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, March 24, 2021

Reading a Literal Bible is Killing the Church



How to Lose God in the Translation

"Attention all Christian trolls. The slippery slope you are skiing is the one you think is all well and good. It is not. You are skiing off the mountain face and you don't even know it." - re slater

I am occasionally accused of not believing the bible (both true and not true. But yes, I do read it differently as I will share in a moment). Of going down the faithful's slippery slope away from general (evangelical) church teachings.

Now those are heavy charges to make. It tells me that legions of Christians think they can't be wrong on this after centuries of indoctrination. Back in Copernicus' day they had said the same thing of him when he reached for the stars and proved the church wrong.

Which is not my intention. Yes, I would be glad to work with the church in these matters but as it is, all of its doctrines are tightly wrapped up into reading the bible literally rather than letting it go as a pre-requiem to have a fuller discussion of God beyond terms of classical expression.

Christians who are casting such unquestioning self-assured charges of liberalism onto others are the same ones unwilling to examine their own faith unless it be from a safe source.

This is typically the shortest possible route towards not listening to another voice as well as embracing denial via Christian labelling of other Christians approaching God and the bible in a different manner. Especially when it differs from their own beliefs about God and the bible (even though good preaching does this all the time in Christian circles).

So where do I begin? How can I speak to such closed Christian minds and off-handed judgements when a fellow Christian simply chooses to cut me off and declare they're on God's side and you are no longer on God's side?

Firstly, I realize they probably don't know me. And secondly, even if they do know me they are unwilling to listen. It's also an unfair judgment being made in smug personal consensus because of some religious belief that has not been crossed off in their heads over the years.

Christian labellers think they are standing with God and fighting off denial when I, as a fellow Christian, believe they are do exactly what they are accusing myself and others as doing. That is, they are not standing with God and being quite unhelpful to the gospel of Christ however much they think they are being to the "Christian cause" in defending their faith. (Yes, I know. It's messed up to the outsider looking into Christian fundamentalism and evangelicalism.)

Now I could be hurt and feel badly about such attitudes but I also realize those who make such statements are closed books unwilling to examine their own faith for fear of finding out what they don't wish to find out. Perhaps fearful that a new thought may upend their heavenly structures. It would not be my intention that such a one lose their faith. But it would be my intention to redirect their faith back to the fundamentals of Christianity rebuilt for contemporary times.

Here are my sentiments towards those Christians like myself who are searching for a less problematic God and bible teachings than we are seeing either now in the Trumpian churches or historically in justified mass killings and genocides under church inquisitions, baptisms of drowning or by fire, or the crusades to name but a few:

2 Cor. 13:5 (KJV) Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your {own} selves. Know ye not your {own} selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, unless you are discredited {except ye be reprobates}? 6But I trust that ye shall know that we are not discredited {reprobates}.
7Now I pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest, though we appear as discredited {be as reprobates}. 8For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. 9For we are glad, when we are weak and ye are strong; and this also we wish, even your perfection.
10Therefore, I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction.

If I boast, let it be as the Apostle Paul...

Because I also know there are many others out there like myself who really don't have any choice but to move forward looking for a better Christianity than the one we have inherited and been raised in all our lives.

Ironically, it is also this same (conservative evangelical) Christian faith which I wish to leave behind... which deigns to condemn myself and others for questioning its creedal conflicts and secular orientations.

Like Paul I could boost, but in my boosting I will consider my works as but filthy rags compared to the works of so many other Christians who have spent their lives in service of the Lord Jesus.

Like Paul, I too have spent most my life in earnest biblical study. I have laboured across many, many ministries over many, many years. I have worked with all kinds of people in all kinds of occupations, needs, trades, and economic dispositions. And I have spent many hours examining the Christianity I was deeply trained in and had pursued eagerly through undergraduate and graduate degrees and later into lay ministry.

Like Paul, I have also knowingly foregone any decent personal careers choosing that of a tent-maker that I might be faithful to the gospel's calling irrespective of worldly demands (as well as to mine own spiritual gifts). And I have come to reject the worst of my traditional Christian beliefs which have grossly conflicted with Jesus' own principles and teachings.

And finally, like the Apostle Paul, I find myself publically answering without apology any and all unwarranted charges by those too willing to condemn me than to question and condemn their own brand of superior faith held over the masses....

Literalism is Killing the Church...

The basis of many errant Christian judgments I have discovered over the years comes as the result of misreading the bible using a method known as "biblical literalism." This means that Christians have been taught to read the bible word-for-word as unerringly true guided through-and-through by Holy Spirit inspiration.

I knew this method technically as biblical exegesis when translating from the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures into English. But it's method has come to be twisted by its exegetical outcome - or trajectory arc - as to mean reading the bible in an hard-edged, unquestioning acceptance of every jot and title irrespective of theological common sense.


Biblical literalism or biblicism is a term used differently by different authors concerning biblical interpretation. It can equate to the dictionary definition of literalism: "adherence to the exact letter or the literal sense", where literal means "in accordance with, involving, or being the primary or strict meaning of the word or words [sic, letterism - res]; not figurative or metaphorical".

Alternatively, the term can refer to the historical-grammatical method, a hermeneutic technique that strives to uncover the meaning of the text by taking into account not just the grammatical words, but also the syntactical aspects, the cultural and historical background, and the literary genre. It emphasizes the referential aspect of the words in the text without denying the relevance of literary aspects, genre, or figures of speech within the text (e.g., parable, allegory, simile, or metaphor). It does not necessarily lead to complete agreement upon one single interpretation of any given passage. This Christian fundamentalist and evangelical hermeneutical approach to scripture is used extensively by fundamentalist Christians, in contrast to the historical-critical method of mainstream Judaism or Mainline Protestantism. Those who relate biblical literalism to the historical-grammatical method use the word "letterism" to cover interpreting the Bible according to the dictionary definition of literalism.

From reading the bible literally has come errant (literal) church dogmas which are killing contemporary Christianity. How do I know this? Go ask the institutionalized Christians known as "Nones and Dones" at one extreme, or the hyper conservative Trumpites murdering the faith in the name of Jesus, at the other extreme.

Reading the bible literally - and practicing its literalisms - has, and is, deeply scarring the gospel of Christ, the witness of Christians, and the testimony of the saints.

How to Lose God in the Translation

Either find a new interpretation of the bible or try to understand that the God of the bible is not shown to be who He really is in literal readings of the bible. - re slater

Let me suggest another method in place of literalism...

If today's church can get God's gospel wrong - as observed in America's horrendous inhumanitarian policies of faith-driven hyper-conservatism, then don't you think Israel's religious people and leaders in the Old Testament... or the early church leaders and Christians of the New Testament... could have gotten the gospel wrong too?! I think so.
After a decade of contemporary examination of the Christian faith the best bible hermeneutic or systematic interpretation of its pages out there which I could find is NONE. Let me say that again, NONE. All biblical hermeneutics have fallen short in some sense. They each keep Christians within evangelical boundary lands of apologetic defense. And they intentionally cut off the church from the world so as to protect its dogmatic beliefs. - re slater
However, what I have found is that if one re-centers one's faith and the bible:

(i) Read the bible around God's love,

(ii) Get rid of the vengeful, condemning God who is all-too-clearly made in our own image, and

(iii) Practices Jesus' love towards others as best as we can in our Christian faith.

(iv) This then is the best interpretation of the bible I can find. No tricks. No interpretative gymnastics. Straight up "Love as God Loves." Seems easy enough doesn't it? If so, why not read the bible in this fashion to?

It is also the simplest and best way to read the bible not only devotionally but critically as well rather than overlaying its with all other kinds of unGodly, unloving interpretations.

Of errant teachings which claim of God as our Divine Father-God Creator as One who: (i) causes sin and evil, (ii) directs sin and suffering into the lives of others, and (iii) rains hell down on mankind.

Again, I disagree. Why, you ask?

When we hold to these "bible" positions we are speaking of ourselves, not God. And when we read of God's many violent commands and actions we are actually reading of ancient Yahwehistic beliefs reacting in its faith as the world does.

Stoning sons and daughters, warring with neighbors, observing strict religious codes and rites including practicing "holy-ified" religious laws, only assured religious followers they were "doing God's will" when in fact "they were doing their own will as they imagined God to be."

A loving God cannot declare unloving actions, words, or unloving religion.

But wait a minute! The bible is full of God's commands that He be obeyed in these manners!

So what's your point? Actually you're making it for me... It's telling me how we are reading the bible as a literal bible. It is also telling me how we are justifying the church's literal doctrines teaching of a holy God more willing to condemn and judge than to love. One who sends sin and evil our way even as He does grace and mercy.

I think of this kind of God as being dipolar in His divine attributes. More Olympian god-like than actual God like. I find such literal doctrines foundationally flawed and conflicted and must reject them out-of-hand. God is love through-and-through. God is not unloving ever. The point of view I am suggesting would make God supremely different from ourselves who are less able to love through-and-through and more given to unloving others.

Let me be clear... perhaps cynically clear... a holy God of love does not act in unloving ways, commands, or outcomes. God is not us. Nor is He constituted to do anything less than to love as His essence is love.
And yet God works alongside a freewill creation breathing life into our unloving beliefs and actions that we might be life givers as He is a life giver. God can be none of the things we read of Him in a literal bible even though the bible claims that He is when we read it in this way.


So how do we read the bible if not literally?

First, take the bible off the altar (this is called biblicism) and read it again as you would examine a nascent monotheistic movement trying to find its way in a world of polytheistic religious beliefs and outcomes.

And yes, every bible preacher / teacher I have studied under or have read have always commonly read the bible using literal interpretation. For myself, I consider this approach extremely unhelpful.

 

How to Lose God in the Translation

 

Let us rather consider the bible as a "testament" narrating to us a socio-religious evolution of cultural thoughts about God and life which was as incomplete in their day as it presently is in our day.

The evolution of religion has been a necessary part of man's anthropological growing-up phase. We're  religious beings to our core. We're made this way. We think this way. It feels unnatural to not believe in a God-filled creation. It feels much more natural to believe in God than to not believe in God.

As I had once said in an article written many years ago, "It's a lot harder for an atheist to justify their atheism than for an agnostic, or a believer, to posit a God of creation and salvation."

And so, when reviewing global religious faiths across the many eras of religious history (from South America to Asia, from Africa to the Middle East) you will find as many beliefs adapting and adopting the best of religion as you would as many other religions doing the exact opposite. One religion seems humble and contrite in spirit, petitioning God (or the gods) for help and direction. Another religion is all too eager to justify its cruel and barbarous actions through religious exercise.

I find this too when I read the bible.

I see both examples of religious development in the bible.... I see the patriarchs of Israel, some of its kings and prophets, and some of its people seeking God as penitents. Unknowing what to do, what God would want, and doubting how they should proceed down the path of life. Who are unsure which path to take but are trying to be open to as many paths as might bring health and healing to those who might be affected by their forthcoming momentous decisions and actions.

On the other hand, I also read in the bible of religious Israelites, priests, kings, and prophets advising their countrymen in heathen beliefs using Yahwistic language and practices which are ungodly. Even the bible's "good guys and gals" speak to God's people saying "Thus saith the Lord"... in sincerest belief. And yet I really genuinely doubt a God of love ever wanted the outcomes they believed He said and wished to have done.

Of Conflicts and Dualities...

If I read the bible literally as "Thus saith the Lord"... I am not allowing myself to question it's teachings. But when I read the bible non-literally I am allowing myself to ask all kinds of thoughts and questions. Reading the bible in this way doesn't diminish the bible but puts the onus on us to discern God's will aright rather than simplistic stating "the bible says it and I believe it." Balderdash!

Forget what the bible says! I want to know what the Author of the bible said. I want to know what it means for God to be a God of love and not the typically believed God of avenging judgment. (Remember, sin and evil are our judges, not per se God Himself. That we, as free agents, must choose to obey or disobey God's commands and examples to love one another).

Which is exactly what we see in the bible...

Some of God's followers in the bible get it while others in the bible project themselves into their interpretations of God and stink it up.

The moral and ethical conflicts within the Old Testament's inhumane treatment of others - and the New Testament's Armageddon-based apocalyptic eschatologies of doom and judgment - can now be dealt with as different ways God's people of the past had interpreted who they thought God was and what He was commanding.

For myself, if I am going to follow a loving God and hold to any kind of godly faith centered around a God of love then it must be a faith proclamation which "does no harm but as much good as possible."

The more we lean into a God of love - of a God who seeks our earthly wellbeing, kindness, respect, and humanitarianism to one another - the more we lean into a God who is love through-and-through. I think of this as the contemporary apex of a socio-religious evolution across anthropological cultural eras.

But the more we think of God as a divinely driven Being of eschatological nightmare pre-determining human-creational holocausts of immediate and global apocalypses to come the more our theology will be oriented this way as well.

If there is any happiness to Jesus' gospel of good news it is of a God who is trying to turn us from a certain future of existential and cosmic death against our internal predispositions to not love each other in all we are, and do, and say through-and-through.

If we cannot learn to love one another then every evil will continue by man's hand towards our extinction whether driven by religion or not. Even now we see it across domestic and international scales of dissension, misuse, and abuse.

We cannot teach that sin-driven events and calamities come from God. Nay, they come from us in our own refusal to treat each other with a listening ear in human solidarity with one another.

It is we ourselves who are condemning ourselves to our own earthly judgments and hells by hate, usery, and cruelty. These things are not of God and haven't been from God, even in the bible. They are a result of sin.

Conclusion...

Whatever "god" you're reading of in your literal bible is the god of your own slippery slope. Remember, God is love. God is not a God of violence and suffering.

Open your eyes and see.

Stop parroting blinded theology by blinded preachers based upon blinded church fiats and decrees.

Literalism is dead and its killing the church.


R.E. Slater
3/23/2021


Note: I have chosen to use "Young's Literal translation of the Holy Bible" as illustrations where the word literal actually refers to the translation method used in deciphering the extuant versions of the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts (MSS) . But it does not refer to the literal interpretation of the bible by biblicists. Many sincere Christians mistakenly lump 'means and ends' together not understanding the difference between linguistic methods of translation as versus dogmatic doctrinal interpretations of the bible. Vis-a-vis, the word 'literal' can be used in many different senses. As my beloved seminary professor, Dr. Carl Hoch, would say, "Literalism can mean 40 different things to 40 different people when  literally interpreting the bible. It is a sacred cow which confuses everything." - res


How to Lose God in the Translation



Since I'm on the topic of literalism I thought the "literal.com"
website might be humorously applied in quoting Isaiah...


ISAIAH 52-53

« Isaiah 51 | Isaiah 52-53 | Isaiah 54 »

Cheer for Prostrate Zion
52:1Awake, awake,
Clothe yourself in your strength, O Zion;
Clothe yourself in your beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city;
For the uncircumcised and the unclean
Will no longer come into you.
2Shake yourself from the dust, rise up,
O captive Jerusalem;
Loose yourself from the chains around your neck,
O captive daughter of Zion.
    For thus says the LORD, “You were sold for nothing and you will be redeemed without money.” For thus says the Lord GOD, “My people went down at the first into Egypt to reside there; then the Assyrian oppressed them without cause. Now therefore, what do I have here,” declares the LORD, “seeing that My people have been taken away without cause?” Again the LORD declares, “Those who rule over them howl, and My name is continually blasphemed all day long. Therefore My people shall know My name; therefore in that day I am the one who is speaking, ‘Here I am.’”
7How lovely on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces peace
And brings good news of happiness,
Who announces salvation,
And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
8Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices,
They shout joyfully together;
For they will see with their own eyes
When the LORD restores Zion.
9Break forth, shout joyfully together,
You waste places of Jerusalem;
For the LORD has comforted His people,
He has redeemed Jerusalem.
10The LORD has bared His holy arm
In the sight of all the nations,
That all the ends of the earth may see
The salvation of our God.

11Depart, depart, go out from there,
Touch nothing unclean;
Go out of the midst of her, purify yourselves,
You who carry the vessels of the LORD.
12But you will not go out in haste,
Nor will you go as fugitives;
For the LORD will go before you,
And the God of Israel will be your rear guard.
The Exalted Servant
13Behold, My servant will prosper,
He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted.
14Just as many were astonished at you, My people,
So His appearance was marred more than any man
And His form more than the sons of men.
15Thus He will sprinkle many nations,
Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him;
For what had not been told them they will see,
And what they had not heard they will understand.

The Suffering Servant
53:1Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
3He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

4Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
5But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
6All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.

7He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
8By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off out of the land of the living
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?
9His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

10But the LORD was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.
11As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
12Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.