Thinking Out Loud

January 1, 2014

Happy 2014 !

Filed under: Faith, Humor — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:25 am
Bruxy Cavey:

“We treat faith in our culture much like a painting that you hang on the wall. It’s something you go and look at. Look at my faith. Faith is a beautiful thing. But biblically faith is a connecting concept to connect you with something else. It’s not an end point destination that you stare at but it’s something you stare through. In other words, faith is more like a window that you install in a wall, not a painting you hang on a wall. It is something designed to help you see through the wall or whatever barrier is there to see … the outside of your particular world.” ~Bruxy Cavey, author of The End of Religion and Teaching Pastor of The Meeting House, a sixteen-site church in Ontario, Canada from the series Get Over Yourself, part six, December 13, 2009


“Do you know the people at #47?”
“Yeah, their kids play soccer on the teams my brother’s kids play on.”
“Have you ever talked to them?”
“Once or twice; they kinda keep to themselves.”
“Did you know they were Christians?”
“I know they go off to church every Sunday.”
“Ever ask them about it?”
“Yeah, one time; I said, ‘I see you go to church on Sundays.’”
“Did they tell you they were Christians?”
“They said they were Calvinists.”

August 6, 2013

The Holy Catholic Church

“…I believe…in the holy catholic church…”

…Wait a minute, the what?

Those words in the Apostles Creed have been a tripping point for both young and old Evangelicals. We even made a last minute modification in our worship slides on Sunday to avoid the terminology. At the blog Internet Monk, in a classic Michael Spencer re-post from 2006, we’re reminded that many Baptists solve the problem by simply dropping the creed altogether.

The article is lengthy, and I know some of you won’t wade through it. But if you desire, especially if you’ve always wondered about that phrase, the link is here. For the record, “catholic” in this sense means “universal.”

Here’s how the article wraps up:

…We need a generous catholicity.” Not a competition where the winner plays the role of the brat, but a humble and sincere attempt to see Christ in his church, and not just in ours. It will not hurt us to say that Christ’s church is larger than our own, or to act like it.

  • We differ on Baptism. Can we agree that Baptism belongs to Christ, and is not dispensed by the church?
  • We differ on matters such as “eternal security” and speaking in tongues. Can we agree that the Holy Spirit manifests himself in his church according to his good pleasure, and not only within the bounds of our preferences (or nice theological conclusions?)
  • We differ on church government. Can we agree that Christ is the head of the church?
  • We differ on how we profess our faith. Can we agree that we receive a brother in Jesus name’ and not our own?
  • We differ on the Lord’s Table. Can we agree that all of us read the same texts with the same passion to be connected to Christ through that table, and that even if we cannot share it together, we can agree that it is our table, and the table where our elder brother seats us all in places of honor?

We differ on much and always will. Can we agree that we are all…all of us…the church catholic? The one, holy, apostolic, blood-bought, inheritance of Jesus? That we are all the fruit of his incarnation and suffering, and that our divisions do not divide Christ (I Corinthians 1:13), but only ourselves from our family?

Looking for an alternative? You could do a lot worse than this one, which I found at this site.

We believe in Jesus Christ the Lord,

* Who was promised to the people of Israel,
* Who came in flesh to dwell among us,
* Who announced the coming of the rule of God,
* Who gathered disciples and taught them,
* Who died on the cross to free us from sin,
* Who rose from the dead to give us life and hope,
* Who reigns in heaven at the right hand of God,
* Who comes to Judge and bring justice to victory.

We believe in God His Father,

* Who raised Him from the dead,
* Who created and sustains the universe,
* Who acts to deliver His people in times of need,
* Who desires all men everywhere to be saved,
* Who rules over the destinies of men and nations,
* Who continues to love men even when they reject Him.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,

* Who is the form of God present in the church,
* Who moves men to faith and obedience,
* Who is the guarantee of our deliverance,
* Who leads us to find God’s will in the Word,
* Who assists those whom He renews in prayer,
* Who guides us in discernment,
* Who impels us to act together.

We believe God has made us His people,

* To invite others to follow Christ,
* To encourage one another to deeper commitment,
* To proclaim forgiveness of sins and hope,
* To reconcile men to God through word and deed,
* To bear witness to the power of love over hate,
* To proclaim Jesus the Lord over all,
* To meet the daily tasks of life with purpose,
* To suffer joyfully for the cause of right,
* To the ends of the earth,
* To the end of the age,
* To the praise of His glory.

Amen.

This item first appeared here in August 2010

July 16, 2013

Bad News / Good News for American Evangelicals

If it bleeds it leads.

So goes the adage among newspaper and television reporters when constructing the front page or the evening newscast. We tend to become more engaged by bad news stories, and for statisticians who manufacture and sell reports on everything from the consumption of soup or soap or the latest revelations of sexual trends among youth, shock sells.

The Great Evangelical RecessionThe book The Great Evangelical Recession (Baker Books, January 2013) by reporter-turned-pastor John S. Dickerson is this type of shocker. Forget the thrillers in the Christian bookstore fiction section, this book is far scarier.  The full title is The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors that will Crash the American Church…and How to Prepare. The book describes the challenges that the Evangelical church faces over the next few years. It’s a message that Canadians have been hearing recently through the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s Hemorrhaging Faith report, which I covered in this article; and Americans made aware of via a recent Pew Research Forum report which I discussed here.

The book is arranged in twelve chapters, six deal with isolating the particular urgent challenges faced by Evangelicals, and six offer hope and direction, but offered in the shadow of that same urgency.

Of the six issues there are two that I gravitated to in reading the book this weekend. The first has to do with the longstanding suspicion among many that the number of Evangelicals in the United States is grossly inflated. The author, no stranger to interpreting statistics — is more comfortable pegging the numbers at 7% or 22 million. Toward the end he states that while these numbers will be disappointing to some, there is a lot that may be accomplished by 22 million people.

The second issue concerns the financial health of churches and parachurch organizations. With each successive generation, people are becoming more stingy. Worse for local churches, is the tendency among the younger generations to prefer supporting parachurch ministries over local assemblies.

We often tie the drop in giving to the drop in the economy. But a larger undercurrent is also at play. The generation that gives almost half of total donations began passing away about three years ago. Nearly one thousand of them are called home every day. Their funerals and memorials are quietly held every morning, afternoon and evening in rural churches and metropolitan chapels across the country. Nobody seems to be noticing.

Over the next twelve years, this faithful and reliable generation will pass away. As they do, total giving will decrease by as much as half for typical evangelical ministries — nationally, regionally and locally. (p.82)

More specifically,

The older generation accounts for only 19 percent of our national church, but they give 46 percent of our donations. A combining of figures reveals that approximately 361,000 of these most generous Americans die every year, or 969 per day.  (p. 91)

And

Some optimists reason that as the younger generations age, they will become more generous. And certainly, some of them will. However, the Purdue study compares how today’s older folks gave when they were younger folks. It tells us that a 75-year-old giver today was, at age 35, far more generous than his 35-year-old counterpart today. (p. 93)

Perhaps it’s wrong on me to focus on the ‘money chapter’ especially in view of chapters that deal with the erosion of belief that accompanies the drop in church attendance. But in a book that takes its title from an economic event — recession — it seemed an appropriate section of the book to serve as example of what it is the church is facing in the long term unless some of these situations turn around.

Bradley Wright’s unofficial counterpoint to unChristian, titled Christians are Hate Filled Hypocrites, reviewed here, still must have dealt with enough potential negatives that his follow up had the more buoyant title Upside, reviewed here.  In John Dickerson’s case, the half empty glass and the half full glass are presented in a single volume. In a way, the first part of the book grabs us more, the frightful news story does indeed command the front page. But the second half — each chapter a response to the conditions described in the first — while more familiar to us, preach against a background of statistics that give their prescriptive advice much greater meaning.  Of those, I found the chapter on pursuing unity across denominational lines one of the most powerful.

The Great Evangelical Recession released in January in paperback at $14.99 US and is available from a Christian bookstore near you. Though the book deals exclusively with U.S. stats, I believe Canadians would benefit greatly from reading it as well. A review copy was provided by David C. Cook, Canada.

  • Watch a 6-minute interview with the author at Fox News

October 13, 2012

Weekend Link List

What you’re looking at is the actual default font size for this blog’s text.

I chose “Silver is the New Grey” as the theme for this blog because of the wide column but noticed immediately that the font size was too small for some readers. So… for the past 4 1/2 years, I’ve been taking 10-15 seconds before posting to manually insert the HTML tag <big> in front of each paragraph. It has given this blog it’s distinctive look and style.

However, a problem has arisen this week, and the HTML tag for enlarging the typeface won’t ‘stick.’  I’ve investigated some different themes, but because the entire history here is encoded for larger type, the end results end up looking HUGE.  Since this blog has operated for nearly five years on a capital outlay of $0.00, I’m reluctant to get a custom theme, but I am also reluctant to walk away from all the existing content.  So suggestions are welcomed.

  • On Sunday, Cross Point Church (Pete Wilson) hosted Bob Goff, the author of Love Does.  For the few minutes I watched it was absolutely amazing; a killer sermon. Here’s a link for it [wrong message is currently playing], and also a ten minute Q&A that was filmed for the Cross Point internet campus.  [Cross Point has a history of 'losing' sermon videos when they have guest speakers; they lost the Jon Acuff week entirely. So if they get it working we'll add the link.]
  • No blogger — not one — does a consistent job of narration like author Karen Spears Zacharias, as seen in this story.
  • Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk proposes some rather interesting parallels between worship and sex.
  • More than one in twenty atheists and agnostics pray every day
  • In a world of online addiction where sexual ethics have been shattered, some resources to help face the problem.
  • An outraged pastor suggests that sending out or posting your ultrasound pictures is completely inappropriate.
  • The Very Worst Missionary is now back in the U.S. operating as The Very Worst Pastor’s Wife. (Catch her  as a guest today on Drew Marshall — see link under radio at right.)
  • Here’s another short film from Moving Works a Film-making ministry: Father of the Fatherless.
  • Well, here’s hoping you can read this in one font size or another…

July 12, 2012

To My Skeptic Friend

Filed under: Religion — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:38 am

Dear __________,

Here’s an idea.

There’s nothing I can say or do today that will convince you that God exists, that the Bible can be trusted, or that Jesus has a legitimate claim to be God. But humor me for a moment.

All I’m asking today is that you begin with a God-exists hypothesis. Not the Bible. Not Jesus. Just that there is a God, in the more or less traditional way that’s understood.

Now then, ask all your questions, and frame your answers along the lines of the hypothesis. In other words, “Why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?” becomes, “If there is a God, why does he permit so much evil and suffering in the world?”

And so on.

What possible answers might you come up with to your various questions? Maybe some fairly crazy ones!

I’m not saying assume anything or commit to anything. I’m just saying take your toughest questions, your philosophical questions, your metaphysical questions, your ethical questions; and instead of framing them within a vacuum, frame them within the hypothesis.

Oh yeah, one more thing: For 48 hours. Do this for a couple of days, not a couple of minutes.

You might even want to say this — don’t think of it as a prayer, but more as a role play to get you in the right head space — “God, I don’t believe you exist, but for the next couple of days, I want to see how the world adds up if I were to believe you’re really out there.”

Think of this ‘let’s pretend’ game as meeting me halfway.

~Paul

July 5, 2012

The Paganization of Daniel Surrey: A Short Story

Ten years ago a fresh wave of new authors and speakers breezed through the Evangelical landscape. With the seeker-sensitive initiative now entrenched for two decades, the discussions about how to do church accelerated, along with a renewed look at what exactly constitutes a church.

Emerging, Emergent, Missional, Post-modern; words that might have been foreign-sounding in the ’90s became part of the broader discussion in the new century, and the movement was not just a crusade of words; there were changed lives to back up the new approach.

None of this was lost on Daniel Surrey. With just enough counter-cultural DNA to resonate with the new movement, Surrey was a deep thinker whose relationship with his conservative church had possibly always been fragile. While the new breed of writers and communicators may have been missed by those part of the Evangelical status quo, Surrey jumped in with both feet; attending the conferences, buying the books and downloading the audio teachings.

To know his past, it was quite a change. Daniel and his wife Bonnie had raised five children in the Sunday School, midweek kids ministry programs and finally the youth groups of their groups. They had been bus captains, ran the car washes and been chaperones on the junior high winter ski trip. Bonnie was part of the women’s ministry and Daniel had served two years on the church board and was a relief teacher for the largest adult Bible study class. You don’t do all that and then expect to simply go off the grid and drop off the radar.

Their church attendance record suddenly plummeted as they took in house church meetings, alternative worship events, and even did the backyard “we can worship God better in nature” thing during the summer months. As the fresh look at ecclesiology gained traction, it became increasingly easier to find people of like mind. They finally wrote a letter to the Evangelical church in which they had invested a quarter of a century and half their lives, and requested their names be removed from the membership rolls.

Since part of the missional ethos involves being incarnational, they quickly joined a number of community groups involving everything from woodworking to organic gardening to roots music. But their greatest personal investment was in the area of social justice projects. Anything that reached out to the marginalized was fair game, and they gave countless hours of their time to just about every charitable project going.

One particular project particularly energized them, to the point where Daniel eventually took on a leadership role. The housing projects in the south end, next to the coal-fired power plant were home to people who had no aspirations for living elsewhere. Abuse, addiction and chronic unemployment gave way to various types of health and financial problems, and also left the people in those projects as prey for unscrupulous landlords.

While the south end projects outreach had its beginnings with Christian people and church support; with Bonnie’s constant encouragement, Daniel was determined to expand the scope of the project, to the point where partnerships were formed with individuals and agencies from the broader community.

Soon, the work began to downplay its Christian origins and intentions.

With each passing day, something changed in Daniel Surrey. He met a lot of good people waging this battle for social justice, because when you’re giving help to people who are poor or disadvantaged, the people who tend to join in that fight are indeed good people. They are good because they are created in God’s image, and they reflect that nature in their desire to spread compassion and care.

Their beliefs, however, take a variety of forms. One can still serve in this type of environment, but it’s also true that a house is known by the company it keeps, and before too long, Daniel was being influenced more than he was influencing. His personal belief system at this point was more the product of syncretism than any one particular systematic theology. He had been absorbed into another world.

Which is where I last saw him, through a broadcast on the local community access television channel. He and Bonnie were there at the dedication of a new triplex to house three families, and several representatives of aboriginal spirituality were banging drums and passing some kind of large pipe, while a New Age Shaman conferred words meant to impart some measure of financial blessing and fertility — he mentioned fertility ten times even though all three families had children — to the homes’ new occupants.

And then they all shared a vegetarian potluck meal which centered around deep fried cauliflower, which may have offered some theoretical health benefits in its conception, but those benefits had been diminished by the degree of breading and deep frying. But before they ate, they paused for “a word of thanks” and Daniel Surrey, the former Evangelical Church board member began his “prayer” with an address to “the great spirit of the earth and sky and sun and moon,” at which point I completely tuned out whatever words folllowed.

And I listened to the drumming and watched the passing of the smoking pipe and thought, ‘The secularization of Daniel Surrey is now complete.’

The cable television reporter then did an interview with Daniel, where he talked about the amazing things that can happen when people lift themselves out of their own pain and peril and circumstances by self-will and determination, and my mouth formed the words, ‘You’ve come a long way, Daniel Surrey. A long way.’

May 25, 2012

Rachel Held Evans’ Monkey Town

I know it’s generally uncool for a blogger to review a book that’s two years old, but then again, I actually paid for my copy, so technically this isn’t a review review; whatever that means. I was more overcome with curiosity, having become a regular reader of Rachel’s blog.

Sometimes a great blogger does not a great book author make, but in this case — sorry, Rachel if this seems uncomplimentary — the book was far better than what I’m accustomed to reading each day in blogland. The thing that struck me was that the book was so readable; the first hundred pages flew by in a single sitting.

Rachel Held Evans’ title refers to growing up in the town that was the venue for the Scopes Monkey Trial, the trail concerning the teaching of evolution and creation in public schools that some Christians see as having been as pivotal as Roe v Wade. I’d love to say that it ends there, that Rachel isn’t personally a proponent of some kind of theistic evolution, but in fact, this is one of the issues she deals with.

And Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All The Answers Learned to Ask the Questions (Zondervan, paperback, June 2010) is definitely about raising the tough questions and allowing doubts to nurture somewhat without ending with a total abandonment of either God or some of the primary fundamentals of the conservative faith in which she was raised.  To that end, this is a book that will appeal to readers of authors like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren.

It’s also a ‘growing up Christian’ type of memoir, and as Rachel herself admits, to do something of that nature while still in one’s twenties, is a bit of daunting task. This book will certainly resonate with anyone in Rachel’s demographic, or who identifies with postmodern culture.

While the book is edgy, it didn’t stir up the hornets’ nest that her next book — A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master — is bound to when it releases in late October. (See an article on this subject here at TOL.)

In the meantime, you’ve got Rachel’s blog to enjoy if you’re looking for more.

March 12, 2012

Approaching Christianity Philosophically

Working in and around the Christian publishing industry, I am constantly frustrated by requests for resources that are appropriate to give as gifts to people who do not identify as Christians, but may be interested in reading something that resonates with their current worldview, or communicates in terms more familiar to other materials they are currently reading.

But then, when something arrives on the scene from outside the fold — not bearing the Seal of Approval of a publisher like Moody, or Zondervan or Baker or Tyndale — I find myself straining for clues that will verify that the title in question is sufficiently Evangelically kosher; and that the author is worthy of my unconditional recommendation.

I’m not sure you can have it both ways. If a book is going to absolutely connect with people of other faiths, there are times it’s going to seem foreign to those of us deeply embedded in modern church culture.

Ellis Potter’s book 3 Theories of Everything (2012, Destinée Media) arrived in my mail last week from Switzerland as the clear winner in my “curiosity of the month” category. At a trim 112 pages, nothing was stopping me from reading it cover to cover, but who was this author and where was he going with this?

It turned out not so important where he was going as where he was coming from.  A visit to the website of Eastern Europe Renewal provided this:

Mr Potter, a native Californian now residing in Switzerland, is a former Buddhist monk who became a Christian under the influence and ministry of the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer. Mr Potter’s dramatic conversion came about as a direct result of several intense, personal discussions with Dr. Schaeffer during the turbulent seventies.

In 3 Theories of Everything, Potter looks at the overarching structure of many popular religious worldviews, which can be classified into one of the following: Monism, Dualism and Trinitarianism.  Looking at each, he then shows the ways in they succeed or fail to succeed in explaining the world around them, with a particular emphasis on the problem of suffering.

The book would be of special interest to anyone who has experience with Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Astrology, Meditation or New Age religions; as well as anyone who has done basic reading in Philosophy including cosmology or metaphysics. Here’s a fairly accessible sample

Freedom and form is another pair of opposites that we see in the world. A good illustration is gravity. Gravity is one of the basic forms, or structures, of reality but it gives us a certain freedom. If gravity were not here and I began to walk, I would float and spin and soon I would be dead. Form or structure is necessary. Let me give you an equation to express this idea:

total freedom = death

There is nothing postmodern about this equation. Postmodernism as usually understood and practiced in western culture regards freedom as the highest value and sees the purpose of freedom as fun and play. But freedom cannot really be valuable or life-giving unless it is accompanied by form. If you want to be totally free to fly you can go to the top of a building and jump. You can say, ‘I am free;’ but you won’t be free, you will be dead because you have not respected form. But if you study the various forms of reality — the laws of properties that give reality, structure and shape, such as gravity, aerodynamics, thermodynamics, metallurgy, jet propulsion, stress, torque and so on — then you will be able to build an airplane and fly across the ocean. That’s a great freedom, but the freedom is connected to form. Freedom and form are not independent of each other in reality. Again, their relationship is complementary rather than competitive.  (pp. 48-9)

Having worked through alternative worldviews, Ellis gently builds a case for the Christian worldview incorporating a fresh (but orthodox) retelling of the fall, the incarnation and the atonement.

But then, as a bonus, the author appends answers to 45 questions that have been asked in seminars he has given in different parts of the world; some clearly arising from Christians and others from skeptics. He is not unwilling to tackle things like, ‘Is it possible you might one day find a different answer and abandon Christianity?’ In answering that most candidly he defines Christian commitment, while at the same time indicating the scenario to be unlikely. In another question, he’s asked if his years as a Zen Buddhist monk informs his present occupation as a Christian pastor. His answer would make a few people I know uncomfortable, but in the answer that follows immediately after, he says he identifies theologically as close to Baptist or Brethren.

Again, this is that book that I mentioned at the beginning; a rare gem of a book for that person not ready for Paul Little or Erwin Lutzer or Josh McDowell; and for reasons of length and style and the writer’s background, I think this would also be a good book to give to a man who is looking at faith questions from a distance; or with whom you want to begin a deeper conversation. It’s also a pre-apologetic title fitting for a college or university student.

3 Theories of Everything by Ellis Potter is available for bookstores to order worldwide as a print-on-demand book through Ingram Publisher Services, the largest book distributor in the world; in paperback at $13.99 U.S. 

Read another excerpt from the book at Christianity 201.

January 18, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Lloyd the Llink Llist Llama

In case you missed it, there was an epic link list here on Saturday, too.  Well, we thought it was epic. Or mega. Or just plain large.  And if you’re reading this on the actual Wednesday, between 00:00 and 23:99 EST, you’re reading it in an internet world without Wikipedia.

January 3, 2012

Why I Wouldn’t Quit The Episcopal Church Over Gay Marriage

In the past several years, there has been much division in the Episcopal Church in the U.S., the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Worldwide Anglican Communion over the issues of ordination of gay clergy and marriage of gay couples. 

I can honestly say that if were a member of such a church, I don’t honestly believe that either of these two issues would surface as a deal-breaker for me, for one simple reason:

I would have been gone long before that.

For me, the “gender issues” and “sexual orientation issues” are really secondary.  They are symptoms, but there is a deeper cause, and that cause is the rejection of the ultimate authority of scripture.  And that in turn stems from a stronger desire to nitpick over Biblical text and engage in the academic sophistication of  “higher criticism” than a desire to respond to God’s offer of genuine relationship and thereby to understand the ways of the Lord.

At least with a title like "Jesus Never Existed" by Kenneth Humphreys, you know where you stand. With other authors, the theological implications can be more insidious.

So a church which reveres Bishop Shelby Spong — or his sometime partner in crime, Marcus Borg — is of much deeper concern to me than a church which is wrestling with the gay issue, which I believe that all churches are wrestling with to different degrees.

Here’s a sample of Spong’s latest proclamation on the CNNBelief page:

…Jesus of Nazareth, according to our best research, lived between the years 4 B.C. and A.D. 30. Yet all of the gospels were written between the years 70 to 100 A.D., or 40 to 70 years after his crucifixion, and they were written in Greek, a language that neither Jesus nor any of his disciples spoke or were able to write.

Are the gospels then capable of being effective guides to history? If we line up the gospels in the time sequence in which they were written – that is, with Mark first, followed by Matthew, then by Luke and ending with John – we can see exactly how the story expanded between the years 70 and 100.

For example, miracles do not get attached to the memory of Jesus story until the eighth decade. The miraculous birth of Jesus is a ninth-decade addition; the story of Jesus ascending into heaven is a 10th-decade narrative.

In the first gospel, Mark, the risen Christ appears physically to no one, but by the time we come to the last gospel, John, Thomas is invited to feel the nail prints in Christ’s hands and feet and the spear wound in his side.

Perhaps the most telling witness against the claim of accurate history for the Bible comes when we read the earliest narrative of the crucifixion found in Mark’s gospel and discover that it is not based on eyewitness testimony at all…

This is Spong’s opinion, and he is entitled to it, and should count himself blessed to live in a country where people can write this sort of drivel and not be burned at the stake as a heretic.  Living elsewhere, or in other times, might not have proved as beneficial.

Mark’s gospel is not based on eyewitness testimony?  That should come as a surprise to those who have looked closely at Mark 14:51-52 and concluded that this sentence is completely superfluous — and even unnecessarily comic — unless Mark’s clear intent is to position himself directly in the middle of the story.

Spong’s obsession with undermining the Biblical text — a rather odd preoccupation for a clergyman, don’t you think? — also makes a liar out of Luke where he attests in Luke 1: 3-4 to the veracity of the Christ story as it has been told to his correspondent Theophilis.

And the concept of the miracles of Jesus being “attached” to the story in the eighth century is simply baffling.  There were many rabbis, many itinerant teachers, and we only have the names of a handful around the time of the gospels.  True, Jesus taught in ways that no one had before; his following went from a dozen young men to crowds in the thousands; but absent the supernatural miracles, there might be no particular reason why he would be remembered.  In fact, scholars tell us that the Pharisees — perhaps Spong denies they existed as well — were looking for very particular and unique miracles as signs of the Messiah:

  1. The casting out of a spirit from someone who was mute.  The customary approach was that the spirits would first name themselves before being cast out.
  2. The healing of an individual who was born blind. 
  3. The healing of leprosy.
  4. The raising from the dead someone who had been dead more than three days.  (Other such resurrections were to be discounted because of a belief that the spirit ‘lingered’ around the body for three days afterward.)

The Pharisees had an interest in knowing if Jesus was indeed the Messiah that goes beyond the adversarial relationship we normally associate them with.  These miracles proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus met all their criteria, though they remained blinded to the possibility of crossing the line of faith themselves. 

Suddenly, in the late 20th Century, the Jesus Seminar experts decide that every phrase and sentence in the gospels is suddenly open to debate.  Spong takes the ball and runs with it, and expresses his twelve main thesis as outlined below; I’ve highlighted certain words from the Wikipedia article:

  1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
  2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
  3. The Biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
  4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ’s divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
  5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
  6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
  7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
  8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.
  9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard written in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
  10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
  11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
  12. All human beings bear God’s image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one’s being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.

Actually, as I said at the outset, the twelfth item is really the least of my concerns with Spong in particular or Anglicans in general.  But the other eleven points represent a complete undermining of the Christian message as the early Church fathers understood it.

So what do we do with all this?

Marcus Borg and Sheldon Spong occupy an inexplicable amount of space in the “religion” section of general bookstores.  Pastors, priests and rectors of liberal denominations encourage the reading their books. For many such parishioners, authors of this ilk represent the only “Christian” books they will purchase in a given year.

I don’t.  Despite a sweetheart relationship with publisher HarperCollins, I have never ordered a book by either author for a customer, in fact, I have been rather outspoken that I do not wish to make it easy or convenient for someone to access their materials.

While I have strong feelings about the gay clergy and gay marriage issues that are found elsewhere on this blog, for me, the major issue is the authority of the Bible. Sola scriptura is not a hardline absolute for me, but as a guideline to understanding the major doctrines and ethics that form Christianity, it is reliable in 99% of all test cases and issues that arise.

The buck has to stop somewhere and for me it stops with the canon of scripture, not with a radical theologian from North Carolina who makes a living undermining the history and centuries-old practices of the faith that today, ironically, pays his salary.

Older Posts »

The Silver is the New Black Theme. Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.