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
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power
is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. - anon

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





* * * * * * * * * *



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?”