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

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

WHAT IS THE BIBLE? A Good Question that Biblical Inerrancy Can't Answer





WHAT IS THE BIBLE? A Good Question that Biblical Inerrancy Can't Answer
http://www.peteenns.com/what-is-the-bible-a-good-question-that-biblical-inerrancy-cant-answer/

February 22, 2017

I deeply respect Scripture, but I am not an inerrantist. I have several reasons for this, but it comes down to two things:

  • The Bible as a whole (rather than a prooftext or two) doesn’t support inerrancy.
  • The history of Jewish and Christian interpretation of the Bible doesn’t support inerrancy.

I write quite a bit about the first point (see some blog posts here). Some might say “too much” but you’re not the boss of me. Jesus is and just this morning he told me personally that I need to keep writing about it.

The bottom line here is that the Bible is too diverse and contradictory for “inerrancy” to hold any explanatory power. To “hold on” to the term would mean either (1) ignoring the the biblical data, or (2) qualifying the term “inerrancy” beyond recognition.

Neither posture contributes to spiritual growth, but stifles it.

Some choose to take one or both of these approaches, thinking that too much is at stake if we “let go” of inerrancy. My response is that wishing it to be a central doctrine doesn’t make it so, if in fact the Bible you are protecting doesn’t support the theory.

On the second point, the history of Jewish and Christian interpretation of the Bible is so diverse, that to expect to mine through all that and find beneath all the chaos an inerrant Bible seems rather nonsensical to me—unless one’s version of Christianity entails the belief that your tradition has gotten the Bible entirely right and others that disagree are wrong and need to be corrected. This leads to religious wars or at least rumbles at church softball games.

Jewish and Christian interpretation of the Bible evinces diachronic and synchronic diversity, meaning diversity through time and diversity at any one time.

The presence of these diversities is simply a fact. You can look it up.

A deep problem with inerrancy is that it presumes (or works best with) the notion that the Bible “properly” understood will yield one and only one authoritative meaning.

But the Bible is famously fraught with ambiguities, tensions, and contradictions that are part of the character of Scripture, and the result of either intentional internal debates by the authors or the natural by-product of diverse authors writing at diverse times under diverse circumstances and for diverse reasons. Add to that the great distance between a book whose beginnings go back about 3000 years—as far removed back in time for us as the year 5000 is from us ahead.

Simply put, the phenomenon of a Scripture that is diverse and the inevitably diverse history of interpretation of such a diverse text do not sit well with the insistence that God would only produce an inerrant text.

What Is the Bible?

The question remains, then, “What is the Bible?”

Good question, but I don’t always like the way it’s posed: “Well, Enns, now that you’ve taken inerrancy away form us, what are we supposed to think of the Bible now, huh? HUH?!”

That way of phrasing things assumes the normalcy of an inerrantist paradigm.

Another bad way of asking the question is, “So, I suppose that makes you an ‘errantist.’”

No, no, and no. That too presumes the normalcy of inerrancy—that discussions of the nature of the Bible center on whether or not there are errors, and everyone falls on one side of the divide or the other.

There are many other ways of thinking about the Bible. What is needed here is to broaden one’s field of vision.

My own answer to “What is the Bible?,” at least at this moment in my life, includes but is not limited to the following:

In the Bible, we read of encounters with God by ancient peoples, in their times and places, asking their questions, and expressed in language and ideas familiar to them. Those encounters with God were, I believe, genuine, authentic, and real. . . . All of us on a journey of faith encounter God from our point of view. . . we meet God as people defined by our moment in the human drama, products of who, where, and when we are. We ask our questions of God and encounter God in our time and place in language and ideas familiar to us, just like the ancient pilgrims of faith who gave us the Bible. . . . This Bible, which preserves ancient journeys of faith, models for us our own journeys. We recognize something of ourselves in the struggles, joys, triumphs, confusions, and despairs expressed by the biblical writers. ~ The Bible Tells Me So, pp. 23-24

No answer will be perfect, and I think it is wise to be willing to hold our definitions loosely (as I try to). But my point here is simple that an “inerrantist model” of the Bible creates unnecessary conflict with with how the Bible behaves and how it has been read for a very, very long time.

And there are other, faithful, ways of answering the question, “What is the Bible?”




Biblical Salvation: How It’s Possible To Be A Christian And Still Not Be “Saved”




Biblical salvation seems to be heavily focused on being saved from an old way of living, and saved into a new way of living– a way of life that Jesus described as “eternal.” - BLC


Biblical Salvation: How It’s Possible To Be A Christian And Still Not Be “Saved”
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/biblical-salvation-possible-christian-still-not-saved/

by Dr. Benjamin L. Corey [edited by r.e. slater]
February 17, 2107

Growing up evangelical, one of the primary questions we were taught to ask strangers was: “Are you saved?” Or, better yet: “If you died tonight do you know where you’d go?”

The concept of being saved was pretty simple, really: You’re a sinner headed for hell, Jesus died to take your punishment, and if you “ask him into your heart” you’ll go to heaven instead of hell.

Salvation as understood this way has taken root in much of Americanized Christianity, and even global Christianity thanks in part to the American way of packaging and exporting an Americanized version of the faith.

It is a simple, non-costly understanding of salvation that has little biblical precedence even though it is so commonplace.

This truncated version of salvation turns it into something elusive, something secret. Like a membership card tucked into the deepest corner of your wallet, you have no way of knowing who has one, and who does not. This is precisely why-and-how so many Christians came to see Donald Trump as “saved” and one of us: leaders like James Dobson reported rumors that he “accepted Christ” (as if it’s like accepting an offer for a low interest credit card) and from that moment on, Trump is seen by many to be “saved” and thus one of us.

But that’s not biblical salvation– biblical salvation has little to do with a secret transaction that points you toward heaven or sends you to hell, in the commonly understood sense.

Biblical Salvation - What It Is Not

While the NT term salvation can hold a variety of nuances, the ultimate contextual meaning of salvation in the NT is in reference for one who joined God’s Kingdom as proclaimed by Jesus. Joining God’s Kingdom is much like joining any other Kingdom that has one who rules from a throne: you join by pledging your allegiance and obedience to the King– and then living that out.

In Americanized Christianity, salvation often only includes half that equation, or at least offers a footnote to the idea of living out Kingdom principles. They’ll often say things like,

“Well, we don’t have to emulate Jesus in this particular area of life because he was unique”
or,
“Well, the Kingdom of God isn’t fully here yet, so Jesus was just describing how we’ll live one day in a perfect world.”

Readers Digest version: As long as you have the card in your pocket, you’re saved. The second half is nice, but not totally necessary, because there’s a lot of “reasons” why we don’t always do what Jesus did. In this case, the faux version of salvation we grew up with was an easy, individualized transaction that was focused on where you’ll go when you die, not on how you live in the here and now.

Biblical Salvation - What It Is and Means

However, biblical salvation is directly linked to net-result of actually doing what Jesus said (aka, living the principles of his Kingdom). This is precisely because biblical salvation has little to do with life after death (though it does some), but has a lot to do with life right now. In fact, when Jesus uses the term “eternal life” in the NT, he often uses this term in the present tense.

Since the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed is founded upon very specific principles, a specific culture that must be lived out (see the Sermon on the Mount for his full manifesto), biblical salvation seems to be heavily focused on being saved from an old way of living, and saved into a new way of living– a way of life that Jesus described as “eternal.”

For those who reject Kingdom principles,
for those who oppress the poor,
for those who reject the immigrant,
[for] those who refuse the way of nonviolent enemy love,
[for] those who refuse to live out the culture of the Kingdom right now,

it would be a stretch to say they are “saved” in the biblical sense,

because until they put down their guns,
feed the hungry, and
welcome the immigrant,
they have not yet entered God’s Kingdom
[nor have they] and begun living in it.

They may have “asked Jesus into their heart”
but they have not yet joined
the Kingdom -
and that’s what salvation is about.

- BLC

Thus, salvation is not a transaction that is open and shut, taking place in totality within the recesses of one’s heart. It surely begins in the heart, but salvation doesn’t end there– it is not possible to be “saved” in the biblical sense if one is not actively striving to be obedient to the King and the culture of the Kingdom– and Scripture speaks quite forcefully on this point.

This is precisely why Jesus said it is possible to be deeply religious, to be a lover of the Bible, and to still not be saved (Matthew 21:31, John 5:39-40).

It is also why he said that many who are thrown into the lake of fire on judgement day will be Christians who did not care for the poor and needy, and thus never actually entered the Kingdom (Matthew 5:31-46).

Certainly, other NT writers back up this concept of salvation, such as the author of James who wrote that faith which is not followed up by caring for the poor and hungry cannot save you (James 2:14-17).

Does biblical salvation have anything to do with the afterlife? To a degree, yes. God’s Kingdom will be eternal. However, the bigger issue is this: If one is not willing to live in the Kingdom now, no matter who they ask into their heart, the chances that they’d even want to live in the Kingdom then seem slim. God, of course, sees that– and the Bible warns us in that regard to not think that simply raising our hand at the end of a sermon means we’re headed to paradise when we die.

There’s little point in talking about being saved then, if we aren’t first saved right now– because salvation isn’t as much a distant event, but a present reality.


The Importance of Being Jesus Acting Christians (vs. Americanized Evangelical Christianity)


Franklin Grahm, Evangelical Politico | Matt Johnson, Flickr Creative Commons

There’s Only Two Types Of “Christian”
(And You Should Be Able To Tell The Difference)
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/theres-two-types-christian-able-tell-difference/

February 14, 2017

As one who studies culture for a living– most specifically, religious culture, I will tell you that technically there are over 40,000 Christian sects in the world.

But realistically? There’s only two kinds of Christian– and honestly, I’m tired of pretending there’s not.

It doesn’t matter what kind (denomination) of Christian you are; there are still only two types: one is the member of a Christian religion, and the other is someone who is actively living like Jesus.

I don’t believe the word “Christian” was ever intended to be used the way we use it in America. When it was first used, the term wasn’t in reference to a well-crafted religion with a long list of tenets, but instead was simply used to describe people who actively did what Jesus said to do. Essentially, the word meant “little Christs.”

Christian, as the word was intended, was measurable– or at least observable. You could tell who was and who wasn’t, and that wasn’t a “judgement” about the state of their heart, either. Being able to tell who was Christian, and who wasn’t, was something one could do by simply observing their outward behavior.

Do they follow the teachings of Jesus, or not?

But that’s not what the term has come to mean in Americanized Christianity. For many of us growing up, if you said a simple prayer at the end of a sermon and “asked Jesus into your heart” you were automatically a Christian. Becoming a Christian was something done in secret, in the most quiet place in your heart. You repeat the words given to you and signify your transition into the group by quietly lifting your hand with “every head bowed, every eye closed,” and at the end you’re part of the group. Since becoming a Christian was internal and not external, there was really no way to know who was a Christian and who wasn’t.

(Well, except if they were gay. If they were gay they *definitely* couldn’t be Christian [wink, wink], but that’s beside the point.)

It strikes me that American Evangelicalism invented an entirely new version of the Christian religion with its own concept of “salvation,” and the consequences of this religion are dire. It has taken the message of Jesus and the biblical mandate to pattern our lives after Jesus, and in so many was reduced it to the near-effortless act of “accepting Christ into your heart.” In fact, it’s become a bizarre religion where one can actually refer to themselves as a Christian while simultaneously disagreeing with what Jesus taught.

That’s not how this thing was originally supposed to work, folks. If one disagrees with Jesus, the word Christian ought not apply.

"In Americanized Christianity we use Christian as a noun when originally, Christian was more of an adjective. It wasn’t so much about something you were, but was more about something you were doing. You were actively living out the teachings of Jesus, and this was easily observable– either you agreed with Jesus and did what he taught, or you didn’t."

The confusion of having two types of Christian and a totally different use of the word, creates all sorts of problems. Mainly, it has the ability to lull people into the idea that they’re Christian when often they’re not– at least, not in the original sense. It also complicates things for those of us who want to teach others to be Christian, because we’re no longer able to easily do what was done 2,000 years ago– we’re not able to walk with new disciples and show them, “Here is an example of Christian. Here is an example of not Christian.“

Case in point: Franklin Graham

The other day I stated that he was not Christian (in response to his anti-immigrant/anti-refugee beliefs), and of course, I immediately got the expected push-back to such a statement.

“How do you really know?” (Implication: how do you know his heart? How do you know he hasn’t “accepted Christ into his heart?”)

Or, of course, some will ask rightly, “is it your job to decide who is or is not a Christian?”

Since Christian has come to mean something different in Americanized Christianity, these objections are totally valid. Since we are operating in a culture where Christian is a noun, and where anyone can secretly be one regardless of what they think about what Jesus said, I don’t know who is that type of Christian and who isn’t. Certainly I don’t know if Franklin Graham has ever asked Jesus into his heart, though I would bank on the fact that he has. Neither is it my place to declare who is part of the Christian religion or not– there’s ultimately 40,000 versions of that and I am not the gate keeper for any of them, let alone all 40,000.

But to me, there are only two types of Christian, and the second one– an adjective instead of a noun, is observable. It doesn’t require the ability to judge the individual heart. It is not something that can only be done by a gate-keeper as if they have any power anyway. It is simply the act of returning Christian to an adjective, and being honest in that it does not apply to people don’t want to do what Jesus said to do.

For all the damage that Americanized Christianity has done, the foundational damage is that it has distorted the word that was first used to describe the disciples of Jesus: Christian.

Instead of describing members of a religion, the word used to mean something so much more. It used to describe what people were doing, and who they were following. It used to be so loaded with meaning that the act of being Christian was totally observable and obvious to anyone around you.

The reality in Americanized Christianity is that you can be “a Christian” without actually being “Christian.” They are two, totally distinct identities.

That’s not how it’s supposed to work.

Christian used to actually mean something, and I don’t think we should be afraid to say it.


The Valley of Hinnom & Burning Fires of Gehenna




What Jesus Talked About When He Talked About Hell
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/what-jesus-talked-about-when-he-talked-about-hell/

June 25, 2014

What was Jesus talking about when he talked about hell? Well, that’s actually a great question.

Growing up I was often told that “Jesus talked more about hell than he did heaven”, but I don’t once remember being encouraged to actually research from a historical and grammatical perspective what Jesus was actually talking about when he used the word “hell”. (In their defense, I don’t think I ever had a religious leader with advanced theological training, so they probably didn’t realize that someone might want to “look this up” either).

The first discovery one will make on such an investigation, is the inconvenient truth that the word “hell” didn’t exist in first century Israel. This brings up one crucial problem when translating/interpreting the Bible apart from any scholastic work: we see English words that have specific linguistic and cultural connotations and meanings, and read those meanings into an ancient text which may, or may not, have intended to send the same meaning.

The word “hell” becomes a prime example: the word we use today, doesn’t actually appear in language until approximately AD 725– long after the first century. In addition, the word doesn’t come from Hebrew at all, but rather is ultimately rooted in Proto-Germanic. According to the The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology, the word “hell” was adopted into our vocabulary as a way to introduce the pagan concept of hell into Christian theology– which it did quite successfully.

Therefore, we know right off the bat that when we read scripture in English, we’re not actually reading what was originally said and risk reading into the text instead of getting back to the original historical and grammatical meaning of the text. We do this in many areas, which is why competency in Biblical languages or at least Koine Greek, is a mandatory requirement at legitimate institutions of higher theological learning– and why one would do well to hold theology in humility until they are well versed in the grammatical and historical realities of any given ancient text.

It is true however, that we do see– and not infrequently– Jesus refer to “hell”. So what was he talking about?

It’s easy to dismiss something in scripture as just being “metaphorical” without having an intelligent reason to back that up, so we’ve got to go deeper. In this case, we find that Jesus was actually referring to a literal place– and not a literal place of the future, but a literal place of first century Israel. “Hell” was a place that the people of Jesus’ time could actually go and see (image below). So, what was it? Here you go:



The word Jesus uses in Greek is γέεννα (Gehenna), which actually means “The Valley of the Son of Hinnom”. An over simplified description of Gehenna would be that it was the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem; this was the place where both garbage and dead bodies would be discarded and consumed by a fire that was likely always burning. The location goes all the way back to the book of Joshua, and was a place where bad things happened– child sacrifice, bodies were cremated, etc. Basically, imagine a dump where garbage is burned– add into that the vision of burning bodies and a historical connotation of child sacrifice, and you’ll see that it wasn’t a very desirable place. However, it was a very literal place and the original audience of Jesus would have understood it as such. They would not have heard the word “Gahenna” and thought of our concept of hell– they would have realized Jesus was talking about an actual place outside the city.

Jesus did talk of Gehenna as a warning to his audience, but not in the same contextual framework you and I see it from a modern perspective. As my friend and co-Kingdom Conspirator Kurt Willems previously wrote on this same topic:

“When Jesus appeals to Gehenna, he evokes a literal place, not in the underworld, but outside of Jerusalem. Most of the time Jesus uses “hell” in the context of parabolic imagery. To say “hell” is to use imagery that helps listeners understand the danger in this life and the next of not joining up with God’s kingdom purposes.”

As Kurt said, I think the warning of Gehenna is two-fold, one with a very practical application for his audience and one that is symbolic of consequences in the afterlife. For example, it Matthew 23:33 we see Jesus issue the religious leaders a stern warning:

“You are nothing but snakes and the children of snakes! How can you escape going to Gehenna?”

Now, going back to our historical context, we know that the original audience who heard this warning would not have thought Jesus was talking about the “hell” that you or I think of. Instead, he is warning them about their pending risk to literally be burned in the Valley of Hinnom.

Here’s what they would have heard: “You are nothing but snakes and the children of snakes! How will you escape going to the Valley of Hinnom?”

When we look at historical context, we remember that Jesus clearly warned people about the coming judgement against Israel. At the beginning of Matthew 24 Jesus explicitly sets the stage for the coming destruction, warning them that even the temple will be destroyed (“not one stone will remain on another, it will all be thrown down.” V. 2) Jesus goes so far as to even tell them what the signs of the coming judgment (the end of the “age”) would look like: wars, rumors of wars, famine, earthquakes, etc. As Jesus describes this “great tribulation” with horrible persecution, he advises them that if they want to escape death at the hands of the Romans, they would need to flee to the hillsides when they see the “signs of the times” (verse 16).

This actual event and the fulfillment of Jesus’ warning came in AD70 when Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem along with her temple. Presumably, those who heeded Jesus’ warning in Matthew 24 of fleeing to the hillside would have survived the advancing destruction of the Roman army… but those who didn’t?

Well, those folks were killed. And guess what we know actually happened to their bodies? They were burned in… “hell”, just outside of Jerusalem– exactly as Jesus had warned. This makes the teachings of Jesus very practical when considering the historical and grammatical context: those who listened to him would live, and those who didn’t would end up burned in the Valley of Hinnom. While we don’t know for sure, it is highly likely that some/many of the people in the audience when Jesus warned “how will you escape going to the Valley of Hinnom?” actually ended up dead and burned in Gehenna by the Romans.

You probably didn’t hear any of this in Sunday School, but that’s what Jesus was talking about when he talked about hell, at least on a historical level (not accounting for symbolism or dual fulfillment). However, I still affirm that his warnings of hell also have implications for the afterlife– which is why I remain an annihilationist with the hope there will be opportunities for the unjust to come to postmortem repentance, and be reconciled to God through Christ.

All things considered, I believe it important to realize that when Jesus discusses hell, a primary purpose (not negating secondary) was a warning of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and that refusal to heed his advice would result in one being killed and burned in Gehenna.