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

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Problem of Faith and Religion in Christianity

Introductory Comments

Adam Hamilton is yet another skeptical voice adding his own thoughts and commentary to interpreting the Bible generously for the 21st century even as we have here at Relevancy22. One that is as heartfelt as our own arguments for the same as we have toiled these past many years for a more progressive reading of Scripture that is more open, flexible, nuanced, and mature (cf. sidebars re "an open faith and open theology").

One that is based more upon a "anthropological reading" of the Bible than an "inerrant reading" of the Bible. A reading that is (i) not literal but historically contextual. (ii) One utilizing a literary, or genre-based, narrative reading rather than a flat reading across all poems, songs, psalms, hymns, legends, and stories, as it misses the multiple layers of meaning hidden within the complexity of its texts. And one (iii) more fully cognizant of the redemptive paucity of earlier civilization's interpretive acts claiming God's holy will for their own unholy acts of horrendous violence and cruelty, merciless barbarism and oppression. Acts met without mercy or forgiveness. Acts that were more human than godly when placed alongside the redemptive light of Jesus' interpretation of the Bible. An interpretation that erred in all doctrines and mindsets towards the greater love and mercy of the holy Creator-God become man's Redeemer by His Incarnate fellowship with earth and humanity.

For it was Jesus Himself who redefined all of God's Word through God's grace and humility. That the highest and best reading - or interpretation of the Bible - was to be read through God's grace rather than one with sword in hand. (This would include many of the church's present day doctrines of soteriology and eschatology as it marches along with its war-like imagery and assurance of dogma.) However, against this script many Christians have become more attuned to the "Jesus-attitude" of Scripture and are now asking themselves "What Would Jesus Do?" in all matters of life and will. Wishing to reframe God's missional tasks not in the terms of "religious conqueror" but in terms of "faithful suffering servant". That to love as God loves is to question our own ready interpretations of the Bible that are used to proclaim God's holy wrath and anger in mindful acts of inequality and discrimination through national policies, church polities, business practices, and personal conducts.

Foolishly claiming God's name in defense of His Word but acting out our own anger and wrath towards all those unlike ourselves in culture, race, and view. Let us not be so foolish as to claim "divine right of revelation" for what is rightfully creaturely sin, hate, and injustice. For a truer love, a truer justice, a truer forgiveness will cost us something. Something that we only can give up, sacrifice, offer, concede, or submit to. This then is when we become weak by God's own example through Jesus His Son who became the more empowered by the Holy Spirit for the greater extent of divine witness and salvation. It was not proffered by war and dominion, enslavement and oppression, but by the mightier reach of love and grace as displayed in the fuller weakness God's enlightening reach to those beyond humanities many uncrossable boundary lands.

As such, it must be God's mercy and forgiveness that must be the driving interpreters to His holy Word should we claim that we preach it, live it, and share it. That it is God's divine weakness as opposed to His divine power that is most attractive to Jesus' gospel message today. A message that can travel across all the shut minds and closed hearts of troubled men and women wanting more and not knowing what their spirits crave most and deepest and truest. For it was in God's weakness that Jesus became the most empowered by the Holy Spirit. That it was Jesus' resolute determination to throw off the shackles of an ungracious Jewish gospel in His day as it sought divine uplift and protection from Rome and all foreign gospels and yet denied Jesus' rightness of humanitarian mission towards those hated and despised within this same Jewish society. A society that would not admit outreach to the harlot, the tax collector, the slave, the Samaritan, nor Gentile, nor any other who lacked societal status or legal recourse to civil justice and equality under Jewish law.

And for this more generous interpretation of God's Word, Jesus was crucified at the hands of sinful man and fearful religious temple to be laid upon a cruel cross whereby He might there renounce in agony His vision of God's greater love before He died. A vision and decree that would unbind man from his shameful laws. His bigoted customs. His oppressive traditions and unequalled treatment of the unempowered of society. It was for this vision that Jesus suffered and died. And it is for this vision that the church must again reclaim God's holy Word through a more generous interpretation of its own gospel-doctrines urging discrimination and war-like temperaments towards the "unrighteous of the land." It is a redemption that must affect whole societies and no longer simply convicted men and women. It must be a redemption that unshackles the binding chains of men's reading of God Word of wrath for the greater release of God's mightier Word of love to all men and women everywhere about the church's missional fields. At the last, the easier doctrine is the one of fear and intolerance. A doctrine that would undo any who are unlike ourselves. But the harder doctrine is that of Jesus' faith and hope in a mankind lost and alone. A doctrine that would reach past its own barriers and see again the image of God burned into the image of disbelieving mankind.

As such, a more proper biblical reading of God's Word is less about a "literal reading of the Bible" and more about a 'literally-minded people" that would affect this kind of opinion upon its pages. Less about "Thus God says" and more about "Thus say we" in our socio-cultural contexts far, far, far removed from the ancient cultures and mindsets found upon the biblical page. It is less about speaking the "right doctrines and dogmas" of the church with its "strict biblical interpretations" built from its many centuries of circular reasonings - and iron-clad hermeneutics. Than about our own "stricter preferences" for a kind of biblical interpretation supporting our own religious arguments, acumens, agendas, and opinions, about what we think morality and ethics should be if we were to write the Bible and come to earth to judge all of mankind by our own standards of divine wrath and fie of judgment.

At the last, when reading the Bible from a naive, simplistic, and largely, prejudicial mindset, the Bible becomes what WE think (or want) God to say or do, and not what GOD is actually saying and doing. Just as there was a great amount of confusion in colonial times about the humanitarian validity of human trafficking and slavery because of the many verses found in the Bible thought to be about the advocacy of its practice. So too has there been great confusion in these present times about the equality of women, same-sex unions, the consumption of ecology, or the rightness of conservative agenda in national policy and religion. The conservative Christian mindset has become pointedly obtuse in refusing any other mindful interpretations of these subjects other than the one that prejudices this reading of it in THEIR Bible. As such, we have affectively created our own pretexts and conclusions of God's Word while refusing the divine light of God's illuminating love to inspire its revelation to our senses and obedience to our heart. As such, the Word of God becomes the whipping boy of Christian religion rather than the illuminating orifices of God to the questioning faithful of the land willing to submit to its more generous rule.

Against such black-and-white prostrations claiming a "rightness" of interpreting the Bible that advocates religious opinion over a truer Christian faith, let us pursue a more progressive Christian reading of the Bible while rejecting many of the accompanying fallacies by its religious readership. A vocal majority who would disregard (or assuage) historical and literary context to their own ends. Who would naively employ a present day a/biblical cultural ethic that was no less employed by the ancients in their day, time, and place, to affect their worldly visions and religious opinions. Who misspeak God's word with ready interpretations preferencing personal likes and dislikes, mindsets and societal mores ("folkways of central importance accepted without question, and emboding, the fundamental moral views of a group"). To this type of reading method let us say "Anathema" and pray  at once for God's divine forgiveness and mercy. And there then seek for His divine love and servant-minded weakness to be our only interpretive guides over all acts of human foible and tenacity that would preclude its golden script. This then would be more the right and good thing to do. Something that Jesus would do.

R.E. Slater
May 2, 2014

*If I were to write a follow-up rejoinder to the above article I would like to discuss "faith and uncertainty." For it seems more appropriate to cast some doubt on our plethora of interpretations while learning to hold in tension a balance of doctrine and theology about God and His holy will. However, there have been previous articles written of this topic and one need only to peruse the sidebars under "faith." Thank you again for your prayerful spirit and diligence in righteousness. - res

Jesus, the Servant of God

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go.Acts 3:12-14 (in Context) Acts 3 (Whole Chapter)

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—Romans 1:1-3 (in Context) Romans 1 (Whole Chapter)

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with theoverseers and deacons:Philippians 1:1-3 (in Context) Philippians 1 (Whole Chapter) 

Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.Colossians 4:11-13 (in Context) Colossians 4 (Whole Chapter)

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge ofthe truth that leads to godliness—Titus 1:1-3 (in Context) Titus 1 (Whole Chapter)

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.James 1:1-3 (in Context) James 1 (Whole Chapter)

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:2 Peter 1:1-3 (in Context) 2 Peter 1 (Whole Chapter)

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved in God theFather and kept for Jesus Christ:Jude 1:1-3 (in Context) Jude 1 (Whole Chapter) 

At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.”Revelation 19:9-11 (in Context) Revelation 19 (Whole Chapter) 

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The pastor of the largest United Methodist congregation in America is sparking intense
debate with his provocative new take on the Bible. – Image courtesy of Adam Hamilton

Mega-church pastor Adam Hamilton's
Scandalous take on Scripture

by Jonathan Merritt
May 1, 2014

As pastor of [the] Church of the Resurrection, Adam Hamilton has the honor of leading the largest United Methodist congregation in the United States. More than 8,600 attend services each week, and the Kansas congregation is considered by many to be America’s most influential mainline Protestant church. But with the release of his provocative new book, “Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today,” Hamilton is becoming known as someone who is challenging traditional understandings the Bible.

Here we discuss the message of his book and how he navigates the most difficult and debated passages.


RNS: You believe the Bible is divinely “inspired.” Can you explain what you mean exactly?

AH: The biblical authors were people like us. Christians do not hold, as Muslims do, that our holy book was dictated by God. The biblical authors wrote in particular times, for particular audiences, out of a particular context. Part of rightly interpreting Scripture is reading it in the light of what we can know about its historical and cultural context, the author’s purposes in writing and knowing something about the people they were writing to.

In 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul writes, “All Scripture is inspired by God…” Christians often assume they know what this means, but Paul seems to have created the word “inspired.” It does not appear in the Greek language before this and is used nowhere else in the Bible. It literally means “God-breathed” but Paul doesn’t go on to explain precisely what he means. It is a metaphor, and metaphors are not precise. Push them too far and they break down.

When I think of inspired, I think of God-influenced. This leaves open a variety of ways in which the biblical authors were influenced by God.


RNS: A lot of critics reject the Bible because of the violence in the Old Testament. What say you?

AH: My premise is that the Bible is the words of people who were influenced by God, and yet who were also shaped by the times in which they lived. The violence attributed to God in the Bible is a serious issue that Christians must address. It is inconsistent with the character of God described in many places in the Old Testament, and certainly inconsistent with the Word of God revealed in Jesus Christ who calls his followers to love their enemies.

In the Hebrew Bible we find God putting to death 70,000 Israelites to punish David for taking a census. We have God commanding Joshua to slaughter every man woman and child in 31 entire kingdoms in the Canaan as a kind of offering to God. This is what, today, we would call genocide. God commands priests to burn their daughters alive if they become prostitutes. I cannot imagine God calling me to burn one of my children alive, regardless of what they had done. Other ancient near eastern people believed their gods also called them to slaughter entire cities as an offering to their gods, so this seems to have been a common cultural understanding about the relationship between war and the gods.


RNS: Theologian J.P. Moreland once argued that among evangelicals, “There is an over-commitment to Scripture in a way that is false, irrational, and harmful to the cause of Christ.” What do you think about his assertion?

AH: I don’t know the context of Moreland’s quote, but it sounds much like what I’m saying in my book. An exaggerated or inaccurate view of Scripture is not a high view of Scripture, it is just a wrong view of Scripture.

  • A high view of Scripture takes the Bible seriously, while also taking its historical context and the humanity of its authors seriously.
  • A high view of Scripture is held by those who actually read Scripture, seek to understand why the human authors wrote what they did, and how they convey God’s timeless will for us today.
  • A high view of Scripture includes not only reading the Bible, but seeking to live its timeless messages, which are discerned in the light of Jesus Christ, who is the definitive Word of God.


RNS: I suspect your chapter on homosexuality will rankle a few feathers, particularly among conservatives. Can you summarize your position and why you believe it is a scriptural one?

AH: I offer two different arguments regarding homosexuality in my book.

In the first, I suggest that what Moses and Paul were addressing in their teachings on same-sex intimacy was very different from two human beings entering into a covenant relationship of mutual love.

In the entire Old Testament we find only two expressions of same-sex intimacy: Gang rape and pagan temple prostitution. This is not at all synonymous with two people entering into a lifelong covenant relationship with one another.

In the New Testament, Paul, trained in rabbinic law, seems to draw upon all of these ideas in his words about same-sex intimacy in Romans where he uses the Old Testament terms of clean and unclean and where he speaks of same-sex intimacy in connection with idolatry.

But the second argument I make is that the Bible is complex and, while influenced by God, it is not dictated by God. It reflects the humanity of the biblical authors and the times in which they lived. We’ve seen this in its teaching on slavery, on violence, on the status and role of women, and several other topics.

Thus, I suggest, it is possible to be a faithful Christian who loves God and loves the scriptures and at the same time to believe that the handful of verses on same-sex intimacy are like the hundreds of passages accepting and regulating slavery or other practices we today believe do not express the heart and character of God.


RNS: You say that for those who disagree on homosexuality, the issue is not Biblical authority, but Biblical interpretation. Explain this.

AH: Most conservatives, moderate evangelicals, and progressives, I know believe that the church is to love gay and lesbian people. And nearly all agree, at core the issue is not homosexuality but the Bible. 

God did not rewrite, edit or send down from heaven a new Bible that clarified that God was against slavery. There are over 200 verses allowing and regulating the practice in the Bible. Yet somehow Christians were able to look at those verses and ultimately conclude they did not reflect God’s will for humankind despite verses directly attributed to God that allowed for owning, selling and even beating slaves.

Conservatives often suggest homosexuality is an issue of biblical authority. I believe the Bible has authority in my life and for the church and, in the words of II Timothy 3:16, it is, “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” But I also believe that the five passages that speak to some form of same-sex intimacy do not describe God’s timeless will for humanity any more than the passages on violence, or slavery, or women describe God’s timeless will. The issue is not authority, it is our assumptions about the Bible and the way we interpret it.


RNS: What do you say to those who would accuse you of just rehashing the arguments of 20th century theological liberalism? What is new here?

AH: My book is less about rehashing old arguments, than offering an accessible way of understanding both the Bible’s divine inspiration and its humanity. I share the kind of things any seminary student in a mainline or moderate evangelical seminary would learn in their first year, but most lay people may not be aware of. Often both laity and clergy speak of the Bible in terms that are not ultimately helpful in making sense of its difficult passages, and can actually lead to misunderstanding the Bible.


RNS: Your book might be characterized as provocative or progressive. Do you think it is also hopeful?

AH: Yes. I wrote the book for young adults who have been turned away from faith by things they’ve read in the Bible. I wrote it to help Christians who are increasingly confronted by vocal atheists who love to focus on the Bible’s more difficult passages. And I wrote it for people who are interested in reading the Bible and understanding its message. That is a message of great hope.

- J.M.

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Amazon Link

Denominations from evangelical to mainline continue to experience deep divisions over universal social issues. The underlying debate isn’t about a particular social issue, but instead it is about how we understand the nature of scripture and how we should interpret it. The world’s bestselling, most-read, and most-loved book is also one of the most confusing. In Making Sense of the Bible, Adam Hamilton, one of the country’s leading pastors and Christian authors, addresses the hot-button issues that plague the church and cultural debate, and answers many of the questions frequently asked by Christians and non-Christians alike.

  • Did God really command Moses to put gay people to death?
  • Did Jesus really teach that everyone who is not a Christian will be assigned to hell?
  • Why would Paul command women to “keep silent in the church?”
  • Were Adam and Eve real people?
  • Is the book of Revelation really about the end times?
  • Who decided which books made it into the scriptures and why?
  • Is the Bible ever wrong?

In approachable and inviting language, Hamilton addresses these often misunderstood biblical themes leading readers to a deeper appreciation of the Bible so that we might hear God speak through it and find its words to be life-changing and life-giving.

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