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

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Apocalyptic Theology, the Gnostic Community, and the Spirit of God





"The sad fact is, we as human beings, are sinful and given to sinful wrath and not solidarity
with one another. The solidarity of God rests with the solidarity of humanity where Jesus
is the great binder to all divisions, enmities, and hatreds. Without Jesus as Christianity's
center - or any religion's center - there can be no peace. No goodwill. No fellowship."
                                                     - r.e. slater, 12.8.15


Friend and theologian Scot McKnight has been observing the misapplication of "apocalyptically-informed hermeneutics (bible interpretation based upon a gnostic spirit of divine illumination) against the narratival and historical approach of NT Wright's "new perspective of Pauline theology" which projects God's self revelation through His people into the New Testament.

For Wright, to understand the Apostle Paul aright is to better understand Jewish theology as versus a Christianity that has developed its church doctrines (Reformed, Lutheran Catholic) apart from this perspective. Hence, Wright proposes a Jewish approach to Paul's teachings as versus a Protestant or Catholic approach to Paul. One is more natural while the other is more contrived.

Now comes yet another perspective of Paul (and of Jesus) more related to the gnostic communities of Jesus and Paul's day found between the intertestamental period of the Old and New Testaments and within the pagan/Christian communities which arise after Jesus' death and resurrection. These communities rely on a kind of "Spirit knowledge" obtained from God than on the historical narratives of either Testament of the bible. As such, their knowledge is privileged, or secret, to themselves alone without opportunity to be questioned or known except through themselves. To Christian theologians these communities of "specialized revelatory knowledge" are deemed "gnostic communities" of marginally Christian believers adding to, or subtracting from, the revelation of God more broadly (or publicly) given to His people through the Old and New Testaments.

Moreover, gnostic theology is guilty of personal motives - or subjective trajectories - of a community's more basic "wants and needs" than it is of God's "specialized secret knowledge" and missional outreach of salvation. To be a gnostic believer then is to be a believer who is more-or-less a Christian (or, more-or-less pagan, and therefore less Christian) in their theologic and missional views of Jesus. The hallmark of a non-gnostic Christian is a Jesus-led community of believers who ceaselessly examine, question, or even doubt themselves and their theologies, so that Jesus is more clearly seen rather than one's own subjective beliefs and dispositions.

Thus, church doctrine and tradition matters to a Jesus-community of believers who rely on examining the Scriptures to inform their faith as well as examining past theologians from previous historic eras set within their own philosophical paradigms and constructs. As such, this "objective" method of study must always be under examination so that a theologian (or church fellowship) uses all methods of self-assessment (including its own contemporary era) which may be helpful in ridding the church of any pagan doctrines or dogmas which are misleading to the gospel of Christ.

For some church denominations and fellowships, this study has been regulated to only acceptable church traditions (or religious folklores) which carry forward their own unique brand of Christian belief (whether Reformed, Lutheran, Catholic, or some admixture of these beliefs). This would also include the unconscious  (or subconscious) interpretation of Scripture based upon past philosophic eras a church fellowship may have developed them within. Eras such as New Testament Hellenism in Paul's day, or later Medieval Scholasticism before the Renaissance, or pre-Reformational Enlightenment, or last century's Secular Modernism, or even today's millennial Postmodern, Post-Christian examinations of Scriptures and theology.

"If you must have blind faith, center it in the Crucified
and be faithful to who He is, and what He says.
But question everything else."
- Jeff Robinson (friend of Michael Hardin), 12.6.15

More simplistically, a gnostic theology would discount all previous church histories, doctrines, or theologies in favor of its "more-enlightened" view of inscripturated knowledge. A knowledge which is more secret, more subjective to its needs, more forced by its community to be believed, than what is commonly perceived amongst other Christian communities. But rather than being simply a "movement of theological perspectives" within a church community - however pagan or spiritual - these gnostic communities will claim a divine guidance that replaces all previous divine revelations in favor of their own special brand of beliefs.

Consequently, Christians who purport a kind of "secret knowledge" of God's revelatory plan today are more dependent upon their own informed sense of God's movement than they are upon God's historical portrayal of Himself through Scripture and especially through the Christ event of the New Testament or even of church history. They perceive themselves as a "cut above" other Christian communities and so, their belief structure is selectively more special than any other acclaimed doctrinnaire as well.

Hence, a gnostic apocalyptic theology is a different kind of apocalyptic theology than the standard Christian one. It pretends to inform that group of believers of God's intentions and motives according to its more selective knowledge given to it from the Spirit of God. Though one would wonder if it was from God's spirit or from their own spirit of sinful man. Nonetheless, from this basis a gnostic community would then re-interpret the Scriptures to selectively bear out its own aims and objectives becoming a "revelation" to themselves as kept from God's broader revelation in Christ to the world. A revelation which was more truly apocalyptic in its nature than these secret communes of believers would have us believe.


"Verily then, it becomes the old game of 'misdirect and subtle evasion.'
If you don't like something you're hearing, than chose to ignore it by
making your approach  more approved by God."
                                                     - r.e. slater, 12.8.15

So then, back to McKnight's observations. There is gnostic kind of perspective being applied to the Gospels and Pauline theology purporting itself as an interpretive tool, or hermeneutic, for Scriptural reading and study. The error here is not in reading of the Christ event as an apolcalyptic event to subsume all other apocalyptic trajectories/theologies of the bible unto itself. But to take that event and claim a special "gnostic insight of reading the bible" which would inform one of God's movement amongst men today. Basically, its the idea of who is more informed to read the bible - the studied student or theologian of the bible or, the Spirit-led mystic, who claims to see more broadly then his brothers and sisters.

Though there is an element of truth here related to the necessary leading of the Holy Spirit into the illumination of Scripture, it really is a misapplication of this truth using a more charismatic spirit of division and illumination. As an example, the church today is beset by religious conservative politics - should it exclude gays, women, minorities, and unbelievers from God's commands to embrace, love, welcome, and reach out to all? If so, how can this be done if past theological dogmas are being shown as artificially constructed in today's more-enlightened postmodern approach to Scripture? Perhaps by using the "apocalyptic method of interpretation" these sinful discriminations might be upheld and purported as righteous rather than self-righteous?

Verily then, it becomes the old game of "misdirect and subtle evasion." If you don't like something you're hearing, than chose to ignore it by making your approach more approved by God. Create a new way of interpreting the Scriptures more to your liking and thus, ignoring the very Spirit of God who you are claiming is leading you in your spirit of division and alienation. How many times has the church done this through history? Many! It doesn't take a gnostic community of believers to do this, even the people of God will do this when it favors their prejudices and bigotries.

The sad fact is, we as human beings, are sinful and given to sinful wrath and not solidarity with one another. The solidarity of God rests with the solidarity of humanity where Jesus is the great binder to all divisions, enmities, and hatreds. Without Jesus as Christianity's center - or any religion's center - there can be no peace. No goodwill. No fellowship. Only darkness, bitterness, and cold.

Peace,

R.E. Slater
December 8, 2015

* * * * * * * * * *


Search Results for: apocalyptic theology

NT Wright vs. Apocalyptic Theology: How Adams Goes Wrong about Wright

The showdown in Pauline scholarship today is between the new perspective, in particular as articulated in the narratival theology of NT Wright, and apocalyptic theology as articulated by J. Louis Martyn and those who follow him (e.g., M. de Boer, B. Gaventa, D. Campbell). Samuel Adams, in his new book The Reality of God and Historical [Read More...]

The Apocalyptic Challenge to NT Wright: Method

This blog has given plenty of attention to the works of NT Wright, in part because his books are valued by our readers and in part because his books are accessible for the blog and in part because he’s in “my camp” (the new perspective on Paul). But with that comes challenges to NT Wright [Read More...]

N.T. Wright Responds to the Apocalyptic Paul School

The major debate about the apostle Paul shifted in the 21st Century from a debate between the “old” and the “new” perspective of Paul to the new perspective vs. the apocalyptic Paul. In saying that, the tussle ends up being between NT Wright (a version of the NPP) and Lou Martyn and his followers (e.g., [Read More...]

The Apocalyptic Paul — His Biography

Douglas Campbell has become a major player in the world of Pauline studies with his last two books in this sense: he has not only proven his competence in exegesis, theology and history but has proposed a re-centering of Pauline theology around the theme of apocalyptic. (Some have said Barth’s had his share of influence, [Read More...]

Challenging NT Wright: Knowing God

NT Wright is committed to “critical realism” and Samuel Adams — and his book The Reality of God and Historical Method is endorsed by Douglas Campbell, Douglas Harink, Bev Gaventa and Alan J. Torrance — thinks critical realism is insufficient to the task of theology. History, it is being argued, can only go so far. [Read More...]

Is the “Old” Better? NT Wright Responds

It may simplify but this formula may explain a major difference between at least the most widely-read version of the “new” perspective and the standard “old” perspective: Old Perspective scholars are soteriologians while the NT Wright version of the New Perspective makes him an eschatologian. I am re-reading NT Wright’s Paul and His Recent Interpreters and the chapter [Read More...]

The New Perspective(s) on Paul Begin with EP Sanders

In the mid to late 90s I began to hear traditional, mostly the Reformed with hints of Lutheranism Christian leaders begin to accuse the “new perspective” of weaknesses and in the criticism I was hearing descriptions of what “new perspective on Pau” (NPP) theologians believed — as if the NPP had a systematic theology worked [Read More...]

NT Wright, Paul and His Interpreters, the Cover

The cover of N.T. Wright’s new Paul and His Recent Interpreters, in the English edition (sadly not the USA edition), goes to the heart of the book. Some might not notice that the cover of the book is Rembrandt’s self portrait as the apostle Paul. (Image credit) Rembrandt painting himself as the apostle Paul, think of [Read More...]

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