According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Deconstructing Our Faith


It is with deepest of appreciation towards Peter Rollins and to his engaged work of deconstructing the Christian faith that his current article has been presented within this web journal focused on interacting with vital emergent issues of today as they can be discovered, uncovered, and intelligently presented. Now I realize that there are many differing opinions within emergent Christianity as it focuses on key evangelical as well as liberal ideas, phrases and words that have suffocated the Christian faith. One such is that of a literal Bible. But as my dear, conservative, evangelical, NT professor (now past) had said many times, the word literal can mean many things, and then proceeded to repeat about 40 different nuances of the word literal as he huffed and puffed over the shortcomings of any one word meant to canvas an entire spectrum of Christian dogmas. I always got a chuckle out of his portrayals and learned early on to take our faith both seriously and with a little light-heartedness. For we are not God and do make significant mistakes in our reasoning, endeavors, organizations, and studies however well (or unwell) intended.

Recently, I have attempted to begin to clarify this issue of literal-ness in the areas of "Hermeneutics" and "Biblical Authority" sections of this blog focusing on what the historical-critical method means and why an inerrant Bible is unnecessary. But for now, let's be patient with Mr. Rollins expression of his idea of the word literal as presented below and seek to focus on the main issue on hand that he goes on to define past his evangelic example.

Which is - either in our private lives or in our church lives - that thing that we wish to safeguard within our psyche, our behavior, our church, or our denomination, that would become undone should we hesitate but for a moment to allow some kind of reflection into that area. It is a valid problem. And it is this, I think,  that is driving Peter to get our religious communities to focus upon. To rid our faith communities from the contemporary need for religious tribalism into an honest, unpretentious discussion about our faith without the frills and thrills, dressings and frocks that we have learned to live with - and in many cases, ignorantly or willfully.

To learn to deconstruct our faith of its unnecessary essentials and to reconstruct our faith upon its foundational elements newly regarded in light of our progressive streamlining. As a new Christian this was one of the first lessons I had to learn. What parts of my life did God first want for himself and that I had to let go. Then as I matured into my Christian faith His scalpel became both wider and narrower requiring more introspection and release of unwarranted thoughts, beliefs and behavior. At Bible school and in seminary this process continued - both that of deconstructing our faith and reconstructing our faith. It is a necessary first principal of the Christian life and one that if, left uninspected, could enlarge in a more serious form of religiosity or bibliolotry rather than critical biblical study. So then, this is not a new emergent form of introspection, it has even been a necessary reaction of our historic Christian faith. But the scalpel this time focuses on our religious expression and it must seem extremely sharp to many (including myself) to fearlessly allow its work of penetration, extraction and repair. Now I must admit that my gifts lie in the area of construction, but I have learned to clean up an area before building any new rubble upon the old - pun intended! Mr. Rollins is more the opposite and so we may find more hesitation with his approach rather than that of grateful appreciation.

And because emergent Christianity is a very large, very global, pluralistic movement, encompassing liberals on the left and conservatives on the right, one would expect a variety of results and interpretations as we deconstruct our faith. But as we have been working in the systematics portions of this blog - for instance, ontology, universalism, Cal-minianism (for want of a better word: meaning Calvinism/Arminianism) - we will be better able to discern and divide the various shades of results in historical hindsight that will later prove to be helpful or unhelpful in the reconstruction of the postmodernistic expressions of Christianity widely composed of its emergent, post-evangelic, and post-liberal elements.

So then, be patient, be willing, seek to be honest with yourself, and allow God to dig deeply as He must, trusting to the Holy Spirit who infills, guides, and superintends the living Church of God.

RE Slater
August 16, 2011

**********

How To Cut Up The Bible Without Anyone Noticing

by Peter Rollins
posted August 11, 2011

From when we are young we develop a narrative that helps us understand who we are, who we are becoming and why we are here; a narrative that we largely adopt from our parents and then develop gradually over time.

Perhaps more interesting than what this narrative says is what it avoids saying, what it does not symbolise. For while we come to see this story as describing who we are it often has nothing to say about certain behaviours we engage in. There are behaviours that we enact which we treat as taboo in that they exist and yet remain unspoken. This is somewhat analogous to a family who never speaks about an affair that everyone knows took place. It is a reality that has not been given form in the discourse of the family.

In a similar way there are things we do that clash with the clean, coherent and cohesive story that we have about ourselves. Acts that are patently real and yet not acknowledged as such. By definition these are very hard to see because they are parts of our personality that have not been brought to the light. In order to find them we often need others to reflect back what they see. These kinds of encounters can be described as wounds from a friend because they are difficult conversations that expose something we would prefer not to acknowledge, yet they are required if we hope to grow and mature. When confronted with our taboos we can initially be astounded and then engage in an act of rationalisation in which we try to deny the truth of what has been pointed out.

An example will help. Often tabloid talk shows operate with a similar logic. Someone is brought onto the show, often thinking they are there for a reason other than the true one, and confronted with some problematic behaviour. They may have a problem with overeating, aggression or drug abuse. In such situations the individual might initially be shocked and surprised by the accusations (having never articulated the material reality themselves). Then there is often a point where the person considers what is being said but dismisses the accusations (claiming they are false) or defends themselves (claiming the actions were justified and can be explained within the coordinates of their current self-understanding).

However, sometimes after the initial shock and defence the individual might break down and admit that they have a problem, at which point they are often offered professional help by the presenter. Of course by using this example I am not defending such shows, in fact I would be concerned about their effect for what they attempt to do is take a number of key moments in the process of human change and make them all happen in a 20 minute slot for entertainment. This however makes them useful in seeing how disavowal (not seeing what one sees), defence (trying to justify oneself) and acknowledgement (bringing ones own behaviour before oneself) operate.

We can see the same logic at work with the way that many people read the Bible today. For large numbers of churchgoers it is presented as a clean, coherent and cohesive text, an image that we tend to adopt for ourselves. Then, depending upon what we think the message of the text is, we simply refuse to see anything that might contradict our reading. We thus treat those parts of the text that might contradict our interpretation as taboo. In other words we see them without acknowledging them, we look at them in much the same way as a cow gazes at a passing car.

When we are confronted with the broken nature of the text and the way in which we have repressed some parts of it at the expense of others we can often be shocked. Talking with young Evangelical Christians about the text I have often found this reaction. They simply never thought it was possible even though they have read the text a number of times themselves. When the facts are presented there can often be an anxiety and even hostility as they either explicitly avoid looking at the evidence provided or attempt to find ways of integrating the new information with their already existing worldview. Finally however there can be a point of recognition that opens up a different way of approaching and engaging with the text.

There have been various attempts by the liberal tradition within Christianity to remove parts of the Bible that they don’t agree with (e.g. the Jefferson Bible), something that conservative Christians have vehemently attacked. However the truth is that the conservative Christians simply engages in a different, more clandestine, form of deletion. One that doesn’t require physically cutting up the text: they do the cutting internally.

Philosophically speaking the claim that the Bible in its entirety is literal and inerrant (i.e. self-evident, internally coherent, and a reflection of the mind of God) operates as a ‘master signifier’. This means that it is a claim without any specific content that is worn as a badge to let you know what team you play for. It doesn’t matter too much how you actually fill in this empty container as long as you make the claim. It functions then as a shibboleth that identifies you as being in a certain tribe.

For as soon as one attempts to actually enact what it might mean to hold the bible as literal and inerrant (i.e. to fill this claim with content) one must treat large parts of the text as taboo. What becomes clear is that the person who makes the abstract claim that the bible is literal and inerrant, when enacting the claim, always refutes themselves.




Are All Sins Really Equal?

I wanted to include Dr. Olson's reflection on sins in order to begin a discussion on this topic. When reading, please keep this article to topic (re: whether "all sins are equal") for I can readily see additional sidebars topics such as forgiveness, reconciliation, atonement, sin(s) of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, matters of church discipline, positional salvation vs. functional states of fellowship, among others, as problematic areas requiring greater discussion. And as I read along I found quite a few items I may disagree with as presented, but assume that Dr. Olson, given the brevity of space to discuss each "sin" area, simply glossed rapidly over these areas so as to make his main point that not all sins are equal per society's general reasonings (sic, what he calls "folk religion").

To any new Christians reading this article I apologize beforehand for the many questions its throws up in the form of morality and social/ethical issues. It can be all very confusing and requires time, the fellowship of believers, and maturity in Christ, to sort out and digest. I have heard many good sermons and have read or produced myself many good writings in all these areas - not as authoritarian pieces but as suggested directives, which may help sort out the conflicts and doubtful areas that arise from such discussions. Through prayer, guidance of Scripture, counsel and wisdom will come answers but none that I wish to thinly answer with overly brief explanations and analysis.

With that said, here is an area of agreement that I would definitely feel comfortable discussing between my Protestant faith and another's Catholic faith. For with this popular Catholic sentiment comes an honest description to the profound guilt that we - as overly sincere Protestants - may too easily trip over and unnecessarily burden ourselves with, in our misguided pursuit of "holiness". That said, overall may we let Jesus bear our sins as we forebear another's sin, forgiving all trespasses in love and honest communications.

-skinhead

**********

Something Protestants should borrow from Catholics
http://www.patheos.com/community/rogereolson/2011/08/15/something-protestants-should-borrow-from-catholics/

By Roger Olson
August 15, 2011

Earlier (some months ago now) I posted an essay here arguing for a Protestant version of purgatory. (Hold your fire unless you’ve read that post!) - http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/08/protestant-purgatory.html

Now I’d like to argue for a Protestant version of categories of sin–something like the Catholic categories of mortal and venial.

Recently someone commenting here repeated the Protestant cliche that all sins are equal. I think that is folk religion UNLESS it has been reflected on critically and a strong biblical case made for it. Far too many Protestants simply mindlessly repeat it having no idea that it conflicts with scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

Now, IF all it means is that all sins (like sinfulness itself!) offend God and harm (if not destroy) relationship with God…fine. We could easily transfer that to human experience and say that every little act of selfishness harms any relationship. But we also know from experience that, in a relationship of love, not every act of selfishness equally harms the relationship.

So what is my biblical evidence for this distinction between sins that can destroy a relationship with God (at least in this life if not in the next) and sins that harm but do not destroy it? Romans 14:23 says that whatever is not done with faith is sin. Can anyone claim he or she always does everything with faith? What about sins of ignorance and omission? Jesus talked about a sin that is unforgivable. 1 John 5:14-17 talks about sins that are mortal and sins that are not mortal. This distinction appears throughout Christian history–even in the Protestant Reformation. But Protestants have generally relegated “mortal sin” to the one “unforgivable” sin.

I would like to suggest that this Protestant tradition (and the cliche that expresses it in folk religious style) is simply an over reaction to Catholicism. In fact, something LIKE the Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sins makes a lot of sense–biblically, rationally and experientially.

IF we say that all sins are equal, even “in God’s sight,” then we have to say that kidnapping, raping and murdering a little child is on the same level as telling someone their new hair style is becoming when it isn’t. That just doesn’t make sense. Sure, of course, both child murder and the “little white lie” offend God but surely not equally!

Let’s apply a little mind experiment to test this. Suppose a true Christian–a saved person–gives into an awful impulse and rapes and murders a child and does NOT repent of it. Then suppose another real Christian–a saved person–gives in to the temptation to deceive a co-worker with a hideous new hair style by saying “It’s so pretty” and does NOT repent of it (for whatever reason but for the sake of argument let’s say she forgets about it).

Do both sins equally break the persons’ relationships with God? (Let’s not get into a debate about “once saved, always saved” over this. For now, in this context, I am simply asking whether both sins equally damage a person’s fellowship with God in this life.) Will God equally withdraw his blessing from each person? Will communion with God be damaged equally by both sins not repented of? I think that’s ludicrous–to think so.

I remember these debates in church youth group and in Sunday School–many years ago. We were told by some of our mentors that every little sin, including a “little white lie,” breaks off your relationship with God until you repent of it. But we were also told (sometimes by the same mentor!) that the condition of “sinfulness” causes everyone to commit sins of omission and ignorance but these are “covered” by the “blood of Jesus” so that they do not break off fellowship with God or God’s blessing. (Although we were also always encouraged to ask God’s forgiveness in “blanket style”–for all our sins known and unknown to us.)

What is that but something LIKE the Catholic doctrine of mortal versus venial sins? And yet, our mentors would ALSO say “All sins are equal.” I remember struggling with these contradictions but being afraid to point them out or ask for clarification. Then–during my years in a fundamentalist Bible college I DID ask about them and was harshly criticized for doing so!

So what would a Protestant version of categorizations of sin look like? I see no problem with borrowing the terminology “mortal” and “venial” sin from Catholic theology, but I know many especially evangelical Protestants will choke on those words EVEN IF they agree that not all sins are equal in terms of damaging our relationship with God. However, I haven’t come up with alternative single words for the two categories. Do we necessarily need them?

I suggest we teach our people that there are sins that damage and even break off one’s personal relationship with God and that SHOULD result in church discipline if discovered–unless the person repents. Some of them should result in the committer being barred from some levels of leadership for a time of restoration. (The fact that many Protestant denominations and churches already do this supports my contention that most Protestants really do NOT believe “all sins are equal!”) Then there are sins that do NOT break off a saved person’s relationship with God even if no specific repentance follows. We don’t have to say these are harmless or unimportant; we can say that if they become practice and a part of a person’s lifestyle they CAN add up to serious sin that harms or even breaks off the relationship with God.

In my book Questions to All Your Answers I have a chapter on this issue and I use an example from my own family history. I recall that occasionally a letter would arrive not postmarked so that the stamp could be cut off the envelope and re-used. My father insisted it was okay to do that. My stepmother insisted it was sin to do that. My brother and I listened with some amusement (but also confusion) to their discussions about this. Now, one of my parents was right and the other one was wrong. But let’s say my stepmother was right and, in God’s sight, re-using the stamp was a sin. Did reusing a stamp break my father’s relationship with God? I can’t imagine it. Years later he was caught embezzling from his church. Did that break off his relationship with God? (I’m not talking about the being caught but the first willful, conscious, presumptuous theft he did not repent of.) I think so–unless and until he repented.

Now, was there some connection between my father’s re-using a stamp and his later embezzling from his church? Perhaps. But that doesn’t make them equal! What it means is that even those things we think are not sin but MAY BE should be carefully considered and avoided if possible–but not to the point of scrupulosity about everything (like Luther’s spending hours in confession confessing every thought that might possibly be sinful until his confessor told him to go away and not come back until he had something really sinful to repent of!).

In short, I think “all sins are equal” is simply a cliche. We should drop it–and challenge it when overheard. It doesn’t make any sense–biblically, in terms of the Great Tradition, rationally or experientially.



Divine Synchronicity: What Does It Mean for Christianity?



LOST in Purgatory?
(Purgatory - Yeah or Nay?)
Part 1 of 2

While reviewing Roger Olson's thoughts on a conjectured Protestant Purgatory I couldn't help but think of another popular purgatorial position being espoused not long ago in the TV series LOST as it was aired over a six year period (Sept 2004 - May 2010). Here we witnessed the island adventures of trapped celluloid souls living through decisive moments of their re-created lives. Some failed their tests and immediately "died" (possibly to revisit the island again-and-again in a never-ending cycle of "purgatory" until they got it right; or, if they didn't get it right, to proceed immediately to hell, death, or some final stage of life); some passed their first tests but later failed to pass their "summary review test" and then were immediately killed; some got it right and left with a suddenness, separating from the constant struggles of island life (I assume to go to heaven, or some place of personal completion); and some knuckleheads took awhile to get it right but eventually did to then be reunited with all their island loved-ones in one grand finale six years later.

And though the LOST purgatorial theory at the end of season 1 was immediately and hotly denounced by the show's producers, Damon Lindelhof and Carlton Cuse, in the end we viewers who tenuously clung to our theories of an island purgatory were granted vindication (along with an unsettling feeling of being surreptitiously lied to over the very long, lost years of faithfulness at the end of season 6's grand finale). And so, I would point to this form of purgatory as a modern day, updated, sophisticated, form of purgatory held by today's cultural standards and understandings of the afterlife (appealing not only to those theists amongst us, but to those agnostics and atheists amongst us as well!). Where death is never quite dead, and where mankind gets repeated opportunities for eternal solidarity and redemption.

LOST became an immediate TV-land fan hit and lived mostly in the Internet's chat rooms and blogs to be fussed and fumed over by addicted LOSTIES such as myself. It was a great ride and one that gave a very satisfying sense of relief when completing its journey - or the journeys - of all its survivors from Oceanic 815 seen in Clip #1.

So how does this all tie into the biblical themes of love and justice, reconciliation and spiritual healing? Well, let's first get a better sense of the many theologic and philosophic issues LOST was dealing with through its global audiences (Clip #1) and while we're at it, peruse the 3-minute Clip #2 created by a chap using yellow post-it notes to help add to the quirkiness of this very unusual show!


Clip #1
Lost (The Ending Explained REAL)
~ the quality is poor but content excellent




Or, What Many of Us Thought...

LOST, the REAL Ending




Clip #2
LOST in 3 minutes




Before proceeding towards biblical themes I must also mention another book and movie that also comes to mind on this same topic of purgatory. Taken from Mitch Albom's fictitious biography of "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" in which he shares how our past sins might be absolved in heaven's absolution of divine love and forgiveness. Here is a very fine summary that must, MUST, be viewed in order for me to say what I intend to say next:


This is an Excellent Summary
and may be watched by clicking to "YouTube"



or






Point 1

Overall, I am unconvinced that a Christian purgatory was ever a requirement for heavenly destination - even though I am a Lostie and Mitch Albom fan at heart! - for the concept seems to rest upon the silence of the bible if it is at all true. However, what I do know is that from the clips I have provided above, we can expect our lives to work within a process similarly conducted within this life. It will have its own judgments, as well as its own blessings, and I think that Thornton Wilder may have gotten it right when writing of the completeness and finality of this life before being ushered into the next in his book, The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927) - . In it he took the historical instances of a Peruvian tragedy from a long time ago (about 500-600 years ago) and worked through it the theosophic questions of:

"Does everything in life happen for a reason? Or are there some unexplainable, random events we may expect within it? If everything happens for a reason, why do bad things happen to the innocent? Why do some of the wicked prosper and the just suffer? If there is a reason, what is it? And if the universe is purely a random set of events, how does one explain the obvious order in most aspects of the physical and social universe? Did all of this order come out of chaos? Does accepting the fact that there are some chance occurrences which will occur in this life deny the existence of God? Or, can the two matters be reconciled logically?


And so, when I listen to, and review, these Lost clips, and the very fine clip made by an English student on Mitch Albom's book above, I think to myself that all these existential elements must be applied within this life of ours first and foremost. That we should - we must - expect the essential themes of forgiveness, reconciliation from abandonment, release, love, persistence, resolution, as vital parts of our earthly existence. And to not assume those qualities of life to occur separately - and unconnectedly - from our contemporary experience of this frail, human life we live in now. To be then experienced later in resolution at another time and place outside of our experience of this life we live and breath within (such as a purgatory, a heaven, or a hell). No, it occurs in the here-and-now of our daily existences, in our relationships, and at our work-a-day worlds of impoverishment and plenty.

Point 2

This, I would submit, is another important emergent Christian theme that we must accept when we speak of God's dynamic interaction with our world and our lives. A theme demanding a full appreciation for the meaningfulness of life this side of heaven (or hell, or death). One that does not wait for goodness and mercy to come after death, but works diligently to rectify and reconcile our humanity within our own personal experiences of society. That healing and forgiveness importantly occur now in this life, and not in the next. Otherwise there is no value in holding to the belief of seeing the Kingdom of God become a structural part of our earthly history. For it is, at the last, a Kingdom of flesh and blood, and not of ethereal spirits devoid of evil's affects. Hence, God's redemption is both historical (by Covenant, and by Jesus), and historically working itself out within man's existential experiences (salvation, and renewal). It is meant to be especially meaningful in this life of ours now, and not to be regarded as some non-sequitur metaphysical property to be discovered later in a dimensionless time and space. This would be an illogical inference or conclusion to the biblical idea of God's here-and-now Kingdom.

That we must grasp the indefatigable truths that God, through his Holy Spirit, ineffably works  within our seemingly small, but very sacred lives, towards those many essential themes that would fill us with a hope and determination. Which speak to the fact that through Jesus, God is dynamically reconciling, and is intimately involved with, the world - both within our private lives as well as our communal, relational lives. And it is within these spiritually esoteric intricacies wherein lies our complex of hope connecting our living present to God's living eternity.

RE Slater
August 16, 2011

The Concept of Synchronicity
Part 2 of 2
(Continued from the above article, "LOST in Purgatory")


A significant concept that was not readily apparent on the TV show LOST until the flash forwards and flash sideways episodes began appearing in the third and fourth seasons was the concept of synchronicity. When reviewing my notes from several years back I believe that some of what was being implied through the concept of purgatory discussed above could easily fall into this metaphysical idea here, where, during our lifetimes, and quite unknown to us (if at all), coincidences based upon a-causal events may interlope (or intersect) within our lives in phenomenal ways. Some Christians call these events miracles, others an "intervention of grace," where non-normative events, ideas or people may enter into our lives in either profound or non-significant ways.

Most philosophers, psychologists and physicists, regard synchronicity as an extremely rare event (as initially conceived), but I am more or less of the opinion that synchronicity is a very common, normative event at work at all times in everyone's lives and that we are simply unaware of it, just like we are unaware of the act of breathing, or thinking, or behaving, or acting, or passing through time for most of our lives. It is an all-pervasive fact that we only may rarely glimpse like the tip of an iceberg. This has become known as a joined collective dynamic very similar to the physics term of quantum mechanics, but operative on a metaphysical level that occasionally intersects with our physical, symbolic world, and with others who cross-sect our daily routines sometime in life.

Taking this concept one step farther, I would entertain the idea that the operating mechanism behind the concept of synchronicity is that of the Holy Spirit infilling (or, infusing) all creation to bring it into the very plans and purposes of the Godhead. And it is through this metaphysical idea of a joined collective dynamic that God interweaves the lives of people with one another through the work of His Spirit to bring about both His purposes as well as our spiritual well being. Not our physical well being, but our spiritual well being (some would call it a blessedness to our lives). So that, regardless of our experiences in this life under the reign of sin, death, hatred, evil, wickedness, brokenness, abandonment, dissertion, betrayal, and dysfunctionalism and so on; but through all of this, God is weaving a redemptive tapestry predicated upon His purposes of redemption, reconciliation, wholeness, and healing. Whether we understand this or not. Whether we see this or not. Whether we acknowledge this or not. It is synchronous.


So then, we are given this time to make amends, to recover, to process our existence into a meaningful existence at one with the union of God's purposes. To allow what order can be made of it before we are removed from this life. And in a sense, this life of ours is our time of purgatory (one which emergent Christians have lately been calling our "heaven on earth" or a "hell on earth": sic, Rob Bell's book, Love Wins). Now I'm sure this is not what Bell had in mind, but as long as we're thinking through the concept of purgatory, we could very easily align it into this life rather than into a future expectation that is un-discovered (or, un-stated) in the Bible, just like Bell is aligning acts of heaven and hell into this life (otherwise known as Inaugural Kingdom Eschatology).

Consequently, though there may be a purgatory-like existence into heaven's entrance, (or in fact, into hell's entrance) - if we wish to allow for a type of universalism into this discussion - but I am not of the opinion that it is either necessary or biblical. For me, this meager life that we live will contain all those facets of purgatory, heaven and hell, to be sufficient for the redemptive purposes of God of establishing a creative order of blessedness. He does not need to extend our agonies nor our pains yet another second beyond this, our lifetimes. He will have worked out his purposes in our lives sufficiently despite evil, the devil, this sinful world, and ourselves, to be satisfied with its culminating end (which is a good working definition of Sovereignty). And the true fact is - one that should cause fear and trembling in our souls - is that we must not allow even one more breath or life-event to pass living separate from God's grace, love, and care in our lives!

For like the survivors on the mythical island of LOST we may be indeterminately and immediately snatched away by death once our purpose of existence have been completed. Should those purposes have striven towards wickedness and sin, towards striving against God, towards hatred and creating a hell for those around us, than we should not expect anything less than what we have brought into the lives of those whom we have harmed. And if, as Christians believers, we continue to seek ungodly and wicked demonstrations of harsh judgments upon both innocents and the true seekers of God alike, we too should expect nothing less than a judgment upon our hearts (known as the bema seat of God in Scriptures). There will be tears and agonies, vexations and the gnashing of teeth, on both sides of heaven and hell, but in the end God shall rule as He now rules in a broken, mis-shapened world. So then repent and be at peace.

RE Slater
August 17, 2011


  



Evangelicals Question The Existence Of Adam And Eve

 


As intro to the NPR story I would refer all readers to the many earlier discussions we have been having on this subject that will present better questions and lines of thought than will be found below. Please reference the sections on "Science" regarding Origins and the Search for Adam within this blog.

Consistent to my fundamental/evangelical background, the pervasiveness of allegory found in the bible was considered forbidden. But when examining Scriptures from a non-fundamental/non-evangelical standpoint the pervasiveness of allegorical usage in the bible will require re-examination and re-consideration as we go forwards. My preference still leans to the historical-critical/contextual method of biblical interpretation (or "hermeneutic") which method leaves little room for allegorical usage within the passages of Scripture. However, if departing from the method of biblical literalism it would now have to be reconsidered since allegory would fall into the category of the "contextual history" of Scripture's literary environs. In fairness to the biblical literalist, allegory implied a subjective, relative reading of biblical passages... which was the very thing that the literal hermeneutic wished to avoid from the spurious mouths of non-bible believing heretics and disbelievers. Moreover, the practical mindset of 19th and 20th century Enlightenment wished for a tighter correlation between words and ideas in the language of man... one that presumably cannot be found it now seems given the fluidity of human linguistics.
 
Relative to the the Genesis creation story, my preference at this time is not to view it as an ancient Hebrew myth but as a allegorical story couched in mythological terminology. Perhaps these phrases carry the same meaning, but as a myth we tend to disregard any claims of theological reality to the Genesis story. That is, if granting a mythic treatment of Genesis it causes an indifference that is no more, nor no less, than other lightly regarded mythological stories of creation, flight and fancy. (As example, the ancient creation stories of Chinese dragons swallowing up the world. Or, the Mayan, Mesopotamian, Greek legends of god both fickled and weak, and destructive of whim). But, as a biblical form of allegory, the bible's theological claims may still be regarded as true when reconstructed from the ancient mindset into today's more scientific/modern mindset. Rather than being indifferently regarded the Genesis story may now carry validity with strong theological import to the continuing story found in Jesus' Incarnate Passion for man's sins. Which, at this point, is a pretty phenomenal statement from a former biblical literalist, don't you think?
 
Too, the Hebrew Creation story set within Genesis 1-3 is not written in today's modernity as a scientific journal of natural origins, but as an ancient nation's primitive understanding of the world's origins in theologic (or, broadly, religious) terms, where function and order is established from non-functioning chaos and the dark void of matter/non-matter by a Creator God known as Yahweh (YHWH) who we find to be loving, just, personal, almighty, wise, directive, purposeful - among many other qualities. RJS has declared as much himself (http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/08/search-for-historical-adam-5.html) as does NT Wright (http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/07/nt-wright-how-can-bible-be.html) in their past articles here listed about how to read the Genesis story in authoritative, non-scientific terms.

Otherwise, I wish to list the NPR story as the sad tale that is gripping conservative Christianity pulled by academic integrity in one direction while being pulled by obtuse (and irrelevant) theological statements of faith and conviction in the other direction. I would wish to see emergent Christians significantly differ from their evangelical kin and err in the direction of academic integrity to the abandonment of traditional beliefs. Thus allowing for a freedom of academic research that could better uncover the current mis-statements espoused by both conservative and liberal researcher and theologian. By-and-by I firmly believe that the fields of science, theology, philosophy, linguistics, etc, will all eventually form a generalized consensus of opinion on a number of interpretive grounds that later generations of theologians will be more adept at deciphering within today's vast arrays of conflicting data.

Taking a patient "wait-and-see" approach that is honest would be a far more hopeful plan and loving response than that of conducting Christian Inquisitions of defamation and inflammatory statements upon individuals, schools, churches and organizations. Let us not repeat the Catholic Church's mistake of locking up a Galileo while pretending the starry heavens ever circled our lowly earth because we think it so.

Nor do I think we Christians should fear that our faith will "unravel" as is quipped by Albert Mohler near the end of NPR's article. But rather, we will find a more secure, better informed faith than could be found through the fearful acts of naivety and disruption.

skinhead
August 11, 2012


*Five months later I wrote a second follow up to NPR's observations entitled "How God Created by Evolution: A Proposed Theory of Man's Evolutionary Development." Here, I had grown tired of talking round-and-round about the story of creation and simply wanted to find an evolutionary depiction of it. Failing that, I wrote one myself proposing a stricter account of evolutionary creation that attempted to remove the impasses to the traditional Christian understanding of Sin, the Fall, Adam and Eve, and corollaries to Jesus. By doing this it helped me to think more in evolutionary terms of this world's creation up to its present state of tension held in sin and death. And from that point forward it has assisted me in further redefining the story of us held in the larger story of our Creator-Redeeming God.

R.E. Slater
November 14, 2012

 
* * * * * * * * * *

 
August 9, 2011

Listen to the Story
[7 min 44 sec]

Let's go back to the beginning — all the way to Adam and Eve, and to the question: Did they exist, and did all of humanity descend from that single pair?

According to the Bible (Genesis 2:7), this is how humanity began: "The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." God then called the man Adam, and later created Eve from Adam's rib.

Polls by Gallup and the Pew Research Center find that four out of 10 Americans believe this account. It's a central tenet for much of conservative Christianity, from evangelicals to confessional churches such as the Christian Reformed Church.

But now some conservative scholars are saying publicly that they can no longer believe the Genesis account. Asked how likely it is that we all descended from Adam and Eve, Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University, replies: "That would be against all the genomic evidence that we've assembled over the last 20 years, so not likely at all."

Researching The Human Genome

Venema says there is no way we can be traced back to a single couple. He says with the mapping of the human genome, it's clear that modern humans emerged from other primates as a large population — long before the Genesis time frame of a few thousand years ago. And given the genetic variation of people today, he says scientists can't get that population size below 10,000 people at any time in our evolutionary history.

To get down to just two ancestors, Venema says, "You would have to postulate that there's been this absolutely astronomical mutation rate that has produced all these new variants in an incredibly short period of time. Those types of mutation rates are just not possible. It would mutate us out of existence."

Venema is a senior fellow at BioLogos Foundation, a Christian group that tries to reconcile faith and science. The group was founded by Francis Collins, an evangelical and the current head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), who, because of his position, declined an interview.

And Venema is part of a growing cadre of Christian scholars who say they want their faith to come into the 21st century. Another one is John Schneider, who taught theology at Calvin College in Michigan until recently. He says it's time to face facts: There was no historical Adam and Eve, no serpent, no apple, no fall that toppled man from a state of innocence.

"Evolution makes it pretty clear that in nature, and in the moral experience of human beings, there never was any such paradise to be lost," Schneider says. "So Christians, I think, have a challenge, have a job on their hands to reformulate some of their tradition about human beginnings."

'Fundamental Doctrines Of The Christian Faith'

To many evangelicals, this is heresy.

"From my viewpoint, a historical Adam and Eve is absolutely central to the truth claims of the Christian faith," says Fazale Rana, vice president of Reasons To Believe, an evangelical think tank that questions evolution. Rana, who has a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Ohio University, readily admits that small details of Scripture could be wrong.

"But if the parts of Scripture that you are claiming to be false, in effect, are responsible for creating the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, then you've got a problem," Rana says.

Rana and others believe in a literal, historical Adam and Eve for many reasons. One is that the Genesis account makes man unique, created in the image of God — not a descendant of lower primates.

Second, it tells a story of how evil came into the world, and it's not a story in which God introduced evil through the process of evolution, but one in which Adam and Eve decided to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit.

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, says that rebellious choice infected all of humankind.

"When Adam sinned, he sinned for us," Mohler says. "And it's that very sinfulness that sets up our understanding of our need for a savior.

Mohler says the Adam and Eve story is not just about a fall from paradise: It goes to the heart of Christianity. He notes that the Apostle Paul (in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15) argued that the whole point of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection was to undo Adam's original sin.

"Without Adam, the work of Christ makes no sense whatsoever in Paul's description of the Gospel, which is the classic description of the Gospel we have in the New Testament," Mohler says.

Intellectual Rift

That's only true if you read the Bible literally, says Dennis Venema at Trinity Western University. But if you read the Bible as poetry and allegory as well as history, you can see God's hand in nature — and in evolution.

"There's nothing to be scared of here," Venema says. "There is nothing to be alarmed about. It's actually an opportunity to have an increasingly accurate understanding of the world — and from a Christian perspective, that's an increasingly accurate understanding of how God brought us into existence."

This debate over a historical Adam and Eve is not just another heady squabble. It's ripping apart the evangelical intelligentsia.

"Evangelicalism has a tendency to devour its young," says Daniel Harlow, a religion professor at Calvin College, a Christian Reformed school that subscribes to the fall of Adam and Eve as a central part of its faith.

"You get evangelicals who push the envelope, maybe; they get the courage to work in sensitive, difficult areas," Harlow says. "And they get slapped down. They get fired or dismissed or pressured out."

Harlow should know: Calvin College investigated him after he wrote an article questioning the historical Adam. His colleague and fellow theologian, John Schneider, wrote a similar article and was pressured to resign after 25 years at the college. Schneider is now beginning a research fellowship at Notre Dame.

It's actually an opportunity to have an increasingly accurate understanding of the world — and from a Christian perspective, that's an increasingly accurate understanding of how God brought us into existence.

'A Galileo Moment'

Several other well known theologians at Christian universities have been forced out; some see a parallel to a previous time when science conflicted with religious doctrine.

"The evolution controversy today is, I think, a Galileo moment," says Karl Giberson, who authored several books trying to reconcile Christianity and evolution, including The Language of Science and Faith, with Francis Collins.

Giberson — who taught physics at Eastern Nazarene College until his views became too uncomfortable in Christian academia — says Protestants who question Adam and Eve are akin to Galileo in the 1600s, who defied Catholic Church doctrine by stating that the earth revolved around the sun and not vice versa. Galileo was condemned by the church, and it took more than three centuries for the Vatican to express regret at its error.

"When you ignore science, you end up with egg on your face," Giberson says. "The Catholic Church has had an awful lot of egg on its face for centuries because of Galileo. And Protestants would do very well to look at that and to learn from it."

Abandoning Theology?

Fuzale Rana isn't so sure this is a Galileo moment: That would imply the scientists are correct. But he does believe the stakes are even higher in today's battle over evolution. It is not just about the movement of the earth, but about the nature of God and man, of sin and redemption.

"I think this is going to be a pivotal point in Church history," he says. "Because what rests at the very heart of this debate is whether or not key ideas within Christianity are ultimately true or not."

But others say Christians can no longer afford to ignore the evidence from the human genome and fossils just to maintain a literal view of Genesis.

"This stuff is unavoidable," says Dan Harlow at Calvin College. "Evangelicals have to either face up to it or they have to stick their head in the sand. And if they do that, they will lose whatever intellectual currency or respectability they have."

"If so, that's simply the price we'll have to pay," says Southern Baptist seminary's Albert Mohler. "The moment you say 'We have to abandon this theology in order to have the respect of the world,' you end up with neither biblical orthodoxy nor the respect of the world."

Mohler and others say if other Protestants want to accommodate science, fine. But they shouldn't be surprised if their faith unravels.*

 

Academic Integrity in the face of Evolutionary Eviction by Evangelicals

A Search for Acceptance?
http://musingsonscience.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/a-search-for-acceptance/#more-768


Among those questioning the historicity of Adam and Eve are John Schneider, until recently a professor of Religion at Calvin College (he took early retirement in the wake of the controversy surrounding his article in PSCF). Dennis Venema, an associate professor of Biology at Trinity Western University in British Columbia who posts regularly at BioLogos, Karl Giberson, and Daniel Harlow, a professor of Religion at Calvin College and author of another controversial article in PSCF (discussed here in two posts: 1, 2).

Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Fazale Rana, vice president of Reasons To Believe, Ph.D. in Biochemistry, provide the counterpoint defending the traditional understanding of Adam and Eve as essential to the Christian faith.

The NPR story is fairly predictable. It emphasizes two widely separated extremes in evangelical thinking, but doesn’t have the time to really dig into the complexities of the discussions or the range of possible views. This is interesting, but not particularly informative. In the post today I don’t want to focus on the question of Adam – instead I would rather pose a related question for discussion.

Why do so many Christian scholars stick their neck out on this issue?

What is the motivation?

The end of the NPR story is what really caught my attention – and it is the aspect that I would like to highlight.
This debate over a historical Adam and Eve is not just another heady squabble. It’s ripping apart the evangelical intelligentsia.
“Evangelicalism has a tendency to devour its young,” says Daniel Harlow, a religion professor at Calvin College, a Christian Reformed school that subscribes to the fall of Adam and Eve as a central part of its faith.
“You get evangelicals who push the envelope, maybe; they get the courage to work in sensitive, difficult areas,” Harlow says. “And they get slapped down. They get fired or dismissed or pressured out.”
Evangelicalism is not content to devour the young – the middle-aged and elder statesmen are also fair game. I don’t think I could work at an evangelical school – not because I expect my faith to unravel, but because I would not be comfortable if required to conform my understanding of the faith by a statement and commitment that goes beyond the ancient creeds and a general appreciation for the authority of scripture. While theology certainly helps to inform my interpretation of creation, life, and purpose, we err when we declare for some reason or other that a fact can not be a fact because of its theological consequence. This was true in the day of Galileo and is true today.
“This stuff is unavoidable,” says Dan Harlow at Calvin College. “Evangelicals have to either face up to it or they have to stick their head in the sand. And if they do that, they will lose whatever intellectual currency or respectability they have.”

“If so, that’s simply the price we’ll have to pay,” says Southern Baptist seminary’s Albert Mohler. “The moment you say ‘We have to abandon this theology in order to have the respect of the world,’ you end up with neither biblical orthodoxy nor the respect of the world.”

Mohler and others say if other Protestants want to accommodate science, fine. But they shouldn’t be surprised if their faith unravels.
But is the problem really accommodation and a desire for acceptance? Did Pete Enns, Richard Colling, Dan Harlow, John Schneider, Darrel Falk, Bruce Waltke, Tremper Longman, and more, put their jobs on the line, in many cases losing them, because they valued the acceptance of the world, the intellectual and academic world, above all else? This suggestion, often repeated, is excessively cynical and damaging to both individuals and to dialog. It is method used to disparage individuals and remove the need for real conversation.

I agree with Dr. Mohler that if we say we have to abandon theology to have the respect of the world we will have neither. But that is not really the issue. The full context and intent of Dr. Harlow’s comment and this ongoing discussion is not to retain respect for the sake of respect, but to remain engaged in a sincere search for truth – God’s truth. If the evidence for evolution and a non-traditional view of Adam and Eve really is overwhelming – and I believe that it is – we have no choice but to go with the data. This isn’t a search for the acceptance of the world but a profound need to retain personal intellectual integrity. I am convinced that science, specifically evolution, and faith are compatible because I am convinced that both are true – we can and will work out the details.

The conversation is important, and worth taking a stand on, not to achieve personal acceptance and respect – but because the issue has caused so many to struggle with faith, lose faith, or refuse to consider faith.

Here we can quote St. Augustine:
If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? (The Literal Meaning of Genesis Ch. 18)
God is the God of truth and we should not fear to seek truth wherever it is found, and this includes scripture and it includes our pursuit of a scientific explanation and understanding of the workings of God’s creation. St. Augustine’s reflections in the passage from which the quote above was taken are particularly relevant – when more than one interpretation of scripture is possible, and more than one intent can be ascribed to the author, we should leave room for the ambiguity and let future study either confirm both or determine the truth.

Above all let us be governed by love. We need to avoid cynicism and the appearance of cynicism. Those who question the traditional view of Adam are not sacrificing all to seek the approval and respect of the world. Those who feel that the traditional view is a lynchpin of our faith are not out to win the approval of men, secure power, or appease donors. We won’t get anywhere if we disparage and distrust the motivations of others. Nor will we witness effectively to those outside of the faith or struggling with faith. This is a family discussion we need to have. It would be nice if we could model the discussion of a healthy and loving family as we move forward.

What do you think? What drives this discussion?

Can we agree to disagree and take our time working through the issues? Or is it essential to take a strong stand here and now, either for or against?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net
If you have comments please visit A Search for Acceptance? at Jesus Creed.