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
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - 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
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trick-or-Treat? What Does It Mean to be Unified in Christ?

Frankly, I don't follow Christianity Today (CT) any more. I use to care greatly about what they thought and published but since my "rebirth" from my evangelical stupor over the past dozen years and more I have found CT, its contributors, and its selective readings of today's theological issues, topics, and ideas, naïve at best, and dissembling at worst. 
/dɪˈsɛm bəl/  verb, dis·sem·bled, dis·sem·bling.
verb (used with object)
1. to give a false or misleading appearance to; conceal the truth or real nature of: to dissemble one's incompetence in business.
2. to put on the appearance of; feign: to dissemble innocence.
3. Obsolete . to let pass unnoticed; ignore.
Today's article from October 22nd more than proves my point. Here, Christena Cleveland gives an agreeable argument for the necessity of embracing Christian unity in its diversity of cultural ideas, theology, and adaptation of Christianity, uplifting difference and dissimilarity as admiral marks of any mature organization, religion, or faith. And in reply comes CT's officious proclamation under an amanuensis (sic, a person employed to write what another dictates, or to copy what has been written by another; a secretary.) that these ideas are agreeable to a point before marking off uncrossable sanctioned barriers. Barriers which, if crossed, makes a Christian anathema to their (evangelical) faith, to be described in whispered tones of being (or becoming) a false prophet carrying an unchristian gospel only worthy of biblical rebuke, reproof, condemnation, judgment and wrath. Where such a one is to be abandoned from the hallowed halls of the body of Christ unless an acceptable level of "homogeneity" is restored in balance with the general beliefs and tenets of evangelicalism's main ideas and message.
Hence, while Cleveland argues for the idea of unity within an enlarged Christian fellowship beyond the more restrictive definitions of its borders and boundaries, CT's reviewer rejects this auspicious idea by warning that it is a ruse, or a trick, to get Christians to betray their faith:
"While I find this "trick" beneficial, it does not fit every scenario. As an evangelical theologian committed to ecumenical unity framed by grace and truth, I wish Cleveland would have helped distinguish more clearly between areas where theological reconciliation is possible and areas where it is not." - CT
In effect, to bear the attitude of a general Christian acceptance of a (non-evangelic) brother or sister falls under the Halloween-like guise of conveying a godly "love and unity" which is basically a slick authorial "trick" or rubric that would open up any culpable reader to the dangers of moving away from the bastions of evangelical Christendom. The reviewer goes on to suggest that to take the author's attitudinal perspective would be like departing from the "narrow road" cautiously travelled unto an exiting off-ramp leading to a "larger road" of certain spiritual death, misleading ideas, and a disingenuous Gospel. Though the idea is good, it is not good enough when it leads to unsanctioned biblical ideas and teachings.
"Take, for example, 1 John 4:18 ("There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear"), to which Cleveland refers briefly in her treatment of the culture wars. The epistle's emphasis on love in chapter 4 appears only after a renunciation of teachers who deny the Incarnation. While doctrinal differences can be used to humble, strengthen, and enhance our perspectives, they often convey unbridgeable boundaries. "Perfect love" insists on certain rightful boundaries between truth and falsehood. This is not because we "fear" those on the other side, but because out of love we don't want them to be deceived." - CT
In sanctimonious unction the reviewer than proclaims the preferred "contextual" reading of 1 John 4 by qualifying Jesus' admonition to love one another with the apostle John's further admonition to hold to Jesus' incarnation (v.15)... or, in modern evangelical parlance, to only love those who are of the same doctrinal "brotherhood." Suggesting that all other Jesus-followers are not of God, but false and untrue. To this arena of demarcation we then get the unstated rubric of the three kinds of biblical "love" in the Bible - eros, phileo, and agape (translated: deeply passionate love; brotherly love within the church's fellowship; and godly love for those outside the church; as it is normally described).
The idea being here of carefully qualifying who is "in" or "not in" the true church's fellowship. And in this sense, to beware of deceptive ruses suggesting indiscriminately love in Christ as a binding blinder so that its participants become unaware of the false gospel that it conveys. A gospel bourne of false prophets and teachers. Not that this reviewer suggests that Cleveland is a charlatan, just that her idea contributes to the unqualified idea of an indiscriminate love that can be hazardous to evangelicalism's stricter theological walls of "biblical truth." Choosing always for truth over love, rather than love over truth. For those who wish this latter course, beware the larger consequences of becoming proselytized to a more worldly, less "Christianized" ideas beyond one's current fellowship. It is a message of fear. And unduly so as I will explain.
For the "trick" here is actually a "treat" not cooked in a witch's brew of discord and canker, but in the delights of discovering a newer, unbounded land of freedom shed of its religious blinders and deceptions. Which brings me to my reasons for leaving the attitudinal boundaries of my more restrictive evangelicalism, to a broader definition of what my Christian faith should bear. Yes, I believe in an incarnate Christ. It is one of the bedrocks of my faith. But I no longer qualify my faith by an adherence to evangelicalism's ideas of strict inerrancy, spontaneous creation, a dipolar God, a gospel of wrath, judgment, and exclusivity, nor any other dozens of qualifiers.
I have decided to "progress" beyond my formerly closed theological boundaries to a more open center-set nexus of a Jesus-centered faith. That is, a faith in which Jesus is first, and not my beliefs about my Christian religion first. To be marked as a Jesus follower rather than a follower of my temple, my church, my dogma, doctrine, or religious tribe. It is less rigid, more reflective, more open and accepting of postmodernism, and of science in general. It grants to biblical studies a historical, narrative theology and multi-vocal biblical hermeneutic, that leads out in unconditional, non-qualifying love that is inclusive and not exclusive. That serves others and not itself. And does not lead out in judgment and condemnation, or by denominational drivers or doctrinal barriers.
It is postmodern, emergent, and progressive in traditional Christian orthodoxies by updating one-and-all with today's newer research and biblical discoveries. Importantly, it is willing to critique its former idea of itself by deconstructive and reconstructive philosophical elements. Is unafraid of its doubts about God, His Word, or of the church in general. Does not have the incessant demand of needing answers and solutions to every event or mystery uncovered in the Bible or within our lives (that is, it tries to be non-apologetic realizing that all apologies but support their own narrower epistemologies even as I am doing now in this apology for my faith :/ ). Is critical of itself, its epistemologies, and its pride, and is properly confessional where, and when, this is possible. It is active in Christian love and reclamation of people in humanitarian projects; this Earth in ecological restoration; and in philosophic discussions. At the last, it is an apocalyptic Christian faith that doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but to become in our midst."
Though CT's reviewer likes the idea of unity within the Church it must be a unified church around his own ideas of what the Christian faith is - as set out in its dogmas and doctrines. By this admission, unity is a good thing, but it can also be a lamentable thing should it disrupt and destroy the fabric of evangelicalism as it is presently understood by its official organs of media dissemination (churches, schools, seminaries, and so forth).In the process, it refuses genuine discussion and openness to biblical movement and sway, preaching fear instead of hope; blind allegiance to its binding agencies; and exclusion to any unlike itself. It has become its own templed bastion similar to the Pharisaical Jewish laws and teachings in Jesus' day needing its pillars broken, and dividing curtain ripped in twain, that the Word of God's good news can be released to all of mankind, and not to the elected few.
So then, what does it mean to be unified in Christ? Is it a trick, or is it a treat? For many Christians they see it as a trick. But for some, they have unexpectedly discovered it to be a great, sumptuous treat that will last far beyond the sugar-rush of evangelical doctrine. It is become a hollowed celebration of freedom and not a Halloween of dungeons and dragons, if I may misuse the adage. To those few adventurers, be worthy of your exploration to God's unknown lands of bounty awaiting you. As Joshua's spies soon discovered, they dwelt in a land of "milk and honey," though they rightfully feared the "giants" of their day. For such explorers our giants have become bound Christian tradition against a rampant atheism set abroad and about. It will take the wisdom of God to search out and reclaim by the power of His Spirit in loving proclaim.
R.E. Slater
October 31, 2013
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by Paul Louis Metzger
October 22, 2013

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