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

Monday, April 1, 2013

Working Towards a Biblical Interpretation that is both Relevant and Accurate

"Biblical criticism is perennially caught between the Scylla of interpretive freedom
and the Charybdis of irrelevance. Too much hermeneutic freedom and the tradition
disintegrates, losing its epistemological appeal. Too little interpretive freedom and the
Bible becomes merely an irrelevant historical artifact, rather than the living word of God."
Inherently, evangelical biblical interpretation is unquestionably caught between a need
for relevance and the need for textual validity.
- Brian Malley
This quote by Brian Malley back in 2004 is apparently still valid for today, and one that immediately drove me to produce Relevancy22 in the public forum of opinion as a way to reconsider the very old, and long enduring, position of biblical literalism against that of biblical accuracy. Realizing that my evangelical tradition held within it foundational folklores that trembled to considered any other biblical interpretation other than its own as the only right way to hear and obey God's Word. For if we did, we would then need to attend to the necessary reconstruction of evangelicalism's interpretive boundaries against its preferred dogmas where both interpretation and dogmas would fall as one.

And yet, I believed God to be larger than my own myopic view... larger than my epistemological or ideological ideas I had constructed about Him, His Word, and around my faith... and larger than the restrictive boundaries I had raised to wall off a disbelieving world out-of-covenant, and out-of-time with my idea of God and biblical faith. Or so I believed, until deciding that with what remaining years I had left I should at least attempt a small reprise to the doctrines I grew up with for the several years His Spirit might grace my soul with passion and discernment in this area. Allowing my mind and heart to reconsider each doctrine in reconstructive renovation within a broader interpretive range of ideas not only biblically-generated, but extra-biblically-generated as well. Not merely using the biblical hermeneutic of contextual, grammatical, historical interpretation as discourser to biblical anatomy, but by allowing non-biblical sources to inform as gained from the ideas and discoveries within science, philosophy, public opinion, and even from other religions. To me, God is within the world that He created. He has not been excluded from it. And by listening to this world it can better inform the biblical reader to God's incomprehensible heart and intent.

This does not mean that the Bible is less regarded. Nay, on the contrary. I wished to have a Bible that was richer, fuller, bearing the knowledge of the ages to its berth of wisdom and direction. Not just from my own branch of religious opinion, but from the many branches of insight and discovery left too long dormant upon the steps of the church in disregard, if not abject dismissal itself. Whether from the realms of the philosopher, the archaeologist, the behavioral scientist, the political scientist, the sociologist, the chemist, the Imam of Islam, the Rabbi of Judaism, the Buddhist monk of the East - even the man on the street in his wisdoms and observations. If God's Word was to speak to all of us it had to come from all of us - in all of our own settings, dispositions, reliefs, cultures, customs, traditions, and meaning. It was not the exclusive property of any one branch of the church or religious society. It had to tell us who we are by opening our minds and hearts to what we think and believe. The age of the Internet has caused this awareness. The age of travel, technology, and interlinked global communications is to blame. To do less is to refuse knowing God's gracious heart and mind. This is God's world that He has given to us to enjoy with one another as with Himself. As such, He has something to say about it and we must do better at listening to Him speak through ancient biblical records become irrelevant should we lock down its hoary words to our own stylistic preferences and biases.

In my opinion, this personal reconstruction lay long overdue while the more important operations of supporting and raising a family and business took my time and energy. Moreover, I overly relied on my evangelical faith to do the job for me with its bastions of scholars, academicians, preachers, teachers, missionaries and evangelists. But lo-and-behold after 35 years the evangelicalism I knew and loved had simply fortified its walls and laid waste upon the disbelieving world around it... proscribing a Jesus who served with conditions and threats of damnation lest any not abide to the evangelic doctrine trumpeted by my faith (however, and whatever, that has now come to mean in this day-and-age). And while I blithely, if not ignorantly, went about the business of living and supporting church ministries, the church in its structures and organizations drew away from the world in which I lived as if it were an evil thing, unholy and unblessed, by the God who created it. Who loves it. Who gave it life. Who died for its sins and daily death. Who seeks to bring to it healing, presence, blessing, wholeness, and life. As such, I believe its time to knock down a few religious walls and allow in heaven's celestrial airs of freedom and redemption, liberty and light, that move heavily around us though we know it not by our evangelical faith become too restrictive to comprehend. Calling for dismissal to those who dare speak up about violence in the OT; for removal to those evolutionists that dare breathe God's name into this unholy science; for anathema upon the heads of those advocating the rights of gays and lesbians; who might preach a gospel where God's love wins rather than a gospel of hell and electorial exclusion.

And after listening for-a-dozen-or-so-years to emergent Christians revisioning a Jesus faith of love and mercy, peace and goodwill, to local ministries and global missions, I thought I too should join in and try loosening a few bricks of the sturdy Berlin-like wall my insular faith had built around itself through its popularized books, media enterprises, missions, films, TV shows, pulpits, churches, and schools. And so, Relevancy22 has been produced to lay a groundwork for direction and discussion.... Probing with questions and statements ideas foreign to those doctrines and dogmas that I had grown up with.... Perhaps wandering towards neo-orthodoxy on the one hand, and liberal evangelicalism on the other hand. Trying to find that middle ground of faith expression that would allow in a brighter shaft of light, and the fresher air of the gospel, through the Spirit-window of inspiration and grace, illumination and mercy. A Spirit-window that could allow in a personal renewal of belief and re-commitment to the faith of the God of the Bible by first destroying all sure ground around it. Unconcerned with protecting God but more concerned with not protecting my windowless religion and faith. To allow in consideration of foreign ideas, thoughts and expressions without jumping in horror to every biblical fallacy and misdirection presented. To be wise enough to discern direction so that the Gospel of our Lord could be heard again by a foreign people reacting to my religion and not to my God. To destroy the evangelic walls of dissembly, its distance from society, its retrenchment from the world, and allow in the foreigner to the blessed lands we never were to hold for ourselves. This is the biblical faith. One that is shared but also one that communes with others in an amazing world much larger than our own constructs of it. To hear of God's Word from an Eastern perspective, a Muslim perspective, a Jewish, or scientific, or philosophic perspective, and not simply our Americanized, modernistic, secular perspective.

And well that it has... for once the foundation of biblical literalism was revisited I knew at once that a truer hermeneutic more-in-line-with my now reconstructed orthodox faith - and not my older evangelic faith - must be reconstituted as one that addressed postmodern societal angst and ideological deconstruction should ever Jesus be heard again from the Scriptures beyond the sieves of mine own dogmatic preferences. I needed a relevant Gospel that was more contemporary to societal needs. More accurate with the discoveries of surrounding scientific disciplines. More personalized to the human condition and narrative story of redemptive evolution occurring across all stratas of cultures and customs. And more receptive to the human story of defeat, sorrow, pain, destruction, woe and failure. A faith that when shared seemed reasonably attune with contemporary, global, society today - and less out of tune with the secular modernism and harsh judgmentalism I had been raised within. One that was in-time and in-place and not out-of-time and out-of-place. A gospel from God and not a gospel from man.

So that, in Brian Malley's opening quote we find a truism that in order to grow in Christ and in His Word we must learn to reopen our minds and hearts in how we would read the Bible and understand its authority for ourselves within not only our own daily lives, but for the world at large. If not, we are left with a religion-of-walls like Jesus had encountered in His day... with Scribes and Pharisees that held the bastions of religion so legalistically and fearfully tight that they neglected to see in Jesus God's imprimatur of Himself as the Son of Man, their Savior - who was their Life, their Light, their Law, and their Lord.

Let us not repeat this same mistake made so easily (and repeatedly) over the past 2000 years of church history by allowing the monarchs and civil magistrates of our faith to decide for us. Nay, let us bear some responsibility for it's pronouncement in ourselves by questioning our assurances and being more willing to reassess what we have heard with what we know. Not in displacement of the Bible but in replacing our misdirected ideas of the Bible with ones more accurate and less filled with personal dread and fear. And for any who wish to join with me, I submit all past articles written over these past several years, as various testaments to my pained questions, renewing vision, and restorative faith, for examination. It has been a long journey that required a newer, meatier gospel than the one I followed. Thank you in joining with me on this journey of faith and enlightenment, prophetic announcement and spiritual healing to the One who has come to heal the wounds of our lands, the rifts between nations, the dark hatreds we hold with one another. It was never meant to be ever so, even now in this Age of Grace and Mercy, Love and Forgiveness, Peace and Assurance.

R.E. Slater
April 1, 2013
* * * * * * * * * * *
Tim Keller on Homosexuality and Biblical Authority: Different Crisis, Same Problem.
”Large numbers of evangelical Christians, even younger ones…will continue to hold the view that same-sex marriage runs counter to their faith, even as they increasingly decide they either support or do not oppose making it the law of the land.”
As he often does, Keller has his finger on the pulse of evangelical culture. My own experience is admittedly more limited than Keller’s, but my ear to the ground picks up the same sort of distant rumbling.
In the world of public prominent evangelicals voices, there aren’t many like Keller who seem genuinely interested in finding a third way between a polemical theological tradition and practical realties of contemporary life. Some, I know, call him a compromiser, but that is an unfair assessment. He is trying to work things out, and is often called to do so in public settings.
But what really caught my eye was Keller’s observation concerning evangelical biblicism, which has far wider implications than for homosexuality:
“If you say to everybody, ‘Anyone who thinks homosexuality is a sin is a bigot, … [y]ou’re going to have to ask them to completely disassemble the way in which they read the Bible, completely disassemble their whole approach to authority. You’re basically going to have to ask them to completely kick their faith out the door.’”
Here, too, Keller is right. To change their views on homosexuality will require evangelicals to “disassemble the way in which they read the Bible, completely disassemble their whole approach to authority.”
This raises two questions: “What’s wrong with some disassembling?” and “Why does disassembling have to be tied to having or not having faith?”
Leaving aside the specific issue of homosexuality, Keller’s observation about evangelical notions of biblical authority is correct but also concerning. In my opinion, Keller has, perhaps unwittingly, put his finger on the entire problem evangelicals face when confronted with any issue that runs counter to evangelical theology: “You’re asking me to read my Bible differently than my tradition has prescribed, and so I can’t go there. If I do, my faith is kicked out the door.”
What drew my attention to this comment is the fact that I regularly hear the very same response with respect to many other issues–like evolution. The big impasse for evangelicals is that accepting evolution requires them to rethink how they read their Bible, specifically the story of Adam and Eve. Reading that story as fundamentally historical is “the way in which [evangelicals] read the Bible” and to ask them to do otherwise “complete dissemble[s] their whole approach to biblical authority.”
To me this raises an obvious question: Maybe the way in which evangelical read the Bible and conceive of its authority is the problem in the evangelical system that needs to be rethought, rather than being the non-negotiable hill to stand and die on for addressing every issue that comes down the road?
This isn’t about evangelicals accepting or rejecting the Bible. It’s about thinking self-critically about how they read it and their approach to biblical authority.
The problem, though, is that the evangelical view of the Bible as God’s inerrant authority for the church is its ground floor raison d’etre. Evangelicalism exists, at least intellectually, to defend and promote this view. To ask evangelicals to do a critical self-assessment of how they read the Bible is in effect to ask them to assess the entire system.
Here is where I feel Keller’s ear should be closer to the ground. I see this sort of re-assessment happening now all over the place–evangelicals looking for an alternate “explanatory paradigm,” other than an tradition that rests on an inerrant Bible, for how to live on this planet.
The only real question I see is whether this process will continue as part of the evangelical experiment or will have to move wholly outside of it.

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