According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Is the Bible True" or "Is The Bible a Collection of Myths?"




How is the Bible True if it is Mythic?

Often I here the comment from someone questioning the Bible in a way that I don't consider questioning it. Now don't get me wrong, I question the Bible a lot. In fact, much of Relevancy22 is dedicate to questioning the Bible. But the questions I raise are questions I ask myself about life and God and why it is the way it is. Or, I may question my approach or my interpretation of the Bible in a way that may differ from my past conservative Christian heritage. Questions that I now consider quite healthy and appropriate to undertake.

However, I don't question the Bible in the sense of treating it as a compendium of narratives that is only human without divine intervention. Nor do I question the Bible in the cynic sense of disbelief that it is simply a piece of human literature. No, I don't come to it as one refusing to see its pages pregnant with the Spirit of the Lord.

And though I may question how my faith reads of God and learns from His Spirit I reserve the right to read its script within the holy vernacular (or conversation) of God-speak to us by its many forms and ways and means. This doesn't mean that some sections of the Bible aren't written in mythic form. But it also doesn't mean that there aren't other sections written historically, poetically, as music, or prayers, or odes, sonnets, and songs.

The list can go on and on but it is a list that contains a vast matrix to the person and story of God Himself. The story of His love and grace and mercy and forgiveness to us today as much as to those personages of the past. Hence I do not treat the Bible so simply as a mythic read.

Question: "Is the Bible true?"
Me: "Yes."

Question: "In what sense is the Bible true?"
Answer: "In many ways."

Question: "Is the Bible a myth that points to something that is more true than it is literally true?"
Answer: "Yes. But there's the catch isn't it? In what ways do we read of God and tell of God and think of God that might box us inwards away from God?"


  




The Story of Joseph Campbell

Now there was a man by the name of Joseph Campbell who made a living investigating the myths that human society lives by. Myths that are self-empowering as much as they can be self-defeating. Myths that can destroy our community with one another as much as they might re-invigorate our communities with one another.

Here's his story:

Joseph John Campbell (March 26, 1904 – October 30, 1987) was an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His work is vast, covering many aspects of the human experience. His philosophy is often summarized by his phrase: "Follow your bliss." - Wikipedia

To this study Dr. Campbell made some life-long observations. Observations that are not necessarily disagreeable when you think through the Christian faith in these terms. A faith that can be "mythic" to some people. But for myself, a faith that is very much historically rooted in the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ as an actual person.

Who was more than a man. Jesus was very God Himself come in flesh and blood to minister, live, and die as the our sin-sacrifice. And afterwards, to be bodily raised from the dead, and then seen and declared for 40 days as alive by those who ate and talked with the glorified Christ-man:

Acts 1:1-9

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Promise of the Holy Spirit
1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandsthrough the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

4 And while staying[a] with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me;5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
The Ascension

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this timerestore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to knowtimes or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

---

Now if the Christian faith is mythic in this sense of the definition than fine. I have no problem with calling the Christian faith mythic. But unlike a Greek mythology the Christian faith is more a God-pronounced metanarrative or histor-ology than myth-ology.

And though many conservative Christian groups build a lot of importance on particular interpretations of cornerstone biblical texts that are actually a form of ancient mythic text-stories this does not mean that the spiritual or ontological truth within those mythic texts are untrue. For example....

I consider Genesis 1-11 to be written in mythic form. Of course this is where we find the creation narratives of mankind, its sin, judgment, flood, and restoration. Moreover, I may wish to read these mythic narratives from a Christian evolutionary perspective realizing that I will not find any scientific statements written herein by ancient (non-scientific) societies.

But this is not to say that God did not create the world. A world that became broken by the freedom given to it, and requiring a restoration of fellowship that only God can give to it. Here we may have broad agreement despite whether we read Genesis 1-11 as a literal historical account or as an ancient Near-Eastern mythic history (a style which most of the ancient wrote in during this time).

But I do not read Genesis 1-11 in the agnostic or atheistic understanding of its ancient "human-myths." No. Though I might subscribe to some of the Bible's literary narratives as mythic this does not discount for me its very real, very true, theistic implications. That is where I and those like Joseph Campbell will disagree with one another.

It is a disagreement in substance more than it is a disagreement in kind.

---


Let's go a bit farther here now. Because when I read of some of Dr. Campbell's broader teachings it gives me pause to reflect on my faith and the community of those I am in Christ with. That is, Campbell's observations are not necessarily untrue.

The rub is that for Campbell "Jesus was a myth." Whereas for myself - and my Christian brothers and sisters - we believe that Jesus is a true-true myth. Or, a very real, flesh-and-blood, Son of God, come to heal the sin gulf between us and God. 

The Functions of myth (from Wikipedia)

Campbell often described mythology as having a fourfold function within human society. These appear at the end of his work The Masks of God: Creative Mythology, as well as various lectures.

The Metaphysical FunctionAwakens a sense of awe before the mystery of being

According to Campbell, the absolute mystery of life, what he called transcendent reality, cannot be captured directly in words or images. Symbols and mythic metaphors on the other hand point outside themselves and into that reality. They are what Campbell called "being statements"[29] and their enactment through ritual can give to the participant a sense of that ultimate mystery as an experience. "Mythological symbols touch and exhilarate centers of life beyond the reach of reason and coercion.... The first function of mythology is to reconcile waking consciousness to the mysterium tremendum et fascinans of this universe as it is."

The Cosmological FunctionExplains the shape of the universe

For pre-modern societies, myth also functioned as a proto-science, offering explanations for the physical phenomena that surrounded and affected their lives, such as the change of seasons and the life cycles of animals and plants.

The Sociological FunctionValidates and supports the existing social order

Ancient societies had to conform to an existing social order if they were to survive at all. This is because they evolved under "pressure" from necessities much more intense than the ones encountered in our modern world. Mythology confirmed that order and enforced it by reflecting it into the stories themselves, often describing how the order arrived from divine intervention. Campbell often referred to these "conformity" myths as the "Right Hand Path" to reflect the brain's left hemisphere's abilities for logic, order and linearity. Together with these myths however, he observed the existence of the "Left Hand Path", mythic patterns like the "Hero's Journey" which are revolutionary in character in that they demand from the individual a surpassing of social norms and sometimes even of morality.

The Pedagogical FunctionGuides the individual through the stages of life

As a person goes through life, many psychological challenges will be encountered. Myth may serve as a guide for successful passage through the stages of one's life. - Wikipedia


Now as you can see Campbell's understanding of the functions of myth quite nicely dovetails with some of the ideas found with Christianity. The Christian faith will:

  • awaken a sense of divine presence,
  • perhaps provide some kind of explanation for why we are here, while
  • validating and supporting our existential awareness of self, presence, and relationships,
  • which may guide us through the various stages of life whether good or bad.

There is no refusal here. In fact, I remember reading through Greek mythology during my freshman year of humanities and simply loved the many stories I found because they so very well paralleled with my own tribalistic brand of Christian faith at the time. Those Greek myths gave me reason, purpose, awareness, wisdom, hope, and proverbial truth - even as my own Christian did.

Who'd of thought!?

But then again, this is the wisdom of God, is it not?

Comparing Attic Greek Myths with Ancient Hebrew Myths

And so I think it was more because I felt the rhythm of an ancient Greek Attic society hundreds of years before Jesus that was very much in tune with what I was also reading in the Bible as it was composed during that same ancient time in Hebrew society. A society returning from Babylonian exile that would recapture its faith under Nehemiah under his formidable bands of priests, teachers, and scribes. A Jewish society that dedicated itself to the preservation of its ancient faith through its many stories and legends and narratives from many hundreds, if not thousands, of years previous to itself.

And so, Joseph Campbell doesn't disturb me. However, his personal story disturbs me as one rejecting Jesus as the Christ and perceiving the Saviour of man as but a myth made up by societies requiring myths. It is that disbelieving faith-interpretation that disturbs me. A faith indwelling the soul of a skeptic who never became any more convinced of Jesus than that of a figure inscribed at the tip of a pen from the imaginations of societies wanting more from life than its own perception of reality.

Doubt is one thing. Disbelief another. For myself, Jesus is the reality of God come to mankind both then and now to disspell the disbelieving myths of our deceptive heart groaning in sin, burdened by disbelief, overspent in woe and suffering. The reality is that God has come to heal us, our hearts, our lives, with His renewing presence through His atoning grace on the Cross of Calvary. It is this kind of faith-reality that so many Christians have testified to through Christ their Saviour from the first century till now.

---

In conclusion, let me leave with you Rob Bell's response to Pete Holmes in a recent interview. Rather than be drawn into an argument about the veracities of the Christian faith, Rob, in Christ-like style, simply responds to Pete's questions and leaves undone the further task for Pete to discover for himself all that wasn't said in his interview with Rob.

Peace,

R.E. Slater
April 16, 2015
rev. April 17, 2015


Is the Bible True?
Pete Holmes Interviews Rob Bell
publ. April 15, 2015




The Anvil of God's Word

“Last eve I paused beside the blacksmith’s door,
And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
Then looking in, I saw upon the floor,
Old hammers, worn with beating years of time.

“‘How many anvils have you had,’ said I,
‘To wear and batter all these hammers so?’
‘Just one,’ said he, and then with twinkling eye,
‘The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.’

“And so, I thought, the Anvil of God’s Word
For ages skeptic blows have beat upon;
Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard,
The Anvil is unharmed, the hammers gone.”

—Attributed to John Clifford