Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - 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

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

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) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

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

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Film Review - Annihilation: Death or ReBirth?

A n n i h i l a t i o n
by R.E. Slater

pressed into the viscous space
at once consumed, conformed,
transformed, all become one
joining vacuous light

free time skips, stops, skips again
shimmering, ethereal shapes
surrounding spellbound travellers
infiltrating broken selves

mutant airs silence all living
strange creation abounds
devolution in real time
tearing, ripping, binding

fearful symmetry flows
across organic spaces
deadly silence stilling
all once alive

R.E. Slater
January 3, 2020
rev. December 3, 2021

@copyright R.E. Slater Publications
all rights reserved

Watching Annihilation provided a lot of commentary in my head related to species self-destruction and survival, personal upheaval and pain, ecological resets, necessary random, chaotic cycles inserted into ordered systems, and all of the above when describing God, self, the human condition, creation, and so forth. Relevancy22 is an attempt to restart theological discussions in light of contemporary sciences and philosophies as they lead the way towards "re-refracting" our interior spirits and beliefs outwards-and-inwards to what is necessary in face of the blind, unhelpful dead-ends we seem to find ourselves in which continually marks our human experience. And it is in the spirit of burning down (sic, pyrotheology) what we think we know to relearn what is unseen which Annihilation repeatedly addresses through its timeless evolving script. In the end, when disorder is inserted into our present (and therefore, our past) contexts it leaves us as other than ourselves - as reflected mirrors of our former selves - forever changed by personal or societal experience, either for better or for worse. As a theologian I chose the later against all other options however paradoxical it might seem at the moment as such moments are moments of becoming rather than merely existing, of evolving rather than dying, as re-synching with the God of the universe held in its infinitely looped prism-like processes reflecting unconcluded journeys of creational space, the deaths of self, and the births of becoming. Enjoy.

R.E. Slater
December 31, 2019

Annihilation Official Trailer

Film Reviews & Explanations


The Vergehttps://www.theverge.com/2018/2/23/17042290/annihilation-review-natalie-portman-oscar-isaac-alex-garland-jeff-vandermeer

Vulture https://www.vulture.com/2018/02/annihilation-movie-ending-explained.html

Digital Spyhttps://www.digitalspy.com/movies/a852095/netflix-annihilation-explained-ending-spoilers/

Den of Geekhttps://www.denofgeek.com/us/movies/annihilation/271159/annihilation-ending-explained

Annihilation EXPLAINED: Character, Theme and Story Analysis

Additional References - Click here

Wrap - Up

Annihilation and Ex Machina director Alex Garland on using sci-fi to explore self-destruction

Monday, December 23, 2019

How God Came to Be

Amazon link

Book Description

In this remarkable, acclaimed history of the development of monotheism, Mark S. Smith explains how Israel's religion evolved from a cult of Yahweh as a primary deity among many to a fully defined monotheistic faith with Yahweh as sole god. Repudiating the traditional view that Israel was fundamentally different in culture and religion from its Canaanite neighbors, this provocative book argues that Israelite religion developed, at least in part, from the religion of Canaan. Drawing on epigraphic and archaeological sources, Smith cogently demonstrates that Israelite religion was not an outright rejection of foreign, pagan gods but, rather, was the result of the progressive establishment of a distinctly separate Israelite identity. This thoroughly revised second edition of The Early History of God includes a substantial new preface by the author and a foreword by Patrick D. Miller.

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One of the areas I have failed to speak to as I should is How God Came To Be not only in the evolution of the Judeo-Christian religion but in the evolution of man himself. Of course, this then would directly affect how the bible would be read and discussed. It certainly would be different from how the bible is typically used when we quote Scripture familiarly without really understanding the depth of God's historical legacy from the earliest evolutionary times of ancient man to today's contemporary civilizations.

I touched upon this a little bit yesterday when posting a "book review" of The Reception of Jesus in the First Three Centuries by Chris L. Keith, Helen K. Bond, Christine Jacobi and Jens Schröter. Here the early milieu of the New Testament is discussed in three weighty volumes by 70 different scholars to help portray the complexity of the Christian bible's development in the earliest days of the church. Likewise may be found similar discussions on the development of the Old Testament in the bible such as we have here with Mark Smith's edition.

For myself, beyond the academic language of biblical scholars, I quite accidentally stumbled across one of my favorite authors on this same subject in James Michener's novel, The Source, which opens up the idea of how ancient man became acquainted with God as a developing saga in the hoary story of revelatory religion, being and event. (to borrow part of a phrase from the renown philosophy Alaine Badiou; see link here and here).

Just the idea of God as an idea, or inkling of a conscious idea, only came to light slowly but slowly in the long experience of the ancient psyche of man; it is a story I think Michener has described quite aptly to the common, non-academic reader in readable narrative. That is, we have only come to know God through the accumulated experiences of many others from the earliest of times of man's evolutionary development until now. As such, I recommend reading Michener's novel ahead of all other biblical treatises on ancient Israel's evolving religion to help adjust our thinking about how God's apprehension of Being and Event came to be.

In summary, let me end by referencing Michener's book below as a follow up to Peter Enn's posting on Mark Smith's treatise on how the idea of YHWH formed within Israel. Enjoy.

R.E. Slater
December 23, 2019

Wikipedia Link

The Source is a historical novel by James A. Michener, first published in 1965. It is a survey of the history of the Jewish people and the land of Israel from pre-monotheistic days to the birth of the modern State of Israel. The Source uses, for its central device, a fictional tell in northern Israel called "Makor" (Hebrew: "source"‎). Prosaically, the name comes from a freshwater well just north of Makor, but symbolically it stands for much more, historically and spiritually.
Unlike most Michener novels, this book is not in strict chronological order. A parallel frame story set in Israel in the 1960s supports the historical timeline. Archaeologists digging at the tell at Makor uncover artifacts from each layer, which then serve as the basis for a chapter exploring the lives of the people involved with that artifact.
The book follows the story of the Family of Ur from a Stone Age family whose wife begins to believe that there is a supernatural force, which slowly leads us to the beginnings of monotheism. The descendants are not aware of the ancient antecedents revealed to the reader by the all-knowing writer as the story progresses through the Davidic kingdom, Hellenistic times, Roman times, etc. The site is continually inhabited until the end of the Crusades when it is destroyed by the victorious Mameluks (as happened to many actual cities after 1291) and is not rebuilt by the Ottomans.
- Wikipedia 

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We All Have a History. Even God.

Mark S. Smith’s book The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel opens with a quotation from the 6th c. AD writer on Roman antiquity, Lydus.
There has been and is much disagreement among theologians about the god honored among the Hebrews (De mensibus 4.53)
For the next 200 pages, Smith looks at the “role of Yahweh within Israelite religion” vis-a-vis older Canaanite deities like El, Baal, and Asherah (also known to us from the Bible).
Ferreting out how the ancient Israelites came to worship Yahweh and what that meant in the context of ancient polytheistic cultures has been a huge topic ever since modern biblical scholars/archaeologists began learning new things about (1) ancient Israel and (2) ancient polytheistic cultures.
The bottom line, mainstream view—I shudder even to attempt to summarize it in one sentence—is that the Hebrew scriptures contain a record of Israel’s diverse and changing views concerning God, where the experience of the Babylonian Exile was a major turning point in the emergence of monotheism (the belief that only one God exists) out of monolatry (many gods exist but only Yahweh is worthy of worship).
God, in other words, has a history—or at least on the pages of the Old Testament. We are seeing development over time in how God was understood.
This mainstream view does not rest well with the biblical progression of events, namely: Israel knew Yahweh as the/their only God from the time of Abraham, and how well they did as a people/nation depended on remembering that and worshiping/obeying Yahweh alone.
For biblical scholars of the last century or so, this picture is complicated by
(1) the Bible’s own hints and nods at a more complicated “early history of God” (hence Smith’s book), and
(2) our considerable and growing understanding of religion in general in the ancient Near East, especially Canaanite and Ugaritic religion, which are closest to Israelite religion.
I’m used to this sort of thing, but I know many are not. That’s fine. The point, though, is that the modern study of the Old Testament has irrevocably affected what we can expect from the Bible in terms of “brute information” about God.
The modern study of the Old Testament doesn’t tell you what to believe, like a bully, but it has placed the Old Testament firmly in its culture moments—so firmly, in fact, that a well rounded view can’t just make believe the last hundred or so years of thinking on this subject didn’t happen.
Here’s my take-away from all this—and I’m asking you (or at least humor me) to believe me when I say that this is not a last minute frenzied punt from my own end zone before the sack. My life, such as it is, is about synthesizing my own spiritual life with what I’ve been trained to do and what I do for a living, which is to say I’ve thought about this a good bit and hang out with others who have done the same.
Studying the Bible and Israel’s past is a regular reminder to me that my ultimate object of trust is God, not the Bible (or how I understand the Bible). That’s not knocking the Bible. It’s acknowledging that the Bible—even where it talks about God—is a relentlessly contextual collection of ancient literature that takes wisdom and patience to handle well, and in doing so drives us toward further contemplation of God here and now.

God is bigger than the Bible. 

I see Jesus and Paul already sounding that note when they began reshaping traditional expectations of God.
I haven’t come to this place quickly or casually, though from my vantage point today, it feels rather commonsensical to me—though I don’t impose that on anyone, at least not until I gain supreme, ultimate power, which is the plan.
One last point, to anticipate a common response: “But how can you know anything about God other than what the Bible tells you?” Fair question, but that potential problem does not dismiss the observation about God in the Bible. When you get close to the Bible, prepare to have your view of the Bible reoriented. The irony is that it is the study of the Bible that has led me down this path.
And it’s a nice path, at least for me. God is more outside of my control this way, which I can’t help but think is as it should be. As Lydus said over 1400 years ago, Yahweh isn’t easy to get your arms around—for Israelites or for those who have followed in their footsteps.
You can listen to my podcast on this topic HERE. You can read more about the nature of the Bible and Christian faith in The Bible Tells Me So (HarperOne, 2014) and Inspiration and Incarnation (Baker 2005/2015).

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Book Review: The Reception of Jesus in the First Three Centuries

I'd read these if I could afford them; it would take some time but would offer a great insight into understanding early Christianity's antecedents and development across many historical perspectives. This is to say the bible was not dropped out of heaven already pre-formed but is a commentary on the lives of ancient societal knowledge struggling with the meaning and import to their lives. More simply it boils down to "Who is Jesus and what do I do with Him?"

R.E. Slater
December 22, 2019

* * * * * * * * * * *

In The Reception of Jesus in the First Three Centuries, Chris L. Keith, Helen K. Bond, Christine Jacobi and Jens Schröter, together with an international cast of more than 70 contributors, provide a methodologically sophisticated resource, showing the reception history of Jesus and the Jesus tradition in early Christianity. The three volumes focus upon the diversity of receptions of the Jesus tradition in this time period, with memory theory providing the framework for approaching the complex interactions between the past of the tradition and the present of its receptions. Rather than addressing texts specifically as canonical or non-canonical, the volumes show the more complex reality of the reception of the Jesus tradition in early Christianity.

Core literary texts such as Gospels and other early Christian writings are discussed in detail, as well as non-literary contexts outside the gospel genre; including the Apostolic Fathers, patristic writers, traditions such as the Abgar Legend, and modifications to the gospel genre such as the Diatesseron. Evidence from material culture, such as pictographic representations of Jesus in iconography and graffiti (e.g. the staurogram and Alexamenos Graffito), as well as representations of Jesus tradition in sarcophagi and in liturgy are also included, in order to fully reflect the transmission and reception of the Jesus tradition.

Volume 1 provides an extensive introduction and, in 18 chapters, covers literary representations of Jesus in the first century, featuring gospel literature and other early Christian writings.

Volume 2 examines all the literary texts from the second and third centuries, across 40 chapters, examining both gospel writing and other texts.

Volume 3 examines visual, liturgical and non-Christian receptions of Jesus in the second and third centuries, across 24 chapters.

About the Authors

Chris Keith is Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity and Director of the Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible at St. Mary's University, Twickenham, UK.

Helen K. Bond is Professor in Christian Origins and New Testament at the University of Edinburgh, UK.

Christine Jacobi teaches at Humboldt University Berlin, Germany.

Jens Schröter is Professor of New Testament Exegesis and Theology, and New Testament Apocrypha, at Humboldt University Berlin, Germany.

Amazon Link - 

Reflections: Winter Solstice Day + One

The contemplation of nature means that we see all things, persons and moments as signs and sacraments of God. In our spiritual vision we are not only to see each thing in sharp relief, standing out in all the brilliance of its specific being, but we are also to see each thing as transparent: in and through each created thing we are to discern the Creator. Discovering the uniqueness of each thing, we discover also how each points beyond itself to him who made it. So we learn, in Henry Suso's words, to see the inward in the outward: “He who can see the inward in the outward, to him the inward is more inward than to him who can only see the inward in the inward.”
Bishop Ware, Kallistos, Bishop of Diokleia, The Orthodox Way, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, Kindle Edition

Christ Be Our Light

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Winter Solstice:
A Crisis of Growth Amidst the Darkness
by H. Coverston.

Jesuit mystic Teilhard de Chardin observed processes of evolution taking place all around him in a world in which all is moving toward an Omega Point of reunification with the One. For Chardin, writing amidst the horrors of WWI, all events play a role in the evolution of our world. Even dark times like our own were necessary parts of the larger picture.

On this Winter Solstice Day when the darkness holds the northern hemisphere in its deepest grip, it is comforting to consider that even in the midst of our most anguished moments as peoples living in unsettling times, we shall not perish. No evolution can occur without the leaving behind of that which has preceded it, the new creation transcending and leaving behind those aspects of its former self which are no longer viable while transforming and bringing forward those aspects which continue to be useful to the new creation.

This may well be “a crisis of growth” we are experiencing, but even that is “more reason to hope.” For far sighted prophets and their words of hope, I give thanks this Solstice night.

“Whatever disorder we are confronted by, the first thing we must say to ourselves is that we shall not perish. This is not a mortal sickness: it is a crisis of growth. It well may be that the evil has never seemed so deep-rooted nor the symptoms so grave; but, in one sense, is that not precisely one more reason for hope? The height of a peak is a measure of the depths of the abysses it overtops.”
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Catching Up With Rob Bell

I'm doing a little catching up on the life of Rob Bell who has asked of Christianity the questions it should be asking of itself, its beliefs, bible, and the Jesus it follows. Even as have I for these many years beginning with myself before looking outward. Surprisingly I find Rob and I to be on track on many things but with differences too but not in the realm of taking Jesus seriously when we say "He is our God, our Lord, and our Savior." Here is Rob's journey as I have found it through June of 2018 of last year. He also has a website that can be found at the link following where his podcasts share the Rob Bell I love and cherish in reflection on life, its heartbreaks, and challenges.

R.E. Slater
December 17, 2019

ROB BELL Website

Heresy, holiness, and Oprah: Rob Bell interviewed
June 14, 2018

Having written a book that questioned eternal torment, Rob Bell was branded ‘the biggest heretic in America’. He tells Ed Thornton what took place next....

ROB BELL was once the pastor of a megachurch in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and was saluted by one newspaper as “the next Billy Graham”. Today, he is more likely to be found on stage at a stand-up comedy club in downtown Los Angeles than in a pulpit.

But he has not stopped preaching. “I get a screen and put up sections from the book of Ecclesiastes, and it somehow works,” he says of his shows at the Largo comedy club, where he has a residency. “People just realise, ‘Wait, was that a sermon? Did I just buy a ticket for a show and I just heard a sermon? And I’m not only OK with it, it was kind of great to be there.’”

Bell moved to LA in 2012, a year after the publication of Love Wins (Features, 5 August 2011), which cast doubt on the idea of hell as a place of eternal conscious punishment. To the US’s Evangelical gatekeepers, such as Franklin Graham and John Piper, this amounted to denial of the gospel itself, and a reason to warn their flocks off his work.

As a result of the book, Bell went from “being the coolest Christian in America” to “the biggest heretic in America”, Kent Dobson, his successor at Mars Hill Bible Church, says in The Heretic, a documentary about Bell released this year and directed by Andrew Morgan.

Bell notes that Love Wins contained nothing “which isn’t firmly within the historic Jesus tradition”, but the heretic label has stuck. It has even, perhaps, become a badge of honour, denoting a thinker unafraid to push theological boundaries and unsettle cherished assumptions.

Bell says that the move to California was not a direct result of Love Wins: the church, which he founded with his wife, Kirsten, in 1999, was “loving and supportive” and supported his decision “to follow the work where it takes you”.

“At some level, I’m telling a story, and, at some point, you say: ‘Where do people tell stories? And if I was in one of the capitals of storytelling would that do something new for the work? Would that do something new in me?’”

Bell had absolutely no intention to lead a church in LA. “I’m not ever in churches or overtly religious spaces. The whole thing is a temple. That drives what I do more than anything. As opposed to trying to build a temple, I come along and announce that the whole thing is a temple, the whole earth.”

AWAY from the demands of preaching weekly to a congregation of thousands, he has done more or less as he pleases: hosting a weekly podcast (“The RobCast”); the comedy-club residency; writing books and a play; going on speaking tours; and surfing. He even had a slot on the Oprah Winfrey Network, in which he mixed motivational life-coaching — “You have more power to create your life than you realise” — with exposition of the Hebrew scriptures.

Unshackled from the expectations of a congregation, he has also voiced support for same-sex marriage. “Whoever you are, gay or straight, it is totally normal, natural, and healthy to want someone to go through life with,” he told Oprah in one interview.

“The past few years have been. . . shall I use the word ‘fun’?” Bell says. “It’s just been absolutely amazing. . . The environment here in Los Angeles is . . . like being home.”

Bell’s job and location might have changed, but his fundamental sense of calling has not: he believes the sermon is “an art form” which needs reclaiming as “somewhere between guerrilla theatre and performance art”.

“I’ve been trying to reclaim the sermon for everybody, not for a group of religious people over here, but for everybody, about what it means to be human.”

This desire to open the sermon up to people outside Christian subcultures has always animated him, he says: it led to his starting Mars Hill, in a disused shopping mall; to his touring clubs and theatres with shows such as Everything is Spiritual and The Gods aren’t Angry, and his hugely popular Nooma DVDs; and, ultimately, to where he is today, talking about Ecclesiastes in a sweaty comedy club.

People outside the churches are hungry for depth, he says. Western culture is consumed by “treble notes”, the “of-the-moment, pressing concerns, what hit the internet 17 minutes ago”. People increasingly crave “the bass notes”, he says: the deeper matters that human beings have talked about for thousands of years.

“And when somebody can tell you a story, can quote a text, they can help you see that the thing that you are facing, that you are struggling with, that you are confronted by — oh yeah, people have been wrestling with that for thousands of years. And here’s some of the truths, some of the insights, some of the wisdom in the shared human experience.

“It’s amazing how much we’re craving this. And especially as people leave what you think of as conventional religion — they’re desperate for bass notes.”

BELL played drums in an indie rock band as a student at Wheaton College, Illinois, and he clearly still enjoys the buzz of touring and the immediacy of live performance (although he is rarely away from his family for more than a couple of nights, and takes his wife and three children with him on longer tours). “The people in a room — I love that more than ever.”

Next month, he brings the “Holy Shift” tour, which has already been around the US, to the UK and Ireland. The organisers, Greenbelt, with whom Bell has often collaborated in recent years, say that the shows contain a “mix of philosophy, comedy, theology, and subversive insight”.

“I’m sort of reclaiming the word ‘holy’. Can you in 2018 talk about the word ‘holy’ for an hour and 45 minutes in such a way that takes people places they haven’t been before? In some ways it’s like a giant experiment — can you do this?”

The comedic side of Bell’s work has evolved in LA, where he has been “spending lots of time with comedians”. One of these is Pete Holmes, star of the HBO show Crashing, with whom Bell has developed a two-man stand-up show.

“When we became friends, he was doing stand-up, but he was going after big truths, trying to work out the big questions, and I’ve been doing the big questions, but leaning into comedy. We both realised that we were leaning into the other person’s work.”

Bell insists that he does not employ comedy as a device to “get people to pay attention to the work. This is central to the work.” The comedian charges through “the polite boundaries of conversation”, and asks: “Why don’t we talk about that? What line just got crossed? The comedian goes and finds that line and marches right over it.”

For Bell, comedy can be redemptive.

When a comedian is working redemptively, the comedian goes: ‘Hey, look: we can go into all of these forbidden, dark, frightening places, and we’re fine. Look, you’re even laughing about it: your own shadow, your own darkness. All of the things that you’re most mortified [about] are present within you, I’m going to talk about them, name them, I’m going to list them in excruciating detail, and you’re going to bend over, you’re going to be laughing so hard, you’re going to be doubled over.’

“Seeing that, it’s like a profound gift. It’s like the release valve for the soul, like everybody can just relax.”

BELL does not miss the Evangelical sub-culture in which he was once revered, perhaps because he never felt at home in it. “Even when I was a pastor in a local church, that seemed like a strange freak-show.”

Not surprisingly, he is scathing about President Trump and the white Evangelicals who helped to elect him. When he preached at Mars Hill against the Iraq War, some left the church, which prompted his realisation that “there is a religion way more sacred to people than anything involving God, Jesus, the Bible — and that is America.

”Even the gun, the gun is more sacred: it’s the untouchable that can’t be questioned for a lot of people.”

Trump’s election, he says, revealed what the gospel amounted to for many US Evangelicals. “It was never about the grace, compassion, solidarity, non-violence of the Jesus path. It was about protecting a particular 21st-century, free-market, capitalist vision for the world. And that thing had been masquerading as Jesus for a long time, and it revealed its corrupt, stained soul....

“One of the gifts of this presidency has been that that’s all now out in the open. It said morality, it said faith, it said trust in God, it used the word ‘Jesus’. But it wasn’t serious: it was all a giant charade, and now way more people see it than saw it before — and that’s important.”

Bell acknowledges that his views are radical, but he notes that radical in Latin, radix, means “root”; so “The radical isn’t the person who wandered off into the deep weeds, the radical is the person who went back to the source. It’s the tradition that wandered off.

“The Jesus movement was birthed as a counter to the empire, a subversive movement that was about caring for each other. Sacrificial love is how the world is made better, not coercive military violence. We need that more than ever.”

Indeed, Bell maintains that he is “more compelled by the Bible than ever”. What is the Bible?, published last year, sought to present the Bible as “an ancient library of poems, letters and stories”, with the potential to transform its readers.

His next project is an audio book called Blood, Guts & Fire: The gospel according to Leviticus, in which he revisits the book from which he preached his first sermon series at Mars Hill. “I’m completely blown away with all of what I missed 20 years ago in Leviticus: how much of Leviticus is about justice, about equality, about living with intention, about conflict resolution, about proper relationship to the earth.”

THE public appetite for Bell’s work shows little sign of waning, and his output remains prolific. But he does not come across as hurried or busy, or anxious to meet the next deadline. (He was happy to extend the interview ten minutes over the allotted time.)

“All of life is organised around having a life, and then the work comes out of bumping into neighbours and going for a meal in the neighbourhood and meeting somebody out in the ocean surfing....

“I’m just thrilled with all the people I encounter who are waking up to the joy that’s possible, and who are rediscovering that the Jesus path does something to you and it does something to the world. You don’t have to live with hopeless despair. You can actually live with intention, and you can actually be shaped in profound ways. That’s endlessly interesting to me.”


*The full interview can be heard on the Church Times Podcast

*The Holy Shift Tour runs from 2 to 14 July. For details about the tour, and to buy tickets, visit: www.greenbelt.org.uk/rob-bell. Tickets are only available in advance from the Greenbelt website, not from the venues or on the night of each show.

*The Heretic is available to rent or buy online: thehereticmovie.com.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Political History of Progressive Evangelicalism v. the Religious Right

Randall Balmer: The other evangelicals

President Ronald Reagan prays with National Association of Evangelicals President Arthur Gay (left) following his address to the organization's convention in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday, March 7, 1984. Reagan asked the group's help in winning approval of a constitutional amendment permitting prayer in school. AP

President Jimmy Carter, accompanied by his wife, Rosalynn, daughter Amy, and grandson Jason tells supporters at a Washington hotel, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 1980, that he has conceded the election to challenger Ronald Reagan. AP

by Randall Balmer
For the Monitor
Published: 12/1/2019 6:45:14 AM

I should be over it by now, but I confess that the number 81 continues to haunt me. Following the shock of Election Day 2016, the further news that 81% of white evangelicals supported Donald Trump was devastating to me personally.

These were the same people who had been telling us for the past four decades that they were devoted to “family values,” but then they pivoted and, without hint of irony or apology, cast their votes for a twice-divorced, self-confessed sexual predator.

I understand that many New Englanders regard evangelicals as exotic or weird, and I expect that many of them weren’t terribly surprised by evangelical voting behavior. But as someone who hails from that tradition and who has spent much of his career studying and writing about the movement, I was, well, devastated.

For years, I have argued in books, articles, op-eds and even a couple of documentaries that evangelicalism, in contrast to the Religious Right, has a long and distinguished history. Evangelicals set the social and political agenda for much of the 19th century. They advocated for the poor and the rights of workers to organize. They supported prison reform and public education. They enlisted in peace crusades and supported women’s equality, including voting rights.

Charles Grandison Finney, the most influential evangelical of the 19th century, excoriated free-market capitalism as inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus; a “Christian businessman,” Finney suggested was an oxymoron.

What happened? The short version of a rather complicated story is that evangelicals went underground following the Scopes trial of 1925.

In the middle decades of the 20th century, they decided that the larger world was both corrupt and corrupting, so they began constructing what I call the evangelical subculture, a vast and interlocking network of congregations, denominations, camps, schools, publishing houses and the like to protect themselves – and especially their children – from the ravages of the broader culture.

It’s tempting at this point in the abridged narrative to skip directly to the emergence of the Religious Right in the late 1970s, when Jerry Falwell and other evangelical leaders abandoned Jimmy Carter, one of their own, for Ronald Reagan in the run-up to the 1980 presidential election.

Although leaders of the Religious claimed retrospectively – that is, more than a decade after the fact – that opposition to abortion summoned them to the front lines of political battle, the inconvenient truth is that they mobilized politically to defend the tax exemptions of their racially segregated schools, including Bob Jones University.

The emergence of the Religious Right was surely a turning point – a sharp and unmistakable turn to the right – but it wasn’t inevitable. The 1970s, in fact, saw a remarkable resurgence of progressive evangelicalism, a version of the movement consistent with the legacy of 19th-century evangelicals.

Two geographical areas, northern Illinois and the mainline of Philadelphia, served as the focus for progressive evangelical activity in the early 1970s. In the greater Philadelphia area, Tony Campolo, a sociologist at Eastern College (now Eastern University), and Ronald Sider, a theologian at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (now Palmer Theological Seminary), led the charge.

Campolo was (and remains) a tireless advocate for progressive evangelical values; he is one of the founding members of an organization called Red Letter Christians, which seeks to remind the faithful to heed the teachings of Jesus.

Sider was founder of Evangelicals for Social Action and author of a bestselling book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, published in 1977.

The other locus of progressive evangelical activity in the early 1970s was Deerfield, in the North Shore suburbs of Chicago. There, Jim Wallis, a seminary student, together with his friends at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, formed a community in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago and began publishing a tabloid called the Post American. When the group relocated to Washington, D.C., in 1975, they took the name Sojourners.

On the same Deerfield campus, a cohort of young faculty at Trinity College, led by Douglas Frank, David Schlafer and Nancy Hardesty, began challenging their students to question the morality of the war in Vietnam and to take seriously both the teachings of Jesus and the example of 19th-century evangelicalism. I was one of those students. We learned about Jesus’s concern for the poor. We started to think about protecting the environment and defending people of color. We debated how to pursue justice.

Although a majority of the student body remained conservative, a substantial minority of us caught the vision of an evangelicalism untethered to the shibboleths of the evangelical subculture. It was a bracing moment, a glimpse of what a politics informed by the teachings of Jesus might look like.

When Sider convened 55 evangelical leaders at the YMCA on Wabash Street in Chicago in November 1973, these progressive evangelicals produced a remarkable document: the Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern. Echoing the emphases of 19th-century evangelicals, the declaration condemned the persistence of poverty, militarism and racism in American society. It questioned why so many Americans were hungry in a nation of such affluence.

At the behest of Nancy Hardesty, an English professor at Trinity College, the Chicago Declaration reaffirmed evangelicals’ historic commitment to women’s equality.

Within six months, the governor of Georgia addressed a gathering of the University of Georgia Law School, an appearance that effectively launched his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Jimmy Carter sounded many of the same themes as the Chicago Declaration, especially the matter of justice for people of color and for those less fortunate.

The rest, as they say, is history. Carter, the Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher, was elected president in 1976 and sought to govern according to his lights as a progressive evangelical – all the while, as a good Baptist, observing the separation of church and state: an emphasis on human rights, the renegotiation of the Panama Canal treaties as a matter of justice for those in Latin America, energy conservation and environmental preservation, pursuing peace in the Middle East.

The 1970s was in many ways the golden age of progressive evangelicalism. It was also its last stand.

With such challenges as the Arab Oil Embargo, high interest rates and a persistently sour economy, no president could have succeeded in the late 1970s. Add to that the taking of hostages in Iran in November 1979, Carter faced a daunting challenge as he faced re-election.

Reagan brilliantly exploited Carter’s perceived failures as president, and with the help of the newly organized Religious Right, won the 1980 election.

Progressive evangelicals – the other evangelicals – took a hit, a body blow from which they have never recovered.

The rest of the story is all too familiar. With progressive evangelicalism on the ropes, the Religious Right proceeded to steer evangelicals toward the far-right precincts of the Republican Party. That alliance has congealed over the past four decades so that 81%, four out of five evangelicals, as attested by the last election, are unflinchingly partisan. It appears that nothing – neither personal immorality nor public scandal – can shake those allegiances.

The number 81 continues to haunt me.

*Randall Balmer, a professor at Dartmouth College, is the author of “Evangelicalism in America” and “Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America.”

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Advent Season - Afflicted by Hope

"When God “afflicts us with hope” we become people who look at the world with “a steady, honest, unflinching gaze." We see the world just as it is and yet, because we trust in God’s goodness, we still believe good triumphs over evil. This is the hope that lies at the heart of Advent [which celebrates Jesus' birth into a world of sin]. A hope that doggedly persists despite pain and suffering and deep, deep grief. A hope based on a promise that Jesus will not leave us alone but, instead, comes to us over and over again [in this life as the next]." - Teri Wooten Daily

A Beacon of Light: A City on a Hill Full of Light & Peace

The Risk of Birth
by Madeleine L'Engle

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honor & truth were trampled to scorn--
Yet here did the Savior make His home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn--
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

The Birth of Jesus
Luke 2:1-15 (NASB)

2 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all [a]the inhabited earth. 2 [b]This was the first census taken while [c]Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a [d]manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is [e]Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a [f]manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men [g]with whom He is pleased.”

15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the [h]manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

*The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Days To Come
Isaiah 2:1-5 (NRSV)*

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!

*The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Hour Unknown
Matthew 24:36-44 (NRSV)*

Jesus said to the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

*The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Downward Slope to Hope & Humanity