According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, 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

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Eusociality and the Bible, Part 1 of 2


Which came first - human consciousness or eusociality?

Or, put another way, which created which?
 

Introduction

Here's an interesting take on humanity's evolutionary roots combining the evolutionary concepts of natural selection with group selection. From an Evolutionary Creationist standpoint, a Christian can look at this evolutionary process as yet another evidence of God's amazingly intricate involvement with the development of the homo sapien line of hominids. By coaxing forth a trait, gene, or tendency, towards sustaining/promoting "the group over the individual' the homo sapien line became the predominant species to survive and build itself into like-civilizations dedicated to protecting its community against all other forces. Apparently, man is not only social but "eu-social," behaving beyond mere self-interest to the promotion of a bonded group dedicated to one-another's survival through altruism, sacrifice of self-interests, division of labor, and become super-cooperators.

A Biblical Idea that is Evolutionary

Running with this idea a bit further in a theological direction (since as a Christian I must view humanity's origins from a Godward viewpoint, rather than as an atheistic/agnostic viewpoint) I might suggest some additional theologic observations.... In Scripture we read that God cautions time and again to sacrifice oneself for the promotion of one's neighbor (love one another); or, God directed His people towards assemblage and community as federated tribes such as is seen in the Jewish tribes of Israel; or that eusociality is seen in Jesus' works of social justice and benevolence towards others unlike himself; or even in God's sacrifice of Himself through crucifixion for the ultimate survivability of mankind's eternal future (in biblical terms); or in the resultant church's communal worship, witness and ministry evidenced over the past 2000 years; and finally, resulting in a future everlasting Kingdom made up of a society of converts super-cooperating with one another by providing humanitarian services described in terms of peace, harmony, good will; moreover, this Kingdom community further projects itself through a mutually determined co-existence with nature by nurturing the earth in a massive ecological reconstruction requiring the maintenance and preservation of all biological, geological, and cosmic subsystems. A final observation might be added in observing the Bible's usage of the significant Greek terms of koinonia (= "community, communion, joint participation, sharing and intimacy") and allylon (= "one another") found throughout New Testament passages. Hence, the church celebrates Jesus' resurrection through the eucharist in a koinonia memorial of remembrance. Likewise, Christians are to devote themselves to one another in a whole host of services that focuses on practices and attitudes that would preserve unity, harmony, peace, love and forgiveness within the walls of the church made up of converts emerging from dissimilar environments to one another.

An Evolutionary Idea that is Biblical

Of course the downside to all this is that in order to get from "there to here" on an evolutionary scale the hominid line would fight and struggle for its survival over that of other lesser-enabled hominids (including its earlier apelike ancestors). However, sin being sin, one could mundanely state that "individual (natural) selection" was what was required in order to survive against a primordial world evolving apart from a later developing ethical and moral consciousness that would arise within both the animal kingdoms and hominid lines. So that a corresponding type, or kind of, prehistoric "self-consciousness" was also evolving within this very same prehistoric time of burly, bloody, self-interest, self-promotion, and survival. A consciousness that most probably had a very low-level (if at all) awareness of the ethical/moral possibilities occurring within this newly-arisen and social hominid being found in its earliest developmental stages.... And if one accounts for free will both within the animal/hominid line, as well as within creation itself (more popular known by the older term, natural law(s)), especially a free will that tended towards death and destruction (the Christian term for this is sin), than it gives us an even more amazing picture of the intricate involvement of a Creator-God in directing a disorderly cosmos (and animal kingdom) towards order and restoration through a formative consciousness and ethical responsibility. Even an order that would someday create a self-consciousness that could contemplate the ethereal, metaphysical concepts of morality and ethics - especially in social and existential terms! - relative to oneself, one's society, and even of a Deity as Sovereign/Creator. Amazing indeed when considering prehistoric man has arisen from the primordial soup of star dust to someday realize his very place amongst the stars themselves with the Lord of creation. Mankind's eternal North Star and heavenly compass sovereignly directing away from sin's death-and-destruction to life-everlasting by the very work of this Creator-God through His Son Jesus. Called in the Bible as man's bright Morning Star of redemptive rebirth and divine re-creation.

Conclusion

This apparently is what sets humanity apart from the animal world... that we have evolved - at the hand of God - into sentient beings. And even more than this... into sentient beings who can work together, live together, and host one another's interests over our own. Giving hope that even now, amidst today's societies where brutality and selfishness still exist, that we as a species are rapidly evolving in our eusociality capabilities (sic, through recognition, accommodation, and adaptability) into a super-sentient species wishing to massively cooperate with one another (as evidenced by technology's rapid promotion and ingestion of social networking and inter-cooperative social paradigms) from freedom campaigns and revolutions in despotic worlds of injustice, to the provisioning of social justice and equality to the needy, destitute, poor and socially outcast. All this despite our darker natures of individual self-interest. It gives one pause to wonder aloud the possibilities of our species at the hands of God (even now!) should we not destroy ourselves in the process.... a possibility that can give rise to greater and greater integration of mutually assured, and mutually promoting, complex organization within humanity's increasingly inter-dependent societies. It is the Christian hope. Even as it is a biblical truth that sin, death and destruction will remain against this hope until Christ comes again to put all right (both ecological and sociologically). But in order to put all things spiritually right, a repentance and rebirth must first occur, as provided through Jesus' atonement. And through this redemption will come the infinite possibilities for re-creation and re-newal down into the very depths of our personal beings and social orders. Verily, even into our sinful hearts and minds. A rebirth that would at once remove the internal disorders of sin within the human breast of lusts and temptations, and rebirth an abandoned divine order lost eons ago at the dawn of creation. An ancient primordial creative order that the ancient Jews would call "Shalom" - and we would acknowledge as "life and blessing" - wherein the image of our Creator God is birthed, mirrored, realized and brought into cosmic re-alignment and daily experience. Even so may God's shalom be our peace this very day through His Son Jesus Christ. And may that shalom become our evolving spiritual reality day-to-day personally, socially, ecologically, and with the very God of Creation Himself. The Redeemer and Lover of our souls. 

R.E. Slater
April 16, 2012



Wilson says our instinct to settle down both ensures our success and dooms us to conflict.

Biologist E.O. Wilson on

by E.O. Wilson
Apr 2, 2012

Religion. Sports. War. Biologist E.O. Wilson says our drive to join a group—and to fight for it—is what makes us human.

Have you ever wondered why, in the ongoing presidential campaign, we so strongly hear the pipes calling us to arms? Why the religious among us bristle at any challenge to the creation story they believe? Or even why team sports evoke such intense loyalty, joy, and despair?

The answer is that everyone, no exception, must have a tribe, an alliance with which to jockey for power and territory, to demonize the enemy, to organize rallies and raise flags.

And so it has ever been. In ancient history and prehistory, tribes gave visceral comfort and pride from familiar fellowship, and a way to defend the group enthusiastically against rival groups. It gave people a name in addition to their own and social meaning in a chaotic world. It made the environment less disorienting and dangerous. Human nature has not changed. Modern groups are psychologically equivalent to the tribes of ancient history. As such, these groups are directly descended from the bands of primitive humans and prehumans.

The drive to join is deeply ingrained, a result of a complicated evolution that has led our species to a condition that biologists call eusociality. “Eu-,” of course, is a prefix meaning pleasant or good: euphony is something that sounds wonderful; eugenics is the attempt to improve the gene pool. And the eusocial group contains multiple generations whose members perform altruistic acts, sometimes against their own personal interests, to benefit their group. Eusociality is an outgrowth of a new way of understanding evolution, which blends traditionally popular individual selection (based on individuals competing against each other) with group selection (based on competition among groups). Individual selection tends to favor selfish behavior. Group selection favors altruistic behavior and is responsible for the origin of the most advanced level of social behavior, that attained by ants, bees, termites—and humans.

Fierce weaver ants (in Malaysia)
work and fight together
Among eusocial insects, the impulse to support the group at the expense of the individual is largely instinctual. But to play the game the human way required a complicated mix of closely calibrated altruism, cooperation, competition, domination, reciprocity, defection, and deceit. Humans had to feel empathy for others, to measure the emotions of friend and enemy alike, to judge the intentions of all of them, and to plan a strategy for personal social interactions.

As a result, the human brain became simultaneously highly intelligent and intensely social. It had to build mental scenarios of personal relationships rapidly, both short term and long term. Its memories had to travel far into the past to summon old scenarios and far into the future to imagine the consequences of every relationship. Ruling on the alternative plans of action were the amygdala and other emotion-controlling centers of the brain and autonomic nervous system. Thus was born the human condition, selfish at one time, selfless at another, and the two impulses often conflicted.

Today, the social world of each modern human is not a single tribe but rather a system of interlocking tribes, among which it is often difficult to find a single compass. People savor the company of like-minded friends, and they yearn to be in one of the best—a combat Marine regiment, perhaps, an elite college, the executive committee of a company, a religious sect, a fraternity, a garden club—any collectivity that can be compared favorably with other, competing groups of the same category.

Their thirst for group membership and superiority of their group can be satisfied even with symbolic victory by their warriors in clashes on ritualized battlefields: that is, in sports. Like the cheerful and well-dressed citizens of Washington, D.C., who came out to witness the First Battle of Bull Run during the Civil War, they anticipate the experience with relish. The fans are lifted by seeing the uniforms, symbols, and battle gear of the team, the championship cups and banners on display, the dancing seminude maidens appropriately called cheerleaders. When the Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers for the National Basketball Association championship on a June night in 1984, the mantra was “Celts Supreme!” The social psychologist Roger Brown, who witnessed the aftermath, commented, “The fans burst out of the Garden and nearby bars, practically break dancing in the air, stogies lit, arms uplifted, voices screaming. The hood of a car was flattened, about thirty people jubilantly piled aboard, and the driver—a fan—smiled happily ...It did not seem to me that those fans were just sympathizing or empathizing with their team. They personally were flying high. On that night each fan’s self-esteem felt supreme; a social identity did a lot for many personal identities.”

Experiments conducted over many years by social psychologists have revealed how swiftly and decisively people divide into groups and then discriminate in favor of the one to which they belong. Even when the experimenters created the groups arbitrarily, prejudice quickly established itself. Whether groups played for pennies or were divided by their preference for some abstract painter over another, the participants always ranked the out-group below the in-group. They judged their “opponents” to be less likable, less fair, less trustworthy, less competent. The prejudices asserted themselves even when the subjects were told the in-groups and out-groups had been chosen arbitrarily.

The tendency to form groups, and then to favor in-group members, has the earmarks of instinct. That may not be intuitive: some could argue that in-group bias is conditioned, not instinctual, that we affiliate with family members and play with neighboring children because we’re taught to. But the ease with which we fall into those affiliations points to the likelihood that we are already inclined that way—what psychologists call “prepared learning,” the inborn propensity to learn something swiftly and decisively. And indeed, cognitive psychologists have found that newborn infants are most sensitive to the first sounds they hear, to their mother’s face, and to the sounds of their native language. Later they look preferentially at persons who previously spoke their native language within their hearing. Similarly, preschool children tend to select native-language speakers as friends.

The elementary drive to form and take deep pleasure from in-group membership easily translates at a higher level into tribalism. People are prone to ethnocentrism. It is an uncomfortable fact that even when given a guilt-free choice, individuals prefer the company of others of the same race, nation, clan, and religion. They trust them more, relax with them better in business and social events, and prefer them more often than not as marriage partners. They are quicker to anger at evidence that an out-group is behaving unfairly or receiving undeserved rewards. And they grow hostile to any out-group encroaching upon the territory or resources of their in-group.

When in experiments black and white Americans were flashed pictures of the other race, their amygdalas, the brain’s center of fear and anger, were activated so quickly and subtly that the centers of the brain were unaware of the response. The subject, in effect, could not help himself. When, on the other hand, appropriate contexts were added—say, the approaching African-American was a doctor and the white his patient—two other sites of the brain integrated with the higher learning centers, the cingulate cortex and the dorsolateral preferential cortex, lit up, silencing input through the amygdala. Thus different parts of the brain have evolved by group selection to create groupishness, as well as to mediate this hardwired propensity.

When the amygdala rules the action, however, there is little or no guilt in the pleasure experienced from watching violent sporting events and war films in which the story unwinds to a satisfying destruction of the enemy. The horrors make the fascination. War is the strong life; it is life in extremis. Literature and history are strewn with accounts of what happens at the extreme, as in the following from Judges 12: 5–6 in the Old Testament: the Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me go over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’?” If he said “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time. Research has shown that tribal aggressiveness goes well back beyond Neolithic times. And there is a good chance that it could be a much older heritage, dating beyond the split 6 million years ago between the lines leading to modern chimpanzees and to humans, respectively.

The patterns of collective violence in which young chimp males engage are remarkably similar to those of young human males. Aside from constantly vying for status, both for themselves and for their gangs, they tend to avoid open mass confrontations with rival troops, instead relying on surprise attacks. The purpose of raids made by the male gangs on neighboring communities is evidently to kill or drive out its members and acquire new territory. The entirety of such conquest under fully natural conditions has been witnessed by John Mitani and his collaborators in Uganda’s Kibale National Park. The chimp war, conducted over 10 years, was eerily humanlike. Every 10 to 14 days, patrols of up to 20 males penetrated enemy territory, moving quietly in single file, scanning the terrain from ground to the treetops, and halting cautiously at every surrounding noise. If they encountered a force larger than their own, the invaders broke rank and ran back to their own territory. When they encountered a lone male, however, they pummeled and bit him to death. When a female was encountered, they usually let her go. (This latter tolerance was not a display of gallantry. If she carried an infant, they took it from her and killed and ate it.) Finally, after such constant pressure for so long, the invading gangs simply annexed the enemy territory, adding 22 percent to the land owned by their own community.

Our bloody nature, it can now be argued in the context of modern biology, is ingrained because group-versus-group was a principal driving force that made us what we are. In prehistory, group selection lifted the hominids to heights of solidarity, to genius, to enterprise. And to fear. Each tribe knew with justification that if it was not armed and ready, its very existence was imperiled. Throughout history, the escalation of a large part of technology has had combat as its central purpose. Today, public support is best fired up by appeal to the emotions of deadly combat, over which the amygdala is grandmaster. We find ourselves in the battle to stem an oil spill, the fight to tame inflation, the war against cancer. Wherever there is an enemy, animate or inanimate, there must be a victory.

Any excuse for a real war will do, so long as it is seen as necessary to protect the tribe. The remembrance of past horrors has no effect. It should not be thought that war, often accompanied by genocide, is a cultural artifact of a few societies. Nor has it been an aberration of history, a result of the growing pains of our species’ maturation. Wars and genocide have been universal and eternal, respecting no particular time or culture. Overall, big wars have been replaced around the world by small wars of the kind and magnitude more typical of hunter-gatherer and primitively agricultural societies. Civilized societies have tried to eliminate torture, execution, and the murder of civilians, but those fighting little wars do not comply.

Civilization appears to be the ultimate redeeming product of competition between groups. Because of it, we struggle on behalf of good and against evil, and reward generosity, compassion, and altruism while punishing or downplaying selfishness. But if group conflict created the best in us, it also created the deadliest. As humans, this is our greatest, and worst, genetic inheritance.

N.T.Wright - "What Sabbath was, What it is now; and What it isn't any longer"

http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2011/06/01/tom-wright-scripture-and-gods-authority/

by Scot McKnight
posted June 1, 2011

The biggest problem many of us have with how we frame the “doctrine” of Scripture is that it isn’t adequate to how Scripture arose as our Sacred Text or how it operates either in the church or with us as Bible readers. Here’s the traditional model: it’s a top-down deposit or transmission of information. In other words, Scripture is framed as revelation.

I, too, would place Scripture within a framework of revelation, but that’s not enough, nor is it the primary framing. [Handmade chart with Penultimate app on the iPad.]

What is your model? What model is most “biblical” for you? And, what do you think of Tom Wright’s take on Sabbath as an illustration of how his model of Bible reading works?

Scripture flows out of the Trinitarian inter-communicative Logos and it is connected to the Holy Spirit and it is a “product” as well of the church. The revelation model has a top-down model that moves from God to revelation intent to inspiration and author/text and inerrancy and authority and reading. It’s all framed as a top-down revelation. It’s inadequate because God chose to manifest truth and grace and redemption through history, at specific moments and over time and through authors and through a community, and that history is nearly eliminated in the revelation model. The model needs supplementation to frame a view of Scripture that is organic to how Scripture came into existence. This top-down model is too much golden tablets dropping from the sky.

But Scripture at the organic level emerges from authors who are part of God’s People (Israel, Church), and the books in Scripture arise out of particular circumstances and are written by authors with intent and agenda, and the individual authors interact with one another (Micah, Isaiah, Matthew, Romans, Hebrews, Revelation) and carry the Story forward so that the last version of the Story can reframe the former versions. And then there is the ongoing life of the church — and tradition. Many of us think the revelation model tells us very important things, but it is inadequate.

That is why so many of us value the voice of Tom Wright in this discussion. His newest book, Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today, is both a revision and an expansion of his former book The Last Word.

This book of Tom’s both revises and expands and, in particular, adds chapters that are test cases for how his theory of Scripture works out. He examines two topics, Sabbath and Monogamy. Today I will look at his Sabbath chapter, but first a brief on the big ideas of the book.

The expression “authority of Scripture” is shorthand for “the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through Scripture” (21). There is something important here, for Wright acknowledges that authority is God’s — and derivatively of Scripture. Any time someone equates the two, there opens the possibility for idolatry to occur. Furthermore, Wright is keen on showing that this authority of God is God’s authority in working out the Kingdom mission for his people and creation. Scripture, then, is a sub-branch of mission, the Spirit, eschatology, and the Church itself (29). Again, very important.

When Wright comes to sum up his entire argument, on pp. 115-116, he says this: The authority of Scripture is “a picture of God’s sovereign and saving plan for the entire cosmos, dramatically inaugurated by Jesus himself, and now to be implemented through the Spirit-led life of the church precisely as the scripture-reading community.” Thus, the “authority of Scripture” is put into action in the Church’s missional operations. Scripture, he says, is more than a record of revelation and was never simply about imparting information — it is God’s word to redeem [and involve!- res] his people as God works out his plan for the entire created order. And you may know how the Bible teaches what Tom calls a 5-Act play: creation, fall, Israel, Jesus, Church. We are in the 5th Act now....


The Sabbath -
What it was, What it is now, and What it isn't any longer

Now to Sabbath. Tom provides an exceptional illustration of how both to read Sabbath (i) in its OT setting, (ii) what Jesus and Paul “did” to that teaching, (iii) how the Jubilee principle extends the Sabbath principle, and (iv) how Jesus is the transition to a new kind of time — death and resurrection and new creation, and thus how the Sabbath principle finds fulfillment in Jesus himself, and then he probes (v) how to live that Sabbath principle out in our world. Here are some highlights:

1. In the OT Sabbath was a strong commandment, it was the day YHWH took up abode in the temple of creation (here he chimes in with John Walton) and asked image-bearers to enjoy that same rest.

2. Sabbath shows that history is going somewhere, it is a temporal sign that creation is headed toward that final rest, and it is sacred time.

3. Sabbath has to be connected to Jubilee, and therefore to justice and compassion for the poor, and that means Sabbath and Jubilee point us toward the restoration of creation.

4. Jesus thought the entire Sabbath principle pointed toward himself. Time was fulfilled in him; a new kind of time begins with him. Paul does not seem to care about Sabbath, and he observes its absence in Romans 13:9; Col 2:14-16; Rom 14:5-6. I have to be brief: it’s about time’s fulfillment. Sacred time finds its way to Jesus Christ and new creation.

5. To continue celebrating sabbaths is to focus on the signposts when we have already arrived. Thus, “Come to me and I will give you rest.” You don’t need the alarm clock when the sun is flooding the room with its light. [Sabbath has occurred. Restoration has come. - res]

6. The early Christians didn’t transfer Sabbath to Sunday. [Nor do we - res].

7. We don’t need to back up into a Sabbatarianism. [sic, Christians do not need to become Seventh Day Adventists; nor Judaise or prosyletize their Christian faith backwards into the restrictive/antequated OT regimes and lifestyle observances; etc. - res].

8. We “celebrate” instead of “rest” — a kind of celebration rest. We reserve this day for new creation life. Music, the meal, family, service, peace, justice, love — these are the notes of Sunday for those who see the fulfillment of Sabbath in Jesus.

We live in a perpetual sabbath.


*res = re slater




Accepting the Complexity and Ambiguity Inherent in Scripture, Part 2


Topical References and Sidebars related to Part 1


Blog Sidebars

Anything found under "Bible..."
Anything found under "Hermeneutics..."
Anything found under "Theology..."


Specific Blog Articles

Accepting the Complexity and Ambiguity Inherent in Scripture, Part 1
http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2012/04/accepting-complexity-and-ambiguity.html


What Is Narrative Theology? "The Grander Story of God and Creation"
http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2012/02/christian-narrative-grander-story-of.html


The Infallibility and Multi-Vocality of Scripture
http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/11/infallibility-and-multi-vocality-of.html


Why Inerrancy Doesn't Matter
http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/11/why-inerrancy-doesnt-matter.html


Text & Culture - The Relevancy of God's Word to Contemporary Culture
http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/10/symposium-text-and-culture.html


How Should We Read the Bible?
http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/08/how-should-we-read-bible.html


NT Wright on "Scripture and God's Authority"
http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/06/scripture-and-gods-authority.html


Jesus, the Fulfillment of God's Revelation to Man
http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/12/jesus-fulfillment-of-gods-revelation-to.html


Which Hermeneutic Do We Choose? Christological or Trinitarian?
http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/08/christological-exegesis-for.html



Learning to Accept Inter-Faith and Religious Dialogue Beyond Your Own Faith


An Introduction

Rachel Held Evans has been conducting interviews with individuals outside of the Evangelical Christian Faith. She has interviewed Muslims, Quakers, Jews, Pentecostals, Agnostics, Atheists, Gays, Political Conservatives and Libertarians, Unitarians, and so on. She has shown a phenomenal effort in allowing people of differing faiths and beliefs to explain their views to Evangelical Christians, particularly because she has taken comments and questions from Evangelical Christians and had her interviewees respond to them in a non-threatening, personally affirming environment.

Now I have found this "Ask a..." series to be enriching to our understanding of people outside of our own cultural, religious groups in that it also helps to bring those who are "different" into a more personal, human perspective. Lately it seems that to be a "Christian" one must be critical of other people's faiths and beliefs while vigorously "fighting or contending" for one's own faith and beliefs. However, an emergent Christian should be one who patiently listens to others unlike him/herself; who does not feel threaten in being with other people of differing persuasions; who can enjoy others "as they are" without wishing to "change" that person into their own image but into God's image.

This is the basis of God's love. It is patient, kind, non-judgemental, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking nor easily angered. Love always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres with others, but does not allow one to be "used by others for their own selfish purposes;" it does not "enable others who are toxic in their relationships;" it does not "condone wrongs, hurts, unkindness, or intolerance;" nor does love in its desire to protect, trust, hope and persevere with others allow itself to be willfully naive, ignorant, blind, or indifferent to those it comes into relationship with. It walks a delicate balance between wisdom and sound judgment requiring prayer, acts of mercy, forgiveness, a desire to speak truth to one-another (but not one's biases or prejudices). It requires a supportive fellowship actively involved in each life seeking to make Jesus' call to love one another a consistent habit of life. A habit that is unnatural and does not come easily (if at all) to the flesh (our past sinful nature now redeemed). But in Christ can love become a reality (or characteristic, trait, intention, a mindfulness or attitude) that only the Holy Spirit can groom everyday to be lived out and tested.

What Love Is and Isn't

God's love is a divine act requiring the work of Christ's atonement in a person's life which is in the process of "being made new everyday" through the Holy Spirit. Consequently, and quite unnaturally it seems, Christianity is not a faith that is condemnatory or judgmental. But one that is less protective and territorial of itself. Less good at eviscerating another person's faith and beliefs. Of bringing harm and destruction into people's lives. This is not a mark of God's holiness. A holy person is one who seeks to love, to forgive, to serve others. Holiness is self-sacrificial service. It is kind. It is thoughtful. It shuns the deeds of the flesh. The criticisms of the heart. Fears, tyranny and oppression of others.

However, by bearing this persuasion in our attitudes and willfulness does not mean that we do not speak truth to one another. If anything this web blog is a testament to that.... As Christians we seek to know and understand God. To do that we must listen to the world around us - to science in its many disciplines; and to other religious perceptions (or conceptions) of God that might orientate us away from our own cultural preferences and biases. But most importantly, overall, we seek God through His Word, the Bible. And in seeking God through Scripture we must learn to discern the Bible - not on the basis of protecting our traditions and dogmas - but on the basis of using good, solid hermeneutics that "opens the Bible" up in new ways to be explored - not in new ways of shutting down conversation. Nor shutting others off from exploring a theology that could teach us of God, of ourselves, of God's plans and purposes for this world. But to participate in this process one must create the discipline of learning to listen. To study. To examine life with others who hold differing opinions from our own; differing sets of knowledge and experience that we might learn from; and to cultivate good wisdom and judgment within Christian doctrine and practice. Do you want to be a good theologian? Learn to listen. Want to preach? First allow God to preach to you. Want to minister? Earn it from others. In every way learn humility, patience, kindness, and love. These attitudes and acts serve best those who would serve God. And without which there can be no effective service.

The Apostle Paul Made Mistakes Too

Curiously, the very apostle Paul (known as Saul in Acts) who wrote of "God's love" in 1 Corinthians 13, was a self-righteous, bigoted, harmful, zealot committed to persecuting, oppressing, perhaps even condemning to death (sic, Stephen?) anyone teaching that Jesus was the risen Jewish Messiah. And it was this very Jesus whom he persecuted that came into his life on the road to Damascus. Making him to understand that God's Torah became incarnate in Jesus' life and ministry as God's Incarnate Word and Resurrected Messiah. Then, and then only, was the apostle Paul willing to cast away his religious zealotry, his passionate judgments and condemnations made against Jewish Christians seeking obedience to Jesus' lordship.

Paul was a man of Torah. A well-versed student of the Hebraic Law. He was a Pharisee's Pharisee.A Scribe's Scribe. Who mostly likely was unreceptive to Jesus' teachings in the Temple and throughout the land of Israel during Jesus' time of ministry. And if so, had built up quite a few convictions about this decidedly un-Jewish faith he was hearing being spoken through the land. Convictions that were wrong-headed and mistaken about what he thought the Old Testament taught. Convictions that burned in him when he heard Jesus contradicting the Judahistic teachers of his Torah-based faith. A faith that taught the precepts of the Law but not the spirit of the Law. A faith that could look away from helping another fellow human being destitute and in need, while justifying itself for its loveless acts committed through religious pride and zeal. A faith that rigorously observed Sabbaths, holy (feast) days, fasting, and all things pertaining to temple service and covenant. But missed the very Sabbath itself in the personage of Jesus, the Restorer of heaven and earth. That refused to dine and sup with Jesus in holy renewal of their Mosaic Covenant cut between God and man to bring redemption and atonement. Who serviced the temple and made sacrifices for the people while missing the Lord of the temple who Himself would provide the sacrifice for redemption. Who would be tried in the very house of God that was built to honor Him, and then be crucified outside the city gate upon a hill dedicated for thieves, evil doers, and wicked men. The irony is thick and disturbing. Here was a religious man. A man of Scripture. A man who should be discerning. Full of zeal. Full of religious faith. But full of all the wrong kind of stuff that Jesus was deconstructing in His disciples so that they could see the Messiah of Israel in all His glory, day-after-holy day, serving and ministering amongst the needy, the blind, the lame, the oppressed, the forgotten, thirsty and hungry. He who was bread and water, life and light, prophet and priest, of the Almighty God. The very Son of God. This God was the God that Paul (then named Saul) did not know. But thought he did.

Much later, this same Paul was found on the Road to Damascus to inflict more harm and destruction upon a gathered group of early Christians. It was his intention to continue persecuting Jesus and to extinguish this Holy Spirit flame of repentance and rebirth. And there on that hot, dusty road came the searching light of God by the hot illumination of the Holy Spirit causing the scales to fall off of Paul's blinded eyes so that he could see Jesus as his Messiah King. As the Holy One of Israel, who had come to bring God's kingdom to earth, through His people Israel by a new institution called the church. One not requiring tribal affiliations but a faith commitment. Not requiring works of the hands but a mighty work of God in the heart. Hence, God smote Paul's blinded heart with a perception so clear that he would trade in his dead, Messiah-less religion for a "stateless religion." One committed to a Person and not a Cause. To godliness and not self-righteousness. Nor to a dead tradition. But to real truth and not a truth of intolerance to others created by his own cultural preferences and traditions, fears and dreads, and misled unloving heart. That he was to use the humbler trade tools of Messiah Jesus until He come again - that of faith, hope and love - and not the prouder tools of his former religion of status, power, ego and pride.

To be a Christ follower is hard. It is not easy. The cost is high and requires much. Each of Jesus' disciples (turned apostles by God's calling to build His church) discovered that cost as they learned to be fishers of men in Christ's absence. Servants of God who once were served by the God of heaven. Followers of the Way when no other way could bring such stirring conviction. By their examples we know that polishing up our doctrines is not enough unless those doctrines breath life and love into the heart and word of God. Without those elements a Jesus follower cannot minister. Cannot witness. Cannot serve. They have become like Paul in his former religious life. Full of wind with no blessing by God. Sowing seed with no root. Casting pearls among the swines of intolerance and zealotry. Setting a table that cannot feed those who are starving and needing food and wine.

Simply said, Christians need to relax in God's truth and trust that we can lead others to God's truth, but not through unloving dogmas. It is God's doctrine we are charged to teach, and not ours to unteach through poor judgment and darkened wisdom. That it is God's Spirit who fights evil, and not our own spirit to bring evil. It is God's problem to communicate His will-and-word, not ours to mis-communicate and confuse. It is God's responsibility to make His revelation plain, not ours to darken with hollow words. For the key to learning, and teaching, and ministering is love. And by this love God urges us to use our spiritual gifts. If to serve, then serve. If to teach, then teach. If to witness, then preach Jesus. But to do all in a way that will glorify God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And to do it through l-o-v-e.... For these things we pray, Our heavenly Father. Amen.

R.E. Slater
April 14, 2012


1 Corinthians 13

1 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.




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