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

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Reflecting on "A City Upon a Hill." American Exceptionalism, Civil Religion, and True Christianity


A City Upon a Hill

This post today is written to America's Christians whose spiritual religion has become so tightly intertwined with its own concept of state and national politics as to recreate a new kind of "state-based" civil religion vulgarizing the orthodox Christian gospel of God's love through Jesus to mankind.

Its stench rises in the air releasing a putrefying, odorous smell of rot and decay, all the while believing itself to be standing "for God and His Word" but defying the very letters of God's Word and the Spirit of the Law through prosaic interpretations, racist discrimination towards "non-Christians," a woeful ignorance of interpreting the bible, and not knowing how to live out Christ's command to love all mankind over themselves and their self-interests. All this because of their stubborn beliefs unwilling to unlearn a bible they declare in judgment but pale to preach in Love's wisdom and understanding.

Comparatively, an orthodox (world) Christian is one that is at peace with all mankind. It works feverishly towards unity, respect, understanding, and goodwill to all cultures, religions, and nations rather than clinging to a self-consuming fear of "the other" seen in a "Christ-less" Christianity's compassionless shuttering of help to the desperate refugee. Or, inwardly-turned hearts to its own petty congregations worshipping God on the one hand while judging the masses outside as sinners needing God's judgment and wrath. This kind of c-hristian's civil religion is anathema to God. It reeks of sin and evil. And it must be slain for the false gospel that it is no matter the famous name or preacher popularizing its rots and fake gospel. Though they call their post-truth, alternative gospel true, it is false. Though they say "this is God's way," it is not. Though they claim God is here, He is far, far away from their lip service and evil hearts. American Christianity claims Jesus but never has its claims been so un-Jesus-like as it clamors for political power trading racism for security, love for fear, inclusion for exclusion, and bridges for walls. Its civil religion pales to the American Constitution and to the Word of God in every respect.

As a US citizen, longtime orthodox (progressive) Christian, and church-goer, my disappointment, if not outright anger, struggles to grasp what to say to a Christianity held hostage by a "Christianized" American political fervor divided over two political candidates in the 2016 election year - neither of whom were qualified to run for the American presidency. One because of corruption, the other because of lawlessness and personal bent towards fascism. Each were liars. Each spoke to a hopeful base of their visions for America. And each misled their nation in their own ways making neither qualified for the job of national leadership.

As a result, America today is left deeply divided along any number of socio-economic-religious lines searching for a unity that is fractured and deeply tribal. Progressive voters seek social rightness and justness. Conservative voters seek jobs and security. Each are torn by the other's seemingly insensible view of the world. One calls the other elite. The other calls the other populist. Neither is true nor do either use these words in their truest sense of meaning except to demean the other's view they reject. More simply, they do they like the other's political view and so, must either fail together or together learn to cooperate with each other from both a qualitative (humanitarian) and quantitative (economic security) struggle towards what America is meant to be and can become under its constitutional charters. Will America continue its trend towards being an imperialistic warrior nation or become a nation committed to global partnering, diplomacy, cooperation, and trust? I for one - and there are many like me - vote for the latter while despising the former. As world Christians we must always suit for peace not war. To yearn for Love's graces towards one another. And to passionately partner together in solving humanity's many deep problems - beginning with its heart of darkness.

What a Democracy Is

And so, as a democracy grows so does its instability as it adjusts year-to-year, era-to-era, to a new sense of divisive tribalism attempting to overtake its basic charters pleading we learn to work and live with one another as a people dedicated to one union while rightfully recognizing difference and accepting the difference as a value which can strengthen a nation rather than weaken it. That the "whole empowers its parts" and its "parts creates a greater whole."

This is where America is today in 2017 as yet another pervasive "counter-reality" sets in threatening the democratic ideal of a nation becoming "One United People: E. Pluribus Unum." Meaning, "In One, All. In All, One." And through this intermix of "parts to whole" and "whole to parts" to learn to apply equality, liberty, and freedom equally-and-justly to one another as well as to all peoples of the earth. To resist demeaning another nation's cultures, charters, or religion, and to seek the best from one another. Especially to those who are under-represented and un-empowered in life because of education, geography, class, standing, color, gender, creed, and so on. If an American Christianity means anything than it should mean this, stand for this, and work for this, at its most basic minimum. In a word, we must learn to "love one another."

This is the intent of the Bill of Rights and US Constitution. They were written by a dedicated colonial nation to "get past itself" not fully realising its furthering implications when applied to removing from civil behavior the acceptance of white indentured servitude, black slavery, enjoining the earthy cultures of North America's indigenous tribes, or diverse immigrants streaming in from Europe, Asia, Central and South America. American democratic history has always been a concept in search of volitional public acceptance. Thusly understood, "Hate cannot be legislated out of the heart of man, but Love can change a hateful man's heart." A Christian view so judiciously-centered that when applied equally might disqualify the heart's reigning lusts.

The history of America then is a history of struggle. Of conjoining the high moral concepts it dedicates itself too against the deep vagaries present in the human nature. It has been a 300 year old battle and will probably continue to be a battle years from now. But its important that today's present generations recommit to its founding/binding charters without further deepening the tribal divisions so easily at prey upon democracy's unions being threatened once again by any number of socio-economic-religious forces. It is this struggle which sets apart America as "The City Upon a Hill." A struggle which continually resists, continually confronts, and continually strives for the morally right, the ethically good, and the creational beauty of the human breast against its evil, sins, and lawlessness fighting therein. Peace.

R.E. Slater
January 29, 2017


I Am the God who Heals You.


Related References




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Amazon link


"American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion:
Reassessing the History of an Idea"

by John D. Wilsey

Book Blurb

"Ever since John Winthrop told his fellow colonists in 1630 that they were about to establish a "City upon a Hill," the idea of having a special place in history has captured the American imagination. Through centuries of crises and opportunities, many have taken up this theme to inspire the nation. But others have criticized the notion because it implies a sense of superiority which can fuel racism, warmongering and even idolatry. In this remarkable book, John Wilsey traces the historical development of exceptionalism, including its theological meaning and implications for civil religion. From seventeenth-century Puritans to twentieth-century industrialists, from politicians to educators, exceptionalism does not appear as a monolithic concept to be either totally rejected or devotedly embraced. While it can lead to abuses, it can also point to constructive civil engagement and human flourishing. This book considers historically and theologically what makes the difference."Neither the term nor the idea of American exceptionalism is going away. John Wilsey's careful history and analysis will therefore prove an important touchstone for discussions of American identity in the decades to come."



Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Greg Boyd - The Crucifixion of the Warrior God (to Biblical Violence)



My one comment when reading of the violence in the bible is that we see God through our own images. It is no less different now than it was then - even the biblical writers, prophets, priests, and kings saw God through their own thoughts and beliefs. When God speaks to us it is always disruptive to ourselves, our way of looking at others, and even how we move through life. But disruption does not mean that its "100% correcting" or can homogenize all the peccadilloes we carry within us. As any penitent Christian will tell you, God will spend a "lifetime" bringing us into Christ's image on the Cross but it must first begin with our submission to His Spirit.

No, to encounter the disruption of God is to begin a series of disruptions throughout one's life. Some ginormous and some hardly worth noticing. But to be a person inhabiting change is to be a person open to change, relearning, and retelling the Jesus story to ourselves, our family and friends, and throughout our missional lives.


And so, we hear God through our own images. We write, pray, and sing of God through our own images. The Bible's revelations and messages transform over the ages - even now! - but God's people might not unless they are committed to His Spirit to be transformed. Ironically, even during our more "enlightened" church periods since the 1600's the church still preaches "the Cross in one hand while lifting up the sword in the other." How curious when Jesus Himself used no sword except the sword of the Spirit. No angelic military to bend the world to His way of thinking but the cruciformed lives of His church. No thunder and lightening except that which flashed about His head on the eve of His crucifixion.

Nay, the problem is us. It lies with us and in us. Not God. Us. Not the Bible. Us. It's writers and preachers and listeners. It's interpreters. Even as we come to the book of Revelation the church would rather see God in dynamic militarism against mankind rather than as the One Coming to cease our wars and quiet our murderous hearts. But perhaps it all started with unrepentent believers refusing to bow heart and knee to the peace of Christ in mission, livelihood, and communion with one another. And so we pray dear God this simple prayer, "Save us from ourselves. Save us to do the work of the Spirit by your Cross of love and grace. Amen."

R.E. Slater
January 25, 2017





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The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Volumes 1 & 2


Renowned pastor-theologian Gregory A. Boyd proposes a revolutionary way to read the Bible in this epic but accessible study. His "cruciform hermeneutic" stands as a challenge to the field of biblical studies and to all thoughtful Christians.

A dramatic tension confronts every Christian believer and interpreter of Scripture: on the one hand, we encounter Old Testament stories of God commanding horrendous violence. On the other hand, we read the unequivocally nonviolent teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. Reconciling these two has challenged Christians and theologians for two millennia.

Throughout Christian history, various answers have been proposed, ranging from the long-rejected explanation that these contrasting depictions are of two entirely different "gods" to recent social, cultural, and literary theories that attempt to dispel the conflict.

The Crucifixion of the Warrior God takes up this dramatic tension and the range of proposed answers in an ambitious constructive investigation. Over two volumes, Gregory A. Boyd argues that we must take seriously the full range of Scripture as inspired, including its violent depictions of God. At the same time, he affirms the absolute centrality of the crucified and risen Christ as the supreme revelation of God.

Developing a theological interpretation of Scripture that he labels a "cruciform hermeneutic," Boyd demonstrates how the Bible's violent images of God are reframed and their violence subverted when interpreted through the lens of the cross and resurrection. Indeed, when read in this way, Boyd argues that these violent depictions bear witness to the same self-sacrificial nature of God that was ultimately revealed on the cross.



Biblical Hermeneutics in a Post-Truth Culture



When developing a postmodern contemporary theology one of the first problems that drew my attention was the problem of how Christians interpret the bible. Because of the church's many deeply held sacrosanct traditions and beliefs it quickly became the one area that must be examined and talked about if progress was to be made in hearing God's Word again rather than our own uncharitable belief systems. Consequently, over the past decade or so many "practical or pragmatic" discussions have been occurring in the theological community across any number of levels of bible topics for the very reason that the theology of biblical interpretation is in transition. And it must be if the church has any hope of getting through the hard-bent realities of post-truth cultures doubling-down on secularizing (or segregating) cultural/societal beliefs resistant to the Spirit of God working across our tightly integrating global cultures. Resistance by the church to God's will and work creates a climate of spiritual darkness that chains everything-and-everybody to policies of inequity, injustice, and untruth. The church then becomes a body politik for these injustices rather than a mediating force for the love and goodness of God. Theologians and church people are beginning to understand this dilemma as seen in the quote below by David Congdon.

R.E. Slater
January 25, 2017






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From David Congdan, IVP Academics -

"...This is true, but I think the problem goes far deeper. Evangelicals are in the habit of viewing certain sources of knowledge—specifically, the Bible, but also their own traditions, beliefs, and practices—as being beyond scrutiny and critique. Their divine sanction renders them immune to historical and scientific testing. Assessing the truth-claims of Christianity represents a lack of faith. Having grown up in this tradition I know all too well how one learns from an early age that anyone who challenges one's beliefs must be an enemy of God, and thus an enemy of truth.

"The cultivation of this way of thinking over many years produces the conditions in which a "post-truth" culture and politics can easily thrive. If one is inculcated in the belief that one's theological ideas are unfalsifiable, then it becomes very easy to believe that one's political ideas are also unfalsifiable. Scientists say the world is billions of years old? It's a lie because the Bible tells me so. Historians say the conquest didn't take place as narrated? It's a lie because the Bible can't be wrong. Scientists say that humans are responsible for climate change? That must also be a lie because my faith community tells me so.

"It has long been acknowledged that evangelicals have a very difficult time with hermeneutics. The word hermeneutics refers to the science of interpretation. Hermeneutics arose because the old traditions could no longer be taken for granted; texts and theologies came under scrutiny in modernity as people became conscious of the way history and culture condition how people see the world and themselves. To acknowledge the challenge of hermeneutics is to acknowledge that all of our thinking and speaking is conditioned by our time and place. But this means opening ourselves to critique and testing as we become aware of the diversity of perspectives.

"All of which is to say, the evangelical resistance to hermeneutics is a key contributor to the creation of a "post-truth" society. If evangelicals want to address our political crisis, embracing the problem of hermeneutics is an important first step."

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Resources

Wikipedia - Biblical Hermeneutics

Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Hermeneutics

Additional resources I would consider apropos would be in the postmodern sciences, social sciences, including the philosophical areas of the orthomorphology of linguistics, existential narrative, Continental Philosophy / Radical Theology using the Hegel stream of tradition (Peter Rollins et al), Relational Process Theology (Thomas Oord et al), Stanley Hauerwas' insights into the pragmatics of prophetic interpretation, Peter Enns and Greg Boyd's "Incarnational" writings (Jesus-centric), and so forth as have been reviewed here over the years. What is not needed is a continued dependance upon a biblical literalism but a grown-up, full scale, postmodern acquisition of how we see-and-understand things than translate them into our world to act upon or ignore. - R.E. Slater





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Defining Biblical Hermeneutics


How Biblical interpretations, or hermeneutics of the Bible,
affect the way we read the scriptures

Ellen White  •  09/03/2016


This Bible History Daily article was originally published in 2011.
It has been updated and expanded.—Ed.





This vellum copy of the Gutenberg Bible is owned by the Library of Congress. The Gutenberg Bible, the Vulgate (Latin) translation, is the first book printed using moveable type. Printed in the 1450s in Mainz Germany, this is one of only 48 copies that still survive (11 in the United States), and is considered to be one of the most valuable books in existence. Photo: Raul654’s image is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
For as long as there have been Biblical texts, there have been Biblical hermeneutics, or Biblical interpretations. One definition of hermeneutics (given by Bernhard W. Anderson in a piece he wrote for Bible Review) is that Biblical hermeneutics are “modes of [Bible] interpretation[s].” In another Bible Review articleJames A. Sanders offered a Biblical hermeneutics definition as “interpretive lens[es]” through which one reads the Bible. Going a step further, the Merriam-Webster dictionary extends its hermeneutics definition to include not only the methods or principles of the interpretations but also the study of those very Biblical interpretations. In short, the hermeneutics of the Bible are the many ways people read the Bible.
Biblical hermeneutics even take place within the Biblical text itself. In the Hebrew Bible, the authors of the Psalms and the prophets often referred back to the Torah and incorporated their own interpretations and understanding of the text from their social locations.

In the years leading up to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E., several different Jewish groups had risen to prominence, including the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes. Although they were all Jewish, each group had very different Biblical hermeneutics. Definition of what happened to the soul after death, proper temple sacrifice and the importance of studying the law differed among these groups because of their varying approaches. Christianity also began as a Jewish sect, but as Jesus’ followers developed their own hermeneutics in relation to the law and the role of the messiah, it became a distinct religion.
Today there are many hermeneutics applied to the Bible. These methodologies range from historical-critical, to post-colonial, to rhetorical, to cultural-critical, to ecological to canonical-critical. These are all types of Biblical hermeneutics. Part of the reason that so many hermeneutics exist is that interpreters have different goals. For example, if you want to understand how Moses’s life in the wilderness differed from daily life in the ancient Levant, you would use an archaeological/anthropological hermeneutic. However, if you want to understand the gender politics between Miriam and Moses in the wilderness, you would use a feminist or womanist approach to the text. Different hermeneutics lead to different types of interpretations. Cheryl Exum famously wrote two articles on Exodus 1-2:10 focusing on the women in the narrative. Her conclusions in these articles appear contradictory, but that is because she used two different hermeneutics (rhetorical and feminist) and each method focused on different elements of the text, which led to different interpretations of the text.

Even archaeology, which is the focus of BAR, is a Biblical hermeneutic. By studying the remains of ancient people and how they lived, and comparing their finds to the texts, archaeologists are able to offer exciting new interpretations. For example, the sacrifice of Isaac is one of the most interpreted stories throughout history. The disturbing narrative about a God who orders his follower to sacrifice his son, but ultimately withdraws this command at the final moment, has caused great discomfort in readers for several reasons. Many of these reasons revolve around the modern revulsion regarding child sacrifice. The world of archaeology provides insight into the practice (or non-practice) of sacrifice in the ancient world, as well as the hilltop altars, which appear in the story. For more on this topic see “Infants Sacrificed? The Tale Teeth Tell” by Patricia Smith in the July/August 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
There are many ways in which you can approach the text, and your method will determine your interpretation. It is important then to be transparent about what is essential to you as a reader and recognize how that impacts the interpretations that you develop. Your interpretive goal will ultimately determine your Biblical hermeneutic.


This Bible History Daily article was originally published in July 2011.
It was updated and expanded by Dr. Ellen White on October 13, 2014.



Ellen White, Ph.D. (Hebrew Bible, University of St. Michael’s College), was the senior editor at the Biblical Archaeology Society. She has taught at five universities across the U.S. and Canada and spent research leaves in Germany and Romania. She has also been actively involved in digs at various sites in Israel.



Read how noted scholars arrive at a definition of Biblical hermeneutics:


Saturday, January 14, 2017

R.E. Slater - Personal Thoughts and Ramblings




As you have guessed I've backed away from blogging for awhile to create a new space for myself after having experienced a truly terrible year of misery and pain gained from a complicated surgery last January 2016 which brought about three different infections - one of which was deadly serious - while the other two hindered the massive wounds gained from surgery from healing. After three surgeries (the latest one several days before this past Christmas) and a fourth hospitalization to keep me from dying (last April) I can say that this experience has been one that has broken all my normal routines in life - both at the blogsite and out in my communities where I volunteer in environmental reclamation with various green and blue (water) organizations and manage various political commissions and appointments in local government.

However, this has also been a good time to break away from my past labours at distilling what a progressive Jesus-gospel and biblical-tradition might look like to reflect on other literary and scientific interests. Which I have done in reading through the entire New Testament in eight short weeks with a group of 30 other readers using Biblica's unusual bible containing no verses or chapter headings and mixing up the books according to authorship; reading/studying Vergil's massive 14,000 lined poem, The Aeneid, wherein he created a new narrative legacy for the old Roman Republic under Augustus Octavius Caesar; Shakespeare's marvelously rich and dark, Hamlet. I've gone to class and studied Monetary Supply Economics (basically America's banking system); the Role and history of the European Union (whose lectures were conducted by a former US Ambassador); and looked (again) at the necessary disruption and resolution caused by America's Civil War for the Constitution Rights of All (I read 4 thick books, went to a class on Michigan's regiments in the war, and also visited Gettysburg for the first time this past August). This past summer my wife and I toured Washington D.C. for a week absorbing its museums, history, and culture (despite, or in respite to my ill health); and generally toured the state of Virginia from Shenandoah Park to Richmond, Virginia, to its Eastern Seaboard including the Eastern Shoreline and the state of Maryland which included a visit to Anapolis' Naval Academy.

During all this time I have been collecting books, videos, and lectures to review on topics like postmodernism and where it is and might be going.... My personal thoughts are that its "good" period of "global cooperation and unity" is now being crudely replaced by a "post-postmodernism period" of state control and authoritarianism, chaos, and anarchy by populist movements both left and right of the political spectrum. Mostly because humanity doesn't do solidarity very well with each other wishing to have it all their way or none at all. But I'm pretty sure the bible calls this sin. At least that was my reflecting thought to our goodhearted (though very conservative) ambassador who shared the same opine in the turn of the phrase, "We just don't share together very well."


I have also started (several times by now due to the normal flow of life's constant interruptions) to read at a deeper level what Continental Philosophy might promise Christianity as a more proper philosophical bedrock than what analytic Western Philosophy can do with all its syllogistic formulas and mathematical arcane re life rules, do's, and don'ts, and binary reflections. To this I'm trying to read through Martin Heidegger's thoughts on metaphysics, Jacques Derrida's deconstruction of this, and the progress of CP by way of Radical Theology using Relational and Process Theology to help it behave. Mostly I think Christian hermeneutics might be greatly helped in its narrative appeal and messaging should both public and church come to understand that all of God and His ways are in flux and in movement about us. That His Spirit is more unbound to us than ever before in this time of theologic hisotry. That it was never just one thing. Which is to say, God is intimately present with us at all times. Who cares for us in the totality of the desperateness of our human condition fraught with uncommon freedom to be all that we are - both the good and the bad. And, as respecting this freedom, our Lord and Savior works within, underneath, and across these paradigms of creation's magnanimous freedom in Sovereignly ways of encouraging us, urging us forward in "pleadings and prayers" by His Holy Spirit, and throughout the miraculously transformative life we partake in with its promises of great beauty and deep abysses of great harm.


And it is this kind of theology I believe can be transformative (as I related in my last article re the subject of biblical interpretation respecting inerrancy). That God has not abandoned us but works within the spirit-system of the universe doing all that He can underneath its great burdens without losing an iota of His majesty or Godship by partnering with creation towards rebirth and renewal, redemption and resurrection, reclamation, service, beauty, and love.

Peace.

R.E. Slater
January 14, 2017



Participatory Revelation in Process of Transformation (Or, Why Inerrancy Isn't All That)



And now, a word about inerrancy (or the lack thereof).... What if rather than giving to His people de facto truths God chose instead to work TOGETHER with His prophets, writers, and editors of the Bible to struggle with revelation and it's interpretation/meaning thereof? That instead of giving priority to a finalized, "canonical" form of scripture the prophets, writers, and editors of the "bible" actually struggled for its meaning into their communities before committing it into canonical law? If so, than scripture itself emerges as a complex, multi-layered tradition built upon personal/social interpretation at its time of development given more as guidance than as law. And as "all rocks roll downhill rather than uphill" the doubter within me says that I would expect less from the public interpretation of God's will then I would more - as is evident throughout the pages of the Old Testament in the obsequious interpretation by God's people to one another as well as to their neighbors and enemies.


In this way Judaism tends to be more flexible in accepting the Bible’s diversity and contradictions than the Western tradition of biblical interpretation. The very people of the Bible (Israel) know that with every jot and tittle there can be diverse opinion about the true meaning of God for that era or that community.


This view of canonical development then is known as the “participatory theory of revelation” or “participatory theology,” by which the Pentateuch not only conveys God’s will but also reflects Israel’s interpretation of, and response to, God's will however imperfectly it comprehended or actualized this task. So obviously there is the cultural element of apprehension as it grows and evolves within and without various faith traditions doing their best to know the mind of God so as to be obedient and humble to it. Otherwise known as the Bible's "existential comportment" or, "how it came to be read and understood within individual faith groups."


vs.


As such, many biblical texts that describe the giving of Torah move simultaneously - and without contradiction - in two directions: they anchor the authority of Jewish law and lore in the revelation at Sinai, but they also destabilize that authority by teaching that we cannot be sure how, exactly, the specific rules found in the Pentateuch relate to God’s self-disclosure without searching through them in its practical applications to that time and place.


To cut through all the skulduggery, the bottom line is love, humility, and service. God never intended His word to be onerous. That is the man-side of things when we get involved and declare for self-righteousness. Assuredly, most will assent to the dictum that pride is the worse sin of all. But underneath this grotesque sin is what the Bible knows as legalism. The quality of an individual to lift their willfulness up for acceptance before God rather than to give it up and allow God to crush it under Jesus' atoning sacrifice as the sum virtuous description of any follower of God. And if so, than God's word will do no less in its transformative work across communities challenged in their interpretations and beliefs to holiness in love and humility.

R.E. Slater
January 14, 2017





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Amazon link
Finalist for the 2015 National Jewish Book Award:
Nahum M. Sarna Memorial Award for Scholarship

Series: The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library
Hardcover: 440 pages
Publisher: Yale University Press (June 30, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0300158734
ISBN-13: 978-0300158731

At once a study of biblical theology and modern Jewish thought, this volume describes a “participatory theory of revelation” as it addresses the ways biblical authors and contemporary theologians alike understand the process of revelation and hence the authority of the law. Benjamin Sommer maintains that the Pentateuch’s authors intend not only to convey God’s will but to express Israel’s interpretation of and response to that divine will. Thus Sommer’s close readings of biblical texts bolster liberal theologies of modern Judaism, especially those of Abraham Joshua Heschel and Franz Rosenzweig.

This bold view of revelation puts a premium on human agency and attests to the grandeur of a God who accomplishes a providential task through the free will of the human subjects under divine authority. Yet, even though the Pentateuch’s authors hold diverse views of revelation, all of them regard the binding authority of the law as sacrosanct. Sommer’s book demonstrates why a law-observant religious Jew can be open to discoveries about the Bible that seem nontraditional or even antireligious.


If You've Ever Wondered Why the Bible
Contradicts Itself: A Jewish Solution

January 13, 2017

Readers of this blog will know that I think Christians (namely evangelicals) can learn a lot from how Judaism (in its varied forms) looks at the nature of the Bible and its interpretation. Bottom line: Judaism tends to be more flexible in accepting the Bible’s diversity and contradictions.

The question this raises, though, is how a book that is considered to be revealed from God can contain such non-Godlike properties as contradictions and internal debates among its authors. As I never grow tired of arguing, this conundrum is the bane of Evangelicalism’s commitment to biblical inerrancy.

Enter Benjamin D. Sommer, an orthodox Jew and professor of Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Languages at the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC. In his latest book Revelation and Authority: Sinai in Jewish Scripture and Tradition, Sommer explains how Torah can be both a divinely authoritative book while also exhibiting these human traits.

Sommer’s answer is summed up in the phrase “participatory theory of revelation” or “participatory theology,” by which he means: the Pentateuch not only conveys God’s will but also reflects Israel’s interpretation of and response to that will (p. 2).

Or, to put a fine point on it, according to Torah, revelation involved active contributions by both God and Israel;revelation was collaborative and participatory. (p. 1)

And that is why you have, for example, contradictions in the laws of the Pentateuch between Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy: they are all interpretations of the divine revelation.

OK, Ben. You have my attention. The Bible is a paradoxical (and messy and complex and un-untanglable) convergence of divine and human involvement. In Christian terms I call this an “incarnational” understanding of the nature of the Bible. The Bible isn’t dropped out of heaven. Its “full humanity” is a non-negotiable and necessary property of Scripture, and should accepted as such with all its implications.

I read Sommer as a true kindred spirit, a notion underscored by the fact that, as he recently pointed out to me, we both went to the same high school (though we didn’t overlap). Small world. But while he was studying Hebrew in high school I was watching Gilligan’s Island and trying to make the baseball team.

Anyway, here are some brief quotes from the introduction to get a feel for Sommer’s point.

My thesis is a simple one. Many biblical texts that describe the giving of Torah move simultaneously and without contradiction in two directions: they anchor the authority of Jewish law and lore in the revleation at Sinai, but they also destabilize that authority by teaching that we cannot be sure how, exactly, the specific rules found in the Pentateuch relate to God’s self-disclosure (p. 1).

Read that slowly: the diversity in the authoritative Torah destabilizes that authority.

This paradox of revelation in the Pentateuch, Sommer argues, lies in fact that the Pentateuch itself gives voice to both stenographic [i.e., “dictation”] and participatory theologies of revelation (p. 2). In fact, biblical authors and editors expend considerable ingenuity weaving those threads into biblical accounts of the events in Sinai (p. 6). The writers/editors of the Bible intend for readers to struggle with the notion of revelation.

Benjamin Sommer
What I also deeply appreciate about Sommer’s approach is debt to historical critical scholarship for helping recover the biblical voices that were lost or obscured as a consequence of the way biblical books were edited in antiquity (p. 5). Sommers is not an advocate of giving priority to the final, canonical form of scripture but of seeing scripture itself as a complex, multi-layered tradition.

The payoff for such a view of the Bible, in addition to accounting for how the Bible actually behaves, is a wise caution concerning the nature of any theological quest:

It [the approach to scripture he has been advocating] involves a degree of doubt that renders religious practice tentative and searching rather than apodictic and self-evident. It ought to lead to that most important religious virtue, humility, rather than promoting a characteristic less rare among religious people than one would hope, self-righteousness (p. 6).

Ah, another paradox: a commitment to biblical authority should lead to humility about one’s grasp of the Bible. Christians take note.

Bottom line, this is a wonderful book that will provoke any Christian concerned with the questions, “What is the Bible, anyway, and what do I do with it?”