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 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

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A Process-Based Reading of the Living God and His Word

 



A Process-Based Reading of the Living God and His Word

I woke up today still burdened by a subject I'm not sure how to approach. My burden is that I cannot get past the idea of how many in the church, including the church itself, is reading the bible heretically.

Reading the bible plainly (or literally) has caused a lot of unloving words and deeds to be done in the name of the God of Love. Reading the bible spiritually (metaphorically or allegorically) is also unhelpful in that it gets away from the historical nature of God's revelation being communicated to ancient peoples many years ago.

Comparative literary analysis has been a large help when approaching the bible from a historical, grammatical, and contextual point of study. But it also neglects reading the bible from an evolving sociological, psychological, and philosophical point of study (or, paradigms; sic, sociological frames of context).

These last three areas especially have caused theologians and philosophers to question how we are reading the bible today. The question before us then is this:

"Is God's revelation always a product of being in a relationship with the God of the universe? Or did God speak once, and we are left alone with only the bible as God's spokeman?"

The short answer is yes. The bible is not God's only means of revelation, but that God is always present and communicating with us through His Spirit as individuals, communities, and societies.

More so, because of humanity's long histories of societal experience we have been evolving in our generations and civilizations in our attitudes of love, responsibility, and identity of ourselves in relation to each other, the world at large, and to very creation itself.

Is the Bible Relevant?

My first burden is that our 21st century ideas of society will not be found in civilizations thousands of years before us. Yes, smatterings of them, but not in any cohesive, formulated, or directional way. The beauty of process-based cultural history is that each succeeding generation and regional cultural has its own unique beliefs and identities. We learn from one another when we study the past as well as study the present. But we cannot expect to find any one generation or culture to have lived and thought "perfect lives and perfect thoughts". It’s never been done and never will be done. Not even in the bible. That is to say, the bible is a time-dated study of ancient cultural beliefs which have some pertinence today and some not (cultural dress, foods, practices, and idiom for one).

Saying this means that in a process-based world its very nature is one of evolving from one moment to the next. This was true for bible people then and cultures of their time even as it is true for us now in our generations and varied histories. We are always evolving as a creation; always, concrecsing forwards (growing, moving uniquely forwards). It may be two steps forwards and one step backwards; it may be with interation, interruption and discontinuity; it may be with harm and death; but it always forwards on a path of survival, wellbeing, and restorative livelihood.

We live in a processed based world. A world God inhabits and has given His essence too. Not only by His design but created from God's Essence. Which is why creation is always moving forwards restlessly, generatively. And as it moves forward it restores, it creates opportunities for goodness and wellbeing, it seeks for peace, harmony, and balance. Evolution in its essence is a process filled with God Himself. Its nature can be fierce and wonderful, unique and uniquely in motion, resplendent and dangerous, in the exercise of its God-given freedom.

Saying this means for me that those oral transcribers who wrote down the legends of the bible had their own beliefs and societal standards even as the oral histories of the originators had their own beliefs and cultural worldviews. But being time-bound, whether Abraham, Joseph, Moses, the Judges, Kings, and Prophets, or the generations after them writing and re-writing down those stories, none of those historical events and personages could escape their own or, their society's, evolving thoughts and ideas about God, themselves, and their place and purpose in this life.



How Are We to Read the Bible?

Which brings me back to my burden. Is the bible written down perfectly? Or was it meant as a starting point for communication between God and man? If we take the "magic" out of the transmission process where traditional systematics teach that God wrote the bible ONCE AND FOR ALL using men and women to communicate His revealed Word, then we are left with a God using time-bound evolving culture's to communicate an early expressive theology that ended with its expression.

An earlier theology which wasn't intended to be complete nor completed when speaking of an infinitely evolving God amid an evolving, dynamic creation. I say an "evolving" God because of His experience with an evolving creation. God's experience with creation is moment-by-moment just as creation experiences itself. And I like the word infinite in that it speaks more fully of a process-based creation, if not of God Himself as He is in eternal process with creation as its Creator.

Is it correct then to state the bible to be a record of an earlier, ancient theology serving as a means to begin collectively thinking about God and learning to listen to Him through His Spirit? If so, then the bible isn't fully as evolved in its theology as we would like to think of it as. And if not, then we must admit the bible's theology is historically bound by its theologies and philosophies of its earlier cultures.

This seems a radical proposition but perhaps we shouldn't regard the bible as the once-and-for-all definite word of God. When we have its follows have committed some very un-godlike thinking and actions in their day. A processed-based reading of the bible would regard it as a product of its times and a beginning point for discussion re ethics, morality, and even the atonement of God through Jesus.

So then, how are we to be guided by the bible if we cannot be guided by its stories and illustrations? Might I simply suggest we be guided by the Author of the bible Himself? By Jesus and His words and deeds? By the idea of God's love and what it means to be loving?

If so, then when reading of the violence of Israel towards its neighbors in the Old Testament, or the violence at the end of the world as perceived by five hundred years of speculative eschatologists of the time (from the third century BC to the second century AD) may not be what God is intending. Violence is never love. And preaching a God of violence is antithetical to God's essence (nature) as a God of love. But isn't God a God of judgment? Hmmm, let's discuss that next....

Sin and Evil

Holding the belief that God is in control of everything may have been how one thought of God in ancient times but after centuries and centuries of sin and evil one can say in the affirmative that God is not in control of everything. In the Old Testament I read again and again the sentiment by the biblical ancients that if God is God then He is always in control. Thinking through in the New Testament of Jesus' words and His sentiments on this subject of God being in control we Jesus' word to be a bit more nuanced yet those who later wrote down His words in the early church - as well as the apostles' revelations - came back to their own societal beliefs and restrictions claiming a controlling God.

Since the bible is a product of its historical generations I wouldn't expect NOT to see these sentiments. It is exactly what I expect to find - that the OT and NT are fully consistent in speaking of God as a controlling God of historical events and coming futures. This is borne out by the biblical text as by product of its ancient transcribers. And yet, God is not a controlling God. Why is this? Let me suggest a couple of ideas....

Because God gave to man freewill it is implicit that with freewill comes an undetermined future. Each are part-and-parcel of the other being divine gifts granted creation. To say God is in "control" is not necessarily the best word to use then - even though the sentiment wishes to give the God of creation and of its salvation His rightful place of glory and honor. The problem of theodicy - that is of sin and evil - in a free willed world can be stated immediately that by its nature God cannot be in control. We are using the wrong word to express how we think of God's sovereignty.

Lately, the problem of theodicy is being answered in redirecting the idea of theodicy back upon what a God of love would do when creating a free willed creation. Originally I thought God "chose" to give man freewill but, I've learned since then that creational freewill originated because of God's love. Love is not a choice. In its essence divine love means the ability to choose as well as to live in an open, undetermined future.

ORPT

Thus, the Arminian-based (sic, Wesleyan) idea of an "Open and Relational (Process-based) Theology" has been born to answer the problem of theodicy. ORPT states God is fully sovereign but not in control of creation. Rather, God is a fully-pledge participant with creation in its direction, evolvement, and fulfillment. Though God is not in control of indeterminate, freewill event and future, God is fully imbued within creational structures by gifting creation with His Essence, His Spirit if you will, which flows through all things.

That sin and evil are is because they are the other half of the coin of goodness and love. This defines freewill. The choice between good and evil. Creation is both a product of good and evil even as it struggles against it to find its fulfillment in obedience and submission to its essence. That essence being of course the essence of God. It is no mystery to see this eternal struggle in the evolution not only of creation but in humanity's society evolution to find goodness, beauty, and love in this world. As long as creation exists so too will this titanic struggle continue.

Given this, when re-reading of the bible's ancient cultural dispositions we see that earlier generations really had a difficult time in describing how God is God and yet not in control of everything. the Process philosopher and theologian will say that this is not a problem. God is in control but in a different kind of way. God's control is one which releases creation to become what it was made to become. Who empowers creation to overcome sin and evil? To become that which is kind and loving, good and holy. God doesn't "force" a free willed creation to become this, God "assists" a free willed creation in becoming what it was made for; that is, for unbounded fellowship with itself and with its God.

Again, finding these sentiments in the bible can be found, it’s just that those oral legends and transcribed records believed in theological ideas of a "controlling God". The ancients did not have the many-centuries "backwards" look we have today of wars, revolution, societal experiments, enlightenment, dis-enlightenment, and so forth. Our backwards look gives us the advantage to speak of God in a different way than earlier, evolving generations were able to think of God. But again, in a process world, nothing is static, not even our beliefs.


Conclusion

Is it fully allowable then that God may be perceived as speaking to us through our own generations, commentaries, and preaching? Sure, why not? God is always communication to creation. To the trees, rocks, wind, earth, moon, and stars. Why not then mankind?

How God spoke and was perceived by the ancients is no less different in our generations today. God's bible is in the people who speak for God, who disagree with heretical church sentiments and beliefs, who write, who author, who reflect philosophically on God and consider what our scientific and academic discoveries are telling us about God today.

I would fully expect an "incomprehensible" God to be an evolving story of "comprehensibility." That is, God began with ancient primal man in his thoughts who thought "just maybe, there was a God, perhaps a God beyond all other Gods" (read James A. Michener's book, The Source). From there, the "story of God" has been evolving... even unto this day.

All that can be said of a God of love and salvation can never be said in several generations, not even across many generations. The Story of God is an evolving story of enlargement, beauty, holism, and grandness. I, for one, am not surprised that what I thought I knew about God continues to surprise me. Surprise me in that God continues to become larger than the God I thought I knew and been taught to know by wise and holy men and women.

The bible of common men and women was becoming a collection of narratives of holy-and-unholy men-and-women learning who God is in their lives. (1) This God is always in the state of revealing Himself beyond our imaginations. (2) That the bible is a product of its times, albeit many, many centuries earlier. But (3) when its stories ended its lessons did not. The bible is being written and re-written by the philosophers and theologians of every century. Its lessons are being written upon our heart by the Spirit of God breathing into our imaginations what a God of love means to the generations of today.

This God of the bible is not static. God is a "living, breathing, relational cosmic entity" who wishes to be in a living relationship with us as we face an open future of good and bad.

Our story is God's story even as God's story can be our story. The Spirit presence and relationship we have with the divine is manifold: From a simple walk on the beach to a walk on the moon; from beholding the wonder of our firstborn to the wonder we find in the books of the academics; from sliding into Homeplate without a prayer of a chance of making it, to looking up at the twinkling stars far above.

The Wonder of God is everywhere, and we shouldn't be surprised not to hear His Voice upon the deeps of heavy hearts awashed the sins and evils of the day. A God who speaks against the unfairness and injustice of society being committed towards each other. Who speaks through its newspapers, through podcasts, even through social media, challenging hearts, motives, and purposes. The bible is being rewritten afresh upon the hearts of God's people speaking out against the ill we are doing to God's Self, His love, His salvation, to one another, and to His creation.

The bible is every bit of our experience today even as God was back then in the ancient's lives. We may think of the bible as a one-time revelation - or as a series of one-time revelations - but what if it was marking the "officious" beginning of God speaking to mankind all the time, in every way possible?

What if the bible is not a dead thing but an expanding compendium reaching beyond old, dead-and-gone, cultural thinking of God, to the best of humanity's thoughts, discoveries, and deeds of God? That instead of thinking of the bible in literal ways as a collection of stories time-bound and time-dated in its theologies, that instead we might consider the bible's lessons as the first steps of humanity towards understanding and developing Christ-centered theologies emphasizing God's love and His work of redemption throughout the concourses of humanity's livelihoods?

God has not ceased speaking. God is speaking everywhere and in every way. Through every culture, every generation, and every soul burdened to resist evil and speak for right and truth. Do not think only one agency, the church, may speak for God. When such agencies lose their way, God finds the rocks of this world to speak out His Word like the turbulent winds sent across the treetops. Words of weight and infinite wisdom. 

God raises up babies from carpenter's cradles to challenge the establishment. From raises up the cries of the Church Fathers, the burdens of missionaries, revolutionaries, scientists, novelists, poets, and orators. God raises up the children of the next generation to re-right the lostness of their parent's generations. To stand against unrighteousness and war. To seek revolutionary ways to not lose this earth to the plagues we have unleashed upon it. God's prophets and disciples of this world is the now generation willing to envision a God who is beyond our imaginations. A God whose mystery continues to amaze us as we study His heavens, His creation, one another, and the wisdom of the ages.

Be amazed. God speaks today!


R.E. Slater
October 21, 2020

I wrote a helpful parallel article some months later
which may be pertinent to the discussion here: