biblical scholars who deny inerrancy, Charlie confessed Jesus as His Lord and Savior. But that is inconsistent, and I wanted to point that out to my friend. So I asked him, “Okay, now you are disagreeing not with me or B. B. Warfield or Charles Hodge of the old Princeton School. Now you are quarreling with Jesus and the apostles and the prophets. Were they wrong?” He said, “Yes, they were wrong.” “Okay,” I said. “Think seriously about it. What are the implications of Jesus being wrong about His doctrine of Scripture?” Charlie, an astute theologian, said, “Look, R.C., what difference does it make whether Jesus was wrong? Jesus doesn’t have to be omniscient to be my Savior.” I agreed, “He doesn’t.”

The issue in our conversation, however, was not omniscience. When we talk about omniscience, we are talking about an attribute of God. That is, God knows everything. Charlie’s point was that Jesus—touching his human nature—did not know all things. He then went right to the Bible to prove it, pointing out, for example, that Jesus does not know the day and hour of His return (Matt. 24:36). But the conversation I had with Charlie wasn’t really about omniscience. It was actually about sinlessness.

Touching His human nature, Jesus is not required to be omniscient to be my Savior. However, He is required to be sinless. Jesus would be numbered among the transgressors for teaching an error. He claimed to speak on the basis on His Father’s authority (John 8:28; 14:10). He also declared, “I am the truth” (John 14:6). That is the highest claim to teaching authority ever uttered. If a man who claims to be the truth and to say nothing except by divine authority teaches error, that’s sin. And if He sins once, we don’t have a Savior. That’s what is at stake.

When I spelled this out for Charlie, he told me, “I’ve got a problem.” To which I replied, “Yes, you do. You want to get rid of Jesus’ view of Scripture and hold onto Him as your Savior and Lord. You’re on very shaky grounds, if you want to be consistent.” Charlie was living in the delightful breeze of a happy inconsistency. But do you see what the issue is here? It is the integrity of Christ.

Charlie is a good example of a person who can deny inerrancy but still believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior. But this is possible only if one is inconsistent. Happily, God doesn’t demand perfect consistency in our theology for salvation. If that were the case, no sinner could be saved because no sinner holds to a perfect theology. That doesn’t mean, however, that we should be content with inconsistency. At the end of the day, inerrancy is inseparable from Christology. If Jesus didn’t teach this view of Scripture, the argument would be over. The issue is not the sacrosanctity of a book, a “paper pope,” or bibliolatry. The issue at stake is the integrity of the person and work of Jesus. He can save us only if He is sinless, and He is sinless only if all of His teaching—including what He teaches about Scripture—is true.






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In lieu of Michael's article below refer to Wikipedia's article on:
(sic, Memetic Desire & Violence and the Sacred)


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Rene Girard with Michael Hardin


FINDING OUR WAY HOME:
A BRIEF NOTE ON THE AUTHORITY
AND INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE


by Michael Hardin

December 2003

Dear Jeff,

You recently asked me to write something on Jesus’ hermeneutic. That one can even speak of Jesus’ hermeneutic is a blessing today. Between the churches removal of Jesus behind the veil of dualism and the academy’s burial of Jesus in historical science, it truly is a wonder that we are able to speak the words Jesus and hermeneutic in the same breath.

Some thirty years ago when I began studying Scripture, I found that I had a lot of questions. Every subject I tackled led to ten more subjects, all of which I felt driven to understand just to comprehend whatever book I was reading at the time. Over the years, I have accumulated hundreds of thousands of questions, the questions of the authors whose books I have read.

Their questions led me on some amazing journeys with breath-taking vistas around every corner. Writers from all places and times, backgrounds and faiths each seemed to have a piece to contribute to the overall picture. More so, many of these writers captivated me and I read everything they wrote that I could get my hands on. I could sense that somewhere deep within the questions was a solution. I knew that Jesus was that solution.

I believe that Jesus has something to teach us and tell us about the Creator that we have consistently missed throughout our history, Christians included. It is the secret of the kingdom of heaven: God is forgiving, God is not conflicted, and God is not violent. Jesus’ Jewish spirituality recognizes this through and through. It is the one singular thing his contemporaries did not want to hear. It is the one singular thing we do not want to hear. Jesus’ God is not an angry God. It is demonstrated in the way he lives and forgives others in the name of this God. It (this life of forgiveness) is, in a sense, ontologized within history as the eschatological horizon of the resurrection; the resurrection of the forgiving innocent victim. It is the one message that is differentiated from every other form of religious discourse. Jesus teaches us this.

However, it is necessary for us to understand the roots and trajectories of our sacrificial thinking as Christians. We need to deconstruct before we can re-construct. Sort of like what the folks on the PBS show This Old House do. They take an old house whose structure is solid, take it down to the basics, which are sound, and re-build on that structure. Christian theology, for me, is like This Old House. It is tired, old, worn, beaten and generally in great need of repair. Through the eyes of the folks who rebuild houses and see within a decrepit building a beautiful home that with time, effort and attention can be an enjoyable habitation, so also I think we can do the same with Christian theology.

Theology is a beautiful science because theology is about Jesus
Let’s look at some of the stuff on our theological house that is no longer useful. Let’s examine whether or not we need to restructure some of the interior of our house. Then let’s rebuild.

Using Paul Ricoeur’s language we might say that if the church is mired in a first naivete, the academy is no less stuck in critical distance. Neither one is able to speak of Jesus credibly with any sense of unity. It is the third stage of the understanding process, which Ricoeur calls a ‘second naivete’ from which I write. Since I am neither in the academy nor in the parish, I do not feel constrained by either when I consider the question of Jesus’ hermeneutic. The ‘historical Jesus’ is slick and slippery, and just when you think you have a grasp, he slips away. The ‘Christ of faith’ is a gigantic monolith, high and exalted, encrusted with traditions. If the ‘Christ of faith’ represents the ‘first naivete’ and the ‘historical Jesus’ represents the ‘critical distance’ then how shall we describe ‘second naivete?’ In order to do so, it is crucial to shift our perspective on the either/or of the question to this: what is the relationship of the Jesus of faith to the Christ of history? Must we not begin with the presupposition that as bearers of God’s Spirit we already know the Lord Jesus? What we need to discern are the ways both the church and the academy have embellished the living Jesus with their Christologies.

Christological duality, which is and always has been, the big issue in both the church and the academy, need not be necessary if one moves the question to a position of ‘second naivete.’ But how can we justify such on both anthropological and theological grounds? You already know how I will answer this: by turning to Rene Girard and Karl Barth. These are the two significant twentieth century thinkers who moved beyond Platonic dualism to construct a Christology that is true to Jesus. One did it from an anthropological perspective, the other from a theological one. But both succeeded because they both began with the cross of Jesus.

The early Christians understood that this whole resurrection/life thing existed only because there was a crucifixion/death thing. The resurrection was a vindication of this death that was forgiving, and this life and ministry that was all about forgiveness. In the resurrection God does not retaliate, God forgives. This is the message of the early church. It encompasses the entire Jesus reality: Jesus as Spirit and Jesus’ story were woven of the same stuff.

We also must not forget that the perspective of the New Testament is ‘from below’, that is, it is written from the perspective of the persecuted. This is of strategic importance. All of the complaints that have been made against the Christian churches are derived from the fact that the very church which is grounded in the forgiveness of the Cross of Jesus, and whose texts are written from the perspective of the persecuted, does itself persecute and justifies persecution by an appeal to these texts. There is very little that is apostolic about the modern church.

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Before I turn to your question about Jesus’ hermeneutic, I must do so by way of reviewing the hermeneutic problem that exists in the modern American churches as well as modern theology. I can only state a very general thesis because I want to paint a big picture, whose details I can fill in if you have questions. Then I will really turn my attention to Jesus and Scripture. In so doing, I hope I will have expressed the answer to your question.

Throughout our conversations these past years, you and I have turned many questions on their head, looked at them from what we might call a ‘hermeneutic from below.’ Our general theme has examined the question, ‘what would the church look like if it looked like Jesus?’ This is a sociological concern we have had because we sense that a group of Christians, ‘a Christian society’, should, after all, look like Christ. And the problem is that it does, it looks like a Christology, but it doesn’t look like Jesus.

If we acknowledge that Jesus’ ministry was all about forgiveness and the extent of God’s mercy and love, then what happens when at the critical point, the point of the cross, we import the notion of God’s non-forgiveness or wrath. We completely ignore the explicit text “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” The consequence of this is that the seeds of mythology are sown in the gospel. And the text, which is ignored, that is, extruded or victimized, becomes transformed or sacralized. The theological expression for this is what is popularly known as the doctrine of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. This doctrine is a foil, to hide the truth, because it origins always stem from a lie. Whether the lie of romantic ‘individualism’ or the lie that the victim got what they deserved, one can inevitably trace back all arguments for this doctrine to the need to justify violence, the need for divine sanction when violent. We need a violent precedent on a cosmic scale to justify our sacrificial tendencies. 

In the essay “The Biblical Testaments as a Marriage of Convenience” I laid out an essential framework for the problem as I conceive it. The issue was about what occurred when Christian theology and life began to become dualistic. What I observed is that there is a direct correlation between the use of Scripture and the theological scapegoating that began with Judaism and ended with paganism. This sacrificial hermeneutic is found only on the fringes of the apostolic canon. The apostolic canon reveals a non-sacrificial hermeneutic for the most part. The early church I am sure did its best when dealing with those she felt had crossed over the border. But once Marcion and Justin Martyr get the sacrificial ball rolling, it rolls all the way to Augustine who has heaved it down through history to our time.

The consequence of this is what I have called the Christian myth, the myth of the violence of God in Christ. No matter what form it takes, it is a sacrificial, and thus mythological, reading of the scriptures. The marks of myth will be evident in such a reading: justification for the killing of the victim and justice for God. This is one of the greater burdens of modern Christianity, the so-called penal theory of the atonement, which Anthony Bartlett has so well analyzed from the perspective of mimetic theory (Cross Purposes).

The alternative to this way of rendering Scripture I have termed gospel. It recognizes the impact Jesus’ life has when framing mimesis, particularly when it comes to discussing positive mimesis. The most direct consequence of this is that it develops a non-sacrificial reading of the text with extraordinary implications for theology as it is popularly constructed. This has been demonstrated time and again not only by Rene Girard but also by those who have applied mimetic theory to the gospels. Raymund Schwager has pioneered the way, along with Bob Hamerton-Kelly, Gil Bailie, Walter Wink and a host of others.

There is thus a manifest congruence between Jesus’ life as expressed in the Gospels and the application of that Life by the Spirit in the church. The early Christians died in the same manner, as had their Master, forgiving and non-retaliatory. They produced the letters and gospels of the Biblical canon. Can we ignore their choice for non-retribution or that of their Master, the Lord Jesus? Can we further ignore that their life with Jesus as Spirit and their recollections of Jesus as human were one and the same? Of course when we read the Gospels they will tell us as much about the early Christians as they do about Jesus. This is because the early Christians were all about Jesus! We don’t need to be rocket scientists to figure this one out.

All of our fretting and worrying over the ‘ipsissima vox/verba’ of Jesus’ teaching is just a reflection of our desire to get beyond the mythological ‘Christs of history.’ We shall come back to this in another place. We need to address the modern origins of the far more troublesome doctrine of Biblical infallibility.

The failure of the Reformers was that neither Luther nor Calvin was willing to rethink Augustine. Augustine was accepted as their ‘early Church’ authority because Augustine loomed large in Roman Catholic theology and still does. Augustine was the first thinker to bring together two words that heretofore had only been eschatologically united: civilization and Christian. Augustine’s attempt to conceive a Christian culture would mean the merging of Christianity and culture. But as all culture is mimetic and violent in nature, this resulted in the predominance of violent, mimetic Christianity. Thus the groundwork was laid for Augustinian thought in the assimilation of two kingdoms, the church and the state, the two Testaments, law and gospel, Christ and all the other gods. Augustine’s flattening of Holy Scripture undergirds the view of inspiration taught in both Catholic as well as Protestant churches. ‘The Bible is God’s holy Word.’ Christian Platonism with its ‘analogia entis’ (analogy of being) had thoroughly shifted the trajectory of the Christian gospel. It was now on a heading for Myth. And the Reformers did little to stop this (although I think Luther did a better job than Calvin did and only certain Anabaptist movements really succeeded).

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Protestants are in some senses justly proud of the achievements of the Reformers. But it is not enough to parrot their utterances. We must be bold to discern the gospel in our time. Let’s face it, Martin Luther opened a can of worms with his ‘sola scriptura’ principle. The ‘sola scriptura’ principal has part of its roots in the humanism of Erasmus and others. Because this is so, alongside the developing role of science in the 17th and 18th centuries as an authority on ‘reality’, the Protestant church also solidified its authority by appeal to the authority of Scripture. The heirs of the magisterial Reformers developed a view of the inspiration of Scripture that said, in its whole and in its parts, Scripture is truthful in what it asserts. Of course this was bound to clash with the growing authority of science particularly when scientific method began to be applied to the Bible.

By the 19th century, the tide began to turn. Theological science, or theology done in the name of science, had laid the framework to demonstrate that the two most important books to the church, Genesis and the Fourth Gospel, were neither accurate nor true. The Jesus of the Fourth Gospel is almost immediately dismissed in critical research of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. From Remairus and Lessing to Strauss and Baur, the Fourth Gospel was sundered from Jesus’ life. The developments in biology and physics challenged the creation narrative of Genesis for rights of truth. The Protestant view of ‘biblical infallibility’ now had a two-fold front on the battlefield, with science, and of course with Rome’s assertion of papal infallibility. [re: the gospel of John please refer to "The Christian Challenge to Philosophy"]

Some Protestants at this time reconciled themselves to the reality that science was here to stay and surrendered the inaccuracies of Scripture to science. That is, they asserted that while the biblical text may not be accurate scientifically, it is true on a theological level. It was the time when ‘salvation history’ or ‘the history of the acts of God’ originated. Others were not content to surrender so quickly and asserted that not only was the theology of the Bible inspired but also every word that was written was inspired. This is the presupposition for the doctrine of inerrancy. Science had really won this battle by turning the conservatives and the liberals against one another. But both sides frequently ended up with a sacrificial reading of the gospel.

I will give you one example from either side. Evangelicalism is a good example of a mimetically conceived sacrificial theology from a conservative perspective. Liberation theology that of a liberal perspective. Both generally share in the mythologizing of the victim. Both are quite different in their outcomes, that is, different scapegoats are used, but both engage the justification of victimage, which is tantamount to mythologizing.

All the doctrine of biblical infallibility or inerrancy protects is the right to retribution. This is why it is necessary to the Christian myth and why some Christians will foam at the mouth when their beloved Bible comes under attack. This same way of thinking can also be found in other religious traditions, as you know. It is not unique to Christianity. And in every case it functions as part of the mythological covering of religious literature.

In the realm of sacrificial theology there are a thousand variations. They may be conservative or liberal, Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox, Reformed or Lutheran, Baptist, Pentecostal or Presbyterian, Anglican, feminist, post-structuralist or just about anything in between but they all have one thing in common: they all have a theory about the text that when applied to the text justifies their retributive stance against one another.

Fortunately, there are exceptions to the rule. Lots of exceptions. The alternative to the multitudinous (because mimetically duplicated) sacrificial ways of reading Scripture can be found in the singular way the gospel has been appropriated by those within and without the Christian tradition who like Jesus, renounced violence. How many examples do you need? It seems as though every age, place and generation has those who understand this. Yet, their voices are often not connected. This appreciation for the ‘theology and ethic of non-violence’ that Jesus propounds has often struggled with the ‘just God’ of the Christian Church. Others have been quick to renounce Jesus’ non-retributive ethic as a tool of the bourgeois designed to keep folks low on the ladder even lower. Either way it is thrown out as a piece of revelation and it is precisely the cornerstone they have cast out!

It is the non-retributive God that is being announced in Jesus’ life and message. It is what theology without violence looks like. In other words it is not the religious speculation of the generative scapegoating mechanism with its guilty victims and angry gods with bruised honors. This singular alternative, this perspective from below, this hermeneutic of peace, no matter what you call it, is a unique event in anthropological history. It is completely good news because the God of the gospel of Jesus is a good God demonstrated in his loving kindness, faithfulness and forgiveness to humanity.

We reach an impasse at this juncture if we insist on holding to a theory of biblical infallibility or inerrancy. It is the same conundrum that faced Marcion, viz., what do the ‘violent’ Creator god of the Hebrew Bible and the merciful God of the gospel have in common? There is no possible way to assert biblical infallibility and come to clear orthodox trinitarian thinking on this. One inevitably crashes on the shoals of the myth of the guilty victim. Either sinners are guilty, or Jesus is guilty, or the enemy is guilty or Satan is guilty or God is guilty, someone has to be blamed. Little wonder that Christians have often been perceived as polytheistic, they have been!

In their troubled appropriation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Christian churches have for the most part obliterated the revelatory character of the person of Jesus. Jesus has undergone assimilation into the heavenly Pantheon of deities over and over again. Fortunately he escapes those bounds and dwells in those whose lives are examples of his life. We can no more capture Jesus with our theologies than we can capture an elephant with a butterfly net. But we can bear witness to him.

Theology without violence does not need a ‘theory of Scripture’ to justify its assertions regarding the divine. It suffices that Scripture is testimony, in the same fundamental relationship to Jesus as was John the Baptist. Any authority it may possess is only possessed by virtue of him to whom witness is borne. This is the application of a theology of the cross to a view of the role of Holy Scripture. It does not ‘divinize’ or sacralize Scripture; it does not need to. When Scripture is testimony, it is received in its full anthropological sense; it is human witness that is being borne whether it is the testimony of humans or whether it is testimony about a human. The question, ‘If God were fully human, what would God look like?” is answered not only in the life of Jesus but also in his death which, as I mentioned earlier, must, like his life, be framed in terms of forgiveness and non-retaliation. We, like the apostles before us, are but witnesses to this.

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"Forgive one another as I forgive you" - Jesus
This business of witness is key when approaching Scripture. If we do not play the ‘blame’ game and sacralize the text, we are left standing before witnesses, those who saw, heard, touched, felt and experienced Jesus the man. Jesus, one might say, the true man, the new Adam, the corporate figure of the Son of Man, the hope for a transfigured humanity. This is how the apostolic witnesses looked upon Jesus. They did not sit around creatively playing with christological titles and crafting nifty theologies. Their entire life, their entire day to day existence was about bearing witness to the Risen Lord and the good news of the message of God’s grace. They were suffused with Jesus. If we do not approach their literary legacy with this in mind, we will never find our way out of the hermeneutic impasses and dead ends we see replicated all over Christianity.

How then should we approach the Scriptures? Who will be our guide? I have suggested that instead of a multitude of hermeneutic options available to the church (e.g., adjectival theologies or theologies in the genitive), there are really only two: i) that of myth, a sacrificial interpretation, and ii) that of gospel, the desacralizing of violent mimesis and the affirmation of loving mimesis. We are either following the prince of darkness on the road to hell, a hell of our own making, or we are following the Prince of Peace on the path of the Kingdom. Jesus is our guide.

We are freed and invited to follow the path of the apostolic witness. We do this by beginning where all Christian theology must begin, with the death of Jesus on a Roman cross and his subsequent resurrection from the dead. We begin with a theology of the cross. This is the theological way of speaking. Anthropologically speaking, we begin with the generative mimetic scapegoat mechanism. We have seen how Girard is able to demonstrate the effects of the gospel revelation on human reading of myth as well as the social and political effects of such. You know from Girard’s work, the role the passion of Jesus plays in the deconstruction of culture. In both cases or from either direction, we are bearing witness to the fact that Jesus died forgiving his enemies.

This forgiveness is given ‘salvation-historical’ rootedness by the apostle Paul. Unfortunately, we Western Christians assume Paul was referring to individually dispensed forgiveness for each one of us, for each one of our sins. No, for Paul, the forgiveness of God in the dying of Jesus was a real cosmic forgiveness. As a species, we are forgiven, in whole and in part. The message is: there will be no more scapegoats. The forgiveness of Jesus from the cross is the singular message that breaks the devil’s back. From that day forth, the generative scapegoating mechanism has a Conqueror in its midst. It is no longer able to take complete advantage over humanity. There is now light in the darkness. It is this cosmic thrust of forgiveness that is behind Paul’s proclamation of the gospel, most clearly evidenced in his mission to those beyond the Covenant of the Hebrew Bible.

The same is true for the four Gospels. You know the quip (I think it is K.L. Schmidt) that ‘the gospels are just passion narratives with extended introductions?’ This is not an unreal observation. Nor should it surprise us that the Passion narrative was more than likely the earliest developed narrative (as Theissen shows). Nor should we be further surprised to find that the ‘extended introduction’ of the gospels is all focused on the cross and that we are invited to follow Jesus and to carry a cross as he does. The specific hermeneutic of a theology of the cross is the implicit and explicit interpretive means we are given by the gospels themselves.

With this in mind, I want to turn my attention now to the use of Scripture by Jesus in the gospels. Can we discern any kind of a pattern in Jesus’ use of Scripture? Ask any Christian and they will tell you that Jesus quoted the Bible. By quoting it he validated its authority. By validating its authority, Jesus as ‘God’ validates the God of the Bible who in many ways is remarkably different from him. Go figure.

First I want to look at two texts that are used by some to assert that Jesus affirmed in whole the authority of the Hebrew Bible. Mark 12:35-40 where Jesus quotes Psalm 110 I have already dealt with in both Year B as well as “The Biblical Testaments as a Marriage of Convenience.” When Jesus quotes Psalm 110, he adds an aside ‘David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit declared..” Some see here a warrant for saying that the Hebrew Scriptures are ‘God-breathed’ (a la 2 Tim 3:16). But Jesus’ selective use of Psalm 110 as a hermeneutic alternative to militant notions of Messiah vitiates that interpretation. More than likely, this phrase is meant ironically as in “Your Bible says this and since you believe your Bible is inspired you must answer the question.” It has been shown that Jesus’ could be just as ironic as Socrates.

We have the same thing going on in John 10:34-39. Here Jesus, in describing his relationship to the Father, is about to be lynched. In this mob scene, Jesus is going to be publicly executed for violating ‘law’ that is, committing blasphemy. Jesus says, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods?’ (Psalm 82:6) If he called them ‘gods’ to whom the word of God came – and the Scripture cannot be broken – what about the one whom the Father set apart and sent into the world?” Once again the phrase “and Scripture cannot be broken” is used ironically. Not only can this be demonstrated within the larger Johannine use of irony but also in the fact that the law referred to has a possessive pronoun, it is “your Law.” In neither case do we need to see in the texts some kind of theory of inspiration; on the contrary, both texts give us a theory of non-inspiration. What do I mean by this?

When we looked at Mark 12 and Jesus’ use of Psalm 110, we saw that Jesus’ explicitly chose to refute the Hasmonean interpretation by not quoting Psalm 110: 2-3, 5-7. Jesus refused to perceive his mission in terms of a militant deliverer. Jesus explicitly rejected this ‘‘christology’ and it is something he does throughout the entire gospel tradition. Remember, even the disciples didn’t get it while he was alive, how much less the crowds or the authorities. But this use of Psalm 110 is indicative of a hermeneutic.

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This same hermeneutic can be found in Matthew 5 where Jesus contrasts his speech with that of Moses in the Torah. No matter how you slice it, Matthew 5:17-20 is not about abolition of Torah but about its fulfillment, a fulfillment seen in the ‘I say unto you’ portions. It is the rejection of religion and the affirmation of the spirituality (and sociology) of forgiveness and non-retribution. It is the rejection of a militant spirituality, just as Jesus’ use of Psalm 110 is a rejection of anti (= militant) Christology.

This can be further seen in Jesus’ use of Isaiah. We have greatly benefited from Bruce Chilton’s research on Jesus’ use of the Isaiah Targum. Unquestionably, Isaiah was Jesus’ favorite book, the lens through which he perceived his people’s history. In Luke 4 and in Luke 7 (as we see in Year C Epiphany), Jesus cites the Isaiah text and four out of four times (at a minimum) Jesus omits the continuing Isaianic theme of vengeance on the Gentiles. This is again of a piece with Jesus’ hermeneutic on demythologizing the ‘violent’ God.

In each case where Jesus cites Isaiah, it is always in the context of one way or another challenging his hearers to consider what God without retribution would look like. This similar principle can also be found In Jesus’ parables. In the parables, familiar eschatological imagery is given a turn on its head. For example, the kingdom is God is never conceived of as a reign of coercion, rather, God is like the father who cares not for his honor and RUNS to his estranged child. God’s reign is a place where sparrows are fed and lilies are clothed. Jesus’ parables are subversive by their very insistence that God is not like that which had been conceived.

Finally I must mention the oft-cited use of Psalm 22 in the passion narrative. Evangelicals tend to see a one to one correspondence between the events of Psalm 22 and the passion of Jesus. Psalm 22 is cited as fulfilled prophecy and becomes a witness, not to the passion of Jesus, but to a view of inspiration. And sadly, there it remains. Whether or not the use of Psalm 22 can be traced to the historical Jesus is an open question. Part of the reason for this openness is that scholars have a difficult time understanding how Jesus could have uttered such words, after all didn’t he have this great thing with God going on in the text previously. The Evangelical response is to say that Jesus quoted Psalm 22 because God had indeed abandoned him and was pouring out wrath upon him for our sins. That is mythologizing. Jesus’ use of Psalm 22 in the passion narrative is intended to call to mind the victimage process, the persecution of the innocent. It is the end of myth. Psalm 22 ends on a note of vindication just as Jesus knows his story will. He does not need to cite the whole text to make this point; the opening verse should bring the entire text to mind. But, if it is mythologized, then we ourselves are proof that had we been there we would have done the same things as Jesus’ persecutors. And the proof of that lies in those we scapegoat on a day to day basis.

Over and over again there is a consistent pattern in Jesus’ use of Scripture in the gospel tradition. It does not all have to go back to the historical Jesus and some of it undoubtedly comes from the good theologizing of the early church. But this early church did their theology in the presence of this Living Lord, so it is little wonder that there might be such congruency between his approach to Scripture and their approach. I think Jesus was far more of a ‘thinker’ than many give him credit for, I believe he was quite brilliant to be able to nurture such a vision of God.

What does this mean for us today in the churches that must still see the intimate connections between the two Testaments? Several things come to mind.
First, there must be a better understanding of Judaism in the churches. Far too much of what is taught and believed about Judaism in the churches is at best patently false and at worst, downright evil. When considering Scripture, e.g., Christians have a tendency to think Jews (and Jesus) viewed their Bible as a monolithic authority. Such was not the case, even for the Pharisees. It is essential to view Jesus in the midst of the many hermeneutic options available to him. The days of considering ancient Judaism as a unified religion are over. The time has come to recognize the diversity of thought that can be found in the literature and history of ancient Judaism, which includes various views of the biblical canon as well as a variety of ways of interpreting that canon.

Second, the church would do well to take its hermeneutic cue from Jesus and the apostles rather than inherited sacrificial theologies. I cannot emphasize this point enough. We will not recognize our sacrificial theology, hermeneutic and ethic if we do not take the time to ask if our reading of Scripture is consistent with that of Jesus and the prophetic and apostolic witness. We can only do this when we see that the essential component is the question: what does God without violence look like? The answer of course is that God looks a lot like Jesus. But this means we must reconsider the sacrificial mythmaking of our theologies and correct them.

Therefore, third, we as Christians must own up to our sacrificial theologies and our tendency to mythologize and we must repent. If indeed we confess that humans are ‘in sin’ then we better accept the fact that our hermeneutics will tend also ‘to sin.’ As my professor Bernard Ramm used to say, “God forgives our theology…just like he forgives our sin.” How do we recognize if we have a sacrificial theology? We look to see if the marks of victimage are present. Do we have a scapegoat? Do we justify ourselves? Do we lie? Do we create rivalries? Is our theology essentially dualistic? Do we sacralize the victim (and thus our violence)?

Fourth, the Protestant ‘sola scriptura’ principle without the controlling element of a theology of the cross will forever be a misplaced ideal. It will stand alone, defying interpreters to make sense out of its differentiation. It will be no more than a jigsaw puzzle without a box cover to give a clue as to what the end result looks like. Theology that does not begin and end as anthropology, with the humanity, death and resurrection of Jesus, will never be Christian theology. It will be more or less mythologized gospel. If we allow a theory of inspiration to control our hermeneutic, we will not be able to perceive the essential element that is the cornerstone of responsible Christian theology: the rejection of God in Christ on the cross by all humanity and the revelation of God’s forgiving spirit.

Fifth, with Girard and others we may recognize the travail of revelation in the Hebrew Scriptures, just as we can recognize it, e.g., in certain early Greek playwrights. What is being birthed is the revelation of the forgiving God. This birth culminates in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the witnesses to his life that we call ‘gospel.’ As long as we insist on flattening out the biblical revelation with a theory of inspiration we will not be able to see the real character of God revealed in Jesus.

So you see, from my perspective, it is centrally important to readdress this issue of modern Christian hermeneutics from the perspective of mimetic theory. In so doing we also expose the underlying mythological (sacrificial) elements in our various doctrines, not the least of which is the doctrine of the authority, inspiration and interpretation of Scripture. I fear that the churches will not want to hear this. It will be far easier and more comfortable for them to remain in the la-la land of their first naivete. But I fear more for the world, for it is not hearing the good news of the gospel by those who claim to know Christ. I fear not that God will judge them, but that we will have missed so many opportunities to share the joyous message of liberation and peace that we have been given. Until and unless we re-examine this issue, we will remain in the vacuous sterility of our ignorance.

I hope I have answered your question about Jesus and his hermeneutic. I have chosen to keep my remarks brief and to refrain from all kinds of footnoting and debating of positions. At any point in this letter-essay I might have referenced one or more authors but I don’t think being pedantic will help here. Better clarity than obfuscation. If I have been unclear, it is because I too, am learning to repent, and know that my theology must also be forgiven.

Peace be with you.

Michael

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The judgement of the cross
[Is the Gospel about the Penal-Substitutionary Atonement of God's Judgment upon Christ?]
http://www.faithmeetsworld.com/the-judgement-of-the-cross/

by Michael Hardin
July 14, 2015

“Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” (John 12:31)

Christians are generally accustomed to speaking of the cross as the place and time where God enacted judgement on the world. But what does this actually mean, and what are its implications?

Usually, the cross as the place of judgement is understood to mean the physical location where God poured out his wrath upon Jesus. Here, wrath is understood as the punishment for our sin which God, in his justice, is obliged to mete out: namely death. And Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, gamely hangs on the cross in our place and bears the brunt of God’s implacable justice so that we, in spite of our sin, can escape punishment.

And the cross as the time of judgement is understood as the point in history when God sovereignly intervened in human affairs to solve humanity’s sin problem as described above.

So there we have it: time and place come together at the cross as Jesus bears God’s punishment for our sin. This, then, is the judgement of the cross: a resounding verdict of “Guilty!” pronounced upon the human race by God, accompanied by an unappealable death sentence. The twist is that Christ comes in as an innocent victim to serve the sentence in our place.

This is what I believed without a second thought for most of my Christian life. Until I began, through a process of reading and thinking, to see some gaping holes in it:

Hole number 1: In this view, God is not free to simply forgive sin; he is beholden to a higher principle of justice that must be obeyed. This is a major philosophical and theological problem, because if God is God, there clearly cannot be any higher principle than himself by which he is bound.

Hole number 2: Following on from hole number 1, since God is bound by a higher principle of justice that must be satisfied, the only way he can forgive us is through some kind of transaction. His end of the transaction is that someone has to die, since the wages of sin is death. Jesus agrees to be that someone, so God can now forgive us because his perfect son has died in our place, thus balancing the scales of justice. The problem here is that this is supposedly the same God who elsewhere in scripture instructs us to freely forgive others, even as we have been forgiven. So God requires a different standard of his children – free forgiveness – than he himself is prepared to meet. Hmm.

Hole number 3: This understanding makes God into a God who uses scapegoating to accomplish his purposes. In this view, Jesus is a God-ordained scapegoat. The groundbreaking work of French philosopher and anthropologist René Girard has shown that scapegoating is a uniquely human phenomenon that lies at the very foundation of human society. Scapegoating is an evil practice because it shifts blame for a community’s ills onto an innocent victim and then buries that victim so that life can go on as before. The innocent is made to pay the price for the guilty, so that the guilty can carry on unreformed. Do we really think the God who is supposedly the apex of love and compassion would endorse such a practice, let alone deliberately use it as a mechanism of justice?

Hole number 4: This view treats sin as a legal problem to be settled, an equation to be solved. In doing so, it shifts sin from the concrete to the abstract. Thus, the event of the cross does little or nothing to actually address the here-and-now reality of humanity’s sin; it merely promises a clean legal record to anyone who puts their faith in Jesus.

I could go on, but I think those holes are already quite large enough.

In this classic view, then, the outcome of the judgement that takes place at the cross is this: humanity is found deserving of death because God must actively mete out punishment to all sinners; and God is not averse to engaging in the evil practice of scapegoating in order to see Lady Justice satisfied. This judgement, I contend, is as much an indictment of God as it is of humanity. Both humanity and God are found wanting: humanity because of our sin and God because of his willingness – nay, his requirement – to deal out violent death in response.

How, then, are we to understand the judgement of the cross? If not sin as a universal abstraction, what exactly was being judged at the cross?

Let me first make a statement, which I will then try to unpack: the cross judges the world in that it proves that none of our violence or accusation was ever rooted in God.

Humanity’s number one problem is and always has been violence. Physical violence, verbal violence, mental violence. Violence expressed in war, in oppression, in racial hatred, in intolerance. Violence manifested in mistrust, suspicion, accusation and blame. We don’t mind talking about sin because it’s such an imprecise, abstract term that it’s easy to hide from its implications. But as soon as we talk about violence in its many and various expressions, we are all implicated.

So what has this to do with the judgement of the cross? Well, one of the main ways in which humanity has sought to justify its violence throughout history is by claiming it to be divinely sanctioned, or even divinely ordained. We can see this in various places throughout the Old Testament, and we can still see it in the world today. And if God, the ultimate authority, sanctions human violence, how can the cycle of violence ever be broken? Answer: it can’t, and so the world keeps on spinning ever faster along a trajectory of escalating violence. That way lies apocalyptic destruction.

What happened, then, at the cross? Far from revealing God to be the ultimate dispenser of violence, the cross showed that God would rather die than engage in violence of any kind.

The cross drew a sharp distinction between humanity and God. Humanity gravitates towards violence as the final solution for every problem, and is prepared to engage in scapegoating and lynching to preserve the status quo. God, on the other hand, eschews all forms of violence and, in going to the cross, exposes scapegoating as the structural evil that it is.

God is not judged and found wanting at the cross: on the contrary, he is decisively shown to be genuinely, truly, perfectly good and non-violent. What is judged is the world, the kosmos, civilisation and the wicked systems of violence and injustice that underpin it. And, most importantly, humankind’s favourite excuse for its violence – God told me to! – is forever obliterated.

I must draw this to a close before it turns into a ramble. But before I do, let me make one final point. I believe the cross was and is a judgement that has power to transform individual and collective life in the here and now, not simply to leave the status quo undisturbed pending a post-mortem deliverance. And how does it achieve such transformation? It does so by starkly revealing the problem of human violence and showing the only way in which the cycle of violence can be broken: free and unconditional forgiveness, first from God to humankind, and then from human to human.

As he goes to the cross, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do”. And as he returns from the grave three days later, he announces not vengeance but peace. The cycle is broken.

The cross is a judgement, yes, but it is a judgement of light and life. The question is, are we prepared to see it that way, release our tight grip on violence and enter into the virtuous cycle of forgiveness and peace?