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, June 30, 2014

Transparent Moments of Scholarship when a Theologian Must Either Stay or Change, Part 1 - Introduction


Rebirth

In the Spring of 2011, some 3-1/2 years ago, I came to a crossroads in my life that had so burdened my spirit that all was black and spiritual night. For the past dozen-or-so-years the spiritual conflict within me had built up until this moment when I had to let all go or explode. And when I did, the entirety of my personal foundations and theological structures went knowingly with it.

This period of life (as is typical within any society experiencing a profound era change) might be known as a revelation phase. Its an intense phase of life involving mind and heart, will and spirit. One demanding a harsher re-examination of personal beliefs and assurances than had ever been previously known or felt. Its not pretty. And is fairly thorough in sweeping out all past reasonable assurances and religious necessities which had given personal meaning, theological structure, and epistemological foundation, to one's soul.

What I remember is that I felt very alone in this new world of disbelief and uncertainty. And especially so with my religious past. That I had no one to share my agony with. And that the hard work laying ahead of me would be mine alone to shoulder and carry.

It also came with a lot of personal blackness and spiritual doubt. Nor did it come for a moment and then leave as quickly. No, it stayed on for quite a long while as a curiously welcomed guest who must stay on until all personal elements of belief and meaning had been re-examined and re-cast either into a black nothingness or onto a broader plain of knowing.

Curiously, the period before this time - those proceeding dozen years or more - was the time when my spiritual agitation was at its highest. It felt like I was on a spiritual roller coaster going through the highs and lows of doubt and disbelief. I found myself thrown about a pitching car of great emotions as it rolled along the tendered tracks of theological subjects I had earlier prized but were fast becoming disconnected and unmeaningful when re-examined in this newer, unwanted, revelatory light of personal skepticism. A Holy Spirit illumination I didn't want, and very much doubted at the time, as I cross-examined each emotion and every revelatory insight with years-and-years-and-years worth of biblical study and theological training.

But when the intensity of my dilemma had come to its pinnacle, it was total. And it was unremitting. And it was not kind.

So there I stood at the questioning apex of belief v. unbelief looking down the long roller coaster tracks to its knowing bottom and knew it must be ridden roughly downwards to the end though my choice was to ignore it. Which I couldn't. Or to accept it, while trying to make sense of this jagged illumination I found myself within, as I hurtled violently downwards. Which I did. And when done, gave an immense sense of relief of completion and finality.

Ironic? Yes. I would never have expected the peace that came after the violent ride of disbelief that I had been on.

Relief? Completion? How can this be when one has come to the bottom of personal meaning without having anything left to cling to? No life raft to survive in? No personal bridges sustaining a revered past. Just a deep sense of unknowing met with a great sense that its end has been reached after so long a misery.

It was a personal space that demanded no answers and needed none being content in its unknowing.

But what it demanded next I will tell in Part 2 of this subject. Till then the following articles may help in revealing some of the pertinent issues I - and others! - were working through, when confronted by Christ and His Word, beyond the horn-rimmed glasses of our conservative religious backgrounds.

And though I felt very much alone during this time of travail, there was a large host of similarly burdened believers going through their own trials and lamentations - though unbeknownst to me (some of whom we follow on this blog site here). Not unlike the Old Testament figure of Isaiah during his prophetic time of despair and doubt, who also felt very much alone in his burden and care. It was not until much later that Isaiah discovered from the Lord the many thousands who were also going through similar torments and trials.

The mystery of it all is how the Lord works in the midst of His people. Even when we have come to the end of doubt and despair believing all is rot and meaningless. Even so, Lord, thank you for your faithfulness and goodness. Amen.

Peace,

R.E. Slater
June 30, 2014


Continue to -






Index to Series - 

Transparent Moments of Scholarship when a Theologian Must Either Stay or Change




* * * * * * * * * * * *




“I was always taught the Bible says X, but I just don’t see it”
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2014/06/i-was-always-taught-the-bible-says-x-but-i-just-dont-see-it/

June 24, 2014

Recently at the Huffington Post, Greg Carey (Professor of New Testament, Lancaster Theological Seminary), published his thoughts on how the Bible itself challenges fundamentalism rather than supports it. The article, with its provocative title, “Where Do ‘Liberal’ Scholars Come From,” has attracted some attention, both pro and con.

Many (including me) resonated with Carey’s article, and though some found it unconvincing, Carey is simply rehearsing a well-worn path in western Christianity over the last several hundred years:

“I was taught to believe the Bible unequivocally says X,
but I just don’t see it, so I am going to stop believing X.”

Fill in X with any one of a number of issues.

I have known many people, and heard of many others, who have come from conservative, or moderately conservative, backgrounds and whose earlier paradigms have been seriously challenged by the simple process of paying attention to scripture in context–whether the immediate literary context or the historical context. This is especially true of those who have done higher level academic work outside of evangelicalism and fundamentalism, but is by no means restricted to this group.

Why does this happen?

I think it’s because scripture doesn’t line up very well with the conservative paradigm of scripture (some form of inerrancy). That’s why the paradigm needs constant tending and vigilant defending in order to survive [by conservative groups].

I mean, there’s a reason why Carey’s phenomenon keeps rearing its head generation-after-generation. It’s not (as I hear far too often) that the offenders are intellectually naive (or dim-witted) and have been duped or are too spiritually weak-kneed to “hold on to the truth.”

The recurring unrest with conservative readings of scripture from within conservative circles suggests that the [inerrancy] paradigm is flawed.

My plan over the coming weeks is to invite some biblical scholars from evangelical backgrounds to write about the issue(s) that brought them to reconsider the older paradigms they were taught, to let us in on their own “aha” moments that brought them to the brink of having to make a decision between staying put or moving on–and why they chose to move on.

I’ll keep you posted, of course.


* * * * * * * * * * * *


Where Do 'Liberal' Bible Scholars Come From?
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-carey/where-do-liberal-bible-scholars-come-from_b_1774447.html

by Greg Carey,
Professor of New Testament, Lancaster Theological Seminary

Posted: 08/20/2012 11:56 am

In public conversations such as The Huffington Post, it's common to see people deriding "liberal" biblical scholars, as if the world is just full of people whose dearest wish is to undermine the Bible and turn Jesus into nothing but a symbol for a bizarre mushroom cult.

(And by the way, that Jesus-mushroom thing? It was actually proposed.)

Biblical scholarship is an academic discipline, taught and studied at universities, colleges and divinity schools all around the world. So it should be no surprise that biblical scholars run in all shapes, sizes, colors and denominations. What would surprise many people, though, is that a very large number of us love Jesus and the church, and we spend hours upon hours communicating the love and wonder we experience with the Bible. Indeed, some of our secular colleagues justifiably complain there are too many of us in the field. More surprising might be this one fact: many of us have our roots in fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity. The best way for conservative churches to produce "liberal" biblical scholars is to keep encouraging young people to read the Bible.

That's how it worked for me. I didn't grow up in church, but I found Jesus and was baptized in an Alabama Baptist church just before my 15th birthday. Our pastor and youth director encouraged me to read the Bible, so I did: I got an affordable new Bible and read the Gospel of John. And I loved it! I felt that I knew Jesus more intimately and understood my faith better.

Not long after reading John, I found a little brochure that contained a schedule for reading the Bible all the way through in one year. So I took the challenge, from Genesis through Revelation, about three or four chapters a day -- and more when I missed a day. At some point I started highlighting meaningful passages. And within a year, not only had I read the entire Bible, some sections now appeared in lime green, neon yellow, and turquoise blue. I suspect that most of the verses in Romans and John are highlighted. Probably less so for Obadiah.

I read the Bible all the way through twice as a young person, not to mention the daily devotionals, Bible studies, Sunday School lessons, and youth group meetings that structure a Southern Baptist teenager's life. And along the way, a few things happened that prepared the way for my journey into biblical scholarship.

The first thing seemed little, but it proved to be important later on. Reading through Matthew, then Mark, and then Luke, a young person can get bored: Didn't I see this story before? I get it already: How many people did Jesus heal? But something else happens, too. You begin to notice little inconsistencies. Did Jesus say that whoever is not with him is against him (Matthew 12:30; Luke 11:23), or did he say that whoever is not against him is for him (Mark 9:40)? Who was there to visit Jesus' tomb? How did Judas die (Matthew 27:1-10; Acts 1:18-19)?

An innocent Bible reader assumes there must be satisfactory resolutions to such problems. But no such explanations exist. Different biblical books simply tell stories differently. Some offer conflicting answers to important questions. In my case this became clear when I sat in on a religious studies class during a college visit. With a colorful chart, the instructor was explaining how the Gospels were composed -- that Mark was written first, and that Matthew and Luke relied upon copies of Mark. As soon as I saw that chart, I instantly knew where we were headed! There was no way the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses who simply remembered things differently. At that moment I had no idea I'd wind up devoting a career to biblical studies. Ironic, I suppose.

My second memory involves the one thing that most bothers pious high schoolers: sex. Our church leaders warned us not only to abstain sexual intercourse but also to avoid those heavy makeout sessions that lead to removing sweaters, exploring panty lines, and so forth. And depending on what the meaning of it is, I pretty much succeeded. But I was also reading my Bible. And nowhere did I find all this stuff about saving sex for marriage. (That's because the Bible doesn't include that message, certainly not consistently.)

Naturally, I asked one of our adult leaders, who in turn grew quite frustrated by my impertinence. A few days later a card came in the mail, signed by this adult with a simple Bible reference, Proverbs 3:5-6. I'm sure my quotation isn't exactly accurate, but I knew it in the King James Version: "Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." (OK, I checked. I only substituted a comma for a semi-colon.) This person who was responsible for my spiritual development had effectively patted me on the head and told me to submit to what the church was teaching. [That] my own reading of the Bible didn't amount to much, after all [in the church's eyes].

One more memory - [one which] I've reflected on in another blog post. A few years ago I looked back through that old Bible, with all its highlighted marks. And I wondered how a 16-year-old Southern Baptist would have made sense out of Ephesians 5:21-6:9, a passage that tells wives to submit to their husbands, children to obey their parents and slaves to obey their masters. To this 16-year-old boy, wives obeying husbands sounded like a good deal. Being pious, I even highlighted the part about children and parents. But having grown up in Alabama, with the coals still hot from Birmingham and Selma, I simply could not highlight slaves' obedience as an expression of God's will. I'd already learned an important lesson: the Bible requires responsible interpretation.

Mark Twain is supposed to have said, "The best cure for Christianity is reading the Bible." If he did say that, his wisdom didn't take in my case. Though I understand it differently, I love the Bible as much as I ever have. I'm just as passionate for Jesus and for the gospel as I ever have been, though I understand them differently too. But I can say this: Reading the Bible is a terrific cure for fundamentalism. That's exactly how many of us so-called liberal Bible scholars got our start.


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