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
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

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Brian Zahnd - My Problem with the Bible




My Problem With the Bible
http://brianzahnd.com/2014/02/problem-bible/

by Brian Zahnd
February 17, 2014

I have a problem with the Bible. Here’s my problem…

I’m an ancient Egyptian. I’m a comfortable Babylonian. I’m a Roman in his villa.

That’s my problem. See, I’m trying to read the Bible for all it’s worth, but I’m not a Hebrew slave suffering in Egypt. I’m not a conquered Judean deported to Babylon. I’m not a first century Jew living under Roman occupation.

I’m a citizen of a superpower. I was born among the conquerors. I live in the empire. But I want to read the Bible and think it’s talking to me. This is a problem.

One of the most remarkable things about the Bible is that in it we find the narrative told from the perspective of the poor, the oppressed, the enslaved, the conquered, the occupied, the defeated. This is what makes it prophetic. We know that history is written by the winners. This is true — except in the case of the Bible it’s the opposite! This is the subversive genius of the Hebrew prophets. They wrote from a bottom-up perspective.

Imagine a history of colonial America written by Cherokee Indians and African slaves. That would be a different way of telling the story! And that’s what the Bible does. It’s the story of Egypt told by the slaves. The story of Babylon told by the exiles. The story of Rome told by the occupied. What about those brief moments when Israel appeared to be on top? In those cases the prophets told Israel’s story from the perspective of the peasant poor as a critique of the royal elite. Like when Amos denounced the wives of the Israelite aristocracy as “the fat cows of Bashan.”

Every story is told from a vantage point; it has a bias. The bias of the Bible is from the vantage point of the underclass. But what happens if we lose sight of the prophetically subversive vantage point of the Bible? What happens if those on top read themselves into the story, not as imperial Egyptians, Babylonians, and Romans, but as the Israelites? That’s when you get the bizarre phenomenon of the elite and entitled using the Bible to endorse their dominance as God’s will. This is Roman Christianity after Constantine. This is Christendom on crusade. This is colonists seeing America as their promised land and the native inhabitants as Canaanites to be conquered. This is the whole history of European colonialism. This is Jim Crow. This is the American prosperity gospel. This is the domestication of Scripture. This is making the Bible dance a jig for our own amusement.

As Jesus preached the arrival of the kingdom of God he would frequently emphasize the revolutionary character of God’s reign by saying things like, “the last will be first and the first last.” How does Jesus’ first-last aphorism strike you? I don’t know about you, but it makes this modern day Roman a bit nervous.

Imagine this: A powerful charismatic figure arrives on the world scene and amasses a great following by announcing the arrival of a new arrangement of the world where those at the bottom are to be promoted and those on top are to have their lifestyle “restructured.” How do people receive this? I can imagine the Bangladeshis saying, “When do we start?!” and the Americans saying, “Hold on now, let’s not get carried away!”

Now think about Jesus announcing the arrival of God’s kingdom with the proclamation of his counterintuitive Beatitudes. When Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” how was that received? Well, it depends on who is hearing it. The poor Galilean peasant would hear it as good news (gospel), while the Roman in his villa would hear it with deep suspicion. (I know it’s an anachronism, but I can imagine Claudius saying something like, “sounds like socialism to me!”)

And that’s the challenge I face in reading the Bible. I’m not the Galilean peasant. Who am I kidding! I’m the Roman in his villa and I need to be honest about it. I too can hear the gospel of the kingdom as good news (because it is!), but first I need to admit its radical nature and not try to tame it to endorse my inherited entitlement.

I am a (relatively) wealthy white American male. Which is fine, but it means I have to work hard at reading the Bible right. I have to see myself basically as aligned with Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and Caesar. In that case, what does the Bible ask of me? Voluntary poverty? Not necessarily. But certainly the Bible calls me to deep humility — a humility demonstrated in hospitality and generosity. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with being a relatively well-off white American male, but I better be humble, hospitable, and generous!

If I read the Bible with the appropriate perspective and humility I don’t use the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus as a proof-text to condemn others to hell. I use it as a reminder that I’m a rich man and Lazarus lies at my door. I don’t use the conquest narratives of Joshua to justify Manifest Destiny. Instead I see myself as a Rahab who needs to welcome newcomers. I don’t fancy myself as Elijah calling down fire from heaven. I’m more like Nebuchadnezzar who needs to humble himself lest I go insane.

I have a problem with the Bible, but all is not lost. I just need to read it standing on my head. I need to change my perspective. If I can accept that the Bible is trying to lift up those who are unlike me, then perhaps I can read the Bible right.

BZ

(The artwork is by Marc Chagall)


Are We Witnessing the Death of Christianity in America?






"Are we witnessing the death of Christianity in America?" Has it become its own "evil empire?"

My answer to this question would be both "yes" and "no." That the Jedi warriors of its faith must now arise to contend for the faith of Christ first given His church through His disciples and Apostles of the New Testament.

In its dark empire form, the cruciform faith of Jesus followers will not be tolerated. The first kind of faith leads out with self-righteous Christian biblicism while the second kind of faith seeks Jesus-identification through sacrificial servanthood and crucifixion.

From a historic viewpoint, Christianity's dark empire form will win out politically even as it dies to itself spiritually. This has been true throughout the Christian ages of Western civilization even as the people of God refusing the "mark of the beast" may expect push back in various forms of "biblical" denunciations who wish to strive for humanity's solidarity and not its division.

The Jesus way is unity.

The way of sin is disunity and division.

If you chose to misunderstand and misrepresent your neighbour than you have chosen the way of darkness and death.

God's way is one of salvation, restraint, tolerance, uncertainty, and doubt of one's beliefs in life.

To imagine any other future is to legislate individual freedoms and liberties for an imagined freedom under the political banners of fear and protectionism that is bondage and death.


R.E. Slater
December 8, 2015

* * * * * * * * * *





To Serve and Not To Enforce

A day or two ago I published an article on The Call of Jesus and the Spirit to the Church to Repent and Reform in which I expanded my thoughts through the Tale of Two Scriptures, the Tale of Two Churches, of Christian Messaging, and a Gospel that is both Old and New. If you have not read this article than I would suggest you do.

Basically it speaks to the NONES and the DONES of the Christian faith and why they have a serious conflict with Christian beliefs and its resultant practices. That orthodoxy without orthopraxy is dead. That faith without works is a lie. That the true church of Jesus Christ not only follows but serves. And radically so.

This has been explained in numerous ways over the years using emerging/emergent Christianity as an example, or by describing a postmodern post-Christian faith as a lead-out for Millennial generations blossoming globally around the world. But in whatever way it has been described it has been highly critical of the conservative American church in its dogmatic doctrines, religious folklores, and un-Jesus-like self-serving practices of  judgment and condemnation to all other beliefs unlike itself.

We are basically witnessing a religious war come to the shores of America
where it once tolerated various expressions of faith but now wishes to
reverse its Constitutional commitments. - r.e. slater, 12.7.15

American Christianity is being split in two. One part of it wishes to follow a hard line conservative view of Christian biblicism (sic, actions based upon a literal reading of the bible including its violence and exclusion from its lands of "God's enemies") while the other side wishes to follow the Jesus-way of the bible freed from the political rancor and rhetoric of American exceptionalism, manifest destiny, fear, and protectionism.

Recent examples of these Americanized Christian policies would be the gross discrimination, oppression, and genocide of native American Indian cultures, religious and black slavery (which includes white slavery in early colonial America known as indentured service to pay off debts), and "defensive-industrial" war upon non-Christian religious groups being waged against the Muslim cultures of the Middle East.

The Odd Partnership of Church and State

Another way to view this split in Christianity is its view of "the separation of church and state." The first kind of Christianity wishes to integrate both into a religious church/state in order to enforce its interpretation of the bible (a kind of religious fascism or police state, if you will). The other kind of view is that of our earliest Constitutional forebearers who foresaw the wisdom in keeping each institution of church and state separate-and-apart from one another so as to allow maximal constitutional freedoms to individual rights. Rights that would grant freedom of worship and religious expression of community according to one's prerogatives rather than according to its enforcement by law.

This latter form of religious liberties would also describe Christianity's more progressive face seeking to align itself with early America's Constitutional liberties built upon the "liberal" freedoms of life, liberty, and justice. To deny these liberalities would be to move away from it along a path of exclusionary freedoms, rights, and justice.

Though today's religious/conservative right would disagree with this view, history bears them out as being the least tolerant form of faith, or kind of government (as referent, recall religious European inquisitions of dominant groups presaging their religious views over less powerful religious and secular minorities).

This was why Christian minorities fled overseas from more powerful Catholic or Protestant forms of Continental government. They fled seeking freedom of religion and expression of their non-standardized forms of Christian faith.

Ironically, those "non-standardized expressions" have today become their own standardized mores demanding public allegiance. And thus, we have come full circle from politically oppressed to political oppressor in America.

Biblicism is a False Choice

The bottom line is that today's more popular forms of biblicism have confused a Jesus faith with an admixture of enforced societal outcome. Hence, do you surreptitiously chose "the bible" over "Jesus" or "Jesus' over "the bible"?  A false choice if ever there was one! But for these groups, to chose "the bible" is to remain convinced of the rightness of your Christian views of the bible. But for progressive Christians, to chose "Jesus" is to be less sure of your dogmas but more sure of your commitment to love, serve, and reach out to all people and not to just some people whom you prefer over others. In other words, a liberal Christianity is concerned with the just rule of government and not its unjust rule or application.

Therefore, to be a progressive Christian is to take the best of Christian legacies and to expand them outwardly to include and accept formerly banished people groups such as minorities of color or poverty, women, the gay community, world religions, and disbelievers such as atheists and agnostics. A politically conservative Christian faith pushes back against this enlarging effort by demanding a specific doctrinal viewpoint as a prerequisite to God's love. That is, to be fully loved by God you have to be or do something in order for God's love to come to you. However, a Jesus-based faith will embrace all people without exception in a renewal of solidarity to humanity without losing the center of its faith and author, Jesus. More plainly, God fully loves you know now as you are, without  the need for you to do anything more to receive His love and forgiveness. This kind of a Christian faith is more robust, more confidant in God, and more willing to admit uncertainty or doubt about its dogmas. It leads out with:
  • God's love vs. God's judgment
  • God's presence with us vs. His distance from us
  • God's earthly rule vs. His heavenly rule
  • God's mercy vs. His pitiless indifference
  • God's compassion vs. His holy ire
This does not discount the need for repentance from sin and confession of Jesus as God's way of salvation into fellowship not only with Himself, but with ourselves, and each other, and even this broken planet with live upon. But it also enlarges the idea of God as more bountiful, more good, more present in our lives. Lives which need a Spirit-revolution of breakage and re-make from the sins and oppressions and injustices we have brought upon ourselves and to others around us. Jesus' kingdom then is a kingdom of love, service, peace and understanding.

A Jesus Kingdom of Love, Service, Peace and Understanding

A radical Christianity will move a progressive Christianity even further left
to a completely level field spiritually, epistemologically, existentially, and even
hermeneutically where all religious and societal barriers are physically removed
in the cruciform presence of God's person, will, experience, and mission.
                                                                       - r.e. slater, 12.7.15

Jesus' kingdom is a picture then of a divine kingdom that is trans-national, trans-geographical, trans-cultural. It embraces all people and not some people. It unites all genders, all races, all ethnicities by removing all societal barriers to this encumbrance. It honors the God who made humanity and granted humanity to be in His holy likeness and image. A Triune fellowship (or partnership) wishing to expand its fellowship to all mankind. A mankind mangled by sin, and without empowerment, without the binding engine of Jesus' Cross to make the supreme sacrifice of solidarity between God and man.

Thus my concern, along with many others who are expressing this same concern, that American Christianity must die to itself in order to find God's resurrected power of fellowship with one another. In summary, religious police states are never good for minorities and the politically oppressed. Its expression of power always yields to the more powerful over the rights of the least powerful. Motivators such as fear and protectionism are replete with historical examples. This is not the way of Jesus. It is the way of sinful man, whether he be a Christian man or pagan.

Peace,

R.E. Slater
December 7, 2015

* * * * * * * * * *


Jerry Farwell Jr, President of Liberty University | Image screenshot courtesy CNN via YouTube


ARE WE FINALLY WITNESSING THE DEATH OF CHRISTIANITY IN AMERICA?
http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/6530/are-we-finally-witnessing-the-death-of-christianity-in-america?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=socialnetwork

by Zack Hunt
December 7th, 2015

Several months ago a Pew Research study sparked what almost seem like shouts of glee from those who were eager to declare the impending death of Christianity in America.

According to the report, Millennials are leaving the Church in droves and, the theory went, if the next generation isn’t there to fill the pews, the future of the Church in America is bleak.

Which makes sense.

Not surprisingly, many Church leaders were quick to denounce such ominous conclusions as nothing but Chicken Little nonsense or at worst, they argued, the report more or less revealed an important separating of the wheat (real Christians) from the chaff (nominal Christians).

The future of the Church, we were told, is safe and secure.

To a certain extent I did and still do agree with those who cautioned that the death of the Church is not quite as near as the Pew Study might lead us to believe. Although I think some of the deflection amounted to No True Scotsman arguments, declining numbers don’t necessarily equate to death. Though, they should certainly cause the Church to pause and ask some serious questions about itself and its future.

After the initial shock wore off, I couldn’t help but think back on that debate when I heard about Jerry Falwell Jr.’s words to the students of Liberty University at the close of a recent chapel service. After revealing he was carrying a gun in his back pocket, Falwell declared, “I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed them.”

Falwell then encouraged his students to get their own concealed carry permit (via a free school-sponsored course) so that together they could “teach [those Muslims] a lesson if they ever show up here.”

His words were met with rapturous support by the student body.

As I sat in stunned silence, my inner Star Wars nerd couldn’t help but channel the words of Padmé Amidala:

So this is how Christianity dies…with thunderous applause.

For a while now, declining Church attendance, the rise of the nones, and an increasingly secular society have all seemed like the biggest threats to the future of Christianity in America.

But that is not where the existential danger comes from.

The future of Christianity in this country isn’t threatened by shifting demographics.

The Christian faith in America is on life support because far too many of us have simply stopped living like Jesus.

Christianity is facing an existential crisis in America not because our pews aren’t quite as packed as they used to be, but because — through an embrace of violence, hatred towards Muslims, callous rejection of refugees, demonization of the LGBT community, and a whole host of starkly anti-Christian actions — we’ve allowed the gospel of Jesus to be supplanted with sanctified and extreme right wing politics.

It’s no secret that American Christianity has been hijacked by the political right since at least the days of the Moral Majority. But in recent months and years we’ve witnessed a full-frontal assault on the particular and peculiar values that define the Christian life.

For example,

  • The way of Jesus is a way of peace and a sometimes unfathomable commitment to nonviolence, but American preachers can now carry an instrument of death into a space dedicated to the proclamation of life and be met with boisterous applause.
  • The way of Jesus is one of radical inclusion where new paths are blazed to welcome in those shunned by dogma and religious authority, but the identity of Christianity in America has become all but synonymous with the list of those who aren’t truly welcomed within our doors.

There are manifold explanations for how we got here, but at its root, authentic Christianity is being eradicated in America because the way of Jesus has been replaced by a list of ideas which, once agreed to, apparently "liberate us" from actually living like Jesus.

We say we believe in the Bible and God and that Jesus rose from the dead, but once we claim our certificate of orthodoxy we seem to think we’ve been freed from the obligations of grace, from the cost of discipleship, from the way of Jesus that is defined not simply by the ideas in our head but the actions of our lives.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead. — James 2:14-26

The way of Jesus is not simply a sales pitch meant to convince us to agree to a list of doctrines in order to avoid hell.

It’s a call to a particular and peculiar way of life.

We can believe all the “right” things, but orthodoxy does not emancipate us from orthopraxy. Rather, it demands we live out the radical, revolutionary, and world changing faith we’ve embraced.

Sadly, we live in a strange place and time where it seems that publicly assenting to the right dogma is some sort of sanctified Get Out Of Living Like Jesus Card™. This is why Jerry Falwell Jr. can carry a gun into sacred space and call for the death of his enemies even though Jesus unequivocally declared “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also,” and “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” 

Despite the glaring incongruity, Falwell’s students can applaud and his admirers defend his pseudo-righteous call to “self-defense” because because he’s already confessed his assent to the core list of right ideas. Anything he says or does beyond that is of marginal consequence — even if it directly contracts the life and teaching of Jesus.

This is the sad, cheap state of Christianity in America.

It’s Christianity without discipleship, Christianity without the cross, Christianity without Jesus Christ living and incarnate.

It no longer matters if we actually live like Jesus, so long as we agree that Christian dogma is true.

Thankfully, Christianity will almost certainly never completely die off in America (and is no doubt thriving in unexpected and isolated pockets of our country), but Christianity as a particular and peculiar way of life directly reflective of Jesus of Nazareth sure seems to be on life support.

And unless more Christians are willing to speak out and denounce the demonic theology being proclaimed in the name of Jesus, we might as well go ahead and pull the plug.

Because regardless of shifting demographics, without authentic discipleship, the future of Christianity in America looks hopeless.


* * * * * * * * * *


"Weaving Peace," by Michele Miller-Hansen: "Thoughts about nature and humanity and the
delicate balance of our world"
- https://www.artprize.org/michele-millerhan…/2014/weave-peace.


"Authentic Christianity is the loving, peaceful, just, and generous way of life embodied in Jesus.
It is characterized more by self-giving than self-defense, by pre-emptive peacemaking rather 
than pre-emptive violence." - Deborah Arca

An Open Letter to Jerry Falwell Jr.,
Students, and Faculty of Liberty University

December 9, 2015

Dear Mr. Falwell,

In the tradition of your father, you made some reckless and inflammatory statements to your students the other day.

Just as I appreciate it when peace-loving Muslims, Hindus and others repudiate hostile and reckless statements made by prominent members of their religions, I feel impelled by conscience to repudiate your words as not being representative of authentic Christianity as I, and thousands like me, understand it.

For us, authentic Christianity is the loving, peaceful, just and generous way of life embodied in Jesus. It is characterized more by self-giving than self-defense, by pre-emptive peacemaking rather than pre-emptive violence.

Your message faithfully represents a longstanding (and ugly) stream of American culture and politics. This tradition goes back to those who argued against the equal human rights and dignity of the Native Peoples and African-American slaves, often abusing the Bible to justify white supremacy under its various guises.

It was also manifest in the Protestant prejudice against Catholic immigrants, in centuries of morally repugnant anti-Semitism, and in the unethical treatment of the Japanese during World War II. During the McCarthy era, it launched witch hunts using “red” and “Communist” as its epithets.

In this ugly American tradition, your father used antipathy towards gay people to rally his base, and now, you are doing the same with Muslims. You are being deeply faithful to a tradition that is deeply unfaithful to the life and teaching of Jesus… not to mention the broader American ideal that upholds the dignity and equality of all people, whatever their religion.

My friend Shane Claiborne speaks for many of us when he says, “It’s hard to imagine Jesus enrolling for the concealed weapons class at Liberty University. And it is even harder imagining Jesus approving of the words of Mr. Falwell as he openly threatens Muslims.”

I don’t doubt that your conscious intentions were simply to protect your students from a terrorist attack. But it’s the unintended consequences of your words that concern me most. I doubt many, if any, violent Islamist Fundamentalist extremists woke up one day and decided to become hateful, cowardly, immoral murderers. Instead, they were led down that path by degrees, and those who radicalized them convinced them that they were becoming purer, more faithful, and more orthodox believers in the process.

Your reckless words can easily render your students vulnerable to more extremist influences (perhaps including some who are running for president), and the result could be catastrophic. You could spiritually form a generation of people who think of themselves as “Champions for Christ” but who actually become a mirror image of the violent religious warriors you fear and reject, different in degree, perhaps, but not in kind.

According to a Washington Post story, you later said that when you referred to “those Muslims,” you were referring not to Muslims in general but to Islamic terrorists. OK. But I hope you realize that your audience in that convocation applauded, not your intent as later explained, but your actual unqualified words. And you approved of their approval. That is scary. That is ugly. That is wrong.

How would you feel if you saw the president, faculty, and students in a radicalized Muslim university somewhere applauding and laughing about killing Christians and “teaching them a lesson?” Do you see how you are helping your students become the mirror image of such a scene? And do you see, apart from any issue of moral conscience, the way that those reckless words could be used by ISIS and other such groups to stir up their apocalyptic us-versus-them fervor? The Bible we both revere has a lot to say about the danger of unwise words… how much more important in an age of Youtube.

Can you imagine how much more beautiful it would have been if you told the students that you were going to offer free classes in nonviolent conflict transformation — the kind that is taught not far from you at another Christian university that has a very different understanding of Christian character and discipleship?

Perhaps you owe it to your students to invite some Muslims to campus to explain to you, your faculty, and your students the damage done by your words. Maybe it would be a good time to invite some Christians who are risking their lives as peacemakers to come to your campus as well.

I hope your words will inspire millions of us to respond, not with the applause and laughter displayed by your students and faculty, but with unequivocal repudiation — and a commitment to embody a different kind of Christianity than the one you purveyed in your recent comments.

Just as there are many ways to be Muslim, some more and some less peaceful, there are many ways to be Christian. May more of us seek and find those more peaceful ways.

In a positive response to your negative words, I hope that this week, millions of Christians and other Americans will speak in neighborly kindness to their Muslim neighbors (along with their Sikh and Hindu neighbors, who at Oak Creek and elsewhere have suffered so much harm from Islamophobic violence). I hope they will repudiate the flippancy of your comments about taking human life, and instead, I hope they will speak of solidarity, mutual respect, and hospitality across religious lines.

And I pray that someday, students and faculty at Liberty University will look back on your comments, and their applause and laughter, with deep regret and a deep commitment to live more in the way of Jesus.


International Peace Day in NYC | September 21, 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

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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...]