Today's post presents the problem of libel amongst over-eager, judgmental Christians to slap names and labels upon people and movements that can be mis-representative of that individual or movement in endeavors to create (or foment) public mis-information that is demeaning and personally destructive.
Any astute observer of the Press or social media sees this all the time - from Wall Street to Congress, from public officials to well-spoken religious leaders and teachers. Usually this is done by well-meaning people who hold an imperfect knowledge of what they are charging linking one event with another that is actually specious and untrue. At other times the charge is true and valid and requires both parties to work out what it would mean for any future relationship (family squabbles are usually of this nature between husband and wife, or child and parent). During this time love and commitment will be tested and perhaps either healed and deepened, or broken and left in disrepair. But the risk is ever towards personal separation and dis-connection when argumentation unfolds and libelous charges are carelessly thrown back-and-forth. This is not of God, nor of the Spirit, as the church of God.
The process of accusation can be seen time-and-again in the Bible from its earliest Old Testament pages when Moses was charged by the people for misconduct to Jesus' day at the hands of the Pharisees. Even in the New Testament church there was the problem of false prophets, teachers, and shepherds. This is not a new problem but an old problem that often is be bounded by ignorance, well-meaning but errant loyalty, or desires to protect and save. At other times disruption is driven by hatred, envy, and jealousy. The motives vary by its audience. And the charges as old as humanity itself.
Some charges may be true. Some may not be true. Essentially, the accused and the accuser must come to a resolution with each other in order to move on in relational affiliation. In the case of religion, this can be of a very personal nature involving the deepest passions of man. Inquisitions and crusades have been created on the backs of religion. Families have lost loved ones over religion (a Protestant child leaving his/her Catholic family; a brainwashed family member to the cults; or even over so slight a difference as to whether one sings hymns in church or listens to worship bands on a Sunday's venue).
Essentially, the accused person or religious body must determine the charge's source: is it one of simple mis-understanding and mis-information? Perhaps a cultural or generational disagreement? Or is it one of a more personal nature stemming in attacks of vindictiveness. Charges that bear validity need to be resolved on the part of the accused, forgiven, and ended. But charges that are not true must likewise be resolved on the part of the accuser, forgiven, and ended.
Relizedly, some personalities can be business-like and do this quite nicely with one another. Other personalities deeply struggle with this process and compound the problem unnecessarily a thousand-fold. A wise person, or body of governance, will determine the nature of the working environment as they move forward in the process, deciding perhaps to work with a mediator (or mediating body) who/which may help heal a torn relationship. The process of remediation can be a difficult one. For a wise person, the initial charges brought forth must always be with the attitude of reconciliation should it come to that, and rapidly so, if it can be done.
But if untrue, charges of libel or heresy tend to "stick" to the person, event, or movement, once a charge has been made, and is never so simply removed or resolved, persisting on the willingness of its accusers to believe untruths, falseness, rumor, or innuendo. And once tainted, a ministry, or minister, can never quite shake off the charge(s) of mis-appropriation, mis-conduct, or mis-information. It becomes a life-long combat that can hinder an otherwise good ministry. Or in many cases redirect that ministry's efforts towards areas of compromise and injustice (a recent example of this is the evangelic furor over World Vision).
In some instances, highly influential church leaders that have fallen can be Teflon-like and are able to bounce back from disaster, somehow side-stepping accusations without having deeply addressed those charges of impropriety. But more often than not, charges that are valid must be addressed (unless tempered with extreme prejudice and hostile intent). In those cases, a court of public opinion (in the case of religion, a synod or council, for instance) must be held to determine the veracity of the charges whether true or not. In many cases, differences in religious doctrine may only lead to splits and disunity. Religious creeds, confessions, and church doctrinal bodies have been birthed upon this process until we now have, 500 years after the Protestant Reformation, as many differing kinds of faith as we do people holding them.
In a postmodern church, or an emerging assembly of believers, these differences are being lowered as today's 21st Century Christians seek a greater spirit of unity over disunity. They are more willing to irenically discuss doctrinal differences within the greater center of Christ's healing atonement and fellowship rather than focusing upon the many dividers and dissemblers of the Christian faith. Others have taken it upon themselves to point out the historical background of dogmatic and doctrinal disagreements in hopes of providing an expanded biblical basis for sound judgment, understanding, and reconciliation, without jettisoning the faith altogether based upon premise and suspicion.
More often now than ever, the Bible's earlier faiths were built in a time without today's greater hindsight of church history, science, technology, and the arts, and pervasive global communications amongst world religions and cultures. As such, theology today is rapidly, if not expediently, working towards more enlightened definitions and expanded religious categories not previous thought in light of postmodern theological movements and cultural resettlement forced upon despised unfortunates (think of the many refugee populations that have shifted under threat of death and torture). As a result, faith has tended towards despair as much as towards the spiritual. Towards nothingness as much as towards a God-ness. And a deep response of love and acceptance is needed, especially of the church of God, if not very humanity itself.
For the church today the charge is to make the gospel relevant, meaningful, personal, and healing. To adjudicate Christ and His Word is now being re-contextualized towards less judgmentalism and more openness and acceptance. Even the word "adjudication" itself is wrong, communicating attitudes of "rightness and wrongness," of "black-and-white" thinking, against a postmodern world that sees life's categories in terms of non-binary, non-dualistic hyperbole, paradox, mystery, pattern-and-flow.
What this means is that yesteryear's doctrines and dogmas must come under a re-evaluation so that the postmodern Christian church might move forward in missional witness that is more open, receptive, and reconciling than ever before. Showing by love and good works the majesty of Christ and not simply the austerity of church politics and polities. To speak to a post-Christian world of the love of God and the power of His Holy Spirit in the action-words of redemption, resurrection, renewal, reclamation, reformation, and rebirth. As any good parent will know, good words vastly outweigh harsh words of duty and honor. So too has the Lord called us by the same in this day and age. To reach out to those different from ourselves in respect and goodwill to share a faith that has the power to heal the sin-sick soul and broken spirit. To bring justice to oppressive lands and households of discord and abuse. To share in the labor of life with others - both in its sufferings and toils, as well as its joys and laughters - as with a fellow souls traversing this world of reclaim and shalom. Amen.
September 15, 2014
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The controversial Bible scholar and author of The Evolution of Adam recounts his transformative spiritual journey in which he discovered a new, more honest way to love and appreciate God’s Word.
Trained as an evangelical Bible scholar, Peter Enns loved the Scriptures and shared his devotion, teaching at Westminster Theological Seminary. But the further he studied the Bible, the more he found himself confronted by questions that could neither be answered within the rigid framework of his religious instruction or accepted among the conservative evangelical community.
Rejecting the increasingly complicated intellectual games used by conservative Christians to “protect” the Bible, Enns was conflicted. Is this what God really requires? How could God’s plan for divine inspiration mean ignoring what is really written in the Bible? These questions eventually cost Enns his job—but they also opened a new spiritual path for him to follow.
The Bible Tells Me So chronicles Enns’s spiritual odyssey, how he came to see beyond restrictive doctrine and learned to embrace God’s Word as it is actually written. As he explores questions progressive evangelical readers of Scripture commonly face yet fear voicing, Enns reveals that they are the very questions that God wants us to consider—the essence of our spiritual study.
September 17, 2014
When reading from the pen of Peter Enn's latest book, The Bible Tells Me So, the reader is introduced to what first appears as a whole range of non-traditional teaching that is cognitively disruptive and smelling of liberalism.
But it simply isn't.
What one thinks is the difference in Enn's scandelous words is the distance it has moved away from the church's more pendantic evangelic words of Scripture that have arisen over the past century's worth of great preaching.
Working from the ancient texts of the Bible (or what has been preserved of them through the oral teachings and religious traditions of ancient cultures), the reader at once sees its "airs" and "vernaculars" to differ substantially from our own English vernaculars steeped in an American ized context of modernity. Moreover, this modern, American context has also been re-contextualized religiously into a doctrine and dogma known as evangelicalism that has rigorously reworked the text of the Bible to become unlike its own pages - and more like us with our expectations of good and evil, God and sin.
At which point the wary reader must know that reading the Bible from our own expectations can be both confusing and misleading when approaching the ancient pages and cultures of the Scriptures. Doctrines no longer work - and dogmas no longer persist - except within the culture of its supplicants. They become less plain and more tumbled and confused within the jargon of modern day societies filled with its own systematic arguments and pagan conventions of thought, means, and outcomes.
But for the text of the Bible to be like itself one has to revisit the text of Scripture from its own basis written within more ancient times than the Americanized (or Western civilization) context that the modern church has placed upon it. And when it is read like this than the Scriptures become unlike what we have heard and believed for so long within our evangelic Protestant and Catholic cultures.
Not that all evangelic teaching is bad. It's main points of salvation by grace through an atoning God of grace and forgiveness upon penitent sinners is to the point. But it is between the points, and the across the points, that it's tumbled thoughts about the Christian faith has become more like a dryer full of washed clothes in a jumble of words and schisms that have become decidedly more like us and less like Scripture.
We know this because 2000-4000 years ago the area of science and technology had not occurred. Nor had 20th century genocidal warfare. Nor the rapid disillusionment of whole societies when viewing the horror and carnage of societal warfare and class struggle upon one another. Consequently, philosophy has changed. The academic disciplines have changed. Even literature itself has changed from pre-dated medieval thinking to a post-Renaissance, post-Reformational thinking that has given way to a whole range of Enlightenment's predecessors.
In essence, humanity had grown up. Matured. Moved past the ancient eras and thinkings of biblical societies to confront their own histories and traditions and to find God still present within the sins and turmoils of our present. But also distant from us even as He was to His own people who spoke un-God-like words met with actions of hatred and war, injustice and unholy posturing.
The church within a society of men and women struggles as deeply now as the tribes of Israel of believing men and women did then. Who asked the deep questions of "Who is God? Why has He forsaken me? What are we to do?" is no less pertinent then as they are now.
And with these questions must come a better idea of "Who God is. What He wants from us now. And why we live a life that is like the life we now live."
It is a truth that the unchangeable One has changed. The immovable One has moved. The impassive One has lamented for our destructions, our lostness, our sufferings, and deep darks. The God of the universe - the God of eternity - has changed by His passions for our eras and times. Been moved to present Himself for our atonement and redemption. Cried in His heart for the destructions we have heaped upon our heads and our souls. Surely this God is no less than the God of the Scriptures who did the same in ancient times though we understood Him not.
And much less today with our biblical philosophies and predialections for dogmatic conventions and teachings denying the Holy One of Israel to be who He is when raising the very Bible that tells of Him beyond the Author Himself to a standard that has become Pharisical and not Jesus-like.
But surely it is to this God of Scripture whom we must look for salvation and healing. To begin to do so will require abandoning unquestioning doctrines and dogmas of the Bible that are no longer tenable in this day and age. Doctrines like inerrancy that have removed this God from our eveyday living. Dogmas like "intelligent design" and "special creation" that do not purport with today's sciences and technologies. Thoughts like God has abandoned us when He is the move present in our lives than even the closest Holy Spirit moment in Scriptures through the lives of His prophets and disciples.
Yeah, it is we who have changed and must change yet again to be able to read and hear this God's Words afresh. And from within the context of our civilizations when properly read.
God is with us. This is a truth. And He has come through His Son who has made God's homecoming possible. We are not abandoned but we are held to a judgment to repent and forsake the sins of this world and give all to the Savior who has given all to us.
Let us yield yet one more time and look with favor upon the freshness of Scripture as it comes to life under the pens of these new theologic reformers crying out, "Stand ye and hear!" Amen
- re slater
Recent blog articles from Peter's Pen
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Answering Charges of Impropriety. Part 1 - Undermining the Bible
Answering Charges of Impropriety. Part 2 - Underminining Inerrancy
Answering Charges of Impropriety. Part 3 - Underminining Tradition
Answering Charges of Impropriety. Part 2 - Underminining Inerrancy
Answering Charges of Impropriety. Part 3 - Underminining Tradition