Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

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

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

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) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

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

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Friday, July 31, 2015

Rob Bell - Everything is Spiritual Tour 2015

On this last day of July 2015 our former pastor and friend Rob Bell visited Grand Rapids a couple of days ago on his most recent tour to share an updated mix of his past (and newer) "Everything is Spiritual" thoughts and message to people in general and to any of the listening church specifically. Whatever one's views of Rob's message or doctrine I can personally say that his consistent, overall message has been one of learning to love one another, to become a united spiritual body working towards social justice and respect with people and cultures different from ourselves, and to lift up Jesus out of the traditional church's older context of condemnation and judgment (which includes labeling everybody and everything different from ourselves and our ideas).

This may not be the pace of the religious church in general struggling with overcoming so many deep, and personally disorientating, societal movements and disruptions, but if we stop and simply breathe for a few moments, days, or weeks, I think this is a message that can help uplift the church's own message of the good news in Jesus for a post-modern, post-Christian world. A world that has left the train station of the 19th and 20th century and is moving forward at the mighty breath of God to re-engage Christianity with what it means to be "church" apart from our religious faith's many political messages telling us "what the gospel of Jesus is and isn't."

As always, let us be in prayer for one another to the binding up of the many wounds of our heart through service, fellowship, and goodwill to one another as to the stranger of our faith. Even to the one who is in the faith pretending everything is alright and good while whole worlds are falling apart.


R.S. Slater
July 31, 2015

Rob Bell | Everything is Spiritual Tour | 2015

Rob Bell returns: His thoughts on creation,
[the] modern 'kingdom of God'

by Matt Vande Bunte, MLive.com
July 30, 2015

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – "In the beginning," Rob Bell said, "was a point." That point of energy went bang and, over some 13 billion years of "ongoing creation," particles bonded to become more complex atoms, which bonded to become more complex molecules, which bonded to become more complex cells, which bonded to become human beings.

Now, the spiritual inertia of the universe tugs at humankind to sustain that pattern of evolution, Bell said Wednesday, July 29, at The Intersection in downtown Grand Rapids.

"What, my brothers and sisters, is pulling the whole thing forward into greater complexity and depth and unity and inclusion?" Bell asked. "The thing (Jesus) kept talking about was the 'kingdom of God.' This is what he was talking about."

The founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church who moved to California three years ago, Bell came back to Grand Rapids to reprise an "Everything is Spiritual" speaking tour that he first did a decade ago. Talking about atoms rather than the biblical Adam, Bell gave a fast-paced, often comical sketch of the history of the universe, with frequent interjections of pop-culture references to music, movies and dancing Super Bowl sharks.

Dismissing secular and churchy viewpoints, Bell said humanity is hard-wired over billions of years of evolution to progress toward greater equality and unity.

"What those first Christians kept talking about was something called the body of Christ," he said. "Whenever we move towards each other, it helps move the whole thing forward to an unimaginable future.

"What is the thing we are being invited to create?"

Some other snippets from Bell's 2-hour talk

• Bell from the outset of his talk identified materialistic Super Bowl commercials as the campfire around which American culture shares its story. He also talked about religious and secular stories, suggesting that "the 'humans are awesome' story has taken a bit of a beating" through a bloody 20th century, and that the "our 'God is awesome' story" also has shortcomings.

"Our God is awesome. Our tribe is awesome. Our way is awesome. So come join us,
or we'll kick your ass," Bell said. "You can raise a lot of money with that story. You can
build big buildings with that story. You can fight a lot of wars with that story.

"We need a new story because a bunch of the stories we've been handed aren't
working like they used to."

• Using a triangle-shaped white board, Bell repeatedly traced an expansion of the universe from the Big Bang into atoms, molecules, cells and people.

"It has become very popular to say there's nothing else (besides biology) going on here,
and then they tell you that's the open-minded perspective," Bell said. "I'm going to leave
room for whatever this (forward thrust) is.

"You are just a pile of dust and yet you can hope and dream and feel compassion
and love. You are crammed full of something called spirit. You are an exotic cocktail
of dust, soul, bone and spirit."

• Bell noted that cultures have hypothesized a spark or force ingrained in creation and that "there are even some who have called this God." Don't like the term God? "Not a big deal," Bell said.

"Many of my atheist friends, when we talk about the god they don't believe in,
I don't believe in that god either."

• Just know, Bell added, that if you think it's vogue to say it's all about love, "thousands of years ago the writers of scripture were saying God is love, so it's not a new idea."

• In urging people to own up to struggles and pains from their past and use them to bond with others, Bell shared hilarious anecdotes from a particularly unpleasant interview about his controversial bestselling book "Love Wins."

"It was unique in the history of publishing because everybody who read it liked it,"
Bell said with a smirk. "And some who didn't like it even read it."

• Bell called on people to share their pains with others rather than bottle them up, to engage others rather than withdraw.

"We are all way more connected than anybody first realized," he said. "Only when
you are fully you can all of us be fully us."
Matt Vande Bunte covers government for MLive/Grand Rapids Press.
Email him atmvandebu@mlive.com or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Rob Bell hugs Lucy Russo, of Grand Rapids, his former personal assistant, after speaking at
The Intersection on Wednesday, July 29, 2015 during his tour, "Everything is Spiritual."
(Neil Blake | MLive.com)

What I learned from two days with Rob Bell
Since his departure from Mars Hill Church three years ago, author, communicator and pastor Rob Bell has been busy. He's been on a stadium tour with Oprah, co-written a book with his wife Kristen, planned a comedy tour with American stand-up Pete Holmes, co-written a TV drama pilot and successfully pitched his own TV show to the Oprah Winfrey Network. Alongside all of this, Bell has run several '2 Days with Rob Bell' events in Laguna Beach California for 'anyone whose work involves creating something and then turning it loose in the world'. The events are billed as two days with Rob in an interactive, teaching setting where he shares ideas and answers questions from those in the audience.
This week, in partnership with Oasis Church in Waterloo, '2 Days with Rob Bell' came to London. The content was advertised as a chance for Bell to teach on how to stay inspired when you're growing, learning, changing, and others around you are not, and they think you've lost your way.
I've followed Bell's work since the publication of his first book, Velvet Elvis, which had a profoundly positive effect on me as a younger Christian. I was interested in an event that seemed to be more intimate and interactive; a chance to ask Bell all the questions that rattle around in your mind every time you hear him speak or read one of his books.
The introductory session very much stuck to the event description, where Bell explored what happens when you go through big shifts and changes, and "the things you've been given along the way don't work anymore, you were given a map to a territory that no longer exists". He went on to explain and unpack 'Spiral Dynamics', a model attributed to Dr Clare W Graves and Dr Don Beck. The model is made of first and second tier stages, that describe a way of being or thinking. Bell used the model to explain the progression of the church, and how different Christians and churches can function healthily and unhealthily in each stage. He said the goal was to transcend and include – recognising each stage would be a part of us, and loving each person/church in whatever stage they are in. This was a stimulating and exciting part of the day, where many people recognised their own churches and faith journeys within the descriptions.
In the next two sessions Bell talked for a long period of time about quantum physics and theology, giving many facts about the make up of our universe, particles and atoms, and how the universe is being pulled forward from simplicity into complexity. He related this to our lives in several ways, encouraging us to be "fully present in the now," realising that anything is possible for us and that we are progressing forward, just like the universe. It felt like an extended version of his DVD and speaking tour Everything is Spiritual, perhaps with new material but making some similar points. At times it became too complex and detailed, and felt disconnected to the previous session.
The first session in day two was about criticism, of which Bell has faced plenty in his time, particularly in relation to his infamous book Love Wins. During this he talked about being a non-reactive presence in conflict and criticism, not defending but listening and asking questions, seeing what is going on beneath the surface. It was inspiring, moving and very practical, applicable advice. Bell advised having a group of friends who will "tell you the truth before your critics do", so you're accountable and what you do is refined and sharpened. Another key idea from this session was 'the marinade' – letting a new idea sit with you for a while before acting on it.
Bell shared some painful stories from times where he has been criticised and betrayed, sometimes by people very close to him and his family. His honesty was inspiring, and he became emotional as he told one story of a close friendship breaking down. He says his goal is to have a "thick skin and a soft heart" and to let criticism clarify and help him.
A particular highlight of this session was his discussion of the difference between those who have a craft, and those who chase success. Bell drew out the distinctions between the two, a craft being a sacred task that is yours, something you can't believe you get to do, something that gets you up in the morning and that humbles you. Chasing success he described as being all about wanting more, never having enough, selfishly getting all you can and never being grateful or satisfied.
Another session focused on communication, and this felt like a masterclass from an expert. Bell shared on everything from how to construct a sermon and collect information about a topic, to book recommendations and 'existential urgency' – identifying why this topics matters to your audience. It felt like a backstage tour of his mind and creative processes, and it was littered with funny, moving and thought provoking stories as well as an impressive biblical knowledge and a commitment to interpreting scripture in the best way possible.
In a Q&A time, Bell spoke briefly about his journey with church. He admitted to feeling freer to express his views without an institution that "signs the paycheck". When asked about reforming the old or starting the new, he answered "It's easier to give birth than to raise the dead", but did affirm those with a calling to change the church, and said his definition of church was now much wider.
Bell wrapped up the conference with a final section of teaching. He encouraged the audience to have healthy rhythms between work and rest, maintaining Sabbath and receiving the good gifts that come their way. He affirmed everyone as a precious, sacred gift that needs to be cared for and stewarded. He ended with a moving benediction, at the end of which he received a standing ovation.
Personally I found the event moving, inspiring, challenging and thought-provoking. My few and minor disappointments were occasional repeated content, very long talk-heavy session times with few breaks, Q&A being the only form of interaction and some people dominating the Q&A times. I know the cost made it inaccessible for some, although Bell did say he would be back in the autumn for an 'Everything is Spiritual Part 2' tour, and that he is working on a new book called 'How to Be Here' – a look at how to live fully in the present moment and be released from the past.
Whatever your views on Bell, he encourages people to think for themselves, reimagine church and faith, ask questions, be better people and do good things in the world around us, rooted in a relationship with God and a reimagination of church and the Bible. I have been impressed with his vulnerability, honesty, accessibility and kindness to those at the event and I look forward to his return to the UK in the autumn.
Jo is a lecturer, youth worker, film-maker and long term Rob Bell fan. Follow Jo on Twitter.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Heresies New and Old - "Counterfeit Christianity: The Persistence of Errors in the Church "

I have been following Roger for many years and use his historical/theological expertise as a kind of baseline in developing an Orthodox Christianity that is postmodern, radical, and better spoken than the popular banter I read everyday from eclectic Christians unversed in rigorous bible study except from that of their own viewpoint as instructed by well-meaning Christian leaders within their own faith worlds and psyches.

What you will find in Roger's newest book has been discussed here across many articles and personal observations and now in book format, collected as one unit for brief consideration and awareness. More on each of these subjects may be discovered within this site (as well as Roger's) using the topics column and search functions (I prefer google search using "Relevancy22+the topic in mind").

As such, Relevancy22 was birthed to begin the dialogue of what Christianity, Christian doctrine, and the Christian faith is and is not. Not from a biting, sarcastic tone. Nor from a "let's have peace amongst the brethren at all costs" heart. But from mine own as I attempt to re-tilt evangelical Christianity towards its better nature while abandoning its mis-directed modernism (or even, pre-modernistic/scholastic) mindsets and theologies.

As such, Relevancy22 will not be a popular site to read but I think a necessary one as I have time to discuss with you, the reader, the many worlds of Christianity from not only mine own perspective of experience and personal history but from the perspective of many other contributors to the idea of what a postmodern Orthodox Christianity is and must look like for today's polypluralistic world. A Christianity that is not built upon racism, hate, violence, nationalism, patriotism, militarism, myopic disdain, disbelief, argumentation, or civil oppression. But from a Christ-like faith that is gentle, meek, humble, giving, serving, strong, outspoken, prophetic, illuminatory, generous, caring, sharing, and well-thought out.

At least, this is my prayer and hope for today's earthly church conducting its ministries before an almighty God who is this and more.


R.E. Slater
July 24, 2015

Amazon link

Book Description

Historic heresies didn’t die or fade away. Each generation boasts its own. Even while these counterfeit teachings remain outside the accepted bounds of Christianity, modern-day versions plague churches.So how does a church leader or pastor understand and deal with these age-old controversies when they pop up in the congregation?

In this book, Roger Olson describes the curses but also gifts that heresies bring the Church. While heresies can occasionally correct a version of orthodoxy, they are not simple confusions or misunderstandings about impenetrable mysteries of divine revelation. Instead they undermine the faith and are dangerous distortions. The author describes major heresies and how the church dealt with them, the players, and what pastors can do to address these faith issues in order to educate congregations about Jesus, God, and salvation.

Also included are questions for individual or group study.

Also available - a Leader guide with DVD in which Adam Hamilton hosts on-screen conversations with Roger Olson (9781501806360)

From the Author

Announcing My Newest Book: Counterfeit Christianity:
The Persistence of Errors in the Church

by Roger Olson
July 14, 2015

A couple years ago I was approached by a requisitions editor at Abingdon Press (the United Methodist Publishing House) to write a book about heresies. I never knew the publisher’s exact motive, but I suspect it is part of a general concern among many (including some bishops I know) in the United Methodist Church to turn around the denomination’s “theological pluralism” and renew at least a general sense of Christian orthodoxy within the UMC. (That is not to say that has been totally lacking; it is only to say that very many UMC people have come to believe doctrine simply does not matter and they are free to believe whatever they want to believe.)

I agreed to the request and the product is now published—Counterfeit Christianity: The Persistence of Errors in the Church (2015). Amazon has it becoming available August 4, but I have received a box of author’s copies, so I assume it is now available for pre-order if not actual purchase. If I am not mistaken this is my eighteenth book (including co-authored books but not multi-authored books of which I have contributed to too many to keep count.)

Before the describing the book in some detail, I must reluctantly say that I am not happy with the title or the cover—over which I had no “say.” Most people do not realize that publishers assign book titles and cover designs. Sometimes authors have a say, but often they do not. I tried gently to object to “Counterfeit Christianity” to no avail. And by the time I saw the cover it was too late to object. My preferred title was “Heresies Ancient and Modern: The Persistence of Errors in the Churches.” Marketers have the most say about book titles; they are concerned with what will sell books. The reason I don’t like “Counterfeit Christianity” is that I do not think heresy necessarily equates with “counterfeit Christianity.” It depends. Some heresies labeled “Christian” do that; others do not. And I especially do not want people to think that just because I disagree with someone and even think their ideas about God, Jesus Christ, salvation, etc., are seriously mistaken I want to label them false Christians.

The book can be purchased together with a DVD containing an edited portion of a very lengthy conversation about the book between Adam Hamilton and me. Adam is, of course, the pastor of the largest UMC church in North America—The Church of the Resurrection in suburban Kansas City (Kansas). Adam is a former student of mine and I am very proud of him. At the publisher’s request he took almost an entire day out of his extremely busy schedule (he leads a church with 23,000 members!) to sit with me and film a conversation about theology. We talked, with cameras rolling, for about five hours. I think the DVD contains five segments of about eight to ten minutes each—mainly for use in small groups in churches. But, of course, anyone can purchase it. (I won’t be watching it as I literally cannot stand to watch myself or listen to myself! And I would constantly be thinking of what Adam and I said that was cut out in the editing process.)

(There’s an interesting—to me, at least—back story to my meeting with Adam at his church in Leawood, Kansas. It happened in early May, but was planned for months. The publisher and church made many arrangements including a camera and sound crew. A lead Abingdon editor flew in from Nashville to direct and produce the interview. The day before the event weather predictions for my airport were dire—severe thunderstorms and possible tornadoes! And I have slept on the floor of that airport before when my flights were cancelled due to such weather events. (It’s 100 miles from my home!) So, rather than risk missing the event, I jumped in my car and drove ten hours to Kansas City, Kansas. Then drove back after the interview the next day. I passed the hours in the car by listening to old gospel songs I downloaded from itunes to my ipod and singing along with them. I thank God for itunes and ipods! I have over 100 old gospel songs from the 1950s and 1960s—before CCM took over—on my ipod. Sorry for that digression.)

It was so good to see and be with Adam again after thirty-four years. We discovered that he was in my very first theology class when I began teaching full time. I was still writing my dissertation and had just returned from a year studying with Wolfhart Pannenberg in Germany. Adam is, of course, an author in his own right and a theologian-pastor—a model for others to follow. His most recent book is Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today (HarperOne, 2014). He gave me a copy with this personal note written inside: “Dear Roger, I am so grateful for you. You were my first professor of theology. Thank you for helping me to make sense of the Bible! Blessings! Adam Hamilton.” Few things make an old theologian happier than something like that!


Back to Counterfeit Christianity. I wrote the book in a fairly popular style, assuming no knowledge of theology or church history on the parts of readers. The back of the book contains this description: 

“Historic heresies didn’t die or fade away. Each generation boasts its own. Modern-day versions continue to plague churches and undermine the good news of Jesus. In this book Roger Olson describes not only the curses that heresies bring the church but also the gifts. Heresies can occasionally correct a version of orthodoxy, but ultimately they are not simple confusions or misunderstandings. Instead they are dangerous distortions that undermine the faith. This book describes major heresies, how the church dealt with them, the players involved, and what pastors can do to address these faith issues in order to educate congregations about Jesus, God, and salvation.” 

The back cover includes endorsements by Adam Hamilton, Henry H. Knight, III (theology professor at Methodist-related St. Paul School of Theology), and Don Thorsen (theology professor at Azusa Pacific Seminary).

The table of contents includes:

  • “Understanding Heresy,”
  • “Understanding Orthodoxy,”
  • “The Mother of All Heresies: Gnosticism,”
  • “Messing with Divine Revelation: Montanism and Marcionism,”
  • “Doubting the Deity of Jesus Christ: Adoptionism, Arianism, and Nestorianism,”
  • “Contesting the Trinity: Subordinationism, Modalism, and Tritheism,”
  • “Setting Grace Aside: Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism,”
  • “Making God a Monster: Divine Determinism,”
  • “Reducing God to Manageable Size: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” and,
  • “Using God for Personal Gain: The ‘Gospel’ of Health and Wealth.”

The first several chapters describe the heresies as they arose and existed in ancient Christianity and their contemporary forms.

One of my main points in the first chapter is that a person is not a “heretic” merely for holding mistaken beliefs, even those declared heresies by the church ecumenical and orthodox. A “heretic” is only someone who knowingly teaches what his or her faith community considers heretical. There is no such thing as an “accidental heretic.” A person is only a “heretic” when he or she realizes that what he or she teaches is heretical—according to his or her church or the Great Tradition of ecumenical Christian orthodoxy agreed to by Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches.

Nevertheless, there are heresies “swimming around” in contemporary Christianity. The people who believe them are not necessarily bad people and, in most cases, are sincere Christians who are simply confused and need correction. The problem is [that] almost nobody is correcting them! 

"Especially, Protestant churches in America [which] have relegated “orthodoxy” to
fundamentalism. The result is doctrinal chaos [creating] an “uncertain sound,”
syncretized “Christianity,” [become] a kind of folk religion in which anything
goes and everyone’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s."

I urge you to buy the book and read it and even adopt it for your church’s discussion group—in spite of the infelicitous title and (in my opinion) silly cover.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The "Violence of the Sacred" and Mimetic Theory: Ending Violence and Not Perpetuating It

What and How Mimetic theory works in Religion:
"The Girardian hermeneutic in a Nutshell."

Succinctly, Mimetic Theory is all about scapegoating and the unresolved violence of the human heart.

Sublimely, the Cross is about accepting the violence of the heart and not wishing to continue it.

This is true martyrdom.

That is, the ending of the perpetuation of violence.

The Cross then ends violence and does not continue it in any form.

Opposed to this idea is the church doctrine of "penal substitutionary atonement theory" which perpetuates the theory of God's continuing violence upon man via judgment, hell, and retribution. 

However, with a gospel hermeneutic of "mimetic desire" God accepted our violence upon His gracious, holy Personage in order to end the continuation of violence and to not perpetuate it in any form, way, means, or design.

The meaning of the "Cross of Christ" in humanity's history?

Violence in the church should have no place whatsoever in its dogmas, acts, or behavior.

Furthermore, violence within humanity must end in the same way it ended for God. To martyr itself with no desire for continuing its evil history.

Is the "Cross of Christ" hard to live?



The heart is a violent, evil thing when held under the sway of ourselves and not God's Spirit. The Scripture describes our heart as sinful.

Ahhh, now there's the rub and its what the French/American anthropologist/philosopher Rene Girard described in his mimetic theory of scapegoating re the Violence of the Sacred.

Meaning, the sacred elements of the church become the very same elements which are turned into violent symbols by the church to perpetuate the violence of the human heart under the guise of true spirituality (while neglecting, if not forgetting, the Scriptural warning to the deceitfulness of the sinful heart).

If Girard's Mimetic Theory seems vaguely familiar it is.

The Belfast philosopher/theologian Peter Rollins, who we discuss here a lot, gets to this same idea in a different way through psychoanalyticism and radical theology.

R.E. Slater
July 20, 2015

In his book Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis mentions that before becoming a Christian, the doctrine
of penal substitution had seemed extremely unethical to him, and that while he had since found it
to be less so, he nonetheless indicated a preference for a position closer to that of Athanasius, in
which Christ's death is seen as enabling us to die to sin by our participation, and not as a
satisfaction or payment to justice as such.

He also stated, however, that in his view no explanation of the atonement is as relevant as the
fact of the atonement. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in his fantasy fiction
series, The Chronicles of Narnia, depicts the king Aslan surrendering himself to Jadis
the White Witch as a substitute for the life of Edmund Pevensie, which appears to
illustrate a ransom or Christus Victor approach to the atonement.

- Wikipedia, Penal Substitution

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Wikipedia - Rene Girard

René Noël Théophile Girard (/ʒiˈrɑrd/; French: [ʒiʁaʁ]; born December 25, 1923) is a Franco-American historian, literary critic, and philosopher of social science whose work belongs to the tradition of anthropological philosophy. Girard is the author of nearly thirty books (see below), with his writings spanning many academic domains. Although the reception of his work is different in each of these areas, there is a growing body of secondary literature on his work and his influence on disciplines such as literary criticism, critical theory,anthropology, theology, psychology, mythology, sociology, economics, cultural studies, and philosophy.

Girard's fundamental ideas, which he has developed throughout his career and provide the foundation for his thinking, are that desire is mimetic (all of our desires are borrowed from other people), that all conflict originates in mimetic desire (mimetic rivalry), that the scapegoat mechanism is the origin of sacrifice and the foundation of human culture, and religion was necessary in human evolution to control the violence that can come from mimetic rivalry, and that the Bible reveals these ideas and denounces the scapegoat mechanism.



After almost a decade of teaching French literature in the United States, Girard began to develop a new way of speaking about literary texts. Beyond the "uniqueness" of individual works, he tried to discover their common structural properties after noticing that characters in great fiction evolved in a system of relationships otherwise common to the wider generality of novels. But there was a distinction to be made:

Only the great writers succeed in painting these mechanisms faithfully, without falsifying them: we have here a system of relationships that paradoxically, or rather not paradoxically at all, has less variability the greater a writer is.[7]

So there did indeed exist "psychological laws" as Proust calls them.[8] These laws and this system are the consequences of a fundamental reality grasped by the novelists, which Girard called the mimetic character of desire. This is the content of his first book, Deceit, Desire and the Novel (1961). We borrow our desires from others. Far from being autonomous, our desire for a certain object is always provoked by the desire of another person — the model — for this same object. This means that the relationship between the subject and the object is not direct: there is always a triangular relationship of subject, model, and object. Through the object, one is drawn to the model, whom Girard calls the mediator: it is in fact the model who is sought. Girard calls desire "metaphysical" in the measure that, as soon as a desire is something more than a simple need or appetite, "all desire is a desire to be",[9] it is an aspiration, the dream of a fullness attributed to the mediator.

Mediation is external when the mediator of the desire is socially beyond the reach of the subject or, for example, a fictional character, as in the case of Amadis de Gaula and Don Quixote. The hero lives a kind of folly that nonetheless remains optimistic. Mediation is internal when the mediator is at the same level as the subject. The mediator then transforms into a rival and an obstacle to the acquisition of the object, whose value increases as the rivalry grows. This is the universe of the novels of Stendhal, Flaubert, Proust and Dostoevsky, which are particularly studied in this book.

Through their characters, our own behaviour is displayed. Everyone holds firmly to the illusion of the authenticity of one's own desires; the novelists implacably expose all the diversity of lies, dissimulations, maneuvers, and the snobbery of the Proustian heroes; these are all but "tricks of desire", which prevent one from facing the truth: envy and jealousy. These characters, desiring the being of the mediator, project upon him superhuman virtues while at the same time depreciating themselves, making him a god while making themselves slaves, in the measure that the mediator is an obstacle to them. Some, pursuing this logic, come to seek the failures that are the signs of the proximity of the ideal to which they aspire. This can manifest as a heightened experience of the universal pseudo-masochism inherent in seeking the unattainable, which can, of course, turn into sadism should the actor play this part in reverse[citation needed].

This fundamental focus on mimetic desire would be pursued by Girard throughout the rest of his career. The stress on imitation in humans was not a popular subject when Girard developed his theories[citation needed], but today there is independent support for his claims coming from empirical research in psychology and neuroscience (see below).


Since the mimetic rivalry that develops from the struggle for the possession of the objects is contagious, it leads to the threat of violence. Girard himself says, "If there is a normal order in societies, it must be the fruit of an anterior crisis."[10] Turning his interest towards the anthropological domain, Girard began to study anthropological literature and proposed his second great hypothesis: the victimization process, which is at the origin of archaic religion and which he sets forth in his second book Violence and the Sacred (1972).

If two individuals desire the same thing, there will soon be a third, then a fourth. This process quickly snowballs. Since from the beginning the desire is aroused by the other (and not by the object) the object is soon forgotten and the mimetic conflict transforms into a general antagonism. At this stage of the crisis the antagonists will no longer imitate each other's desires for an object, but each other's antagonism. They wanted to share the same object, but now they want to destroy the same enemy. So, a paroxysm of violence would tend to focus on an arbitrary victim and a unanimous antipathy would, mimetically, grow against him. The brutal elimination of the victim would reduce the appetite for violence that possessed everyone a moment before, and leaves the group suddenly appeased and calm. The victim lies before the group, appearing simultaneously as the origin of the crisis and as the one responsible for this miracle of renewed peace. He becomes sacred, that is to say the bearer of the prodigious power of defusing the crisis and bringing peace back. Girard believes this to be the genesis of archaic religion, of ritual sacrifice as the repetition of the original event, of myth as an account of this event, of the taboos that forbid access to all the objects at the origin of the rivalries that degenerated into this absolutely traumatizing crisis. This religious elaboration takes place gradually over the course of the repetition of the mimetic crises whose resolution brings only a temporary peace. The elaboration of the rites and of the taboos constitutes a kind of empirical knowledge about violence.

Although explorers and anthropologists have not been able to witness events similar to these, which go back to the earliest times, indirect evidence for them abounds, such as the universality of ritual sacrifice and the innumerable myths that have been collected from the most varied peoples. If Girard's theory is true, then we will find in myths the culpability of the victim-god, depictions of the selection of the victim, and his power to beget the order that governs the group. Girard found these elements in numerous myths, beginning with that of Oedipus, which he analyzed in this and later books. On this question he opposes Claude Lévi-Strauss.

The phrase "scapegoat mechanism" was not coined by Girard himself; it had been used earlier by Kenneth Burke in Permanence and Change (1935) and A Grammar of Motives (1940). However, Girard took this concept from Burke and developed it much more extensively as an interpretation of human culture.

In Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978), Girard develops the implications of this discovery. The victimary process is the missing link between the animal world and the human world, the principle that explains the humanization of primates. It allows us to understand the need for sacrificial victims, which in turn explains the hunt which is primitively ritual, and the domestication of animals as a fortuitous result of the acclimatization of a reserve of victims, or agriculture. It shows that at the beginning of all culture is archaic religion, which Durkheim had sensed.[11] The elaboration of the rites and taboos by proto-human or human groups would take infinitely varied forms while obeying a rigorous practical sense that we can detect: the prevention of the return of the mimetic crisis. So we can find in archaic religion the origin of all political or cultural institutions.

According to Girard, just as the theory of natural selection of species is the rational principle that explains the immense diversity of forms of life, the victimization process is the rational principle that explains the origin of the infinite diversity of cultural forms. The analogy with Darwin also extends to the scientific status of the theory, as each of these presents itself as a hypothesis that is not capable of being proven experimentally, given the extreme amounts of time necessary to the production of the phenomena in question, but which imposes itself by its great explanatory power.


According to Girard, the origin of language is also related to scapegoating. After the first victim, after the murder of the first scapegoat, there were the first prohibitions and rituals, but these came into being before representation and language, hence before culture. And that means that "people" (perhaps not human beings) "will not start fighting again".[12] Girard says:

"f mimetic disruption comes back, our instinct will tell us to do again what the sacred has done to save us, which is to kill the scapegoat. Therefore it would be the force of substitution of immolating another victim instead of the first. But the relationship of this process with representation is not one that can be defined in a clear-cut way. This process would be one that moves towards representation of the sacred, towards definition of the ritual as ritual and prohibition as prohibition. But this process would already begin prior the representation, you see, because it is directly produced by the experience of the misunderstood scapegoat."[12]

According to Girard, the substitution of an immolated victim for the first, is "the very first symbolic sign created by the hominids".[13] Girard also says this is the first time that one thing represents another thing, standing in the place of this (absent) one. This substitution is the beginning of representation and language, but also the beginning of sacrifice and ritual. The genesis of language and ritual is very slow and we must imagine that there are also kinds of rituals among the animals: "It is the originary scapegoating which prolongs itself in a process which can be infinitely long in moving from, how should I say, from instinctive ritualization, instinctive prohibition, instinctive separation of the antagonists, which you already find to a certain extent in animals, towards representation."[12]

Unlike Eric Gans, Girard does not think that there is an original scene during which there is "a sudden shift from non-representation to representation",[12] or a sudden shift from animality to humanity. According to the French sociologist Camille Tarot, it is hard to understand how the process of representation (symbolicity, language...) actually occurs and he has called this a black box in Girard's theory.[14]

Girard also says:

"One great characteristic of man is what they [the authors of the modern theory of evolution] call neoteny, the fact that the human infant is born premature, with an open skull, no hair and a total inability to fend for himself. To keep it alive, therefore, there must be some form of cultural protection, because in the world of mammals, such infants would not survive, they would be destroyed. Therefore there is a reason to believe that in the later stages of human evolution, culture and nature are in constant interaction. The first stages of this interaction must occur prior to language, but they must include forms of sacrifice and prohibition that create a space of non-violence around the mother and the children which make it possible to reach still higher stages of human development. You can postulate as many such stages as are needed. Thus, you can have a transition between ethology and anthropology which removes, I think, all philosophical postulates. The discontinuities would never be of such a nature as to demand some kind of sudden intellectual illumination."[12]



In Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, Girard discusses for the first time Christianity and the Bible. The Gospels ostensibly present themselves as a typical mythical account, with a victim-god lynched by a unanimous crowd, an event that is then commemorated by Christians through ritual sacrifice — a material re-presentation in this case — in the Eucharist. The parallel is perfect except for one detail: the truth of the innocence of the victim is proclaimed by the text and the writer. The mythical account is usually built on the lie of the guilt of the victim inasmuch as it is an account of the event seen from the viewpoint of the anonymous lynchers. This ignorance is indispensable to the efficacy of the sacrificial violence.

The evangelical "good news" clearly affirms the innocence of the victim, thus becoming, by attacking ignorance, the germ of the destruction of the sacrificial order on which rests the equilibrium of societies. Already the Old Testament shows this turning inside-out of the mythic accounts with regard to the innocence of the victims (Abel, Joseph, Job, ...), and the Hebrews were conscious of the uniqueness of their religious tradition. With the Gospels, it is with full clarity that are unveiled these "things hidden since the foundation of the world" (Matthew 13:35), the foundation of social order on murder, described in all its repulsive ugliness in the account of the Passion.

This revelation is even clearer because the text is a work on desire and violence, from the serpent setting alight the desire of Eve in paradise to the prodigious strength of the mimetism that brings about the denial of Peter during the Passion (Mark 14: 66-72; Luke 22:54-62). Girard reinterprets certain biblical expressions in light of his theories; for instance, he sees "scandal" (skandalon, literally, a "snare", or an "impediment placed in the way and causing one to stumble or fall"[15]) as signifying mimetic rivalry, for example Peter's denial of Jesus.[16] No one escapes responsibility, neither the envious nor the envied: "Woe to the man through whom scandal comes" (Matthew 18:7).


The evangelical revelation contains the truth on the violence, available for two thousand years, Girard tells us. Has it put an end to the sacrificial order based on violence in the society that has claimed the gospel text as its own religious text? No, he replies, since in order for a truth to have an impact it must find a receptive listener, and people do not change that quickly. The gospel text has instead acted as a ferment that brings about the decomposition of the sacrificial order. While medieval Europe showed the face of a sacrificial society that still knew very well how to despise and ignore its victims, nonetheless the efficacy of sacrificial violence has never stopped decreasing, in the measure that ignorance receded. Here Girard sees the principle of the uniqueness and of the transformations of the Western society whose destiny today is one with that of human society as a whole.

Does the retreat of the sacrificial order mean less violence? Not at all; rather, it deprives modern societies of most of the capacity of sacrificial violence to establish temporary order. The "innocence" of the time of the ignorance is no more. On the other hand, Christianity, following the example of Judaism, has desacralized the world, making possible a utilitarian relationship with nature. Increasingly threatened by the resurgence of mimetic crises on a grand scale, the contemporary world is on one hand more quickly caught up by its guilt, and on the other hand has developed such a great technical power of destruction that it is condemned to both more and more responsibility and less and less innocence. So, for example, while empathy for victims manifests progress in the moral conscience of society, it nonetheless also takes the form of a competition among victims that threatens an escalation of violence.

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The judgement of the cross
[Is the Gospel about the Penal-Substitutionary Atonement of God's Judgment upon Christ?]

by Michael Hardin
July 14, 2015

“Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” (John 12:31)

Christians are generally accustomed to speaking of the cross as the place and time where God enacted judgement on the world. But what does this actually mean, and what are its implications?

Usually, the cross as the place of judgement is understood to mean the physical location where God poured out his wrath upon Jesus. Here, wrath is understood as the punishment for our sin which God, in his justice, is obliged to mete out: namely death. And Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, gamely hangs on the cross in our place and bears the brunt of God’s implacable justice so that we, in spite of our sin, can escape punishment.

And the cross as the time of judgement is understood as the point in history when God sovereignly intervened in human affairs to solve humanity’s sin problem as described above.

So there we have it: time and place come together at the cross as Jesus bears God’s punishment for our sin. This, then, is the judgement of the cross: a resounding verdict of “Guilty!” pronounced upon the human race by God, accompanied by an unappealable death sentence. The twist is that Christ comes in as an innocent victim to serve the sentence in our place.

This is what I believed without a second thought for most of my Christian life. Until I began, through a process of reading and thinking, to see some gaping holes in it:

Hole number 1: In this view, God is not free to simply forgive sin; he is beholden to a higher principle of justice that must be obeyed. This is a major philosophical and theological problem, because if God is God, there clearly cannot be any higher principle than himself by which he is bound.

Hole number 2: Following on from hole number 1, since God is bound by a higher principle of justice that must be satisfied, the only way he can forgive us is through some kind of transaction. His end of the transaction is that someone has to die, since the wages of sin is death. Jesus agrees to be that someone, so God can now forgive us because his perfect son has died in our place, thus balancing the scales of justice. The problem here is that this is supposedly the same God who elsewhere in scripture instructs us to freely forgive others, even as we have been forgiven. So God requires a different standard of his children – free forgiveness – than he himself is prepared to meet. Hmm.

Hole number 3: This understanding makes God into a God who uses scapegoating to accomplish his purposes. In this view, Jesus is a God-ordained scapegoat. The groundbreaking work of French philosopher and anthropologist René Girard has shown that scapegoating is a uniquely human phenomenon that lies at the very foundation of human society. Scapegoating is an evil practice because it shifts blame for a community’s ills onto an innocent victim and then buries that victim so that life can go on as before. The innocent is made to pay the price for the guilty, so that the guilty can carry on unreformed. Do we really think the God who is supposedly the apex of love and compassion would endorse such a practice, let alone deliberately use it as a mechanism of justice?

Hole number 4: This view treats sin as a legal problem to be settled, an equation to be solved. In doing so, it shifts sin from the concrete to the abstract. Thus, the event of the cross does little or nothing to actually address the here-and-now reality of humanity’s sin; it merely promises a clean legal record to anyone who puts their faith in Jesus.

I could go on, but I think those holes are already quite large enough.

In this classic view, then, the outcome of the judgement that takes place at the cross is this: humanity is found deserving of death because God must actively mete out punishment to all sinners; and God is not averse to engaging in the evil practice of scapegoating in order to see Lady Justice satisfied. This judgement, I contend, is as much an indictment of God as it is of humanity. Both humanity and God are found wanting: humanity because of our sin and God because of his willingness – nay, his requirement – to deal out violent death in response.

How, then, are we to understand the judgement of the cross? If not sin as a universal abstraction, what exactly was being judged at the cross?

Let me first make a statement, which I will then try to unpack: the cross judges the world in that it proves that none of our violence or accusation was ever rooted in God.

Humanity’s number one problem is and always has been violence. Physical violence, verbal violence, mental violence. Violence expressed in war, in oppression, in racial hatred, in intolerance. Violence manifested in mistrust, suspicion, accusation and blame. We don’t mind talking about sin because it’s such an imprecise, abstract term that it’s easy to hide from its implications. But as soon as we talk about violence in its many and various expressions, we are all implicated.

So what has this to do with the judgement of the cross? Well, one of the main ways in which humanity has sought to justify its violence throughout history is by claiming it to be divinely sanctioned, or even divinely ordained. We can see this in various places throughout the Old Testament, and we can still see it in the world today. And if God, the ultimate authority, sanctions human violence, how can the cycle of violence ever be broken? Answer: it can’t, and so the world keeps on spinning ever faster along a trajectory of escalating violence. That way lies apocalyptic destruction.

What happened, then, at the cross? Far from revealing God to be the ultimate dispenser of violence, the cross showed that God would rather die than engage in violence of any kind.

The cross drew a sharp distinction between humanity and God. Humanity gravitates towards violence as the final solution for every problem, and is prepared to engage in scapegoating and lynching to preserve the status quo. God, on the other hand, eschews all forms of violence and, in going to the cross, exposes scapegoating as the structural evil that it is.

God is not judged and found wanting at the cross: on the contrary, he is decisively shown to be genuinely, truly, perfectly good and non-violent. What is judged is the world, the kosmos, civilisation and the wicked systems of violence and injustice that underpin it. And, most importantly, humankind’s favourite excuse for its violence – God told me to! – is forever obliterated.

I must draw this to a close before it turns into a ramble. But before I do, let me make one final point. I believe the cross was and is a judgement that has power to transform individual and collective life in the here and now, not simply to leave the status quo undisturbed pending a post-mortem deliverance. And how does it achieve such transformation? It does so by starkly revealing the problem of human violence and showing the only way in which the cycle of violence can be broken: free and unconditional forgiveness, first from God to humankind, and then from human to human.

As he goes to the cross, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do”. And as he returns from the grave three days later, he announces not vengeance but peace. The cycle is broken.

The cross is a judgement, yes, but it is a judgement of light and life. The question is, are we prepared to see it that way, release our tight grip on violence and enter into the virtuous cycle of forgiveness and peace?