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
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

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Church's Struggle Today, Not Unlike Paul's Struggle Then, with Inflexible, Dying Traditionalism

Presented here today are two articles by Peter Enns reflecting on American orthodoxy's need to embrace today's youth and multi-ethnic, global cultures of postmodernism in theologically relevant ways as respecting Jesus' personage and ministry. For the past two years Relevancy22 has struggled to revitalize a Jesus-first theology held in check by the church's more conservative attitudes towards postmodern movement and cultural expression. In continuing effort we have recently reviewed talks and articles these past 2-1/2 weeks related to the pressures put on today's twenty-somethings (curiously, my wife and I's single-adult ministry's were entitled the "Roaring Twenties"); posted an interview with NT Wright reflecting on hot-button theological issues; spoke to God's loving rule as different from the more popular (but errant) view expressed by meticulous sovereignty; reflected on our role in the universe when helped by God's guidance and partnership; presented several views of homosexuality that asked today's Christ-followers important questions of bigotry and openness; we shared how Christians might present a win-win discussion with today's postmodern generations using the more positive findings of game theory; spoke to an evolutionary understanding of tool=making even now being observed in today's contemporary cultures; suggested another way of presenting the Gospel of Christ differently from today's more popular approach of penal-substitution; explored some theological approaches to evolution through Wesleyan theologians; presented a couple of articles on sexual abuse ("You Are Safe Now"), and recited elements that destroy a marriage ("16 Ways I Blew My Marriage"); we've thought through issues of transformance art, supercessionism, and process theology in politics and religion; expressed the developmental stages of faith over a lifetime of spiritual growth and observation; dwelt on being amazed by God's weakness as against God's strength and power; and asked importantly what theology is, and what it should be doing, in today's faith communities.
 
The Apostle Paul could be found doing the same thing with his churches as he struggled with updating Israel's OT faith in Yahweh which had been held for over 2000 years (its final 1000 years saw Israel's faith ritualized by religious laws, institutions, and dogmas). We read of Paul's struggle to uplift the faith of the Jews in culturally relevant ways when confronted with the revelation of God through His Incarnation in Jesus. Initially, Paul himself failed to understand the radical nature of Jesus' Incarnation, believing "christians" to be a new kind of cultic sect needing suppression and eradication. But soon, God confronted Paul in his own religious life of rites and rituals, telling him in very clear terms that he needed a radical change of heart and life.... That his theological beliefs and unloving faith were bankrupt and in deep need of godly burial. That his religious zeal to persecute Jesus would be fruitless. That his personal misbeliefs refusing to embrace God's atoning message and work of salvation were ill-spent and like kicking rocks down the road as he rebelled against God's authority and made life even harder on himself (Acts 9.5). That the life of resurrection must infill his previous life of death-and-religion so that God's Son might be hailed as Paul's own Lord and Savior. At that moment, upon realizing his deep error, Paul went from believing Jesus as a deluded mistake to God's wondrous mystery and paradox. He discovered that he had Yahweh's revelation all wrong-and-backwards. And from that moment forward strove to serve His Risen Lord and Savior to the end of his natural, human life with all the power and resources he had and could muster.

This same Jesus even today is doing the same in the life of the church and its many lives of servants and participants. Each are being asked if whether the faith and beliefs that they hold conforms with the love of God and the sacrifice that He has demonstrated to all of humanity through His Incarnation and Resurrection. To question if whether orthodoxy proper is not orthodoxy updated and in action; or if whether it lingers on the tree of death holding each believer upon similar crosses of shame and contamination. To the Galatians, Paul repeated time-and-again that they must let go of their OT faith, and allow that faith to transform in the NT love and service of Christ their Lord. And through the ages of the church, from her earliest church fathers until now, pastors and theologians have encouraged each follower of Christ to examine the Scriptures, listen to historical testimony, and be transformed by the relevancy of God's revelation in Christ Jesus. Placing orthodoxy in its proper place of uplift and movement, and not on the dusty bookshelves of irrelevance and death.
 
As Christ-bearers we each must step forward and be willing to be confronted by God on our own roads to Damascus. To allow the burdens of our past to be rolled off our backs just as "Little Christian" found in John Bunyan's 17th Century "Pilgrim's Progress" when thrown in jail and physically separated from his congregants. That our stories of faith must demand our questioning of ourselves - and our previously constructed faith - that our faith in Jesus match up with Jesus' words and actions towards others. That we do not find ourselves gathered around our Lord whilst throwing a harlot at his feet demanding judgment and recourse - to then find to our horror our own names being written in the sands of time detailing the "logs in our own eyes" as we slink away unrepentant and angrier than ever at the God who is our life and faith. Let this not happen. Be wise. Learn to doubt yourself. To doubt what you think you know about God. To be guided by the Spirit of God to the enlivening truths that is still God's holy Word. To know how to read it and properly interpret it, whilst discerning the more impolitic speeches of pulpit or theolog. To not hold the Bible in culturally moribund causes, bombastic refrains, and ungracious arguments. But to learn to read the Bible in its unrestrictive, redemptive terms of divine freedom and love. A freedom and love that would stake the meanest religious unrepentant upon the cross of Christ releasing God's fullness and majesty. A Biblical word of revelation that would cause the sincerest "Paul's" of our Postmodern age to fall on their knees proclaiming a truer Gospel sight than ever thought possible before the commanding voice of heaven speaking our earthly name. Let this be our God. Our faith. Our Bible. Not man's moiling words and moth-eaten commands of inflexible tradition and short-sighted death in the name of Jesus who never was according to the words of ill-discerning men.
 
R.E. Slater
June 18, 2013
 
 
* * * * * * * * * * * *
 
 
Tradition: It’s not an anchor to weigh you down,
but a sail to move you forward
 
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2013/06/tradition-its-not-an-anchor-to-weigh-you-down-but-a-sail-to-move-you-forward/
When a tradition is handed on unchanged it loses its potency and has little meaning for the present. Some would go so far as to say that an unchanged tradition is dead, it has been killed…a vibrant tradition must be not only a conserving (conservative) force, but also an innovative one.
 
The past tradition needs to be revivified for a new cultural and historical context….The only hope for survival lies in a tradition’s ability to provide a fresh word of hope in a new situation…this dynamic can be described as the interpretation of tradition; what gives a tradition its life is an effective interpretation for a new time and context. The success or failure of such interpretation (or re-interpretation) can result in either the life-giving continuation of the tradition, or its lifeless end
 
In addition, in a situation of crisis, fraught with uncertainty, entrenchment seems a safe path to walk… To those in the Galatian community, who would revert to the tradition unchanged, Paul emphasizes that this tradition must not be merely mimicked. It cannot be simply passed on unchanged, the community in Galatia needs to hear the word of God’s radically new thing, of God’s revelation in Jesus, of the end of order. For this community Paul ‘defines and defends the radically new in terms drawn from the old’… That is why abandoning the tradition is not an option for him. However, that importance is evident partly in the ability of the tradition to provide a fresh word of hope for a new situation…. Paul transforms tradition so that it continues in the living world.
 
Expecting the Bible to maintain the type of precisionistic, propositional, consistency–that all of Scripture speaks with one voice as required in some conservative Protestant views of Scripture (i.e., inerrancy, etc.)–fails to embrace Scripture’s own necessary dynamic quality, a quality the New Testament authors were so diligent in expressing.
 
A very new thing happened in the Gospel that previous iterations of God’s word were not able to grasp–namely a Messiah who was executed by the Romans rather than defeating them and then raised from the dead. The tradition had to be transformed to account for this.
 
To miss this dynamic sells not only the Bible short, but the Gospel and God himself.
 
At least that’s what I think.
 
 
* * * * * * * * * * * *
 
 
What I’ve Learned about Reading the Bible from Reading the
Church Fathers: One Pilgrim’s Perspective (guest post)
 
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2013/06/what-ive-learned-about-reading-the-bible-from-reading-the-church-fathers-one-pilgrims-perspective-guest-post/
 
by Peter Enns
June 17, 2013
Comments
 

Today’s guest post is by David W. Opderbeck, professor of law at Seton Hall University Law School, and Ph.D. Candidate, Systematic and Philosophical Theology, University of Nottingham.
 
One of Opderbeck’s area’s of interest is science and faith, and he likes to bring into the evangelical discussion the often neglected work of the Church Fathers. While studying at an evangelical seminary, Opderbeck was introduced to the notion of the “theological interpretation” and did some basic reading in the Church Fathers. He then began to study the Fathers more closely.
 
He came to appreciate how the practices of biblical interpretation from the early Church can help Protestants recover a more robust understanding of the scriptures, which can absorb new challenges and insights from the natural sciences without becoming defensive, and which also can help build bridges between diverse church traditions.
 
Opderbeck writes on complex matters in an accessible manner at his blog Through a Glass Darkly, and has also blogged on theology, law, and scripture at Jesus Creed (for example, here).
 
Over the past few years, I’ve had an opportunity to read some of the writings of the Church Fathers. I was particularly blessed to audit an introductory Patristics course at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (Yonker, N.Y.) with one of the world’s leading authorities on their writings, Rev. John Behr, which covered Patristic writings prior to Augustine.  I still consider myself very much a student and not an expert on Patristic writings, but here are some key things I’ve learned about theology and scripture from reading the Fathers.
 
The Fathers read the scriptures and constructed their theologies through the lens of the Church’s living experience of ChristThey did not use the scriptures to prove Christ.  They used their experience of Christ to authenticate the scriptures and then used the scriptures to clarify their experience of Christ.
 
In fact, the Fathers began to define the canon of scripture from among a wide variety of early Christian writings based in large part on what they understood to be the central “story” of the universe (referred to by some of them as the “Rule of Faith”):  the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
 
The Fathers knew that the scriptures are confusing, messy, and even self-contradictory.  They did not impose upon the scriptures an expectation of rigorous systematic analytic logic.  They understood very well that there is a finality to truth that inheres in the simplicity, unity and rationality of God’s own person as Father, Son, and Spirit, so that the scriptures ought to be interpreted to speak with a kind of polyphonic harmony.
 
The doctrines of the Trinity and Christology that were developing – and much debated – leading up to (and after!) the First Council of Nicea (AD 325) and the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) also dealt with this same theme of unity-in-plurality.
 
The fulcrum for the Fathers concerning the doctrines of the Trinity and Christology was the same as for their interpretation of scripture: the Church’s living experience of and witness to Christ.
 
The Fathers knew that the doctrines of the Trinity and Christology they were attempting to articulate finally are mysteries.  Nevertheless, they were rigorously philosophical in their efforts to articulate those doctrines.  These were erudite, highly educated and sophisticated men (yes, the writers I’m referencing today were all men – but that is a subject for another day).
 
In fact, without some background in Greek philosophy, it’s impossible to understand much of what they were saying.  Theologians today continue to debate the Greek thought categories the Fathers employed in the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian Definition.
 
Yet even with all their philosophical rigor, the Fathers themselves knew that their linguistic and philosophical categories were approximations or analogies for truths that finally lay beyond human comprehensionTheir efforts to define these doctrines carefully were not so much attempts to state final truths as efforts to avoid idolatry and blasphemy – to avoid saying too much, and to avoid inaccuracy as much as is humanly possible.  They knew this was necessary not only for formal doctrinal creeds and definitions, but also for the scriptures.
 
Just as the Trinity and the divine-human natures of Christ are mystical truths that defy the bounds of human capabilities, so the scriptures, for them, were mystical texts that point to something beyond the words on the page – that is, to the mystery of Christ.
 
Given their approach to theology and scripture, the Fathers were not univocal concerning how to read many of the Biblical narratives, including the creation texts.  Many of them thought the Genesis 1 and 2 narratives were in some sense mystical rather than “literal.”  Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-395 AD), for example, puzzled over the mention of two trees in the middle of the Garden of Eden:
 
There was only one paradise.  How, then, does that text say that each tree is to be considered separately while both are in the middle?  And the text, which reveals that all of God’s works are exceedingly beautiful, implies the deadly tree is different from God’s.  How is this so?  Unless a person contemplates that truth through philosophy, what the text says here will be either inconsistent or a fable.” (Gregory of Nyssa, Sixth Homily on the Song of Songs).
 
It was common for the Fathers to take this sort of approach based on the nature of the text itself.  As theologian Michael Hanby notes in his difficult but fascinating book No God, No Science: Theology, Cosmology, Biology,  although we often think of John 1 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” – as a commentary on Genesis 1, “we must recognize that in the theological mindset of the early church and the Fathers, it is more appropriate to regard the opening verses of Genesis as a kind of commentary on the Prologue to John’s Gospel….”
 
That is, for them, the interpretive principle for scripture, theology, and indeed all of history and creation, was the living, [erudite] Christ.